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The side-wheel steamer Mittie Stephens was built at the Madison Marine Railways Company by Alexander Temple and company for Joseph L. Stephens of Booneville, Missouri. It was probably named after his daughter who was born about the same time the boat was being built.
The “Mittie Stephens” was described as a “strong, staunch steamer and one of the better boats that had been built in Madison for some time”. (1)
Intended for the Missouri trade, her first run was made about May 25, 1863, when she left Madison, Indiana bound for St. Louis. It is claimed she was illegally seized by the Union and made to serve as a naval transport. She took part in the failed Shreveport Campaign as a part of Admiral Porter’s fleet.
After the war she was rebuilt after which she had several owners in quick succession between that time and the fateful day of February 5, 1869, when she left New Orleans bound for Jefferson, Texas. She carried passengers and cargo, including almost 300 bales of hay. A spark ignited the hay bales and an inferno ensued.
The boat was turned toward shore but she grounded in the shallow waters. In an effort to force the boat on shore, the wheels were kept running and this action pulled many of the fleeing passengers into them, causing most of the deaths. Of 107 passengers, 61 perished and the “Mittie Stephens” burned to the water line that ominous night.
(1) Madison Courier, May 29, 1863
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