Old Times on the Upper Mississippi: Recollections of a Steamboat Pilot from 1854-1863

By George Byron Merrick | Go to book overview

Chapter XXIII
A Pioneer Steamboatman

The same year and the same month in the year that witnessed the advent of the first steamboat on the Upper Mississippi, likewise witnessed the arrival in Galena of one who was destined to become the best known of all the upper river steamboatmen. In April, 1823, James Harris7 accompanied by his son, Daniel Smith Harris, a lad of fifteen, left Cincinnati on the keel boat “Colonel Bumford”, for the Le Fevre lead mines (now Galena),

7 Captain Daniel Smith Harris was born in the state of Ohio in 1808. He came with his parents to Galena, 111., in 1823, where he attended the frontier schools, and worked in the lead mines until 1836, when he commenced his career as a steamboatman, which was developed until he should become known as the greatest of all the upper river steamboat owners and captains. In the year 1836, in company with his brother, R. Scribe Harris, who was a practical engineer, he built the steamer “Frontier,” which he commanded that season. In 1837 the two brothers brought out the “Smelter,” which was commanded by Daniel Smith Harris, Scribe Harris running as chief engineer. In 1838 they built the “Pre-Emption,” which was also run by the two brothers. In 1839 they built the “Relief,” and in 1S40 the “Sutler,” both of which he commanded. In 1841 they brought out the “Otter,” which Captain Harris commanded until 1844, when the two brothers built the “War Eagle” (first), which he commanded until 1847. In 1848 he commanded the “Senator”; in 1849 the “Dr. Franklin No. 2”; in 1850 and 1851 the “Nominee”; in 1852 the “Luella,” “New St Paul” and “West Newton”; in 1853 the “West Newton”; 1854, 1855 and 1856 the “War Eagle” (second), which he built (See picture of “War Eagle” on page 120.) In 1857 Captain Harris built the “Grey Eagle,” the largest, fastest and finest boat on the upper river up to that time, costing $63,000. He commanded the “Grey Eagle” until 1861, when she was lost by striking the Rock Island Bridge, sinking in five minutes. Captain Harris then retired from the river, living in Galena until his death in 189-. As a young man he took part, as a Lieutenant of Volunteers, in the battle of Bad Axe, with the Indians under Chief Black Hawk.

-184-

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