STEAMER LAMASCOTTE EXPLOSION
Alice Rose Spillman
On October 5 , 1886. at 9 o 'clock in the morning, the steamship LAMASCOTTE left the wharf at Cape Girardeau, Missouri for St. Louis with its passengers and freight. The Captain of the ship, Captain Thompson, had recently obtained from proper authorities a special permit to carry one hundred and twenty-five extra passengers, he had provided for their safety by taking on board four extra boats with their equipment and one hundred and twenty-five extra life preservers, sixty floats and extra crew members . All this was done in anticipation of an increase in passengers to and from the St. Louis Fair. The steamer proceeded up the Mississippi River, making it's landings on schedule, passing the bars at Devils Island safely, and was heading for Crawfords Landing when a heavy, dead smothering sound was heard. Moments later several of the crew members rushed to the forecastle badly scalded and moaning in pain. The first mate had been blown about 20 feet from the boat and was struggling in the water, the second mate was lying on the deck badly scalded and helpless. The Captain rushed to the engine room and upon inspection saw that the flue had collapsed and the boiler head was blown out. Flames broke out and panic ensued.
The Captain immediately called upon the remaining crew members to collect the women and children am take them to the bow of the boat assuring them that they would be saved as the boat was slowly nearing the shore. The stage of the boat was 1owered and the passengers stepped onto it, ready to jump ashore when it touched land, when suddenly the current of the river turned the boat out into the stream again, putting off their hopes of escape. Those on the stage made frantic efforts to cut loose the wire cords which was holding it to the side of the ship, but to no avail. One of the chimneys broke and fell across the stage causing it to capsize, throwing the passengers into the water. A few of the passengers had provided themselves with life preservers, others had refused or in the panic had failed to obtain preservers.
The tow boat EAGLE, with two barges, was close behind the unfortunate LAMASCOTTE and according to the coroner’s report of the accident it was clear it had the power to have saved the greater number of the lost. The EAGLE was in the wake of the crippled steamer LAMASCOTTE and the slightest push from the EAGLE would have sent the crippled ship to the bank and the victims could have jumped to safety. Instead the EAGLE passed the crippled ship, went above them and landed. Much criticism was held toward Captain Ebaugh, Captain of the EAGLE, and his conduct and treatment of the survivors before returning them to Cape Girardeau. (See Coroners Jury Report).
The EAGLE returned the survivors to the Cape Girardeau wharf in the evening, which was the towns first news of the disaster. The news spread rapidly and friends and relatives of those who had left Cape Girardeau that morning gathered at the wharf for news of their loved ones. Fathers, mothers, husbands and friends were walking about in a stupor, hoping against hope, for news of their relatives. Will H. Wheeler of Cape Girardeau, whose wife and two small daughters were among the lost, searched in vain for his dear ones. His wife was an only daughter of Mr. J.H. Stratman, an esteemed townsman.
Carriages and wagons, supplied with mattresses, soon arrived to transfer the suffering to the local hospital. The city physicians were quickly on hand, helping to relieve the distress as far as possible. By midnight all were housed or hospitalized and receiving medical help. The scene at the St. Francis Hospital was appalling. The survivors who had been rushed there for treatment were scalded on their hands, arms, faces, sides, breasts and backs. The physicians and Sisters were administering cooling drinks, and applying soothing lotion, while death was moving from bed to bed placing its seal of relief to the suffering.
As the books and passenger list were lost in the explosion an accurate passenger list was not available, but with information from surviving crew members and passengers the following people were either passengers or crew members on the fatal ship.
Passengers included.: Judge William Hager and wife; Fred “Fritz” Lind; Miss Amelia Krueger; Miss Julia Rabich; Louis Siemers and wife; John H. Miller and his wife and two children; Mrs. Will H. Wheeler and two children, Daisy and Lily; Dennis Wilson; Miss Lena Buehrmann; Mrs. Clay Phelps; Charlie Thomas; Mrs. Barnes and her two children; J.N. Russell; A.J. Howard; William Spartzell; Dallas Webster; Joe Burns; Lew Chatman; Anderson Sharp; Marshall Wade and Albert Rice.
As mentioned before Mrs. Will H. Wheeler was the wife of a very prominent townsman and was the daughter of Mr. J.H. Stratman of Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
Judge Hager was a prominent citizen who had served for two years as Presiding Justice of the County Court and had just received a new nomination for the same office. His wife was also lost.
Miss Amelia Krueger was the daughter of Christ Krueger, a butcher in Cape Girardeau. She and Miss Julia Rabich were both on their way to St. Louis, Missouri.
Fred "Fritz" Lind was the son of Leo Lind of the city and was on his way to the exposition and fair in St. Louis, Missouri.
Many acts of heroism were show, amongst which was Miss Buehrmann of St. Louis who was on her way home. She seized one of Mrs. Wheelers little daughters, swinging herself over the guard rails and held only by one arm until her hand, arm and side were burned and blistered, her hair singed and one side of her face scorched, then exhausted dropped with the little girl into the water. The child was swept from her and was seen no more. Fortunately, Miss Buehrmann was rescued and lived as a sad witness of her suffering and harrowing experiences.
