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On the River








Researched and Transcribed

By Sue Rekkas



The Daily Argus, Saturday, October 29, 1881, page 2.


The accident to the Jennie Gilchrist is an affair of no little moment.  As an accident simply it was a serious matter, but it reaches to further and more serious things.  Nothing is an accident which could have been prevented, and this breaking of a piece of machinery is always a questionable one.  That the rod may have broken under the most careful supervision is doubtless true, and it can hardly be said that the management is responsible on that account.  But there are other and greater features to this affair.  The accident happened in the most serious place it could possibly have done in the whole river.  Just above the bridge, where a loss of power meant drifting down upon it, at a place where the current is swiftest, being the foot of the rapids; with the water at an extraordinary high stage, thus almost doubling the force of the current to an extent that made it a torrent; the situation was certainly a most critical one. 


On board were many passengers, among them four women.  The saving of the lives of most of those passengers depended upon the action of the officers and crew.  It was a moment which called for the most prompt action, the most clear heads.  At that moment when human lives depended on their action they were found wanting.  With one exception, not an officer of that boat made an attempt to save life; not a one seemed to care for ought else than his own safety.  No pretense of discipline was preserved; no orders were given or enforced.  It was a panic.  One officer, the clerk, tried to save lives; a passenger had to take command.  To be sure some like the engineer and firemen were confined to their post, but there were others on whom the duty fell.


The crew were drunk.  Of this there is not the slightest doubt; and the drunkenness was not only confined to them.  Whiskey had been flowing freely, and when an accident occurred, which as the same accident occurred to the boat but a short time ago, should not have been unexpected, the necessary discipline and obedience were wanting.  It was an individual scramble for life.


The barge floated through the bridge all right; whoever was on that barge was safe.  The fact that people from every quarter of the boat got aboard of it is proof that all could have got there.  Time enough there was for that.  Had there been proper order and command that could have been done; that it was not done is evidence that there was wrong somewhere.  There were four women on the boat, of them three perished, while the fourth was saved by what seems almost a miracle.  That one statement is of itself damning.  The trouble lay in the whiskey: the crew were drunk and helpless; officers, who should have directed them, were in the same condition.  The accident occurred because the machinery broke in a particularly dangerous place; that perhaps not strictly unavoidable, yet excusable.  But that lives were lost because men did not do their duty is evident and so the verdict will stand.


~~~ *** ~~~


The Daily Argus, Saturday, October 29, 1881, page 2.


The accident to the Jennie Gilchrist occurred Thursday evening a little after ten and Saturday morning the Union comes out with the first attempt at an account of it.


  The Union is at this time the agent of the Associated Press here and it was their duty to telegraph a report of the accident to Chicago, and yet about 2 a. m. comes the requests from that place to the Argus asking for a report.  The Argus being an evening paper is not supposed to get copy ready during the night and yet at three we telegraphed to Chicago the account which came out in the Tribune and Times of that city from Rock Island and which was full and reliable, we having found no reason to change it since.  The Union working on its own account published two or three hours later the most meager report of an affair of the sort ever seen; a report so totally inaccurate that it was worthless, and giving no particulars of any kind.  This morning, following its usual habit of publishing whatever anyone will bring them; it attempts a labored reply to the statements made by the Argus that the crew and some of the officers were drunk.  IF the Union knew anything about the affair, and was not merely printing the statement of these men, it would talk differently.  Had their reporter been tending to his business on Thursday night and been among the men on the relief parties and among them all the time, as was an Argus one, he would have had an opportunity of both securing more information and getting it correct. While all these affairs were happening there was no one from the Union to be seen anywhere; the Union knows nothing about it from anything they saw themselves.  An Argus man was around all the time, and what the Argus states it knows to be the facts.  When it said that members of the crew were drunk, it knew what it was talking about and it even particularized as to who were drunk and who were sober.  It is a matter about which those parties would do well to do less talking about and not run to the Union and persuade it to make a defense for them.


~~~ *** ~~~


The Davenport Daily Democrat, Saturday, October 29, 1881, page 1.




