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August 31: A Ship Called "It"

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Steamboats and ships were an important means of transportation in early years, and newspapers frequently reported on the shipping activity. In 1911, Williston papers published a number of interesting reports. For example, there was a note about R. C. Foster leaving to take charge of a two-deck steamer called the Henrietta, which would be making regular trips from Bakers’ Ferry to Williston with passengers and freight.

Another report mentioned that Col. Charles Brewer, “the able editor of the Fargo Forum,” was going to travel by houseboat with friends to the Gulf of Mexico, fishing and hunting “all the way down.” Yet another article mentioned a government steamboat called The Mandan, which was making “an official trip on the river” to make improvements. Unfortunately, when the ship blew her whistle, people in Williston thought it was a fire alarm and went “scurrying for the hose house” before they realized all was well.

Quirkiest of all these reports came on this date, when the Williston Graphic reported on a ship anchored at the G. N. dock. The ship was moored for several days, awaiting repair for a broken clutch.

This ship was called by a simple name: “It.”

The “It” was thirty feet long, powered by an eight-horse gasoline engine, and propelled by a double stern wheel. It had a library, but the Graphic noted “that there [are] but three novels in the collection.” The boat was owned by two brothers, George and Lewis Smith, who were captain and crew. The two were old time lake sailors described as a pair of interesting characters to talk with. When they were asked about the name of their ship, they replied that they picked the shortest name possible to save time and paint. George, the elder of the two, was over 70, and was keeping the ship’s log for an ambitious trip … from Fort Benton, in present day Montana, all the way to New Orleans. Fort Benton was the most upstream navigable port on the Mississippi River System, and considered "the world’s innermost port."

And why were they taking this journey? According to the report, “The cruise of the It is for pleasure only, the rounding out of lives of work and adventure.”

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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