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The Sternwheeler Gamecock

by Murray Lundberg

Northern Ships and Shipping

  • U.S. Shipping Registry #86418, registered in San Francisco.

  • wooden sternwheeler; 178.2 feet long, with 38.0 foot beam and 7.0 foot hold. Gross tonnage 772, registered as 658 tons.

  • 1898, built at Portland by Joseph Supple, for the Ladue-Yukon Transportation Company.

  • March 24, 1898: "PORTLAND, Or., March 2. - The sternwheel steamer Gamecock, which is being built here for the Yukon Transportation and Commercial Company, of San Francisco, Was launched today. The steamer, which is for use on the Yukon river, will carry about 500 tons, and when loaded will draw about four and a half feet of water." (The Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

  • Through May and June 1898, various advertisements for the steamships Grace Dollar, and later the Tillamook and Morgan City, claimed that they connected at St. Michael with the river steamers Gamecock and Staghound, "the most beautifully appointed river steamers in the trade."

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 7, 1898
Ad for Steamers Morgan City, Gamecock, and others, 1898

  • June 25, 1898, both Gamecock and Staghound were wrecked while crossing the Columbia River bar in tow en route to St. Michael.

    The Daily Astorian, Tuesday morning, June 28, 1898

    Steamers Gamecock and Staghound Wrecked, 1898

        At 3:30 Sunday morning the steamer Elihu Thompson, which left here Friday evening towing the two Yukon river steamers, Game Cock and Staghound, bound for St. Michaels, crossed into the Columbia again with the tows in distress. Both the river steamers are complete wrecks.
        The circumstances as related by Chief Engineer Kelly of the Alaska Commercial and Transportation company, who was on the Thompson, are as follows:
        "We left the Columbia river Friday evening, with fair weather and a fair sea, and we supposed everything was going on all right until at 10 o'clock that night the Geme Cock displayed a red light, as also did the Staghound, which was the preconcerted signal of danger. The Thompson slowed down and waited for daylight. At break of day they woke me up and Captain Garlick told me to take out the small boat and see what was the trouble. With the second mate and three men of our crew I put out for the Game Cock.
        "On approaching her I saw she was in bad condition. the oakum streaming out from her seams. I asked Capt. Fisher what was the trouble and was informed that when they struck the first swell off the Columbia the passengers (the emergency crew) were frightened beyond reason, and the boat commenced to work badly. As the conditions were favorable I went on to the Staghound and found the same state of affairs. The passengers and some of the crew were imploring me to take them off. I told them to keep quiet, as there was no immediate danger, as I would have to report to the Thompson to get proper assistance.
        "The passengers were running about the decks lke demented persons, with thelr life preservers on and their possessions piled up in promiscuous heaps. They are still quarreling as to the ownership of the stuff. I went back to the Thompson and we returned to the wrecks to do what we could.
        "At this time we were thirty miles at sea. Reaching the Game Cock, we commenced transferring the passengers and crew. Captain Fisher and two or three of his men refused to leave their boat. He had a crew of thirty men and fourteen passengers. The Stag Hound, Captain Lane, had about the same number of people aboard, and a few of his men stood by him, refusing to leave the boat. The others behaved well, but the passengers on both boats were like crazy people.
        "About this time the pilot schooner San Jose showed up and I called to the Game Cock folks to be quiet, as I knew Pilot Johnson, aboard the San Jose, and we could get additional help. Johnson put off to us a small boat, and he and his people worked one of the tows while I took care of the other. All who wanted to be transferred were safely taken care of and a few of thelr personal effects were taken aboard the Thompson. Pilot Johnson took charge of the tows at their request. The tow lines and chains remained intact, and I attribute the fact of the breaking up of the boats to their extreme length, which was one hundred and seventy-five feet."
        "Captain Fisher of the Game Cock had a peculiar experience. Friday night before he signalled us some of the passengers, most of them from Missouri and Kansas, who never before had seen the sea, came to him with revolvers and threatened to shoot him if he did not turn his boat around and put back to port. The proposition was ridiculous but Fisher kept his head and cooly told them to go back to bed and he would keep them safe. But many of them bothered him all night and when I found him the captain was nearly crazy and said: "For God's sake, take these people away from me and I will stay with the boat alone." I presume Lane had a similar experience."
        It was learned that about one hundred and twenty thousand dollars will be lost by the company that bullt these Yukon river boats, They were to have paid $15,000 for the tow to St. Michaels. The steamer Thompson does not know yet what she will do or where she will go from here. The San Francisco agents have been communicated with.
        Yesterday It was stated by Captain Garlick, of the Thompson, that as yet nothing had been done by either himself or the officers of the Gamecock and Staghound relative to thelr future movements. The agent of the Thompson will be here from San Francisco today, and the owners of the two river boats have been fully advised of the condition of affairs.
        After the Thompson reentered the harbor Sunday morning both life saving crews, the Columbine amd a tug, besides a host of fishermen, stood by to render assistance, but their help was not needed.
        The crews on board the two river steamers had no interest whatever in the boats which are owned in San Francisco. The boats were insured for about $150,000 and it is rumored that there is a clause providing for payment only in case of total loss. The boats being in the harbor, it is a question what kind of a settlement the insurance companies will make. An examination of the boats shows that they were put together with short nails and small bolts It is the opinion of many that they might have been built stronger.
        Captain Fisher, of the Gamecook, says that the steamer Thompson treated them well in every respect and was faithfully performing its contract.
        Sunday nicht a quantity of goods and silverware was stolen from the two river boats but yesterday a large portion was recovered by Captain Fisher and Harbor Officer Stuart, much of it being found around the docks.

