IAGenWeb Project

Iowa History

       An IAGenWeb Special Project


Join the IAGenWeb Team



On the River








Researched and transcribed

By Susan Rekkas




Daily Democrat, Sunday, November 6, 1881, page 4.









William Brown Swears That a “White Pitcher” Was Passed Among the Crew.



The testimony of Capt. Dana Dorrance from where it was left off by the Democrat, on Friday afternoon, did not bring out anything new; in fact, it was merely a repetition of what he had stated before.




also known as Pete Hire was next called.  He stated that he was mate of the Gilchrist; was licensed to run as a pilot between Stillwater and Burlington.  He began as deck-sweep, and had served as deckhand, mate and pilot, on different vessels; was on the Gilchrist as head pilot for three months, ending November 1880; did not go on the Gilchrist this season until the Thursday before the accident.  He was hired to as second pilot and mate.


The balance of Mr. Hire’s testimony was of an unimportant nature, and did not throw any new light on the matter.  The next person called was the clerk,




He is seventeen years of age, and resides at Rapids City; was clerk on the Jennie Gilchrist nine or ten days; his duty was to collect fare and freight bills; had never run on a steamboat before.  Had lost his record of the number of passengers carried on each trip; had never had more than twenty-five passengers on board at one time generally ranged from ten to twenty; collected fare from twelve passengers on the evening of the disaster, among them he recognized William Wendt of Cordova, and Henry Thomas of Hampton; was well acquainted with Thomas; was perhaps in the draw when he collected his last fare—from Skelton.  His books were kept in a cupboard in the passenger cabin.  He was in the cabin after leaving Rock Island, and Dr. Davenport, Mrs. Wendt, Mrs. Camp, Miss Fannie Trevor, and witness thought, Wm. Wendt was there.  When he last saw the cook (Mr. Temple) and his daughter, they were in the kitchen.  Witness was sitting in the cabin eating peanuts when the wheel stopped.  Mrs. Trevor asked him to go and see what the matter was.  He went to the blacksmith shop, and learned on the way through the engine room that the cam-rod had broken.  He returned to the cabin and told Mrs. Trevor that the cam-rod was broken.  Mrs. Trevor became exited and trembled.  Just then the whistle blew, and Mrs. Trevor said that it was a danger whistle.  Witness had never thought of such a thing as the boat striking the bridge.


Then followed a long description of the wreck and the escape of the witness, which is useless to publish, as his experience is much the same as the others who escaped.


At the conclusion of Mr. Scheachter’s evidence the inquest was adjourned to 9 o’clock




when the receiving of testimony was resumed.  The first witness called was




who being sworn testified as to the manner of loading the steamer at Davenport and Rock Island—and as to life preservers, etc., much as other witnesses had—his duty being to attend to fires when the boat laid up for the night, to attend to lamps and do general watching.  It was his 7th trip, coming tonight of disaster, he said there




Heard the men asking for supper between 7 and 8 p.m., heard the men say they had a drink out of the white pitcher, never saw a white pitcher passed, saw the men while working on the cargo, did not notice any under the influence of liquor, had not drunk anything, since I have been on the boat, saw captain, mate and engineer, and all were sober.


As soon as the freight was on, we pulled out and started up stream, think it was a little after ten, when the boat reached the draw.  Was in the engine room, sitting around.


We were crossing the river, when the cam broke the engineer went outside and I followed him; he told me the




And asked me to get him a hammer.  Heard the engineer speak to the pilot through the tube, but did not hear what he said.  Mr. Maines (the engineer) told me to stay by the throttle to pass any word to the engineer from the pilot house.  I remained there probably a half a minute and then went out; at the request of the engineer, to help roll over the wheel, saw Hire and Gilchrist on the other side.  I remained there standing on the wheel, and was there when




