The Hickman was a steamboat that caught fire and sank on the Arkansas River on March 5, 1860; two passengers were burned to death.
The Hickman was a 228-ton sidewheel paddleboat built in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1855. Owned by the Bugher brothers of Cincinnati, the packet made regular runs between that city and Little Rock (Pulaski County).
The Hickman left the wharf at Little Rock on the afternoon of March 2, 1860, bound for Cincinnati. When the vessel was around sixteen miles downriver from the capital, a fire broke out in some pine wood stored on a lower deck. “So rapid was the spread of the flames that within three minutes of the discovery of the fire, the flames had enveloped the whole forward part of the boat,” a newspaper reported.
The steamer’s pilot “instantly headed for shore and ran hard into the bank, thus affording all her passengers—some fifty in number—an opportunity to escape.” Two passengers—a Frenchman from New Orleans named Dupuy and one other—perished in the flames. One crew member suffered severe burns, and the steamer’s porter broke his leg and back while trying to jump overboard. The Hickman’s captain, A. Byers, had to climb down the paddleboat’s wheel from the hurricane deck to escape the flames.
The Hickman swung back into the channel and became stuck on a sandbar, burning to the water’s edge. On hearing of the accident in Little Rock, a Captain Reasoner took his steamboat Leon to the scene of the disaster and transported the survivors back to the capital. Most of the passengers later took the steamer Red Wing to Memphis.
The Hickman, which was valued at around $11,000 and insured for $8,000, was a total loss.
The Hickman disaster underscored the danger of fire on steamboats in the nineteenth century, when blazes also destroyed the Brandywine in 1832, the Clarksville in 1848, the Webster in 1851, the Martha Washington and Pocahontas in 1852, the Caroline in 1854, the J. S. McCune in 1867, and the Mary E. Poe in 1873.
For additional information:
“Another Steamboat Disaster.” Memphis Weekly Bulletin, March 16, 1860, p. 5.
“Burning of the Steamer Hickman.” Arkansas True Democrat, March 7, 1860, p. 2.
“Steamboat Hickman Destroyed by Fire.” Weekly Arkansas Gazette, March 10, 1860, p. 2.
Way, Frederick, Jr. Way’s Packet Directory. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1983.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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