Profit Island Bend, LA Steamboat MONMOUTH and TREMONT Collide, Oct 1837


With strict propriety of language, we might call the awful catastrophe about to be particularized, a massacre, a wholesale assassination, or anything else but an accident. In some instances, and this is one of them, a reckless disregard of human life, when it leads to a fatal result, can claim no distinction, on any correct principle of law or justice, from wilful and premeditated murder.

The steamer Monmouth left New Orleans, October 23d, 1837, for Arkansas river, having been chartered by the U. S. government to convey about seven hundred Indians, a portion of the emigrant Creek tribe, to the region which had been selected for their future abode. On the night of the 30th, the Monmouth, on her upward trip, had reached that point of the Mississippi called Prophet Island Bend [sic], where she encountered the ship Tremont, which the steamer Warren was then towing down the river. Owing partly to the dense obscurity of the night, but much snore to the mismanagement of the officers of the Monmouth, a collision took place between that vessel and the Tremont, and such was the violence of the concussion, that the Monmouth immediately sunk. The unhappy red men, with their wives and children, were precipitated into the water ; and such was the confusion which prevailed at the time, such was the number of the drowning people, who probably clung to each other in their struggles for life, that, notwithstanding the Indians, men, women and children, are generally expert swimmers, more than half of the unfortunate Creeks perished. The captains and crews of the steamers Warren and Yazoo, by dint of great exertion, succeeded in saving about three hundred of the poor Indians, the remaining four hundred had become accusing spirits before the tribunal of a just God, where they, whose criminal negligence was the cause of this calamity, will certainly be held accountable.

The cabin of the Monmouth parted from the hull, and drifted some distance down the stream, when it broke in two parts, and emptied its living contents into the river. The stem of the ship came in contact with the side of the steamer, therefore the former received but little damage, while the latter was broken up, to that degree that the hull, as previously stated, almost instantly went to the bottom. The ship merely lost her cut-water.

The mishap, as we have hinted before, may be ascribed to the mismanagement of the officers of the Monmouth. This boat was running in a part of the river where, by the usages of the river and the rules adopted for the better regulation of steam navigation on the Mississippi, she had no right to go, and where, of course, the descending vessels did not expect to meet with any boat coming in an opposite direction. The only persons attached to the Monmouth who lost their lives, were the bar-keeper and a fireman.

It is not without some feeling of indignation, that we mention the circumstance that the drowning of four hundred Indiana, the largest number of human beings ever sacrificed in a steamboat disaster, attracted but little attention, (comparatively speaking,) in any part of the country. Even the journalists and news-collectors of that region, on the waters of which this horrible affair took place, appear to have regarded the event as of too little importance to deserve any particular detail; and accordingly the best accounts we have of the matter merely state the outlines of the story, with scarcely a word of commiseration for the sufferers, or a single expression of rebuke for the heartless villains who wantonly exposed the lives of so many artless and confiding people to imminent peril, or almost certain destruction.

Lloyd's Steamboat Directory and Disasters on the Western Waters, Cincinnati, Ohio; James T. Lloyd & Co, 1856, pages 125-127