Steamboat People, Page 1


Doc Hawley at the NATCHEZ calliope Oct 1989.

Steamboat Natchez Youtube

Published on Feb 4, 2016
Captain Clarke "Doc" Hawley gives a Louisiana Cultural Vistas tour of the Steamboat NATCHEZ.

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Photo of Captain J.R. Peterson taken with passenger Erba Heckel in front of the DQ pilot house Aug 26, 1938. I also have a letter from Capt. P. to Erba and her sister Elizabeth dated Sept 18, '38 thanking them for this photo and apparently some others that I don't have. I suppose it's possible that the woman in the picture is Elizabeth instead of Erba but I'm going with my first choice . . .

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Caption from

THE REFLECTORSeptember 1990, page 35:

"The late Ray Samuel pictured in his home, 1225 Washington Ave., New Orleans, last October, by Dave Thomson. Our June 1990 issue, page 47, carried the obituary for Ray, who died Monday, April 16, 1990, age 75. The framed oil painting is of Capt. L.V. Cooley's cotton sternwheeler AMERICA, which appears on our back cover as the WINFIELD SCOTT."

Ray Samuel co-authored TALES OF THE MISSISSIPPI with Leonard V. Huber andWarren C. Ogden - Published in 1955 by Hastings House, New York

"I spent a couple of days with Ray Samuel in New Orleans during October of 1989 andtook the attached photo of him in his home in the Garden District. Ray may have been the biggest collector of artifacts from Louisiana history with an emphasis on steamboats. I boughta few things from his history shop in the Garden District but couldn't afford some of the truly amazing things that he owned including a large mirror from a steamboat cabin with slots in it for advertising from steamboat men and merchants etc. to place their promotional cards and broadsides etc. The mirror was "full up" with original cards.

The painting of the cotton packet AMERICA ended up being bought a couple of years ago by Terrell Dempsey, a Hannibal attorney who wrote a book called SEARCHING FOR JIM about Slavery in Hannibal, Missouri during and after the time that Sam Clemens lived in town. I provided a number of illustrations for the book."


National Waterways article from 1932 about Captain Cooley

Capt. Cooley Had His Own Ideas About the Steamboat Business

Author of "The Pageant of the Packets"

NATIONAL WATERWAYS - The American River and Harbor Authority
pages 19, 20 & 21

"If the Federal Barge Line would add another deck to their express barges, and furnish and equip them for carrying passengers, they would find it greatly to their advantage."

The time was late Spring, 1931; the place, on board the sturdy little sternwheeler "Ouachita;" the speaker, Captain LeVerrier Cooley, dean of American steamboatmen who less than a month ago (as this page is written) died in New Orleans. He was standing, as he spoke, beside the OUACHITA's big bell on the hurricane roof. His cap was pushed to one side. His mustaches bristled picturesquely. His shrewd blue eyes seemed to take in everything within sight in the whole New Orleans harbor, up which the OUACHITA was then plodding her way towards the quiet fastness of Arkansas. The captain included, in this remark, Mate Sam Cotton, Pilot Louis Migaud and myself, who had gathered on deck to watch the river slip past.

Presently he resumed:

"Did you ever stop to think how much like the average old time steamboat those self propelled barges are? Add another deck, build in your staterooms, and right there, without going to hardly any expense, you've got a most efficient freight-and-passenger boat--lower deck for freight, boiler deck for passengers. Serve meals and add a few frills such as a negro orchestra for dancing purposes, and you'll always have a good passenger list. I know from experience with the OUACHITA.

Of course, in these times we can't hope to make a lot of money from passenger traffic, because nobody will travel by steamboat except for novelty and pleasure: the railroads have seen to that. But the number of people who are interested in the river and anxious to travel by steamboat for the sheer pleasure of it, is increasing all the time. People come out and make the two weeks round trip up into Arkansas with us, and they go and tell their friends about Captain Cooley and his old-time steamboat and the good meals they got while traveling with him. And right away their friends want to go and do likewise. The rivers and steamboating hold a great fascination for practically everybody. And that fascination should be capitalized on by the steamboatmen."