That was a fortunate change which Rev. M. Coats of LeClaire, made Thursday night.  He with his wife and child had engaged passage on the steamer Jennie Gilchrist for LeClaire—but ongoing aboard that steamer found that there was no conveniences in the little cabin for sitting down or sleeping, and on arriving at the other side of the river learned that the steamer Evansville, which was to leave a hour later than the Jennie, could furnish the desired accommodations.  So he changed to that steamer.  Fortunate it was for him that the Evansville had been delayed by business, else his wife and little one would have experienced the horror of the Jennie Gilchrist, if not numbered with those who went down with the steamer.

~~~ *** ~~~


Daily Gazette, Saturday Morning, October 29, 1881, page 4.




Don’t be too impatient when goods are delayed; now there was Mr. Gaylord, a merchant of LeClaire, who became very nervous Thursday evening because a box of goods which he expected from LeClaire failed to reach him in time to take it and embark on the Jennie Gilchrist: but to-day he is very glad that it was belated and that he staid ashore.


~~~ *** ~~~


Daily Union, October 29, 1881, page 3.


Henry Thomas, of Hampton, who was doubtless lost on the Gilchrist, was a son of the late H. F. Thomas, of Hampton, and brother of Mrs. James Francis, and Mrs. Theodore Wheelock, of this city, and Mrs. Fred Hemenway, of Rock Island.  Mrs. James Francis was conveyed to Hampton in one of Harwood’s rigs, Friday afternoon, to be with her aged mother, Mrs. H. F. Thomas, in the hour of her bereavement.  Mrs. Wheelock and Mrs. Hemenway, the other daughters, have the care of infants, and were unable to accompany Mrs. Thomas.  Herbert Thomas, of this city, is a brother of the victim.

~~~ *** ~~~


Daily Union, October 29, 1881, page 4.


  Henry Thomas, drowned on the Jennie Gilchrist, was a son of Ex-Treasurer H. F. Thomas, and the Union’s valued correspondent.  Under the name of “Cito” he has for a long period sent us once or twice a week, sharp, short and newsy letters, models of their time.  She shall miss him very much.

~~~ *** ~~~


Daily Argus, October 29, 1881, page 4





Late Details of the Fatal and Dreadful Affair.



The Engineer’s Experience on last Thursday night.



Searching for the Lost Bodies this Morning.



The work of recovering the dead passengers and crew from the sunken steamer, Jennie Gilchrist, whose collision occurred Thursday night, was prosecuted with some vigor this morning, and the most intense interest is still manifested by the general public in the details of the dreadful affair.


A striking feature of the accident is the fact that the official protest of Dana Dorrance, the master and pilot of the ill fated steamer, made before United States Commissioner E. D. Sweeney at 2 o’clock yesterday morning, failed to enumerate any whiskey or liquor as constituting any portion of the cargo of the barge “No. 3” although several barrels or packages of pop and cider were detailed as a part of the freight.


The Argus stated, in its last issue, that whiskey had been passed among the crew and published a statement made by one of the surviving passengers, to the effect that some of the crew were intoxicated before the fatal trip was made.  The same surviving passenger had occasion to visit the boat while at the levee in this city before the departure.  He saw a man at the pilot wheel whose strange conduct indicated that he was either crazy or drunk.  So impressed was this passenger with the man’s strange conduct, that he went to the owner, Mr. Gilchrist, and asked if the man at the wheel was to take the boat through the bridge.  The owner desired to know his reason for such a question, whereupon the passenger stated that if such proved to be the case he would not risk his (passenger’s) life in going on the steamer.  Mr. Gilchrist then informed him that Dorrance, the master and first pilot, would take charge of the boat until after the bridge had been passed.


The accident occurred just above the bridge, and was the result of a break in the cam rod, an accident which might have occurred to any steamer.  The passengers have made no charge in this particular, but they were pronounced in their commendation of the lack of management on the boat after the accident occurred, as it is reasonable to suppose that with a fair amount of common sense and judgment, the crew and every passenger on board the steamer could have been placed on the barge and thus not a single life would have been lost.  This fact may become patent if the coroner’s inquest proves the searching, inquisitive investigation that the circumstances of the accident warrant, and if any blame attaches to either officers, owner or crew, the jury of inquest over the dead bodies of the accident’s victims should not fail to find it, and thus further the safety of passengers traveling upon crafts of a similar character.





Patrick M. Maines, the first engineer of the Jennie Gilchrist, gives his experience during the accident in a very graphic manner.


