Steamboats of the Coquille River

The Coquille River starts in the Siskiyou National Forest and flows hundreds of miles through the Coquille Valley on its way to the Pacific Ocean. Bandon, Oregon, sits at the mouth of the Coquille River on the Pacific Ocean. Before the era of railroads and later, automobiles, the steamboats on the Coquille River were the major mode of transportation from Bandon to Coquille and Myrtle Point in southern Coos County, Oregon, United States.

Coquille River steam navigation
LocaleCoos County, Oregon
WaterwayCoquille River
Transit typeSteamboat

Business and population expansion

Jetty construction at the two jetties at the Coquille River entrance allowed ocean-going ships to enter the mouth of the river and dock at Bandon. Economic activity boomed in Bandon in the early 20th century. A steamship line connected Bandon with Portland and San Francisco. From 1905 to 1910, the population tripled to 1800. Bandon had five sawmills and two shipyards.[1]

Rise of navigation by steamboats and other small vessels

As the river ran inland, it became so narrow that it was said that passengers could amuse themselves by leaning out the windows and picking flowers. William Russell Panter, a descendant of one of the first pioneer families in the area, was apparently one of the first to enter the inland steamboat business. Wm. R. Panter bought a small steamer, Maria, and put her in service above Coquille, towing a boat hauling milk from farms to the first creamery on the Coquille River, which was about two miles (3 km) up the river from Coquille. Panter later organized a run to the Timmons cannery in Bandon, towing a scow loaded with salmon caught by fishermen.[2]

By 1899, a boatyard owned by Arthur Ellingson at Prosper, Oregon, began producing steamboats, starting with the small (26 tons) propeller steamer Reta, which operated on the Coquille and later on Coos Bay. In 1901, the Ellingson yard at Coquille built the sternwheeler Echo (76 tons), she ran for ten years under Captain J.W. McCloskey. Other boats in the early years of the century on the Coquille River included Liberty, which also served in Coos Bay, and Dispatch.[3]

In 1900, S.H. McAdams, who owned a boatyard in Coquille, built the small (30 tons) sternwheeler Welcome. Also that year, Ellingson turned out the propeller steamer Favorite and the gasoline propeller Pastime. In 1901, Ellingson launched Echo and J. Warren, a 10-ton propeller steamer, both for service on the Coquille. Also in 1901, C.H. James launched the 15-ton propeller steamer Venus at Coquille. In 1903, the gasoline-powered Nellie & Cressy (12 tons) was built at Bandon. In 1903, Charles Trigg built Dispatch at Parkersburg, Oregon, for service on the Coquille River. After 1920, Dispatch was operated out of Marshfield as the John Widdi by the Coquille River Transportation Company.

In 1914, Carl Herman, who owned a boatyard at Prosper, Oregon, built the Telegraph for the Myrtle Point Transportation Company, which competed with the gasoline-powered propeller Charm on the Coquille River.[4][3] Telegraph was (by one source) the last steamboat on the Coquille River. Her owners were able to secure a mail contract for her, but eventually the contract was re-awarded to truck route.[2]

Various small boats were built on the Coquille River over the years, at Prosper, Parkersburg, Coquille, Randolph, and at the Hermann's ranch. These included Myrtle W. (12 tons), built in 1912 at Randolph, and Antelope, Fawn, Venus, and Maple. Carl Herman built many boats of various sizes at his yard at Prosper, including in 1909 the Sunset, (12 tons) and in 1909 the Star (12 tons), built for passenger and towing services on the Coquille River.

Passengers and cargoes carried

Very large numbers of people were sometimes transported on the small riverboats. For one baseball game at Bandon, Dispatch came down from Coquille with about 400 people aboard, and Telegraph arrived with 150. At one point, Telegraph ran eight different Saturdays along the river to carry people to dances, sometimes at Prosper, sometimes at Parkersburg, Lampa and Riverton.

Coal mines in the area, served by the riverine craft, were at Lampa Creek, Panter's Ranch, Riverton, and Coquille. Coal was loaded onto ships bound for San Francisco. Early schools in the area were located at Bandon, Prosper, Randolph, Parkersburg, Lampa Creek, Riverton, Coquille, Arago, Myrtle Point, and Beaver Slough. The Pearcy Hanly ranch, across from Lampa Creek, shipped milk to Bandon on the river steamers for many years. There were a number of sawmills, salmon canneries, and other concerns along the river, including a woolen mill and a match factory at Bandon, all of which seem to have been served by the river boats.[2]

Rivalry among steamboat owners

In 1914, Telegraph (96 tons), the largest sternwheeler ever to serve on the Coquille, was built for the Myrtle Point Transportation Co., and launched at Prosper. She was 103' long, 16.2' on the beam, and with 3.2' depth of hold. Her engines had 9" cylinders with 42" stroke, developing 250 horsepower (190 kW). She was built to outcompete the gasoline-powered Charm, which in turn had been placed on the river to beat the old Myrtle, a considerably less powerful boat than Telegraph. Competition was keen on the Coquille, as a few months after entering service, Telegraph somehow managed to run Charm up on the beach near a narrow spot in the river above Bandon.

