Natchitoches, LA Area Steamboat BLACK HAWK Explosion, Dec 1837


This awful calamity, which hurried more than fifty human beings into eternity, occurred on a cold wintry night, while the Black Hawk was about to ascend the Red river, on her passage from Natchez to Natchitoches. The boat had a full load of passengers and freight, including ninety thousand dollars in specie belonging to the United States government. She had just reached the mouth of Red river, when the boiler exploded, blowing off all the upper works forward of the wheels. The pilot and engineer were instantly killed.

The number of passengers on board is stated to have been about one hundred, nearly half of whom were women and children. No estimate of the number killed was ever published, but it appears from the best accounts we have that a majority of the passengers and crew perished. A large proportion of the passengers on western steamboats are persons from distant parts of the country, or emigrants, perhaps, from the old world, whose journeyings are unknown to their friends, and whose fate often excites no inquiry. When such persons are the victims of a steamboat calamity, their names, and frequently their numbers, are beyond all powers of research. So it appears to have been in the case now under consideration. Instead of a list of the slain, we are furnished only with a catalogue of the survivors, and these, alas, appear to have been merely a forlorn remnant. The only cabin passenger whose name is mentioned in the list of killed furnished by the clerk, was Mr. Delisle, of Natchez. Among the deck passengers, fifteen were known to be lost, three others died soon after the explosion, one was observed to sink while attempting to swim ashore, and twelve more were scalded severely, and fifteen slightly. A subsequent account added to the above list of killed Mrs. Delancey and her three children, of Boston; Dr. Van Bentz, drowned, and Wm, Tolling, who was mortally wounded and died within a few hours. The latest and most authentic account stated that not less than fifty persons must have perished by the explosion of the Black Hawk. The crew of the boat suffered to a considerable extent. The pilot was blown overboard and lost. Henry Sligh, colored engineer, was killed. George Johnson, another engineer, was dangerously wounded. Felix Ray, barkeeper, was very badly scalded. Four firemen were killed, and one was wounded. Two deck hands were killed. The cook, steward, and cabin boy were all dangerously wounded. Two slaves belonging to Mr. Duffield were drowned.

After the explosion, the wreck, being all in flames, floated fifteen miles down the stream, and then sunk. Some of the passengers were taken off the burning wreck by a flat-boat. It is mentioned that the females on board of the Black Hawk rendered essential service by baling and assisting to extinguish the flames. A part of the cargo and seventy-five thousand dollars of the specie were saved. Several valuable horses, which had been shipped at Natchez, were drowned.

Lloyd's Steamboat Directory and Disasters on the Western Waters, Cincinnati, Ohio; James T. Lloyd & Co, 1856, pages 87-89