Saluda Victims Remembered

Saluda Victims Remembered,” Ensign, Jan. 1992, 78

Saluda Victims Remembered

Latter-day Saints who died in the 1852 explosion of the steamboat Saluda and the people of Lexington, Missouri, who cared for the survivors have been honored with a memorial.

A large headstone, engraved with names of known victims, was dedicated in the Machpelah Cemetery in Lexington on 19 September 1991. Between 100 and 250 people, most of them Latter-day Saint immigrants from Great Britain, died in the blast on the Missouri River.

The Saluda, a sturdy sidewheeler, 179 feet long with a beam of 26 feet, battled heavy 1852 spring runoff and ice on its trip up the Missouri to Council Bluffs. At Lexington, Captain Francis T. Belt stopped to take on supplies before facing one of the most dangerous sections of the river.

Repeated tries to continue around the bend only resulted in broken paddle wheels and rising frustration. On April 9, Captain Belt went to the engine room and ordered the engineers to “crowd on all the steam you’ve got.”

When they did so, the boilers exploded, blowing apart the ship. The section where the women and children were housed stayed afloat for a few minutes, allowing some to escape. Bodies thrown onto the banks by the explosion were gathered for burial, but many were washed away and were never recovered.

The residents of Lexington rushed to give help—pulling people to safety, administering medical aid, and later contributing to a fund for survivors. Lexington families opened their homes to the injured and even adopted a few orphaned children. Those of the forty or so survivors who could travel boarded ships bound for Council Bluffs and continued their journey west.

Monument erected to honor victims of explosion and those who helped them. (Photo by Linda Day.)