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

My husband told me that in rushing down the cabin of the sinking boat that our child was torn from his arms by the crowd, and he could not recover him as it was impossible for him to stop amid the immense throng. Fortunately he was thrown on to a floating mattress in the cabin. A friend of ours, Mr. Hyams [Henry Hyams] (afterward governor Hyams of Louisiana) who was a fine swimmer, after taking a portion of his family on board of the DeSoto, returned to rescue his two little boys whom he had left clinging to the chandelier. In swimming through the cabin he saw our child on the mattress and knew him and handed him through the skylights to some one. Said he saw many children drowning but could not save them as he had his two to carry out of the water. he did not know then that his eldest daughter and his wife’s sister were drowned. the daughter was a nice little girl of ten years of age. She was rooming with her aunt, Miss [Elizabeth] Smith. It seems that when they met the water in the cabin they turned and fled back to the ladies’ cabin instead of seeking the side door leading out onto the guards. They ran into the ladies’ cabin and got into an upper berth of a stateroom. They were both drowned. Poor little Myriam, she was a sweet child.

Our servant did the same thing. She took the opposite side and climbed into an upper berth, but the cabin sank more on one side than on the other, I suppose owing to all the people crowding on that nearest the other boat, so our servant was somewhat protected. She said she barely kept her head above the water. I had no thought of ever seeing her again, but after awhile she came in very wet. She said she called for help untill some one came with an axe and cut her out through the roof.

It was said that the hull of the Buckeye separated from the cabin the moment she was struck by the DeSoto. Nearly all on deck perished. Whole families were drowned, almost without being awakened. There was one deck passenger who had a wife and seven children. All were drowned excepting one small child. He returned to New Orleans and went about the city with the little one on his shoulder, refusing aid from everyone. The people made up a purse from him which he refused to accept. he seemed completely crazed. I do not know what became of him afterwards [This may be Alex. McKenzie, from Florida, who newspaper articles state lost his wife and seven children].

There was a woman with six small children, one only six weeks old. She was a cabin passenger going out to join her husband in Arkansas. The child next the youngest, a little fellow about two years old, was missing. She, the mother, was greatly distressed about it. After a while she went into a stateroom to lay the babe on the bed, when she discovered the missing one asleep on the bed. She screamed out, “Oh here is my child, here is my child.” Then she had the whole number, six. Some one had rescued the missing one from the water and brought it in without saying anything. about it. How wonderful are the ways of providence.

There was Major [Richard] King, wife [Laura], and two children, also a grown nurse. All could not save their two children. One, the youngest, was drowned in its Mother’s arms, and the Father had charge of the eldest, but could not save her. Poor Mrs. King! She was almost a maniac. She never recovered from the effects of the terrible disaster [Laura was also injured and died four years later from her injuries. She had lost two other children in 1840 to Scarlet Fever. The couple never had any other children.] and Mrs. Hyams [Laura Matilda Hyams] she was quite as bad, and many others that I was not acquainted with seemed inconsolable. The scene was heart rending in the extreme.

I would often catch myself, mentally calling over the different members of our family to see if we had lost any. We were peculiarly fortunate in that respect, for there were eight in all, under my husband’s care, and not one lost, although I had my wrist severely hurt. I thought at the time, that it was a small matter compared to what others suffered. I was suffering the most terrible agony.

All this time we had no dry clothes, or least none worth speaking of. There were only two lady passengers on board of the DeSoto and one of them was so very small that there was only one of our party who could war her clothes. A colored woman loaned me a night gown, and it was entirely too short for me, and must have looked comical and I was barefooted nearly all day. We were all quite indifferent about our appearance. My hair is quite curly, and you would have been amused to see it, having been so wet and having dried without being combed – – every hair seemed to stand for itself. It certainly looked funny.

After a while some of our trunks were fished up from the wreck and my servant tried to dry some clothes for us, but as soon as she hung them to dry they would disappear like magic. My husband said that when he lay on the boiler deck for a few minutes, there was a fellow came to him and commenced pitying him, saying, “Poor fellow, he is dead,” and then began searching his pockets. When Mr. Garrett clapped his hand on his pockets, the creature made off.

So many ludicrous things happened at such times as well as sad ones. There was a lady who seemed entirely taken up with lamenting over her spoiled finery, and toilet arrangements. She did not seem to regard the distress of the other passengers in the least but bemoaned the wreck of her own little gewgaws. She brought an armful of spoiled things and poured them at my feet, and asked me to look how her things were ruined. “Oh”, I thought, “how heartless you are”, and turned away from her feeling the utmost contempt for her.

Bustles were quite the fashion at that time, and it was wonderful to see the number that was collected that morning. There were dozens of them lying around. I think they must have taken great pleasure in collecting all that could be found, and I do not think there could have been any of them stolen.

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