Decline and end of riverine transport

The Ellingson yard built Relief in 1916, a 44-ton passenger and freight boat, which turned out to be the last new sternwheeler built on the Coquille River.[4]

In 1924, the gasoline launch Charm was taken off the Coquille River route, and sold to Shaver Transportation Company, who re-equipped her with a 90 horsepower (67 kW) diesel engine and put her in service as a log boom boat.[4]

The Myrtle Point Transportation Company owned the last riverboats on the Coquille. Stockholders of the company were Russell Panter, Walter Panter, William A. Panter, Paris Ward, and the Huffard brothers. Paris Ward owned a ranch near Bandon, and as the demand for riverine transport ended, the Panter family's boats were abandoned at the shore of his ranch, where by 1971 what remained of their hulls had filled up with sand.[2]

Links to photos of the steamboat graveyard at the Ward ranch, all taken on June 26, 1941, showing Myrtle, Telegraph, and Dora beached along the Coquille River near Bandon. Note that while the Salem Public Library Images do not identify these steamers, Marshall does in his book and provides a photograph of the same place, at a slightly different time:[5] Myrtle was apparently abandoned further inshore than Telegraph. This may explain why it appears that only two boats are abandoned on shore in photos taken from the water. Panter also identifies the three abandoned sternwheelers by name.[2]

List of vessels on Coquille River

Codes for this chart:

Vessel type codes are: Prop = propeller-driven; stern = sternwheel-driven; side = side-wheel driven; pddl = paddle-driven, sternwheel or sidewheel.
Disposition codes used in this list are:

  • A = Abandoned.
  • B = Burned
  • NC = Name change
  • O = Operational as of date given.
  • R = Rebuilt
  • T = Transferred (T-Col = Transferred to Columbia River service).
  • W = Wrecked by collision or striking ground;
  • X = Explosion of boiler.
  • Gr = gross tons; Reg = registered tons.

Vessels should not be assumed to have served continuously in the service area shown during the periods shown on this chart; transfer between service areas was common.

Steamboats on the Coquille River[6]
Name Registry # Type Year Built Where Built Builders Owners Gross Tons Length End year Disposition
ft m
Antelope[2] 106440 prop 1886 Marshfield Reed, O. 33 64 19.5
Ceres 125617 prop 1877 Coquille River Reed, Edward 20 51 15.5 1887 O
Charm[4][7][V 1] 211489 prop 1913 Prosper Herman Bros. 42 75 22.9 1928 T-Col
Coos 125397 side 1874 Empire City 58 58 17.7
Coquille[2][4][V 2] 205472 prop 1908 Coquille Lowe, Frank 63 77 23.5 T-Col
Dispatch (1890)[V 3] 157278 stern 1890 Bandon 158 91 27.7 1904 A
Dispatch (1903)[7][V 4] 200081 stern 1903 Parkersburg Trigg, Charles 250 111 33.8 1922 R
Dora'[V 5] 208076 stern 1910 Randolph Herman Bros. Panter, W.R. 47 64 19.5 1927 A
Echo 136887 stern 1901 Coquille Ellingson 76 66 20.1 1911 A
Favorite[7][V 6] 121136 prop 1900 Coquille Ellingson, A. 63 72 21.9 1917
Fawn 1909 O
J. Warren[V 7] 77511 prop 1901 Coquille 10 35 10.7
John Wildi[V 8] 20081 stern 1922 Parkersburg 173 112 34.1 1927 A
Klihyam[2][V 9] 205787 prop 1908 Bandon 125 89 27.1
Liberty[7] stern 1903 Bandon Herman Bros. 174 91 27.7 1918
Limit[8] prop 1909 O
Little Annie[V 10] 40202 stern 1877 Coquille Rackliff, Wm. E. 86 70 21.3 1890 W
Maple[2][8] 209300 prop 1911 Randolph 33 62 18.9
May[2] 1910
Mary[V 11] 90469 prop 1874 Coquille River 25
Mud Hen stern 1878 Coquille River 32 9.8 1892
Myrtle (1908) 205908 prop 1908 Prosper 78 73 22.3
Myrtle (1909)[4][V 12] 206743 stern 1909 Myrtle Point Nelson, Nels Myrtle Point Trans. Co. 36 57 17.4 1922 R
Myrtle (1922)[V 13] 222091 stern 1922 Prosper 36 60 18.3 1940 A
Myrtle W. (1909) 206743 stern 1909 Myrtle Point Nelson, Nels Myrtle Point Trans. Co. 36 57 17.4
Nellie and Cressy[8][V 14] prop 1903 Bandon 12 33 10.1
Norma[2] 1911
Pastime[8] stern 1900 Coquille 11 45 13.7 1901
Port of Bandon[2] 1938
Randolph[2][8] 208074 prop 1910 Randolph 42 60 18.3
Rainbow 209654 stern 1912 Marshfield Lowe, Frank Coos River Trans. Co. 75 64 19.5 1923 A
Relief (1916) 214253 stern 1916 Coquille Ellingson 44 64 19.5 1927
Reta 111226 prop 1899 Prosper Ellingson 26 53 16.2
Star 206127 prop 1909 Prosper Herman, Carl 12 40 12.2
Sunset 206414 prop 1909 Prosper Herman, Carl Fredrick Elmore Drane Line 12 40 12.2 1929 A
Telegraph[V 15] 212094 stern 1914 Prosper Herman, Carl Myrtle Point Trans. Co. 96 103 31.4 1940 A
Venus 161884 prop 1901 Coquille 15 39 11.9
Welcome 81707 stern 1900 Coquille Adams, S.H. 30 56 17.1 1907 W
Wilhelmina[8] 205444 prop 1908 North Bend 95 80 24.4
Wolverine[9] prop 1909 O

