A BRIEF HISTORY OF STEAMBOATING ON THE MISSOURI RIVER WITH AN EMPHASIS ON THE BOONSLICK REGION

 

by Robert L. Dyer

Big Canoe Records

Page 3


From the
BOONE'S LICK HERITAGE
Volume 5, No. 2, June 1997
Boonslick Historical Society's Quarterly Magazine
Boonslick Historical Society
P.O. Box 324
Boonville, MO 65233


° ° °

In the period between 1820 and 1918 there were at least 25 steamboats known to have burned or wrecked in the Boonslick stretch of the river between Rocheport and Glasgow:

Nine boats were wrecked near Glasgow or in Euphrase Bend–the Euphrase (1840) the boat for which the bend was named, the Chian (1836), the Chariton (1837), the Dart (1838), the Amelia (1849), the J.H. Oglesby (1859), the West Wind (1864), the Annie Lee (1881), and the Joseph Kinney (1882).

Four boats went down near Arrow Rock–the John Aull (1845), the Sam Gaty (1867 or 1868); the Plow Boy No. 2 (1877), and the Tom Rodgers (1887).

Five or six boats went down near the mouth of the Lamine in Slaughterhouse Bend just upriver from Boonville–the Missouri Packet (1820), the George Washington (1826), the Radnor (1846), the Sacramento (1849), the T.L. Crawford (1857), and perhaps the John Golong (1862).

Four boats went down near Boonville or Franklin Island–the Charles H. Green (1840), the El Paso (1855), the Mettamora (1875), and the Velma (1918); the Bright Light (1883) and the Joe Kinney, also were wrecked at Boonville, but they were raised and repaired.

Three boats went down near Rocheport or in Diana Bend, including the Diana (1836), for whom Diana Bend is named, the New Lucy (1857), and the H.C. Coleman (1884).

° ° °

During the 1850s, 60s, and 70s the best known names in steamboating associated with the Boonslick region were probably Capt. Joseph Kinney, Capt. Joseph S. Nanson, and Capt. Henry McPherson; though others such as Captain William Jewett of Cambridge, Mo., who was a popular man on the river, especially around Glasgow, and Captain David DeHaven, who operated a boat called the South Wester built in 1857 for the Boonville Steamboat Co., and the Alonzo Child, which he took south with him in 1861 at the outbreak of the Civil War, were also of importance

"Captain Joseph Kinney, the best known of the Boonslick steamboat men, came to Boonville nearly penniless from Indiana in 1844, the year of the Great Flood, and built up a successful retail shoe business, first in Boonville (from 1844 to 1850) and then in St. Louis (from 1850 to 1856). He entered the steamboat business in 1856 when he commissioned the building of a 200 ft., 400 ton sidewheel packet boat that he called the W.H. Russell (named after a friend who in 1860 was one of the founders of the Pony Express). Kinney operated this boat successfully until 1862 when it burned in a big steamboat fire at St. Louis. During the Civil War Kinney built and operated at least four other boats: the Fannie Ogden (built for Kinney in 1862, but sold by him to Capt. John P. Keiser of St. Louis in 1863); the Cora No. 1 (built in 1864) and the Cora No. 2 (built in 1865), which were named for one of his daughters; and the Kate Kinney No. 1 (built in 1864), named for another daughter. The first Cora sank in 1865 just above Omaha, while the second Cora operated until 1869 when she sank not far from the mouth of the Missouri and created a 1000-acre island named for the wreck. The Kate Kinney No. 1 operated until 1872 when it burned at New Albany, Indiana (after surviving another fire at St. Louis in 1868). It was replaced by the Kate Kinney No. 2, which Kinney had built in 1873. It operated until 1883 when it finally burned at Shreveport, Louisiana.

Other boats owned and operated by Kinney on the Missouri River were the St. Luke (1868-1875), the R.W. Dugan (1873-1878), the Alice (1870s), named for his youngest daughter, and the Joe Kinney (1872-1882), which hit both the Boonville railroad bridge and the Kansas City railroad bridge before she sank after hitting the Glasgow railroad bridge on April 23, 1882.