Captain Cooley laughed.

"They have been telling me for the past quarter of a century or more that steamboating with a packet in these days can never be made a paying business. Well, I have not been losing any money. I have always carried a good load of freight, and a good passenger list besides. My passenger list always feeds my crew and themselves; it's just that much gravy. It helps to reduce overhead expenses; and I never miss an opportunity to do that where it's possible. Besides that, carrying passengers on the river is fine advertisement and it helps to bring back the rivers as highways of commerce and travel."

For Captain Cooley believed with other steamboatmen that a new era of river transportation is imminent. When he came to New Orleans in 1869 to begin his steamboat career he was a youngster in his teens. He found the wharves of the Crescent City lined with the fine steamboats of the post-war period. He found a thriving freight and passenger commerce plying between New Orleans and St. Louis, Cincinnati, and the ports of the lower Mississippi.

Something like forty separate and distinct lines of boats were in operation, offering the ultimate (for those days) in luxurious accommodations and speed. The ironic aspect of this steamboating of the late sixties, the seventies and the eighties, is that a large part of their business, along about that time, was hauling supplies for the new railroads being built to parallel the river, which in time killed steamboating. But there was plenty of other freight besides railroad builders' supplies to be carried. Cooley got his pilot's license in 1872. Not until 1875 did be become a full-fledged master. Soon he was operating his own boat in the "five rivers" trade.

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the layout of the river and bayou country of Louisiana it might be explained that the "five rivers trade" is that district between New Orleans in the South and Camden, Arkansas, in the North which requires using the following five streams:

The Mississippi for 200 miles to the mouth of Red River; Red River for 40 miles to the mouth of Black River, then by utilizing short stretches of Old River and White River, to the placid waters of Ouachita River which extends its navigable reaches 350 miles up to Camden, Arkansas.

It is a rich cotton country through which the five rivers flow—a country penetrated even today by few railroads, a country full of rich farm and plantation lands which roll back from water courses which the denizens look to as their principal highways of transportation. It was in this country that Captain Cooley began taking his boats (he operated seventeen steamboats in his time.) And before long he had built up a following of patrons who would not have thought of giving their cotton or any other of their freight to another steamboatman.

They soon recognized in Captain Cooley a man of unswerving integrity, a steamboatman who, if he said his boat would leave at five o'clock, took her out at sixty minutes past four. Those who knew him well knew him to be a shrewd, efficient business man who, as he himself often expressed it, landed anywhere along the rivers where there was any business to be had. There was plenty of business to be had along the five rivers and the Cooley boats got a just and sizeable share. But the Captain, always on the lookout for chances to build up new business, was not satisfied with taking merely what fell into his lap.

Through all that section of Louisiana, to east and west of the five rivers, run innumerable filaments of stealthy bayous, almost currentless rivers, each of which reaches up into its own separate little farming territory. Captain Cooley, while he was operating his big AMERICA the lovely larger predecessor of his OUACHITA, decided to get the business from up these tributaries. He made an arrangement with smaller boats to bring out the freight—and passengers, if any—from each of these districts. If there was no steamboat line running up a particular river or bayou, Captain Cooley saw that such service was inaugurated and maintained as long as the business of that section warranted it. Each of these smaller boat lines would bring down its quota of freight from the territory it served to the shores of the Five Rivers along which Captain Cooley's boat would pass and unload it at a designated point.

Captain Cooley's boat would come along and pick it up and, on the sixth or seventh morning thereafter, would steam into port at New Orleans with the combined output of the Lower Tensas and Upper Tensas Rivers, of Little River, of Boueff River, Choctaw Bayou, Bayou Macon, Bayou Bartholomew, Bayou D'Arboonne, and Bayou Louis, in addition to the business of Cooley's regular run. His boat would thus provide seventh morning delivery for nearly 1400 miles of river territory.

