Burning of the Pat Rogers


At an early hour yesterday morning dispatches were received in Cincinnati announcing the burning of the Louisville and Cincinnati United States Mail steamer Pat Rogers near the mouth of Laughery Creek, one mile below Aurora, Indiana.  The first dispatches reported the loss of twenty lives.  This announcement created unusual excitement in the city.  The Pat Rogers left Louisville, Tuesday, at 3:15 P.M. with about fifty cabin passengers, a few on deck, and a light freight trip consisting principally of 40 tons pig iron, 20 bales cotton, 16 hogsheads tobacco, 8 bales hay, 4 head cattle, 80 head sheep, and a few stands of berries and peaches, and 75 bbls cement.

 The fire was discovered by Mr. James Holmes, the chief engineer, who was on watch at the time, in the after part of the lower deck, among the cotton and spread with such rapidity that he was unable to make the hose attachment for water.  He immediately gave the alarm to the pilot and cabin watch that the boat was on fire.  The pilot, Charles Dufour, immediately headed the boat for the Indiana shore, when it was discovered that her tiller ropes were “foul,” and that the boat’s rudder would not work.  She was grounded on the shore bar, just above Laughery Creek, about forty yards from shore, and burned to the water’s edge, the wreck lying in about five or six feet of water..  The tiller ropes were made of the best material of wire.  The flames, instead of spreading along the lower deck, at once shot up the cabin to the pilot house, and then flashed across the hurricane roof, sweeping everything before them.  The passengers were all aroused and the boats lowered, which carried many to the shore; but others, in their fright, jumped into the water, and those who were not drowned reached a safe landing place after drifting about a long time with the current.  Mr. Holmes states that he swam two miles.  In less than five minutes from the time the fire was discovered all were ashore or overboard, and the boat burned to the water’s edge.

 The following is a list of those missing and supposed to be lost:

 Mr. J. R. Stuart, of the Marine Ways, Madison, Indiana

Mr. Gaumer and daughter, Madison, Indiana

Charles H. Dittman, pilot of New Boston, Kentucky, on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad.  He leaves a wife and six children.  He was last seen in the water clinging to the head and foot board of a bed-stead (freight).

Minor Montz, colored barber, whose family resides near Chillicothe, Ohio.

Charles Reisinger, striker, from Newport, Kentucky.  

Sherley Snyder, third clerk of Oldham County, Kentucky, he was the first to give the alarm of fire in the cabin, also called all of the officers in the “texas,” and yet, strange to say, was drowned.

Willie C. Brown, aged twenty-one years, son of H. w. Brown of Cincinnati, Freight Agent of the Union Star Line.  He was returning from a visit to relatives in Madison, Indiana.  His parents are at present on a visit to Lake Chatauqua, New York.  A friend, named Baker, saw young Brown sink to rise no more, not withstanding he was an expert swimmer.

A. M. Botts, of North Carolina is known to have perished.  His partner, F. M. Stone, was saved, but slightly burned.  The chief engineer, Mr. James Holmes, reports five out of six of his colored firemen missing.  It is possible they may have been saved but only one man has been seen since.

Anna Cooke and two children were lost.

Jim Smith, a white deck hand is supposed to be lost.

Jacob Light, stewart of Cincinnati, leaves a wife and three children.  He was last seen on the lower guards and is supposed to have been lost.

After diligent inquiry from the officers of the boat and others, we can only report eleven passengers and eleven of the crew lost or among the missing.  It is possible that there were several other passengers who were not reported.

Mr. W. F. Hall, the United States Mail Agent, was seen on the forcastle with his mail-bags.  He went to his home in Rising Sun, Indiana, with one of the surviving passengers.  The mail was a valuable one, including twenty-six registered letters.

 John G. Hughes, the mate, was badly burned, and returned to Cincinnati.  He was burned by leaping into the water on the inside – as the wind drove the flames to the Indiana shore.

 Mrs. Smith of Madison, Indiana, was lost.  Captain David provided a mattress for her, but she failed to hold on to it and drowned.  David McClure, the second clerk, was in the water and was about to “give up,” when Mr. Wm. Taylor, the first clerk, who was also in the water, encouraged him to float with the current and he would make the shore, which he did with the aid of a blackberry stand.

 In company with Captain R. M. Wade, Superintendent of the Mail Line, Captain Dan. H. Morten, Vincent Shinkle, and others, one of our reporters visited the wreck yesterday afternoon on the steamer Champion #8.  The stately steamer Pat Rogers was burned to the waters edge, and sunk in about five feet of water, forty yards from the Indiana shore, and a short distance above the mouth of Laughery Creek.  The hull was charred inside, lower deck burned through, and the boilers and machinery in the bottom of the holds, with wheels overboard.  The jackstaff, which was still on fire, was the only portion of the wreck standing. The carcasses of the roasted sheep and cattle were floating about inside the sunken hull and here and there a bale of cotton on fire.  The wreck was a complete on in every particular.  All that could be picked up along the shore, in the shape of stages, plank, the boat’s yawl and other effects were places upon the Champion and brought to Cincinnati.  Captain Charles David, the commander of the Rogers, and Captain Dan. H. Morten remained with the wreck together with several trusty men who were engaged in dragging grappling irons with the hope of recovery bodies of those lost.

It is impossible to compile a complete list of those lost, as the register of the passengers is among the books burned and the latest information from the wreck was that only two bodies, both children, had been recovered.  Mr. and Mrs. Tuttle and an infant child of this city were on board.  Mr. Tuttle was saved, but his wife is among the missing. The babe was found floating in the middle of the river on a mattress by a Mr. Jenkins and recovered by him, but as he stepped on the shore, the child died in his arms.

 Mr. Taylor was a clerk on the America, when that steamer burned, and as in this case, but more successful made his first efforts to secure the register of passengers.  He tore out two pages of names, and brought them safely to shore.  Through his foresight many anxious people were saved hours of suspense.  This morning, however, when the alarm was first given, the flames spread so rapidly that before he could reach his office they had caught near, and were filling the place with blinding smoke.  He took the register and opened it to tear out the pages bearing the names. But could not find those he wanted on account of the dense smoke.  He could not carry the book with him and leaving it to the mercy of the flames, pocketed what money he could lay his hands on and swam to shore.  He describes the scene as being dreadful in the extreme.  He remained at the wreck assisting Captain David in search for bodies of the missing until near noon, when he returned to the city.  His opinion of the origins of the fire agrees with the general supposition that it must have been caused by deck passengers smoking near the flammable cotton bales that surrounded their quarters.  Captain David is having the river dragged in hopes of getting more of the bodies before the current, which is said to be very strong at the place of burning, bears them down the river.


From the Carrollton Democrat, of Saturday, August 8, 1874.  They acknowledge that they took it – common in newspapers of that day - from the prior Thursday’s Cincinnati Commercial.