Muscatine, Iowa, May 9, 1850

Letter from Brother William Bond-1850

Contributed by, Joseph Kresge

Brother Winebrenner:— I take my pen in hand to inform you that I am well at present and thank God that I am alive in the land. We have arrived safe at Muscatine, at which place we expect to stay for some time. As I informed you in my other letter, all of our family escaped from the disaster with our fives, though Iwo of my father-in-law*s children were burned pretty badly; but they are, thank God, doing pretty well. Brother, how transitory are the things of this world! We set out from our little homes, as we supposed, well provided for the West, and so we were; but, as it were, in a moment, all our hopes were blasted. But with Job, we are willing to say, "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, and blessed be the name of the Lord." Dear brother, it was an awful sight: I can hardly describe it. But I want to give you some idea of the calamity.

There were about eighty-three souls on board the boat when we started from Harrisburg, and continued together so to Pittsburg. We there engaged the steamer "Belle of the West,"and in a few days reached Cincinnati. Not having sufficient lodging, we lay there a few days. April 22d we started for St. Louis; but on the night of the 22d, about 12 o*clock, the alarm of fire was given. We had taken a cabin passage with some of the rest. Others of our company engaged a deck passage. All was peace and harmony with us until about 12 o*clock that night. It is supposed, by what we can learn, that the boat was on fire about an hour before the passengers were aware of it. The state-room, which we slept in, was burst open by someone as they passed, but how I cannot tell for we were asleep. My wife told me that someone had burst the door open. I sprang to my feet, and opened the door to see what was the matter. On opening the door I found that the cabin was full of smoke. I told my wife to dress herself as soon as she could, and try to get out, for I saw that the boat was on fire, and little time to spare. We put on some of our clothes as soon as we could, and made our escape. I thought of taking a trunk of mine that was with me in the room, but I was afraid I should not be able to get out with it, for the cabin was so full smoke that I was not able to see where I was going. I thought that perhaps I might recover someof my goods yet, but in the space of five minutes the boat was all on fire. Such a scene I had never witnessed before! It appears the boat caught in the hold behind. The front hatch was opened, to see if the fire could be seen, but it could not, for it was in the hind part of the boat. On opening the hind hatch the fire got air, and burst out, which soon spread in flames all through the boat. Some of the children had lost their parents, and brothers their sisters. Some of the passengers had to escape without any of their clothing. The boat was run ashore in the sand-bank with the bow, but the stern of the boat was some distance from the shore; for it appears the boat was run in square, and all the deck passengers that could not make their escape before the hind hatch was opened, had but a very poor chance. Therefore they had to make their escape from the boat by jumping into the water. Three girls and one little boy were saved with the small boat.

Out of 83 of our company we lost 14 souls, and two young men, Yordy and Bomgardner, very severely burned. We heard that Bomgardner has since gone to the eternal world.

But, brother, on the other hand, we still feel encouraged to travel on in the narrow way that leads to glory. But I must close for the present. Please correct my errors, and excuse my writing, for my mind is so much scattered that I am hard able to write.

Yours, truly, WILLIAM BOND

N..B.—We have been out to North Bend, and found the brethren all pretty well except brother Snavely, who was very ill, and has been for some time, but is getting better. The brethren have been very kind to us in our distress. May the good Lord reward them for it. Pray for us.


Viii Lulu-Bell, b. August.5, 1882.

ix. Howard- William, b. December 11, 1884.

x. John-Newton, b. January 24, 1886.

xi. Harrison-Morton, b. February 9, 1889.

XCI. THOMAS JEFFERSON BRETZ,4 (Benjamin, John,2 Ludwig,*) b. December 18, 1848, on the farm of John Eshenauer, now owned by Solomon Swartz, in Lower Swatara township, Dauphin county, Pa. When sixteen months old, he lost his parents and brothers. except Benjamin, above mentioned, who were rescued from a burning boat and watery grave. As to Thomas* future, from that period on through his babyhood days can better be given by a few letters, that have been preserved and recently resurrected. The following letter, written by Christian Eshenauer to his uncle, Jno. Eshenauer, the husband of Susan Bretz, will give some explanation of the burning of the boat, and who cared for these orphan boys for awhile:

Iowa, April 30 and May 4, 1850.

UNCLE JOHN ESHENAIJER: I take my pen with pleasure, to inform you that my company and I arrived safe in Muscatine on the 21st of April, 1850. Our company were David Gingrich, John Snavely, Daniel O NeaI, S. Dasher, Felix Gingrich, and myself. We have now traveled over about 300 miles in this state; and all like it very well.

* * * * It grieves me that I must now take my pen in hand, to inform you that Neidigs company arrived this 4th day of May in Yankee Grove, forty-three miles from where they left the steamboat, and had bad luck. They took passage on the steamboat at Pittsburg, for down the Ohio river, and when 360 miles from Pittsburg, the boat caught fire, and was consumed to ashes. Benjamin Bretz and wife, and three of their children are lost. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson are safe.

The boat took fire on the 22 of April, at 12 o’clock at night. Jno. Neidig took Bretz’s two children into a store and clothed them. Jno. Neidig told me if any of Bretzs friends wish to have these two children, they will try to send them East with some persons, and if not, he would keep them. Neidig and Runkle lost about $1000. There were about thirty-five or forty lives lost,--burned and drowned, and found a watery grave in the Ohioriver.


