A Note from Cottonwood Corners

During April and May of 1866, thirty-six steamboats passed Yankton, all heavily loaded with equipment and supplies which were needed farther upstream at forts, communities, and river landings.  It is reported that in 1877 thirty-nine steamboats were in use above Sioux City.

Most of these boats had their headquarters at Yankton.  The river freight was shipped directly to Yankton by rail and there loaded on steamboats.  These steamboats were responsible for bringing much business to Yankton.  Later, some of these boats and their cargo were sunk or burned.

The Carroll No. 2 was burned at Hot Springs Island on April 19, 1877 near Charles Mix County where the boat had been tied up for the night.  It was owned by Dr. W. A. Burleigh of Yankton, a prominent surgeon and influential citizen in the early organizing of community and state affairs.  It was loaded with Black Hills supplies and passengers, going from Yankton to Fort Pierre.

The Carroll left Yankton on the Monday afternoon of the 16th with 285 tons of freight and about eighty passengers besides officers and crew.  Her passengers were all bound for Fort Pierre and the Black Hills.  They would travel from Fort Pierre to Deadwood on what was called the “Deadwood Trail.”  It was the main artery of overland travel going west from Fort Pierre.

The Carroll had been built two years earlier at Pittsburgh at a cost of $20,000.  She was one of the staunchest and fastest running boats on the river and was a general favorite of the passengers.

The Carroll had been tied up for the night on the east bank of the river near Hot Springs Island.  Their landing place was against a high steep bank, the face of which was perpendicular with the water and in places even overhung the boat.

Between eleven and twelve o’clock an alarm of fire was given and the passengers were aroused and escorted from the boat.  Fire had been discovered in the hold just under the ash pan, where a quantity of baled hay was stored.  Heat from the coals raked into the ash pan had burned through the decking and ignited the hay.

The hatches were immediately closed and the hold was filled with steam from the boilers.  For about an hour the flames were confined to the hold and it was thought the boat would be saved.  That was not the case.  After the flames had broken from the hold, the destruction was rapid.  Most of the passengers were taken on board the Key West and taken to Fort Pierre, while the balance returned to Yankton on the Meade.  Officers of the Carroll paid their passage to both points.

In November of that year, citizens living in the area were reminded that the earth’s surface is constantly changing because of powerful forces at work deep within the earth.  The Daily Press and Dakotaian on November 16 and 17 reported that on November 15, 1877, an earthquake shook the area from Bijou Hills to east of Olivet.

A report from Rockport, D. T. dated November 15, 1877 indicated:

“A distinct shock of an earthquake was felt here at 11:30 a.m., lasting about fifteen seconds . . . doors were thrown open, and crockery shook up considerably.”  Scotland reported:  “The houses in the village were shaken with a lateral motion.  Several Ladies in the dining room of the hotel were terribly frightened and ran out of the house, they say, to prevent its falling on them . . . there must be something the matter with old mother earth’s innards, as several other places of late have been visited with similar motions.”

From Gayville, D. T.:  “The people of Gayville experienced a heavy earthquake shock, lasting about a minute and a half.  The buildings rocked and jarring the window sash, crockery, etc., until it seemed that all the shelf ware would fall.  A good many, from fear or otherwise, ran out doors; among the rest your correspondent, not from fear, though, but to see if a team had run away and struck the house.”

In Yankton County, the County Superintendent of Schools visited each school in the county and reported:  “District No. 3 has a small school taught by Miss Louise Cavalier, in a small schoolhouse near Henry Arend’s.  A new schoolhouse is proposed, and the district certainly needs it.  Found eleven pupils present on November 23rd.  The earthquake of November 14th came near causing a disaster, as the logs of the roof cracked and settled under the heavy dirt roof, rendering the prop necessary for safety.  The conduct of the pupils was very different, some being quiet and studious and others needing constant watching and frequent correction.  The teacher seemed to be working industriously, to put the school in the best condition.”

Mr. M. T. Post who had a large wood yard on Hot Springs Island and sold wood to the steamers reported:  “The recent earthquake was more severe at his place than at any other point on the river, and that during its continuance and for a considerable time afterwards, the hot springs got on a tantrum and gave evidence of some unusual subterranean commotion.  The springs threw out an unusual amount of water, which had a peculiar inky appearance, and gave forth a strong sulphurous odor.  This continued for several days, the springs assuming the character of miniature geysers.”

On Monday, September 10, 1804, Capt. William Clark wrote in his diary that in the middle of the river he came upon two small islands which he called “Mud Islands.”  All evidence indicates that these were what would later become “Hot Springs Island.”


Author Clarence Shoemaker, originally published in the Gregory Times-Advocate on June 12, 2024