THE WRECK OF THE GENERAL SIGLIN
THE WRECK OF THE
the San Francisco based Northern Commercial Company, sent a telegram
to Washington asking for assistance in securing the GENERAL SIGLIN.
A day later, Captain Shoemaker, Chief of the Revenue Cutter Service,
sent the cutters: PERRY, CORWIN, GRANT and RUSH
to search for the derelict schooner with urgency because she was a non-stationary
obstacle in the main shipping lane that posed danger to all who encountered
by Coleen Mielke
SIGLIN was a two masted schooner built for the North American Commercial
Company, by E. H. Hansen, of Marshfield Oregon in 1894. She was 80' long,
23' across, and 8' deep, with a carrying capacity of 80 tons. The SIGLIN
was one of the first schooners designed specifically to compete (in turnaround
time) with the large commercial steamships in Alaskan waters; her owners
hoped that her speed would increase their company profits. The SIGLIN
was named after Oregon National Guard Brigadier General Jacob Milton Siglin
(1840-1896) and her home port was Empire City, Oregon.
The SIGLIN (which sailed from 1894 to 1902) changed hands several times while plying the waters between San Francisco, Seattle, Cook
Inlet, Dutch Harbor, Nome and the Siberian coast. She hauled freight and
passengers to Alaska from 1894 to 1902. In 1901, the Russian government hired
her to transport a Russian topography crew along the Siberian coast, and
in 1902, the SIGLIN was transformed into a Bering Sea commercial fishing
schooner. These career highlights pale in comparison to the GENERAL
SIGLIN's reputation for ominous newspaper headlines that plagued
her final 5 years at sea; she was a very well known schooner.
In mid-March of 1897, the GENERAL SIGLIN left San Francisco
with eleven people and merchandise destined for the North American Commercial
Company at Woody Island (near Kodiak), Alaska.
Aboard the schooner were:
Captain Jerome Thomas (master mariner, from San Francisco)
2. Captain's Mate Harry Saunders (master mariner from New Brunswick)
3. The Cook, J.C.W. Ohn (cooked on schooners in Alaska
for many years)
4. Seaman R. Bendix
5. Seaman Martin Jeppesen
6. Seaman P. Peterson
7. Passenger William C. Greenfield (NACC store agent at Wood
8. Passenger Mrs. William C. Greenfield (wife of E.C.Greenfield)
9. Passenger - name not known (child of the Greenfield's)
10.Passenger - name not known (child of the Greenfield's)
11.Passenger - name not known (child of the Greenfield's)
During that fateful journey north, the SIGLIN was
overtaken by a severe storm with hurricane force winds and a "heavy cross
sea" that extended all along the coast of Queen Charlotte Islands for
four days. The Captain of another schooner (that survived the storm) said
the wind was so strong, that it picked up one of his crew members and
hurled him 200 yards away from the schooner, never to be found again. A
third schooner was reportedly smashed into kindling in that same storm.
After the storm, when the SIGLIN did not arrive at its destination,
ships in the Queen Charlotte Island area watched for the missing schooner,
but no one reported seeing her.
Six weeks after the SIGLIN disappeared, Captain E.
Crockett of the sealing schooner, WILLARD AINSWORTH, and his crew,
spotted the SIGLIN 110 miles west of Queen Charlotte Islands. He
wrote in his log: "5/5/1897 Passed the wreck of the schooner GENERAL
SIGLIN at 6 AM in latitude 53 degrees 15 minutes N., Longitude 135
degrees 15 minutes W. She was dismasted and water-logged and floating
right side up. The seas were breaking over her and there was a dead body
lashed to the stern davits. The sea was running high, so it was impossible
for us to board her."
