La Crosse, WI Steamer WAR EAGLE Fire & Sinking, May 1870


There are five passengers known to have been drowned, and as the books were destroyed, it is impossible to get the correct names. Miss Ulrich, a niece of John Ulrich of the Nord Stern, perished in the river and her body was found yesterday. This is the saddest part of all. Miss Ulrich was 18 years of age, an educated, accomplished lady, and was on her way up to to be present at the nuptials of her sister yesterday at Alma. The whole community was grief stricken at her fate.

The body of the negro barber, Felix Spiller, was also found. None others, we believe, have been found. Several were severely hurt in jumping overboard. Mrs. Campbell was hurt in the right arm and side, Mrs. Barkis was injured in the right hip an spine.

An elderly lady and an old gentleman from Kentucky, and the dock sweep are reported lost.....

Something like a half ton of mail on the boat for points up the river every ounce of which was burned. Sam Bugh, the mail agent, who was in the office and had barely time to secure his money packages and escape by the gangway to the shore. Frank Hubbard who was assisting in distributing the mail was obliged to take to the water. His face was burned slightly.


We have no space in which to tell of individual escapes, heroism &c. The officers are Tom. Cushing, Captain; Ed. Burridge, 1st Clerk; R. D. Button, 2nd Clerk, James Gray, Mate; James Martin and Joe La Point, Pilots; Thomas Connelly and Thomas Townsened, Engineers, all of whom and especially the Captain, did their whole duty in striving to get every person safely to the shore.

Evening Democrat, LaCrosse, WI 16 May 1870


It has been stated that there were no passengers on the lower deck of the steamer, but this statement is contradicted by Andrew Botten who was a a deck passenger and had his wife and two small children with him. They were going to Reed's Landing, Minnesota and had all their worldly goods with them, including a cow, or which Mr. Botten paid fifty dollars the day previous. These persons barely escaped with their lives, and Mr. Botten states that there were quite a number on the lower deck with him who endeavored to save their property, and he says he is certain they were either burned or drowned.

A good deal of credit is due to Mr. Oscar Topliff, assistant baggage master at the depot for saving every parcel of baggage that had been entrusted to his care. The baggage checks, of which there were immense number, were all destroyed. In the connection, it is perhaps permissible to state that it is very strange that only a few books, and those of the least importance were saved. As we understand it, the depot was well provided with watchmen,, and the time between the burning of the boat and the depot was sufficient for two men to have carried out every book and conveyed them to a place of safety.

Otto Ewe lost 1,200 wheat stacks, which were lying at the depot, and Henry Helfach lost about 150.

Evening Democrat, LaCrosse, WI 17 May 1870


Another Body Found. -- The body of a stout built man with light brown whiskers was found near the scene of the War Eagle disaster on Wednesday Morning. It was the body of James Greene, who has a mother living at Dubuque, and was buried this afternoon at La Crosse Cemetery.

Large Funeral.--The large funeral procession of the friends of the lamented Mary Ulrich, who was droned after jumping from the burning steamer War Eagle, took place on Wednesday Morning; and evinced a profound feeling of grief and respect in this community. It was a solemn event; and the last sad tribute of affectional regard was impressive and appropriate to the occasion.

Daily Republican, La Crosse, WI 18 May 1870


Newspapers reported in the weeks after the fire that there were seven known victims. Some say only five were confirmed dead, but other accounts suggest the number was greater.

At least one person missing and presumed drowned was Sanford McBrayer, a Kentucky bank president who had a stateroom on the War Eagle. Friends and relatives offered a reward for the recovery of his remains.

LaCrosse Tribune, LaCrosse, WI 17 Apr 1990