The steam paddle Ben Coursin
was named after the boat builder Ben Coursin whose boat yard was located on the Youghiogheny River at McKeesport, Pennsylvania. She was built at McKeesport, Pennsylvania in 1851 and rebuilt in 1854 at Cincinnati, Ohio. She ran the tramp trades on the Ohio River in her early years and then she plied the Upper Mississippi River from 1856 to 1857.
The Ben Coursin
was involved in two collisions prior to the 1857 accident. September 12, 1853 with the U.S. Mail
and in August 1854 with the Jane Franklin
At approximately 2 AM in the morning of October 4, 1857, the stern wheel steamer Ben Coursin
, downbound from St.Paul to St. Louis, collided with the upbound steamer Key City
,about five miles above LaCrosse, Wisconsin near McCollum's place (one source says near the mouth of the Black River). Both of the steamers were heading for the Minnesota shore when the collision occurred. Both of the pilots later agreed that they had exchanged whistle signals, and that the Key City
was to run close to the Minnesota Shore, while the Ben Coursin
would pass on the outside. However, possibly because of strong current, the Ben Coursin
collided with the Key City
and sank in about 15 feet of water submerging everything below the cabin. As she sank, the Ben Coursin
reportedly careened to one side sending her smoke stacks overboard.
Survivors of the collision were picked up by the Ken City
and later by the Northern Light
. Although, the La Crosse Independent Republican states that "It is Reported that the Key City
continued on her way up the river, without stopping to render the least assistance to the sunken boat". 10/07/1857.
The number of people drowned varies: 1 crew member and 7 passengers to as many as 10 to 15 people, mostly passengers.
Engines had been recovered and put aboard the Winona