Elk (sternwheeler 1857)

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Name: Elk (sternwheel steamboat)
Route: Yamhill and upper Willamette rivers[1]
Launched: 1857, at Canemah, Oregon[2][3]
Notes: Destroyed in boiler explosion in 1857 or 1861.
Type: shallow draft inland passenger/freighter
Tonnage: 60 gross[4]
Installed power: twin steam engines, horizontally mounted, 10.5 in (26.7 cm) bore x 48 in (121.9 cm) stroke[2]
Propulsion: sternwheel[3]

Elk was a sternwheel steamboat that ran on the Willamette River beginning in 1857. The boat is chiefly remembered for its destruction by a boiler explosion in which by good fortune no one was seriously hurt. A folklore tale later arose about this disaster.

Construction, owners, and loss

Elk was built in 1857 at Canemah, Oregon by Capt. Chris Sweitzer (d.1860), François X. Matthieu[2], George A. Pease, and John Marshall.[1] The boat was a small vessel intended for the Yamhill River trade.[1] Theodore Wygant was the Elk 's agent in Portland, Oregon.[5]

In November[6] of either 1857[3] or 1861[2], Elk was navigating on the Willamette River, near Davidson's Landing, which was about one mile below the mouth of the Yamhill River when the vessel was destroyed by a boiler explosion. Officers on board Elk at the time were George Jerome (1823-1886), captain, William Smith, engineer, and Sebastian "Bas" Miller, pilot. The entire upper works of the vessel disintegrated.[6] Although there were some injuries, no one was killed.[3]


File:George Jerome.jpg
George Jerome, steamboat captain.

It has been recorded that Captain Jerome told a story, which passed into folklore that as a result of the explosion, was blown so high into the air, that he could look down the ship's chimney, also flying through the air, and see pilot Bas Miller lying dazed on the river bank where the explosion had left him.[3] Captain Jerome landed in a cottonwood tree.[7] It was said that for twenty years afterwards pilots and crew on steamboats on the river pointed out this particular tree to passengers, but according to Professor Mills, Captain Jerome never did so, in the interest of maintaining his dignity.[3]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Wright, ed., Lewis & Dryden Marine History, at 64-65.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Century of Paddlewheelers, at 12.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Mills, Sternwheelers up Columbia, at 117, 132, and 193.
  4. A measure of volume, not of weight, theoretically equal to 100 cubic feet. Affleck, Century of Paddlewheelers, at 1.
  5. Corning, Willamette Landings, at 122 and 183.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Marshall, Oregon Shipwrecks, at 205.
  7. Timmen, Blow for the Landing, at 70-71.


  • Affleck, Edward L., A Century of Paddlewheelers in the Pacific Northwest, the Yukon, and Alaska, Alexander Nicolls Press, Vancouver, BC 2000 ISBN 0-920034-08-X
  • Corning, Howard McKinley, Willamette Landings—Ghost Towns of the River, Oregon Historical Society, Portland, Oregon (2nd Ed. 1973) ISBN 0-87595-042-6
  • Marshall, Don, Oregon Shipwrecks, Binford & Mort, Portland, OR 1984 ISBN 0-8323-0430-1
  • Mills, Randall V., Sternwheelers up the Columbia—A Century of Steamboating in the Oregon Country, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE (1977 reprint of 1947 edition) ISBN 0-8032-5874-7
  • * Timmen, Fritz, Blow for the Landing—A Hundred Years of Steam Navigation on the Waters of the West, Caxton Press, Caldwell, ID 1973 ISBN 0-87004-221-1
  • Wright, E.W., ed., Lewis & Dryden 's Marine History of the Northwest, Lewis & Dryden Printing Co., Portland, OR 1895, available on-line at the Washington Secretary of State Historical Section

Further reading

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
[[Commons: Category:Steamboats of the Willamette River

| Steamboats of the Willamette River

  • Faber, Jim, Steamer's Wake—Voyaging down the old marine highways of Puget Sound, British Columbia, and the Columbia River, Enetai Press, Seattle, WA 1985 ISBN 0-9615811-0-7
  • Newell, Gordon R., and Williamson, Joe, Pacific Steamboats Bonanza Press, New York, NY 1958