His version of the immediate cause of the accident does not vary materially from that already published.  He states that when about 200 yards above the bridge, the cam rod was severed and he immediately busied himself in arranging the machinery so that one engine could run the wheel in place of the two engines as was generally the case.  He had it about completed when the boat crashed up against the pier.  He felt that the boat was being carried down by the current and knew that there was more or less danger attached to that fact; but he thought the boat was more distant from the bridge than afterwards proved to be the case.  He thought that he could re-arrange the machinery before the current carried the boat down to the bridge, and so intent was he changing the rod that he was not aware of the danger until the steamer came in contact with the pier.  At that moment he felt that all was over with him.  The boat careened over until the side was nearly touching the water.  He thinks that the boilers were carried off the boat down into the water and to this fact he attributes the escape of steam, as the pipe was broken by the disappearance of the boilers and the steam thus passed out of this aperture into the cabin and in fact all over the boat.  After passing the pier the boat righted and commenced sinking.  The lights were all extinguished by the water and steam, and all was darkness both outside and inside of the steamer.  He saw several persons in the cabin and engine room previous to the careening of the boat, and after that event could hear the agonizing cries for help.  He saw the cook, Temple, seated in a chair, and also Mrs. Trevors, both of whom were lost.  The water commenced filling in the engine room, and the steam filled the portion above the water and the roof.  He then made for one of the windows on the side of the boat, and while extricating himself from that aperture could feel the spasmodic clutches of the victims as they rose from the water and attempted to grasp the side of the boat.  He even remembers one or two of them grasping his feet as he emerged from the window, but they failed to keep their hold and were thus thrown back into the water where they soon perished.


The same engineer was present at an accident on board the steamer Ben Stickney, just above Cairo in 1861.  At that time the boat became embedded in a sandbar and the current swinging the stern around with great force caused the boat to part “amidships.”  Among the cargo were a number of sheep, and when the boat commenced sinking these frightened animals made for the upper cabin and actually drove the passengers up on the hurricane deck.  No lives were lost in this mishap, and the disaster last Thursday night was the first accident in which the engineer had ever been engaged where a single life had been lost.  The night previous the engineer had his family on board taking them down to this city for a brief pleasure trip.  He expressed his thankfulness that his family was not with him in the engine room.


In conclusion he said, “I don’t care whether I ever go back to steamboating again or not, as such affairs as last Thursday night made me think that it is a bad business.”


The engineer thought that the pilot whistled just before the collision but could not say whether it was an alarm whistle or not.




The cabin is supposed to have been washed away from the hull of the steamer by the waves of the War Eagle which passed this part during the night, as this morning residents along the Iowa shore in the vicinity of the Buffalo discovered this remnant of the wreck just above water in that locality.


It was visited by a number of people in small boats and one body was bound with his head penetrating one of the upper windows.  He was found to be crippled in one arm and there is every reason to believe that it is the body of young Thomas of Hampton who is known to have started on the steamer and has not been heard from.  The body was towed to shore where an inquest will be held at a later day when more of the victims are discovered.


It is stated that those who were investigating the wreck could find four or five bodies in the water, but they appeared to be caught in some way and thus prevented the men from extricating them from their positions.


Capt. Wall left this afternoon for the place and will during the afternoon make a general examination of the wreck and remove all the bodies there to be found.




During the night the cabin separated from the hull and floated down the river as far as Buffalo, a little town on the Iowa shore, a few miles below Davenport.  At this point the cabin stranded on a bar and remains there to the great excitement of the denizens of that locality.


This morning Captain Wall, the diver, and an Argus man were conveyed to the hull of the sunken steamer, which is located in 18 feet of water midway in the river between this city and Davenport.  The hull was found to be somewhat injured by it collision with the bridge pier, as its side is considerably battered up.  The craft is nose toward the east and can be raised if such is thought to be advisable.  As soon as it was ascertained that the cabin portion of the boat had floated down stream, and that no bodies were on the hull surface, the diver and his attendants concluded that it was best to visit the cabin, and for that purpose the Viola conveyed the barge from which the diver makes his descent, down to Buffalo.


Daily Union, October 1881, page 4.


Mrs. W. G. Wendt, of Cordova, the lady who was rescued near the Davenport shore, is at the residence of her brother-in-law between 14th and 15th streets.  She was able to sit up on Friday evening.


