LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF
CAPT. STEPHEN B. HANKS
FURTHER DETAILS OF BURNING OF STEAMER GALENA
Nov. 12, 1921
There was the bleating of the cattle, the bawling
of the calves and the squealing of the pigs long after it
would seem that anything could live on the boat. Everything
about the upper part of a boat for the upper Mississippi is
very light and inflammable and it is surprising the amount and
brilliancy that is produced by a steamboat on fire and the
quickness with which it is all over and soon every thing was
gone but he machinery and the hull and the fire soon ate into
the hull so it settled to the bottom of the river quenching
the general fire as well as that under the boilers and soon
the roar of steam from the bursted pipe was stopped and
comparative quiet once more prevailed.
Daybreak came early and it was welcomed
by us all. Some time during the forenoon the Key City of our
line, came up and most of our passengers were taken on board
to finish their journey. The Captain of the Key City, for some
reason I never could understand, showed a mean spirit and
demurred at accommodating the people in their plight even
wanting to collect fare for them. My partner, Tom Drenning,
had his wife and sister on board our boat and he went with
them to Hastings, that being their destination and the home of
his wife’s sister. Our clerk also went along with our
passengers. The rest of our crew returned to Galena on the
first boat down.
Note: Mr. M. W. hanks kindly give us
the following additional particulars regarding this disaster:
“Father states that it was supposed that sparks fell on some
mattresses piled up on the forward part of the boat. I have
been told that on this trip up they had very heavy passenger
list, too many to accommodate in the rooms. In order to
provide sleeping quarters for the overflow, the boat always
carried many cots and extra mattresses on which passengers
slept in the cabin proper and in the day time these mattresses
were piled on the boiler deck in front of the cabin. On this
particular trip they used these cots and mattresses until they
reached Winona where many passengers left the boat, so the
cots and mattresses were not in use that night.
“In regard to waking passengers after
landing at Red Wing, Mrs. Laughton, the Captain’s wife told my
mother (they were very good friends) that Captain Laughton
and my father came down from the texas and after entering the
cabin each took a chair and one went down one side of the
cabin breaking in the doors of the staterooms as they went to
wake the passengers at the same time calling “fire” get up !
“Another incident told to my mother by
Mrs. Laughton was that after the passengers wee all supposed
to be on shore, Captain Laughton, who was of a nervous and
excitable disposition, said to father that he thought there
were some people on board yet and he started up the gang plank
to the boat. Father threw his arms around him and pulled him
back on shore telling him that it was sure death to venture on
board at that time and in about a minute more the whole upper
woks of the boat fell in Mrs. Laughton always maintained that
father saved her husband’s life by forcibly keeping him form
going on the boat.”
Through the kindness of Mr. Jens K.
Grondahl the “100 per cent American” President of the Company
now publishing the Red Wing republican, we are able to give
that journal’s account of the disaster the same having been
taken form an extra of July 1, 1858 and typewritten in
response to our request.
It will be noted that the head liners
in those days were the equal of those of the present day and
placed the worst first.
Steamer Galena burned to the water’s edge
Fifty lives lost.
Mails, freight and baggage
Loss from $50,000 to $75,000
“This morning at about one o’clock, as the U. S.
Mail Packet Galena, landed at our levee, a fire broke out
about her smoke stacks, which soon spread, and resulted of her
total destruction. The origin of the fire no one is able to
ascertain, the fire no one is able to ascertain though it is
supposed it was communicated from the furnace of the boilers
“None but an eye witness can realize
the scene. The greatest terror seems to have seized upon the
passengers and the utmost confusion immediately followed the
alarm. Men, women and children rushed down the gangway and
overboard from all sides of the boat, many of them with
nothing but their night clothes about them.
The rush was so great that the stage
planks could not be landed and but for the remarkable coolness
and prompt action on the part of the officers of the boat more
lives could have been lost. A strong breeze was blowing down
the stream, which soon spread the flames to all parts of the
“The loss of the boat is complete;
little or no baggage was saved and he freight and mails, with
the exception of the latter destine to red Wing, wholly
consumed. The passengers, many of them, are in a destitute
condition, having lost their all, even to their last garment.
No effort will be spared on the part of our citizens to
alleviate their condition. The expression of the passengers
is universal that Capt. Laughton and the officers of
the boat did all that could be done to save the passengers,
even at great risk to themselves; and particular credit is
awarded to the pilot, for the heroic manner in which he
maintained his post until driven away by the flames.
