October 29, 1874: The sidewheeler Lotta Bernard wrecks on Lake Superior

On this day on Lake Superior in 1874, the wooden sidewheeler Lotta Bernard foundered in a storm and was stranded at Encampment Island—off the North Shore near Castle Danger, between Two Harbors and Gooseberry Falls—where she broke up. She had been en route from  Fort William (part of today’s Thunder Bay, Ontario) to Duluth when they encountered a storm that soon turned to a blizzard. Lifeboats were launched, but one capsized, and two men were lost. Another later died of exposure. Captain Michael Norris and eleven other crew members and passengers and crew survived. Ten of them found food and shelter in a camp of local Ojbwe. Besides the three human lives, a horse, 200 sacks of flour, and 60 kegs of fish were lost. The Lotta Bernard was just six years old. The 125-foot long, 190-ton vessel was built in Sandusky, Ohio, and used by J. D. Howard and Edmund Ingalls of Duluth the ship lumber and small freight around communities along the western Lake Superior shores. (Her official home port was Superior.) The Detroit Free Press said she “was altogether unfit for the traffic she was employed in. Her route was a rugged and dangerous one, and no means being available for the few that traveled that way without the right of government necessary in such cases, she was permitted to receive passage permission on every opportunity.” She had had trouble before: In the fall of 1872 the Lotta Bernard ran aground near Octonagon, Michigan, and was stranded there until the following April. On October 30, 1874, the day after she ran aground on Encampment Island, she sank to the bottom of Lake Superior. Her wreck has not been located.

The sidewheeler Lotta Bernard. (Image: Great Lakes Vessel Index)