By Dale Cox
While travel on the early paddlewheel steamboats that served Jackson County was picturesque and romantic, it could also be very dangerous. Fires and boiler explosions were common, while the snags, rocks and sandbars of the rivers claimed a surprising number of boats. The average life of a steamboat on the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola Rivers was only a few years and quite often the boats ended their careers with an even more tragic loss of life. A number of these unfortunate accidents took place along the Jackson County banks.
…The steamer Chamois, Capt. Morton, burst her boiler on Thursday, 3d of November, near Chattahoochee, at the fork of the river. She was aground, and trying to pull off when the explosion occurred, which hurried three souls into eternity. There were others more or less injured, but none severely. It is stated as usual, that no blame whatever is attached to the officers of the boat. The names of the persons killed are Leander Vale, 1st engineer, Wm. Cannefax, Steward, and Joseph Floyd, deck hand.
A similar report appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer under the headline, “Dreadful Steamboat Disaster on the Chattahoochie.” According to that publication, the Chamois was grounded on a sandbar at the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers and the crew was using both the power of her engines and a capstan to try to pull her into deeper waters:
…The captain was standing at the time on the boiler deck, and was thrown a great distance, but miraculously escaped, with some slight bruises. The boat is a complete wreck and will prove an entire loss. This was the first trip of the boat up the river for this season, and she had a large freight on board, which is all damaged. The engine and furniture will be saved. The deck hands were all engaged at the capstan hauling off, and are all more or less injured.
The site of the wreck, shown above, is now covered by the waters of Lake Seminole.