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Steamboat Yellow Stone


The steamboat Yellow Stone reached Fort Tecumseh on this day in 1832, as part of the Fort Union expedition led by Pierre Chouteau, Jr. The expedition was sent by the American Fur Company in hopes of reaching Fort Union along the Missouri River. No steamboat had completed the feat before, the boats’ hulls too deep to manuever around the Missouri’s unpredictable sand bars and cottonwood snags.

In 1830, Chouteau went to Kentucky at the request of John Jacob Astor, owner of the American Fur Company. His orders were to have a steamboat constructed that would be able to travel up the Missouri all the way to the company’s most northern trading post, Fort Union. The steamboat Yellow Stone became the product of this venture. She looked very much like any other steamboat of the time: “She was 120 feet long, 20 feet abeam, and drew about 4 feet of water when substantially loaded. Her two side wheels, 18 feet in diameter, were driven by a powerful single-cylinder engine fed by steam from three boilers. It was not her appearance but rather her destination that got the attention of St. Louis businessmen. No more than two steamboats had gone as far up the Missouri as the mouth of the Platte.” In 1831, Chouteau led an expedition of men from St. Louis up the Missouri. This ill-fated expedition only made it as far as Fort Tecumseh, near present-day Pierre, South Dakota. After this disappointment, Chouteau vowed to try again the following year. The company’s second expedition proved much more fortuitous. This time, when the steamboat neared Fort Tecumseh, Chouteau sent word to the fort that the boat had bottomed out on a sand bar. Men from the fort came to their aid and unloaded many of the ship’s supplies. After this, the much-lighter Yellow Stone was able to ride much higher in the water, avoiding potential snags and hazards. In mid-June, the boat steamed into Fort Union, becoming the first steamboat to do so.

Although the Yellow Stone was in operation for only six years, it played several important roles in history. Besides traveling the difficult waters of the Upper Missouri, the steamboat is famous for transporting volunteers and munitions during the Texas Revolution. In 1836, the boat ferried Sam Houston’s army across the flooding Brazos River, transported President David Burnet to negotiate with Santa Anna in Buffalo Bayou, and also transported the body of Stephen F. Austen to his burial place at Peach Point Plantation.





--Jayme L. Job