April 8, 2010
Still gripped by the lore of the Colorado steamboats. This is one of the blessings of Attention Deficit Disorder. I wake up excited to learn more. Unlike George Eastman, the unmoved mover of Kodak, I have never awakened in the morning and said, "I have nothing to live for."
I never realized how much of the world I grew up in (Mohave County, Arizona) was developed from the opening of the river to steamboat access in the 1860s. Fort Mojave (today spelled Mohave, but I much prefer the Spanish spelling), Beale's Crossing and Beale's Springs, Hardyville, Wauba Yuma Mining District, the McCrackin Mine, Signal, Cerbat, Mineral Park and Chloride were all developed because of steamboat shipping, both in and out of the district.
One district I was not aware of was the Eldorado Canyon Mining Co. which was on the Nevada side and north of Searchlight, but evidently it was a huge deal. And, by the way, Searchlight got its name from the last steamboat on the lower Colorado River.
Here's is another view of the Gila chugging up the muddy Colorado near Liverpool Landing:
The Gila was launched in January of 1873 (so she was only a year old when Martha Summeryhayes rode the Big Red River), and was 149 feet long, with a 31-foot beam, a depth of 3.5 feet, and drew only 16.5 inches of water. The book I'm culling this from, "Steamboats On The Colorado River: 1852—1916" by Richard E. Lingenfelter, doesn't have the horsepower of the Gila, but it's interesting that two other steamboats that preceded her had steam engines that produced 50-75 horsepower, which seems awful weak to carry 50 tons of freight, but they did.
The shipping rate was about $50 per ton, which also seems low, but the locals in the 1860s considered this extremely high, and the owners of the steamboat company were raking in about $250,000 a year.
As soon as the railroads arrived and crossed the river, in Yuma in 1879 and in Needles in 1889, the steamboats were doomed and the owners sold out to the railroads, who immediately cut the pay of deckhands and started charging $5 for dog passage (before they had been free). Sound familiar?
Meanwhile, here's a scratchboard of a bandido I whipped out this morning:
It's from a movie still of Robert Mitchum in The Wonderful Country, but for our purposes we'll call him "Billy Bandido."
"Colorado River have big problem: too thick to drink, too thin to plow."
—Levi Levi, chief of the Hualapais
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