See also

Notes and sources

Vessel notes:
  1. Charm, a motor vessel, was badly damaged by collision with Telegraph 1914, and forced to beach near Bandon. Repaired and ran on Coquille River until sale to Shaver Transportation Co. in 1928.
  2. Sold to Shaver Transportation Co. transferred to Columbia R., date and ultimate disposition unknown.
  3. Disposition unknown, probably abandoned 1904.
  4. The 1903 Dispatch was rebuilt as the towboat John Wildi.
  5. According to Panter, Early River Traffic, Dora was abandoned in 1927 at the Paris Ward ranch.
  6. The Victor West gallery source says Favorite was built at Bandon. McCurdy, at 61, gives Coquille.
  7. Shown as a motor vessel on the 1911 register.
  8. Ex Dispatch (1903).
  9. Klihyam was a steam tug.
  10. According to Timmen, Blow for the Landing, at page 207, in 1890, Little Annie hit a snag and sank near Bandon. Timmen gives the place of construction as Myrtle Point, Oregon.
  11. Only information source for this steamer is the 1874 Annual Registry.
  12. Myrtle (1909) is reported by the McCurdy Marine History to have been rebuilt as freighter in 1922. Mills, Sternwheelers Up Columbia reports Myrtle was abandoned 1922, this may be a conflict in the sources, or possibly the hull of the 1909 Myrtle was abandoned, with the cabins and machinery being reused. This was a common practice.
  13. Panter, Early River Traffic states that by 1940, Myrtle (1922) was abandoned at the Paris Ward ranch.
  14. Nellie and Cressy also operated in Coos Bay.
  15. Telegraph was rebuilt and lengthened to 115' in about 1916. Panter, Early River Traffic, writes that by 1940 Telegraph was abandoned by 1940 at the Paris Ward ranch
Source notes
  1. Gibbs, James A., Oregon's Seacoast Lighthouses, at 49, Webb Research Group, Medford, OR 1992 ISBN 0-936738-57-X
  2. Panter, William, "Early River Traffic on the Coquille," Glancing Back (Pioneer Lore), at 16–19, Vol. I, No. 1, Coos-Curry Pioneer and Historical Association, 1971
  3. Timmen, Fritz, Blow for the Landing, at 199–201, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, ID 1973 ISBN 0-87004-221-1
  4. Newell, Gordon R., ed., H.W. McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest, at 48, 61, 71 89, 92, 139, 149, 162, 207, 241–42, 268, 327, 344, and 355, Superior Publishing Co., Seattle WA 1966
  5. Marshall, Don, Oregon Shipwrecks, at 220, Binford and Mort Publishing, Portland, OR 1984 ISBN 978-0-8323-0430-9
  6. Mills, Randall V., Sternwheelers up Columbia, pages 189–203, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE (1947; 2nd Printing 1977) ISBN 0-8032-5874-7
  7. Victor West Collection of the Coos Art Museum Archived 2008-08-28 at the Wayback Machine (accessed 2007-12-29)
  8. Motor vessel.
  9. U.S. Engineer Office, Portland, Oregon, Preliminary Examination of Coquille River, Oregon, June 14, 1909, United States Congressional serial set, Issue 5732, 61st Cong., 2nd Sess. (1909–1910), at page 60 (accessed 07-23-11).
  • Marshall, Don, Oregon Shipwrecks, Binford and Mort, Portland, OR 1984 ISBN 0-8323-0430-1
  • Mills, Randall V., Sternwheelers up Columbia – A Century of Steamboating in the Oregon Country, University of Nebraska, Lincoln NE 1947 (1977 printing by Bison Press) ISBN 0-8032-5874-7
  • Newell, Gordon R. ed., H.W. McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest, Superior Publishing, Seattle WA (1966)
  • Panter, William, "Early River Traffic on the Coquille," Glancing Back (Pioneer Lore), at 16–19, Vol. I, No. 1, Coos-Curry Pioneer and Historical Association (1971)
  • Timmen, Fritz, Blow for the Landing – A Hundred Years of Steam Navigation on the Waters of the West, Caxton Press, Caldwell, ID (1973) ISBN 0-87004-221-1
  • U.S. Engineer Office, Portland, Oregon, Preliminary Examination of Coquille River, Oregon, June 14, 1909, United States Congressional serial set, Issue 5732, 61st Cong., 2nd Sess. (1909–1910), p. 60
  • Wright, E. W. (1895). Lewis & Dryden's Marine History of the Pacific Northwest. Portland, Oregon: Lewis & Dryden Printing Company.
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