STEAMBOATS- Mode of Early Day Transportation in Pend Oreille
by Charles I. Barker (written ca 1954, revised 1961 - appeared in Newport Miner, date unknown)
It was around 1910 before any wagon road was built the full length of the county. Therefore, from 1887 to October 21, 1909, all passengers, mail and freight of every description entering or leaving the Pend Oreille VaIley, between Newport and Canada, was transported by steamboat, unless it was for a few miles north of Newport where one could use a wagon road for a short distance. All passengers, mail and freight had to come in or go out of Newport, which became known for over forty-five years as the "Gateway to the Pend Oreille River Valley," a slogan which al business houses in Newport proudly had printed on their business stationery.
The first steamboat to ply the Pend Oreille river was a steamer named "The Bertha," built at Albeni Falls in 1887 by a Mr. Billings. This boat was a screw-propelled steamer about fifty five feet in length. In 1888, the Torpedo was also built at Albeni Falls by Billy Farmer. This was a screw -propelled steamboat approximately the same length as The Bertha. In the year 1889 Captain Lindsay and Joe Fea, Sr. built the Dora, a screw -propelled steamboat about sixty-feet in length.
The Dora operated a few years, then caught fire while tied up at Mamaloose Point below Ruby, while the boat crew was out on a deer hunt to replenish their supply of fresh meat.
About 1893 Joe Cusick built the Volunteer, later dubbed "Old Booze" as it had a saloon on the upper deck. Joe Cusick at one time operated both the Red Cloud and Volunteer until the pilot of the Red Cloud ran it onto a sand bar and the Volunteer was unable to budget. Joe sold the Red Cloud to George H. Jones, the founder of Usk in this county. Joe Cusick platted the town of Cusick, one mile north of Usk.
From the time George H. Jones purchased The Red Cloud and went into competition with Joe. Cusick, these two men became not only competitors in steamboats and towns, but each supported a baseball team, namely the Cusick Indians and the Usk Reds. Some hotly contested ball games were staged each Sunday until both quit steamboating in 1906.
It was in l894 that Captain Charles Miller and his father, also a captain, brought in from Flathead Lake over A1beni Falls the large steamer, The Pend Oreille, a side wheeler of about 135' length. This boat was later converted into a stern wheeler and re-christened The Metaline. It was the only large steam boat that went through Box Canyon, making the trip downstream through the canyon in two minutes and taking two weeks to line the Metaline back up. Some of the ring bolts in rock walls of Box Canyon, used to fasten the cable to in getting the Metaline back up are still to be seen. This trip was sponsored by the Department of the Interior to ascertain if Box Canyon was navigable by a large boat. One man was drowned on the trip back up the canyon. The Meta1ine being a large steamboat and competition being strong, the Captain Millers about 1897 decided to return the Metaline to Flathead Lake, and in lining it over Albeni Falls, they failed to properly fasten the stern of the boat. When it got halfway over the falls, the swift waters dashed it against the rocky shores and wrecked the hull. Most of the machinery was salvaged. The boat was cut loose and after floating a few hundred yards, sank in 120 feet of water and its old hull remains there. It was seen in 1937 by a Seattle diver.
In the summer of 1908, Martin Woolson of Spokane and Captain E.A. Lenau of Metaline built the steamer Ruth, a stern wheeler about 155 feet in length. Captain Napoleon LeClerc in 1908 brought in from Coeur d'Alene Lake the steam launch The Metaline, a twenty five passenger launch, which made round trips from Newport to Metaline and return, navigating Box Canyon. The same year Captain W. W. Warner of Metaline brought in from Coeur d’Alene Lake the gas launch, The Nancy, a speedy twenty-five passenger boat, which also made round trips from Meta1ine to Newport and return. These twelve passenger boats, in conjunction with the tugs, Saretta, Fidelity and Clearfield, composed the steamboats plyed the Pend Oreille River for over twenty years. Millions of board feet of lumber was brought up on barges by being towed or pushed by some of the larger steamboats named. Also hundreds of barges of cedar poles were transported by steamboat to Newport, where the lumber was planed at the two large planing mills and shipped to eastern markets, as were the cedar poles. The writer was purser on the steamboats Newport and Ione - with an occasional trip on The Spokane, for three years.