Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Talkin’ Steamboats in a Railroad Town

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on February 22, 2015


It’s several months off yet, but I’m tentatively scheduled to speak on steamboats at the Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas on Saturday, September 12. This will be in conjunction with the traveling exhibition, Kings of the River: Steamboat Transportation in the American South from the Briscoe Center for American History at UT Austin. The exhibit centers on images of historic riverboats taken by Henry Norman, a photographer who worked in Natchez, Mississippi from 1870 until his death in 1913. Although they’re not from Texas, the Norman photographs are among the best available documenting steamboat technology, business and culture. This same collection of images, organized by Joan W. Gandy and Thomas W. Gandy, was featured in a really superb book published by Dover years ago. (I’ve just about worn out my second copy of the thing.)

I’ve given lots of talks based on my research for the steamboat book, but those have mostly been to local audiences who have some familiarity with Galveston and Houston, the 19th century rivalry between the cities, and their ties to maritime commerce. Temple, by contrast, is a railroad town, founded by the arrival of the by the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad in 1881. It’s upward of a hundred miles from the normal head of navigation on the Brazos River, at Hidalgo Falls. The trick may be to show how, even in the decades after the war, river navigation in Texas was tied to the expanding network of railroads, and how much of the material used in building the railroads came up Buffalo Bayou by steamboat. To cite just one statistic, in 1880, the year before the railroad came to Temple, the boats of the Houston Direct Navigation Company hauled sixty thousand tons of rails from Galveston to Houston, destined for railheads inland — over 600 miles’ worth of 56-pound rail, by my estimate. The mass of railroad iron going upstream that year was nearly double the amount of cotton coming down.

Anyway, those are my initial thoughts. Good thing I’ve got six months to get ready.


Image: Passenger on the boiler deck of the big packet J. M. White, Natchez, c. 1880.


11 Responses

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  1. Reed (the original, accept no substitutes) said, on February 23, 2015 at 12:25 am

    Sounds like your presentation is already off to a good start, connecting the steamboat trade to a rail town like Temple. Congratulations on the gig, and have a good time.

    And not to veer too far off-topic, but the picture does prompt one technical question: was the ride on a riverboat smooth enough that they could just set all those spittoons out on deck, all lined up neatly, or did things get choppy from time to time and they had to fasten them down somehow?

    FWIW, I noted the short, stable, almost cylindrical design, which would help prevent tipping (unlike the familiar rounded, urn-shaped barroom spittoon). But in rough water you sure wouldn’t want those big boys sliding around the deck after half a day of the gentlemen chewin’ and spittin’.

    • Andy Hall said, on February 23, 2015 at 7:17 am

      Boats like that generally didn’t encounter rough water. High wind (or even a tornado) could be a problem. I do seem to recall that cuspidors of that sort were filled with sand, to keep them weighted down. Wouldn’t do to have them flying around in a sudden gust.

      Also notice that the edge of the deck is wet, but only the edge — it had been raining not long before the picture was taken.

  2. Barry said, on January 10, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    Have you ever researched steamboat travel up the Trinity River? Especially, R D Aprice and his Welshman.

    • Andy Hall said, on January 10, 2017 at 8:46 pm

      Barry, thanks for your inquiry.

      I have researched the Trinity River trade some, because Galveston is the natural terminus of that route and it was extremely important in the development of this region. The steamboat Welshman is somewhat new to me, and is not included in a number of standard reference works probably because she was built here in Texas, and therefore does not appear on the registration rolls at New Orleans or elsewhere.

      In his book, Cotton Bales, Keelboats and Sternwheelers, W. T. Block mentions Welshman in a couple of places. He describes her as a 600 bale, light draft steamboat designed to operate on the upper stretches of the river. He describes her as being launched by A. P. Rice and ___ Llewellyn of Magnolia in December 1857. There are contemporary news reports that she went aground at Edward’s Point (now Eagle Point) on the west side of Galveston Bay in May 1858, although I don’t know if that represented her in. It may be that she was only active on the Trinity for a few months.

