Collision of the Steamboats Cote Joyeuse and Talma

The steamboats Cote Joyeuse and Talma collided near Big Cypress Bend (Chicot County) on the Mississippi River in the early morning hours of August 20, 1847, sinking the Cote Joyeuse and killing one of the vessel’s officers.

The Cote Joyeuse was a 142-ton steamboat built at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1842 and owned by Captain Thomas T. Tunstall of Jacksonport (Jackson County). The ship advertised regular runs to Pocahontas (Randolph County), Powhatan (Lawrence County), Batesville (Independence County), Jacksonport, and Elizabeth (Jackson County) and could “take freight for all the bends below White River” while descending the Mississippi to New Orleans, Louisiana.

Around 1:30 a.m. on August 20, 1847, the Cote Joyeuse collided with the Talma, a 306-ton sidewheel paddleboat built in 1843 in Louisville, Kentucky. The Talma, under Captain E. T. Sturgeon, ran the Louisville–New Orleans route and was “considered a ‘crack’ boat of her day.”

Newspaper accounts seemed to fault the Cote Joyeuse in the accident. One account said that “the night was dark and the Joyeuse, it is said, carried no signal light and her engines were kept at work until she sunk, while those of the Talma were stopped.” A Memphis newspaper that was quoted in the Washington Telegraph said that as the Cote Joyeuse approached, the Talma’s watchmen tolled a signal bell, while the pilot stopped engines, reversing them as the Cote Joyeuse was about to strike their larboard bow. Tunstall’s vessel then ran across the Talma’s bow, “thereby crushing her own sides, causing her to sink in four or five minutes afterwards within fifteen or twenty feet of shore.”

Tunstall later published an affidavit in New Orleans’s Times-Picayune countering that account. He wrote that the “Cote Joyeuse was descending the river in her proper channel” as he saw the Talma steaming upriver. Tunstall said he went inside until he heard his watchman cry, “That boat is coming straight for us and is going to run into us.” The captain ran out onto the boiler deck and saw the Talma slam into the Cote Joyeuse’s larboard side, destroying the clerk’s office with its bow, “also knocking the boilers entirely out of their place and killing the 1st Engineer, Thos. Beardsley,” who was standing nearby. The Cote Joyeuse sank rapidly.

Tunstall “most positively assert[ed]” that the Talma was not in its proper channel when the collision occurred and had trapped the Cote Joyeuse between it and the shore. He also claimed that he had stopped his engines but those of the Talma were “going full ahead until [the] boats came into contact.” In the same affidavit, six Chicot County residents stated that the Talma had crossed the Mississippi’s channel a half mile above the “customary crossing of ascending boats.”

Regardless of who was to blame, Beardsley was killed and most of the Cote Joyeuse’s cargo of 300 head of cattle and around forty horses were drowned. The steamboat, insured for $3,000, was a total loss.

The Talma would also meet a disastrous fate, hitting a snag and sinking in the Mississippi River near New Madrid, Missouri, in March 1848.

The sinking of the Cote Joyeuse reflected the dangers of travel in the waters around Arkansas in the nineteenth century, when steamboat collisions also claimed the Gulnare in 1844, the Congress in 1846, and the Niagara in 1865.

For additional information:
“For Pocahontas, Powhatan” [Advertisement]. New Orleans, Louisiana, Times-Picayune, July 29, 1847, p. 3.

Huddleston, Duane. “Of Horse Races and Steamboats: The Pride of Captain Thomas Todd Tunstall.” Independence County Chronicle 14 (January 1973): 1–144.

“Steamboat Accident.” Washington [Arkansas] Telegraph, September 8, 1847, p. 4.

“Steamboat Accidents.” Times-Picayune, August 26, 1847, p. 2.

“Steamboat Collision.” Louisville [Kentucky] Morning Courier, August 30, 1847, p. 3.

“To The Public.” Times-Picayune, September 7, 1847, p. 3.

Way, Frederick, Jr. Way’s Packet Directory. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1983.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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