Steamboat Explosion

Saluda explosion

Haste was an imperative to eager gold-rushers, who wanted to get to the gold fields in a hurry. The wonder of boiler-stoked steamboat speed, as opposed to slower-moving sailing vessels, became the dominant mode of ocean and river travel. But steam-fueled watercraft presented dangers—and for some less than responsible ship captains, the opportunity for an amusing one-upmanship contest. Such a contest developed when the steamship Pearl’s captain bet cigars with his crew that he could out-run  the Enterprise coming alongside them on the Sacramento River as both ships were returning from Marysville on January 27, 1855. The flaming explosion of the Pearl’s over-wrought boiler could be heard 13 blocks distant from the mouth of the American River, where the disaster occurred.  Boatmen trolled the river for days, finally recovering 70 bodies that were laid out in a public building in hopes of being recognized. Few were claimed, although the remains of the Pearl’s captain and members of his crew were identified. Meanwhile Sacramento City ordered a public funeral on January 29 for the upwards of 40 victims already recovered. Three thousand people, including 700 Chinese mourning their 18 dead, attended the solemn ceremony.


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