How did people get around on the coast before roads and rail networks? By water and inland steamboats.

The term ‘steamboat’ refers to smaller, steam-powered boats that often worked the lakes and rivers. River steamboats had flat bottoms and rear engines, and were particularly effective in still waters.

Larger ocean-going steam powered boats were called steamships, stearnwheelers, or propeller boats. These larger ships were also used for larger rivers like the Columbia.

Royalty free shipwreck from

Bays and Rivers

Many coastal towns have relatively shallow protected bays with access to rivers. These bays were perfect for small steamboat services such as delivering mail, parcels, products, and people.

Smaller ships were quite numerous in many communities and often referred to as the “mosquito fleet.”

Rogue River

For instance, in mid 1800s R.D. Hume, a pioneering businessman, established a fish cannery and several other businesses in southern Oregon. In 1881, he built a stem schooner, the Mary D. Hume, to support his business endeavors and conducted steamboat operations on the Rogue River as late as 1939.  

Hume continued his interest in steamboats and built more during his lifetime. In 1908, he commissioned two small gasoline-powered schooners, the Enterprise and Osprey which were built on the Coquille River.

In 1938, the Mary D. Hume was still operating on the Rogue River. She was considered to be the oldest commercial vessel still in service at that time.

Coquille River

Many communities thrived with the steamboat trade, labor requirements, building, and maintenance. The Coquille River was a major trade route between Bandon and the town of Coquille and supported a number of sawmills, canneries, a woolen mill, and match factory. Other products often transported included coal and milk.

Once the two jetties built at the mouth of the Coquille River were complete, the City of Bandon bustled economically. These jetties facilitated ocean-going ships to dock at Bandon. From 1905 to 1910, Bandon expanded to have five sawmills, two shipyards, and a population of 1,800.

Coos Bay

Coos Bay had a similar story. In 1869, mule-hauled portages were created at Coos Bay (on the southern arm) and at the Beaver Slough (north-extending branch of the Coquille River) to support the steamboat traffic.

In 1873, two steamboat captains began steamboat operations on Coos Bay. These two captains had previously worked on the Columbia River and understood the difficulties of river bar crossings.

The mule-portages were replaced in 1874 with a steam portage railroad and railroad services grew. These connections created a convenient link between steamboat and rail operations in Coos Bay and Coquille.

Mosquito fleet operations on the Coquille and Coos Bay continued up to the 1930s. A small gasoline-propeller ship, Welcome, built in 1919 continued running up the Marshfield to Allegany until 1948.

‘Mosquito’ fleet wrecks in the sunset(Royalty free


Gardiner, near Reedsport built several river steamers and continues that key role today. In 1870, Gardiner merchants were eager to demonstrate the navigability of the Umpqua River.

Steamboat operations on the Umpqua were pursued by Captain Godfrey Seymore who developed a small fleet of ships including one named ‘Swan.’ The Swan was a unique ship and the only steamboat to travel the Umpqua to Roseburg.

It took the Swan 11 days to get to Roseburg which is 85 miles from the mouth of the Umpqua River. No other steamboat ever made this trip. The trip was not in vain. It helped persuade Congress to allocate monies to clear the Umpqua channel and set the stage for a greater future.


By 1849 there was a dramatic transition in boat building and use. Builders moved from wood to metal, from small to large, from slow to fast, to take advantage of ocean trade routes and tourism.

As steamboat services came to a close, several ships were beached along the coast, rivers and towns. The Mary D. Hume lies on the shore at Gold Beach and is on the National Register of Historic Places.  At least three steamers were beached near Bandon, and the steam ferry Roosevelt was photographed abandoned near Marshfield in 1941.

There are many stories about steamboats on the Oregon Coast. To learn more about them, visit this list of references and check their references for more stories, lists of vessels, and history.

Royalty free

–Wikipedia (… Steamboats of the Oregon Coast (…Steamboats_of_the_Oregon_Coast), Steamboats of Coquille River (…Steamboats_of_the_Coquille_River), Columbia River (…Columbia_River)
–Wikipedia, Steamboats (

Some people just live large. Jedediah Smith was one of those people.

