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Grande Dame of the Yellowstone

The steamboat Josephine on the upper Missouri, 1880s
The sternwheel steamboat Josephine on the upper Missouri River in the 1880s.

he Josephine was built in 1873 at Freedom, Pennsylvania, a few miles down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh, to the specifications of the experienced Missouri River captain, Grant Marsh. She measured 178 feet from stem to stern, with a beam of 31 feet and a six-foot hold. Powered by two engines and two boilers, she had a capacity of 300 tons, though she drew only about a foot of water. The spars at the bow were used in winching the her over shoals when the water was low. Another technique was "grasshoppering," in which long sturdy poles were driven into the river bottom, and ropes with block and tackle were used to raise and drag the boat forward, foot by foot.

She spent her senior years on the lower Missouri, clearing snags for the Corps of Engineers. She sank after striking an ice floe in 1907; her boilers and machinery were salvaged and shipped to the Yukon River.1

The Josephine at Fort Benton, 1880s
The Josephine at Fort Benton, Montana, in the 1880s.

Notice the firewood stacked on the main deck. By the end of the steamboat era professional woodcutters "woodhawks" had practically stripped the banks of the Missouri and its navigable tributaries of all cottonwood trees. The coal that Clark had seen in the banks of the Yellowstone River wouldn't burn hot enough for steamboat boilers.

--Joseph Mussulman

1. John G. MacDonald, "History of Navigation on the Yellowstone River" (master's thesis, Montana State University, 1950).

Riverine Superhighway
Fairest Portion

From Discovering Lewis & Clark ®, http://www.lewis-clark.org © 1998-2014
by The Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, Washburn, North Dakota.
Journal excerpts are from The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, edited by Gary E. Moulton
13 vols. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983-2001)