Donaldsonville, LA Steamer YALABUSHA Disaster, Feb. 1848


The steamboat Yalabusha, CAPT. SCOTT, loaded with cotton, on her trip from Red River to New Orleans, on Tuesday the 25th alt., was burned to the water’s edge, by which terrible disaster at least twenty-five lives were lost.  To a gentleman, one of the surviving passengers, we are mainly indebted to the particulars of the heart-rendering scene.

About a quarter past 9 o’clock,on Tuesday night, when the majority of the passengers had retired , the alarm was given — the boat was then in the middle of the stream, and opposite the plantation of MR. V. CHOPPIN, about 18 miles below Donaldsonville.  All were instantly aroused, and as the doors of the ladies cabin were thrown open, the dense volume of smoke of rushing aft from the clerk’s office, near where the fire originated, almost produced suffocation.

The scene of terror and wild alarm among the passengers at this moment beggars description.  The boat was immediately rounded to and headed to the shore, and as she struck the bank a general rush was made for the landing, many persons being drowned in their attempts to get on shore.  As she reached the shore C.E. KNOWLTON, Donaldsonville, and two other passengers, whose names we have not heard, with great presence of mind, seized the end of the cable , and leaping on shore made it fast to a tree on the bank in order to hold the boat in her position — but, through the culpable negligence of those on board, whose duty it was to attend to such matters, the cable was not made fast to the boat, and the boast consequently swung out into the stream again, the boat afterwards drifted down stream about two miles, where striking the shore she was made fast.  JUDGE MILLS, of Texas, lost a child about four years of age, and one servant.  The JUDGE having his wife and two children on board, he took a child in each hand, and in leaping overboard received a blow on one arm from falling timber, causing him to relax his hold on one of the children, which was lost.  MRS. MILLS leaped over board with her husband, and was saved by the efforts of MAJOR YANCY, of Natchitoches.  MR. JOHNSON, one of the passengers, lost three children and one grandchild — all supposed to be burned.  MR. A.M. ALEXANDER, formerly of Kentucky, lost two children — both girls; himself and wife were saved by swimming ashore.  A brother of MR. ALEXANDER and his wife, and DR. JNO. D. WALL, of Harrison county, Texas, and his wife, were saved by swimming ashore.  The REV. MR. PAGE, Episcopal minister, and two of his children, were lost.  He was lost in attempting to save his family. MRS. PAGE was saved.

The steamer Monterey, going up stream, was the first boat which came to the assistance of the Yalabusha, and her officers rendered every assistance to the unfortunate suffers that humanity could dictate.  She succeeded in rescuing two persons, who were clinging to the rudder of the Yalabusha, as she drifted down stream.  The kindness and humanity of MR. CHOPPIN, opposite whose plantation the disaster occurred, is spoken of in the highest terms by the surviving passengers.  His house was thrown open to all, and clothing furnished to those who had escaped the conflagration with only night clothes.  Among the many acts of noble generosity by the surviving cabin passengers who had means on their persons, towards the unfortunate deck passengers, who had lost their all, we would mention that of MAJ. WARE.  He had lost $3000 on board, and having $170 remaining on his person, he distributed it among the deck passengers.

The Captain of the boat says:  ‘When the boat struck, the entire forward cabin was in flames, and consequently all communication cut off with the ladies cabin — so that those who had remained in the after part had no alternative but to leap into the river or perish by fire.  Every exertion was made by the passengers and crew to save them.’

Weekley Wisconsin Milwaukee Wisconsin 1848-02-16”


Donaldsonville, LA Steamer YALABUSHA Disaster, Feb. 1848 — 2 Comments

  1. Majors’ Yancy & Ware, both family names from CC, in LA & TX. I wonder if they were in a military/ Militia group, and knew one another? Both names with Houston at TX war of Independence. Yancy was a name connected with the Lea’s, as Margaret Lea, wife of Houston, their last son named Yancy.
    Steam boat travel was full of danger, and not exactly comfortable. Deck class was the most common. Like their ancestors who came over during the 1600’s. Women jammed on the “tween” deck, unable to stand, with horses below.

  2. The acts of bravery to save lives by some without concern for their own safety are purely heroic. Also the act of kindness shown by Mr. Choppin opening up his plantation to assist those in need is purely an act of kindness and mercy. God Bless those people and also Maj Ware for distributing what was left of his money to the folks in need.


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