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Lake Pepin, MN Disaster

Steamer Hit by Tornado

July 1890

An Excursion Boat Wrecked.

ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY LIVES LOST

Terrible Disaster on Lake Pekin [sic] Minn.

CAUGHT BY A CYCLONE.


The steamer Sea Wing left Red Wing, Minn., Sunday afternoon with 250 passengers on board bound for Lake City, where the encampment of the state militia is in progress. At several small towns along the shore of Lake Pepin enough people were taken on board to make about 350 when the boat reached its destination. A barge was in tow which carried 100 of this number.

Late in the afternoon the party re-embarked for home and was in the middle of the lake when a cyclone struck the little city. The boat became unmanageable at once. The barge was cut loose, and after an hour the helpless craft drifted to shore with about twenty persons on board. The other 150 or more were drowned.

It is impossible as yet to give the names of the lost, but among them are some of the best known and most prominent people of Red Wing and vicinity.

A number of bodies have been washed ashore, and the citizens have formed a voluntary relief service to patrol the shores and watch for others.

The storm did great damage to property in and about Lake City, but no lives were lost on shore so far as reported.

Terrible Close of a Day of Recreation Full Details.

A later dispatch from Lake City, Minn., gives the following particulars:
Sunday night, just before dark, a disastrous cyclone bore down on this community, and in a few minutes nearly 200 persons were killed. What appeared to be an ordinary electric storm was noticed coming from the West, but in half an hour the whole heavens had been converted into a lightning-lined black canopy of death. A little before dark a terrific wind struck the village, driving everyone indoors. Trees were uprooted, buildings wrecked and much damage was done in the short time the storm lasted.

CAPSIZED IN MID LAKE
In a few moments news was spread that an excursion boat with over 200 people on it was capsized in the middle of Lake Pepin. The boat was the steamer Sea Wing, which came down the lake from Diamond Bluff, a small place 17 miles north of here, on an excursion to the encampment of the First Regiment, M. S. M., which is being held a mile below this city. The steamer started back on the homeward trip about 8 o'clock, and although there were signs of an approaching storm it was not considered in any way serious and no danger was anticipated.

CROWDED TO ITS FULLEST CAPACITY.
The boat was loaded to its fullest capacity, about 150 men, women and children from Red Wing and Diamond Bluff being on board and about 50 persons on a barge which was attached to the side of the steamer. When about opposite Lake City the boat began to feel the effects of the storm, but the officers kept on their way. The storm increased as the boat continued up the lake and in 15 minutes was at its height.

AT THE MERCY OF THE WAVES.
Nearing Central Point, about two miles above Lake City, the steamer was at the mercy of the waves, which were washing over the boat and all was confusion. The boat momentarily ran on a bar, and the barge was cut loose and the steamer again set adrift in the lake.

THE STEAMER SWAMPED
A number of those on the barge jumped and swam ashore. As the barge floated again into deep water those on the barge saw the steamer as it was carried helplessly out in the middle of the lake, and as they were being tossed about on the raging waters they were horrified a moment later to see the steamer capsize and its cargo of 150 people thrown into the lake.

THE BARGE PASSENGERS SAVED
Those on the barge remained there until they were drifted nearer the shore, and they were all rescued or swam ashore. Among them were two ladies who were brought to the beach by strong and ready swimmers. As soon as the storm began to affect the progress of the boat CAPTAIN WEATHERN gave instructions to run the boat into the Wisconsin shore, but it was too late. The waves were running too high to permit the helmsman to operate the rudder, and the boat was at the complete mercy of the storm.

FATE OF THE STEAMER'S PASSENGERS.
A few moments after the barge was cut away, the steamer was carried to the center of the lake and the efforts of the boat's crew and the more cool-headed passengers were devoted to preparations for the worst. A dozen or more secured the few life preservers that were to be found and jumped into the water, preparing to take their chances. In five minutes more the waves began to wash into the boat and fill the lower decks, and while hailstones as large as hens' eggs came down upon the heads of the helpless creatures who were huddled together on top, a wave struck the craft on the side on the same moment that a terrific blast of wind came up and turned the boat over. All of the people on board, 150 or more, were thrown into the water, some being caught underneath and others thrown into the waves. The boat turned bottom upwards and about 25 persons were observed floating on the surface. These caught hold of the boat and climbed upon the upturned bottom, those first securing a position assisting the others.

