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Wreck of the Steamer Scioto, July 4, 1882

- from the Wheeling Intelligencer, July 10, 1882, p.1



The Steamer Partly Beached — The Number of Bodies Found and Identified — Interview with Inspector Fehrenbatch — Notes, Scenes and Incidents.

It has been nearly a week since the Scioto with its load of precious human freight was suddenly stricken down and hundred of her passengers were, in the twinkling of an eye, forced to battle with the waves for their lives, or sink down to death beneath the cruel waters from exhaustion or inability to swim. It was a fearful night, and it is no wonder that the scene was so vividly graven on the mind of poor Captain Thomas, and the horrors of the catastrophe for some time drove reason from her throne. Standing on the deck of the ill-fated streamer one could hardly believe it was the channel house of so much death. There was no evidence in the vicinity that the workers were seeking for the dead, except where one caught the strained gaze and pale, sad face of some watcher on the shore. The scene on shore was more like that of a mining camp or the beginning of a young western town. Some two or three booths had been erected by parties who made an easy dollar out of the disaster by supplying the wants of those who were hungry. And here and there were the embers of camp fires and marks that showed that some party had pulled up stakes and flown. Under the trees and lining the banks were people looking on the scene with indifference, attracted by mere idle curiosity.

What a change from last Tuesday night, when the moon between the rifts in the clouds looked down on the waters blackened with struggling human forms, and then veiling her face as the wail of the lost floated over the waters ending in a bubbling cry of despair. One week ago the eyes of those now glassy in death were filled with the light of expectancy, and were, perhaps, anticipating the pleasures the trip would afford. To-day the towering hills on either side of the river stand as mute monuments of their graves, and the waters rush on sending to the shores ripples that die in a sigh on the beach.

The saddest and most heart-touching features are the grief stricken faces of those who are watching and waiting for the waters to give up their ghastly victims, hoping that among them may be their lost loved onces. I was much struck with the pathetic story of Andrew Rausenberger, who lives near Clarington, Ohio. He had lost a son, who was employed as a deckhand on the Scioto. There were no tears in his eyes, but the sadness of his voice and the expression of his face told of the hopeless grief that was harrowing his soul. His language was simple but eloquent in the depth of affection is showed. "They didn't want me to come up here," he said, "as I could not get the body of my son any sooner. But I felt it was my duty to go. It is a satisfaction, poor indeed, but still a satisfaction to see where he died. He had only been married six months, poor boy! We didn't want him to go on the river, but he would go, and now he is dead." But what a contrast to this was the scene of two men quarreling over a corpse at a station on the C. & P. road on Saturday. Not for the possession of the body, but because they disagreed as to the identity of the poor boy. In all things it is one of the saddest tragedies that ever occurred on western waters, which will take years of time to efface from the memory of those who witnessed the wreck or were in any way connected with the accident that so cruelly and so swiftly brought death and mourning into so many households.


The Boat Partially Beached — Excursions to the Scene Yesterday.

Special to the Intelligencer.

MINGO, July 9, 1882. — Friday afternoon Capt. Booth sent word to Wheeling for the Belle Prince to assist him in raising the Scioto, which was promptly responded to by Capt. Billy Prince and his crew, taking with him an immense coil of three inch rope and other working apparatus, arriving at the fatal place shortly after dark, where the Annie L. was also found ready for duty. After a consultation it was decided to await the light of day before commencing work.

Saturday morning, shortly after six o'clock, Mr. J. V. Earheart, of the Cincinnati wrecking company, prepared himself for an investigation of the hull of the steamer, in order to ascertain where he could make fastenings that would hold. This having been accomplished, the Belle Prince took position near the Ohio Shore, with Annie L. on the larboard side of the Scioto, but the wrecked boat stubbornly refused to move from her watery grave. At about 10 A. M., the Nail City was hailed as she was passing, and tying her barges to the shore took position on the starboard of the Scioto, and after the lines had been arranged, all took a good pull and push together, which resulted in moving the wrecked steamer a few feet. About dinner time she had been moved about 75 feet, but the first attempt after dinner to move her resulted in pulling out her "bit" to which the Belle Prince had her line hitched, in consequence of which the workmen were delayed some three hours before another attempt could be made. Saturday night found her about 70 feet from the Ohio shore, laying directly across the river, her bow to the shore.

Yesterday morning the river was fast falling and a portion of the hull was plainly visible. The Welcome steamed up and went to Wheeling, where she procured lumber, nails, workers, and provisions, returning about 5 P. M. with everything necessary to commence the work of building a bulk head, and if the river continues to fall the wrecked steamer will probably be in Wheeling about Wednesday.

During Saturday there were but few present at any one time, say not over 300, most of whom were looking for news from friends, and reporters from everywhere.

Yesterday the Little Annie took up an excursion of about 125, the C. Y. Lucas,150, and from Steubenville and vicinity there was about 600, all looking and speculating on the horrible disaster. Quite a number supposed the boat lay in the same position there as when the collision occurred, hence it was somewhat amusing to hear the comments. To those who have been there the past week, the wonder is, what in the world did they expect to see.

Two refreshment stands have been erected on the Ohio bank, which were doing a thriving business in the way of selling sandwiches, cakes, cider, lemonade etc.

Capt. Davis, of the Nail City, is a good man to have around when work is to be done.

Capts. Prince and Daugherty, with their boats and crews did everything that good cool head could suggest to relieve the wants of Capt. Booth.


Thirteen of the Victims Put in Coffins and Sent Home.

Saturday considerable excitement prevailed here of the finding of several bodies near the wharf. The first one was that of an unknown man, which George D[ ... ] noticed floating in the water, near the dry docks, on the Island side of the river, just opposite Eleventh street. Upon being taken from the water, the body was found to be that of a young man, twenty or thirty years of age, about 5 feet 8 inches in height, clean shaven, and wearing a worsted suit of bluish black, with wide diagonal binding. He wore a broad band gold ring on the little finger of his left hand. Squire Thomas Sweeney held an inquest on the body and a verdict was returned in accordance with the foregoing facts. In his left vest pocket were found three one dollar bills, and forty-five cents in change in his pants pocket. He also had a shoe buttoner, a bullet, a watch-key and a large sleeve button in his pockets.

The body was removed to Mendel's furniture factory on Eoff street in an express wagon, the crowd following, and gathering about the door when the body disappeared from view. Here it was placed in a neat pine coffin, to await shipment to friends up the river. This process was repeated as each of thirteen bodies recovered were relinquished by the coroner, the crowd each time swarming up Twelfth Street about the wagon. The bodies recovered here and at points above and below were those of the following named persons:






MIKE EMERLING AND WIFE, Jethio. JOHN HART, Cleveland. JOHN D. CUMMINS, Salinesville.

That the identification of the bodies was not in all cases reliable is shown by the fact the some those recovered were positively identified as persons whose friends failed entirely to recognize them when they reached Wellsville or East Liverpool.

The bodies were all put in coffins at Mendel's, and shipped on the C. & P. road in the afternoon.


Pilot Keller Arrested — The Lomas Tied Up — A Warrent for Pilot Long.

Saturday at noon Supervising Inspector Fehrenbatch, of Cincinnati, arrived from the wreck, and had a long consultation with the Inspectors and other Government authorities here, and also communicated with the Department officials at Washington. The result was the issuing of warrants for Dave Keller, pilot of the Scioto, and B. J. Long, pilot of the John Lomas, by United States Commissioner Forbes Saturday evening. Deputy Marshal Kennedy went up to the wreck, where Keller is working, and put him under arrest. The Captains of the Belle Prince, Annie L., Nail City and Welcome, Capts. Prince, Daugherty, Davis and Booth, at once gave security for his appearance when wanted, and he was allowed to remain at his post.

Long has not been found, but is supposed to be at his home in Martin's Ferry. He will be placed under arrest as soon as he returns to this side of the river.

