Tragedy at Neely’s Landing

Oct. 27, 1869, the steamboat The Stonewall, heavily laden with about 300 passengers, tons of cargo and 200 head of livestock was southbound on the Mississippi River near Neely’s Landing, bound for Cape Girardeau, Memphis and New Orleans. The river was low and the boat was running “slow wheel.”

A candle or lantern overturned or a passenger dropped a spark onto hay on the lower deck, which caught fire. Before the blaze was discovered, it had gained considerable headway.

Burning boat ran aground

An Oct. 27, 1936, Missourian reprised the incident on its 67th anniversary, drawing upon the memories of R.W. Harris, who was eight years old when the boat burned not far from his home at Neely’s Landing. When the crew couldn’t extinguish the fire, the captain headed the boat to the shore but struck a sandbar. The boat gradually turned in the current, causing the north wind to carry the fire through her.

Passengers caught like rats

“Panic stricken passengers were caught like rats on the blazing boat, between which and the Missouri shore was 150 feet or more of swift, icy cold water.” The flames were visible 1-1/2 miles away.

Some held onto horses

Four oarsmen went out on a skiff to rescue passengers. They were Lowrie Hope, Martin O’Brian, Frank West and Derry Hays,”the latter being a Negro.” They managed to rescue some passengers. Others were seen to walk into the flames; others jumped into the river, some forcing horses from the lower decks to swim while they clung to the animal’s tails.

209 to 300 drowned or burned

Depending on which account you read, somewhere between 209 and 300 persons perished from fire or drowning, making it one of the nation’s worst inland waterway disasters. Sixty or 70 victims were buried in a mass grave on the Cotter farm.

Scorched paper money found in safe

When the hull had cooled, what was left of the freight was salvaged and sold. Mr. Harris recalled that his father bought a firkin of butter from Wisconsin. One of the horses, scarred from burns, was long owned by Franklin Oliver, who called him Stonewall. When the boat’s safe was opened, only paper money, scorched to a crisp, was found, much to the public’s disappointment.

Bones still found 67 years later

Since the catastrophe, the paper said, the location has been called Stonewall bar. At low water, broken queensware, coal, nails, bits of iron and even bones are still reminders of the disaster.

Two accounts of the Stonewall’s burning

Large quarry north of Neely’s Landing

Neely’s Landing Quarry is located north of what remains of the town.

77 Replies to “Tragedy at Neely’s Landing”

  1. Thank you for an interesting albeit tragic story. It’s one I hadn’t heard before.

    Your photos are inspiring me to go out and paint a barn. Since I don’t have a barn, I might have to go with a garage door.

    1. Be careful how you use that phrase.

      We had an artist at the paper who was a bit of a prima donna. One day her boss walked in and asked, “Can you paint?”

      “Of course, I can paint,” she replied haughtily. “I’m an artist.”

      “Great,” he said, handing her a three-inch brush and a can of paint. “The walls are looking a little dingy.

      Not long after that, she decided to seek other employment.

  2. ken,my grandmother rumfelt lived at neely’s landing. i believe the one photo is of her house. she died in early 60’s. someone else bought it. sad enough i think the only thing keeping that old frame house standing is the over growth of trees supporting it.LOL

  3. My mother’s family lived at Neely’s Landing for a time. Mom was born in 1923 and there were 4 other children. Her father was James Johnson (try finding family history on that name). Her mother was Ella Malee Burns. They married when grandma was 14! By age 20 she was mother to 5 children. I am not sure how long they lived at Neely’s Landing. Most of my mother’s memories are from the area now known as Trail of Tears (called Moccasin Springs when she lived there). Thank you again Ken for your awesome photos and stories of the history of these areas of Missouri. I look forward to your posts every day.

    1. my name is ed thompson and i owened the land that that boat burned on for sometime. the mass grave is on the back part of the property,around a grove of oak trees. there are small rocks marking the site

        1. Hey Ken my name is Rob Roberts and I live in Cape Girardeau. I have a paranormal team that would love to explore the mass grave site. See if anyone wants to communicate. Was wandering if you had ever gotten info on exactly where it is and if there is a way we could visit the site. Thanks.

          1. I’m not going to be able to help you much. A friend and I checked an area that had possibilities, but we were able to positively identify the site. Getting access to the area is a challenge, so I’ve pretty much decided it wasn’t worth spending more time on.

            Here’s where it MIGHT be. (Or not.)

