updated 08/07/08

JS Excursion Steamer tragedy, June 1910

J.S. Steamer on the day of her fateful voyage

(Right) Original handbill advertising the fated excursion of the "JS" which left from Lansing bound for a La Crosse excursion day.  It burned on the return trip and left two dead and hundreds stranded on many sandbars and small islands downriver from Bad Axe.  Harry Short, captain of the steamer North Star, rescued the victims.   On the bill he wrote:  "1910-Her last trip"

~handbill contributed by Dianne Krogh,
great-granddaughter of Capt. Harry Short

J.S. Excursion Steamer, Burned June 25, 1910
~photo postcard contributed by Errin Wilker

JS Excursion steamer fire, 1910

Body One Victim of J.S. Disaster is Recovered
Remains of Mrs. Emma Randall were taken from River Monday
Likely Two Fatalities
Two others reported dead are safe---one person only is missing
Burning Boat on Black Waters of Mississippi One of
Most Awful and Magnificent Spectacles in History of Inland Streams


La Crosse, Wis, June 27, ---Special---
The body of Mrs. Emma Randall was found this morning near the wrecked steamer J.S. Two of the men supposed to have been burned, Norman Fox and Jonah Everson, have been located. Everson was asleep in the livery stable at Victory and Fox was in La Crosse, having been put off the boat for disorderly conduct before the excursion left here. John Pleen of Lansing is still missing. The boat officials admit he was arrested but claim he was released from the hold before the boat reached Genoa. All others are accounted for and none of the fifty injured will die.

It is expected that U. S. Steamboat Inspector Knapp, who is now at Stillwater, will make an investigation upon his return. An eye withness to the imprisonment of Pleen declares he was not placed in the hold but was imprisoned in a small room under the forward stairway and that the prison was not locked but was watched over by the boat's policeman.

Davenport, Iowa, June 27, ---Special---
The insurance on the J. S. is twenty-five thousand dollars. Plans for replacing the boat are indefinite. The machinery will practically all be saved. The company is holding a meeting at Rock Island this afternoon to decide on the question of a new boat. The boat was valued at $75,000.


MRS. EMMA RANDALL, New Albin (body recovered)

Joseph Coyle, Lansing, hands burned and body bruised
Mrs. Dr. C. S. Meyer, Lansing, leg broken
Mrs. John Joseph, DeSota, head and shoulders bruised, Internal injury feared
Mrs. Archie Bailey, Victory, ankle crushed
Mrs. Gus Kneppler, LaCrosse, body bruised, ankle sprained
Mrs. Andrew Darling, New Albin, leg injured and abdomen cut
James Thompson, Waukon, ankle broken
George Verdon, Lansing, thumb broken rescuing girl overboard
Jos. Gonler, Lansing, back hurt
Miss Anna Peterson, Center Township, Allamakee Co., Ia, ankle broken in jumping from third deck
About fifty more injured more or less, nearly all the sufferers being among those who leaped from the boat.

Lansing, Iowa, June 27. ---Special ----
As the smoke of Saturday night's spectacular tragedy, the burning of the excursion steamer J. S., with fifteen hundred passengers aboard clears away, the fatalities and list of injured decreases and the excitement of the awful evening is slowly wearing away.

The missing are Mrs. Everett Randall, New Albin, drowned by jumping from the the boat before the boat landed. John Plein of near this city was burned to death in the hold of the boat.

The injured are Mrs. Dr. Myers, of this city, back injured and thigh cut in falling from the Hurricane deck; Miss Anna Peterson, Center Township, ankle broken in jumping from the third deck; Mrs. John Joseph, De Soto, With back badly injured and may die; Mrs. Archie Bailey, Victory, Wisconsin, leg and ankle broken by the stage.

It is miraculous that scores were not lost.

