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Runaway horse mars scheduled steamer excursion to Hannibal

This photo of the Park Bluff is from the collection of the Putnam Museum, Davenport, Iowa. Park Bluff Iowa History, an IAGenWeb special project.


The building on the southwest corner of Main and Bird Streets in Hannibal, Mo., now houses Lydia’s Cabinet of Curiosities, operated by Gordon Harrison. But 128 years ago – in August 1890 – a billiards parlor was in business in that old, historic building.

The downtown was particularly populated on the afternoon of Monday, Aug. 4, 1890, as the Steamer Park Bluff had docked at noon on Hannibal’s wharf, the terminus for a scheduled excursion trip from Canton.

The trip was planned as an outing for “coloreds” from Lewis County.

Three of the excursionists were conversing on the sidewalk in front of the billiards parlor when a commotion was heard along North Main Street.

Thomas Young, an old man living near Hannibal, had tethered his horse and cart near Lee’s ice house at the north end of Main Street. The horse “slipped its bridal” and ran south on Main Street when it became frightened.

Several men on the street stepped forward to stop the runaway, but instead of stopping, the horse reacted by turning west on Bird Street, swinging the cart behind. The women, startled, were unable to get out of the way, and were caught in the melee.

Mrs. Postley and Katie Wilson had only minor injuries, but at the time the article was printed in the Aug. 7, 1890 edition of the Quincy Whig, it was uncertain if the third woman – Katie Douglass, just 15 – would recover.

The horse, entangled, fell twice upon young girl.

Onlookers took Miss Douglass to a duplex residence on the south side of Bird, address 113-115, west of the Athens coal and wood yard.

Boarding house

Hannibal didn’t have a hospital during that era, so it was typical for emergency treatment to be administered in a nearby facility. It might have been the Central Hotel, a few doors to the south of the accident, where a bed would be readily available.

But in this case – because of Miss Douglass’ race – that wasn’t an option. Instead she was taken to a nearby “colored” boarding house, and two (Caucasian) doctors, Dr. Robert H. Goodier and Charles H. Yancey, were summoned.

Two years prior to the accident, that boarding house had been operated by Preston Steward, a local shoe maker. The 1899 city directory listed the occupants of the duplex boarding house: Miss Birdie Steele; Mrs. Henrietta Steele; Miss Ella Taylor; Anderson Sidney; William Miller; Abraham Harris; William J. Booker; Miss Catharine Combs; Christina Holden and Sally Roach.

The ultimate fate of the injured young woman was not obtained.


Two of the occupants of the boarding house at the time of the 1890 accident – Birdie and Henrietta Steele – also had a connection to the Steamer Park Bluff.

In July 1891, Zeb Steele fell overboard and drowned during an excursion on the Park Bluff. Zeb was husband to Henrietta Steele (they married in 1874) and father to Birdie Steele. His death was ruled accidental drowning.

Steamer Park Bluff

The Park Bluff was built in 1884, commissioned by Captains R.S. Owens, Sam Speake, Thomas Peel and F.A. Whitney. Constructed by the Kahlke Bros., at Rock Island, Ill, the engines and boilers were assembled at the McElroy and Amnitage machine shop in Keokuk, Iowa.

Memories of Capt. F.A. Whitney of Centerville, Iowa were published in the Saturday Evening Post, Burlington, Iowa, on Feb. 2, 1924, and are now contained within the Iowa History Project.

The boat’s original intent was to support the log-rafting business.

A treacherous navigational condition existed on the Mississippi River between Keokuk, Iowa, north to Montrose, known as the Des Moines Rapids. Work on a canal to allow passage of boats beyond Keokuk began in 1871.

Between the years of 1880-1890, log rafting was at its peak. The Park Bluff was used as a tow boat and helped steer the log rafts down through the crooked channel beginning at Montrose.


During the decade of the 1890s, the Steamer Park Bluff and her associates became popular excursion boats, plying passengers to points along the river. A small advertisement in the June 28, 1890 edition of the Quincy Daily Journal announced plans for a trip to the Hannibal Cave on Sunday, June 20. The cost was 25 cents for ladies and 50 cents for gents.

The Park Bluff also scheduled a number of “colored” excursions:

“The Park Bluff brought a large colored excursion party from Louisiana (to Quincy, Ill.) yesterday.” Aug. 19, 1890, Quincy Daily Journal

“The Park Bluff will carry the Colored Baptists (of Quincy) to Clarksville on Friday.” July 9, 1891, Quincy Daily Whig.

“The Park Bluff, carrying the colored Odd Fellows (of Quincy), returned from Keokuk about 3 o’clock this morning. They had a big time in the Gate City yesterday and the local members of the order did everything to make it pleasant for the visitors.” July 24, 1891, Quincy Daily Journal.

“The Park Bluff brought a colored moon light excursion from Hannibal last evening to (Quincy.) July 24, 1892, Quincy Daily Whig.

Capt. S.R. Van Sant purchased the Park Bluff in December 1898, and announced plans to use it as a harbor boat in Winona, Wis., in conjunction with the logging industry.

Note: Jim's Journey, The Huck Finn Freedom Center, offers resources to those who are interested in building cross-cultural understanding by documenting, preserving and presenting the history of the 19th and 20th-century African American community in Hannibal and northeast Missouri. G. Faye Dant is a fifth-generation African American Hannibalian and descendant of Missouri slave, James Walker.

This 1869 map of downtown Hannibal is used to illustrate the location of a possibly fatal runaway horse/pedestrian accident in 1890. Nineteenth Century images of Urban Development, John W. Reps.

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