Mrs. Wm. Wendt was not able to go to Cordova with her husband’s remains.  She is very sore from bruises received while clinging to the plank which kept her up in the river, but none of the soreness is the result of scalds.


~~~ *** ~~~


Davenport Gazette, Monday Morning, October 31, 1881, page 4.





The Later Developments in the Case.



The Bodies of William Wendt and Mrs. Camp Recovered—the Jury—A Little Humanity in the Case—Further Testimony as to the Intoxication—Careless on the River.



During Friday night, the wreck of the ill-fated steamer Jennie Gilchrist, which since the accident had lain opposite the foot of Brown Street, broke up and the upper works started on their travels once more.  About eight o’clock Saturday morning, some workmen at Buffalo discovered part of the wreck hanging to the shore near that town and gave notice to the authorities.  A crowd soon gathered and the wreck, which consisted of the cabin, was examined.  In a few minutes a dead man’s head was seen extended through a cabin window and forming a most ghastly and horrible spectacle.  The body of the deceased was removed from its position and Coroner Bawden sent for.  That officer instituted an investigation and Mr. Henry Wendt, of Cordova, who was present, recognized the remains as those of his brother William, the brave man whose agonized calls for his wife when the steam was rushing out over him have been commented on so much.  The coroner took all the valuables from the dead man’s body and gave them to his brother, taking a receipt therefore.  The steamer Viola was called and the body brought to Rock Island.  A full account of the proceedings over them may be found in the proper department.


The coroner remained at the wreck all day, taking it to pieces and making a close examination for more bodies.  He was assisted by Mr. Trevors, of Rapids City, husband of Mrs. Fanny Trevors, one of the victims, Mr. Temple, brother of the Gilchrist’s cook, Captain Gilchrist, and other interested parties.  The day passed without further developments until about six in the evening when the body of a woman was found on the part of the vessel nearest the river.  This was immediately recognized to be the body of Mrs. Mary Jane Camp of 104 Locust Street, this city.  It was now dark and a thorough search had shown that nothing more could be found in the dismantled cabin, so the explorers determined to return to this city with Mrs. Camp’s body.  A construction train on the Muscatine branch of the C. R. I & P. had been at work near at hand.  It was signaled by the coroner, but the engineer paid no attention and pulled out for home.  Fortunately at this juncture, someone remembered that the rafter, Little Eagle, was about two miles above and started for it.  Captain Lucas, of the Eagle, backed his boat down to where the Coroner and his assistants were waiting, and the party with the remains, were brought to this city without charge.  All speak in the highest terms of the courtesy shown by Captain Lucas and Clerk Davis.  On the night of the Disaster a certain liveryman refused to let a carriage go down to Cook’s Point to bring up a woman just rescued from the water for fear he should never obtain his pay.  The action of the Little Eagle’s officers is offered as evidence that there is generosity and humanity left in the human race after all.


On arrival here the Coroner empanelled the following jurymen, T. H. Kemmerer, J. G. Shorey and W. G. Ashton, who looked at the remains and were adjourned until further notice.


This measure was taken so that the interment of bodies need not be delayed on account of any necessary legal proceedings.  Mrs. Camp’s funeral will take place from the residence on Locust street to-morrow, as noticed in an another column.


A diver visited the hull, which still remains in the river opposite Brown Street, on Saturday, but made no discoveries. 


The evidence as to the intoxication of the crew grows slowly stronger.  A Rock Island gentleman said on Saturday that on the night of the disaster he saw the crew enter a saloon on the levee, drunk, and call for more liquor.  It is proposed to have a thorough and searching investigation of all these things, and if any blame for the terrible calamity can be fastened on any one to let no guilty man escape.


It is now feared that at least eleven persons perished.  The names of those known to be lost are given as follows:

                William Wendt, Cordova.

                 Mrs. Mary J. Camp, Davenport

                 James Temple, Rapids City.

                 Miss Temple, Rapids City.

                 Mrs. Fanny Trevors, Rapids City.

                 James Sanford, fireman.

                 George Sydney, deck hand.

                 John McCabe, LeClaire.

                 Henry Thomas, Hampton.

                 Chas. F. Johnson, Moline.


And a telephone dispatch from LeClaire says that John McGee, a resident of that place was to have taken passage for home on the Gilchrist on Thursday night, and that nothing has been seen or heard of him since that time.  So it is very probable that he also perished.  Counting his name the dead are twelve in number.


Mr. Chas. F. Johnson, the last name added to the list of those who have certainly been lost, was an employee at Deere & Co.’s where he worked in the paint shop.


It was a terrible occurrence, the most disastrous ever known in these waters.  But it will open the eyes of many people hitherto but little acquainted with the subject of the carelessness with which Mississippi river steamers are handled.  There is not a single boat afloat on the stream which does not carry a greater pressure of steam than allowed by the license.  Many of the steamers are built in a hurried and careless manner, without any regard to strength or safety, and then are pushed through in the most reckless manner.  If government inspection means anything it means that steamers shall be made reasonably safe for those who travel on them.  That this is not the case is a fact patent to all observers.  It is about time that there was a seceded change in the condition of affairs on the river, or some awful calamity exceeding in horror even that of last Thursday night will startle the whole country.


