Steamboats, Tug Boats and River Craft in Washington

The first charter granted to a steamboat company on the Cowlitz River was to Seth Catlin, John R. Jackson, Fred A. Clarke, Henry N. Peers, George B. Roberts, and their successors, by the legislature of 1854-5. Wash. Stat., 1854, 439. This company failed to make any use of its charter.

The legislature of 1858-9 granted to Royal C. Smith and Noyes H. Smith and their associates permission to incorporate the Cowlitz River Steam Navigation Company, for the purpose of improving the bed of the Cowlitz River, and keeping upon it a steamboat or boats suitable for carrying freight and passengers between the two points named, upon condition that a steamer should be put upon the river within six months, and the obstructions removed in nine months, failing to do which they forfeited their charter. But this company also failed to accomplish its object.

Upon condition of improving and navigating the river, the legislature of 1862-3 granted to Nathaniel Stone and his associates, under the name of the Monticello and Cowlitz Landing Steamboat Company, the exclusive right to navigate the Cowlitz. This company placed a boat on the river in the spring of 1864, when the Oregon Steam Navigation Company put on an opposition boat. The Rescue and Rainier were built for this trade. The Monticello Company filed a bill against them, and prayed for an injunction. The case was tried before Judge Wyche, who held that the exclusive grant of the legislature was void, because in conflict with the powers of congress to regulate commerce among the several states of the union, and the injunction was denied. S. F. Bulletin, June 24, 1864; Wash. Scraps, 132-3.

The river was found to he navigable for steamers to Cowlitz landing only in the season of high water until the government should have made large appropriations for its improvement, which was never done, and there remained the primitive canoe, or the almost equally primitive `stage,’ to convey passengers from Cowlitz landing to Monticello, whence they were conveyed in small boats across the Columbia to Rainier, where they were picked up by a passing steamboat.

But in Sept. 1867 the O. S. N. Co. began to run a boat regularly to Monticello to connect with Hailley’s tri-weekly line of stages, which was the improvement to which Gov. Moore alluded in his message. The legislature of 1830-60 passed an act incorporating the Chehalis Steamboat Navigation Company, for the purpose of improving that stream and rendering it navigable from Gray Harbor to Davis’ landing, or farther, if practicable, conditioned upon Thomas Wright and his associates having a steamer running on Gray Harbor and Chehalis River within six months after the passage of the act. Wash. Stat., 1859-60, 459-60. The same legislature memorialized congress to grant $15,000 for the improvement of the river, which was not appropriated; but in June 1860 $20,000 was granted to erect a lighthouse at the entrance to the harbor, and buoy out the channel. The latter service was performed in 1867 by Capt. Bloomfield. The steamer Enterprise, which had been running on Fraser River and adjacent waters, was taken to Gray Harbor in the summer of 1859. S. F. Alta, July 13, 1859.

The legislature of 1861-2 passed an act making the Chehalis navigable from its month to Claquato, at the crossing of the territorial road. Again, in Jan. 1866, a company was incorporated, consisting of S. S. Ford, Courtland Ethridge, A. J. Miller, J. Boise, O. B. McFadden, S. S. Ford, Jr, J. Brady, S. Benn, Reuben Redmond, and G. W. Biles, and others resident in the vicinity of the Chehalis, with the `purpose of manufacturing lumber and flour, developing the resources of the Chehalis Valley, and navigating the waters of Gray Harbor and its tributaries by steam or other vessels,’ etc. No requirement as to time was laid upon this company, but in the autumn of 1866 they placed a small steamer, called the Satsall, on the river, and in the spring of 1867 the Carrie Doris, which made regular trips.

In the autumn the Goff brothers of Tumwater put on a stern-wheel boat of light draught, which ascended as far as Claquato. Olympia Standard, Jan. 18, 1868. The legislature of 1867-8 memorialized congress to appropriate $10,000 to remove obstructions and improve navigation; and by joint resolution inquired why the lighthouse had never been erected for which money had been appropriated. The Oregon Steam Navigation Company was first incorporated by the Washington legislature in Dec. 1860, the incorporators being required to register all their steamers and vessels subject to taxation in Clarke County. Wash. Stat., 1860-1, 72; Hist. Oregon, ii. 480-2, this series.

In Jan. 1862 there was incorporated the Columbia Transportation Company of the Territory of Washington, with headquarters at Vancouver, T. H. Smith, A. D. Sanders, Milton Aldrich, E. S. Fowler, Dexter Horton, William W. Miller, Peter J. Moorey, A. S. Abernethy, and Charles C. Phillips as corporators. This organization was formed to run in opposition to the O. S. N. Co. It built several steamboats, and ran on the upper as well as lower Columbia for a season, but finally sold out to the monopoly.

