The Black Prince; Sternwheeler
by Ray Jordan

Another found picture recently published in the Skagit Argus SKAGIT COUNTY PICTORIAL HISTORY OCTOBER 2003 from the Roger Fox Collection. The caption reads "Before there was a parking revetment, early merchants used the Skagit River to trade with other cities and towns. Floating docks were built along the riverbanks in Old Mount Vernon, where ships like the "Black Prince" (center) tied up to load and unload their cargo of food, grain, general merchandise, clothes, fuel, and other necessities of the day."
      Though half a century has passed, nostalgic twinges grip the writer at times as he seems to hear the melodious whistle, faint and far away, of the old sternwheeler Black Prince as she boils up the Skagit River with cool-headed Captain Forrest Elwell at he wheel.
      He can still hear people say upon the sound of the whistle, "Here comes the old Black Prince."
  nbsp;   Highlights of this historic steamer is contained in a letter received recently from Captain Elwell:
      "In the summer of 1900, Captain Charles Wright sold the City of Bothell and then the Snohomish and Skagit River Navigation Company was formed by Captain Charles Wright, Captain Charles Elwell, and Captain Vic Pinkerton. It was then decided to build a boat for towing on the Snohomish and Skagit rivers.
      "Captain Charles Elwell made the hull model and Bob Houston was given the job of building the Black Prince." Dimensions of the Black Prince were: hull, 93 feet; over-all length, 112 feet; beam, 19 feet; depth of hold, 5 feet; tonnage measurement was 159 gross tons, according to the captain.
      When the hull and the superstructure were completed, she was towed to Seattle by the tug Nellie Pearson, where a pair of 10 X 48 steam engines and a 100 horsepower brickyard boiler, 150 working pressure, were installed.
      "After completion, the Prince came back to Everett under her own power and then went to the Skagit to tow logs and pilling," Elwell wrote.
      The first crew on the Prince in 1901, was Captain Elwell; Captain (Engr.) Wright; engineer Mike Hertzberg; Captain Pinkerton; Forrest Elwell, deck hand, and Wes Harbert, fireman.
      "In the late summer of 1901, she made a trip between Novelty and Tolt. In 1902, the Prince took a two from Haskell Slough (near Monroe) to the mouth of the Snohomish River.
      "On July 7, 1903, loaded 50 tons of machinery at Mount Vernon designated for the old Talc Mine about 12 miles above Marblemount. ( A former employee of the talc mine remembered the date as 1906. The distant is an estimate o f the river miles. Actual car mileage distance is about 6 miles.) This trip took three days to get up the river and unload," the captain continued.
      To negotiate Stick's Riffle (named for the old Indian, Johnny Stick, who lived there) below Bacon Creek, the crew found it necessary to pay out 1200 feet of line and employ the boat's winch to pull the heavily laden Prince over this shallow, swift piece of water.
      "Before this trip was made, Captains Wright and Elwell decided to decrease the diameter of the paddle wheel by about one foot. This was done to give a little more power on the wheel.       "They also set up the safety valve another 10 pounds, carrying a boiler pressure of 160 pounds. After this trip, the wheel a safety valve were returned to their original settings." This trip by the Black Prince may have been the farthest upstream penetration of a steamer sine the gold rush of 1880.       One sternwheeler, the Chehalis, is reported to have reached the Portage, a mile or more above the old talc mine, during the gold excitement. One old-timer, who has lived on the river since 1877, is inclined to believe this.
      He says that a river-wise boat captain conceivably could have made it over the riffles above the talc mine during real high water. He added, however, that most of the gold rush steamers got no farther than Durand Riffle, a mile or so below Marblemount.
      "In 1906, the Company operated a logging camp across the Skagit from Birdsview The logs were towed to the mouth of the Skagit and later to Utsaladdy by the Prince." Elwell wrote.
      "The writer well remembers towing from Birdsview, and especially through the Dalles (above Birdsview) which is like the letter 'Z'. If you were lucky, okay, but if the raft broke up, you were in a mess, as logs would be all around and under the Prince, which would almost spin like a top.
      "I also remember a trap (fish trap) pile that went through the bow, and as luck would have it, the pile tore a hole in the forward tank, or else the boat would have sunk. The Prince ran on the Skagit for some time before this hole was fixed."
      "The first time (after the damage was done) that she took a tow to Utsaladdy, they put the Prince on the beach and when the tide went out the hole was repaired."
      In 1910, the Company sold the Prince and the T.C. Reed to Elwell, Pinkerton, Ira Hall and Tom Meagher, who organized as the Washington Tugboat Company. Forrest Elwell was master of the Black Prince from 1907-1922.
      Before the year of 1910 was out they sold out to the Puget Sound and Baker River Railroad (the logging line that hauled Dempsey and Lyman Timber Company, and later, Scott Paper Company logs down the river).
      How the Black Prince got her name: Captain Wright had a dream that he had a boat that was all black and called the Black Prince, so that is where her name came from, Elwell recalled. An excerpt from a paper read to members of the Everett Yacht Club reveals the fate of the colorful Black Prince:
      "In 1922, Captain Harry Ramwell of the American Tugboat Company purchased the Black Prince. She was sold to the Everett Port Commission in the year of 1935 for one dollar. The Port Commission then turned her over to the Everett yacht Club."
      "Time marches on and we found that the Black Prince was too small, too old, and too expensive to repair. She was dismantled in the late fall of 1956 to make room for a larger clubhouse."       "As a memorial to the sternwheeler days, the paddle wheel of the Black Prince sits on the lawn of the Port Commision Office on the Everett waterfront."
      But she still sails on in memory's dream.
NOTE: Captain F.M. Elwell, now aged 84 (as of 1964), resides in Everett. His last tour of duty before retiring was with the Black Ball line as captain of one of the large ferries on the Sound.
Skagit Valley Herald Oct. 7, 1964 Ray Jordan