Rivermen Declare History Offers no More Spectacular Scene

La Crosse, Wis. June 27. ---Special---
The immense excursion steamer J. S. was destroyed by fire shortly after 9:30 Saturday night at the head of Bad Axe Island, near Victory, Wis. There were 1,500 excursionists on board, of whom one was drowned and two are missing. A score or more were more or less seriously injured.

The known dead:

The missing:

There is a pointed dispute as to the fate of Pleen and Fox, passengers declaring that they were imprisoned in the hold for disorderly conduct and burned; a statement emphatically denied by officials who claim that there was nobody in the hold when the fire broke out.

THE ALARM OF FIREThe channel is narrow at this point, and accounts generally agree that the J. S. was proceeding slowly in order to permit the raft boat, North Star and bowboat, Harriet, to clear the way with a raft. A man had just came aboard with a skiff from the Nort Star to give the pilot of the J. S. a report of up-river channel conditions, a customary proceeding, when the alarm was given.

The warning came from the stokers' room, where it is said flames had burst from the hold below and flashed up on each of the firemen. This man, one of the heroes of the incident, sent word to the captain that he would hold his post until the boat was landed. The next instant the big fireball on th upper deck boomed forth. Pilot Nichols began to execute a quick turn to put her bow up stream, making for Bad Axe Island, anticipating the orders that came from Captain Streckfus a moment later. The maneuver was executed with swiftness and precision, and two minutes after the sounding of the alarm the big steamer was alongside the bank with the gangplank stretching away to safety.

Meanwhile scenes of intense excitement were being enacted. There was the word of command from officers and level-headed passengers whose vigorous efforts to calm the frightened and doubtless saved many lives; there was the cry of frightened people the screams of babies; there were fainting women and an occasional maddened, rioting man of whom terror had made a nuisance and a menace. The disembarkment, which came in a mad rush was ober so quickly that descriptions of it are conflicting and confusing.

Sifted down, the fact seems to be that one-third of the 1,500 passengers hurled themselves from the boat from whatever dock they happened to be on, and all the injuries were sustained by those who jumped or were pushed overboard. Meanwhile the gang plank was doing its work, the first cargo of frightened refugees being made up of scared men, who, taking no thought of the weaker ones had hurled themselves upon it.

"Save the passengers, never mind the boat," was the clarion order of Capt. Streckfus to his crew, and the men acquitted themselves splendidly. The minute the boat touched and the gangplank was thrown out, all but the engineers and firemen plunged into the water and dragged from the river the victims precipitated into the rushing torrent from the doomed boat. The waters at the side of the J. S. was ten foot deep, sloping rapidly upwards to the shore, and from this dangerous current, hundreds of women and children were snatched by the alert employee to whose assistance came a score or more of cool-headed courageous men passengers.

At least a score of babies were thrown into the river by their parents from the various decks. "Jack" Page, the ships policeman, alone caught six, and asserted positively that he saw others catch twice as many more at the brink of the flood.

So rapidly did the landing proceed, that in twelve minutes all but the three dead and missing had reached a place of safety.

To what extent life-preservers played a part in the rescue cannot be said but despite the fact that many frightened passengers had seized tow or three, there were enough for all who had presence of mind to take them and so many were dropped upon the decks that they amounted to an obstacle. The boat was provided with 3, 048, and hundreds were taken away Sunday as souvenirs by people visiting the scene of the wreck.

But the troubles of the refugees were not over when land was reached. Thgey were on an uninhabited Island, far from theri homes and with meager means of getting away. The North Star could accommodate but 100 at a time, and the Harriet less than half that number. Their best assistance was offered by numerous launches from De Soto, Genoa, and Victory, and in a short time others appeared from Lansing. from which place the crowd awaiting the return of the steamer had seen the flames and divined their meaning. With all these as transports it was still a huge task, and it was not until three o'clock Sunday morning that the last load of refugees had left the island.

