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Paraphrased from the Burlington, Iowa Weekly
Hawk-Eye May 10 1859 by Patricia Sheldon

Submitted by Site visitor and contributor Patricia Sheldon.
Thank you Pat

Harrowing Details of the St. Nicholas Disaster - Statement of James Reed –
Pilot of the St. Nicholas Disaster -

We left Memphis at 4 P.M. last Sunday and proceeded down the river without stopping either engine until we arrived at foot of St. Francis Island about 10 o’clock the same night at which place the explosion took place. The captain was the only person with me in the pilot-house at the time. We were both at the wheel. I remember distinctly of hearing a report like that of a cannon and instantaneously felt myself moving through the air. When I recovered my senses, I found myself down among the boilers. When the steam and smoke cleared away a little, I commenced crawling toward the roof; in doing so I came across Captain McMullan, lying with his right foot under the hurricane roof, pilot house, and a lot of other rubbish, which had been thrown together in one common work by the explosion. His right foot and ankle was wedged in tightly by this heavy mass of lumber. He hailed me and I stopped to assist him, at the same time I called the second mate, whom I saw near at hand to my assistance and we both tried all the means in our power to release him. One of the striker engineers came to our assistance but the three of us failed to extricate him from his awful position. The flames were rapidly encroaching upon our territory …We worked at the Captain until the fire drove us away…He was consumed by the flames almost before our eyes. I left Capt. McMullan a few minutes before the others did, and succeed in reaching the ladies cabin before the fire closed up the way of escape. The others finding it impossible to follow me jumped into the river. During the time I was at work trying to save Captain McMullan the mate brought the yawl forward to try and put the fire out, but the yawl filled up with men, deck hands and firemen. While there the yawl also picked up Capt. Ben Glime from under the ruins and took him aboard the Susquehanna – By this time Capt. McMullan was completely enveloped in flames.

I reached the ladies cabin and found the ladies huddled together noting, frantically screaming for assistance and weeping bitterly. Mrs. Glime was there crying aloud for her husband. I told her I had not seen him which I had not at that time for I did not learn until afterwards that he had been picked up by the yawl. I told the ladies to go down to the main deck, and get away back to the stern of the boat. I preceded them and when we reached the deck room we had to jump eight feet on the main deck. When I got them down there, I told them to remain until I could go up and throw the life-boat overboard. I went up on the roof and there found my partner, Edward Stevens, who assisted me to throw the life-boat overboard. When I reached the lower guard, I looked for the lifeboat where I expected I should find it, but it was gone. During all this time, there was a great many people jumping into the river. It was perfectly horrible.

I jumped back to the ladies guard, and got five or six doors and gave one to each lady. They also had on life preservers around them. I told them not to jump overboard until the fire chased them away; The party of ladies were five in number. They were begging me to stay with them and when necessity obliged us to jump overboard to allow them to cling to me. I was telling them that such a course would be impossible when I saw the yawl of the Susquehanna leave that boat and come toward us. I told them to hold on and they would be saved by the yawl. I then went around to the other guard to bring the Susquehanna yawl around to the ladies before it got filled up with men. After waiting a short time I jumped overboard in order to swim to the yawl. When I got into the river, and had a good chance to look about, I saw the yawl going back to the Susquehanna nearly sinking with water. I was unable to swim back to where I left the ladies and tried to swim around the bow of the boat and came across a shelf of wood which was of assistance to me. I soon managed to get around so as to obtain a view of the boat, which I found cleared of all the ladies. They had gone and the guard was all in a blaze. That is the last I saw of them except for Mrs. Kennedy who had jumped overboard and held on to a ring bolt in the hull . She held until a skiff took her away. Her shoulders and arms were badly burnt.

Mrs. Kennedy told me while she was in the position she saw all the other women float by her towards the wheel. She caught Mrs. Glime and held her a few minutes, but couldn’t retain her hold in consequence of excessive weakness and heat. It is Mrs. K’s opinion all the women were drowned by the falling of the wheelhouse, as she could see nothing of them after it fell.

I then started to swim for the shore and landed three miles below where I jumped into the water. When I got where I found some of our crew. I had found a house but no person living in it. We looked around for something to start a fire but there was none. We came near perishing with cold. We remained in the house two hours constantly exercising by which means were kept from freezing. At the end of two hours the Susquehanna came and took us away.....(and more)


The MIGRATION OF A FAMILY by William McAlpin Traditional story written by Helen McCalpin Send comments to: mccalpin@mccalpin.com Copyright _ 1997 by William J. McCalpin. .Access @ http://www.mccalpin.com/GENEALOG/helenmcc.htm

In 1854 John McAlpin and his mother left Indiana and traveling by way of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers came to St. Louis. Here he engaged in a boat stores business. In the next year he married Mary Merrin, a native of County Roscommon. Of their three children only William lived to maturity. John’s business was successful for a time and prosperity seemed near when in 1857 some financial troubles swept away all of his possessions and much of his hopes. He salvaged what he could from the wreck of his fortunes and started anew in a business he knew was profitable. In those early days of river transportation it was the custom of owners of steamboats to sell the liquor business on the boat as a kind of concession. John McAlpin bought the liquorbusiness of the steamboat St. Nicholas, a comparatively new boat in the NewOrleans ? St. Louis service. The boat was four years old in 1859 whenCaptain Reeder and Captain Glime purchased her for $25,000 and John McAlpinbecame the owner of the bar. On the first trip under the new management, about seventy five miles south of Memphis, there was a terrific explosion. The boat took fire and in a short while was a total wreck.There were but nineteen who survived that night, and of these only sixescaped serious injury. John McAlpin was directly over the boilers when the accident occurred. He was badly scalded and was thrown into the water. Some still on board threw out planks, doors and furniture to those in the water to assist them in saving themselves. The following is an account of the disaster in "The Missouri Republican" of April 29, 1859. The journalistic method of that day seems to have been to compile a series of quotations from various people - survivors and witnesses. The assembling of the narrative is left to the reader. A survivor named James Chillson, who was second pantryman aboard, said this:

"-----I got on the plank with him (McCalpin). Both of us got tangled up with the cattle, which were tied together with ropes and which were swimming around. I got loose and finally succeeded in freeing him, not, however, until he was nearly drowned. He remained near the wreck nearly two hours before being taken up by the "Susquehanna". Later we were transferred at Memphis and brought to St. Louis on the Philadelphia."

The long period in the water, the delay in being transferred from one boat to another, the lapse of days before adequate medical attention was begun served to undermine his robust health. He was never quite well again and died the following spring (1860).

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