In 1832, the Yellow Stone set a record voyage up the Missouri River by reaching Fort Union, on the border of present-day Montana and North Dakota.
In 1837, the St. Peters spread a deadly wave of smallpox as it traveled the Missouri River. The epidemic all but destroyed the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara people.
The first opinion of the Dakota Territorial Supreme Court, in 1867, concerned whether the seizure of a steamboat had been proper. The crime involved was “introducing into the Indian country spirituous and intoxicating liquors.”
In 1876, the Far West carried wounded soldiers and the news of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s annihilation to Bismarck in record time. Bismarck Tribune editor Clement Lounsberry wrote lengthy dispatches about the episode for the New York Herald that took over 22 hours to transmit by telegraph, costing more than $3,000.
In 1892, the Rosebud transported 170 quartzite monuments upriver from Pierre, which would mark the borderline between North and South Dakota west of the Missouri River. Many of those pink-colored monuments still stand today.
A remnant of the steamboat era stands over the Yellowstone River, near Cartwright, North Dakota: the Fairview Lift Bridge. The bridge was completed in 1913. Its middle section could be raised and lowered to allow steamboats to pass. But the lift section was only raised once, for a test. Railroads had made steamboats obsolete. For many years, the bridge served both trains and automobiles. Today the Fairview Lift Bridge is a walking path that leads to the abandoned Cartwright Tunnel.
Steamboat travel wasn’t easy. The boats feasted on wood for fuel. And the Missouri River’s muddy waters posed dangers such as sandbars and other snags. On this date in 1887, the Eclipse left Bismarck on its way upriver to Fort Benton in Montana Territory. But the next day the boat struck a rock near Fort Berthold and broke a hole in her hull. Her stern sank in 12 feet of water, with her bow in the shallows. Eighteen inches of water filled the hold. The cargo was valued at $35,000. It was off loaded to shore, and another steamboat picked it up. But nearly $2,000 worth was lost. The Eclipse would eventually be raised and repaired and returned to Bismarck.
Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura
46 N.W. 503, 1 Dakota 1
Bennett, G.A. (1879). Reports of cases argued and determined in the supreme court of the territory of Dakota, from its organization to and including the December term, 1877. Bowen & Kingsbury, Law Publishers: Yankton, Dakota
Fenn, E.A. (2014). Encounters at the heart of the world: A history of the Mandan people. Hill and Wang: New York, NY
Iseminger, G.L. (2007). The quartzite border: Surveying and marking the North Dakota-South Dakota boundary 1891-1892 (2nd ed.). The Center for Western Studies: Sioux Falls, SD
Potter, T. (2017). Steamboats in Dakota Territory: Transforming the Northern Plains. The History Press: Charleston, SC
Bismarck Weekly Tribune. 1887, May 13. Page 1
Sioux City Journal. 1887, May 13. Page 4
The River Press. 1887, May 18. Page 1
Great Falls Weekly Tribune. 1887, May 21. Page 4
Bismarck Weekly Tribune. 1887, June 24. Page 6
St. Louis Globe-Democrat. 1887, July 12. Page 2