Archive for July, 2009

Capt Thomas S Calhoon

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Thomas Stevenson Calhoon was arguably the most famous Georgetown packet owner and captain.  His career was the longest.  He had probably as much experience on the Missouri as Capt Marsh Grant with whom he worked on the Ida Stockdale.  My biographical data for Thomas S Calhoon has just been added a page under Biographical Data and Tales.


Christmas Eve Dinner Invitation (Anna L Nash And John F Nash Collection)

Christmas Eve Dinner Invitation (Anna L Nash And John F Nash Collection)

This dinner invitation from the officers of the Katie Stockdale to the Jacob Poe family is an interesting piece of steamboat memorabilia.  The Katie Stockdale was built in 1877. Thomas S Calhoon celebrated his fiftieth birthday inn 1884.   Jacob died in 1891.  So the Christmas Eve surprise oyster dinner for Thomas S Calhoon took place between 1877 and 1890.  I am also surprised the Katie Stockdale was docked at Georgetown Landing so late in the year.

Oysters were an expensive delicacy, and …. they were eaten the year round. An ‘oyster express/ a light wagon loaded with live oysters imbedded in straw and kept moistened with salt water, made through trips from Baltimore to Pittsburgh. The horses were changed frequently, but the driver drove all night without stopping.  At Pittsburgh,  the oysters were transferred to swift boats and shipped to Cincinnati, where they were placed in tanks of salt water and corn meal and kept alive for months.” [1]





[1]  Stanton C Crawford and Mary C Brown, Pittsburgh as Viewed from Down River, (Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, Vol 47, No 4, Oct 1964), p 306.



Reading List

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

I added a selective bibliography.  “River Horse” by William Least Heat-Moon is a classic travel history, and a fave read.  Heat-Moon sets off in a small boat from New York harbor and ends in the Pacific Ocean near Astoria, OR.  Some 5,000 watery miles.  Along the way he followed the route of Lewis and Clark which was the same journey my great great grandmother chronicled 65 years after L&C.    


The packet directory by Capt Frederick Way Jr is by far the most complete list of steamboats on inland rivers compiled to date.  For me, it is the decision maker when two sources disagree.  I trust Capt Way because he visited Georgetown, interviewed George WE Poe in 1940 and my family in 1971, and knew the history of the Georgetown’s captains and pilots.   John Lepley’s book, “Packets to Paradise” provides details specifically on the Missouri River commerce.  It also is a good read.

Str Amelia Poe

Friday, July 24th, 2009

The biographical data for the Amelia Poe is complete.  This page is interesting because it includes documented financial information.  If you calculate the rates for freight and passengers, you can understand why these rivermen were willing to take such great risks.  In 1866 according to the records, fifty-one (51) boats departed St Louis.  Thirty-two (32) docked in Ft Benton.  Although steamboats failed to reach Ft Benton for a variety of reasons, the rate of success was only 62.7%.   That is little better than a flip of a coin.

In addition to the financial data, the Amelia Poe had a tragic end.  A good story.

Steamboat Stories

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

In the fall of 2006, I inherited a  journal recounting a lively steamboat trip on the upper Missouri River in 1869.  The author, Nancy Ann (Poe) Ebert, was my great great grandmother.  The trip was one continuous adventure.  It is a bit of American History that I shall attempt to bring to life.

Nancy Ann Poe ebert Journal Segment 1 Front

Only two journals, daily written, chronicle that 1869 Missouri River season.  The styles could not differ more, yet their comparison provides meaningful insights.  In his journal Nelson G Edwards, first clerk of the steamer Henry M Shreve, was objective.  Nancy Poe Ebert was observant and emotional.  My great great grandmother wrote about loneliness, fear, flowers, disappointment, beauty, and Indians.  Indians boarded their steamer for three days causing much anguish.  Tracking the two journals, the sidewheeler Henry M Shreve was 8-14 days ahead of the sternwheeler Mollie Ebert at common positions per date along the Missouri.

My transcription of the journal is a rendering with spelling errors and missing punctuation uncorrected.  Its length is 59 pages covering 57 grueling days.

Nancy Poe Ebert Journal Segment 2 Front (Anna L and John F Nash Collection

Investigations of the inherited journal and boxes of old photographs and letters led to other stories about the men and women of Georgetown, PA.  During the Golden Age of Steamboats which some describe as the period from 1850-1870, Georgetown produced some far famed steamboat captains.  Each captain and each steamer has its tale.  At a time when railroad transportation meant traveling mostly in upright chairs on unheated soot filled cars that rocked and pitched their way along state imposed “standard” gauge track, steamboats were admired for their luxury, their comfort, their ornamentation —  in a word – their style.  Steamboats also out performed the rival railroads during that period.  More troops and supplies were transported by packets than railroad cars during the Civil War.  These Georgetown captains and pilots with their civilian crews were contracted and impressed into service by the Army Quartermaster which led to many tales.  The Georgetown captains owned and operated approximately fifty packets during this Golden Age.

Local histories are also numerous, such as the grisly death of a steamboat captain far from home in April 1850, a Paul Revere like ride to warn the area of the danger of attack from Morgan’s Raiders in July 1863, a baseball game with Honus Wagner and his All Stars in August 1924, etc.  I am a retailer, not an inventor, of these tales.  Vexingly, their stories have been virtually ignored by generations of historians.

Their story was not a story of my choosing, but what could make a better story!