The Rest of the Story on the Black Prince
by Helen Barrett

Excerpts reprinted from STERNWHEELERS AND THE SKAGIT RIVER by Helen Barrett © 1971 from the Skagit County Historical Society, Series, No. 1. The text under the photo reads; "From the collection of Ray Jordan, The Black Prince in Dead Man's Slough near Sedro-Woolley getting ready to start down river with a tow of logs...for the Bradsbury Logging Company"
"On top deck is Mr. & Mrs. Charles W. Wright and son Vernon, and Mrs. Bird, cook. Main deck: from left is F.M. Elwell, Frank Anderson, deck hands, and Wesley Harbert, fireman."

      Helen Barrett; edited by Margaret Willis, wrote what would be the first in a series of seven volumes dealing with Skagit County history for the Skagit County Historical Society.
      This book itself has been out of print for some time but I was fortunate enough to borrow a copy from a friend after doing the below story.
      Twenty-two pages from front cover to back, it gives a real nice synopsis and timeline on the infancy of the county. Then on to why the sternwheelers became so important to the growth of early Skagit County- even before the more regarded railroads.
      I was pretty pleased to find the rest of the story on the "Black Prince" to follow up the experiences of our young hero below, John Savage; who spent some time working on the "Black Prince" herself.
Ye Editor with a nod to Paul Harvey

