Shipwreck of the Steamer, Argo
Tillamook Bay Station, Oregon
*Minor editorial privileges were taken to clarify the text and writing style of the period.
On the afternoon of November 26, 1909, the 210-ton coasting steamer Argo, bound from Portland, Oregon, to Tillamook, Oregon, with a general cargo, struck the bar off the entrance to Tillamook Bay and afterwards foundered. She carried a crew of 16 men and 10 passengers. Two of the crew, Martin Olsen and Tony Regoletti, and the same number of passengers, Mrs. L. A. Hoidrege and a little girl named Nellie Hunter, were drowned.
The sailors, were drowned when the vessel struck the bar, and the woman and child while being conveyed ashore in a rescuing boat from the Tillamook Bay Life-Saving Station, the boat having upset in the breakers. The accident to the boat also resulted in the drowning of one member of the life-saving crew, Surfman Henry W. Wickman.
It appears from the testimony of Capt. Robert Farley, Keeper of the Tillamook station, who with his crew was on the beach watching the Argo as she approached the bay entrance on her way in, that conditions off the bar at that time were very dangerous, there being a strong ebb tide and an unusually high surf. When the steamer struck she broached to, presenting her side squarely to the seas, which broke clear over her, sweeping her from bow to stern. The force of the outgoing tide soon worked her free of the bottom, and carried her outward beyond the breakers, but the boarding combers had already done their work, so that when she found herself again in deep water she was mortally hurt and in a sinking condition.
As soon as Keeper Farley saw that the steamer was in trouble he launched the Beebe-McLellan surfboat and went alongside. His account of the efforts of himself and crew to accomplish the rescue of those on board is as follows:
We were obliged to cross the bar to get to the steamer. As the bar was very rough at the time it was a miracle that we made it. We arrived alongside about 3:30 p. m., and took into the boat Mrs. W. C. King, Mrs. L. A. Hoidrege, two girls, Nellie and Leona Hunter, and about half a dozen men passengers. We had gone only a short distance shoreward when I noticed that our boat was filling. I concluded that it must have been damaged in crossing the bar. We returned the men passengers to the Argo, and after pumping out the surfboat again started to make the landing with the ladies and little girls, intending to repair the boat on shore and come back for another load.
It was impossible to cross in on the bar on account of the strong ebb tide and high sea, so we concluded to try to land a little north of Double Headed Rock, about 2 miles north of the station.
Before entering the breakers we put life preservers on each passenger, freed the boat as much as possible of water, and threw out the drogue with 25 fathoms of line. The first heavy breaker that struck the boat tore open the canvas of the drogue and capsized us. We all got back to the boat and atsiteted to right it, but could not do so, as the seas washed us off. When we upset my right arm was broken, so I could not use it. We tried to keep the passengers together and help them ashore, but the seas were so heavy that we could not hold onto them.
Surfman Henry W. Wickman was caught under the boat when it first capsized, but managed to get out. The last I saw of him he was on top of the boat trying to help right it, and a heavy sea came and washed us all off. I was the only one who succeeded in getting back to the boat after the sea struck us. It was the only chance I had, with my broken arm, to save myself. I hung to the boat until it drifted into shallow water. I then tried to walk ashore, but my legs were so numb that I was unable to stand, and I would have been washed out in the undertow if the people on shore had not formed a chain by taking hold of hands. Mr. Charles Dean, one of the crew of the gasoline schooner Oshkosh, was at the outer end of the chain, and got hold of my hand and hauled me in. We got Mrs. King and also Leona Hunter, but the other passengers wife drowned. The boat did not come in until about an hour after I got ashore, and it was damaged so much it could not have been used even had the crew been in condition to go out again.
Mr. Dean said he would go out to the Argo as soon as possible.
The surfmen composing the surfboat crew on this occasion were Charles A. Eastland, George Meshle, George Nelson, A. Johnson, Henry W. Wickman, and Harry P. Marks.
Surfman Eastland, who is a powerfully built man and an expert swimmer, was hauled from the surf in a semiconscious condition. Two hours resuscitative treatment was required to restore him. He relates his experience in the water as follows:
As soon as I came up I saw a woman 25 or 30 yards away, and near her Surfman Nelson. I called to him to help her. He answered that he was trying to reach one of the little girls, so I went to the aid of the woman. I secured two oars that were floating near and put them under her arms to assist the jacket. She was screaming for help and I quieted her as soon as possible. We rode two or three seas together, I keeping the oars under her arms, when we were separated by a heavy comber.
When I came up I could not see her any more. This was Mrs. Holdrege, who was drowned. I afterwards went and assisted the little girl, who had been torn away from Nelson, but was myself torn away from her by the seas. It was impossible to stay by any of the survivors for any length of time, but we did all we could.
The evidence does not show in detail the movements of any of the other persons composing the unfortunate party after they were precipitated into the water, nor describe the manner in which they reached shore. It appears, however, that the service crew did all that was humanly possible to save the helpless women and children, for the time absolutely forgetting their own peril. Two of the surfmen Nelson and Johnson assisted little Leona Hunter out of the water, and Surfman Meshle helped Mrs. King ashore. Some of the boat's crew recalled having seen Surfman Wickman on the bottom of the boat, but none was able to state what happened to him afterwards.
The surviving and uninjured members of the life-saving crew were in such a physical state after their experience in the surf that further efforts on their part to rescue those left aboard the Argo was for the present out of the question, if indeed any of them was at any time during the ensuing night in condition to again handle an oar. At any rate no further atsitet was made. Having in mind the fact that darkness had fallen when the surviving members of the surfboat party reached shore, and that for aught any of them knew a score of persons were still aboard the steamer, the investigating officer searchingly interrogated the life-saving crew with the view of ascertaining why no further effort was made to get out to the steamer. The keeper was, of course, unable to lead a second venture, the No. 1 surfman, Eastland, was badly used up, and one surfman Wickman was missing. The four other surfmen had no doubt suffered no less severely than Eastland, who was probably the sturdiest man in the crew. An idea of their condition as a whole may be had from the following answer made by Eastland to the inquiry as to why a second boat was not manned:
The crew were in such a state after being in the heavy surf so long that it was impossible for them to go out again. I myself was so exhausted that I could not think clearly. I had a sense of responsibility, but could not concentrate my ideas so as to accomplish anything.
It would seem that after the surfboat pulled away from the Argo the likelihood that the vessel would sink became so imminent that those left behind took to her boats. Their fears were well founded, for the steamer settled soon after they left her. One of the boats containing 10 persons, was picked up by the Oshkosh. This vessel remained outside all night looking for the other boat, but failed to find it. It was subsequently learned that it reached the Columbia River Lightship without the loss of a man. The boat that figured in the capsize drifted ashore about an hour after the keeper landed.
It was found totally unfit for service, having two splits on its bow, one on each side and a hole stove in the bottom, as evidence of the buffeting it had received in the breakers.
The body of Mrs. Hoidrege was recovered about midnight of the 26th. The remains of the other victims never came ashore, so far as known.
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