I saw along the starboard guards and into the engine room, but saw no one there.  There was no water on the engine room floor.  Going into the cabin I found the light gone and everything dark, got up to the sky light, but how I got there I cannot tell; found the glass broke and easily crawled out.  Saw Mr. Schaechter, the clerk, standing there, and heard someone calling for help.  Schaeckter and pulled him out.  I jumped into the river and swam to the barge, where I was pulled in by John Gilchrist and Pat Maines.  Schaeckter came on board the barge on a plank thrown to him by the men on the barge; Mr. Hires had it.  I had a life preserver in my hand, but when the man called for help I threw it down and did not use it.  Heard someone calling for help on the wreck after I was on the barge.  He spoke loudly, and I could hear him easily.  It was probably a half minute before the boat struck the bridge.  Never saw Mr. Hires, or any officer of the boat under the influence of liquor since I have been on the boat.  No one notified the passengers of the danger while I was at the throttle.

  Question—As a watch was it your duty to warn passengers of danger?

  Answer—I did not know that such was my duty, and had received no such instructions.


The next witness was



colored, aged 23 years, occupation laborer, residence Rock Island, who said nine kegs of whiskey were landed at Rock Island with other freight.  Smalley and I quit work between 6 and 7 p.m., and wanted supper.  Mr. Gilchrist went in and ordered supper.  While we were at supper wither Mr. Hires or Maines hallowed to us to hurry up as the




was outside.  a white pitcher is anything that contains whiskey.  We went out and Mr. Gilchrist gave me a bottle to drink out of.  It was whiskey, think it was a half pint bottle.  I saw three drink, Brown, Ellis and myself.  Do not know if the balance of the crew drank anything or not; had one glass of pop and one of cider at Harms’ saloon that, with the whiskey I got from Gilchrist was all I drank during the day.  Think all the deck hands except Sidney had had something stronger, judging from their appearance.  They appeared to be two-thirds drunk.


Between 9:30 and 10 p.m., we left Rock Island;  I went under the boiler to sleep, with Wm. Brown, Ellis Cummings and Sidney.  We remained under the boilers until we were called by Smalley, who told us to get out as the boat was aground.  I was asleep and when I awoke I went out on the forecastle and heard someone—don’t know who—say that the cam rod was broken.  Sidney was standing near me; I was hanging on to the capstan and Sidney was hanging on to a piece of rope; heard someone say, about a minute or two before she struck, for everyone to get upon the barge; think it was either the captain or mate; I did not think there was time enough to have gotten all the passengers, but had they went to work when the cam broke, they could probably have got them all out on the barge.  I went through with the boat under the bridge and them jumped overboard, but could not make any headway as there was to many barrels and soon afterward Smalley threw me a line and I got safely on board the barge, don’t know how much water was on forecastle, as we went under the bridge; when she tipped there was considerable water around; did not see any anchor, but saw quite a pile of wooden life floats; they were on both sides of the cabin; saw captain, mate and engineer; they were all on the barge when I got there; all of them were dry; neither of them seemed to have been in the water; saw clerk and watchman; they were both wet; think the mate was perfectly sober.