  4. My family of King and Trickeys lived in around Oriole and Neelys. My grandfather worked on the Houck Railroad in that area. I had never heard this story and was very interesting to me.

  5. Ken – you are quite the reporter and never fail to throw us some real breaking news stories that intrigue and want to know more about. Keep it coming.

    1. Thanks for the compliment, but I’m not sure something that happened in 1869 can be considered “breaking news.”

      And, despite what some folks might tell you, I was NOT around the cover the event in person.

  6. Okay – I got carried away. Listening to Peggy Lee on a Saturday night same as I did in Advance when I was ten years old will do that. Thought I was back in time.

  7. another great story of Neelys Landing. Landmarks have been reclaimed by Mother Nature, as it should be.

  8. Hello, I am researching my birth father, whom I never knew and who is now deceased. I found that his father Otis Cogle McDonald was from Neeley’s Landing according to his draft registration card.
    His birth date was September 1895 and if anyone reading this site knows of that family, I would love to know more

  9. My family was Riley family Walter Riley was my grand father and Mary Farrar was my grand mother. They had 3 children Alberta, Rhoda and Charles Riley. I am trying to trace the life. If you have information please contact me.

    Thank you,


  11. hello rose.berneice was my aunt by marriage.she married my uncle hezicah?..spellling maybe be wrong..i think they had sone lymen? they are all gone now. i just that last of the rumfelts..joann..died in a nursing home? up around where her husband,charles johnson family they are all gone.i keep in touch leroy.his dad was frank rumflet.

    1. I’m related to the rumfelt. My mother is suzanne rumfelt her dad is, Alonzo William Rumfelt Sr, who’s dad was Robert rumfelt and his mother Mary rumfelt.

      Your dad is my grandpas brother! Hii fam

  12. The cemetery at Neely’s Landing is actually the Cotter Cemetery. Just south of that is the Hay’s Cemetery, also on top of the bluff overlooking the river. Just south of that is the Grammer Cemetary near the mouth of Indian Creek that would be the most likely site of the mass graves from the wreck. The Hay’s Mill was located there just north of Barrettville. The Grammer Cemetery was there in 1866 and near river level. The railroad eventually came through there and the gravestones moved out of the way for the rail bed. Rose Lee Nussbaum writes “The Captain ordered a landing at a point just below the mouth of Indian Creek. In heading the boat toward what formerly was known a Devil’s Ten Table an unexpected bar was struck. The boat gradually turned around and the north wind carried the blaze directly through the steamboat.”

  13. It would tickle me to death. 573-382-2101. You were at the Cotter Cemetery. The Hay’s Cemetery is on a farm and the folks there were good about letting me look around. But I don’t think it would be of any interest to you. The Grammer Cemetery is on P&G property and railroad right-of-way. It was graded over for the railroad but that side would be the best bet for the mass grave. I don’t have a life, so call me any time at all.

    1. I’ll give you a call on a day when I don’t have something going and the weather is good.

      The mass grave was supposed to be on the Cotter farm, but the account doesn’t mention the Cotter cemetery.

      1. Hi Ed! My husband, my Mother and I live in Neely’s Landing. Our property adjoins P&G property. We were wondering which part of that propert was the Cotter Farm?

  14. Neelys Landing brings back so many memories of stories my grandmother used to tell me. My great grandfather Randolph Shaner used to bring his sheep to NL and
    load them for shipment to St. Louis. He always spoke of how exciting it was to stand on Eads Bridge and look down on all the steamboats lined up at the St Louis wharf. My grandmother, Lorene Shaner Ramsey as a small girl, would drive the buggy from their farm NE of Jackson Mo down from the high bluff above NL and always told me how scarred she was in trying to hold back the horses from taking off down the hill.

  15. The burial site for the Stonewall Victims is on PG Property but on a slight incline a short distance north of Indian Creek RR Trestle. The Hely Home was a good landmark for the location as the grave was about an eighth mile southeast behind the house toward the river. My Grandfather, Harrison King, worked for Wilson Wagner, who owned the property in the early 1900’s. When working near the burial site, the mules would panic and be hard to control. The Hely House was built by the quarry owner. PG has changed the landscape considerably and the landmarks are gone.

    1. I have a few photos of the Headrick home when it was flooded. I remember riding in a boat to get into the 2nd story window during the flood. I have an absolute love for Neely’s Landing. The Moores used to live up on the hill next to us.