"This was a better service than any of the railroads could offer," the Captain once told me. "Now I ask you why wouldn't the same arrangement pay today? We carry cotton for just one half what the railroads charge and other freight in proportion."

Since Colliers and the Saturday Evening Post sent their representatives down to ride on the Captain's boat and "write him up," his reputation had become more or less national in extent. Only those, however, who had more than a casual acquaintance with him, knew the charm of his personality, his wholesome and mellowed philosophy of life, his gentleness to women and children. And all those who did know him know that the steamboating fraternity profession has lost one of its charter members whom it could ill afford to lose.

Captain Cooley's "guests" (for so he spoke of his passengers) understood that he enjoyed doing a little harmless posing, and loved him for it. They soon learned, however, that he was anything but a poseur in the real sense of the word. No one ever had a greater scorn than he for the swashbuckling sort of steamboating which you read about: gamblers, questionable women from Natchez Under the Hill; dueling, racing with a negro on the pop valve, and all that sort of thing. He had lived through the colorful steamboat era which popular fiction would have us believe was an age of nothing but gamblers and the like. He lived well into this modern age of steamboating also. Hence he knew them both. And he knew that the serious business of steamboating is a profession—a profession which demands the utmost in energy and watchfulness from the steamboat owner and operator if his boat is to be got up the river on time and his patrons served. For that very natural reason Captain Cooley was constantly on the lookout for ways and means of carrying on efficiently.

He had more than one run-in with the railroads crossing the Five Rivers route. Once he got $500 from one road whose bridge tenders had kept the OUACHITA waiting too long to get through the draw. And here is an instance of his business acumen:

The underwriters of boats on the Ouachita and Red Rivers wanted to limit the number of bales of cotton carried in one load. They demanded that the boats must not burden the barges, which they pushed, with more cotton than the boat itself could handle, claiming that the use of a barge was simply to be a distress measure to lighten the boat so that she might move more safely through shallow water.Shortly thereafter the War sent the price of cotton skyrocketing. The underwriters issued a proclamation that no boat and its barges could carry more than 2,200 bales because of the capital involved. Now Captain Cooley's AMERICA which was then running in the Five Rivers trade could carry 4000 bales without any crowding. Cooley insisted that he be allowed to operate two barges for cotton seed. His request was refused. Whereupon what did the sly old Captain do but issue an ultimatum which has become famous through the river country.

He said in effect: "Since your company has fears concerning its finances I'll publish the fact to the world."

The underwriters at once capitulated and the Captain was allowed to go on about his business as usual. More recently Cooley seized a situation by the forelock, so to speak, when he foresaw the drought situation of last summer and put in an application to the Louisiana Public Service Commission months ahead of the railroads, to be allowed to reduce the freight rate on cotton in uncompressed bales from landings on the Black and Ouachita Rivers, from $2.50 to $2.00 per bale. This price was not to include marine insurance. On shipments originating off the river the skippers were to pay the actual cost of trucking—up to fifty cents per bale. The application was granted and Captain Cooley found his cotton carrying business for that season doubled. He carried 20,000 bales instead of his usual 10,000. This was a record season for these degenerate times, and the Captain made a lot of money.

"If I could be assured of handling a large proportion of the cotton within fifty miles of the banks of the Ouachita River," he said, "I'd carry it from Monroe to New Orleans for $1.00 per bale."

As a result of his business perspicacity Captain Cooley had rolled up a good size fortune with his boats. His children are all married or engaged in gainful occupations. His white haired gracious wife, a former New Orleans girl, traveled with him continually on the rivers. Since Captain Cooley's death, Mate Sam Cotton has succeeded him as master of the "Ouachita."

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Fred Way Jr. aboard the Washington, autographed.

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Tom Greene from the Aug '45 YANK . . .