At the conclusion of Mr. Brown’s statement, Coroner Morris adjourned the inquest to 9 o’clock Monday morning.


~~~ *** ~~~


Daily Gazette, Monday Morning, November 7, 1881, page 4.





Third Day’s Proceedings before the Coroner’s Jury—Testimony of Wm. Meisenreich, Watchman, and Henry Brown, Deck-hand-Strong Statements by the Latter, Concerning Whiskey—Their Accounts of the Accident.



At 9 o’clock a.m. on Saturday the examination as to the cause of the death of Wm. G. Wendt was resumed.


Wm. Heidenrich, sworn, testified as follows:  Am 19 years of age; reside at LeClaire; machinist by occupation; had been employed seven days as watchman on the Gilchrist.   My duty was to bank up the fires when laid up at night, keep them from going out and starting them up in the morning, clean and attend the lamps, sweeping, and keeping general watch; not especially in the cabin.  On the day of the accident we loaded empty lime barrels on the boiler deck of the Gilchrist; put on about 700, piled two or three tiers high; we commenced stowing in front of the pilot house, two tiers high, I think; next commenced away aft, filling up the space pretty well, but with room to pass between; gangways were left next the pilot house and at the hatchway leading up from the engine room, and space to walk around the pilot house in front; the barrels were all inside the hog chains, leaving a space of some four feet all round; the pilot house floor was raised two or three steps above the deck proper; do not think the barrels obstructed the view from the pilot house; there were




lying around on top of the deck; don’t know what number; don’t think they were covered up by the barrels.  I found one myself, intending to use it, but I did not.  Some cork life preservers were in the cabin and engine room, that morning, when I swept out.  Think we had about a dozen wooden floats; perhaps about six of cork in the cabin and six in the engine room, lying on the floors.  The cork ones were of two or three long pieces of cork, tied together.  The wooden ones were distributed about the boat.  We took on some beer, soda water, whiskey, and other miscellaneous freight, the most of which was placed on the flat.  Some of the men were talking about wanting their supper; did not see Mr. Gilchrist give the men any whiskey.  Heard some of them say they had a drink, and something about “the white pitcher passing around.”  Had not seen the white pitcher passed around before, and did not see it myself then.  Saw the men about supper time, but did not see any under the influence of liquor.  Saw Smalley, and did not think he was so.  I sometimes drink a glass of beer myself, but had not done so that day or at any time since coming on the boat.  Saw Mr. Hire and the other officers that evening;




when we struck.  I then jumped off and ran along the guard on the starboard side, and into the engine room.  No one was there, and no water there then; the boat had not tipped until just as I got to the cabin.  It was dark when I got in there, as the light had gone out, and I saw no one.  I did not see the clerk.  Got out through the skylight which was already broken; I did not swim, but cannot tell how I reached the skylight; climbed up on some way.  After getting outside, I heard someone calling inside.  Found Schaechter outside.  Heard someone halloo, and saw someone’s head in the skylight.  We pulled him out; it was Moss.  The boat was tipped but righted.  Peter Hire was on the barge, and had a light.  Brown was sitting on the skiff, on top of the wreck.  A few barrels still remained on deck.  When I got out of the cabin I had hold of a float, but dropped it and jumped in the river.  Thought the barge was the safest place, and would have gone sooner if I had known the bridge was so close.  After getting on the barge heard someone calling for help.  Then a skiff came along, and Hire sent it to the wreck.  Heard him shouting



before we struck the bridge, making considerable noise.  I did not leave, because I was trying to turn the wheel.  I did not hear him kicking down doors or breaking anything.  Hire left the wheel before I did.  Gilchrist remained a little longer than Hire at the wheel.  Heard nothing from the Captain until I got on the barge.  Did not see him help anyone out.  Never saw Mr. Hire or any other officer of the boat under the influence of liquor while I was on the boat.


Questions by jurors:  When you were at the speaking tube, did any one give the alarm to the passengers?


  Q – Was it a part of your duty, as watchman, to give an alarm in case of danger?

  A – Don’t know; I was not instructed regarding it.

  Q – Did you notice any doors off of their hinges?

  A – It was so dark I could not see.  The skylight ran all the way along the sides.  I got out back of the pilot house, on the starboard side, at the same place that Moss did.




(colored), sworn:  Am 23 years of age, reside in Rock Island; by occupation a laborer; commenced working on the Jennie Gilchrest on Thursday, October 27th, about half past one o’clock; have worked considerably on boats before; loaded on at Rock Island some cider, pop, nine kegs of whisky, and some miscellaneous freight, mostly on a barge; some of us kicked about having no supper; it was 8 or 9 o’clock; Mr. Gilchrist ordered our supper, and we ate it and went to work; either Maines or Hires told us to hurry up, as the “white pitcher” was out there; Mr. Gilchrist gave us some whiskey from a pint or half-pint bottle; anything that has whiskey in it is called




It was whiskey; I do not drink much; three of us drank; Wm. Brown, Ellis and myself; but don’t know who else drank.  When I first came aboard Sidney and I had a glass of cider and a glass of pop up at Harm’s; we treated each other.  I judge all the deck-hands except Sidney had some whiskey, but did not think any of them real drunk, though two or three were two-thirds drunk.  I felt a little “tired.”  About half-past 9 or 10 o’clock, the boat hauled out from Rock Island.  I was under the boiler to go to sleep; also Ellis, Cummins, Sidney and Wm Brown.  There were six deck hands in all.  Staid under there about  half an hour.  Smalley called us, and said we had better get out, the boat was aground.  Then we went out.  I went out on the bow and saw that the boat was going back; heard someone shout that the cam rod was broken, and saying, get on the barge.  Sidney and I were standing on the forecastle when the boat struck; Sidney was holding on to a piece of rope and I was holding on to the capstan.  I did not go to the barge because it was not so very far to shore, and I would rather take my chances swimming than fooling around after barges.  Did not see Sanford, the fireman, as his place was at the front end of the boilers.  The




and I covered my face with my hat.  Think either captain or mate called out for all to go to the barge, but don’t know there was time for many passengers to get off.


I looked for the anchor which I first went on board, but did not see any.  Saw some wooden life floats on both sides of the cabin.


Saw the captain, mate and engineer and all seemed sober enough.  Did not see them getting on the barge, but they were there when I got there; they were dry, too.  The clerk and watchman and I were pretty wet.


At noon the inquest adjourned until 9 o’clock a.m. today, when it will be resumed.  There will probably be several days more occupied in examining witness.