There is much resentment along the river of the ghoulish conduct of unknown persons who indulged in wholesale robbery at the expense of the stranded excursionists. Sunday morning six valises were found upon the shore, many of them cut to ribbons and all looted of their contents. The purse of Mrs. C. S. Meyers, of Victory, who suffered a fractured limb and other injuries was found hanging in a tree minus $20 which it had contained, and other ourtrages of a similar nature were reported.

While the rescue of the passengers was in progress, the engineers and firemen had cut two holes in the floor and succeeded in projecting two lines of hose into the hold where the fire was raging. A hose had been trurned onto the place in th stokers' room where the fire had broken through and this had been held in subjection so that no flames were seen above decks until all the excursionists were ashore. The steamer's pumps had been pouring water into the hold in an attempt to conquer the fire.

As soon as the landing had been completed, the J. S. was cut loose from her moorings and she was headed into the channel while an effort was made to sink her and quench the flames. An anchor was thrown out on a bar some hundred yards above the landing place the anchor line permitting the boat to hang in the channel. By this time the fire had so warped the pipe through which the pump was forcing water into the hold that it became useless. Then the North Star and the Harriet came alongside and their engines were utilized in forcing water into the hold through lines of hose. The fight was continued stubbornly, thu , but the inflammable material forward fed the fire and finally the flames reached the anchor Hawser and the boat let go.

Then was witnessed what rimermen present declare to have been one of the most spectacular scenes in the history of navigation. The great white ship with its snowy palisades, and its gleaming decks mounting one upon the other, had become a veritable tinderbox and as the hawser parted with the fiery touch of the flames and swept down stream under the impulse of a gust from the northeast, the fire shot upward over her whole massive frame as if illuminated by the touch of the electric button; and wreathed in an immense sheet of flame she stood out against the blackness of a background of the hills, a pyrotechnic pyramid in whose glory was outlined five immense American flags that streamed shimmering in the breeze from the tops of as many gilded flagstaffs.

The wind swept the burning craft back to Bad Axe Island. She struck stern first at a point about a hundred yards below her former landing place. At this time the fight to save her had comsumed three-quarters of an hour, but the end was at hand. No more could be done and within a few moments the big ship had burned to the water line and went down in about twenty feet of water, leaving exposed upon the surface the countour of shattered boilers, the edge of a charred waterwheel and not enough of material value to suggest the word "salvage".

The one known victim of the wreck, Mrs. Emma Randall, of New Albin, Iowa, sacrificed her life in a a frenzy of fear. When the alarm was given she attempted to plunge over the railing of the upper deck. Her husband attempted to quiet her fears, and thought he had succeeded in doing so. A moment after he had released her she had gone to her death. With a wild cry she sprang over the boat's side, in her hand a heavily laden handbag which no doubt was the handicap that made futile the attempt of her young husband to save her. Both were young people, having been married last winter. Randall says that in leaping after his wife he was handicapped by a satchel which in his excitement he had neglected to drop until he had struck the water. No sign of her was visible and he was obliged to seek the shore alone.

A conflict of statements obscures that facts about the two missing men. The story was current all day that three passengers who had become boisterous had been locked in the hold, and were burned to death there. The names given were John Pleen, of Lansing, and Norman Fox and Jonah Evenson, of Victory. One version said the men had been handcuffed.

Officials of the boat unite in denying this story positively asserting that there was no one imprisoned in the hold at the time the fire broke out. They corroborate the story of Jack Page, the boat's policeman, who asserts that but one man, whose name he does not know, had been placed under arrest and lodged in the hold during the trip, and that this man had been released before the boat reached Genoa.

In contradiction to this are the statements of passengers that they saw men placed under arrest for riotous conduct, and one young lady, a Miss Wilkinson, of Lycurgus, was heard to declare that she saw a man liberated from the hold just before the fire. Another story was to the effect that a Lansing man named Mulholland was placed under arrest and was already on his way to the hold in charge of an officer at the time the fire was discovered, but was released when the alarm was sounded. As the boat neared the shore Mulholland was seen by a number of people to jump from the upper deck and it is known that he made good his escape.

