Belle of the West Burnt! !
Fifty or Sixty Passengers Consumed in the Flames!!
(from the Cincinnati Chronicle of the 23rd) The public ear was startled yesterday morning by the painful rumor that the steamer Belle of the West had caught fire, and had been consumed on her way to St. Louis, and that some FIFTY OR SIXTY unfortunate passengers had perished in the flames! Subsequent accounts proved that the painful report was but too true. It appears from the account of those who returned to the city yesterday, the Belle of the West left here on Monday afternoon for St. Louis, having on board between two and three hundred passengers, among whom were a large company of emigrants on their way to California. At midnight, but two miles from Warsaw, and about sixty two miles from this city, smoke was seen issuing from the hatchway and it was discovered that he boat was on fire. At first, the officers endeavored to suppress the flame without alarming the passengers; but when their efforts were found to be of no avail, the pilot was directed to run the boat ashore, and the passengers were aroused from their sleep and warned of their immediate peril. The scene that ensued beggars description. Passengers were seen hurrying wildly through the smoke in their nightclothes - many of them delirious with excitement, and not a few leaping hopelessly into the water, to escape the threatening danger of the flames. The boat was finally run ashore, enveloped in flames, and the passengers thus afforded escape from the awful peril that surrounded them. How many perished it is now impossible to say. The accounts represent the number as high as sixty. It is to be hoped, however that this number is largely exaggerated.
Further Details on the Burning of the Steamer Belle of the West
(from the Cincinnati Dispatch of the 25th) The last boats from below report that the Belle of the West a total wreck, the hull having entirely disappeared, save the bow which was run on shore. As near as we can learn, the lives lost will number over eighty. None of the crew were lost. A portion of the goods were brought to this city in a damaged state. Over thirty of the dead and dying are in Florence [Indiana]. The boat was fully insured in this city and we learn from good authority that a protest was issued yesterday. A watchman is of the opinion that the fire originated in the hold from a box of matches taken on board here. The officers, from accounts, are really deserving of praise for their exertions to save all on board. The captain, after he discovered the fire, immediately gave the alarm, and hastened to the forward hatch, where a keg of powder had been stored, and threw overboard, saving, in all probability, a dreadful explosion. The mate, Mr. Young, who is an excellent swimmer, succeeded in saving some passengers who could certainly have been drowned had he not given them timely assistance.
The two stories above were reprinted as single item in the Daily Journal, in Covington, April 27, 1850. Frederick Way, in his comprehensive Way's Packet Directory, 1848-1994, from the Ohio University Press, says that the final death count was 35.