An Account of the Sinking of the Buckeye, March, 1844 – Part 1

In the files of the Ouachita Parish Public Library, I found an account of the tragedy of the Buckeye and DeSoto steamboat collision. It was written by Narcissa Grayson Garrett for her grandchildren. Someone in the past typed up the account and gave a copy to the library. The account is absolutely gripping. Over the next few days I will share it with you.


A Narrative For My Grandchildren

I have often thought that I would for the gratification of my children narrate the incidents of the sinking of the Steamboat Buckeye on the Mississippi river a few miles above the mouth of Red River, in the month of March, 1844.

The occasion was a visit to New Orleans to meet the great Kentucky hero Henry Clay, our Whig candidate for president of the United States. We certainly were a lively party. (I was a good deal younger then than now.) There were quite a number of Ouachita’s citizens in the party particularly from the town of Monroe.

There were then the Whigs and Democrats. All know that Henry Clay was a staunch Whig. Our best passenger boat at that time was owned by the Democrats, and the Captain [George H. Caldwell] thereof was of course a Democrat, but the Whigs had persuaded the Captain to make an effort to reach the City of New Orleans in time for the grand Whig procession that was to take place in that City. I do not recollect the date of the anticipated gala day [February 23, 1844], but the Captain disappointed the people as he did not reach the City until the day after, but they had a procession nevertheless, and a speech from the great orator Henry Clay.

We spent several days in the City and the subject was debated whether we should return by the Buckeye, or take a less pleasant boat, but one that we considered more safe. However the Buckeye was so pleasant, and so much faster than any boat in the trade, that nearly all decided to come on the Buckeye, altho they suspected the Captain of having played them false on the down trip. The boat was not thought to be quite safe as she was getting pretty old, and the Captain was a very reckless officer. He would run his boat at the very top of her speed at times.

The chamber maid took a great fancy to me on the trip down. (She was a colored woman.) She found out that we were relatives of the Garretts of Philadelphia. She said they had brought her up, and she thought a great deal of them. She tried to persuade me not to come up on that boat. She said she knew it was unsafe and that it would be very unpleasant as there was such a crowd on board, but never having had an accident we felt very little fear. When we got on board we found the boat crowded to her utmost capacity, not only in passengers, but she had taken on a very heavy freight. There were quite a number of emigrants. There was hardly room on the floor for the surplus of passengers.

My husband [Isaiah Garrett] said he would not retire untill [sic] we should get out of the Mississippi River which would not occur untill near daylight. We had taken our eldest child with us, a boy of three years, Frank. We had one other child, at home, a daughter, Sarah, whom I left with one of my sisters. She was one year and a half old. I retired at about my usual time, and knowing that my husband would sit up, I put Frank in the lower berth of my stateroom and I occupied the upper berth.

Well some time between three and four o’clock, I felt a great shock, as if we had run into the bank. Having heard so much about the boat being unsafe it immediately occurred to me that we had landed in haste, that the passengers might get on shore. I sprang up and on the floor, thinking at first that I was in the lower berth. It was quite a shock indeed, and it is a great wonder it did not cripple me. I immediately ran to the door, and saw Mr. Garrett (my husband) coming walking very fast.

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