Once back in Port Townsend, Captain Crockett told reporters that
he "tacked up to the SIGLIN twice in an effort to board her,
but was forced to abandon the derelict." He said he was trying to get
a good look at the dead mans face because he was concerned that it might
be his best friend, Jerome Thomas, who was the Captain of the SIGLIN,
but it was not. Crockett described the dead man as "dressed in an oilskin
suit and securely lashed to the davits with a woven network of ropes
around him; he had dark hair and mustache and wore a wedding band".
James Chilberg, one of the AINSWORTH crewmen, said
"The sight presented by the corpse on the SIGLIN was the most
sickening I have ever witnessed. In place of his eyes, there were gaping
sockets and the mans features bore traces of terrible
sufferings. Her mainmast was trailing astern, held by the shrouds; the
fore hatch and steering gear were in place and the anchors hung fast at
the catheads. My theory is that the SIGLIN was jibed in a heavy
sea and that its masts went by
On 5/6/1897, the sealing schooner ENTERPRISE sighted the SIGLIN
300 miles west-southwest of Cape St.James at the southern end of the Queen
Charlotte Islands. Captain's mate, John Searles, said that he boarded the
schooner and "found strong lashings that must have held four or five men;
the ropes were still there, but the men were gone. The hull was full of water
and the decks were awash. We could have taken the SIGLIN in
tow, but we had no lines that would hold her."
On 5/17/1897, Captain
P. Martin of the sealing schooner ARIETIS found the dismasted
GENERAL SIGLIN 250 miles off the coast of British Columbia. When
he boarded her, he found the body of 40 year old captain's mate, Henry
Saunders, who had been lashed to the starboard davits for 50+ days by
Martin wrapped Saunders body in canvas and buried him at sea;
later he wrote "Buried him with all the honors due a sailor close to
the scene of his sad and horrible death." The ARIETIS left the wrecked
schooner where they found her.
cutter CORWIN finally towed the SIGLIN, to Sitka in early
June. When the water was pumped out of the wreck, the body of a young boy
was found, as well as $700 to $800 in gold. Records said that the NACC agent,
Greenfield had $16,000 with him on the trip, but it was not found and assumed
When reporters asked the Captain of the CORWIN if he thought
the passengers and crew might have deserted the schooner, he said he
"felt certain that they had all drowned on board and were later washed
out to sea through the open ports and hatches. Other evidence that the
SIGLIN was not deserted was that there was $2,000 in gold left behind
as well as the body of a child."
The hulk of the three year old GENERAL SIGLIN was purchased
by Albert J.Goddard, the famous Klondike Gold Rush sternwheeler entrepreneur.
He had the schooner restored by the Moran Bros. Co. in Seattle, and it
was back on the water by February of 1899, making two round trip voyages
to Cook Inlet per month.
SIGLIN's next "near miss" moment came while on a return trip from
Cook Inlet (7 months after she was rebuilt). She was 25 miles off the coast
of Cape Elizabeth in the Kachemak Bay area with 36 passengers, when a
gigantic wave swelled up, seemingly from underneath the vessel. According
to one of the passengers, "The calm waters were instantly lashed into
a yeast of foaming crests". Seconds later, a 50' wall of water tossed the
schooner over onto her side. One passenger told reporters: "The schooner
was lifted and it seemed as though we were headed for the sun. An instant
later we were sinking down deep into the cavernous jaws of the dark waters.
The rolling of the ship was frightful and we were all compelled to seek refuge
in our cabins, although the Captain bravely stood at the wheel. One moment
the vessel would be lying on her beam-ends, the next the bowsprit would
make a sudden dive toward the bottom and the next, the taffrail would be
taking a bath." Smaller waves tossed the SIGLIN around until sundown,
but she managed to ride them out.
In November of 1899, a story was published about the superior sailing
speed of the GENERAL SIGLIN. She sailed from Cook Inlet to Port
Townsend (non-stop and with favorable winds) in just 10 days; four full
days faster than average. She carried 76 passengers and $30,000 worth of
gold dust on that trip. Her speed and ability to survive almost any calamity
made the SIGLIN legendary.
