One of the deadliest collisions in US waters to date occurred on Oct. 31, 1837 when the sidewheeler
Monmouth was rammed and sunk by the Tremont on the Mississippi north of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The Monmouth along with two other ships, John Newton and Yazoo, were contracted by the US Army to transport about fifteen hundred Creek Indians from New Orleans to reservations in the west. With little concern for anyone's safety the Creek's were loaded on these three ships for a journey up the Mississippi. A little over 700 were crammed on to the Monmouth, which severely overloaded the 135 ton steamer.
After passing what is now Baton Rouge the three steamers encountered the SS Warren which was towing a sailboat named Tremont (I don't have any details about the size of the Tremont, but she must have been a
quite stout ship to sink a 135 ton steamer). The details of how the collision happened are not known, but it
was suspected that the Monmouth was not following standard procedure of the day for transiting the river.
Nevertheless the Tremont and the Monmouth collided on the dark rainy night. The Monmouth lost her bow
and sank quickly dumping over 700 people in the water. In the dark and the rain it must have been hard to
find those in the water, but the crews of the Yazoo and the John Newton rescued as many as they could.
Their efforts saved about 400 lives, but sadly 311 Creek Indians and 2 crewman drowned in the muddy Mississippi. (In a claim filed by the Creek Nation it is mentioned that 34 slaves were also lost, I don't know if their number is included in the 311 or if they were in addition to that number. Several sources give different numbers of those killed from 260 to over 400, the real number is lost to history.)
The story made headlines but only for a short time, some say because those who died were Indians and
therefore not newsworthy. As I did not live in that time I can not say with certainty why the deaths of so
many were forgotten so quickly, but it brings to mind the Sultana disaster in which 1,547 mostly Union
soldiers were killed on a river steamboat. This was the worst disaster in U.S. history, but it was soon forgotten by the press mainly because the Civil War had just ended and people were supposedly tired of stories of death and destruction. What ever the reason the story of the Monmouth and those who died has been mostly forgotten, that's why it has been written about here today.
© 2006 Michael W. Pocock