Steamer Lafayette and Barge Manila Wrecked In 1905 Gale
By James Donahue
The storm that ravaged the Great Lakes on
November 28, 1905, is best remembered as the gale that claimed the freighter Mataafa at Duluth, but 16 other vessels, including
the Steamer Lafayette and her consort, the barge Manila, were among them. A total of 32 sailors perished.
There were several major autumn storms of
1905 that collectively caused more losses in boats, property and lives than the Great Storm of 1913. In fact the storm of
November 28 came so close on the heels of an earlier blow that most skippers refused to believe a second storm of such magnitude
could build so quickly.
The Lafayette was one of five new ore carriers
built by the American Ship Building Company at Loraine, Ohio, for the Pittsburg Steel company. It was a large vessel, 454
feet in length, and had only been on the lakes for five years when it got caught in the storm on Lake Superior. She was towing
the 436-foot barge Manila, both vessels apparently running empty on their way to Duluth for what would probably have been
their final load of ore for the season.
The storm struck from the northeast so the
two vessels were struggling in a blinding snowstorm with wind and high seas striking from the starboard stern. The crew of
the Lafayette knew they were close to Encampment Island, north of Two Harbors, but they were so blinded by the snow they lost
their bearings. Rather than go aground the decision was made to stop engines and drop anchor. The steamer had just whistled
the Manila to put out her anchors when the heavy barge was blown by the storm into the stern of the Lafayette.
The barge sheered off, swung broadside and
drifted up against the shore of the island under some overhanging trees. While they were still against each other, four men
from the steamer jumped to the deck of the barge.
The collision damaged the stern of the Lafayette,
probably striking the propeller and rudder, thus leaving the steamer helpless. Thus the gale also blew the steamer aground.
She came in stern first, with the bow fully exposed to the gale near the point. Before it was over, the storm battered the
bow section of the vessel to wreckage and the Lafayette broke in two.
The crew on the bow section managed to jump
to shore near a cliff. The rest of the crew gathered on the stern which remained somewhat intact when the boat broke apart.
The chief engineer threw a line to the sailors on shore, who fastened it to a tree. All but one of the men worked themselves
safely to shore on that rope.
The Buffalo News said Patrick Wade, of Buffalo,
a fireman, was edging his way to shore on the rope when the wreck shifted, causing the hawser to draw tight. This sudden tightening
of the rope threw Wade high into the air. He fell into the surf and drowned.
The Manila was salvaged but the Lafayette
was declared a total loss. The stern section was towed to Duluth where its engine was removed. It was later installed in a
new steamer, the J. S. Ashley.