He had three ambitions which were to:

Serve his God 
Provide for his family, and
Become a great American Explorer

He succeeded at all three and much more. He lived large. He changed Oregon.

No roads, no path. (Image Royalty free

You might wonder how a person, who lived back in the 1800’s, might have impacted our lives today. Let me tell you a short story about Jedediah Smith.

Oregon didn’t achieve Statehood until 1859, and we might not have if it wasn’t for explorers like Jedediah Smith. Smith was one of the first, and maybe the most important, trapper/explorer back in the 1820s.

Hearing the stories

He was born in 1799 and at 13 worked as a clerk on a Lake Erie freighter learning the basics of business. Smith undoubtedly had heard the tall tales the trappers brought back from their trips.

Jedediah most likely did what every normal 13-year-old would do… hang on every word and develop an intense interest in wilderness trade and nature. This interest was kindled even further by friend of the family Dr. Titus G. V. Simons, a pioneer medical doctor.

According to legend, Dr. Simons gave Smith a copy of Lewis and Clark’s journal from their 1804-1806 expedition to the Pacific. Smith carried this journal throughout his travels to the American west.

The Lewis and Clark journal demonstrated what Smith needed to do to be a successful explorer. He needed to report what he saw, draw maps, write letters, and create a journal of his own.  

As it turns out, Smith’s journals, maps, and letters were key to kindling interest in the new Oregon Country. A place few Caucasians had ever traveled to, that almost fell into the hands of the British.  

Shared occupation

The Treaty of 1818 allowed joint occupation of the Oregon Country between Britain and the United States. The region was dominated by the British’s Hudson Bay Company (HBC) at Ft. Vancouver on the Columbia River.

At this time, the British Chief Factor at HBC was responsible for one-quarter of the North American continent. Smith and company represented the American contingency.

From 1823 to 1828, Smith traveled extensively between South Pass in Wyoming to the Oregon Country, and twice south into Mexican California and back.

There was a lot of unrest on the west coast and conflicts between explorers, British and American, and Native Americans in 1826.  Smith noted that beaver were becoming scarce in the region.

The 1828 trip from California to Oregon was fraught with escalating mistrust and violence between the explorers and Native Americans. Coastal tribes closely monitored the arrival of all newcomers to their region and were very wary of visitors. Violence was common.

The Umpqua Massacre

The story goes that Smith and company camped on the Umpqua River. Smith and three others left camp to scout the trail north.

A scuffle began when one of the Natives stole an axe from the Smith camp. Some of Smith’s party treated the Umpqua very harshly to get the axe back.

The violence erupted in the early morning of July 13. Coquille (Na-so-mah) tribesmen murdered the remaining 15 members of Smith’s group, and stole furs, horses, and gear.    

Smith learned of the massacre and headed north to the HBC in Fort Vancouver for shelter and respite. In the fall, he mounted a rescue mission and was able to bury the dead, and recover 700 beaver skins, 39 horses, and journals.

In gratitude, Smith presented the HBC with a copy of his master map of the west which he had created over the years. (NOTE: This map was rediscovered in 1953 and subsequently published a year later.)

Smith was well connected and authored many letters describing his travels and observations. In 1830, Smith wrote then Secretary of War John Eaton of his concerns that the British were alienating the indigenous people against the Americans. He also felt that the British were attempting to establish a permanent settlement in the Oregon Country.  

The last trip

Smith returned to St. Louis with hopes of drafting detailed maps and going into the mercantile business. That goal was not to be. An associate convinced him to take a load of supplies to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The company did not take adequate water supplies from St. Louis and was not able to find water along the way. Scouts were sent out in search of water each day.

Smith was scouting for water on May 27, 1831 when he was killed by a Comanche hunting party. He was 32 years old.

The story is not over

In 1836, President Andrew Jackson launched a Federally funded expedition. The expeditions goals were to explore the Pacific Northwest and lay claim on the Oregon Country previously explored by Smith.

