St. Louis, MO City and 23 Steamboats Burn, May 1849
And various houses on the west side of Main street, from Canters & Simons at the corner of Locust and Main streets to Olive. MR. JOHN MADER'S large cooper shop at the south most corner of levee and Elm street and, also, a large two-story brick house on the west side of Main below Elm street, and the flames are rapidly spreading, and where they may be stayed man cannot tell. This is, by far, the most awful catastrophe that has ever fallen to the lot of any city west of the Allegheny mountains.
In addition to the property enumerated, there was a vast amount of grain in sacks, hemp, bacon, &c., &c., on the levee, which caught from the heat and sent off by the boats, and was destroyed, and unfortunately, on one pile of hemp, which was covered by a tarpaulin, it is said, four persons were sleeping, and all were destroyed. We saw the body of one of them, a boy, which was carried into the Police Office. There were a number of kegs of powder on board the various boats, and as the fire reached them they caught and exploded with a terrific crash, scattering the burning fragments in wild confusion into the upper air.
By one of these explosions one man standing on the levee was killed by being struck with a fragment blown from the burning wreck of the Martha; another was shockingly lacerated in different parts of the body, but how many poor wretches have fallen victims to these devouring flames as they have gone sweeping in wild grandeur from boat to boat, and from house to house, and from street to street, no man can ever tell.
One of the wildest and most heart-rending spectacles ever witnessed in our city was exhibited last night. From Duncan's Island, extending perhaps a half or three-fourths of a mile in a continuous line up the river, the burning wreck of boat met boat, and rolled their united clouds of deep black smoke, and lurid flame in wild confusion into upper air; on the other hand the long lofty range of stores fronting the river, send up a cloud of sparks and sheets of dazzling flames, which threw a red and glaring light far away into the darkness of night, which hung upon our western borders. Here and there were seen half frantic men, running in bewilderment from point to point, scarce knowing where, or staggering from their burning homes under a load of their most precious property, followed by a weeping wife and her tender babe.
Since writing the above, we have taken another walk through the burning district, which now, at a quarter before three o'clock, already extends from the levee, west, to Second street, and from Locust, south of Elm street. This entire space is not burned over, but much of it is, and much more will be before the flames are extinguished.