      "Sternwheelers were particularly important in the Skagit country because the river was a natural highway into the interior. This paper will deal with those of that fleet which served the Skagit River people. They contributed greatly to the development and the economy of the territory when the use of the rivers was the only means of transporting heavy goods even a few miles; they withstood the introduction of railroads, and only finally succumbed to modern trucks and highways."
      "Settlers began in earnest to establish land claims above Mt. Vernon. In 1878 Minkler's sawmill, the only water power mill built on the river, was begun at Lyman (Birdsview) and the first upriver post office was established at Birdsview."
      "In 1901 the Black Prince came onto the Skagit scene under Captain Charles Elwell. She was a stern wheel freighter and passenger steamer built at Everett for the Skagit and Snohomish river trade. Her dimensions were 93 feet long, with a 19 foot beam and a five foot hold, with a tonnage measurement of one hundred fifty gross tons. She was driven by 10'X48' steam engines and a hundred horsepower brickyard boiler with one hundred fifty pounds working pressure, according to Captain Forest Elwell¸then one of her deckhands. Her hull was designed by Captain Charles Elwell, one of the founders of the Snohomish and Skagit River Navigation Company. In 1903 the Black Prince carried a load of fifty tons of machinery and pushed a scow with a steam donkey engine aboard from Mount Vernon to Old Talc Mine, about twelve miles above Marblemount. It took three days to get upriver and unload because of the current. It is believed that this was the farthest upstream penetration of a steamboat since the gold rush days of 1880.
      The Black Prince had to line herself over several riffles on the trip. Lining a steamer over the swift waters and riffles required tough deckhands who would jump overboard, make their way to shore dragging a line (cable) up the river bank as far as needed, and "tail holt" the line to a large tree or a rock. Then the line was hitched to the capstan, and the engine of the capstan plus those of the boat combined to pull the steamer up over the riffle. At Stick's Riffle, just below Bacon Creek, the crew had to line the boat with twelve hundred feet of cable and, according to Captain Forest Elwell, "With engines roaring under pressure increased by ten pounds, and winch groaning, the Black Prince went up over the long shallow piece of swift water."
      In 1906 the Snohomish and Skagit River Navigation Company began a logging operation on the south side of the river from Birdsview from which point the logs were towed downriver and on to Utsalady by the Black Prince. Captain Elwell later wrote, "the writer well remembers towing logs from Birdsview, and especially through the Dalles (above Birdsview) which is like a Z. If you were lucky, okay, but if a raft broke you were in a mess, as logs would be all around and under the Prince, which would almost spin like a top."
      Forest Elwell became captain of the Black Prince in 1907. On one of the boat's trips with a tow of logs a fish trap pile punched a hole in her bow and came out through the forward tank, preventing her sinking. She continued with the damaged hull until the next trip to Utsalady where she was put on the beach at high tide and when the tide went out, was repaired.
      In 1910 the company sold the Black Prince to a newly organized company, the Washington Towing Company which the same year sold out to the Puget Sound and Baker River Railroad Company. She remained in their possession until 1923 when the American Tug Boat Company bought her for the Snohomish River work. She was bought form American Tug in 1936, dismantled at Everett, and her upper works moved to the Everett Yacht Club where they were used as a clubhouse until 1956."

The Black Prince An Oral History from John Savage
related by Betty Savage

All I know about this photo so far is that it comes from the Savage Family collection by way of Barb Thompson. This looks to be a sternwheeler as related in this story? If any readers here recognize and can help me identify, I'd greatly appreciate it. This ferry is shown by the Savage Family homestead on the south side of the river from Birdsview. The sternwheeler is possibly loading cut wood for the furnaces, which is one way a family could make a little extra cash.