  16. Hi,
    Hi Ken,

    I was in that area a few years ago, near Altonburg. I was trying to find my family by the name of Schloss. I was told there was a Schloss cemetery on P&G property, but hard to get to in the summer because of the snakes near the bluffs. Are you familiar with the Schloss cemetery? They were originally from Neely’s Landing. My grandfather Mox Schloss was the last of his siblings and I cannot find any information on them. Thanks. Sue

    1. Sue, What other Schloss family history do you know? My husband’s family is from what they call “the bottoms” of Perry County – around Belgique. Maybe we should swap information!

  17. Hi Ken,
    Have always been curious about Neely’s Landing. As I am a Neely.
    I am going to be in Kansas City in early October so thought I would drive down.
    Is there any additional written material I can locate prior to arriving there?
    In help/direction you can provide me would be much appreciated.
    Many thanks,
    Steven Neely
    Missoula, MT

  18. I am a retired Postmaster from Altenburg but grew up at Neelys. I remember Max Schloss and the Huffman Family living in one of the finer homes there. I don’t remember a Schloss Cemetery and I don’t know where this family is buried. I think Warren Huffman was his son-in-law and their daughter, Imogene, lives in Cape and is in her 80’s. There was also a Louis Rushing from Berna, KY, who might have been a relative. Ruth Rushing married my uncle but divorced in the mid 1940’s.

  19. My Great Grandfather was Elihu Hodge from the area northwest of Neelys south of Oak Hill School. My Grandmother, Zora Hodge Morton married Jesse Morton of the Neelys Community. Their daughter, Geneva, married Bob King who was known for his fiddle music and tire business in Jackson. Mom was a very good pianist and they both played by ear. Dad’s Grandmother was Martha Wills who lived in the small apt attached to the north side of the old Granny Huntsinger Store.

  20. Very interesting story to read. I had never heard this before. Enjoyed living in Neelys Landing at one time in my life…..memories

  21. This is very interesting. My family of kings are gene kings family and rose farmers. My grandfather floy king was from neelys landing. I grew up in Lee Mon . so every Sunday we went to church in neelys , at the mission. We passed the homes in neelys and my aunt Imogene Hitchcock house was in neelys, all this brings back fond memories. Thank you.

  22. Very interesting story, Thanks my grandparents lived there, remembering when the little town had stores, etc.

  23. When I was young, my mom (Hannah Rumfelt-Cotner) used to put us on the train at cape for a ride to Neely’s Landing to visit my grandmother, Mary Rumfelt. Her husband, Robert Rumfelt had died earlier and she lived alone. Later she moved to Cape with our family and as Steve mentioned, she died in the 60’s. My brother-in-law, Harry Headrick, married to my sister Pauline, bought Grandma’s house.I have a lot of family members buried at High Hill Cemetery so I have been through Neely’s many times. It is sad to see nothing is left there.

    1. My mom is a rumfelt my grandpa is Alonzo rumfelt of Mary and Robert! Do you know anything else about my family?! I’m so excited and shocked I did the ancestral thing and now I’m learning so much about my blood line it’s beautiful!

      Hope to hear from you soon! Feel free to email me!

  24. I grew up at Neelys Landing and some of the names here I know but never knew most of them. People speak of stores. There was only one store and Jug Tripps tavern

  25. The brick store at Neely’s was originally owned by Jim A dams. Then was Adams and Hines. My father Guy Hines bought it in early thirties, becomines Hines store. He married Mattie Ya cry. They owned the store until sold to Jug Tripp in 1963. My Mother was postmaster unti 1957 when she closed the store & post office. I know most of the people mentioned in the posts. King, McLard,Schloss, Huffman, Rumfelts and others.

    1. I am trying to find information about your father Guy Hines parents. We are decendents of your Aunt Alma Hines Wolters.

  26. I grew up in Neely’s Landing, my dad was Otis Terry and my mom was Hazel Marie Rumfelt Terry. I was a little surprised to see some of my cousins posting here. Neely’s Landing is pretty much gone now except for name, at least what used to be the town is gone. I recognized some of the old buildings and That barn for sure. I am at a loss for some of the family names now tho. I remember the Bob King family, we bought their house just across the road from the Baptist Mission Church. Cotner family, Hannah was a wonderful woman and loved by all that knew her. I remember the names McNeeley, Golden, Cathcart, and a few more. I had always heard about a tragedy on the river there, but this is the first news article I have seen.