Kinney was one of the primary advocates of sternwheel boats on the Missouri river in the 1850s and 60s and he retained an active interest in steamboating down to the time of his death in 1892, but in 1869, when his mansion, Rivercene, on the river bank across from Boonville was completed and he was approaching his 60th birthday, Kinney left the river and concentrated on the managing his steamboat business and other merchandising businesses up and down the river from Boonville.

Capt. Joseph S. Nanson was born in Fayette in 1827 and operated a store in Glasgow until he went to St. Louis in 1855 and purchased the steamboat, Banner State, which he then piloted on three trips between St. Louis and Glasgow before it hit a snag on the third trip in April of 1855 and sank. He then bought a boat called the Tropic and ran it for the remainder of the 1855 season. In 1856 he went to Louisville and commissioned the building of the N. J. Eaton, but it sank on its first Missouri River trip and nearly bankrupted its owners. Following this, Nanson commissioned the building of the Kate Howard in 1857 and ran it for three seasons on the Missouri River until it was snagged and lost in the Osage Chute in 1859. Between 1859 and 1860 he operated a boat called the John D. Perry on the Missouri and then opened a commission house in St. Louis where he remained throughout the Civil War period, returning to the river in the final year of the war with the purchase of the steamer Shreveport. In 1868 Nanson was elected president of the a St. Louis and Omaha Packet Company and sometime after this he apparently moved to Texas where, I believe, he died.

Capt. Henry McPherson, whose house still stands in Boonville on the north side of Spring Street near the corner of Spring and 4th Streets, was involved in steam-boating on the Missouri River from at least the mid-1850s until the mid-1880s, sometimes with his brother, Capt. E.B. McPherson, better known in Boonville as the irascible but lovable master of the City Hotel. Some of the boats associated with Capt. Henry McPherson were the Mars, which ran on the river between 1856 and 1865, though probably only the last two or three of these years under Capt. McPherson; the C.W. Sombart, named for the well known Boonville entrepreneur and mill operator (who also had an interest in several other steamboats), which only ran on the river two seasons–1858 and 1859–before burning near St. Louis in June of 1859; the Carrier, which operated between about 1858 and 1861; the Jennie Lewis, built in 1864 and operated in the St. Louis/Glasgow/Cambridge trade before burning at St. Louis in 1869; the Twilight, built in 1865 for Henry McPherson, C.W. Sombart, and John P. Keiser, but lost that same year near Napoleon, Mo., with a cargo that included a large amount of whiskey and prompted several salvage efforts over the years following its sinking; the Isabella, which operated between 1865 and 1868; the Headlight, a boat built by Henry McPherson, Joseph L. Stephens and C.W. Sombart (who called themselves the River and Railway Transportation Co.) in 1878 to run between Boonville, Arrow Rock and Rocheport and make connections with MoPac trains; and two boats owned by McPherson in the period between 1882 and 1884, the Martha Stephens and the Rob Roy.

° ° °

During the 1870s, 80s and 90s several other men and boats were associated with the Boonslick region in the steamboat trade.

Capt. John Porter had a virtual monopoly on the Boonville ferry service from the 1850s until his death in 1891, his best known boats being the Birdie Brent, which ran from 1871 until 1887, and the Joseph L. Stephens, which ran from 1887 until she was replaced by the Dorothy in 1909. His chief engineer during the time he operated the ferry was Capt. F.C. Wilson.

David B. Clark grew up in Cooper County, just east of Boonville (near the site of the Civil War "Battle of Boonville") and worked on the river from 1861 until at least 1896 serving as purser and captain on many boats, then returned to Boonville and became a skilled cabinet maker.

