Another steamboat disaster occurred at 11 p.m. on 17 May 1876 when the Pat Cleburne exploded her boilers while landing along side the Arkansas Belle, six miles below Shawneetown, Illinois and just across from the Kentucky shore. The Arkansas Belle was tied to the bank and disabled by a line of coal flats, which fouled her starboard wheel and could render no assistance.
The Cleburne floated down about a mile and burned. Capt. Dickson Given “Dick” Fowler was caught in the timbers and burned to death. Four others were killed and ten were injured.
The Arkansas Belle was badly wrecked - the chimneys blown overboard, staterooms shattered and on fire in many places.
Capt. Dick Fowler, of the Pat Cleburne, was the eldest son of Judge W.P. Fowler and was born 8 Feb 1830 in Princeton, Caldwell County, Kentucky. He was named for his maternal grandfather, Dixon Given, who lived in early Livingston County and is buried in Smithland Cemetery. Dick Fowler was educated at the Kentucky Military Institute near Frankfort and began his business career in 1849 as a clerk on the Paducah wharfboat owned by his uncles, H.F. and D.A. Given. In 1855, he went to Cairo, Illinois, where he formed a partnership in a wharfboat business, but returned to Paducah the following year. There he secured the contract for carrying the semi-weekly mail between Paducah and Evansville. Dick Fowler purchased the sidewheel steamer Dunbar and placed his younger brother, Gus Fowler, in command. The Dunbar continued as a mailboat to the beginning of the Civil War.
Dick Fowler gave allegiance to the South during the Civil War and was made captain in the Confederate ordnance department. His brother, Capt. Joe Fowler, kept his interest in the river business and when Dick Fowler returned at the end of the war, his brother gave him command of the Jim Fisk, which ran between Paducah and Cairo. Subsequently he commanded the Idlewild and then took charge of the elegant sidewheel steamer Pat Cleburne, which took the Idlewild’s place in the Paducah trade. That ended with the explosion on the night of 17 May 1876.
When the Cleburne was blown up, he was caught in the wreck and burned to death with no one near and able to save him. He was laid to rest in the Fowler plot of Smithland Cemetery, which is high on a hill and has a view of the Ohio River.
The Dick Fowler, a steamer, was named for the revered captain. The Dick Fowler was launched in 1892 in Evansville, Indiana and Capt. Dick’s brother, Capt. Joe Fowler, and other citizens of Paducah made the first trip on the steamer. They were greeted in Paducah with crowds on the wharfboat and along the river bank. There was great excitement and fanfare to welcome the new steamer to Paducah.
In June 1911, the Dick Fowler was sold at public auction to satisfy a debt of $1400 and, in November of the same year, the Dick Fowler sank during a wind storm.
Glenn Dora Fowler Arthur. Annals of the Fowler Family, (privately published, 1901), 93, 94.
“Terrible Steamboat Disaster,” The Evansville Journal, 19 May 1876.
"Famous Steam Boat to be Sold at Public Auction," The Lexington Herald, 15 June 1911.