~~~ *** ~~~


Daily Gazette, Monday Morning, October 31, 1881, page 4.





The Body of William G. Wendt of Cordova, Found in the Cabin of the Boat, Near Buffalo, Iowa—His Position—The Body Brought to this City—A Coroner’s Jury Empanelled—The Body Sent Home.



The first body recovered from the wreck of the Jennie Gilchrist, was found on Saturday morning.  The wreck was seen lodged near the shore a little below Buffalo, Iowa and was fastened in its place by a line running to the shore, where it was tied.  A man went out to it, and soon discovered a human head protruding out of the cabin windows.  The body was recovered and laid out on top of the wreck, where he was when the Viola arrived, which boat had been sent from here on receipt of the report of finding of the wreck.  The body proved to be that of William G. Wendt, of Cordova.  It is strange, in the face of the reports received of Mr. Wendt’s actions, how he came to be in the cabin, but the fact remains that there he was.  It appears that in some manner he was caught and held there while trying to escape.  Coroner Bawden, of Scott County, searched the pockets of the dead man and turned its contents over to the brother of the deceased.  The body was then taken on board the boat and conveyed to this city, where Mr. H. Wendt, the brother, had it removed to the undertaking rooms of John Huss.  Coroner Morris was called and empanelled a jury consisting of the following named gentlemen:  John Barge, foreman; John Reticker, David Hawes, Albert Warren, Robert Coyne, and John Aster.  After viewing the body, the inquest was adjourned further notice, and the body turned over to Mr. Wendt, the brother, for internment, and late Saturday night it was taken to the old home, at Cordova, whence at 2 o’clock P. M., yesterday, it was buried.


The deceased leaves a wife, who so narrowly escaped death at the time of the accident, and three little girls.  He was married by Justice Cropper, in this city, in 1874, and he has been a resident of Cordova for a good many years.  Fortunately, he was well provided with this world’s goods, which property and $2,000 mortuary benefit they receive from the society of which he was a member, will leave the family in comfortable circumstances.


The diver remained at the wreck all day yesterday, and until the cabin was torn to pieces, in the expectation of finding more bodies.  But one more was discovered, that of Mrs. Mary J. Camp, of Davenport, which was brought up on a boat late Saturday night and taken to her old home in Davenport.


Since there are no more bodies in that part of the wreck, and none known to be in the hull, which lies where it first lodged, there is no knowing when the remainder will be recovered.  But every effort is being made, until they are all found.