The story that Jonah Evenson was arrested was exploded at noon today. He lives on a farm near Victory. He came to Lansing Saturday on horseback, leaving his horse in a livery stable and taking the excursion steamer for La Crosse. He is one of the men reported to have been placed in the hold for disorderly conduct, and the fact that his horse remained uncalled for in the stable all Sunday morning strengthened the belief that he had been killed.

About noon, however, he was found asleep in a corner of the stable weher he had fallen exhausted after his escape from the wreck. Up to ten o'clock Sunday night advices from Victory were to the effect that Norman Fox, a farm hand, the other Victory man among the missing had not been seen.

There seems to be strong conviction on the part of excursionists that the third man, John Pleen of Lansing was actually in the hold and that his life was forfeited. The fact that Fox, an obscure farmhand had not been seen was not taken as conclusion of his death, as he might easily have stepped through the crowd in the excitement and gone into the country. But Pleen is a well known man and was in a crowd of Lansing people, any one of whom would have recognized him, and Mayor Dunlevy, of Lansing, who was on the scene of the wreck at Bad Axe Island all day Sunday, accompanied by Pleen's two brothers, Peter and Anton, was so positive of the man's destruction that he sent word to Capt. Thompson by a staff correspondent of the La Cross Tribune asking for instructions as tot the proper procedure to secure an investigation. It is deemed by Pleen's relatives that while the authority of Capt. Streckfus to maintain order was absolute, he had no right to confine an intoxicated man in a dungeon filled with inflammible material wher the stricking of a match would jeopardize not only his own life but that of every passenger aboard.

Authorized by Capt. Thornson, the correspondent wired Mayor Dunlevy to appeal to J. S. Steamboat Inspector Knapp of Dubuque. The captain said that while the matter was not within the authority of his department he presumed Inspector Knapp would proceed to the scene of the wreck with a federal team from Rock Island and would thoroughly investigate the matter.

If the story of the officials that there was no one in the hold is accepted, mystery is added to the question of how the fire started, as it was ignited in the hold and was presumed to have been precipitated by the lighting of a match by one of the alleged prisoners. The theory that in the excitement the officers forgot to liberate their prisoners is not regarded as important, as men imprisoned in the hold would undoubtedly have succumbed to smoke and flames before the alarm was given, and rescue would have been impossible

La Crosse, Wis, June 27 - Special -
Capt. George S. Nichols of this city was the pilot in charge of the boat at the time of the accident, and, in an interview, gave an interesting account of the affair as witnessed by him while in the pilot house.

"I am unable to say anything as to how the fire started," said the captain, "because I was not in a position to see anything when the alarm was given. We had just made a landing at Genoa and left off the people from that town and started down stream. It was just about dusk when we were at the head of Bad Axe bend. The rafter North Star was a little ahead of us with a raft and, being unable to pass it, I slowed down and floated for a distance of about a mile. The J. S. was close to the Minnesota shore, the wind having drifted her in that direction. I had full control of the boat, however, but was floating.

"While at that point the mate came up into the pilot house with a report regarding the condition of the river north of here, which had been sent to our boat by the captain of the North Star. I told the mate to lay the report on the table, because it was getting dark and I had no time to read it. A few moments later someone rang the big bell on the roof, giving an alarm of fire.

About the same time I heard someone cry 'fire' and I told the mate to hurry down and see what was the matter. John Laycock, assistant pilot, was asleep in the pilot house and I immediately woke him and told him to go down and see what was the trouble,. Although at that time I could not see any smoke. I thought the boat must be afire and I immediately started for shore. About the same time Captain Streckfuss, who was on the deck, gave me orders to land."

