The Rise and Fall of River and Rail transportation in Madison, Indiana.

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Nannie Byers: An ill-fated Madison boat

The Madison Courier, on July 22nd, 1863 remarked, “Capt. Keyt’s new boat, Nannie, made her trial trip a few days since and gave entire satisfaction. She is a very light draft boat, drawing a little less than fifteen inches, and runs exceedingly well. With such an officer as Capt. Keyt, the Nannie cannot fail to be a general favorite, in whatever trade she may run. She was built at the Dry Docks Yard in this city.”
On February 24, 1866 the People’s Line steamer “C. E. Hillman”, upward bound, collided with the Cincinnati & Memphis packet, Nannie Byers just above and in sight of Madison at about 2 o’clock in the morning. To add to the confusion, the night was dark and rainy with a high wind. The Nannie Byers was cut down and sank within four minutes of the contact, turning over completely in the churning waters. Those who were lucky enough to struggle out of their state rooms found themselves swept into the water, confused and dazed, not knowing which way lay the shore. The second mate managed to save a lady thrashing about in the choppy waters and some floated to the shore on bits and pieces of debris, but many were not to be so lucky. Five members of one family, the Griffiths from Ohio, perished, leaving only one daughter surviving. A young soldier named Gander would be buried with honors by his comrades and a father and son would died together in their stateroom. For days the bodies would be discovered along the shore, passengers and crew alike. They were all solemnly attended to by the citizens in Madison.

The exact cause of the wreck was hard to determine. It was probably a combination of bad weather and bad luck. It seems that both boats had given a passing whistle but the Nannie Byers at some point became unmanageable and slithered half way around in the current at which time the “C. E. Hillman’s” bow struck her amidship. The Hillman was barely damaged but at least fifteen dead bodies attested to the horrible damage sustained by the “Nannie Byers”.

Captain Keyt had left the boat at Cincinnati and she was in the charge of Captain W. J. Rusk, a hard luck captain who, in his career, managed to lose seven boats under his command. Captain Keyt came from Cincinnati to console his crew and offer assistance where he could, but little could be done.

The “Nannie Byers” was purchased by the Madison Marine Ways. After all, she was already sitting practically in the yards when she came to rest. She was rebuilt there and name the “George D. Palmer”.

On April 12, 1867 the newspaper reported,

“It will be remembered that on the morning of the 23rd of February, 1866 the steamer C. E. Hillman, then in the employ of the People’s Louisville & Cincinnati line, and the steamer Nannie Byers, collided near this city, by which the latter boat was sunk, and proved a total loss. Notwithstanding the Board of Inspectors pronounced against the Byers, her owners at once instituted suit against the People’s line for damages. The case has been pending in the courts for over a year, and a day or two ago was compromised by the owners of the Byers receiving eighteen thousand five hundred dollars, and the suit being dismissed at the cost of the defendants.”

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