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Mary Greene at the helm of the Gordon C. Greene from the '45 YANK.steamboat people

Photo of an unidentified pilot taken in St. Louis, perhaps in the 1880's, it's not dated and there's nothing on the Elite studio online. Note anchor design buttons on his coat. Had to pay a handsome price on eBay, thankfully (I guess) nobody outbid me. I scanned it large, retouched the worst blemishes from face and uniform and it by half. Jim Hale suggested that he could be an Anchor Line pilot but anchors on buttons for nautical uniforms have been common for centuries.

In Chapter 25 of Life on the Mississippi Mark Twain commented on how uniforms were a surprise to him when he revisited the Mississippi River and steamboating in 1882. In the pre-Civil War era the officers wore civilian dress:Uniforms on the Mississippi! It beats all the other changes put together, for surprise. Still, there is another surprise - that it was not made fifty years ago. It is so manifestly sensible, that it might have been thought of earlier, one would suppose. During fifty years, out there, the innocent passenger in need of help and information, has been mistaking the mate for the cook, and the captain for the barber - and being roughly entertained for it, too. But his troubles are ended now. And the greatly improved aspect of the boat's staff is another advantage achieved by the dress-reform period.


Eddie Bayard of New Orleans is a jazz musician and was leader of The Bourbon Street 5 when it played on the maiden voyage of the Mississippi Queen which began on July 20, 1976.

Eddie kindly bestowed this field drum, especially made for that first year of cruising that coincided with the Bicentennial year. It was carried by drummer Ronnie White when the group played on deck or marched on shore.

Eddie wrote "Most of my stuff washed out with Katrina, but the drum was safe upstairs."

The drum was specially customized with the text:

"THE QUEEN'S OWN" (band)
and the names:

CAP (Captain Ernest Wagner)
BETTY (Betty Blake, tireless promoter of the Delta Queen Co.)
EDDIE (Eddie Bayard, cornet)
BILL (Bill Coburn, trombone);
FUZZY ("Fuzzy" Ballard, clarinet)
VIC (Vic Tooker, banjo and calliope player).
RON (Ronnie White, drummer)
STAN (Stan McCauley, piano)
DAVE (Dave Jacobs, bass)

Attached photo of the drum here at home and a photo of The Bourbon Street 5, also provided by Eddie Bayard.

The Mississippi Queen was built by Jeffboat Inc. in Jefferson, Indiana, from 1973 to 1975 and launched on November 30, 1974. Until her christening on April 20, 1975, in Louisville, KY, she was referred to as "Hull 2999." - Dave

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Jazz Band Bourbon Street.

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Jim Swift (long time editor of the Old Boat Column for The Waterways Journal) and myself in the St. Louis office of the WJ in October, 1988. The steamboat ambiance is strong in the office with photos, paintings and at least one model as I recall. Jim was always a fun person to visit with in St. Louis and up at Keokuk during the Midwest Riverboat Buffs gatherings.

Included is a link to a posthumous collection of Jim's writings published by Jack Simpson who was the editor of the Waterways Journal when I visited there in '88.

Backing Hard Into River History
by James V. Swift
384 pages. 198 illustrations. Hard cover. Nonfiction. Little River Books. It covers the last 100 years of river development and the towing industry; the 112-year history of The Waterways Journal, known affectionately as the "riverman's bible" and the author's 60-year love affair with both.
Link to Chapter 13 of Jim's book:

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Forgot the captain of the SPIRIT OF SACRAMENTO took this photo some eight years or more ago with the DELTA KING looming out front through the pilot house window.

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John Fryant, the most accomplished steamboat model maker in the world (left) with the late Ralph DuPae (steamboat photo maestro for the Murphy Library) in Fryant's basement workshop. John was in the process of building a large scale sidewheeler here.

Below are John Fryant's memories on the photo of himself with Ralph DuPae. - Dave

Wonder who took that one?