Approved at the same time was an act incorporating the Puget Sound and Columbia River Railroad Company, to build and operate a railroad from Steilacoom to Vancouver; the capital stock $15,000,000, which might be increased to $50,000,000; the road to be commenced within three years, and completed within ten. The movers in this enterprise were J. B. Webber, P. Keach, Lafayette Balch, Thomas Chambers, S. McCaw, J. W. Nye, Lewis Lord, Richard Covington, John Aird, Lewis Sohns, George W. Hart, C. Lancaster, T. J. Demarco, George Woods, Enoch S. Fowler, Paul K. Hubbs, H. Z. Wheeler, J. P. Keller, A. A. Denny, H. L. Yesler, Charles Plummer, W. W. Miller, A. J. Chambers, James Biles, H. D. Huntington, Charles Holman, Cyrus Walker, Frank Clark, William W. Morrow.

A company was also incorporated in Jan. 1863 for the purpose of clearing the Puyallup River of obstructions and rendering it navigable as far as the mouth of the Stuck, consisting of Cyril Ward, William Billings, A. J. Perkins, Israel Wright, John Carson, John Walker, Isaac Woolery, Abraham Woolery, J. P. Stewart, Miller, R. S. Moore, William M. Kincaid, Jonathan McCarty, L. F. Thompson, Archibald McMillan, Sherman, J. B. Leach, W. II. Whitesell, Aronomous Nix, Isaac Lemmon, Van Ogle, Daniel E. Lane, Edward Lane, William Lane, H. W. Berry, James H. Downey, R. M. Downey, F. C. Seaman, and Willis Boatman. The act required the company to begin clearing the river within three months, and each year to clear at least one mile of the channel from all drifts, jams, sunken logs, or other obstructions to the passage of flat-boats or other small craft, and within five years have cleared the whole distance; after which completion of the work, certain rates of toll might be collected. The act was amended at the next session to allow ten years for the completion of the work of clearing the river from obstructions to the mouth of the Stuck. Whatever work was accomplished was rendered valueless by the accumulations of drift.

In 1875 McFadden, delegate, scented an appropriation from congress for the survey of the Puyallup River. Pacific Tribune, March 20, 1875. The survey was made, and embraced that portion of the river from the mouth to the forks. It was proposed to deepen the channel sufficiently to admit of the passage of boats drawing 21 feet.

In 1801 much interest was shown in the Columbia River pass of the Cascade Mountains, two companies being incorporated to build a railroad at the portage on the Washington side; one by Peter Donahue, William Kohl, and Alexander P. Ankeny, called the Washington Railroad Company, and another by William C. Parsons and Richard Harris, called the Middle Cascade Portage Company, neither of which ever made any use of their franchise. Wash. Stat., 1864-5, 108-20.

Subsequent to the close of the Fraser River mining excitement and the opening of the country east of the Cascades, which drew mining travel up the Columbia instead of by Puget Sound, the numerous boats employed in these waters had been withdrawn, and the only craft left were sailing-vessels, a steam revenue-cutter, and

mail passenger-steamer Eliza Anderson, running between Olympia, Victoria, and way-ports.

I have mentioned in an earlier chapter the Major Tompkins as the first mail and passenger steamer employed on Puget Sound, in 1854. She was lost at Victoria harbor after running about one year; and was succeeded by the

Traveler, Capt. J. G. Parker, which ran from Olympia to Victoria for two years carrying the mail. She was then sold to Horton, who chartered her to the Indian department, which needed a steamer to carry their officers and goods to the various reservations, and was lost, March 1858, at Foulweather Bluff, together with five persons, Thomas Slater, Truman H. Fuller, special Indian agent, John Stevens, George Haywey, and a sailor, name unknown. Fuller was from the state of New York. He came to Puget Sound as purser of the Major Tompkins, and after she was lost was engaged by the Indian department.

Olympia Pioneer and Dem., March 19, 1858. She was an iron steamer, built at Philadelphia, and brought out around Cape Horn in sections. This was the first steamer that ran upon the Dwamish, White, Snohomish, and Nootsack Rivers. She rendered important services carrying men and supplies to forts and camps.