~~~ *** ~~~


Davenport Democrat, Monday, November 7, 1881, page 1.











Statements of Messrs. Scott and Girdon, U. S. Inspectors of Steamboats



The inquisition into the cause of the death of the late Wm. Wendt of Cordova, by the Jennie Gilchrist disaster was resumed at 9 a.m. today.  The first witness called was




who being sworn said: I am aged 51 years; occupation U. S. local inspector of steam boilers, district of Galena; residence Dubuque, Iowa.  I inspected the boiler and engines of the steamer Jennie Gilchrist at LeClaire, Iowa, on the 19th day of April, 1879.  Inspected and condemned a boiler then in use.  The boat was taken to Dubuque, and two new boilers were put in, in place of the condemned boilers.  The new boilers were inspected by me at that time and also in 1880.  The pressure allowed was 169 pounds of steam at my last inspection.  I examined hose, boilers, engines and pumps.  Saw one and think two boats.


Last spring was first time they were allowed to carry passengers.  They made an application in 1880 but were refused because they were not provided with proper appliances to do so.  When license was issued they were limited to the number of twenty-five.


The Jennie Gilchrist was licensed as a daylight passenger steamer, and when we inspected her she had two officers, one watchman and two deck hands.  We believe the boat to be in a No. 1 condition throughout.  If the cut-offs were properly adjusted  carrying the amount of steam required by law, or even in excess, I do not think that it would increase the liability of breakage of the cam as reported in the Gilchrist.


It would be the duty of the engineer to attend to it, and Mr. Maines, the engineer, had the reputation of being experienced and capable, and would probably attend to it.

  Question—Has a daylight passenger boat the right to carry passengers at night?

  Answer—That is a legal question which I am unable to answer.  The boat ‘s license only called for a day-light passenger run, but the custom had been to continue the voyage day or night until they reach their destination.