My Wife, maybe. It was in the basement of our little house in Virginia during the time I was building the Rob't. E. Lee model for Mud Island in Memphis.

I would date it about 1979 or 80.

The late Michelle Kingsley was around at that time - maybe she took the shot.

Lady Captain Anna G. Grimison Skagit River Company Seattle One Third for NORI

Attached 1939 press release photo of the lady president of the Seattle based Skagit Navigation & Trading Co. and how she and her son were virtually held up at gun point for $500.00.

Biographical material from online resources about Anna G. Grimison, her father Capt. Henry H. McDonald and his steamboat line which she eventually took charge of follow the news item.




(LA PORT CL ST) 1-2-39


Anna G. Grimison in the 1940 United States Federal Census:
Born about 1881 in Canada of English descent
Has resided since 1935 in Seattle, King County, Washington


Anna's Papa:
Capt. Henry H. McDonald (1857-1924)

A native of Nova Scotia, McDonald came to the Puget Sound in about 1886 and with his sternwheelers and steamboats like the GLEANER and the SKAGIT CHIEF.
McDonald fought a successful 15-year battle with Great Northern Line's James J. Hill to compete for freight shipped to and from the Skagit River.

McDonald's daughter Anna G. Grimison later became president of her father's Skagit River Navigation & Trading Co. and gained fame as a steamboat captain in the Tugboat Annie mold.


I located the following from the University of Wisconsin La Crosse magazine the LANTERN Summer 2012:

"For 34 years La Crosse native Ralph DuPae crisscrossed the country asking steamboat photo collectors to share a copy of their prints. When DuPae died in 2008 at the age of 83, his passion was responsible for the world's largest collection of steamboat photos."

Ralph DuPae, right and Dave Thomson left aboard the GEO. M. VERITY during reception night on a Friday for a Midwest Riverboat Buffs weekend at Keokuk, Iowa in October 1988. "I talked to Ralph for over an hour over the phone the day before he passed on. Ralph shared many hilarious and amazing true stories of his life in the Navy during WW2 and the way he said "Good bye" to me at the end of the conversation had a profound implication.

The next day Ralph's wife Kathleen called me to tell me of his passing and we talked about him and their lives together for a long time then and in subsequent conversations. Ralph and Kathleen were very hospitable to me during my visits to La Crosse, they always welcomed me as a close friend and it was a pleasure and honor to spend time with them."

add to river room
DT on Sun Deck added to new Delta Queen page

added to illustrations 18

J.S. postcard added to photos4


Captain Doc Hawley conversing with Alan Bates on the Muskingum River excursion sternwheeler VALLEY GEM.


Alan Bates - Star player of Steamboatmen

For Steamboat People, a photo of Alan Bates as 1st Mate on the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE.

Alan led the restoration of the former IDLEWILD/AVALON into what became the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE. Alan designed the NATCHEZ at New Orleans and the GENERAL JACKSON at Nashville among his many other achievements. He was editor of the Old Boat Column for The Waterways Journal and a member of The Sons & Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen.

Alan authored a number of books on steamboat lore and memoirs of his own life and times including:

The Belle Of Louisville, 1965

The Western Rivers Steamboat Cyclopoedium: or, The American Riverboat; Structure amp; Detail, Salted with lore; with a nod to the Model Maker, 1968

The Western Rivers Engine Room Cyclopoedium, 1996

Alan Bates' obituary (at this site) - click here.



Portrait of Steamboat Captain Julius Oliver



Thanks for the info on the Potter and her captain. He certainly looks young in the photo. The Potter was indeed a handsome boat. I have plans of her drawn by the late Ed Newbauer, who drew up plans for many of the Columbia River steamers. I have copies of all of his plans, I think. I don't know if anyone still sells prints of them or not. He was the "Alan Bates" of the Columbia River boats.


