Unio (sternwheeler)

Unio was a small sternwheel-driven steamboat which operated on the Willamette and Yamhill rivers from 1861 to 1869. This vessel is primarily remembered for its having been named Unio when built in 1861, in the first year of the American Civil War, and then having the name completed, to Union, by a new, staunchly pro-Union owner, James D. Miller. Union appears to have sunk in 1869, been salvaged, and then dismantled, with the machinery going to a new steamer then being built for service on the Umpqua River.

Advertisement for steamer Union ex Unio, February 22, 1865
Name: Unio, later, Union
Owner: John T. Apperson, James D. Miller, People’s Transportation Co.
Route: Willamette and Yamhill rivers
Builder: J.T. Apperson
Launched: October 1865, at Canemah, OR
In service: 1861
Out of service: 1869
Identification: U.S. 25165
Fate: Sunk on Yamhill River near Lafayette, OR, salvaged, dismantled.
Notes: Boiler and engines to a new steamer built for Umpqua River service.
General characteristics
Type: inland steamship
Tonnage: 111.59
Length: 96 ft (29.3 m), and after reconstruction, 191 ft (58.2 m)
Beam: 16 ft (4.9 m)
Draft: about 4 ft (1 m) when loaded
Decks: three (freight, passenger, boat)
Installed power: twin steam engines, single cylinder, 9-inch bore, 48-inch stroke
Propulsion: sternwheel


The steamer Unio was built at Canemah, Oregon by Capt. John T. Apperson, and launched on October 19, 1861.[1][2][3] With the American Civil War in progress, Apperson left off the final “n” on the name.[1] Unio was placed on the Yamhill River route from Oregon City.[1]

Unio was small, with dimensions reported to have been 96 feet long, probably exclusive of the fantail, and 16 foot beam (width).[1] The boat drew about 4 feet of water when loaded.[2] The steamer was driven by two engines, each with a 9 inch bore and a 48 inch stroke.[2] Unio was measured at 111.59 tons for the United States merchant vessel registry.[3] The official merchant vessel registry number was 25165.[3]

Upon launch, Unio was reported to be capable of running up the Willamette River to Salem and further in low water, and a prosperous business was anticipated for the steamer, should the state fair be held in Salem the next year.[4]

Regular service

Unio was expected to make its first trip from Canemah to Lafayette on Saturday, November 23, 1861.[5]

By early December 1861, Unio was making regular trips from Canemah to Lafayette, under Captain Apperson.[6]

Capt. James D. Miller bought Unio from Captain Apperson in December 1861, after he had returned from work on mines along the Snake River.[2][7] It was Miller who added the final “n” and thereafter the vessel became known as the Union.[1] The name change occurred prior to April 22, 1862, when Miller was reported to be the captain of the boat, and Apperson the clerk.[8]

On Friday, October 3, 1862, Union was the first boat of the season to arrive at Salem, coming down river from Oregon City.[9] The steamer returned the next morning with passengers bound for the Oregon State Fair.[9]

Except for a short time in 1862, when he served as commander on the Mountain Buck and the Julia, Captain Miller operated the Union until 1865 when he sold it to the Willamette Steam Navigation Company, of which J.T. Apperson was the secretary.[2] The next year the boat was sold to the People's Transportation Company.[2]

In December 1866, Union was owned by the People’s Transportation Company, of which Asa Alfred McCully (1818-1886) was president.[10] Under the winter shipping arrangements of the company, the steamer Alert departed Portland daily at 7:00 a.m., for Oregon City, where it connected with steamers running to points on the upper Willamette River, upstream from Willamette Falls.[10] The Reliance ran on Mondays and Thursdays to Corvallis, Oregon; the Fannie Patton ran to the same city on Tuesdays and Fridays; the Active ran every Wednesday for Harrisburg, Lancaster, and Eugene; and Union ran on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for Dayton and Lafayette on the Yamhill River.[10]

In 1867 and 1868, Captain George Jerome was in charge of Union.[2]

