BUFFALO STOPS BOAT
UNUSUAL SIGHT ON THE MISSISSIPPI.
The Animals Plunged Over a Bluff, Falling Into the Boat and River —
Disappearance of the Herds — Primitive Navigation.
It seems scarcely credible that within the past twenty-five years buffaloes could be counted by thousands within 400 miles of St. Paul, but it is true. About the time that Jay Cooke began building the Northern Pacific railroad west from the western boundary of Minnesota there was not a railroad west of Fargo to the Pacific coast, and there was but sixty miles of railroad within the territory embraced in the two Dakotas. The great thoroughfare for passenger and freight traffic to the far northwest was the Missouri river, then teeming with life and activity from St. Louis to Fort Benton, a distance of 2,200 miles, over which the sternwheel steamboats were fortunate if they were able to make one trip in a single season.
It was in the summer of 1872, when the old Kountz line steamer Peninah, Capt. Tom Mariner, left the terminus of the railroad at Yankton, laden with through freight for Fort Benton, and a grading outfit and crew, under Contractor W.A. Burleigh, then a delegate in congress from Dakota territory, to work upon the Northern Pacific grade east from the Missouri river from where Bismarck is now located.
The Peninah had been obliged to lay up for repairs under a bluff a few miles above Standing Rock agency for a couple of days. About noon of a day in the latter part of May the passengers lounging about the deck of the boat heard a noise resembling the rumbling of distant thunder. Every man instinctively sought shelter.
“Indians!” was whispered throughout the ship, and even the old-timers grew pale as they realized what a war party of this size meant for them. The noise came closer and closer, and resolved itself into a wild roar, and then hundreds of buffaloes came tearing over the bluff at a mad pace, falling into the water like sheep. The landing place of the Peninah was close under the bluff, with scarcely more than a dozen feet intervening, and a majority of the animals plunged over the boat into the river. Some fell on the deck, and many lay along the narrow bank, maimed and bleeding from broken legs or internal injuries. Still they came tumbling over the bluff. The sandbars were covered with the big, shaggy animals, who began to climb up the opposite bank, where they stood exhausted. It was nearly an hour before the last of the herd had plunged over the bluff. Then the deck hands set about providing the boat with fresh meat and themselves with buffalo hides, which they sold at a good figure. When the Peninah pulled out the next day the buffaloes were seen spreading out over the hills on the eastern side of the river. An average estimate placed the number of buffaloes in this stampede at 7,000.
It may have been the same herd or another one of similar size that compelled the steamer Miner to tie up to the bank for two hours just below Fort Buford. This was in the fall of 1874, and while there was no precipice at this point to jump from, the buffaloes were swimming the river by thousands. The Miner was in midstream coming down the river like a race horse, when she ran into the herd, and being fearful of an accident, the captain turned her shoreward and tied up, while the crew laid in a good supply of fresh meat. Some idea of the vast herds that ranged that country may be gleaned from the fact that on one trip down the river about that time the entire cargo of the steamer General Meade was made up of dried buffalo tongues and hides.
John G. Lepley, Packets to Paradise, Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., Missoula, Montana, 2001 (ISBN 1-57510-091-6); “The levee at Fort Benton stacked high with freight and some of the company clerks,” p. 29.
*Picture and citation posted by Michael Edward McNeil on Flickr
From 1877 to 1879 were the palmy days of steamboating on the upper Missouri, no less than sixty-five boats being engaged in the service at that time, but during these years much business was gathered at Bismarck, the Northern Pacific having reached the Missouri. The Kountz line, owned by Commodore Kountz of Pittsburg, operated the queerest craft that ever plowed the waters of the Big Muddy. Everybody along the river got to know the long, low, single smokestack, piratical-looking steamers. They would come wheezing up the river like a great monster in the last stages of asthmatic convulsions, and it seemed to require the attention of the entire crew to keep her boilers supplied with steam to breast the current. They were slow, and to cover the distance between Pittsburg and Fort Benton in a single season they were obliged to run during the night, and it was said of them that they invariably arrived at the landings along the river in the dead of night, when all other vessels were tied up. The Durfee & Peck line, the Benton line, and the Missouri River Transportation company were all first-class. The latter company put on two sidewheelers in 1876 — The Montana and the Dakota. They proved an expensive luxury, one being wrecked by a cyclone and the other going to pieces against a bridge pier at Kansas City.
Daily Iowa State Press (Iowa City, Iowa) Mar 30, 1899
*To read more about steamboat history, take a look at Fifty Years on the Mississippi, by renowned steamboat Capt. Emerson W. Gould, which Google Books has online. Capt. Kountz is mentioned on pages 372, 414, 421 and 428.
Steamboats on the Mississippi
Below, some Steamboat Politicking
Special Dispatch to the New-York Times.
PITTSBURG, Penn., March 9. — Capt. William S. Evans, a prominent manufacturer of this city, announces his intention to bring suit for libel, laying his damages at a round sum, against Commodore W.J. Kountz, proprietor of the Alleghany mail, and the owner of a large number of steam-boats plying on the Western and Southern waters. The action is to be based on an article published in Donn Piatt’s paper, the Washington Capital, of Sunday last, in which it is charged that Evans, in connection with other parties, robbed the Government of a large amounts of Indian annuity goods, half the cargo of the steamer Far West, while in transit from Sioux City to Grand River, Dakota Territory, on the Missouri River, in June, 1871. The goods, it is alleged in the article, were transferred to the steam-boat Miner, in charge of a Capt. Hawley, and carried to Fort Peck and sold. Evans was one of the owners of the Far West. Commodore Kountz is known to fame as having had command of the steam-boat fleet under Gen. Grant, at Cairo, in 1861. Grant put him under arrest for some cause or other, and thereby gained the enmity of the Commodore. It is said that Kountz visited Washington shortly after the battle of Belmont, in which Grant was repulsed by the rebels, and in a conversation with President Lincoln insinuated that Grant was drunk at the time. To this the President replied that if he knew where Grant got his whisky, he would order a barrel of it sent to each of the Union Generals. Kountz was a bidder for the contract for the transportation of Indian goods on Missouri River for the present season, but was underbid by Evans and partners. It is rather more than insinuated that this led him to make the charges of theft against them.
The New York Time, Mar 10, 1874