Today in Texas History – February 12

From the Annals of Incompetence – In 1869, sixty-one men, women, and children died when the sidewheel steamboat Mittie Stephens caught fire on Caddo Lake.  The MS had been running the New Orleans-Red River route since 1866. At that time Jefferson was the head of navigation via Caddo Lake due to the great log raft that obstructed traffic on the Red River. The MS left New Orleans on February 5 with 107 passengers and crew and a cargo that included 274 bales of hay.  The boat caught fire when a breeze blew a spark to the hay stacks from torch baskets that lighted the bows of the boat.  The blaze quickly spread and the boat headed for the shore only 300 yards away.  The boat grounded in three feet of water near Swanson’s Landing. Most of the passengers were killed by the incompetence of the pilot.  He kept the paddlewheels turning in an attempt to make the shore but ended up killing most of those lost when they were struck by the wheels while in the water.

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