This is not a story about how a brave explorer survived three massacres and a horrific grizzly bear attack or of how he explored and mapped much of the Rocky Mountains, American Southwest, American West Coast, or discovered the first east-west crossing of the Great Basin Desert. It is about the key role that Smith played in the development of Oregon as a State.

Without his work documenting and mapping Oregon we all might be drinking British tea right now. Would Oregon have become a State without the fur trade and emigration routes? Would there have been an Oregon Trail without Smith’s work describing the South Pass?

Tipping the balance of power

Jedediah Smith almost singularly tipped the balance of power to the United States leading to the permanent settlement of the Pacific Northwest and later to Oregon’s statehood.

His was not an easy life. It was harsh and full of danger, challenges, and wonder.
Fortunate for us, it was large.

–Oregon Encyclopedia (
–History (
–Wikipedia, Jedediah Smith (

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859).

A clue to his wide impact is in the many things named after him…probably more than any other person.

Humboldt did not consider himself an explorer,
but rather a scientific traveler, who accurately measured
what explorers inaccurately reported.

Humboltian Science

A few examples: Humboldt County, CA, Humboldt University, The Humboldt Current, The Humboldt Grove of Sequoia and the Humboldt neighborhood in Portland, OR….Andrea Wulf counts almost 300 plants and more than 100 animals named after Humboldt.

Given his love of mountains, it is perhaps not surprising that 18 peaks and three mountain ranges are named after von Humboldt. At 5020m, the Peak Alexander von Humboldt in Kyrgyzstan, is the highest mountain to bear his name. Feb 10, 2020 -Storymaps

He was a Prussian and grew to be a naturalist and geographer and adviser to many. He explored Latin America extensively, and made a trip to the United States and advised fellow natural philosopher (and President) Thomas Jefferson in 1804.

Thomas Jefferson remarked “I consider him the most important scientist whom I have met.”

Inspiring Others

Humboldt was a generalist who was able to connect ideas related by many disciplines. His work and dedication inspired many well-known scientists, writers, artists, and intellects of the time such as Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and many others.

Charles Darwin, for instance, referred to Humboldt as the “greatest scientific traveller who ever lived” and made frequent reference to Humboldt’s work in his Voyage of the Beagle.

Passion for Travel

Humboldt from OSU Archives

Some might say his special talent was curiosity about the world we live in, others his love of travel and science, and still others in his ability to communicate what he discovered. Perhaps it was his ability to cultivate and maintain long-lasting relationships with others or his ability to nurture respect and admiration from the common man and foster a vision of what science could do.


At one time, Humboldt was considered to be one of the most famous men in Europe. His works have been translated into almost every language in Europe. Humboldt and his labors have been celebrated in many countries including the U.S.  

If you had been around in 1869 you might have attended one of the many festivals celebrating the 100th year of Humboldt’s birth. If you were in New York City that year, you may have been able to witness the unveiling of a bust of his head in Central Park. Maybe next year on September 14 we should have a birthday party to recognize Alexander von Humboldt.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once dubbed Humboldt as “one of those wonders of the world… who appear from time to time, as if to show us the possibilities of the human mind.” 

Describing and Measuring the World

Humboldt would travel and conduct scientific studies as he traveled. He would tote along equipment to measure everything in multiple ways. He would collect information about population, economics, weather, plants, mineral, agriculture, etc. often using this information to create maps. Expeditions typically included naturalists and artists who were creating some of the first visual images ever captured for a region.

Humboldt was adamant that everything should be measured using the best techniques and tools available and that this collected data should be the basis of all scientific understanding. He traveled all over the world conducting studies, mapping, creating travel diaries, and often consulting with world leaders (who might help sponsor an expedition).

In one expedition in Cuba, Humboldt conducted extensive scientific and social research. He began by surveying cities and towns, and collecting statistical population information.

Humboldt often made suggestions related to his observations. One suggestion in Cuba, for instance, related to the potential for developing the market for guano. Guano was eventually exported to Europe.