In 1901, with Captain N. L. Johnson at the helm, the
GENERAL SIGLIN was chartered by the Russian Government to
transport a crew of topographers (headed by Count Podhorski and Commissioner
Evanhoff), who's secret mission was to update Russian maps of the Siberian
coast. While sailing under the Russian flag and under the protection of
the Russian Government, the SIGLIN took the topographers from the
north side of the Siberian Peninsula to the Russian Spit on the south side;
then to Plover Bay and on to the 180th meridian which was approximately
50 miles west of Holy Cross Bay; the total length of the voyage was 765
miles and took 27 days. Podhorski and Evanhoff confided in Captain Johnson
that the maps would be used the next spring when the Russian Government
opened the entire area to placer, quartz, coal and other mineral mining.
By 1902, the SIGLIN was owned by the Bering Sea Fish
and Transportation Company and was one of the first boats, in the area,
to be equipped with an on-board fish freezing and cold storage plant.
This allowed the company to freeze their catch immediately and keep it
frozen until they reached the Seattle market. Owners of the company were,
P.C. Ellsworth, W.E. Getzendanner, John Murray of Seattle and John McKay
an investor from Chicago.
On October 13, 1902, The US Revenue Cutter MANNING
and the GENERAL SIGLIN were both trying to stay ahead of a massive
storm as they headed for Dutch Harbor on the Aleutian Chain. The SIGLIN,
piloted by Capt. Bartels and his crew of five, was last seen about 3:45
PM by the MANNING, 40 miles off of False Pass, on the eastern end
of Unimak Island. The Captain of the MANNING, C. H. McLellan, said
that the SIGLIN looked good the last time he saw her and if the weather
held, she should have been able to reach Dutch Harbor in two days. But luck
was not with the fearless schooner this time. The night of the 13th, the
most severe storm of the season caught up with both vessels.
McLellan, wrote, "The storm was so strong that it taxed the
seaworthiness of the MANNING and her 2,500 horsepower engines
were brought to full play before the vessel could reach Dutch Harbor."
McLellan remained at Dutch Harbor from October 14th until November 5th,
and he said he hoped that the GENERAL SIGLIN might limp in during
that time, but she never did.
Newspapers, who had prematurely reported the demise of the
GENERAL SIGLIN, so many times in the past, now held out hope
that the legendary schooner had survived this last massive storm. One
reporter wrote, "True, she drowned one crew some years ago when she was
caught in a storm off the southeastern coast and turned turtle, but since
then, the defects have been remedied and the SIGLIN is considered
to be one of the most seaworthy crafts in the north."
Dozens of optimistic newspaper articles in support of finding the
SIGLIN were published in California, Boston, New York, Oregon and
Washington over the next 49 days; then in late November of 1902, newspapers
started reporting that the GENERAL SIGLIN had indeed survived and
was spotted limping south. A similar sighting came from the lightkeeper
at Carmanah Point on Vancouver Island and a day later, the Captain of
the ANNIE M. CAMPBELL as well as the master of the steam-tugboat
DOLPHIN, both said they saw the SIGLIN passing Port Townsend
on its way to Seattle.
But a fairy tail ending for the SIGLIN was not to be. The
brief exhilaration that the newspaper stories brought was dashed 48 hours
later, when it was determined that the sightings were that of the storm
battered (and long overdue) schooner VOLANTE, not the SIGLIN.
The SIGLIN and her crew were never
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used for this story:
Lincoln County Leader 12/10/1896
Evening Transcript 5/13/1897
Daily Union 5/14/1897
Daily Sun 5/17/1897
Morning Astorian 5/23/1897
Daily Colonist 5/26/1897
Daily Union 5/26/1897
Daily Union 5/27/1897
Daily Union 6/11/1897
Daily Leader 11/22/1902
Daily Leader 11/25/1902
Daily Leader 12/1/1902
Daily Leader 12/2/1902