Magnolia picture courtesy of Lois Aszman, FL

The Widow's Lament: Amanda Pratt Prather goes public about the disaster---->


Cincinnati Enquirer March 17, 1868, Thursday

Fearful Steamboat Disaster
Fearful Condition of the Passengers
A Record of the Wreck

One of the most terrible steamboat disasters that has occurred in this vicinity since the blowing up of the Moselle, took place yesterday, a short distance below California, at the mouth of Crawfish, and about seven miles up the river.
The ill fated boat was the Magnolia, one of the regular Cincinnati and Maysville packets, and the most popular boat upon the list. She left her dock at the usual hour, 12 M., with, as is estimated, fully one hundred passengers on board, and in about an hour afterwards the explosion took place.
Mr. Gus Miller, who resides opposite where the catastrophe occurred, and on the Kentucky shore, was at work in his garden, and immediately, with Mr. Abel, who was formerly connected with the National Theater, put off in a skiff to the rescue of the unfortunates on board. They state that after the explosion the boat went some distance ahead, and he pulled a mile before the flames burst forth, so that he estimates the interval at nearly ten minutes. When he arrived near the wreck, a most fearful sight presented itself. Beneath the guards a dozen men were clinging, and shrieking for help, the while the flames were seething their heads, hands and faces.
The heat was so intense that it was impossible for the skiffs to approach near enough for their rescue, and one by one they dropped into the water. One man who still remained on the boat, with a little girl in his arms shouted to the men in the skiff, "for God's sake save the child." While the fire was scorching behind, until the heat becoming intolerable, he dropped the little girl into the water, and then jumped overboard himself. We understand that both were saved.
In the meantime other skiffs had put out from the Ohio shore, and by desperate exertion many persons, principally ladies, were rescued from the burning wreck. Two, however, were swept beneath the guards, and every effort to rescue them was in vain. One man was seen hanging to the hog-chain, his beard and the hair of his head burning. Mr. Miller shouted to him to let go, and he dropped into the water and was saved, although terribly injured by the flames. Another, badly burned, was taken off the rudder, but the raging element was so rapid in its progress, that but short time was vouchsafed either to the victims or those who came to their aid.
In the meantime the steam tug Falcon came up, and took some twenty four of the injured on board. The steamer Panther, too was headed as rapidly as possible to the scene of the disaster, and brought a great number of the unfortunate people to the city. The scene upon these boats was of the most harrowing description. Many of the poor creatures, half charred, were moaning piteously, while others lay in a state of stupor, happily, for the time being, oblivious to their terrible condition. During the progress to the city every attention was devoted that kindness could suggest, and nothing was left undone that could in any wise alleviate their suffering.
Several were rescued and taken to the shore at California. The following is, as near as we can ascertain, a list of their names, and their condition: L. E. Relman, N. D. Ridenhour, Colonel Chas. Marshall, Mrs. Wiles and daughter, Rufus Martin and lady, Mrs Albert N. Fulton, Wm. D. Ross, slightly injured; T. Cox, editor Flemingsburg Democrat, C. D. Armstrong, same place, G. H. Huston, Berlin, Ky., slightly hurt; T. F. Jones, G.W. Kerr, Bridgeton, Ind., badly, Elliot, second clerk.


Mr. Levi, Mrs. Baker, of Ripley, Ohio; Mr. Prather, brother of the Captain [James H. Prather]; Mr. Evans; Jackson, the steward, saved, but badly injured; J. Stewart, First Engineer, and B. Gardner, badly injured. Henry Clark, messenger Adams Express company, one leg broken below the knee; Lew Mills, first mate and porter or the boat, G. L. Gillis, unhurt; William Burton, barkeeper, slightly injured; Thomas Curran, of Daver, Ky., slightly injured; J. M. Gillimand , of Ripley, two ribs broken, James Millr, badly scalded; J. R. Hawes, Minerva, Ky., shoulder broken and otherwise injured; Charles Lewis, of Iona, frightful hole in the skull; J. P. Luwill, of Aberdeen, scalded badly; George Wilder, of Higginsport, badly scalded.


The books were all destroyed, so that it is impossible, at this time, to ascertain how many passengers there were on board, and how many perished. And this suggests not only the expediency, but the necessary precaution which should be adopted by all passenger steamers before quitting port, of leaving a duplicate register. In the present case it will be impossible to ascertain how many have been lost by this terrible disaster. The following list is, at present all that we have obtained.
Captain Prather, of Covington,; Wm. Edwards, second barkeeper, John
Reese, of Felicity, Ohio; chambermaid, Mrs. Lapan (?); Mr. Stephens, second engineer; P. Miller; Miss Retta French, Mason County, Kentucky, supposed to be drowned. Ben. Fradford, of Ripley, supposed to be killed, the chief mate of the boat, and the cook who perished by the flames. Stephen Shorter, a colored man, and the tow ladies heretofore mentioned, who were swept beneath the guards, manes unknown.
Most of the sufferers were taken to the residences of their friends, or to the different hotels. The following were conveyed to the Commercial Hospital. Three deck-hands, sufferers by the explosion were taken to the Commercial Hospital, one of whom-a colored man named Stephen Shorter-died almost immediately after his removal there. His remains were taken by his family to his late home, No. 144 East Fifth street. another colored man, Green Johnson, who will probably die, presented the most horrible sight it has ever fallen our lot to witness. Between two single blankets, on a cot, lay the unfortunate man, with the skin completely stripped from his body, leaving nothing but the raw flesh, and being covered by blankets caused the most agonizing tortures it seemed possible for a human being to bear.
Charles Lewis, (white), aged twenty-four years, was badly scalded about the face and shoulders. His eyes were completely closed, and a deep gash was cut on the back of his head, which deprived his of his senses.


Rumors of the explosion first reached the city at four o'clock P.M., which gained credence until the report strengthened to certainty. The excitement was intense, and the Maysville wharf boat was besieged by crowds of persons who had friends or relatives upon the doomed boat. Like most disasters, this was at first magnified to the extent that every passenger had been either blown up or drowned, but the arrival of the Panther, in a measure allayed the intense excitement.


Mr. Abel, previously mentioned, and familiarly known as "Doc Abel", has placed in our hands a pocket book which he recovered from the wreck. It contains papers, receipts, a lock of hair, a silver quarter of a dollar, and a certificate of sixty shares in the Southern Pacific Railroad. We judge that it was the property of Mr. Thomas A. Curran, at least the receipts, etc. would imply so much. We have the book in our possession, subject to the call of his friends.


What there is left of the unfortunate boat is sunk on Coal Haven Bar, at the mouth of Crawfish. She was principally owned by David Gibson, Esq., and was considered one of the fastest boats belonging to the up river trade. She was a favorite craft, and hence rarely left without a full passenger list. We understand that she was insured to nearly her full value. The direct cause of the explosion is not ascertained, but as she was under headway, and had proceeded several miles from port, it is the more strange and remarkable.
We heard, near the scene of the disaster, but can not vouch for its truth, that when the explosion took place, two men were blown by the force of the steam ashore, which the boat was hugging at the time.


Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper April 4, 1868

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Compiled by: H. Martin Prather, Jr.