Independent Pacific Ships and Their Owners

In April, 1859, the owners of the steamboats Carrie Ladd, Senorita and Belle, which had been plying between Portland and Cascades, represented by Captain J. C. Ainsworth, agent, the Mountain Buck, by Col. J. C. Ruckel, its agent, the Bradford horse railroad, between the middle and upper Cascades, by its owners, Bradford & Co., who also had a small steamboat plying between the Cascades and The Dalles, entered into a mutual arrangement to form a transportation line between The Dalles and Port-land, under the name and style of Union Transportation Company. There were some other boats running on that route, the Independence and Wasco, in the control of Alexander Ankney and George W. Vaughn also the Flint and Fashion, owned by Captain J. O. Van Bergen. As soon as practicable, these interests were harmonized or purchased.

At this time freights were not large between Portland and the upper Columbia, and the charges were high. There was no uniform rule; the practice was to charge according to the exigency of the case. Freights had been carried in sail-boats from Portland to the Cascades at twenty dollars per ton. I have before me an advertisement in an early number of the Weekly Oregonian, that the schooner Henry, owned by F. A. Chenoweth, now a practicing lawyer at Corvallis, and George L. Johnson, would carry at that rate.

On the 29th of December, 1860, there being then no law under which a corporation could be established in Oregon-the proprietors of the Union Transportation Line procured from the Washington Territory Legislature an act incorporating J. C. Ainsworth, D. F. Bradford, S. G. Reed, R. R. Thompson and their associates under the name and style of the Oregon Steam Navigation Company. R. R. Thompson and Lawrence Coe, who then first became interested with the other parties, had built a small steamboat called the Col. Wright, above The Dalles, which went into the line and made up their shares of the capital stock. This was the second boat they had built at that point. The first, when partially completed, was carried over the falls and down the river in high water. There the hull was sold, fitted up and taken to Frazer river on the breaking out of the gold mine excitement in British Columbia, and much to the credit of its builders, made the highest point ever reached by a steamboat on that river.

The Oregon Steam Navigation Company, or O. S. N. Co., as it has been more generally called and known since organized under the act, J. C. Ainsworth was the first president, and with the exception of a single year, when J. C. Ruckel held the position, has been its president ever since. Its principal office was located at Vancouver, and its property formed no inconsiderable addition to the taxable property of Washington Territory. It might have remained there until this time, had it received fair treatment. But the citizens thought they had the goose that laid the golden egg, and they killed it. By unfriendly legislation and unjust taxation, the company was driven from the Territory, and in October, 1862, it incorporated under the general act of Oregon, where it has ever since existed an Oregon corporation; in fact, as it has always been in ownership and name. Its railroads, steamboats, warehouses, wharf-boats and wharves have all been built and established by the company without public aid except the patronage by the public after they were completed.

All its founders started poor. They have accomplished nothing that has not been equally within the power of others by the exercise of equal foresight, labor and perseverance. They had no exclusive rights. The rivers are wide enough for all the steamers, which can be built, and the passes at the Cascades and The Dalles are broad enough for all the railroads that may be found desirable. They are still unoccupied and open to all.

The O. S. N. Co. have diminished the price of carrying freight and passengers, whenever it has established lines from the great cost of transportation of the early times; fares have come down to $5 between Portland and The Dalles; $12 to Wallula; $20 to Lewiston; $2 to Astoria, and freights have been correspondingly reduced. Wheat and flour were last season brought down from Lewiston for $8, and from Wallula for $6 per ton, including handling over the boat lines and two railroads.

Of one thing the citizens of Oregon may well boast. Taking into consideration what has been done by private enterprise alone, there is no young State in the Union where so much in the way of internal improvements has been accomplished in so short a time.

The canal and locks in the Willamette at Oregon City, in the main constructed by private means, have worked wonders for the commerce on that river. Their original cost was nearly half a million dollars. Soon we may hope to see the canal and locks at the Cascades, completed by the United States, which will be of equal value to the commerce upon the Columbia river.”

An entire volume might be filled with an account of the early efforts of the O. S. N. and P. T. Co., of their successes, and the adventures of their captains, as Baughman, the Coes, the Grays, Stump, McNulty, Snow, Pease and Troupe; and the tales of river and shore that spring up in the aquatic life of every community. But space forbids any such enticing enlargement, and instead we must he content with a list of the steamers which were built by the Peoples’ Transportation, or Oregon Steam Navigation Co., or have come into possession of the O. R. & N. Co.-which absorbed both the P. T. and the O. N. Co., under the management of Villard. For this we are indebted to Captain Troupe and Mr. Atwood, of the O. R. & N. Co.