In 1855 was incorporated the Puget Sound Navigation Company, consisting of William H. Wallace, William Cock, H. A. Goldsborough, H. L. Yesler, Charles C. Terry, James M. Hunt, and John H. Scranton. Scranton went to S. F. as agent for the company and purchased a tugboat, the Champion, which, however, does not appear to have reached the Sound. He purchased also the passenger steamer Young America at Portland; but she was burned at Crescent City while on her way from S. F. to Vancouver with 1,000 troops under Major Prince. Scranton seems to have been unfortunate. He owned the Major Tompkins, which was lost this year. In 1836 he purchased the screw propeller Constitution, together with W. E. Moulthrop, which ran from Olympia to Victoria with the mails for about three years before and during the Fraser River times. The Constitution was built in New York in 1850 by Ward & Price, who sold her at Panama in 1831 to the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, and afterward sold to Scranton. Her engines were taken out in 1800, and she became a lumber carrier about the Sound, though her timbers were still good in 1873. Portland Herald, Feb. 13, 1873; Ebey’s Journal, MS., v. 100, 105, 137. Captains A. B. Gove and James M. Hunt commanded the Constitution on the Sound during 1867-9.

In December 1839 the Eliza Anderson succeeded the Constitution as a mail carrier. She was built on the Columbia by Farman for George and John Wright of Victoria, whose father owned the ill-fated Brother Jonathan. The Anderson was commanded by D. B. Finch, and ran for about 8 years on the same route. She was laid up in 1880.

During a part of this time a small steamer, the J. B. Libbey, built at Utsalady, carried the mail from Seattle to Penn Cove, Whidbey Island, and from there through the Swinomish slough to Whatcom, Bellingham Bay.

During the busy times of Fraser River mining rush:
Julia, from the Columbia River
Wilson C. Hunt
Sea Bird
Surprise from San Francisco, ran on the Sound

returning to other routes on the subsidence of travel and increase of business on the Columbia, and one steam-vessel performed the carrying on the Sound between Olympia and Victoria. Parker’s Puget Sound, MS., 5-9.

At the session of 1865-6 the Puget Sound Steam Navigation Company was reincorporated by W. T. Sayward, Thomas Deane, E. S. Fowler, H. L. Tibbals, O. F. Gerrish, P. M. O’Brien, C. B. Sweeny, W. W. Miller, Isaac Lightner, S. W. Percival, S. D. Howe, G. K. Willard, Sam. Coulter, T. F. McEloy, J. L. McDonald, and their associates, to navigate the waters of Washington, V. I., and B. C. Wash. Stat., 1865-6, 193-4. Nothing was ever done by this company for the benefit of navigation. Boats continued to arrive from S. F. for the business of the Sound for several seasons:

Tugboat Resolute, Capt. Cuindon, in 1839, which blew up in 1867
Side-wheel steamer Ranger No. 2, Capt. J. S. Hill
Black Diamond in 1861
Cyrus Walker, a tow-boat
in 1865; the Josie McNear, Capt. Crosby, in 1868, which carried the mail for the contractors, Hailley, Crosby, & Windsor. She ran on the Sound for less than a year, when she was traded to the O. S. N. Co. for the New World,

Capt. Windsor, which had been a Hudson River steamer, but ran away and came to the Pacific coast. Her history was eventful, having carried passengers on the Hudson, Sacramento, and Columbia Rivers, and Puget Sound. She proved too large and expensive, and was sold to the Wrights of Victoria.

The Olympia was the next mail and passenger boat, Capt. Finch.

The next contractors were L. M. & E. A. Starr, who ran the steamer Alida, Capt. Parker, a good passenger boat, to Victoria, sometimes connecting at Port Townsend with the English steamer Isabel.

The Zephyr, Capt. Thomas Wright, ran at the same time.

They subsequently built at S. F. the North Pacific, which was brought up to take the Alida’s place in 1871, and was carrying the mail in 1878. Parker’s Puget Sound, MS., 8-9.

In the mean time small jobbing and freight steamers have multiplied, owned chiefly by individuals:

J. B. Libbey
Mary Woodruff
A. E. Starr

In 1876 the Puget Sound Transportation Company was incorporated, and built two boats:

Messenger, Capt. J. O. Parker
Daisy, Capt. C. H. Parker, making a line from Olympia to Mount Vernon on the Skagit River. The company has since bought and sold several other boats. In 1881 a spirited competition was kept up for a season between the boats of the Puget Sound Transportation Company and Stair’s line, the
Otter and Annie Stewart.

In the autumn of 1881 the O. S. N. Co. purchased Starr’s line, and added some of their old boats:
Emma Hayward

In the following year another company was formed, called the Washington Steam Navigation Company, whose boats were:
City of Quincy,

Source: J. G. Parker, in Historical Correspondence, MS., 1884.


Bancroft, Hubert H. Bancroft Works, Volume 31, History Of Washington, Idaho, and Montana, 1845-1889. San Francisco: The History Company. 1890.

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