      In Keith Guthrie’s Texas Forgotten Ports, Vol III, Welshman also is mentioned as being a “fast running, light draft showboat” that ran regularly to Talco in Ellis County. (I don’t think Welshman was actually a showboat, which is a very specific sort of craft, but a conventional river packet.) Reportedly Welshman also picked up furniture manufactured at Buffalo, some of which was sold going down River, and the rest landed at Houston. Both of these locations are very far inland, and I’m not certain of the accuracy of these claims.

      Palestine, Texas Trinity Advocate, 18 May 1858, p. 2:

  3. Barry said, on January 10, 2017 at 11:01 pm

    Capt R D ApRice believed that the Trinity was a viable commerce route for the future. He invested in port Taos in Ellis County then a little up river at a port called Trinity City where the Telico factory manufactured furniture. I found his land grants were granted for the Texas Internal improvement script. ( “SCRIP FOR BUILDING STEAMBOATS, STEAMSHIPS, AND OTHER VESSELS: Ship builders received certificates for 320 acres for building a vessel of at least 50 tons, with 320 acres for each additional 25 tons. Sixteen ships were built taking advantage of this 1854 law. [Gammel, Laws of Texas, III, 1478] “) His name is hard to look up because of everyone wanting to spell his last name as Rice. He also was granted land in Magnolia. The blockades killed his business and the Telico factory which all shut down. Now there is a town called Telico and Trinity City doesn’t exist and is on private property. Captain ApRice moved to Italy, Tx became a Judge and was picked by the Reconstruction courts to build the third County Courthouse. It is alleged he ran guns for the confederacy sometime after his business went under. I read the only picture of his steamboat was printed in the Dallas Morning News but not a very good one. I wish I knew more about him.

    • Andy Hall said, on January 10, 2017 at 11:02 pm

      Most interesting — ApRice, Welshman — makes sense now.

    • Andy Hall said, on January 10, 2017 at 11:11 pm

      This is the image, from the Dallas Morning News, 25 June 1916, s1 p4:

      But I don’t think this is an accurate depiction; this is a generic (and very large) sidewheeler, not the sort of boat that would run on the upper reaches of the Trinity. Thanks fro clarifying some of the garbled place names in my secondary surces.

      • Barry said, on January 11, 2017 at 3:22 pm

        That picture is better than the one in the Telico History Book. Which I think was a black and white scan of this image. I didn’t know about the ship running aground. Thanks

  4. Barry said, on January 11, 2017 at 11:46 am

    The Trinity City port is said to have a man-made turnaround. The lady who put together the History Telico said you can still see the turnaround from the property owners backyard. I looked on Google earth and you can see a U shaped depression near the Trinity river banks on the west side where the factory would have been. I would so like to metal detect or just observe that area in person.

    What happened to most steamboats after their service? I’ve read where some guys just sank them. I read one incident where it changed the course of the river and led to considerable loss of one man’s property. The descendants of Richard ApRice say his wife made him get rid of the boat and drilled holes in it and sank it. Sounds far fetched. I remember reading that the Yellowstone was never found. I think Wiki says there was a report of it being on the Ohio River in 1837.

    • Andy Hall said, on January 11, 2017 at 3:31 pm

      Mostly those old boats were were lost to snagging, or once they’d worn out were stripped of anything usable and abandoned in some out-of-the-way spot. The description of the end of Welshman may be oversimplified and dramatized, but it could well be accurate in its broad outline.

      No one knows for certain what happened to Yellow Stone, but Donald Jackson’s book makes a strong argument that it left Texas and returned to the Mississippi and Ohio river system — he found a record of a boat that appears to be her, going through the locks at Louisville. Undoubtedly her name was changed with a new owner, making her subsequent career difficult to trace.

      • Barry said, on January 11, 2017 at 5:14 pm

        A year ago I was talking to someone who grew up in Rosser and they said they remembered somebody maybe a friend or neighbor finding an old steamboat on their property. But the more I pressed for more intel the less I got. It was apparently years ago.

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