The inquest on the body of Mr. Wendt will not be taken up for a day or so, as it is Mr. Morris’ intentions to sift the matter clear though, and discover who or what was the cause of the accident, and if anyone is criminally liable for the results of it.    It is likely that all will be found to be right; but for the satisfaction of the public, it is best to know the whole matter from beginning to end.        


~~~ *** ~~~


The Daily Argus, Sunday, October 30, 1881, page 2.


…Mr. Wendt was a saloon keeper at Cordova, and had his wife aboard.  Her life had been saved as previously narrated.  Mr. Wendt was forty-five years old.  In his pockets was a watch and two keys, $7.18 in small currency and $19 in bills.  The watch had stopped at twenty-five minutes to eleven.  The body when discovered was in the cabin, with the head sticking though the skylight and thus seen was easily rescued.  The cabin having drifted down near Andalusia the Viola had to take some time in reaching it.  Dr. Bowden, the coroner of Scott County, was on the boat and took charge of the bodies.




The members of the crew of the steamer Jennie Gilchrist are somewhat incensed that the Argus should have published all the facts in connection with the accident to that craft last Thursday night.  They imagine that a paper should suppress news and only give a hearsay statement of that dreadful affair as has been the case with certain so-called morning papers who were not represented that night at all and were obliged to take hearsay testimony or not mention the affair at all.


The Argus men were on the river as soon as it was possible to secure transportation.  The Argus representatives interviewed the surviving passengers and made statements concerning the accident that are founded on facts.


The crew, or at least a few of them have blood in their eye, and they do not feel satisfied with the unenviable part in which they played in the Thursday night disaster.  They have intimated that there are too many editors in this city, and have promised to make it warm for the aforesaid editorial writers.   Some of the crew visited the office last evening, brave as lions, insinuating that they fed on editors and could not longer survive without that delicious morsel.  They were confronted with facts, and left, sadder but wiser men.  It is stated that they have threatened personal violence to the writers and attaches of the paper, and on this account “Little Aleck,” the small colored boy who is employed as a messenger boy about the office, is in great personal danger.




At the time the Viola left Capt. Wall had made preparations to descend and hopes to be able to find several more bodies.




The cabin has drifted against the rail road work a little below Dodge’s house in Buffalo, and there it is fastened.  The body found was that of Mr. Wendt, which was supposed to be that of Mr. H. F. Thomas.  When the Viola returns to night she will probably bring up more bodies.


~~~ *** ~~~


The Daily Argus, Monday, October 31, 1881





Work of Recovering the Bodies of the Victims.



Only Two Remains have so far been Found.



The work of recovering the bodies of victims of the Jennie Gilchrist has temporarily been suspended.  This work will be resumed tomorrow morning, when the services of Captain Wall, the driver, can be obtained, and explorations will be made in the sunken hull, and also about the pier of the bridge where the accident occurred, and where the boilers are now supposed to be located.


It is thought that the recovery of the bodies of those drowned at that time is problematical as the high water will render such work exceedingly difficult if not impossible.


Last Saturday afternoon, J. W. Gilchrist secured the services of a diver and visited the wreck of the cabin which had separated from the hull during Friday night, and had floated down the river a distance of ten miles.  It was discovered early Saturday morning by Leander Russell, a raftsman engaged on the steamer Little Eagle.




The raftsmen who first discovered the floating cabin were out in skiffs capturing logs which had escaped from a raft.  As soon as they saw the wreck they made for it, and immediately commenced the work of discovering the bodies found in that enclosure.  The head of the one victim was seen through the roof and these men with axes soon cut a hole through which the corpse was removed.  This body proved to be that of W. D. Wendt of Cordova.  The citizens of Buffalo as soon as they ascertained that the wreck had floated near their town came out in large numbers and rendered all the assistance in their power.


It is stated that some vandal took a revolver, a bottle of whiskey and money from the dead body of Wendt, and attempted to appropriate them.  Such actions were not allowed by Coroner Bawden of Davenport, who secured all the articles belonging to the dead man but the whiskey which was gone.  It is said that one at least of the raftsman who first discovered the wreck were responsible for the last articles, but this is denied by them as Russell who was the first to see the wreck says that he did not see any of the articles said to have been lost, but remembered seeing a bottle of whiskey laying beside the dead body.  He thought this out of keeping on the scene of death, and kicked the bottle into the river.  This story is not substantiated by facts, as the empty bottle was found but its contents had disappeared.




  During Saturday morning Captain Wall, the diver, was engaged to visit the hull and ascertain if any bodies had lodged in that part of the sunken boat.  The hull still remained between the two cities where it had sunk on the night of the accident.  The barge from which the diver makes his descent into the river was conveyed to the place where the hull was located.  On the barge were J. W. Gilchrist, son of the owner of the sunken steamer, Hyers, the second pilot, and others, as well as an Argus representative.  When it was ascertained that the cabin had been detached from the hull it was thought best to visit the cabin first and recover the bodies from that portion before exploring the hull.  Mr. Gilchrist entered into an agreement with Captain Pierce, of the Viola, to convey the barge down to the scene of the wreck and return with them at night.  Mr. Gilchrist paid the money in advance and the down trip was made.  For some unaccountable reason the Viola failed to return for the barge at 6 o’clock Saturday evening although it was understood that such return trip was in the original agreement.  The officers of the Little Eagle came to the rescue, and conveyed the wrecking party and dead freight back to this city about 9 o’clock last Saturday night.  The Captain W. B. Lucas and clerk B. C. Davis refused to take pay for such services as they considered it in the light of public duty.