Here is a cabinet card photograph of a man in uniform: Julius Oliver, one of the Captains of the majestic Columbia River sidewheeler T.J. POTTER which is pictured in the other photo as she looked after her 1901 remodeling when her flat roofed pilot house was given a domed roof and a curved front bulkhead.

From a news article in The Oregon Daily Journal Portland, Oregon - June 25, 1913:

Captain Julius Oliver, formerly a Willamette and Columbia river steamboat man, said that he was in White Horse, Yukon territory, for the first time on June 17th, as the result of a big fight between the two steamboat companies running out of Fairbanks. The distance from Fairbanks to White Horse is over 1400 miles. "This is a little longer run than on the Yamhill." said Captain Oliver. He is now connected with the Northern Alaska Steamship company.

The following excerpts come from Wikipedia articles:
Captain Oliver's irony in comparing the 1400 mile stretch he navigated on the Yukon with the 11 mile Yamhill River is explained:

[The Yamhill River that Captain Oliver referred to is an 11-mile tributary of the Willamette River, in the U.S. state of Oregon. Formed by the confluence of the South Yamhill River and the North Yamhill River about 3 miles east of McMinnville, it drains part of the Northern Oregon Coast Range. The river meanders east past Dayton to join the Willamette River at its river mile 55, south of Newberg. It is likely that Yamhill was the 19th century white settlers' name for a tribe of Native Americans, a Kalapuya people who inhabited the region. The Yamhill people were among 27 bands and tribes moved to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation, formally established in 1857.]

When launched in 1888, the T.J. POTTER was named after first the vice president of the Union Pacific Railroad's operations in the West. She was built entirely of wood by the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company, owned by John F. Steffan. She was built for the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company. Her upper cabins came from the steamboat WIDE WEST. This required some structural modifications, because the T.J. POTTER was a sidewheeler, whereas the WIDE WEST had been a stern-wheeler. The boat's first owner was the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company. The T.J. POTTER was one of the few side-wheeler boats that operated on the Columbia River.

"The POTTER was the final step in the evolution of the side-wheeler—230 feet long, 33 feet beam, with grace and beauty in every inch of her. She was intended to be the last word in the elegance then incorporated into steamboat design. Even the paddlewheels were decorated with intricate designs. Where those of the lesser side-wheelers were pierced by simple fan designs, hers were jig sawed into an intricate floral pattern that made them works of Victorian art. A divided, curving staircase led up to the grand saloon, and her passengers could observe themselves ascending it in the plate glass mirror, which was the largest in that part of the West. Colored sunlight from the stained glass windows of the clerestory gleamed on soft carpeting and the mellowed wood and ivory of a grand piano."

Construction of the POTTER was supervised by Capt. James William Troup, one of the most famous steamboat captains in the West, as well as the owner of the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company, the builders of the T. J. POTTER. On May 26, 1888, the same year the POTTER was built, Captain Troup had brought the sternwheeler HASSALO over a six-mile stretch of rapids called the Cascades of the Columbia during low water, reaching speeds of 50 miles an hour in the process. The POTTER was refurbished in 1910, and continued in operation on the Portland-Ilwaco run.

In the early 1990s, Professor Frederick Bracher recalled riding on the POTTER from Portland to Ilwaco as a young child in 1915:

"The T.J. POTTER was an old but comfortable sidewheel steamboat, ponderously slow, even when going downstream. Although it was later replaced by the GEORGIANA, a sleek and narrow twin-screw steamer, I preferred the T.J. POTTER to the smaller and faster rival. The monumental semi-circular paddle boxes, painted like the rays of the rising sun, arched up as high as the boat deck; the paddle wheels produced a prodigious wake to port and starboard, as well as astern. On the main deck were staterooms for the elderly, the rich, or the newly married; and a continuous seat ran all the way around the stern. If the weather was good, there would be deck chairs on the open afterdeck, and the glass-enclosed lounge cabins were comfortable on cold or rainy days."


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