Also Mrs. Siemers, who had jumped into the water with Mr. Hager, endeavored to encourage and support him until he was swept from her grasp and sank from sight.
Mrs. Clay Phelps displayed courage when she took a station on the staging and when it capsized was thrown into the water but being an expert swimmer struck out for shore and saved her life.
Mr. John H. Miller and family, who were preparing to leave the boat at Crawfords Landing picked up his two sons, who clung to his neck, turned to his wife and said, "Jane, we cannot stay here am be burned, let us go together," and they jumped into the water. In the struggle he lost hold of his two sons and they both, along with his wife, sank into the waters. He was later rescued.
According to an article in the local newspaper the following were reported as lost or missing, however several of the crew members died later and can be found in the list taken from the Death Registrar recorded in Jackson, Missouri.
Those missing were: J. Roy Perkins, 1st clerk; Louis Adams, 2nd mate; W.O. Brian, 1st Engr.; Mrs. Johnson and Cindrell Peoples, both chambermaids; Steph Wells, a porter; Mrs. Wheeler and two children; Mrs. Miller and two children; Mrs. Barnes and two children; Miss Amelia Krueger; Miss Julia Rabich; Judge William Hager and wife; Fred Lind and Charlie Thomas.
Those saved were: J.B. Thompson, Captain; E.N. Branhan, 2nd clerk, James Daugherty, 1st mate; James Donohue and Jon Hanlan, both pilots; D.C. Mantz, 2nd Engr.; C.E. Vaught, watchman; C.J. Givens; cabin watchman; Henry Lower, steward; O.P. Gray, Texas Tender; and deckhands and roustabouts, Clem Smith, George Reeves, J. Osborn, George Lovell, W. Price, D. Webster, A. Given, A. Love and Ollie James, all officers and crew members of the steamer.
Passengers saved were: Louis Siemers and wife; Miss Lena Buehrmann; J.N. Russell; Dennis Wilson; Mrs. Clay Phelps; John H. Miller; A.J. Howard; Wm. Spartzell; Dallas Webster; Joe Burns; Levi Chatman; Anderson Sharp and Marshall Wade. (Several of these died later in the hospital at Cape Girardeau, Missouri.)
The steamer, after burning, sank some two miles below where she caught fire being entirely submerged all but a small corner of her wheel.
The following was the finding of the Coroner’s Jury: "The Jury finds that (naming the parties) came to their deaths by scalding, which occurred in consequence of the explosion in some part of the boilers of the steamer LAMASCOTTE; and from the evidence adduced before us, we find that the officers of the steamer LAMASCOTTE made every effort to save and relieve the passengers and crew of the said steamer. The Jury also, from the evidence before us, cannot find language strong enough to express our condemnation of the inhuman treatment which the stricken and suffering in charge of the two boat EAGLE, whose exhibition of brutality was of the most revolting nature, and in the opinion of the Jury, such a person should meet with severe punishment, at least to the extent of having his license revoked.”
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The following was taken from the Death Registrar recorded at Jackson, Mo from 1883-1893. All were shown that they died in the St. Francis Hospital in Cape Girardeau Mo from burns and scalding from the explosion of the steamship “LaMascotte.” All were shown to be buried in the City Cemetery in Cape Girardeau, Mo except an unknown female chambermaid which was shown as having been buried at Neelys Landings, Mo.
ADAMS, L.D., Second Mate, b. Rochester, PA, d. 11 Oct 1886
CHATMANN, Levi, 23 years old, b. Paducah, KY, d. 6 Oct 1886, single
DAVIDSON, GEORGE S., 42 years old, b. Evansville, IN, d. 9 Oct 1886, married
DAVIS, William, Colored, b. Midway, KY, d. 6 Oct 1886, single
ELLIOT, William, Colored, b. St. Louis, Mo, d. 6 Oct 1886
FENNIGEN, Sech, Colored, b. unknown, d. 5 Oct 1886
JONES, William, Colored, b. St. Louis, MO, d. 6 Oct 1886, single
JORDON, G.H., Colored, Evansville, IN, d. 6 Oct 1886, single
LACY, Thomas, Colored, b. unknown, d. 5 Oct 1886
RICE, Albert, Colored, b. Cape Girardeau, MO, d. 6 Oct 1886, single
SCHERER, M.G., 34 years old, b. Covington, KY, d. 6 October 1886 (could be G. McSherer)
Unknown Female, 40 years (about) Chambermaid, d. 5 Oct 1886, buried Neelys Land, MO
WAIDE, Marshall, Colored, 25 years old, b. Walnut Hill, KY, D. 7 Oct 1886, single
OTHER PUBLICATIONS REGARDING THE LA MASCOTTE
This news of the La Mascotte accident near Neely's Landing, Cape Girardeau County, was published far and wide. The investigation continued through December 1886 and publicized. Here are a few of the publications.
Chronology of U.S. Deadly Events lists the La Mascotte as a death count of 34 (record #1595)