The Ill-Fated Redstone

In the early days of steamboating the government took no hand worth speaking of in regulating the traffic or the building of the crafts. Engines, boilers and other machinery were placed in the boat according to the ideas of the owner, and frequently the construction of engines and boilers especially was very faulty. Then there was no inspector to look over the machinery and inform the steamboat owners that their boats were unsafe. On account of such conditions, frightful accidents were frequent and often accompanied by great loss of life. In those days people who traveled by boat often had experiences that were never forgotten.

The sporting blood in both officers, men and passengers would frequently get the better of their judgment and great risks were taken with the boat machinery in order to forge ahead of their eager opponent. At such times the excitement would be intense and there would be much loud cheering and calls from boat to boat. Inflammable material was used to increase the speed. If the boat was carrying as freight a lot of sidemeat or oil it was unhesitatingly thrown into the furnace to add to the steaming capacity, regardless of owners’ objections or danger from too great an amount of steam produced.

In the spring of 1852 one of the boats in the Madison trade was the Redstone. It was a stern-wheel affair of not a great many tons burden but was well patronized, both in the way of freight and passengers. It was customary at that time to leave Madison for Cincinnati about noon so the boat could be in port in the morning by daybreak. Packets, then as now, were accustomed to land wherever there was a hail, stopping for either freight or passengers wherever a landing was possible, and at that time of the year the river was at such a stage that a landing could be made at most any point.

The boat landed at Carrollton, Kentucky, and took on freight on its way towards Cincinnati and as they untied their lines a boat of a competing line was alongside. Captain Thomas Pate, of Rising Sun, was the master of the Redstone and the competition being fierce it was important that he got ahead of his antagonist in order to secure the freight as the boat was hailed from the banks of the river. The other boat was just as anxious to lead as the Redstone, so a race was commenced. It is said the Redstone used bacon to increase the boiler’s steaming capacity. When only a mile or more above Carrollton the Redstone’s boilers let go with such force that the boat was wrecked and many of the passengers and crew lost their lives. The force of the explosion was so great that it was heard for miles around.

People living now can recall the dull rumbling sound that fairly rocked houses and chimneys as far as ten miles away.

Capt. Thomas Pate, it is said, was thrown by the force of the explosion about one hundred feet in the air, lighting in the river feet foremost and unhurt excepting a slight abrasion on his forehead. Many who were lost were never found, not even a shred of clothing. Others were cast up by the river and those who were yet alive were picked up by rivermen in skiffs as they floated down the river. Three men from Lawrenceburg on the boat who were taking the trip just for the pleasure of it perished in the disaster. They were all young men of great promise in the community and their death under such circumstances made a profound impression on the community. The names of the young men so suddenly ushered into eternity were James E. Goble, Edmond Durbin and Eli C. Crisman. They were all newspapermen and Goble had, in connection with the late Henry L. Brown, published a paper in Lawrenceburg called the Independent Press since 1850. He had served as First Corporal in Company K, Fourth Regiment, of Indiana Volunteers, in the Mexican War, although at that time only sixteen years of age. Mr. Goble was a half-brother of Frank Goble, the present city clerk, and his mother was a member of the pioneer family of Percival, well known in the early history of the county, Durbin was the son of William S. Durbin, a prominent citizen of Lawrenceburg at that time, and was an older brother to ex-Governor Winfield T. Durbin, of Anderson, Indiana. Crisman was a young man who was at that time in the city and working on the Press. The voting people of the town were so deeply impressed with the loss to the city of three such estimable young men that they erected a monument over their graves—all being buried on one lot in the old cemetery—where may be found inscribed the following:
‘Erected to the memory of three noble-hearted young men who were killed by the explosion of the steamer Redstone, near Carrollton, Kentucky, on April 3, A. D. 1852. May they rest in peace. Eli C. Crisman, born March 11, 1830; died April 3, 1852; aged 22 years and 22 days. Edmond Durbin, born April 10, 1831; died April 3. 1852; aged 20 years, 11 months and 23 days. James E. Goble, born March 2, 1830; died April 3, 1852; aged 22 years, 1 month and 1 day.”

Robert D. Newton, who for years afterward resided at Dillsboro, was also a passenger on the boat and suffered the loss of one of his eyes in the catastrophe. Captain Pate was a man of great courage and will power. Although nearing the age limit when the Civil War broke out he recruited a company and served his country in that trying period as captain of a company in the Thirty-Seventh Regiment, Indiana Volunteer Infantry.


from the History of Dearborn and Ohio Counties, Indiana, 1885