Sunday, February 19, 2012

Steamboat Report: Steamer J.S. excursion boat burned June 25, 1910

Steamer "J.S." Metropolis, ILL
hand colored
Curtis Drug Co.

News about the J.S.:

The New York Times: Published June 27, 1910

Rest of 1,500 on Steamer J.S. Get Ashore When She Burns.

LA CROSSE, Wis., June 26, 1910 -- Only three persons out of 1,500 lost their lives Saturday night through the burning in the Mississippi River of the excursion steamer J.S., according to officers of the Acme Packet Company, owner of the vessel, after a careful search and rechecking of passengers to-day.  While five other persons were severely hurt in the panic, and fifty more were cut and bruised in escaping from the boat before it burned to the water, those who went through the experience of fire and water declare that the small number of casualties seems marvelous to them.

Prompt work by the crew and coolheaded men among the passengers in controlling the frantic people after the first alarm of fire was sounded was all that prevented hundreds of persons from jumping into the river in midstream.  Mrs. Emma Randall of New Albion, Iowa, was the only one who broke through the guard on the edge of the decks.  Twenty men had arms outstretched to grasp her when she plunged from the upper deck into the water and drowned.  Her body was not recovered.

An unidentified woman was drowned while leaving the steamer.  John Plane of Waukon, Iowa, was locked in the boats brig in the hold for disorderly conduct, and in the excitement of the panic no one thought to release him.  His charred body is in the river with the hulk of the steamer, which sank after the boat had burned to the water.

Many thrilling stories of escape are told by the passengers, who all reached their homes to-day after each had sought out friends and relatives from the confusion that followed the fire and the hasty landing on Bad Axe Island, twenty-five miles south of La Crosse, Wisconsin, where the steamer was beached ten minutes after the fire started.  It is said that a cigarette stub started the flames under a stairway, but nothing definite has been ascertained regarding the origin of the fire.

Although the scramble to shore on Bad Axe Island was hazardous and unpleasant, comparatively good order prevailed.  All night long boats carried the stranded passengers to Lansing, Iowa, where most of them live, but it was well into Sunday before the last excursionist was removed from the island.

The loss to the Acme Packet Company is $60,000.  Nearly every passenger on the steamer lost clothing, bundles, money, jewelry, and other valuables in the rush for land, and it is said that this combined loss will aggregate $10,000.

The steamer J. S. had been in commission many years as an excursion boat.  It took it's load Saturday from Lansing, Iowa to La Crosse, Wisconsin and was returning Saturday night when the fire started.
The wreck of the steamer J.S. burned June 24, 1910. Now lying in the Mississippi River north of Victory, Wis.  Over 1100 people escaped from this boat, with the loss of only two lives.

Salvage effort of the J.S.

Gov. Str. David Tipton raising the boilers of the sunken Str. J.S.

Magnificent excursion Str. J.S. which burned on the evening of June 25, 1910; 1100 people were safely landed only two lives were lost. The burned hull of this boat lies in the bottom of the Mississippi River in Bad Axe bend between Genoa and Victory, Wis

Obituary published in the La Crosse Tribune April 16, 1930

Captain G. S. Nichols, Hero of the J. S. Burning Passes at Home in City

Captain George Spencer Nichols, 74, pioneer river pilot and captain, one of the heroes of the old J. S. disaster of 1910, died, at his home 1324 Vine Street, Tuesday afternoon.

Captain Nichols spent over 44 years on the river, serving as pilot and captain throughout most of those years.  He was pilot on the old J. S. under Captain Streckfuss when it burned near Victory on the night of June 25, 1910.

Was J. S. Hero

Under his cool guidance and expert piloting the boat was brought safely to shore and nearly 1800 lives were saved.  After nosing the big craft close to the bank and unloading the passengers, Captain Nichols picked up the hats, coats and other personal belongings and threw them to shore.  He then turned the boat about and swung it to the middle of the stream where he let it burn.

Working during the early part of his career on the river for the P. S. Davidson company and the McDonald Brothers, Captain Nichols speant his last 19 years on the river with the Streckfuss brothers.  He served as captain, pilot and clerk on the large lumber barges that operated on the upper river.

Five years ago he left the river, never to return as captain or pilot.  But before he left he had the honor of piloting the new J. S. and several other of the large Streckfuss boats from their home port of St. Louis.  He piloted the Capital and the St. Paul.

The last 10 years on the river were spent in piloting the large excursion boats from St. Louis.  His last assignment was the new J. S.

Resident Fifty Years

Captain Nichols was a resident of La Crosse for 50 years.  He came here in 1880 from the neighborhood of Galena, ILL., where he was born on October 28, 1855.  His father was a pilot of the old side-wheelers on the lower Mississippi.

Surviving him are one son, William C. Nichols, La Crosse; two sisters, Mrs Mabel Rowley, 1324 Vine Street, and Mrs James Ennis, Chicago; five grandchildren and six great grandchildren.  His wife preceded him in death in 1924.

Funeral services will be held at the Sletten-McKee funeral chapel, Seventh and King streets. Friday at 2:30 pm The Rev. G. H. Marshall will officiate and interment will be made in the Oak Grove Cemetary.

1 comment:

  1. My Grandpa, Otto Wurtzel of the farm between Lansing and Harper's Ferry, Iowa was a passenger and survivor of the Steamer J.S. We grandkids grew up hearing the story; especially the fact that Grandpa couldn't swim and never did learn his entire life.