THE LAKE FULL OF DROWNING PEOPLE
In 10 minutes more the 25 or so who had obtained momentary safety on the boat could observe no others of the boat's crew or passengers floating on the surface of the waves. Afterward, however, as a flash of lightning lighted up the surface of the lake, the sight of an occasional white dress of a drowning woman or child was observable, but it was impossible for those who witnessed the horrible sight to lend any aid. Those remaining began calling for help from the shore.

AGAIN CAPSIZED.
Soon the storm began to abate, and in half an hour lights were observed flitting about on the pier at Lake City, opposite which point the upturned steamer had been driven before help could reach it. However, the poor creatures who yet remained to tell the horrors of the night were again submitted to another battle with the elements. With no word of warning, and as they were just beginning to hope they would be taken off by the citizens of Lake City, the boat again turned over, this time on its side, and again all of the 25 remaining souls were hurled into the water. Of these several were drowned before they could be brought to the boat by those who succeeded in remaining afloat and again secured a hold on the boat's side.

HELP FROM THE SHORE
In a few moments a dozen or more row boats were manned and put out from the shore, although the waves were still very high, and after scouring the lake for a quarter of an hour, the upturned boat was at last discovered and the 20 or more remaining people clinging to the boat were rescued and brought to the shore, most of them being men who could swim.

AT LEAST 125 LIVES LOST.

Estimates vary as to the total number of dead. There were over 200 persons on the steamer and barge when they started to return to Red Wing, very few remaining behind on account of the storm, although many protested against the proposal to steam up the lake in the face of such a gale as was then blowing. Of the whole number it is known positively that about fifty were saved. More may have escaped, but only this many are known at this time to be safe. That would leave about 150 victims of the disaster, but every one hopes the number will not go beyond 125. About 70 bodies have already been recovered, a good number are still in the wreck, and a great many are in the bottom of the lake where the gale first struck the steamer; just how many will not be known for some time yet.

Tuesday was a mournful day in Red Wing, and the sight of the funeral procession was a sadly common event. Forty-four of the dead were carried to the cemeteries.
Up to Wednesday night 100 bodies had been recovered.

Plattsburgh Sentinel New York 1890-07-18

       

DEATH'S HARVEST.

An Appalling Calamity of Lake Pepin, in Minnesota.

Excursion Boat is Caught in a Cyclone, Capsizes and Over 100 Persons Perish.

Frightful Scenes of Horror on Board the Ill-Fated Craft.

A Catastrophe Which Has No Parallel in the History of Western Disasters Loss of Life at Other Places in the Track of the Storm.

LAKE CITY, Minn., July 14.
-- What will probably prove to be the most disastrous cyclone that has ever struck this community passed over this city at nine o'clock last evening, inflicting a loss of life of perhaps one or two hundred people and damaging property to an extent that at this writing can not be estimated. Your correspondent was visiting friends in Lake City and was sitting in the yard when what appeared to be an ordinary electric storm was noticed coming up from the west. In half an hour the heavens were converted into a complete canopy of lightning which was watched with interest by the brave citizens of the little village and with fear by the timid women and children. A little before dark, a terrific wind struck the community and your reporter sought the shelter of the house just in time to escape being caught under a huge tree that came crashing down against the house. Windows were closed instantly and none too soon, for the cyclone was upon us and trees and houses were fast being demolished in its path, while the women in fear and trembling sought the seclusion and protection of the cellar.

The building proved strong enough to weather the blast and in half an hour the worst of the hurricane had passed. As soon as the trees had been cleared away from the front of the house your correspondent started out and soon learned that a horrible calamity had befallen the place, that has not been equalled since the St. Cloud cyclone several years ago. People began to gather on the streets and in a few moments the news was scattered abroad that an excursion boat with over 200 people on it was capsized in the middle of Lake Pepin. The boat proved to be the Sea Wing, which came down the lake from Diamond Bluff, a small place seventeen miles north of here, on an excursion to the encampment of the First regiment N. G. S. M., which is being held a mile below this city. The steamer started back on the homeward trip about eight o'clock.

The boat was crowded to its fullest capacity, about 150 men, women and children from Red Wing and Diamond Bluff being on board and about fifty people on a barge which was attached to the side of the steamer. When about opposite Lake City the boat began to feel the effects of the storm, but the officers kept on the way. The storm increased as the boat continued up the lake and in fifteen minutes was at its height nearing Central Point about two miles above Lake City. The steamer was at the mercy of the waves, which were now washing over the boat and all was confusion. The boat ran onto a bar and the barge was cut loose and the steamer again set adrift in the lake. A number of those on the barge jumped and swam ashore.

continued >> Go to page 1, 2, 3

Submitted & transcribed by Stu Beitler  Thank you, Stu!

       

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