In June 1868, officers of Union included Capt. J.T. Apperson, engineer Edward Fellows, and steward Allen.[11][2]


On Tuesday, January 19, 1869, Union was sunk in the Lafayette rapid on the Dayton River.[12] Initial reports of the sinking could provide no information as to the extent of any damage to the boat.[12] In late September 1869, Josiah B. Leed (1829-1889) doing business as J.B. Leeds & Company bought the boiler and engines of the Union to be installed on a steamer, later to be named Swan, being built for use on the Umpqua River.[13][14][15]

Nicholas Haun (also seen spelled Hann, Hahn, and Horn), formerly of the Willamette Steam Navigation Company, was an owner of the new steamer.[13] Swan, a similar sized sternwheeler, was built by Hiram Doncaster (b.1838) across the Umpqua river from Gardiner, Oregon.[14] With Haun in command, Swan became the first and only steamboat to reach Roseburg, Oregon on the Umpqua river, a journey of 100 miles which took 11 days.[14][15]



  • Corning, Howard McKinley (1973). Willamette Landings -- Ghost Towns of the River (2nd ed.). Portland, OR: Oregon Historical Society. ISBN 0875950426.
  • Wright, E.W., ed. (1895). Lewis & Dryden's Marine History of the Pacific Northwest. Portland, OR: Lewis and Dryden Printing Co. LCCN 28001147.

On-line newspaper collections


  1. "Early Steamboats", Oregon City Courier, 15 (35), p. 4 col. 3., Jan 14, 1898
  2. Wright, E.W., ed. (1895). Lewis & Dryden's Marine History of the Pacific Northwest. Portland, OR: Lewis and Dryden Printing Co. pp. 28, 102, 135. LCCN 28001147.
  3. U.S. Treasury Dept, Statistics Bureau (1869). Annual List of Merchant Vessels (FY end Jun 30, 1868). 1. Wash. DC: GPO. p. 239.
  4. "It is said the Unio can run …", Morning Oregonian, Henry L. Pittock, 1 (231), p. 2 col. 3.
  5. "It is expected that the Unio, Capt. Apperson …", Morning Oregonian, Henry L. Pittock, 1 (284), p. 3 col. 1., Nov 21, 1861
  6. "The Unio, Capt. Apperson, is now making regular trips …", Morning Oregonian, Henry L. Pittock, 1 (293), p. 2 col. 3., Dec 3, 1861
  7. "Capt. James Miller is now Captain of the Unio …", Morning Oregonian, Henry L. Pittock, 1 (319), p. 5 col. 3., Dec 23, 1861
  8. "Half a Century Ago … The name of the steamer Unio …", Morning Oregonian, 52 (16, 040), p. 8 col. 7., Apr 22, 1912
  9. "The steamer Union, from Oregon City …", The State Republican, Eugene,OR: J. Newton Gale, 1 (39), p. 2 col. 5., Oct 11, 1862
  10. "People's Transportation Company — Winter Arrangement", Oregon City Enterprise (advertisement), D.C. Ireland, 1 (8), p. 2 col. 7., Dec 15, 1866
  11. "Town and County … Yamhill Lodge, No. 20", Oregon City Enterprise, D.C. Ireland, 2 (35), p. 3 col. 1., Jun 20, 1868
  12. "Town and County … The Steamer Union was sunk …", Weekly Enterprise, Oregon City, OR: D.C. Ireland, 3 (11), p. 3 col. 1., Jan 23, 1869
  13. "Town and County … Navigation of the Umpqua", Weekly Enterprise, 3 (47), p. 3 col. 1., Oct 2, 1869
  14. Moser, Stephen A. (May 1976). Umpqua River Navigability Study. Salem, OR: State of Oregon, Division of State Lands. pp. 43–45.
  15. Wright, E.W., ed. (1895). "IX. Remarkable Trip of the "Shoshone", Willamette and Columbia Transportation Enterprises". Lewis & Dryden's Marine History of the Pacific Northwest. Portland, OR: Lewis and Dryden Printing Co. p. 185. LCCN 28001147.
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