  • December 4, 1898: "The river steamers Staghound and Gamecock, which started for the Yukon last summer and were disabled shortly after leaving Astoria, were sold by United States Marshal Houser at Portland yesterday. Hale & Kern were the purchasers, and the vessels were sold for a very low figure - $8,900." (The Daily Astorian)

  • 1898, converted into a sternwheeler towboat for service on the Columbia, joining the fleet of the Willamette & Columbia River Transportation Company (Affleck).

  • April 27, 1899: "Captain Jones is said to be very much pleased with the steamer Game Cock, which he purchased from Hale & Kern and says he has the strongest towboat on the river. She is also very economical, and uses less fuel in proportion to the power developed than any other boat he has. He secured the boat in the first place at a low figure." (The Daily Astorian)

  • September 20, 1900: "Last evening's Telegram says: The steamer Gamecock is due at this port this evening from The Dalles with a full cargo of wheat. This is the first trip of the Gamecock to Portland for about a week. She has been engaged in carrying sheep from points above the locks to The Dalles. When the Gamecock ties up it is expected that her crew of "cornfield sailors" will walk ashore. The old trouble again crops out. Old deck hands will not work and "rough riders" cannot do the work. When the union broke the men sought other means of earning a livelihood and many of them cannot be induced to go back on the deck of a steamboat, and those that will obJect to working with mixed crews. While the Gamecock was carrying sheep the crew stayed with her. The men could herd sheep but when it came time to wrestle with wheat they drew the line." (The Daily Astorian)

  • September 11, 1903: "An immense log raft arrived down the river late yesterday afternoon from Stella, Washington, in tow of the Steamers Francis Leggett and Game Cock. The raft was taken down to the lower harbor where it will remain until weather conditions are favorable for its departure for San Francisco, The raft is one of the largest ever built on the Columbia. It is 500 feet in length and is made up of piling and telegraph poles. It contains between 6,000,000 and 7,000,000 feet of timber, and is valued at more than $50,000. The trip down the coast will occupy fully two weeks, if no accident occurs, and the safe arrival of the monster boom at San Francisco will depend largely upon weather conditions. Indications were last night that the weather would be heavy today, and it is probable that the raft will not be towed out until tomorrow. The raft is drawing 23 feet." (The Daily Astorian)

  • July 10, 1904: "The big log raft which was constructed at Stella, Wash., will probably be towed to sea today. The raft has been completed for some time, and today will be brought down the river by two river steamers, the Gamecock and the Henderson. The ocean-going steamer Francis H. Leggett will take the raft in tow at Astoria and proceed south with it. If the raft is brought down in time, it will be towed to sea at 11 o'clock, when the tide is high this morning. The monster boom contains something like 8,000,000 feet of logs and is destined for San Francisco." (The Daily Astorian)

  • February 15, 1905: "The supreme court yesterday affirmed the decision of the lower court in a suit brought by the Progresso Steamship Company against the St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Company on two policies of insurance, in the sum of $2500 each on two steamboats, known as the Staghound and the Gamecock, about to be towed from Portland to St. Michaels, Alaska. The two steamboats, when out about thirty hours from Astoria, met with such damage from the seas that the towing steamer was compelled to return with them in a badly damaged condition to Astoria. Shortly after the return the assured gave notice of abandonment to the defendant insurance company, which declined to accept it on the specific grounds that the damage was partial and that its insurance was warranted against absolute total loss only. The lower court held that the vessels were a total loss, which finding is now sustained by the higher authority and the company must pay the amount named in the policy of insurance." (San Francisco Chronicle)

  • June 28, 1905: "The steamer Gamecock, Captain Copeland, was sunk in the Cowlitz river half a mile above the mouth of the Coweema river at 12 o'clock last night, as she was entering the Cowlitz she struck the Dolphin of the Cowlitz and Columbia River Boom Company on her port quarter. She did not appear to be damaged, but when opposite the Coweema she attempted to back when apparently her wheel transom gave way, flooding her hold with water. She attempted to make shoal water, but broke in two amidships and lies a total wreck in twenty feet of water. There were no lives lost, but the whole crew was in the water." (San Francisco Chronicle)

  • June 30, 1905: "In all probability the hull of the steamer Gamecock will be abandoned but effort will be made to save the machinery, which is considered valuable. The hull is resting in 20 feet of water in Cowlitz river." (The Daily Astorian)

Steamer Gamecock wrecked, 1898
From James A. Gibbs' book "Pacific Graveyard" (Binford & Mort, Portland, 1991)

The San Francisco Examiner, July 1, 1898

Steamer Gamecock wrecked, 1898