The Miller County Autogram, Tuscumbia, Missouri

Thursday, November 2, 1933

Steamboat wharf and ferry landing at Tuscumbia, 1895. Picture taken from South side. Steamer Frederick and Johnson Building stand out conspicuously.

Quite a number of exciting episodes and tragedies transpired at the old ferry landing. Among these might be mentioned the double drowning May 14, 1886, when T. P. Barrett and Richard Higgens lost their lives while assisting in the raising of the ferry cable; the capsizing of the ferryboat, August 26, 1890, when John Weitz, Bob Sullivan and William Witt narrowly escaped with their lives, and 31 head of cattle drowned; and the accidental death of Wm. Witt, the ferryman, February 23, 1891. The fatal shooting of Alee Colvin occurred on the south bank of the river in the nineties, when Colvin was assaulted by the Williams brothers as he was going home from town.

Following is the Autogram account of the drowning of Barrett and Higgins:

A sad accident occurred here last Friday morning (May 14, 1886) at about 9:30 o'clock which cost the lives of two fo our citizens and cast a gloom over the quiet little city when it was announced that T.P. Barrett and Richard Higgins had been drowned in the river by the capsizing of a skiff. The Gram reporter was soon on the spot and from 3y3-witnesses to the sad scene, we gathered the following particulars, which are about correct: Friday morning had been set by Mr. Johnson as the time for re-laying his ferry cable which had been torn loose from its fastenings on the north bank of the river by driftwood during the recent rise-and it was decided that the best way to do this was to use the skiffs-four in number-as a sort of buoy to hold the wire out of the water while the Steamer Frederick was to tow the lower end of the line to the north bank of the river. Barrett and Higgins occupied the skiff next to the Frederick. None of the other skiffs had occupants. The position of Barrett and Higgins' skiff was about third-way across the river from the south bank. Both men were sitting in the bow while the cable lay across in front of them. They were advised by several to get on the boat as their skiff might sink, but Mr. Barrett thought no and jokingly remarked that they would have a good ride, and kept his seat. The engine was set in motion which together with the force of the current against the wire, caused the bow of the skiff to sin, without warning to the occupants and the next instant they were both thrown into the river, and it is the opinion that they were disabled by the wire striking them when the skiff capsized. They were excellent swimmers and notwithstanding the fact that they wore very heavy boots struck out for the south bank swimming high, and everyone thought they would reach shore safely. Suddenly they seemed to lose their self-possession and commenced drifting out farther into the river. Mr. Barrett gave way first and disappeared; he rose immediately and sank to be seen no more. Mr. Higgins was some distance in front of Mr. Barrett and was struggling manfully. At this time Capt. Marshall was making heroic efforts to get to the men with the Frederick, but the swift current made his efforts fruitless.

Mr. Higgins was urged to keep swimming, that help would soon be there. He replied that it must come soon as he was almost exhausted. Looking back he saw Mr. Barrett's hat floating towards him, and giving one agonizing cry for help, sank beneath the water.

No one in particular is to blame, and no one more deeply deplores the sad affair than does Mr. Johnson; and he will spare no expense that the bodies may be recovered and delivered to their families.

Mr. Barrett leaves a wife and three small children almost wholly unprovided for, and Mr. Higgins a wife and two children who were who were dependent upon his daily labor for support. Both were hard-working peaceable men, attending strictly to their own affairs, and leave a large circle of friends who could not speak other than words of praise in their behalf.

It was August 26, 1890, when Wilson Bros., extensive buyers of cattle, drove up a large herd from South Missouri at the south ferry landing seeking passage across the Osage.

Tom Johnson was still proprietor of the ferry, and he had Johnny Weitz in charge, with Bob Sullivan and Wm. Witt assisting. Most of the cattle had been brought across. Forty-three head of cattle remained on the south side. Mr. Johnson was standing on the north shore watching the operations, and when Mr. Weitz informed him from across the river that there were 53 more cattle to bring over, Mr. Johnson told him to put them all on the boat. The fateful order was obeyed.

According to a reliable version of the affair, the boat was a new one, about 50 feet long and had been used by Capt. R. M. Marshall with the Str. Hugo in the transportation of wheat. Mr. Johnson bought the boat for the ferry. On one side of the boat was a guard or walk-way, outside the railing. For some reason, the side of the boat with this guard, which extended out from the boat, was turned up-stream and that was responsible for the capsizing. No sooner had the boat gotten well under way than the 43 head of cattle began milling around on the boat, crowding the upper side until the current caught the top of the guard. In an instant the boat had turned bottom-side up. Sullivan and Witt escaped with little difficulty, but Weitz was caught underneath the boat between the banisters among all the cattle. He was almost drowned before he could extricate himself. He finally freed himself and came up near the side of the boat and was dragged up by his companions on top of the capsized boat, where he fell in an exhausted condition.

Thirty-one head of cattle valued at $620.00 were drowned ant the damage to the ferryboat was $200.00. The carcasses of the drowned animals were towed to the bank and skinned, the 31 hides representing a small saving.

The Autogram gives the following account of the death of Mr. Witt, February 23, 1891:

Wm. Witt, one of I. T. Johnson's assistants on the ferry-boat, met with an accident about 3:30 Monday afternoon from which he died at 11 o'clock that night. The ferry-boat is rigged with a windlass at either end of the boat for the purpose of heading the boat up-stream. When the river is high as at present, these windlasses are very hard to work, requiring a strong man to handle them. The accident happened near the south bank of the river during preparations to return to this side. In turning the windlass the iron handle slipped out of his hand, and coming over struck Mr. Witt almost on the top of the head, crushing the skull fearfully. He was taken into Johnson's drug store where Dr. McGee, aided by many kind hands, dressed the terrible wound. Before this was completed the injured man became unconscious, and remained in that condition until death.

 Increase Font Size  Decrease Font Size