“ Most providential was it that the
fire did not break out before. Had the boat been a half mile
below, or even a few feet from a good landing, the loss of
life must have been great indeed; as it is, five human beings
were hurried from existence leaving among the survivors many
friends to mourn their loss.
“The loss of the boat is estimated at
$50,000; no insurance. The cargo was small and not
particularly valuable; uninsured. A small amount of money was
saved from the safe. The register of the boat was lost but it
is supposed she had on board from 60 to 75 passengers.
“We are indebted to Messers. Meserole
and McLaren. Agents for the packet company for a list of those
saved and known to be lost. It is possible that others were
lost but the officers think it is not probable.
“Miss Lotty J. Barclay; Mrs. E. M.
Bearce; ; Miss L. A. Benson; Lavina Berry; Mrs. Gideon
Browning; Mrs. T. H. Davis; Mrs. Thomas Drenning; Mrs. Orpeus
Everts and child Mrs. C. S. House Mrs. Livingston; Mrs. T. H.
Murray; Miss Mary Porter; Mrs. Richards; Miss Isabella Riggs;
Miss K. Robbins; Catheine Seaborn; Miss Mary Thomas.
“Wm. Bradley; L. F. Bronsam; E. Berry;
J. B. Bostwick; Wildred Buchel; Gideon Browning; Louis Cornill;
J. W. Crosbey; D. R. Clendenin; Dr. Everts; G. S. Evans; Wm.
Griffith; B. F. Law; Adam McBeth; Alexander McBeth; Rev. J. M.
Preston; J.B. Proctor; John B. Pleasure; G. W. Richards; Mr.
Riggs; . R. Richardson; Charles Reed; Michael Reyly; J. C.
Stafford; Mr. Sloat and sister; A. Sturddnat; A. Sheets;
Albert Seaborn; Adam H. Todd; G. Wheeler.
“ The crew were all saved
including-Capt. Wm. H. Laughton, Pilots, Stephen B. Hanks and
Thos G. Drenning; Clerks, George C. Blish and Charles C.
Mather; Mates Thos. Cordey and Wm. Dean; Engineers, J. S.
Hunt, Wm. H. Hamilton, Larkin L. Piatt and Isaac Tarbox.
“Mrs. Polly Porter, Miss Nancy Porter,
Charles Porter, (boy) Lydia Porter, all from Michigan and
bound for Mankato, and John Tyson.”
Later diligent search was made in the
wreck but nothing of value recovered and no evidence of
further loss of life. Some mail was recovered but so badly
damaged that it was of no value. The passengers were well
cared for by the people of Red Wing and forever carried a warm
spot in their hearts for the generous citizens of that
enterprising frontier city.
Mr. Andrew Meacham, a Minnesota
Territorial Pioneer now living in Minneapolis, was a lad
living in Red Wing at that time and stood on the bank, saw the
boat burned, heard the bawling of the cattle many of them on
the Wisconsin shore and the squealing of the pigs as they were
gradually roasted alive. The one ludicrous feature he saw was
a man coming ashore attired in a night shirt, plug hat and
boots and carrying the remainder of his clothes in his hands.
Among the papers received with the
manuscript; of Capt. Hanks, we found a clipping that came from
some paper published in 1914 which is as follows :
“Captain Hanks:- A few days since I
received a clipping from a friend in Minneapolis enclosing an
account of your having made4 a trip from Rock Island to St.
Paul at the advanced age of 95 years. You possibly will be
surprised to know that I was a passenger on that ill-fated
boat, the Galena. I was a little girl bride of only four
days. My husband and I were among the passengers expecting to
get off t Hastings at about 10 p. m., which you know we did
“ I wonder how many of these passengers
are living. I presume I have narrate a thousand times the
events of that dreadful night. The publication of your trip
to St. Paul brought it back to me so vividly that I determined
to write to you and let you know that there is one passenger
of that boat still living and enjoying perfect health.”
(Signed) Mary E. Lowell, Lansing Mich.
When the clipping was discovered we
immediately wrote to the lady, but the letter was returned to
us unclaimed. We give the letter as above hoping it may meet
her eye, or the eye of some other survivor from whom we would
be glad to hear. F. A. B.