The next witness called was




who, being duly sworn, testified as follows:

    I am 67 years of age, am United States inspector of steamers, Galena district; residence Galena, Ill.  Have been engaged as such inspector for nearly 17 years, and have been engaged in steamboating between St. Louis and the head of navigation for 47 years.  The steamer Jennie Gilchrist was built at LeClaire, Iowa, in 1877, is of (unreadable) 48-100 tons measurement, was fully docked and repaired in spring of 1881 at LeClaire, Iowa; I waited to inspect her on the 19th of April, 1881, until they had landed her from the ways.  We inspected her that day; John G. Suiter was then master, and H. M. Gilchrist & Co. of Rapids City, owners.  She was allowed to carry 25 passengers of all grades.  As a daylight steamer she was provided with tiller on deck; she had stairs fore and aft, wire tiller rope, wire bell pulls, return sound pipes, 1 anchor, 12 buckets, 1 water barrel, 100 feet of hose, 3 axes, and a


Which was placed on the hurricane deck, with four oars, ready for any emergency; 15 cork life-preservers and 16 wooden floats.  She had two steel boilers, made in 1879 by the Iowa Iron Works of Dubuque, Iowa; they were 31 inches in diameter, and 20 feet in length, 3 1/6 inch in thickness, and 76,000 pounds tensile strength; she was allowed to carry 169 pounds of steam pressure; she had on board the pilot’s rules, framed and hung up in a cabin.


The officer’s license were framed and hung up.  I was assisted in the examination by the master, John G. Suiter, and the engineer, Patrick M. Maines.  The Jennie Gilchrist was fully repaired in 1881; steam-gauge correct and safety-valve adjusted.  As a daylight passenger steamer the crew all told of five where inspected.