As soon as the barge was anchored near the cabin wreck the diver made preparations to descend.  It was found that the water was very shallow and that the submarine suit could not be used to any great advantages.  The diver attired himself in his suit with the exception of his helmet, and thus equipped was enabled to explore all the apartments of the cabin by breaking off the boards.  The work was continued for some time before a body was found.  Finally the diver brought up the remains of Mrs. Camp of Davenport.  The fingers of this corpse as well as those of the late W. Went were lacerated, as if torn in attempting to grasp some hard object to save their lives.  It is probable that the mutilations are due to the death struggles of the two victims in attempting to clutch some object by which they could have rescued themselves from the wreck.  The last body found had in the pockets of the dress a small amount of money and an apple.




  The cabin was completely wrecked but no other bodies were found, and the efforts of the party were then directed to saving the freight which was found.  Among other articles found were several boxes of coffee, kegs of beer, one bale of cotton batting, two ladies shawls, one ladies hat, one barrel of cranberries and a number of bags of flour.  The latter article had become wet, and in its paste had spread over everything, making the wreck more disagreeable than would ordinarily be the case.  A few of these articles were taken on the barge and conveyed back to this city.




The body of Mrs. Camp was taken to Davenport where the coroner of Scott County will hold an inquest.  The following persons composed that jury:  T. H. Kenmever, J. C. Shorey and G. W. Asthton.


The jury viewed the remains and adjourned subject to call.  Coroner Bawden proposes to have a searching investigation and in that end will postpone maters until the evidence has fully developed.


The body of W. D. Went of Cordova brought to this city Saturday afternoon, when Coroner Morris impaneled the following jury:  John Barge, John Riticker, David Hawes, Albert Warren, Robert Coyne and John Aster.


Coroner Morris has summoned about twenty witnesses, and when the inquest commences it will be critical and complete.  The coroner is an old sailor and his knowledge of the service will prove of valuable assistance to him and to the public.


The time for holding the inquest has not yet been announced.




There is a rumor that the officials of the Jennie Gilchrist attempt to excuse their negligence in not recovering the bodies from the wreck last Friday, as could most easily have been accomplished, by the statement that they could not find a diver.  The rumor also states that Captain Wall, the diver, when found, refused to perform such services for less than $75 per day.  The facts in the case are that Capt. Wall agreed to go down in the wreck for the same figures that are paid to him for any submarine work.  He was not asked to go down Friday, although at work on the inlet pipe for the water works.


It is stated that the steamer Jennie Gilchrist was not supplied with any anchor sufficient to do any effective service in case of an accident.  There is no evidence, however, that anybody on board tried to drop the anchor or when it was found that the boat was drifting against the bridge.


The number of victims still remains at eleven, with the prospect that it may be increased.


The members of the party who visited the wreck last Saturday are loud in their praise of Captain Lucas, and Mr. Davis, clerk of the Little Eagle, as well as the crew, for their courtesy in conveying the party from Buffalo to this city without pay, and also for other acts of kindness manifested during the trip.  The same party consider that Captain Pierce, of the Viola, is certainly to blame for not returning for the barge as he agreed to do in the morning, and for which he was paid in advanced by Mr. Gilchrist, of the sunken steamer.


~~~ *** ~~~


The Davenport Democrat, Tuesday, November 1, 1881, page 1.




A fisherman found the freight book of the steamer Jennie Gilchrist against a fence at Rockingham, and brought it to James Osborn, who gave him ten dollars for it.  It was a fortunate recovery for the owner of the steamer.


Davenport Democrat, Tuesday Morning, November 1, 1881, page 4.


The terrible disaster to the steamer Jennie Gilchrist, resulting in the loss of eleven lives, and the causes leasing thereto, is not only attracting widespread attention in the west, but also in the east.  Thus the New York Sun, commenting on it says, “While this terrible disaster was no doubt intensified by the swollen state of the river, yet this fact cannot be brought to shield the guilty.  The machinery was unquestionably defective; and, as the state of the river was well known, it should have prompted unusual vigilance in inspecting and strengthening the steamer and its motive power.  As if it were not enough to put a defective steamer on the river when the floods had made it difficult to navigate, it is alleged that the boat was a freight boat, not licensed to carry passengers, and also that most of the crew were in liquor.  A disaster under such circumstances cannot be ascribed to the state of the river.  It is certain that a drunken crew and thoroughly incompetent and terror-stricken officers helped to bring it about.  In this story the traditional and almost romantic Mississippi pilot sinks into ignoble obscurity, and the prosaic steamboat clerk becomes a hero.


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Daily Gazette, Tuesday Morning, November 1, 1881, page 4.




  The young men who called at the livery stable, on the night of the Gilchrist disaster, to obtain a carriage to bring up the rescued woman from Cook’s Point, did so at the request of Officer Carr, who has charge of the police station at night, and not from any curiosity.  The officer particularly asked them to procure a hack, as the small police wagon did not seem fit for the purpose.


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Daily Gazette, Tuesday Morning, November 1, 1881, page 4.




The funeral of Mrs. Camp took place yesterday afternoon at the home of her daughter, Mrs. De Groff, 108 West Locust Street.  Rev. S. W. Heald officiated assisted by Rev. S. W. Brush.  The remains were taken to Oakdale Cemetery.  Seven children are left to mourn the loss of the estimable and pious lady.  The loss to the church, and, indeed, to the community, is severely felt.


At the morning service in the 14th St. M. E. Church, Sunday, the following resolutions were adopted on the death of Mrs. M. J.  Camp who was drowned on the ill-fated Jennie Gilchrist on Thursday night last:

WHEREAS, as a Church, we are called to mourn the sad and untimely death of our esteemed sister, M. J. Camp, who was called to met death not in the home circle, surrounded by dear ones, but in the terrible steamboat disaster that occurred on the river in the night of the 27th, inst., by which so many lost their lives.  Therefore be it Resolved, that in the death of sister Camp the 14 Street M. E. Church loses a useful and honored member and her death comes to us as a warning to be ever ready, as we believe our departed sister was; for we know not how sudden or soon we may be called to give up our stewardship.

  Resolved, that a copy of these resolutions be presented to the afflicted family.

                                                                 J. G. G. Cavendish,

                                                                Mrs. A. C. Lingafelt,

                                                                 J. W. Gould.


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Daily Gazette, Tuesday Morning, November 1, 1881, page 4.




  At eleven o’clock yesterday forenoon the Viola came up from Buffalo with the remains of the upper works of the Gilchrist.  The pilot house, windows, some doors, a smoke stack, steam pipes, whistle, pilot wheel, and a few packages which she carried on that fatal night, are among the remains, and were brought up on the barge Robert, the same which was with the boat at the time of the accident, and upon which those who were saved sought refuge.  Among the load are also a few kegs of beer.  On the pilot house is the name “Jennie Gilchrist,” which stands out a fearful reminder of the sad catastrophe.  The barge, with its load, still lies at the levee, and was visited by numerous crowds all yesterday afternoon.



The Daily Union, Wednesday, November 2, 1881, page 4.


  The Last of Earth. 


The remains of the late Mr. W. G. Wendt, of Cordova, were taken to his old home by his brother Henry and other relatives, on the steamer Evansville, and received on arrival on Sunday morning by Cordova Lodge, No. 75, A. O. U. W.  The body was escorted to the Wendt residence, where it remained until the hour appointed for the church service, 2 p.m.  The church was filed with old friends and neighbors, all anxious to pay their last tribute to a man highly esteemed and respected.  The Rev. E. N. Eiton officiated, preaching an eloquent and appropriate sermon, and the Workmen performed the beautiful rites of their order at the grave, to which the victim of disaster was followed by a long line of people in carriages and other vehicles.


Mr. Wendt lived 45 years, 5 months and 19 days, and for twenty-six years has been a resident of Cordova.  He leaves a widow and three little girls.  His father and mother, two brothers and a sister survive him.  All live in Cordova except Henry, whose home is in Rock Island, and Sophie, (Mrs. Mars Juents.) whose home is in Moline.


Mrs. Wendt desires to return her heartfelt thanks to the many friends who have manifested so much kindness in the period of great distress, and to Lodge No. 75, A. O.U.W. for its fraternal action.


Collected and transcribed by

 Sue Rekkas


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