John Artwood – Survivor of the Seas

Headline of New York News Herald from Titanic Disaster

As the sinking of the Titanic flashed across headlines over America, one Joplin miner recalled his own near death experience at sea.

In early April, 1912 the headlines of all three Joplin newspapers were devoted to the tragic sinking of the RMS Titanic. The Joplin Morning Tribune featured an interview with John Artwood, a Joplin miner, who almost suffered a similar fate.

Before arriving in Joplin, Artwood spent ten years at sea. The last ship he worked on was the Keyton, a “fishing smack,” that boasted a crew of twenty-one men. The Keyton was four hundred miles off the coast of Newfoundland when it collided with a “derelict” and sank. Of the twenty-one crew members, only five survived.

As Artwood recalled, he and four of his fellow crew members scrambled into a raft and spent the next twenty-eight hours adrift at sea at the mercy of the open sea and “treacherous currents.”

According to the former sailor, “So far as the sinking part of it was concerned our suspense didn’t last any four hours because the Keyton went down in forty minutes after she struck the derelict and not more than two minutes before five of us succeeded in getting away from her on a raft. Several other members of the crew made a desperate attempt to get on the raft, but it was in vain and we witnessed the horrible and never-to-be-forgotten spectacle of seeing some fifteen brave men drown like so many rats.”

When the Morning Tribune reporter asked Artwood about his experience, he took a minute to reflect upon what had happened to him before he confessed, “Well, your first feeling is one of fright, but this is quickly succeeded by one of determination to help your comrades as well as yourself to escape an awful fate.” Artwood continued, “Your body becomes numb as our mind becomes doubly active and you have little feeling in a physical sense during the excitement. Your flesh may be torn on an arm as a result of your desperate efforts to ear up decks to get timber for you raft but you will never feel the slightest pain until you are relieved by the realization that you have been saved, that you have been snatched from the jaws of death.”

Artwood felt his experience was similar to that of the Titanic survivors. “Yet, in a way it was worse,” he explained, “because on the small craft we could feel her sink very rapidly while on the mammoth liner there were many who did not know she was sinking for some time, so slow was the movement downward.” In his case, “When the Keyton went down she displayed little resisting power for she had not the semblance of such bulkheads as doubtless tended to prolong the Titanic’s sinking. Every man on board could feel her settling from the minute she struck the downward with about the speed of a slow-moving freight elevator, which seems speedy to one out on the sea hundreds of miles away from land.”

His freight at his situation, Artwood managed to mash a finger and had the flesh on his right arm cut to the bone in an effort to carry some heavy timbers to hastily build raft. He “never felt one bit of pain from either injury until several hours after they were inflicted. There was no part of my mind at liberty to think about physical pain, but there was a mental anguish instead and this was ten thousand times worse, although it tended to urge me on to do things I never knew I was capable of. Every second it seemed as though I had lived a whole day of terrible anxieties and a minute seemed like weeks.” After twenty-eight hours, a fishing “smack” boat arrived on the scene to rescue the Keyton’s survivors.

After his rescue, Artwood said he “got to the United States as quickly as he could and he has never been on water since” and arrived in Joplin sometime in 1910 when he became a miner. Perhaps Artwood may not have realized it at the time, but he had traded one dangerous vocation for another as our previous post “Death in the Mines” illustrates.

Source: Joplin Morning Tribune