In June 1834, a little steamboat called the Republican advertised that it would leave the wharf at Lafayette and go up the Wabash to Logansport. The captain of the Republican was Capt. Towe.
Several area residents decided this would make a great pleasure trip. This would be a pioneer voyage for the Republican to Logansport. No steamboat had ever gone that far up the Wabash. In fact, a cash prize of several hundred dollars awaited the first steamboat captain who could reach Logansport.
On board were two Logansport merchants, Col. Pollard and Job B. Eldridge, who had freight on the Republican. These gentlemen were also anxious to see just what kind of journey this would be and if they and other merchants of Logansport could send and receive freight instead of relying on the antiquated horse and wagon method, which was at that time a difficult task as there were few roads to move merchandise.
Logansport is situated at the confluence of the Wabash and Eel rivers. At the appointed hour, the Republican, under a good head of steam, “walked the waters like a thing of life.” Things went fairly well and the craft soon passed the mouths of the Wild Cat and Tippecanoe, and all aboard were anticipating a quick and successful trip.
Soon after passing the Pittsburg landing near Delphi, the steamboat became stuck fast upon a sandbar, which detained the craft for several hours. In continuing the voyage, this same thing happened again and again. It seemed around every bend another obstruction was met every few miles.
These were overcome with much difficulty, labor and further delay. At each successive sandbar, most of the boat’s crew and many of the passengers were put into the water to lift the boat or they would go ashore with a large rope to pull the craft from sandbars. As night fell, the boat was still stuck fast on the sandbar. Everyone on board was exhausted and fell asleep on the steamboat.
In the morning, everyone on the boat was again challenged with getting the boat free. This second day was spent in a similar manner as it had been the previous day. They attempted to lift the boat off the sandbar using the capstan.
Finally, they managed to free the boat. During the course of the day they managed to move the boat to just short of Georgetown in Carroll County. Again, an almost impossible situation now faced the group. The Wabash River at this point had extensive rapids.
At this stage in the journey, they were just seven miles from Logansport. Extraordinary efforts were made to ascend the rapids. The crew and passengers spent hour upon hour in chin deep water trying to free the boat.
Several days and nights were spent in fruitless efforts but failed to get past this point on the Wabash. Nothing they did allowed them to continue on their journey, nor could they get the steamboat to head downstream.
In a word, they were stuck.
Interestingly enough, they did have company. The group was visited by several groups of Miami and Pottawatomi Native Americans of all ages and sexes who sat for hours on the bank admiring the boat, which they greatly desired to see in motion, under a full head of steam.
After four days and nights with ineffectual efforts to proceed, the boat was abandoned with the exception of the captain and part of the crew.
About two weeks later, a dozen teams of oxen were brought down from Logansport and the Republican was drug over the ripples and sandbars to Logansport.
Yes, a steamboat had made it to Logansport on July 4, 1834. Towe had the dubious honor of being of the first steamboat commander to make it to Logansport.
At the end of the day, poor old Capt. Towe was the big loser. While the Republican was docked at the confluence of the Eel River, Towe’s vessel began to take on water. The Republican was doomed and would sink to the bottom of the Wabash.
It should be noted that the drive time by car from Lafayette to Logansport today via the Hoosier Heartland Highway is about 45 minutes. This puts in context just how far we have come in modern-day travel.
A second account of steamboat travel on the Wabash was in a letter written by John G. Kerr on April 19, 1839, that was sent to his brother Joseph at Crawfordsville. The Kerr family were early settlers in White County.
The family arrived about 1830, four years before White County was formed. John G. Kerr was one of several passengers on a steamboat cruise from Lafayette to Delphi and a return trip. The following letter gives an account of the voyage:
“We left Lafayette about six o’clock. The evening being fine and the boat running well, all seemed to bid fair for a pleasant ride, had it not been for some passengers who keep their spirits up and began to pour the spirits down.
”As we were seating ourselves at the supper table, a sudden jar was felt and the boat began to move down stream. Some of the hands threw out the anchor and stopped it. When they explored the reason why the steamboat lost power, they found that the piston rod of the engine had broken which meant they would have to go back to Lafayette get it mended.
”They assumed that if they returned that night they could get it mended the next day. So they took the skiff and started back, two or three passengers going with them, and there we were left in the middle of the river, but the all-seeing eye was upon us and protected us from harm.
”Morning at length dawned upon us with its cheering light to gladden our hearts. By this time there were more of our numbers had concluded to leave the boat and go back home by land, but there was no way to get to shore. So, they were on the lookout for help. They did not have to wait long before a man came by and they hailed him, and asked to go the ferry and get a skiff for them, which he did and left it with us until the skiff returned from Lafayette.
”So, now we could go ashore when we pleased. Some of the ladies and gentlemen went to some people they knew who lived nearby. Some of the gentlemen to pass away the time chose sides and played games with a ball. The skiff at length arrived about eleven o’clock and brought word that the engine would be all right in two or three hours, we waited until that time had expired and still we waited.
”We expected at every hour and into the night but found our steamboat was still standing in the river. The prairie was on fire on the east side of the river made considerable smoke and consequently made our situation more disagreeable than ever.
”At last they arrived with the engine, but the boat did not get started until two o’clock and moved very slowly until we got to Americus. Apparently some part in the engine was too weak to bear much steam. While unloading at Americus, they had the engine repaired and most of the passengers took a walk into the town to see the sights. As the boat did not stop long we did not have much time to look around. The bell rang and we once more got aboard to try our luck on the river.
”The ole Wabash had fallen considerably and the pilot not knowing the channel, ran aground several times before getting to the Pittsburg dock at Delphi. We landed there about two o’clock and while they were unloading their freight we took a walk up to Delphi. Delphi is about one mile from the river on the east side. It is quite a flourishing little town but is at a disadvantage by not being located closer to the river.
”The boat return trip did not leave until about sundown before starting downstream at a considerably faster rate than they had come up. They had gone about three miles when the vessel again became stuck on a sandbar. This time the boat swung around a hundred and eighty degrees. The captain and hands succeeded in getting the boat loose about ten o’clock. The hands then cabled the boat to a tree and waited until morning when we started again and had a very pleasant ride from there down to Lafayette. We arrived at Lafayette about nine o’clock Thursday, and for one I was very well pleased to get home.”
One thing is for sure: I am glad I am living in a more modern transportation age. How about you?