"The boat was headed just right to make the landing, pointing toward the shore and in two minutes from the time the fire alarm was sounded I had made a landing in the regular way. The boat was about 200 feet from shore and no time was lost in making the landing, which was about 40 to 60 rods above Bad Axe island on the main Minnesota shore. The stage was lowered in regular style and the boat was tied up, giving all the passengers ample time to get off in the usual manner.

Of course the smoke was pouring from the forward hatch and this frightened the passengers who became panic stricken. Women and children cried and the men rushed for shore. Some slid down the side of the boat and a mad rush ensued for the stage. I did not see anyone jump overboard. After the boat had landed and the passengers got ashore I turned on the electric light and lighted up the woods. Everyone was excited and a search immediately bagan to ascertain if anyone was missing. An elderly woman was heard to say that her daughter-in-law was missing and I was informed that the woman was from New Albin, but I did
not learn her name."

"After the people were all ashore I went back on the boat and gathered up my clothes, went to the pilot house and placed them in my grip. Captain Streckfuss was on the boat all the time and the fire apparatus had been placed into service. I blew the distress whistle and then carried my clothes off the boat. The North Star, hearing the alarm, landed her raft and came to the rescue. The smoke was pouring from the bottom of the boat but there was no sight of flames. The fire equipment on the North Star was then put into use and an effort was being made to locate the fire, but the smoke was so dense that it could not be found.

I returned to the boat and assisted three children ashore and carried some of the instruments belonging to the members of the band to a place of safety. All this time the boat was tied up and everybody was ashore."

"The suggestion was made to tow the burning boat to a bay and sink her, it being thought that by filling the hull with water the fire could be extinguished, thus saving the upper part of the boat. The North Start then towed her out and when the middle of the river was reached the flames broke out and a moment later the entire boat was in flames. It spread like gun powder and I should judge that fifteen or twenty minutes after the flames were first seen, the boat was burned to the water's edge.

It was nearly an hour, however, from the time the alarm was first sounded until the boat started to burn. The passengers were all standing on shore all this time wathching the crew in an attempt to put out the fire which could not be seen."

"I never dreamed that the boat was going to be burned, because I had the utmost confidence in the equipment and knew that everything possible was on board to extinguish the flames. The fact that I returned to the boat a couple of times after the landing had been made shows that there was no fire only in the hull and I had no idea that the fire could not be put out. I was perfectly cool through the whole affair and was fortunate in landing as quickly as I did, because the boat was headed toward the shore when the alarm was given.

Although I never had an experience of this kind before, I have often been caught in wind storms with large crowds aboard and I always made a landing as quickly as possible and lowered the stage the same as in this case. It is customary to make landings when we think there is danger of any kind, so you see it was nothing out of the ordinary to have orders to land."

"The steamer J.S. was one of the best, if not the best equipped steamer in the world for carrying passengers and excursions. She complied with the law in every respect and ever since she has been in the excursion business no serious accidents were experienced. This is my sixth season as pilot on the J. S., on the Mississippi river north of St. Louis. I started my steamboat career in September 1889 and during that time I was never in any serious accidents. The J.S. was started out in 1902 running excursions from New Orleans to St. Paul on the Mississippi river and also on the Columbia, Ohio, Tennessee and Illinois river."

"After the boat was burned the passengers were taken to their homes the North Star and the bow boat, Harriet, making several trips to Lansing while launches and skiffs were used in conveying people to Victory and De Soto. It was not until morning that all the passengers had been take home.

Captain Streckfuss, who had his wife, two sons and two daughters on the boat, made arrangements to quarter his family in a houseboat at the scene of the accident. They lost practically everthing they had on the boat."

Mrs. John Streckfus, wife of the captain of the ill-starred excursion which burned to the water's edge Saturday night, together with her son and two daughters, passed through East Dubuque Sunday afternoon on their way to Rock Island.

They were met at East Dubuque by friends, with whom they discussed the ordeal through which they had just passed. Captina Streckfus stayed behind, at the scene of the disaster, but is to follow them shortly.

