Chicago Tribune


Experiences of the Novelist of the Commodore.


Story of the Wreck of the Cuban Filibuster.


Boats Manned After Vain Efforts to Save the Ship.


New York, Jan 6.— [Special.]—Stephen Crane, the novelist, who had an exciting experience as one of those on board the filibuster Commodore, which foundered at sea, writes the story of the wreck and his narrow escape to the New York Press. He is now in Jacksonville, Fla., recovering from the effects of the hardships he suffered.1

He writes: “It was the afternoon of New Year’s, the Commodore lay at her dock in Jacksonville and negro stevedore processioned steadily toward her with box after box of ammunition and bundle after bundle of rifles. Her hatch, like the mouth of a monster, engulfed them. It might have been the feeding time of some legendary creature of the sea. It was in broad daylight and the crowd of gleeful Cubans on the pier did not forbear to sing the strange patriotic ballads of their island. On the decks of the Commodore there were exchanges of farewells in two languages.

“At last the Commodore swung clear of the dock, amid a tumult of good-bye. As it turned its bow toward the distant sea the Cubans ashore cheered and cheered.

Felt Like Filibusters.

“Then at last we began to feel like filibusters. I don’t suppose that the most stolid brain could contrive to believe that there is not a mere trifle of danger in filibustering, and so as we watched the lights of Jacksonville swing past us and heard the regular thump of the engines we did considerable reflecting.

“They had gone but a short distance when the vessel went aground and the aid of the revenue cutter Boutwell had to be got to get afloat again. Then the voyage commenced in earnest.”

First Word of Coming Disaster.

When night came on Mr. Crane found sleep impossible, so he went into the pilot-house. It was then the first word of coming disaster was heard, and, continuing his narrative, Mr. Crane says:

“The Captain came on duty and he was standing near me when the chief engineer rushed up the stairs and cried hurriedly there was something wrong in the engine-room. He and the Captain departed swiftly.

“I was drowsing there in my corner when the Captain returned, and, going to the dor of the little room directly back of the pilot-house, he cried to the Cuban leader: ‘Say, can’t you get those fellows to work? I can’t talk their language and I can’t get them started. Come on and get them going.’

“The Cuban leader turned to me and said: ‘ Go hep in the fire-room. They are going to bail with buckets.’”

Mystie and Grewsome Shadows.

“The engine-room was insufferably warm, and the lights burned faintly in a way to cause mystic and grewsome shadows. Here a young oiler, Billy Higgins, was sloshing around filling buckets with water and passing them to the chain of men that extended up the ship’s side.

“The heat and the hard work in the fire-room affected me and I was obliged to come on deck. I heard talk of lowering the boats. Near the corner of the galley the mate was talking with a man. “Why don’t you send upa  rocket?” said this unknown man. And the mate replied: ‘What the hell do we want to send up a rocket for? The ship is all right.’

To the Lifeboats.

“Now was heard the order to get away the lifeboat, which was stowed on top of the deckhouse.

“Higgins was on top of the deckhouse, and, with the first mate and two colored stokers, we wrestled with that boat.

“It might have been spiked to the deck, but the first mate got a tackle to it from a leeward davit, and on the deck below the Captain corralled enough men to make an impression upon the boat. We were ordered to cease hauling then.

“The whistle of the Commodore had been turned loose, and if there ever was a voice of despair and death it was in the voice of this whistle. It was now that the first mate showed a sign of losing his grip.

“To us who were trying in all stages of competence and experience to launch the lifeboat he raged in all terms of fiery satire and hammerlike abuse. But the boat moved at last, and swung down toward the water.

“Shove Off.”

“Afterward, when I went aft, I saw the Captain directing the launching of the boat.  He ordered me to go forward and be ready to launch the ten-foot dingy, and then turned to swear at a colored stoker who was prowling around done up in life preservers until he looked like a feather bed.  I went forward, and when the Captain came we launched the dingy.

“‘Shove off!’ cried the Captain.  The Captain was just about to swing over the rail when a dark form came forward and said: ‘Captain, I go with you.’  The Captain answered: ‘Yes, Billy; get in.’

“It was Billy Higgins, the oiler.  Billy dropped into the boat, and a moment later the Captain followed, bringing with him an end of about forty yards of lead line.  The other end was attached to the rail of the ship.

Waiting for the End.

“As we swung back to leeward the Captain said: ‘Boys, we will stay right near the ship till she goes down.’  This cheerful information, of course, filled us all with glee. The line kept us headed properly into the wind, and as we rode over the monstrous waves we saw on each rise the swaying lights of the dying Commodore.  When came the gray shade of dawn the form of the Commodore grew slowly to us. We saw men aboard of her, and later still they began to hail us.

Third Boat Founders.

“We rowed back, but did not approach too near because we were four men in a ten-foot boat.

“The first mate cried out from the ship that the third boat had foundered.  He cried that they had made rafts and wished us to tow.

“The Captain said ‘All right.’

“Their rafts were floating aster.  ‘Jump in,’ cried the Captain, but there was a singular and most harrowing hesitation.  There were five white men and two negroes.

“Four men clambered over the railing.

‘Jump,’ cried the Captain again.  The old chief engineer first obeyed the order.  He landed on the outside raft.

A stoker followed him, and then the first mate threw his hands over his head and plunged into the sea. Then I saw Tom Smith, the man who was going to quit filibustering after this expedition, jump to a raft.

Left to Their Fate.

“On board the Commodore three men strode, still in silence and with their faces turned toward us.  There they stood, gazing at us, and neither from the deck nor from the rafts was a voice raised.

“The colored stoker on the first raft threw us a line and, we began to tow.  We understood the absolute impossibility of any such thing. A tugboat would have no light task in moving these rafts.  But we tried it.


Down Goes the Commodore.

“We rowed around to see if we could not get a line from the chief engineer, and then the Commodore sank.  She lurched to windward, then swung back, righted, and dove into the sea, and the rafts were suddenly swallowed by the ocean.  We turned our dingy toward the shore.”

Mr. Crane commends the bravery of Capt. Ed. Murphy and William Higgins in the perilous voyage that followed.

Even when the boat was swamped in the surf in sight of shore the Captain gave orders with clearness..

John Kitchell of Daytona was on the beach.  He stripped off his clothes ,leaped into the water and brought Mr. Crane ashore.

“Billy” Higgins was lying clear of the water, dead.