Back to Previous Page

History Lives Here Text

Three Additional Victims Aboard the Chicora

-- a SDHS Newsletter Exclusive -

In 2002 the Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Society had anexhibit at the museum called "Storm, Fire and Ice: Ship Wrecks of theSaugatuck Area." The exhibit featured the story of the Chicora a Graham& Morton steamboat which was last on lake Michigan in January of 1895,perhaps not far from Saugatuck.

The Chicory had left Milwaukeeearly in the morning on Monday, January 21, just missing a message recommendingthat the vessel not leave that day because of a predicted storm an Lake Michigan. The boat pulled away from the dock andheaded across the lake encountering a sudden massive storm and drop intemperature that iced in the east shore ports. There is some evidence that theboat may have reached Michiganwaters, but was unable to get into a harbor because of snow and ice.

Debris identified as from the vessel washed ashore betweenSaugatuck and South Haven, but no bodies. Despite an intense and welldocumented search in the weeks following the lass, and continued search for theremains of the vessel in the next 113 years, it has not, to this date, beenfound.

When the boat went dawn there were 22 men aboard, 21 membersof the crew, led by Captain Edward Stines, and one passenger, James Pearl, thevillage pharmacist.

Because of the work that the Society has fostered concerningthe Chicora, Dale Balsley of Delray Beach, Florida,coifed recently with a bit of family history. He said that as he reached seniorcitizen status he feared that he might pass on without relating the story andthe information would be lost.

"I've been wanting to do this for years just to set therecord straight. There were three additional people aboard the Chicory that noone has ever written about. John J. Matteson (most accounts misspell his nameMattison) who was aboard the vessel as night watchman, let his three brotherssneak aboard because they had wanted to visit Milwaukee.

All were lost when the boat went down, but a sister, theonly member of the immediate family left, was reluctant to tell anybody becausethree of them were aboard illegally, and they didn't want this wrongdoing onthe part of the night watchman to tarnish his memory.

The 1874 census shows the Matteson family living at Canadaigua, OntarioCounty, New York.Parents were Charles, age 33, and Catherine, age 28, a full-blooded CanidaiguaIndian. There were five children:

Charles Franklin Matteson, born 1882 John J. Matteson, born188G George Edgan Matteson, born 1884 Fred Harrison Matteson, born 1870 LillianMay Matteson, barn 1873

Lillian married Henry Rotor for Rotoan) Balsley in 1891 inSt. Joseph County, Indiana and at the time of the tragedy was living on MillerStreet in Benton Harbor which is where her brothers had probably gathered.

Lillian Matteson Balsley was the great-grandmother of DaleBalsley, who called the Society for our help in setting the historical recordstraight. He said he never knew Lillian who died in 1912, but remembers thatLillian's son, his grandfather Ervin Clair Balsley, born in 189, related thestory about how his mother had lost, not only the one brother officially listedas a member of the crew on the Chicory, but the other three brothers as well.

Another tragedy passed down in the Balsley family is thatLillian Balsley's husband, Henry, was washed overboard from the steamer FrankWoods in 1896 between Chicago and Milwaukee. After herfirst husband's death, Lillian was married to a man named Foltz, who was afireman in Indiana.About a month after the wedding he was killed in an accident involving ahorse-drawn hook and ladder truck.

Dale Balsley says that the family has a scrapbook with anewspaper clipping from the Bents Harbor newspaper recounting the death ofnight watchman, John Matteson. A# the back of the book the names of the rest ofthe Matteson bays, also fast }n that tragedy, have been added.

Because the Chicory was outfitted and left quickly on thetrip to Milwaukee, and no list of crew members was left ashore, far severalweeks the number o# these lost was uncertain. Finally Graham &Morton after checking out severs( possible victims issued an official list o#'23 men lost. In February Archibald Bentley, who was thought to have been adeckhand an the fateful voyage, was discovered cutter shingle belts n Jersey, Michigan,reducing the number of known victims to 22.

Charles, George and Fred Matteson bring the list to 25.