"We have lost practically all of our personal possessions." said Mrs. Streckfus, who is deeply affected by the misfortune which has befallen them.

"We have made our home on the boat for a number of seasons, you know, and naturally we had most of our things right with us. Why look at these dresses we have on! they're the only things in the way of apparel that we've saved. We had them on, so of course got out with them. Why we haven't even got hats.

Besides our clothes, we lost many little belongings and keepsakes which we can never replace, so that our loss is not summed up purely in figures of money."

The Misses Streckfus have many personal friends in Dubuque who sympathize with them in the severe loss which has come to their father and to them.

In the course of a discussion of the fire, the Streckfus party denied in full several of the harrowing stories which have been circulated in connection with the disaster and which are claimed to have been born of the distorted imaginations of persons who probably were hysterical with fright.

They state that the boat was practcially devoid of passengers before there was any trace of flame visible and they say that the stories about people sliding down burning posts etc, are wholly untrue. The people were all on land, they claim, when the fury of the fire burst forth against the blackness of the night.

Mrs. Streckfus was unable to state what her husband's future plans are.

John H. Laycock of Rock Island, assistant pilot on the ill-fated J.S. was in Dubuque Sunday enroute to his home. He denied any knowledge of any death on the J.S. by burning. He declared that there was ample time before the super-structure took fire for everyone to get off. In fact, he declared, before the flames enveloped the craft, the passengers were ashore and on the island at Bad Axe bend and several camp fires had been started. As for himself he states he cautioned the passengers against panic. He heard a number of women threatening to jump overboard and he warned them against such move assuring them no rushing would be necessary for a safe landing of all the excursionists. However, he cautioned them if any of the people insisted on jumping over, they should by all means provide themselves with life preservers of which there were twenty five hundred on board.

"I told them", he said, "that I had no intention of jumping into the water and assured them my life was just as precious to me as their's were to them." As an evidence of the ample time that was at hand for all to land. Mr. Laycock states he was one of the last to land and after landing he returned to the boat and packed up his belongings taking them safely from the burning boat.

C.O. Walsinghan, manager and owner of the Steamers Lorene and Minnesota, of the port of St. Paul, arriveed in Dubuque Monday morning. He passed the wreck of the J.S. Sunday morning at 8 o'clock and brought from Victory seven of the survivors of the J.S. to Lansing. These had been left at the small Wisconsin town owing to the inability of the launches from the various cities along the river to transport all of the excursionists to their homes earlier. He states the only portinon of the J.S. that is visible is the gang-plank which rests on the shore of the island and the top of one of the boflers. The craft burned clean to the water's edge and the hull is now rusting in fifteen feet of water.


~published in an unidentified newspaper
~transcribed by Jody L. Howard for Allamakee co. IAGenWeb

(Headline from the Allamakee Journal, July 1, 1910)

Many stand and watch as the Steamer J.S. departs from Lansing on its ill-fated trip.

Let the reader imagine if he can, the spectacle of a magnificent steamer plowing along through the water at a good rate of speed, with nearly eleven hundred happy souls on board. On the fine dancing floor running the full length of the boat hundreds of persons are enjoying the dance, while hundreds more are looking on, the sweet strains of waltz music floating our over the quiet waters.

The steamer's lights are flashing in the darkness, and now and then the great searchlight is turned along the banks far ahead of the steamer to better assist the silent and lonely man at the wheel in guiding the boat safely along with its precious load. Suddenly there was heard that startling cry of "fire! fire!" and all is excitement and confusion.

Such was the awful situation at about 9:00 Saturday evening last when the palatial excursion steamer J.S. had reached a point on her homeward journey about fifteen miles north of Lansing and just at the upper end of what is known as Bad Axe Bend, 2-1/2 miles north of the little town of Victory, Wisconsin, and about an equal distance south of Genoa. The boat had left Lansing at 8 a.m. that morning with a large excursion party for La Crosse, in which city the crowd had spent the day. It is estimated that there were about 1200 people on the boat. At 6 o'clock p.m. the return voyage was begun and a few miles down the river the tragedy occurred that ended the operations of perhaps the finest excursion boat ever seen on the Mississippi River.

The following statements made by John H. Laycock, Pilot on the ill-fated steamer, is probably as nearly accurate as any information obtainable and we give it complete. The fire broke out in the hold. It appears that three men had become obstreperous and were put in the lockup, which is under the deck, forward of the boilers. Two of the men sobered up and were released in about an hour. One of the crew later went to see how the third man was getting along, and discovered the fire. The man in the hold was identified as John Plein, of Lansing Ridge. He was confined through the fire and drowned.

When the fire was discovered the J.S. was on a crossing about half a mile north of the Iowa line. According to Mr. Laycock's story, the spread of the flames was not very rapid, and he and members of the crew thought they could save the boat. Suddenly the fire broke out and enveloped the front part of the boat. This made it necessary for the passengers to jump from the upper decks into the water, which was three or four feet deep inside the boat near to the shore. A New Albin woman, Mrs. Evert Randall, was drowned after jumping overboard in panic. A double tragedy, she was pregnant.

If the fire had caught in the upper works, or if the crew had not fought it valiantly in the hold driving passengers into the water before the landing was made, the results would have been terrible. The passengers suffered with the cold before they were taken home. All were wet from where they had jumped into the river and they were gathered in shivering, disconsolate groups on the island waiting to be taken home. Fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, rushed about frantically at first looking up loved ones, but within an hour or two, the families were united, and the relief of finding each other alive did much to compensate for the discomforts of the night.

Captain Thompson of La Crosse said he had received no instructions from the war department to raise the hull of the burned steamer, nor did he anticipate any such order would be issues, inasmuch as the wreck lies in a position out of the main channel and does not interfere with navigation in the slightest degree.  Thus any investigation made of the hull must be conducted by divers.

A diver is checked over before being lowered into the water in search of salvage.

All that remains of the wrecked boiler and engine room of the J.S.


~source: Allamakee Journal, June 22, 1988
~transcribed by Errin Wilker for Allamakee co. IAGenWeb

Big Claims are Filed
It is Sought to Collect $14,907.99 from the Acme Packet Company for Damages Sustained by Burning of J.S.
A Limitation of Liability is Sought.
Owners of the Destroyed Steamer Invoke a Law Which Has Never Been Applied to the Upper Mississippi Before.

An echo of the disaster of June 25 last near Bad Axe, below La Crosse on the Mississippi river, in the burning of the excursion steamer J.S., came to light here today, in the filing of claims with United States Court Commissioner H.M. Lamberton, against the Acme Packet company, the owners of the steamer, for damages something in excess of $14,000, some claims also for services bringing the total up to $14,907.99. These claims were filed in connection with a suit and motion proceeding begun by the Acme Packet company in the United States court here to have their liability under the burning of the steamer J.S. limited to the value of the hull of the steamer and its contents, exempting the Acme Packet company as a corporation altogether from any claims for damages. In this proceeding the Acme Packet company invoke a law passed in 1851 applicable originally only to the high seas but later amended to reach inland navigable streams. It is said this law has never before been invoked in litigation on the Upper Mississippi river. By this law the liability of the stockholders of a company for acts of its agents and employes is exempted. The claimants, it is understood, will maintain that inasmuch as John Streckfus, the president and manager of the Acme Packet company, was on the steamer at the time of the accident and had personal direction of the same the company should not be exempted. This matter will all be threshed out in detail at the May term of the United States court in this city unless by agreement it should come up before that time.

The Claims Made.

The hearing today was merely an incident to the main action, the filing of claims against the Acme Packet company because of the burning of the steamer J.S. This hearing was had at 11 o'clock in the office of United States Court Commissioner H.M. Lamberton on Center street, and aside from interested attorneys no others were present. As before noted the total amount of these claims is $14,907. These are itemized as follows:
-Anthony Plein, administrator of the estate of John Plein, burned to death in the hold of the steamer J.S. at the time of the disaster, $5,000, the limit of liability allowed by law.
-Elizabeth D. Joseph, De Soto, for fractured rib and internal injuries as well as numerous external bruises caused by a fall down the stairway between decks on the steamer, $5,000.
-Anna Peterson, Lansing, Iowa, for broken ankle, $1,000.
-May Coldwell, De Soto, Wis., for sprained ankle, medical treatment, etc. $1,000
-Bertha Kaeppler, La Crosse, for sprained ankle and other personal injuries, $1,000, and $124 additional to this for burned clothing and loss of watch and provisions.
-Minerva F. Myers, Lansing, Ia., for crushing of lower limb, $1,000.
-Van Sant Navigation Company, for services rendered by steamers North Star and Harriet in towing and removing passengers from the burning steamer, $200.
-L.L. Wittbecker, Lansing, Iowa, manager and leader of the Cadet band, for loss of cash and music and uniforms and damage to instruments, $388.90.
-C.E. Stephens of Vernon county, Wis., for medical services rendered to four victims of the disaster, $50.
-H.E. Moen, Lansing, Iowa, for loss of baggage, $28.80.
-Adolph Mathias, Lansing, Iowa, for loss of goods and merchandise, $15.
-Mrs. V. Krieger, Lansing, Iowa, for loss of goods and merchandise, $15.22.
-Flossie McMillan, Lansing, Ia., for loss of goods and merchandise, $15.80.
-Mrs. Henry Wagner, Lansing, Iowa, for loss of goods and merchandise, $12.51
-William Vanderbile, Lansing, Iowa, for loss of goods and merchandise, $39.
-Matt Bechtel, Lansing, Iowa, for loss of goods and merchandise,$7.75.
-John Peterson, Lansing, Iowa, for loss of goods and merchandise, $12.00.

Plein Case Statements.

The six principal claimants for loss of damages in connection with the presentation of their claims today filed brief answers objecting to the application of the Acme Packet company for limitation of its liability, in the claim made by Anthony Plein, administrator of the estate of John Plein, burned to death in the hold of the J.S., the objections to limitation of liability are set forth at considerable length. It is maintained that John Plein was without reasonable cause or justification placed in the hold of the steamer J.S. and kept confined there and that he was suffocated and burned without any fault or negligence on his part. (The document does not refer to the claim made that Plein had been placed under arrest in the hold for drunkenness.) It is further set forth that the electric wiring on the steamer J.S. was poor and dangerous, that necessary appliances were not provided for fighting and extinguishing fire on the J.S. and that such appliances as were provided were in poor condition; that the fire broke out because of negligent construction of the fire box under the boiler of the steamer J.S in not providing a noncombustible cover for the same; that large quantities of intoxicating liquor were wrongfully, knowingly and illegally sold and distributed to passengers of the boat and among the officers, agents, employes and members of the crew. It is further set forth that Plein was a single man forty-one years of age and that his father, Christopher Plein of Waukon, Iowa, is his heir-at-law, and that his earning capacity was from $35 to $40 a month. A jury trial for the damage claim is asked.

The attorneys for the Acme Packet company in the proceeding are Lane & Waterman of Davenport, Iowa, and Brown, Abbott & Somsen of Winona. The attorneys for most of the claimants are J.P. Conway of Lansing, Iowa, D.J. Murphy of Waukon, Iowa, and Tawney, Smith & Tawney of Winona. George H. Gordon of La Crosse is attorney for the claimant Kaeppler.


~source: Winona Daily Republican; Winona, Minnesota; December 15, 1910
~transcribed by Sharyl Ferrall for Allamakee co. IAGenWeb

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