The next person on the stand was


colored, 32 years of age, occupation coal mine, residence Rapids City, Ill.  Went on the boat as a deck hand one week before the disaster.  Didn’t “kick” with Brown about supper.  Heard some of the others talking about supper.  I went and got my supper while the other fellows were “kicking.”  John Gilchrist had a pint bottle not quite full of whiskey.  HE ASKED ME TO TAKE A DRINK, but I told him I didn’t drink whisky, and didn’t take any.  I drink beer and pop.  I told some of the boys that Gilchrist had whisky for them, and I guess they got it.  I don’t drink any of the men were under the influence of liquor.  Never saw any liquor used on the boat with the exception of the pint bottle that John Gilchrist had.  The rest of Small’s testimony was simply a reiteration of what has been published by us before in regard to escaping, etc.  The deposition of Mrs. Johanna Wendt was taken by Messrs. Barge and Hawes on Saturday night, but was of an unimportant nature, merely relating her experience, which was the same as others whose story had been published.  The jury adjourned at 12 m., and reconvened at 1 p.m., when the taking of evidence was resumed.  The inquest will probably last four or five days longer.


~~~ *** ~~~


Davenport Democrat, Monday, November 7, 1881.


  City Clerk issued three burial permits last week, one being for the late Wm. Wendt of Cordova.


Daily Gazette, Tuesday Morning, November 8, 1881, page 4.





Fourth Day of the Inquest—The W. S. Steamboat Inspectors Testify—The Jenny Gilchrist was Fully Equipped as Required by Law—Hire’s Peculiar Actions Draws a Passenger’s Attention—Not Much Developed Concerning whiskey.



The following is the deposition of Mrs. Johnson Wendt, with of Wm. G. Wendt taken before “Squire Hawes and Mr. John Barge, foreman of the Jury:

  I was on the Jennie Gilchrist on the night of the accident, Oct.27, 1881, as passenger; was outside on the guards, at the time the boat went through the bridge, looking at the lights.  About five minutes after, my husband and myself went back in the cabin.  He went out again to look after his freight.  In about five minutes he returned, and taking me by the hand, said the boat was about to strike the bridge.  Did not hear any alarm given by the officers of the boat.  Hire ran though the cabin, taking with him the lantern that was hanging on the room, but said nothing, leaving us in total darkness.  Did not hear any alarm given by any person at any time.  Saw no life preservers in the room, and there were none thrown in the room that I saw.  Did not see any door broken open, but, when Hire went through the room and took the lantern he shut the door as he passed out, when the boat tipped.  I found that I and my husband were in water in the boat.  Think that in my efforts, I went overboard.  After coming to the surface, I took hold of a barrel, but that was constantly turning over.  I could not manage it.  At this time a board floated near me and I took hold of it.  As I floated in this position, I became so weak that I could not cry any more.

  The remainder of the deposition referred solely to her rescue on the Davenport shore.




one of the Government steamboat inspectors for this district, was sworn and testified as follows:

    I am 51 years of age; occupation, United States local inspector of steam boilers, Galena district; reside at Dubuque, Iowa.  I inspected the boiler and machinery of the steamer Jennie Gilchrist, April 19th, 1881, at LeClaire.  Went on board to inspect them also in 1879.  I then condemned a boiler.  They then went to Dubuque and had two new boilers put in place of the one I condemned.  I inspected these boilers after they were put in, and again in 1880.  They were allowed to carry 169 pounds pressure of steam.  Captain Girdon looks after the life saving apparatus and I the hose and pumps.  The Gilchrist was supplied with a sufficient amount of hose, and pumps.  I think that I saw two boats at that time.  They made application in 1880 for license to carry passengers, but were refused on account of not having the requisite outfit for a passenger boat.  They were at the last inspection provided with all the legal requirements of carrying passengers to the number of twenty-five.  The Jennie Gilchrist came under the list of what are called “daylight passenger boats,” which are not required to provide berths or meals.  For such a boat, the law requires two licensed officers.  When inspected and licensed she had two officers, one watchman and two deck hands.  I considered the boat in No. 1 condition throughout.  If the cut-off is properly adjusted, the amount of steam pressure has very little effect upon the movement of the value or the steam upon the rod, and would not increase the liability to breakage.  It is the engineer’s duty to keep this adjustment.  Mr. Maines has the reputation of being a good and confident engineer, and would be likely to attend it.

  Question—Has a steamboat, licensed as a day passenger boat, a right to carry passengers at night at all, even when supplied with a full complement of officers?

  Answer—It is difficult to decide that point, it is a legal question.  The strict reading of the question would not allow it; but by custom, an occasional unforeseen delay would not require them to stop entirely, the passengers knowing the circumstances and being willing to go on.  In such case that question has not been raised.




summoned.  I am 67 years of age; am U. S. Inspector of steamboats, Galena district.  Reside at Galena; Have been engaged as such nearly 17 years.

    Inspected the Jennie Gilchrist at LeClaire in 1877.  Her tonnage is 74 48 tons.  She was docked and fully repaired in the spring of 1881, at LeClaire, Iowa.  I waited to inspect her on April 19, 1881, until they had hauled her from the ways.  We inspected her that day.  She was allowed to carry 25 passengers of all grades, as a daylight passenger steamer.  She was provided with the tiller on deck (explained).  She had stairs fore and aft, had wire tiller ropes, wire bell pulls, return sound pipes (to aid a pilot in hearing the bell), twelve buckets, one water band, 100 feet of hose, three axes, one anchor, a good substantial wooden life-boat, which was placed on the hurricane deck, with four oars, fifteen cork life preservers, and sixteen wood floats.  She had two steel boilers made in1879, by the Iowa Iron Works at Dubuque, of 70,000 pounds tensile strength.  She was allowed 169 pounds steam pressure.  She had on board the pilot’s rules framed and hung up in the cabin and the officers’ licenses also.  I was assisted in the examination, as the law requires, by the master, J. G. Suiter, and also by the engineer, Wm. Maines.  Our remarks on it state:  “Docked and fully repaired in 1881, the steam gauge correct and safely valves adjusted.”


As a daylight passengers steamer, she had a crew, all told, of five, when inspected.




one of the deck hands, was then sworn, and testified as follows: Am 32 years of age; business coal mine and sometimes steam boat work.  Live at Rapids City, Ill.  Worked on the Gilchrist before the accident.  There were six of us deck hands; also two firemen, a captain, a mate, an engineer, a clerk, a cook and one watchman.  I did not quit work on account of delay in getting supper.  Some of the boys grumbled about the supper but I did not.  I went into the kitchen and said “look here, Temple, ain’t you going to give us our supper?” he said:  “supper is ready” and went in and ate.  There was whiskey there; Gilchrist had it—a pint bottle not quite full,--before I went to supper.  I did not drink.  He offered me some from the bottle, but I told him “I do not drink whiskey.”  I drink beer and pop.  I do not know who drank any; did not see him give it to anyone, but suppose he did so, for I told them he had it there.  Was with the crew all evening, and don’t think any of them were drunk, they were rather lively, but quite capable of doing their work.  There was no trouble about drunkenness, while I was on the boat




on the boat while I was there, except that mentioned.  Hire was a part of the time on the boat and part of the time on the dock.  Do not think he was under the influence of liquor; never saw him so.  When we got started all the hands went under the boiler except Levi Cummins and I.  We sat on the forecastle until we passed the draw, and the boat stopped and began to drift down.  Saw Sanford, the fireman, at his place and spoke to him.  He went into the engine room ahead of me.  Hire came running around from the starboard side, with a lantern in his hand; asked where the rest of the boys were, told us the boat was drifting down and would strike the bridge, and to get them out on to the barge.  He went in down on the port side, toward the cabin, and was hallowing all the time; he and I were both hallowing and waking up the rest of the men.  Hire was ahead of me; he went on and I stopped at the barge.  Hire had told us the cam rod was broken.  Hire came on the barge after I did; he was there when I cut it loose; did not hear any directions about looking to the cabin passengers.  Hire came on the barge at the back end, by the engine room, about the time we struck.  He had the only light there was.  I turned the head line loose and cut the other lines after we passed through.  Did not cut the lines until we passed out under the bridge, when they both fell into the water.  They jumped for the barge and missed it.  Wm Wendt went back to the wreck.  I know him well, and was close by him, and am sure I saw them both go over.


The inquest was adjourned until 1:15 p.m., when it was resumed, and the statement of




sworn in, was received: Am twenty-four years old; am a student in dentistry; reside at Port Byron.  Was on board the Jennie Gilchrist at the time of the accident.  Went on board at Port Byron, near noon. Went on board about 9:30 at the Rock Island levee.  Saw men carry on freight but did not notice if any were under the influence of liquor.  Saw, after we started, a small bottle from which two colored men drank and handed it to Mr. Gilchrist.  Saw the officers about the boat, but did not observe any under the influence of liquor.  Was standing in front of the engine when something snapped.  Heard someone say the cam-rod broke.  Saw the engineer run out and look; he had some tools in his hand.  I then went through the door into the cabin.  Saw Miss Temple and Miss Trevor, with whom I was acquainted, and two other ladies and Dr. Davenport, and two other men also sitting there; seven persons besides myself.  I told the ladies of the accident and danger, and advised getting out on the barge, which was lying alongside, directing them to the forward door on the port side, and went out there myself.  Took hold of the two ladies and urged them to go out, but could not start them.  I then ran out and up the steps to the top of the port side.  Told the pilot the machinery was broken and the boat was liable to run against the bridge, received no answer; don’t know whether he heard me, as he was




On the starboard side and shouting “For God’s sake why don’t you do something?”  I saw two more there with him.  After a few moments I went down again.  Did not see the captain nor the mate until the steam, which enveloped us, cleared away.  Did not meet the mate when I came down, and did not notice him shouting, as I was giving my whole attention to getting on the barge.  Heard some women’s voices calling for help, while I was on the bow of the barge, after we were away from the bridge.  Don’t know who cut loose the other lines; loosened one myself.  Saw the captain, mate and engineer on the barge, much excited, but not under the influence of liquor.  I think the boat was about 800 yards above the bridge when it stopped.  It might have been five minutes before we struck.  Saw no one on watch.  Would have had time to get Miss Temple and Mrs. Trevor on the barge if I could have got them to go with me. 


Question.  Have you been approached by any one regarding your testimony in this case?

  Answer.  Mr. Gilchrist asked me about the liquor business, but did not attempt to influence me in any way.

  Q  Did you when you, went on board, say to Mr. G, or any one, that if Mr. Hire was going to run the boat you would not go?

  A  I asked Schrachter if Dorrance was going to take the boat up, and he said “yes.” I spoke because I thought Hire acted in a curious excited manner.  I hardly think I would have gone on the boat if Hire and been acting as pilot, but would have taken the Evansville in preference.


Examination of James Small resumed.

  Coroner.  Are you absolutely sure that you saw Mr. Wendt go overboard?

  Answer.  I am.

  Juryman:  Have any of the officers spoken to you about your testimony?

  Answer.  Mr. Gilchrist asked me about the liquor matter, and told me not to swear to anything but the truth.




sworn.   My business is that of a laborer.  Residence in Topeka, Kansas.  Was employed on the Jennie Gilchrist two days as a deck hand.  On Thursday evening, after we started there was some whiskey passed around and I took one drink.  Saw none of the officers or crew under the influence of liquor.  As soon as we got the barge off shore we went under the boiler to rest; all except Mr. Small.  Was just going to sleep when Small called to us and said:  “Get out; the boat is going to strike the bridge.”  Just as I got out the steam pipe broke and the steam burst out on me and scalded me.  Don’t remember going through the water, but found myself not long afterward sitting on the little boat after passing under the bridge, as testified by the others.  Did not hear the mate calling out and trying to save the people, but did near the women screaming.  Saw the anchor on the starboard side of the boiler deck.


The inquest was then adjourned until 9 a.m. today, to allow time to procure more witness, who were not present.