Mount Vernon

Linn Co., Iowa.

The above Christian Eshenaur is still living, and residing in Oberlin, Dauphin county, Pa.

MIDDLETOWN, PA,, June 13, 1850

To Mr. Jno. NEIDIG:

DEAR Sir: I take this method to inform you, that, I received a letter of Christian Eshenauer, stating that you would give up Bretzs two children to us. I therefore inform you, by these few lines, that I wish you would send them to me, as I have a place for them, (or send them to Ludwig Bretz. ) We hereby notify you not to give them up to any person but us.

* * * * *


YANKEY GROVE, Augnst 17, 1850.

Messrs. BRETZ and ESHENAUR: I received your letter about a month ago, and ought to have sent you an answer long ago. You stated that you would like if we would send B. Bretzs two remaining children in to you. You can have them willingly, with all our hearts, but we do not know how to send them. There are two young gentlemen here who intend to go in this fall. They would take them along if they would get some pay for their trouble. Maybe some of you could come out this fall to see the country, and then take them along. I intend to send, them as soon as I can. We have no use for the children, and to put them out among strangers here, I would not like much. The most of the folks are Hoosiers, Irish, etc. I would rather you would fetch them, or send for them. I would pay about $25.00 of the expense, if you would pay the rest.

Please send me an answer as soon as you receive this and let me know what you intend to do I don't think that we can send them with the young gentlemen above mentioned. Come out this fall to see the country, etc. You will not rue it, then you can take care of them yourself Their friends ought to do something for them how, for we have done a great deal for them already. The little one makes, did make, a good deal of trouble so far, but he is getting better now; but he ought to be taken away if you want them, before be gets so much attached to my wife, and she would like if you would fetch them away. We intend to take her old parents to us, which will make her trouble enough.orBenjamin is at Runkle*s, but he is of no use to him. He is at store keeping and has. no work for him. He is going to school now; he would better be put on a farm and learn to work, etc.

(Signed) Jno. NEIDIG.

LISBON, March 3, 1851.

MR J ESHENAUR: I now take up my pen in order write a few lines to you, and first I will inform you that we are all well at present, hoping that these few lines will find you enjoying the same great blessing etc. But further I will come to the point of what my motive of is. It is about Bretzs children. I sent a letter to Ludwig Bretz last fall and got no answer yet, and we are at a loss to know what you intend to do. Now we understood that you, or in other words, the childrens fiends, would like to have them. Now we had them and took care of them for most a year, and had a good deal of trouble with them, at least with the little one, as you well can imagine, because he was so little yet, just weaned from his mothers breast, etc. But now it is mostly out of the dirt and no doubt the most part of raising him is past. My wife had all the trouble with him from the night the boat was burnt until the present; and now she declares that she will not keep him any longer than until spring, and, indeed, I can't persuade her. I think no person ought to desire it, because we have her old parents now in our family to take care of them, etc., which, you know, are generally troublesome enough without any children about them, and as we lost all our things, she has a great deal of work.

We certainly thought that if we would keep the children one year, their friends would in that time try to provide for them and bring them to their own care, which I think they ought to have done, and would have done if they had any feeling for them as they ought to have. Now the children ought to learn to work and ought to be schooled, etc., and we don't know where to put them to. Our German friends and neighbors have all children enough of their own, and of course the most of the Hoosiers too. I would not like, and I suppose you neither, to have them among Hoosier strangers, Irish and all the like. If we can't get a place for them, they are apt to fall on the township, and that, I suppose, you would not like either. Now you and their friends ought to look into these matters and provide for the poor children. As there are a good many friends on both sides, namely, Bretzs and Millers, you ought to lay together and send some person out to fetch them. Now you must not think hard of us for soliciting their friends to fetch them to themselves to take care of them, for I consider that we have done a great deal for them, being no relation to them; and I don't suppose that any of their friends would ask it of my wife to keep it any longer, for she has enough to do with her parents. The children could easy be taken now most any way of traveling, but we have no way to send them. Therefore we think you would better lay together and send some one to fetch them. Benjamin would be old and big enough to earn his bread and clothing if he only had a place. Now if he would be in Pennsylvania he would get places enough among the Dutch and perhaps among his friends. Now I want you to send me an answer as soon as you receive this, and let me know what you intend to do, for it seems to me their friends ought to be a little more concerned about these children than what, they are. I say again, write soon and let us know whether you intend to send for them, and direct your letter to Mount Vernon, Linn co., Iowa.

(Signed) JNO. NEIDIG.


Thomas Bretz was brought back to Pennsylvania with his brother by a maternal uncle and placed in the home of John Eshenauer, where their aunt Susan cared for them the same as she did for her own children until they were able to care for themselves. When not yet sixteen years of age, he enlisted, February 11,1864, in Battery B, 1st Pa. Light Infantry, and mustered out of service June 9, 1865. He enlisted the second time, May 31,1866, in Co. A., 19 Reg, U.S. Infantry, and mustered out of service May 31, 1869. Thomas Bretz has been a resident of Steelton, Pa. for many years, where he is employed at the great steel works. He m., December 19, 1871, Mary J. Kurtz, b. March 1,1850, daughter of John Kurtz and Margaret E. Fackler. They had issue: