On This Day 108 Years Ago, Oregon Suffered Its Deadliest Shipwreck

A violent storm killed at least 60 people on September 18, 1914.

If you’ve ever visited the Oregon Coast, you are aware that the weather is never really predictable. Storms can abruptly develop over a clear sky. White, choppy waves might suddenly appear along a shoreline of a smooth, tranquil ocean. That is precisely what occurred on a September day in 1914, causing the greatest marine catastrophe in Oregon’s history.

The steam-powered schooner Francis H. Leggett transported people, wheat, and timber up and down the West Coast for 11 years.

In Portland, it began its last run. The Leggett then departed for Grays Harbor, Washington, where it picked up roughly 37 people as well as a shipment of railroad ties and lumber. The steamer reportedly weighed a lot in the water and was overloaded.

On September 18, 1914, the Leggett left for San Francisco in good weather that morning. Only two days before, the U.S. Weather Bureau had issued the first storm warning of the year off the Oregon Coast but had since revoked it as the storm seemed to be abating.

But the sky darkened by midday. Gales allegedly reached 60 miles per hour when the Leggett sailed south beyond the Columbia River. The ocean was being stirred up by enormous surges as the ship started to take on water.

The swamped ship’s water was being pumped out by the crew and guests.

A cargo of railroad ties shifted roughly five miles southwest of Tillamook Rock as the ship tossed in the surf, further unbalancing the steamer.

The hold started to fill as hold, according to passenger James Farrell of Sacramento, who later told reporters, “The seas swept off the hatches.”

When it became clear that the ship had little chance of survival, the captain ordered the lifeboats to be deployed, according to Farrell.

Two kids and thirty other people crammed onto the little boat. However, as soon as the lifeboat struck the ocean, waves engulfed it and caused it to capsize.

“A few minutes later, a second lifeboat launch attempt was undertaken. There were four ladies and their spouses in there. The boat also perished.

Oregon Suffered Its Deadliest Shipwreck
Oregon Suffered Its Deadliest Shipwreck

Captain Charles Maro, a 25-year-old, gave the order to transmit a distress call as the steamboat started to sink.

But it was already too late for the crew and passengers.

Farrell told The Oregonian, “I was on the bridge when the ship went down. Everyone was submerged in the sea as the ship capsized. I clung on by grabbing a railroad tie. Around me, I saw guys slipping away.

The Oregonian, published on September 20, 1914. James Farrell, a shipwreck survivor, is interviewed in the tale on the left. In the bottom center is a picture of him.

The distress cry was received by a nearby Japanese warship that was cruising the shoreline. The battleship made no aid available. Instead, it repeated the plea for assistance.

Only wreckage remained when two rescue ships arrived on the spot. Railroad ties and lumber would wash ashore throughout the Oregon coast during the next weeks.

By holding on to debris, only Farrell and George Pullman of Winnipeg, Canada, were able to endure hours in the chilly water. The 25 crew members and 35 passengers who are suspected to have died to make this the greatest maritime tragedy in Oregon history.

Jens Jensen was one of the deceased. Jensen had been rescued from an island off the coast of Mexico just a few weeks before. After another shipwreck, he and his family were stranded there for five months.

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