Sea Wing Disaster

The following is taken from the Pierce County Herald July 16, 1890.  It regards the sinking of the Sea Wing, a steamboat captained by D.N. Wethern which encountered a storm and sank in Lake Pepin July 13, 1890 with great loss of life, some of whom were from Pierce County.  It was reported at the time as a cyclone.  There is a list of survivors and victims at the end of this article, although neither list appears to be complete.  You will notice a disproportionate number of the victims were women, unable to tread water in their long dresses.

"Pierce County Herald, July 16, 1890, Headline:  Perilous Lake Pepin"

Lake Pepin under a quiet sky is a peaceful and beautiful sheet of water.  It is about 30 miles in length and 3 miles in width and owing to the high bluffs on either side which seem to confine the force of certain windstorms it is often transformed into an Atlantic fury. Old rivermen understand this and often wait for storms to exhaust themselves before venturing into its waters.

It would have been well for Captain Dave Wethern last Sunday night if he had obeyed the dictates of his own judgment and remained at Lake City instead of attempting to return with his 250 happy excursionists in the face of a storm which he saw approaching.  But fate directed otherwise, the excursionists were anxious to get home and nearly a 150 men women and children found watery graves.  As nearly as we can glean the facts the Sea Wing left Diamond Bluff on a pleasure excursion early in the morning, having in tow a barge fitted up for passengers and stopping at Trenton, Red Wing and perhaps other places taking on passengers until fully 250 were on board.

Shortly after leaving Lake City on the return trip the storm broke in all its fury and almost immediately the steamer capsized.

Probably from 125 to 150 were in the cabin and these were at once drowned.  About twenty-five succeeded in climbing upon the upturned bottom where they retained their perilous position for over a half hour and until they drifted opposite Lake City.  Just as they were beginning to hope for rescue, the boat again careened and they were all once more submerged in the furious waters.  Strange to say 20 or more of these again succeeded in catching on to some part of the wreck and were eventually rescued by row boats sent out from the city.

The barge upon which were about fifty soul was blown toward a point two miles above Lake City, and as it neared the shore 12 or 15 person plunged into the water and clambered up the banks to safety.  Immediately a counter-wind drove the barge with the rest of its human freight back into the middle of the lake.  Eventually all those on the barge were saved.

George Reeves, one of the excursionists on the barge reached Ellsworth Monday night.  he states that after the barge was cut loose from the boat he saw the vessel capsize but heard no sound or outcry and that in the constant flashes of lightning that illuminated the waves he could distinguish the white dresses of the drowning ladies as they struggled with the dark flood.  He was one of the number that jumped into the water as t barge first touched.  Shortly after he reached the shore he found a house in which he and his companions were entertained.  A few minutes after his arrival a lad about 12 years of age entered.

Where did you come from he asked the lad.  Coolly taking off his coat and shaking it as though it were an ever day occurrence the boy answered, Oh, I swam in from the boat.  And it was true.  He had braved a mile of mighty waves guided by the lightning flashes and was saved.

Frank Way of Trenton, started to swim ashore with a little sister but became exhausted and the girl was drowned.  There were many instances of individual heroism, some of which were happily crowned with success.  But who can tell of the noble but unsuccessful endeavors to save loved ones!  heroic efforts, rewarded only by the sight of a sister, child or wife sucked into the swirling waters.


The following is a list of survivors taken from a Red Wing newspaper dated July 14, 1890

Axel Nelson, August Olson, Frank Way, Trenton, W. Sparks, Trenton, Oscar Forssell, C.A. Johnson, Henry Luft, W. Boner and son, G.A. Thompson, F.C. Lampman, J. Webb, John Ammond, Haskel and Will Purdy, Frank Perkins, Theodore Johnson, Geo. Cook, Hugo Herder, Chas. Fisher, Andrew Munson, Geo. Diepenbroeck, Jr., Geo. Reeve. G. Beckmarck, Claus Sandstrom, Chas. Lidberg, Ludwig Rock, H. Seastruade, Axel Ekk, Will Kinney, Mrs. Hill, daughter and son, Diamond Bluff, John Kwai, Edward Axelson, Otto Simon, Peter Malm, Arthur Anderson, F.P. Gartland, Oscar Berling, Robert Shelstrom, Geo. Hawkins and son, Jacob Appenceller, Fred Scherf, R.F. Johnson, E.T. Danielson, W.J.G. and R. Eisenbrand, Henry Rehder, C.D. Jacobi, Sherman Ward, W.W. DeKay, Jr., Henry Nelson, Geo Landeck, A.H. Olson, N.K. Simmons, Charles Trutman, Aggie Bertrom, May Casey, Edie Martinson, Wm. Ploos, C.S. Sultzer, E.D. Morris, John Nelson, John G. Gilbertson, John Anderberg, G. Larson O. Smith T.F. Kempe, E. Schenach, William Blaker.

The following is a list of the victims, as far as could be determined at the time.

Mrs. W.S. Blaker, Cena Blaker, Kate Burkardt, Minnie Fischer, Annie Snider, Fred Hottoman, Anna Way, Chas. Dinslage, Kate Dailey, Phebe Bearson, C. Johnson, Geo. W. Nelson, Flora Smith, Mrs. F. Hempftling, Miss Siebrasse, John Schoeffler, Mrs. John Schoeffler, Two children of John Schoeffler, O.A. Anderson, Wilmot Dak., Peter Gerken, Mrs. Peter Gerken, Peter Gerken's boy, Lizzie Ann Harrison, H. Hempftling, Mrs. H. Hempftling, Myrtle Mero, Thos. Leeson, Pearl Weltern, Anna Snider, Emma Nelson, Mrs. Merritt Green, Miss Ida Green, Mrs. Nelson, Anna Staiger, Frankie Staiger, Ida Seavers, Mabel Holton.

The following list of victims was taken from the Pierce County Plaindealer, July 18, 1890
(The found or not found means that bodies were or were not recovered.)

The following are the Diamond Bluff persons drown:  R.L. Mero, found, Myrtle Mero, found, Austin Mero, found, Leon Kremer, found, Wm. Jergenson, not found, Mrs. D.N. Wethern, found, Pearl Wethern, found, Millie Niles, found.

The following person was from Trimbelle:  Flora Smith, found

The following were from Trenton:  Alice Palmer, found, Nettie Palmer, found, Ella Adams, found, Wm. Adams, found, John Adams, found, Mattie Flynn, found, Cord Johnson, found, Addie Way, found, Edna Way, found, Jules Wilson, found

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