Louis Moehle, a German immigrant, came to Cooper County in 1867 and built a saw mill on the Lamine river, where he also engaged in boat building with his son, Gustav. Later, Gustav and his sons built boats at Arrow Rock, including the Guy Hunter, the Minna, the Nadine, the Laura and the gasoline powered Roy L.

Capt. Andrew Jackson ("Bud") Spahr was born in Boonville in 1842, the son of a well-known Boonville tobacco manufacturer, David Spahr. He worked on the river for some 50 years beginning about 1864, part of this time as a pilot on Captain Kinney's boats on the upper Missouri, later with the Star Line, and for the last 25 years with the U.S. government engaged in Missouri River improvement work, principally as commander of the snagboat U.S.S. Suter. Spahr, who was 6'6" tall, was fond of telling the story of how he brought Sitting Bull and 250 Sioux Indians down the river from Fort Buford to Fort Yates after Sitting Bull's surrender in 1868.

Capt. Lee Thomas Sites was born in Lamine township, Cooper County in 1856, the grandson of well-known Boonville and Arrow Rock gunsmith, J. P. Sites, and was engaged in the steamboat business off and on from 1873 down to the turn of the century. He and Gus Moehle built a small, popular steamboat called the Nadine in 1897 that operated into the early 1900s on the Missouri and Lamine Rivers offering occasional "moonlight excursions."

Capt. Nicholas W. Smith lived near Blackwater and was a riverman for over 50 years on the Missouri and Osage rivers prior to his death in 1893. At one time he was captain of the Plow Boy.

Capt. John S. Campbell, from Wooldridge, served on the Missouri River for some 49 years between 1879 and 1928 as a pilot and master of several steamboats, including a number of years working on U.S. government boats. Following his retirement in 1928 he returned to Wooldridge and devoted the last nine years of his life to making violins, a hobby he had begun while still working on the river.

John J. (Jake) Walther, a Boonville builder and contractor, began work in Boonville in the 1880s constructing store fronts and residences and also building a number of Missouri River steamboats, including the Alda, which ran on the Missouri River between 1891 and about 1902, and the well-known Boonville ferry, the Dorothy, in 1909.

Other Boonville residents associated with the river during the last quarter of the 19th century were George, Thomas and James Dunnavant, Jesse and George Homan, Fielding and Theodore Wilson, and Charles and James Colter.

° ° °

With the revival of Missouri River transportation in the 1930s, Boonslick residents once more began making names for themselves on the river.

Wesley Wohlt worked on the river for more than 50 years beginning in the early 1900s with his father, Gustav Wohlt. The Wohlts and the Heckmanns were the main steamboating families of Hermann. Wesley’s father and grandfather (Henry) operated in the vicinity of Hermann and on the Osage and Gasconade rivers. Wesley operated boats like the Robert C. McGregor, the William S. Mitchell, and the Bixby up and down the Missouri River throughout the 1930s, 40s and 50s. He was also the man who operated the reproduction keelboat out of Rocheport in the 1960s. More about the Wohlts and the Heckmanns can be found in Capt. William L. Heckmann’s personal reminiscence, Steamboating Sixty-Five Years on Missouri’s Rivers (Burton Publishing Co., Kansas City, 1950); and in Dorothy Heckmann Schrader’s very interesting recently published books, Steamboat Legacy (1993) and Steamboat Treasures (1997), both published by the Wein Press of Hermann, Missouri.

Captain Thomas P. Craig operated the ferry at Rocheport with his brother in the early 1920s, then built and operated a coal-burning steamboat, the Decatur, from 1924 to 1929. In the 1930s he operated the Federal Barge Line’s diesel powered towboat, the Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s and was, in fact, the man who brought the Roosevelt up the river in 1935 to reopen navigation on the Missouri.

In 1948 Boonville journalist and historian Elston J. Melton paid tribute to the Missouri River towboat industry in his novel, Towboat Pilot (Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho). And in more recent years Dan Burnett of Boonville has operated his own line of towboats on the Missouri River, continuing the Boonslick tradition of riverboat operation down to the present day.

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