The warrants are issued by authority of the U. S. Statutes, which make it the duty of the Supervising Inspector to enter a criminal prosecution in case of a fatal accident, if there is reason to believe it was the result of gross negligence or incompetency.

The taking of testimony in the investigation by Local Inspectors Young and Wilson will be commenced in this city next Thursday.

Saturday, Messrs. B. B. Bovener and W. P. Hubbard, attorneys for the Wheeling, Parkersburg & Cincinnati Transportation Company, owners of the Scioto, entered suit in the U. S. District Court, filing a libel with Commissioner Forbes, of this city, in which they claim damages in the sum of $4,000 for injuries sustained by the Scioto by the collision, which, the libel alleges, was caused by the negligence of the Lomas' officers. U. S. Marshall Atkinson seized the Lomas and tied her up at the wharf, where she still lies, in charge of Deputy Marshal G. W. Kennedy.


With Reference to the Accident and Matters Germane to It.

Saturday afternoon an INTELLIGENCER reporter met Supervising Inspector Fehrenbatch at the McLure House, and asked him about the accident. He had just come from the wreck, he said, and was awaiting instructions from the Secretary of War before taking any steps toward a criminal prosecution in the matter. He said the Local Inspectors, Messrs. Young and Wilson, had charge of the investigation, but the law made it his duty also to institute criminal proceedings if there was reason to believe or suspect that the accident was the result of culpable negligence.

Concerning the cause of the collision, and where there responsibility should rest, Mr. Fehrenbatch spoke very guardedly, as was proper under the circumstances. However, he plainly said there must have been gross negligence on the part of one or both of the pilots. Had the rules been observed the accident could not have happened. Rule 1 states that "When steamers are approaching each other, the signal for passing shall be one sound of the steam whistle to keep to the right, and two sounds of the steam whistle to keep to the left. These signals are to made first by the descending steamer." Rule 2 provides that "should steamers be likely to pass near each other, and these signals should not be made and answered by the time such boats shall have arrived at the distance of eight hundred yards from each other, the engine of both boats shall be stopped, or should these signals be given and not properly understood, from any cause whatever, both boats shall back until their headway shall be fully checked, and the engines shall not again be started ahead until the proper signals are made, answered and understood."

Had Keller, when he saw that the Lomas was closer than she should have been without giving the first signal, blew the danger signal, the accident would have been averted, while had Lomas acted in accordance with her last signal, and kept the West Virginia channel, she would have been equally safe.

Mr. Fehrenbach was led to visit the scene of the collision himself by the conflicting and exaggerated reports in the Cincinnati papers. He said he knew that most of the statements there made were impossible, and he resolved to see how things lay himself. He was disposed to believe that the number of passengers on the boat had been grossly exaggerated. He thinks it impossible to carry five or six hundred persons on the Scioto. Illustrating the tendency of an observer to exaggerate the number of persons in any crowd, he told an incident of his trip to Mingo. When he alighted from the train he noticed that quite a goodly number of passengers got off, and made a remark to a gentleman near. The latter put the crowd at least two hundred, and several others took issue with him, thinking there were more. He resolved to count them, and did so without difficulty, finding there were just fifty-six persons on the platform.

The reporter asked him what he thought of the suit brought against the Scioto to recover the passage money and $10 per passenger in excess of the legal number carried on the fatal trip.

"Admitting that the number carried was in excess of the number the Scioto was authorized to carry," said Mr. Fehrenbatch, "I greatly doubt whether the libellants can recover. Such suits generally fail unless brought by an interested party or by the inspectors, and in the latter case the officials cannot be pecuniarily benefitted by the recovery of damages. It is difficult to secure a jury that will award damages to persons not injured in any way, and who merely enter suit as a money making scheme."

The Supervising Inspector declined to indicate that action he would take in the case, but after developments, the issuing of warrants for the pilots, as recorded elsewhere, answered for him.

Scioto Disaster pages: Part 1July 5, 1882; Part 2, July 6, 1882; Part 3, July 10, 1882; Part 4, March 6, 1884

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