TexasEscapes.comTexas Escapes Online Magazine: Travel and History
Columns: History, Humor, Topical and Opinion
Over 1400 Texas Towns & Ghost Towns
NEW : : TEXAS TOWNS : : GHOST TOWNS : : FEATURES : : COLUMNS : : ARCHITECTURE : : IMAGES : : SITE MAP
HOME
SEARCH SITE
ARCHIVES
FORUM
RESERVATIONS
Texas Hotels
Hotels
Cars
Air
Cruises
 
 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical :

THE MITTIE STEPHENS DISASTER

by Archie P. McDonald, PhD

On February 12, 1869,
a fire burned her to the waterline in Caddo Lake
Archie McDonald Ph.D.
Robert Fulton won the technological race to find a way to utilize steam power for transportation when he successfully sailed the Clermont on the Hudson River 1807. He did not solve another problem: how to make such travel safe.

When we remember steamboat accidents, most of us think about boiler explosions, which resulted from excessive pressure or faulty equipment, or both. But the boiler was working well on the side-wheeler "Mittie Stephens" on February 12, 1869, and did not explode: instead, a fire burned her to the waterline in Caddo Lake near the Texas-Louisiana border.

Steamboats became pervasive on America's inland waters during the first half of the nineteenth century. Moving passengers and cargo over water was also slower. But with only animal powered wagons, and after 1837 the "iron horse" railroads as competitors, steamboats proliferated and their owners prospered. Still, there was danger on the water.






"Mittie Stephens" came out of a shipyard in Madison, Indiana, in 1863, in time to be a part of the effort to preserve the Union. She served as a naval packet for a year, but after the failure of the Red River Campaign in 1864 she was sold. Civilian owners used her on the Missouri River and then stationed her in New Orleans. In 1866, "Mittie Stephens" began regular roundtrips between New Orleans and Jefferson, Texas, via the Mississippi and Red rivers and Cypress Bayou. Her last voyage began on February 5, 1869. Seven nights later, "Mittie Stephens" steamed on Caddo Lake near her destination with 107 passengers and crew, plus cargo, which included hay stacked on deck. Sparks from a torch basket located on the bow to illuminate the ship blew in the wind to the dry hay, ignited, and a conflagration resulted.

The helmsman steered for shore but the ship "grounded." That meant that passengers might have saved themselves by jumping overboard and wading to shore. But the side-mounded paddlewheel kept turning in an effort to force the ship on to shore, and many who leapt overboard were sucked into the wheel. Sixty-one people perished.

"Mittie Stephens" burned to the water line, though parts of her, including the bell, and some machinery, were salvaged. Her remains reminded those who visit the lake of the danger that await those who move upon the waters well into the twentieth century.


All Things Historical

Feb. 8-14, 2004 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers

All Things Historical is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Associaton. Archie McDonald is executive director of the Association and author of 20 books on Texas.

See also:
The Wreck of the Acadia by Murray Montgomery
"On her first voyage, during the Civil War, the ship ran aground near Galveston. Abandoned by her crew, the boat was discovered at sunrise by a Union warship and destroyed. My great fishing spot is the gravesite of the Confederate blockade-runner, Acadia."
 
TEXAS TOWN LIST | TEXAS GHOST TOWNS
Texas Hill Country | East Texas | Central Texas North | Central Texas South |
West Texas | Texas Panhandle | South Texas | Texas Gulf Coast
TRIPS | State Parks | Rivers | Lakes | Drives | Maps | LODGING

TEXAS FEATURES
Ghosts | People | Historic Trees | Cemeteries | Small Town Sagas | WWII |
History | Black History | Rooms with a Past | Music | Animals | Books | MEXICO
COLUMNS : History, Humor, Topical and Opinion

TEXAS ARCHITECTURE | IMAGES
Courthouses | Jails | Churches | Gas Stations | Schoolhouses | Bridges | Theaters | Monuments/Statues | Depots | Water Towers | Post Offices | Grain Elevators |
Lodges | Museums | Stores | Banks | Gargoyles | Corner Stones | Pitted Dates |
Drive-by Architecture | Old Neon | Murals | Signs | Ghost Signs

TRAVEL RESERVATIONS
TEXAS HOTELS | Hotels | Cars | Air | Cruises | USA


Privacy Statement | Disclaimer | Recommend Us | Links
Contributors | Staff | About Us | Contact TE |
TEXAS ESCAPES ONLINE MAGAZINE
HOME
Website Content Copyright 1998-2006. Texas Escapes - Blueprints For Travel, LLC. All Rights Reserved
This page last modified: Ocotber 13, 2006