Idaho, side wheeler, 178 tons, built in 1860; Col. Wright, stern wheeler, built in 1861; Tenino, stern wheeler, built in 1861; Nez Perces Chief, stern wheeler, built in 1863; Enterprise, stern wheeler, built in 1863; Senator, stern wheeler, built in 1863; Oneonta, side wheeler, built in 1863; John H. Couch, side wheeler, built in 1863; Iris, stern wheeler, built in 1864; Active, stern wheeler, built 1865; Webfoot, built in 1865; Alert, stern wheeler, built in 1865; Okanagon, stern wheeler, built in 1866; Shoshone, stern wheeler, built in 1866; Rescue, Spray and Lucius, stern wheelers, built in 1868; Yakima, stern wheeler, built in 1.869; Emma Hayward, stern wheeler, 756 tons, built in 1870; McMinnville, stern wheeler, 420 tons, built in 1870; Dixie Thompson, stern wheeler, 276 tons, built in 1871; E. N. Cooke, stern wheeler, 299 tons, built in 1871; Daisy Ainsworth, built in 1872; New Tellino, stern wheeler, built in 1872; Alice, stern wheeler, 334 tons, built in 1873; Welcome, stern wheeler, 250 tons, built in 1874; Bonita, stern wheeler, 376 tons, built in 1875; Orient, stern wheeler, 429 tons, built in 1875; Occident, stern wheeler, 429 tons, built in 1875; Champion, stern wheeler, 502 tons, built in 1.875; Almata, stern wheeler, 395 tons, built in 1876; S. T. Church, stern wheeler, 393 tons, built in 1876; Oklahoma, stern wheeler, 394 tons, built in 1876; Annie Faxon, stern wheeler, 564 tons, built in 1877; Wide West, stern wheeler, 928 tons, built in 1877; Mountain Queen, stern wheeler, 500 tons, built in 1877; Spokane, stern wheeler, 531 tons, built in 1877; Bonanza, stern wheeler, 467 tons, built in 1877; Northwest, stern wheeler, 274 tons, built in 1.877; R. A. Thompson, stern wheeler, 912 tons, built in 1878; S. G. Reed, stern wheeler, 607 tons, built in 1878; Harvest Queen, stern wheeler, 697 tons, built in 1878; John Gates, stern wheeler, 551 tons, built in 1878; Willamette Chief, stern wheeler, 523 tons, built in 1878; D. S. Baker, stern wheeler, 566 tons, built in 1879; Hassalo, stern wheeler, 350 tons, built in 1880; Olympia, side wheeler, 1083 tons, built in 1883; Escort, tug, built in 1883; Alaskan, side wheeler, 1257 tons, built in 1883; S. J. Potter, side wheeler, built in 1887; Sea Home, side wheeler, built in 1889; Modoc, stern wheeler, built in 1889; Wallowa, tug, built in 1889. Of the Goy Grover, Owyhee, Minnehaha, Josie McNear, Mountain Buck, Cowlitz, Belle, Eagle, Express and tug Donald, owned and operated by the companies named, we have been unable to learn when they were built.

Aside from the O. R. and N. Co., and its predecessors there have always been a few independent steamers on the river, making their head quarters at Portland, such as the Fannie Troup, Salem, Manzanillo, Traveler, Lurline, G. W. Shaver, and local craft. One of the most indefatigable of our independent navigators is Capt. V. B. Scott, with his two Telephones, the first of which was destroyed by fire; river racers equal to anything of which the world has record. Another very solid company is that of Joseph Kellogg & Son, having two good steamboats, the Joseph Kellogg and Toledo and making a specialty of navigation upon small streams, particularly the Cowlitz.

With the exception of a few of the older craft on the Willamette and the new iron ships Olympian and Alaskan, all the boats named were built in Oregon.

With the opening of the Columbia to British Columbia, our inland navigation will assume a hundred fold greater proportions.

It may be remarked, however, that the Columbia river steamers are a swift and powerful class of vessels; built for actual hard service, and having a certain individuality of their own. Under John Gates many improvements were made, the stern wheel developed to its full power, and the perils of our rapid and great current overcome by the hydraulic steering gear. Some of them have reached the high speed of twenty miles per hour, and all have been able to over-come a ten and twelve mile current. As the most magnificent of swimming animals have been developed in the Columbia, so we may expect the finest swimmers of man’s construction to be made on its water.


Harvey Whitefield Scott. History of Portland, Oregon: with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Prominent Citizens and Pioneers. Portland, Oregon. D. Mason & Company, 1890.

Search Military Records - Fold3

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top