~~~ *** ~~~


The Davenport Democrat, Tuesday, November 8, 1881, page 1.





The Inquest Continues, but the Evidence Brings Out Nothing but the Same Old Story.



Wm. Brown, aged 24 years, occupation laborer residence Topeka, Kansas was called at the reassembling of the jury yesterday afternoon and made a short pointless statement.


W. G. Skelton, aged 24 years, occupation student in dentistry, residence Port Bryon, was next interrogated as to what he knew of the cause of the disaster.  He related his experience, which has been embodied in the testimony of others, which has been given to our reader.


This morning John Zuber, being sworn, said:  I am 40 years old; occupation harness maker, residence Port Byron, Ill.  Mr. Zuber’s testimony related merely to his being a passenger on the Jennie Gilchrist, on October 27th, the day of the accident; he also gave a graphic narrative of the disaster and his subsequent escape.  His statement brought out nothing new, and as we have published numerous detailed accounts of the experience of passengers on the boat, we deem it superfluous to continue the publication of each individual statement when they are simply a reiteration of what has already been stated.


John Gilchrist was next sworn, aged 24 years, residence Rapids City, Ill.  Witness said that the Jennie Gilchrist was owned by his father, H. M. Gilchrist, of Rapids City; that he owned no interest in the boat; that he is a member of the firm of H. M. Gilchrist & Co., coal merchants, of Rapids City, Ill.  That the crew of this boat grumbled about supper being so late while loading a barge at Rock Island about 8 or 9 o’clock p.m., on the night of the accident; think it was either Maines or Hire said if witness would get some whiskey for the boys that they would finish the work before supper; that he did as requested, and gave each of the hands a drink; that it didn’t seem to affect any of them; that the captain, pilot, and engineer were perfectly sober; that life preservers were distributed promiscuously about the boat; thought if those managing the boat had let the engines go, when the cam broke, and not have tried to fix it, that all might have been transferred to the barge, and have been saved, that there wasn’t much time to think after the accident occurred until they struck the bridge; never tried to influence witness to make wrong statements in the matter of this inquest.


This afternoon Wm. Hastie, of Rapids City, and Leroy Lawhead, of this city, were examined.


Mr. Wall, the diver, will return from Muscatine, where he went yesterday, and tomorrow morning he will go down to the hull of the sunken boat to examine it for bodies which are supposed to be in it, after which the hull will be raised.  It is probable the taking of testimony by the coroner’s jury will close tomorrow.


Collected and transcribed by

 Sue Rekkas


back to History Index