Neosho [Steamboat]

The steamboat Neosho struck a snag and was lost on the Arkansas River on February 6, 1837, near Arkansas Post (Arkansas County); one passenger drowned in the accident.

The Neosho began making runs on the Arkansas River in November 1834; it was briefly owned by Phillip Pennywit, a noted steamboat captain. Captain Thomas Tunstall acquired the steamboat Neosho in June 1836, and the Arkansas Gazette reported that “a new, staunch and light draft boat will ply regularly on the Arkansas and White Rivers…and when business will justify will make occasional trips to New Orleans for the accommodations of merchants and others.”

The Neosho was steaming down the Arkansas River near Arkansas Post around noon on February 6, 1837, the “weather pleasant and a major portion of the passengers on the boiler deck,” when “she run on a snag in the middle of the river.” A lead line was dropped that showed the vessel was in four fathoms (twenty-four feet) of water, which caused a panic, and “an immediate rush was made for the yawl, which had been sent ashore with the stern line.”

The steamboat careened to one side, and “many people plunged into the river” as the Neosho sank up to its guides, with Tunstall reporting that “all that keeps her up is the snag on which she sticks, or she would go completely under.”

Passengers struggled to the banks of the Arkansas River, and one, Barnard Lafarme, a gold- and silversmith “of good character” from New Orleans, drowned “a few feet from shore.” Most of the passengers’ baggage was lost, and “some saved nothing but their shirts and pantaloons, which was all they had on.”

Twelve passengers printed an account of the disaster in the Arkansas Gazette on February 14, 1837, in which they claimed that one Captain Lemon of the steamboat DeKalb came across the scene of the accident and the stranded passengers and “passed without giving the slightest disposition to extend us any aid,” as opposed to Tunstall, who “stepped forward and offered his purse to any that were destitute.”

Five other passengers published a different perspective, writing that Lemon “rang his bell as soon as he came in sight of the wreck and before he was hailed,” ordering his pilot to turn the DeKalb around at the first available opportunity. They wrote that Lemon “proffered his assistance, and actually took a part of the crew of the ‘Neosho’ to New Orleans, free of charge, and proffered to take all the passengers…upon the same terms, to any point down the river.”

The Neosho was a “total loss,” and Tunstall would lose another steamer ten years later when the Cote Joyeuse collided with the Talma in the Mississippi River off Chicot County on August 20, 1847, suffering a single casualty.

The Neosho catastrophe provides another illustration of the dangers of steamboat travel in Arkansas waters in the nineteenth century, where encounters with snags also caused casualties on vessels such as the Belle Zane in 1845, the John Adams in 1851, the Cambridge in 1862, the Mercury in 1867, the G. A. Thompson in 1869, and the Nick Wall in 1870.

For additional information:
Arkansas Advocate, February 17, 1837, p. 3.

Arkansas Times and Advocate, January 2, 1835, p. 3.

“From the Gazette.” Arkansas Times and Advocate, March 10, 1837, p. 2.

Huddleston, Duane. “Of Race Horses and Steamboats: The Pride of Captain Thomas Todd Tunstall.” Independence County Chronicle 14 (January 1973): 28, 41–43.

“Loss of the s.b. Neosho.” Weekly Arkansas Gazette, February 14, 1837, p. 1.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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