Thirst for Knowledge

Alexander got off to a rough start as a sickly child, who, at first, was a poor student. However, Humboldt earned a diploma from the Freiberg School of Mines in 1792. Even though he attended three universities, he did not earn a degree at any (Frankfurt [Oder], Göttingen, and Berlin). His focus was preparing for scientific travel.

Humboldt’s unending thirst for knowledge was sparked while attending Freiberg where he began his interest in botany. There he studied mining and plants found around mines, created a safety light for miners, and started a school to help train miners.

Expeditions helped feed the thirst for knowledge and were typically funded by state-sponsored enterprises and wealthy patrons. The expeditions were often lengthy and expectations high for information that might boost a country’s economic possibilities.


His extensive travels provided many opportunities to learn more about the generally unexplored world, and aggressively push this information out through printed publications and lectures. Unlike many other scientists of his day, Humboldt published information quickly and in great detail.

Map and one of five Kosmos titles (royalty free image from Shutterstock)

His publications demonstrated his universal belief in the “unity of nature.” This belief encompassed a holistic relationship existing between all physical sciences (such as biology, meteorology, and geology). He tried to explain natural phenomena through observation and data rather than religious dogma which was common at that time.

He was the first to take on the study of interactions and relationships between organisms and their biophysical environment (later known as ‘ecology’). Humboldt is considered be the ‘father’ of ecology, particularly for his work describing vegetation zones (geobotany) and climate using latitude and altitude. He also put forth far future concepts such as human-caused climate change, geology and formation of stars.

On many explorations, countries were particularly interested in having Humboldt look into natural resources such as mineral deposits. These minerals and materials included things like gold ore, silver, platinum, and eventually led to the discovery of diamonds in the Ural Mountains in Russia. Perhaps the most important thing about this discovery is that he was able to accurately predict the presence of diamonds based on his measurements.

A Visit to the U.S.

Humboldt frequently wrote letters to various leaders looking for exploration opportunities or areas in which help was needed. One such leader was then President Thomas Jefferson on the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase.

The then Spanish minister in Washington, D.C. had not furnished the U.S. with information about the actual southwest border let alone other details such as population, military, and economics. Humboldt was able to provide that information and more to Jefferson, who was also a scientist.

During that trip Humboldt was able to meet with some of the major scientific leaders of the time including chemist and anatomist (Caspar Wistar who supported compulsory smallpox vaccination), botanist (Benjamin Smith Barton), and physician (Benjamin Rush who was researching South American cinchona bark as a fever cure).  

Thomas Jefferson remarked “I consider him the most important scientist whom I have met.”

Humboldt Lagoon State Park in North California (image courtesy of California State Park).

Challenging and Wondrous

The exploring process was undoubtedly challenging and wondrous. He is known for several mountain expeditions, and conquering tall peaks. These expeditions and amazing feats are not what people may generally remember him for.

What makes him truly memorable to many was his writing and communicating. Humboldt took extensive notes during his travels on what he learned and saw, and created multiple volumes of travel diaries and publications.

Not only was Humboldt a good writer but also a good artist. He would often capture images of what he saw (such as plants and animals), and create first ever maps from the measurements he took and landscapes explored.  

He was able to explore continents and create maps so more research could occur such as in central Asia, new Spain (Mexico), and Russia. Not many could have done this exploration and documentation better than Alexander von Humboldt.

Be inspired to observe the details of our world in your travels and share it with others! Even if you don’t get the credit!

“There are three stages of scientific discovery: first people deny it is true; then they deny it is important; finally they credit the wrong person.”
― Alexander Von Humboldt

–Encyclopedia Britannica, Alexander von Humboldt (
–Wikipedia, Alexander von Humboldt (, Botanical Geography; Alexander von Humboldt (…History_of_ecology#The_botanical_geography_and_Alexander_von_Humboldt); and Humboldtian Science (…Humboldtian_science)
–Good Reads Author Quotes (
–Images: Flickr ( and Oregon State University Archives (