1897 Wreck of the Idaho
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History of the Great Lakes With Illustrations Published Chicago, J.H. Beers & Co., 1899 1897 Wreck of the Idaho, Pages 776-777 The wreck of the steamer Idaho off Long Point, on the night of November 5, was the most serious disaster of 1897 on the Great Lakes. This is true in both the number of lives lost and the monetary loss. The vessel sank, and with her went down 19 of the 21 men who constituted the ships company. The two survivors were Louis LaForce, second mate, and William Gill, a deck hand. The steamer herself was old, and was insured for not more than $10,000 or $15,000; but the amount of property aboard is etimated at from $75,000 to $100,000. The Idaho left Buffalo with the package freight for Milwaukee on the afternoon before the wreck. A November gale caught her before she reached Long Point. Her captain, Alexander Gillies, made the unfortunate decision to push on, leaving astern the safe shelter behind the point. Twelve miles beyond Long Point the Idaho began to ship water, and part of the crew was ordered to the pumps. After a little while the water got into the engine room, and then in the fire hold. Then the captain attempted to head the steamer around to get back under Long Point. As she veered a great roller swept over her, throwing her into the trough of the sea and washing half a dozen of the crew off the deck into the lake. All hands were at once ordered to the pumps except the watchman and a wheelman. One of the pumps broke, and the captain organized a line of fire buckets. Inch by inch, however, the water crept up until it was bubbling around the edge of the fires. In ten minutes the fires were quenched and the ship was at the absolute mercy of the sea. All then went on deck to lower the anchors in the hope that the ship would right herself. While the men were giving more line to the port anchor the stern began to sink and every wave slopped over it. Suddenly the moon broke through the clouds and the crew got the first light they had seen since the engine fires were extinguished. Gill saw the captain running forward, when a wave swept him far from the ship and as it passed the clouds closed over the moon and the night was black again. Gill and LaForce found themselves on the end of the deckhouse, and scrambled into the rigging as the Idaho went down. They scrambled to the crows nest, and there the Mariposa found them in the morning. While working on the pumps Gill and LaForce had stripped themselves to shirt and trousers, and there they clung, sprayed by every wave. Others of the crew had tried to launch one of the small boats and were swamped with it. Looking about them Gill and LaForce saw that all their companions had been lost. LaForce, who was above Gill, sighted a vessel just at daybreak and signaled frantically for it, but it steamed by and LaForce temporarily went mad with despair. He beat his head against the mast, prayed, sang and threatened Gill, whose position was less secure, and who was lost if he let go with one hand. To add to their misery hail began to fall and cut their faces. It was past noon when the Mariposa came into sight. The men were to stiff to signal her. They saw the Mariposa change her course, and captian Root bring her alongside. He lowered a small boat, but it was wrecked instantly. Three times he tried it. Finally he brought the Mariposa right up against the spar, and her crew lifted the men aboard. Gill was so cold that he could not unfasten his hands. LaForce says he was in the hold when the stern began to sink. The crew made a mad dash for the deck and one of the men was trampled to death by his companions, madly eager to escape. Resolutions adopted by the Buffalo Merchants Exchange, commending Capt. Frank Root of the Mariposa for his skill and courage in rescuing the two survivors, contained this paragraph: In bringing a great steel steamer nearly 350 feet long, in such a heaving sea, alongside the spar to which the two unfortunate men were clinging for their lives with a skill and nicety which enabled the rescue to be successfully made, Captian Root and his officers and crew not only proved themselves possessed of the highest skill and disipline as seamen, but showed a courage, coolness and nerve which belong only to the truly brave. Their seamanship and their courage were both brought to a supreme test, and both proved unsurpassed. .................. The Idaho was one of the oldest steam vessels on the lakes. She was built in 1863. A few years ago the Western Transit Company, which owned the boat, took her out of commission and she lay idle at Buffalo until a month or so before her loss. She was 220 feet long, with a net tonnage of 906. During the GAR Encampment the Idaho was used by the naval veterans as a lodging place. Beers index lists two ships named Idaho. #1 Idaho, schr. 37 g. t. b. '64, in com. #2 Idaho, prop., 1,100 g. t. b. '63 Cleveland, sunk off Long Point, 97, 19 lives lost.