A Cousin of Abraham Lincoln and a Pilot and Captain

On the Upper Mississippi River for Seventy-two Years.


From the Diary Kept by Capt. Hanks, and Placed with

The Post, to be Published After His death……..


Edited by Capt. Fred A. Bill No 1623 Van Buren-St., St.



Published in the Burlington Saturday Evening Post

March 26, 1921- 1922





Oct 22


I have now so recollection of any event of special interest occurring during the early part of the season.  We were making a round trip every five days and the line was running smoothly.  On June 30th we were on our way up river and I had the watch ending at midnight.  As soon as relieved I went to bed but had hardly fallen asleep when the cru of “Fire” came.  During my watch we had an up stream wind which laded the sparks from the smoke stacks directly on the boat.  It was supposed that some sparks fell on some mattresses that were piled up on the forward part of the boat.  Just below Red Wing is a steep and very high bluff coming very close to the river.  As we passed this bluff and came to the open valley between the two ranges of bluffs there the wind come down the valley and fuelled the smoldering fire into a blaze which spread so fast there was no chance to stop it, so a general alarm of fire was given and orders were to land the boat as quickly as possible and fortunately the regular landing at red wing was made.  My first information was from the engineer who came running up to the texas and called to us to get out for our lives as the boat was on fire and sure to go. I hurriedly attempted to dress but did not get much on except my trousers and one boot and one shoe.  Then I gathered up an arm full of clothing and made my way down stairs and off the boat and found then that the clothing I had belonged to the other pilot, so my own clothing, including my wedding sty was lost.

  The officers and crew on watch endeavored to clear the cabin of passengers, of whom we had about a hundred.  In some cases the state room doors were smashed to save time in getting the people out and ashore. Few got away with enough clothes to dress themselves, many having a single garment only, a number of women and a newly married couple being in this predicament.  We had landed right in front of the hotel facing the levee and it at once threw open its doors and took every one in; stores were opened and many were able to buy clothing, others got goods and made temporary outfits.  Much of the baggage went into the river and the next day the banks were lined with clothing for miles below, some being recovered but most was lost or picked up by fishers and others who were not interested in finding the owners.

  There were five lives known to have been lost, one being an old lady who was traveling with a niece or daughter.  The old lady was dazed and the younger women had much difficulty in getting her from the room but when she had succeeded and hurried on shore, presuming the old lady would follow, she discovered that the old lady did not follow her.  A gentleman passenger said he noticed her just aft of the wheel on the shore side just as he was about to jump into the river, apparently hesitating and undecided as to what she had better do.  He at once decided to throw her into the river but before he could reach her to carry out his purpose she turned and ran back into he room, right into thee fire and he saw no more of her and mumped for his life.  I retain a more personal recollection of him than of most of the other passengers as he afterward sued the company for loss of his baggage. 

  Another was a child lost in the confusion and probably burned as no trace was found of it.  It belonged to a family that was emigrating  and they had a lot of stock on board.  There were some thirty head of cattle and a lot of pigs.  The most of the cattle were cut loose and driven overboard and many were afterward picked up.

  I do not wish to sell unduly on the heart rendering scenes of this disaster.  Many such have occurred on this great highway and this is but one of the series that have followed steamboating from the beginning and a mild one at that for many have resulted in death in one of its dreadful forms to hundreds and leaving others in a condition often worse than death.  This was no such disaster as it might have been but it was sufficient to leave an indelible impression on me that I never wanted repeated.

  It was evident that all had been done that could be done and those of us who were not driven to hunt for covering for nearly naked bodies or looking after the welfare of friends soon became thoroughly fascinated by the scene which now made a most magnificent as well as terrifyi8ng spectacle.  The boat as were most of the packets the, was a side wheeler, each wheel being propelled by a separate engine.  In the hurry landing the steam to the engine o the outside of the boat had not been shut off and the engine continued to run and the wheel to revolve as the fire destroyed the wheel house, making a scintillating mixture of fire and water.  The wheel house was all burned away and until the great heat of the fire had softened the copper steam pipe so that it burst with the pressure that was still on from the boilers and the deafening roar of escaping steam was added to the already distracting din.





A Cousin of Abraham Lincoln and a Pilot and Captain

On the Upper Mississippi River for Seventy-two Years.


From the Diary Kept by Capt. Hanks, and Placed with

The Post, to be Published After His death……..


Edited by Capt. Fred A. Bill No 1623 Van Buren-St., St.



Published in the Burlington Saturday Evening Post

March 26, 1921- 1922


Collected and Transcribed by

                                                         Georgeann McClure






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.



Terrible Catastrophe

Steamer Galena burned to the wat-

er’s edge

Fifty lives lost.

Mails, freight and baggage

Totally destroyed

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 below.”

  “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 cabin.

  “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.


Passengers Saved


  “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.


The Known Lost


  “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 not.

  “ 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.



Collected and Transcribed

by Georgeann McClure



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