Lakeville, CA (near) Steamer PILOT Explodes, May 1883



San Francisco, May 25. -- The steamer PILOT blew up this morning near Lakeville. It is estimated that 18 persons were killed. The first news of the disaster was conveyed in a dispatch saying: "A heavy report was heard this morning from the steamer PILOT and a large escape of steam was seen. I think she is blown up. It looks as though she sank." A second dispatch came stating that there were 20 passengers aboard, and as it was believed that several San Franciscans were among them the excitement throughout the city rapidly quickened in intensity. Notwithstanding every effort was made by telegraph, no details could be obtained until 8 P. M., when a dispatch was received saying: "All the forward part of the boat was blown away, and the after part floated 300 yards and then grounded on the west side of the creek." Officers of the steamer DONAHUE reported that when passing Donahue Landing they noticed the PILOT coming down the creek in mid-channel. A few minutes afterward they saw no sign of the incoming steamer. A rumor spread that a terrible disaster had occurred. The chief engineer of the DONAHUE is reported as having said that he saw the explosion or the cloud of steam and smoke immediately following. The DONAHUE drew too much water for navigation above her landing levee, and she did not go to the wreck.
A message was sent to Petaluma directing that a relief train with physicians and nurses be immediately dispatched to Lakeville. When the train arrived the surgeons on board found little to do, as of all those known and believed to be on board none but the Captain and two others, one the pilot, could be found. They were discovered in the fields, seriously injured, the Captain the least of the three. Search was made in every direction in the long tule-grass near the bank, and one after another four more were found, all more or less seriously injured, some with an arm or leg broken by the fall. One of these managed to scramble to higher and dryer ground. Had he been more severely injured he would have been drowned by the high tide. The last reports show that eight are killed, seven wounded, and ten missing. Most of the missing are probably dead, but their bodies have not yet been found. The names of the passengers cannot be definitely ascertained, as no names were recorded at the points of departure. It is known, however, that one family of 12 persons was on board bound for Arizona. The officers and crew of the vessel were:
S. F. GRAVES, Master; HORACE BELL, mate; CHARLES FARMER, pilot; A. HAWES, steward; N. SILVA, cabin-boy; THOMAS CRAWFORD, engineer; firemen GWINN and SHEDDER; deck-hands PETER McCABLE, RICHMOND, JOHN LAMAN, and an unknown man who shipped yesterday. It is thought that many of the passengers who escaped scalding and mangling were drowned, as the boat sank immediately after the explosion.
The PILOT was owned by Capt. GOULD, formerly master of the of the ship CONQUEROR. He purchased the vessel a year ago, together with her trade and certain other property, for $9,000. The explosion is attributed to defective boilers. Those who witnessed the explosion from the steamer DONAHUE say that it was almost funny to see the way the smoke stack went up. It seemed, they say, to leave the vessel in advance of the explosion, and to shoot up in the air over 300 yards, coming down again within a few feet of the vessel.
Later dispatches state that MR. MATHEWS, late of Sonoma Mountain who was on his way to Arizona, lost four children, and another will die. His wife is crazy. MR. HEGLER, who had just purchased property here, was killed. A most extraordinary incident in connection with the disaster was the finding of MRS. GEORGE P. McNEAR, a passenger, about a mile and a half from the scene of the explosion. She was standing in the mud, still alive, but unconscious. It is presumed that she struggled through the mud and weeds for that distance in search of relief. She was immediately removed to Lakeville, but died a few minutes after her arrival. She was a neice of G. W. McNEAR, a grain merchant of this city.
The PILOT was a stern-wheel steamer. She had been running some years past in opposition to the steamers of the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad Company.

The New York Times New York 1883-05-26