Monday, July 23, 2018
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The Tunica Times • P.O. Box 308/986 Magnolia Street, Tunica, MS 38676

Local History: Death on the River, Parts 1 and 2

This week continues a series of history stories by the late Ashley Harris. Part 1 of this story first appeared in the February 16, 1995 issue; Part 2 on February 23.

In 1858 a terrible disaster occurred n the Mississippi River off Ship Island in Tunica County.  The boiler of the steamboat Pennsylvania exploded with great loss of life.  One of those killed was Henry Clemens, the younger brother of Mark Twain.

A few days before the accident Mark Twain and Henry Clemens had sat up until midnight “on a freight pile on the levee” at New Orleans.

Neither of the men had been involved in a steamboat disaster and they discussed how best to cope with one should it happen.

“We doubted if persons not clothed with authority were of much use in cases of disaster and attendant panic,” Twain would later write,”...still they might be of some use; so we decided that if a disaster ever fell within our experience we would at least stick to the boat, and give such minor service as chance might throw in the way.”

It was to be a fateful decision.

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