    1. I knew your family & remember when you were born.Saw Charley a couple years ago @ a Neely’s reunion.

  27. I grew up in Jackson,really near high hill school where I went to Sunday school, went to new bethel church withmy parents, my brother worked at the quarry Bill McCain,my sister lived there until her death 5 years ago, Irene wiggins,. My son Dennis Kempf lives in Jackson, but was raised in the country outside neelys it was good reading about neelys.keep up the good work.

  28. This was a very informative post! I was born and raised in (Ancell) Scott city. I married one of Rob, Kings nieces! I’ve always been interested in that little town for some reason. Good work Ken…!

  29. My genealogy book has some photos from way back of Neely’s Landing. Most have to do with flooding. I also have some history written up about how it was founded and by who. I have a photo of Jacob Neely who the town was named after. Leave a message at and I’ll tell you how to see it all.

  30. Incredible story. What’s even more incredible is the first photograph is of my great grandmother’s brother’s house. His name was William Henry Schenimann.

  31. Neely’s Landing was a major stop for trains and boats to carry lumber and livestock. The surrounding forest was essential for the growth of the railroad by supplying ties for the railroads that were quickly expanding. Herds of live animals including chickens and turkeys were driven from the nearby small towns and the County Seat of Jackson to be loaded on the trains and boats. When that commerce trailed off, Neely’s Landing continued to be an attraction to area folks who needed supplies and entertainment. As commuting got easier and the Mississippi River flooded more often, the town was bypassed and started to shrink. The town may have fared better had the road been paved all the way through to at least the New Bethel Church which would have connected it to another paved road and formed a through route for casual visitors.

  32. This is such an interesting story! I came across this story because I took some pictures of the houses and the barn at Neely’s Landing and decided to do some research on the area. Does anyone know how long this barn has been around? Thanks for any information.


    1. Henry Schenniman’s Father built the barn. The house was built after the Civil War probably during the recovery period and before the Depression of the early 1880’s. I would think the barn was built around 1900. The first Schennimans in Neelys are buried in Neelys Cemetery on top of the hill. Henry’s wife, Elzena, was a Reynolds from the Oriole Community. Her Mother or Grandmother was a King so she was a distant cousin to my Dad. I always thought much of them as a kid for they were good people with integrity.

      1. My name is Jerry craft when I was five I lived next door 2 mox s loss across road from Henry schnames I enjoy reading about neelys past

  33. Gene King: my grandmother was Violet King Sides, she married Arnold Elmo Sides. She just passed away a few months ago. My cousin and I are coming down this weekend to Neely’s Landing,& Cape Girardeau to see if we can find any of the things our grandparents would talk about. Any kind of info you could give us on Kings/Sides would be awesome. My name is Sherri Sides Sunderland, my father is Tex A. Sides.

  34. Does anyone know of the Wills family? I think my grandfather was ( James Bennett Wills) a school teacher there. My Father Eugene Wills always talked about NL. They lived there in around 1914 to 1920 .

  35. My great-grandfather, Ivy McLain, was a justice of the peace in Neely’s Landing for over 40 years. Both of my parents were born and raised in the Neely’s area, and I spent a lot of time there as a kid.

  36. Interested in where the Cotter Farm is/was,as he would have been a relative,Had heard of this before, it seems like they said someone in the family was a witness to the fire that day.Mom grew up not far from there, and has spoken before of Indian burials and slave cabins that were falling down at Neely’s.She is the last of 9 Noland siblings.There are still Nolands in the farm area.As a child, when we came down to visit, we picked daffodils at the old farm sites, and I found the old cemetery on the hill fascinating,and always said if anything happened to me, would like to come back to be buried there.Mom and Dad loved the River,ad later on in life, they bought a River House on the upper Mississippi on a hill past Genoa, Wisconsin, where you could sit in the house,and watch the River Boats push the barges up and down the River. Her Mother was Kate Noland, and Grandma always said she went from horse and buggy to seeing a man on the moon.She never drove a car, but told me in her later years hat she would like to have learned.Beth Rapp, Daughter of Judith Noland Rapp,and Jerry Rapp

  37. I purchased the limestone quarry just north of Nelly’s landing & proctor and gamble in 2017. I’m doing all the research i can on the history of the place and don’t know much at all but if there’s anything i can do to help let me know.

  38. How many remember Keith Launder. He was the old guy who carved walking sticks and rode around on a bike. He had a permanent tracheotomy (sp?) and spoke with an instrument that he held to his throat. He was friends with one of the last residences of old Neely’s Landing and, on weekends, he rode his bicycle from Cape (William ST) to Neely’s Landing to help the older man maintain his house. Keith was in his 80’s at the time!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *