William and Horace Wetzel

The Kentucky Post, Wednesday, January 4, 1905, page 1

Dayton Ky. Men Killed
Ten to Twelve Lives Lost in the Defender Disaster
Boilers Burst and Helpless Humans Met a Fiery Death


PERRY SPENCER, Mate, Pt. Pleasant
HORACE WETZEL, Watchman, S Pittsburg, formerly of Dayton Kentucky
JAMES CEASE, tamp trimmer, S Pittsburg
TOM DUFFY, fireman
JAMES ____, fireman
The last three named were caught under the debris and burned up.  They were from Pittsburg.
WILLIAM WETZEL, deck hand, 750 Second-av. Dayton Ky.
GEORGE KIDD, deck hand
DAVE ____, deck hand


BOB HOLLAND, fireman
IRA ELLIS, second engineer
JOHN FRANCIS, deck hand
PAT CONNELLY, deck hand

A pathetic scene was enacted at the home of Henry Wetzel, 750 Second-st. Dayton Ky. early today when The Post carried the news to the family of the death of William, 18 and Horace, 26, who were in the accident caused by an explosion late last night.  The explosion occurred on the towboat Defender near Huntington, W Va.  The aged father and family had heard nothing of the fearful affair.

Margaret, a sister, said to The Post, "We know nothing of the affair, and I am heart-broken," as she gave way to tears.  "This is the first I have heard of it.  William was only 18 and Horace 26.  Horace has a wife and lives in South Pittsburg, while Willy lives here.  he was employed as watchman on the boat."  The family are in moderate circumstances and consists of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Wetzel, Brown Wetzel, Henry Wetzel Jr. and Grace who is Mrs. McChatton, of Newport.  Brown and Henry left at noon over the C&O for the scene of the accident.

HUNTINGTON W VA. Jan 4-At 9 o'clock this morning County Coroner R M Eaton began the empaneling of a jury to investigate into the cause of the disaster to the towboat Defender, which blew up shortly before midnight with a loss of life that can not yet be determined.  Capt. Woodward believes the number of dead will reach 10 or 12.  As yet none has been removed from the hulk of the steamer, which rests on the bottom, about 60 yards from the West Virginia shore.  Three bodies badly charred are visible on the forward deck, but it will be impossible to identify them.  Other dead bodies are known to be about the hulk.


The Defender, which was owned by the Monongahela River Consolidated Coal and Coke Company, of Pittsburgh, was returning to Pittsburgh from Cincinnati, where she had left a two of four barges of coal.  She had been experiencing hard weather the entire way from Cincinnati with the ice in the river and as a result of this she had all steam on.  Most of the crew had gone to their bunks, tired out by the day's hard work.  Suddenly with a roar like the bursting of thousands of large shells, the whole boat went up into the air and a few minutes later what had been one of the prides of the Ohio was nothing but a blazing pile of worthless timber, the funeral pyre of a score of men.  her boilers, strained to their utmost had exploded. The scene following the explosion beggars description.  In the river were half a dozen of the crew, horribly burned from the explosion, but still clinging to pieces of timber.


None of those left on the ill fated towboat escaped.  It was impossible.  Immediately after the explosion the whole frame of the boat such of it as was left, caught fire and blazed furiously.  Any of the crew who had escaped immediate death must have perished miserably in the blaze which followed.  The report of the explosion awakened the inhabitants of the city and soon every available craft was en route for the scene to aid in the rescue.  The steamer Chevalier was lying at the local wharf with steam half up and she was the first to reach the side of the wrecked Defender.  On her way she picked up half a dozen of those who had been blown into the river and hastened them to the shore where they were placed in private houses and cared for by local physicians.  All were in a precarious condition and none has yet been able to give any details of the disaster.

The Defender was in charge of Capt. James Woodward, of Pittsburg.  He was in his pilot house when the explosion occurred and was hurled into the river.  He was later picked up, half dead from the cold, but apparently otherwise uninjured, save for a bruised leg.  Ellen Welsh, a chambermaid of Pittsburg, was rescued from the river 40 feet away from the steamer, while struggling in the icy water.  She said that everything had been going wrong during the evening; that first the machinery was out of order, and soon after this was repaired the electric lights went out and the boat was in darkness for a time.  She said she had a premonition that some dire disaster was gong to occur and that she had not yet fallen asleep when the accident happened.


One of the river men, whose home is in a small houseboat wintering on the Huntington River front, was one of the first to reach the side of the Defender.  He tells a thrilling story of the disaster.  "I was just about turning in and had put on my heavy coat to go out and take a squint at the weather.  It was bitter cold and the river looked like one mass of floating ice.  As I stood on the deck just outside I saw the glare of a steamer and heard her chugging as she fought her way through the floes.  Suddenly a mass of flame burst into the air and the whole river seemed to heave with the force of a terrific explosion.  The next minute in the place where the steamer had been there was a huge bonfire.  I called to a neighbor of min, who had a boat alongside of mine and the tow of us mumped into a skiff and made for the blazing steamer, which was about half a mile below my boat in midstream."


"We pulled hard, but it was fully 10 minutes before we could make the distance.  The scene when we reached her side was of such a horrifying nature that I will never forget it.  Several charred bodies were floating alongside, while from the streamer itself, above the hissing of the flames as they struck the water, you could hear the shrieks of some poor devil who though still alive, had nothing but a horrible death ahead of him.  And there we lay helpless.  It was nothing short of madness to attempt to do anything for the poor boys on the Defender.  She was a furnace and in spite of the zero chill, it blistered your face if you got within 50 feet of the vessel."

Captain Woodward will leave this evening for his home in Pittsburg.  He has been engaged in steam boating on the Ohio 35 years and this is his first disaster.


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