      In the beginning I need to let you know who I am and why I am writing about the Black Prince. The Black Prince was a Stern Wheeler navigating on the Skagit River back in the early days and a friend George Karas showed me a model he had built of the Black Prince and mentioned he was donating it to the Everett Public Library. That brought back memories of some of the stories that my father in law had related to us.
      My name is Betty Savage, married to Theodore Savage for over fiftty years. Ted's father was John Wesley Savage who was born, near the upper Skagit River in 1889 at a little hamlet called Birdsview, in the state of Washington.
      John's family homesteaded across the river from Birdsview and the only way they could cross the river was either by dugout canoe [which the family had] or by a ferry that was built like a raft and pulled across the river by ropes. John was quite the storyteller and would often embellish the happenings of the times, but this story needed no embellsihment.
      The Black Prince was built in Everett Washington in 1901 and was owned by the American Tug Boat Co., its homeport was Seattle Washington. I am not sure what year the "Black Prince" started navagating the Skagit and bringing supplies to the residence's along the river. It was however a great event of the day when the boat would pass by and people would stand on the shore and wave.
      Jobs were hard to come by in the early 1900's so John took whatever was available as a teenager and one of the jobs he procured was stoking the furnace on the Black Prince. Stoking the furnace was a hot and dirty and I presume the pay was very low. John had never mentioned how much he was paid butin those days a dollor went a very long way, you were lucky to earn a dollor a day.
      Because of the heat in the furnace room John would often come up on deck to get a breath of fresh air. It was during one of these times he witnessed this happening. Part of the job the Black Prince had was towing logs down the river to mills that were cutting lumber. On this particular day the "Prince" was towing a large boom of logs and was moving slowly, when suddenly they saw a family in great distress.
      A family had loaded all of their possesions on a wagon and the team of horses that was pulling the wagon onto the ferry to cross the river. The line that was used to pull the ferry broke part way across the river and the ferry was drifting downstream with no way to control it. The people were waving frantically for help from the ferry. The captain saw the dilemma and immediately looked for a spot to tie off the large boom of logs he was pulling. This was no easy task for such a large boom and it took some time to secure the logs.
      By the time the "Prince" reached the ferry it had traveled quite a distance but the people were still safe. They took the children first and then the parents and just as the parents got aboard the "Prince" the ferry tipped and the wagon and horses slipped off the ferry and went under the water. The horses were attached to the wagon and there was no way they could be rescued. John never mentioned how he felt about it but it must have been a sad sight to see. In those days when people had so little and to lose it all in one fell swoop would have been very difficult to deal with.
      I do not know the names of the people this happened to but people in those days were a hardy lot and did survive many hardships. I can attest to the hardships through the stories told and written about the Savage family. But of course that is another story.

Another "Black Prince" Story

      This is an ancedote told by my father in law John Savage. John was a very ebullient person and when he would tell a story he would be laughing all the time he told it.
      John was working on the Black Prince as a stoker in the boiler room along with a young man who was one of the "tarheels" of the area. The tar heels were people who had come from the south east part of the country and had a very distinct southern drawl. (They still have the drawl and I love to hear it). They were from mountainous areas and consequently chose the foot hills of the Cascade Mountains as a place to live. Their main lively hood was making whiskey and John was friendly with many of them.
      The two of them had been working below and came up for a breath of fresh air.
      There were always people watching and waiting for the boat to go by and as the boat went by they would wave and yell. This day they sailed by a group of young people and John mentioned a girl that he was very fond of and mentioned that he loved her. The young man turned to John and said in his slow drawl "Joohn, I love her too, what would you take for her?" Well! John was no fool and he asked if fifty cents would be okay and the young man gave him fifty cents. And you know what? The young tarheel and the gal got married and lived happily ever after or so I was told.

One More "Black Prince" Story

From August Kemmerich Descendant Barbara Halliday

I enjoyed the tales of the BLACK PRINCE riverboat in the latest issue of the Stump Ranch.
      I may have another anecdote about the BLACK PRINCE river boat, told to me by my father, Alphonse Kemmerich, who was born on his father's ranch at Birdsview in 1903. I'm pretty sure he gave the name of the riverboat as the BLACK PRINCE.
      One warm summer day, the river boat pulled into August Kemmerich's boat landing, on the north side of the Skagit River. The boat tied up at Kemmerich's for a few hours while they made some routine repairs, including tarring some seams on the deck.
      One of the young deckhands wasn't required for this job, so he went up to the ranch house to see pretty young Anna Kemmerich and invite her to come on the boat for awhile. Anna was happy to do this, but she had to bring along her little 4 year-old brother, Alphonse.
      The threesome returned to the boat, and while Anna and the deckhand enjoyed each other's company, little barefooted Alphonse was left to wander about the boat.
      All was fine until Alphonse accidentally kicked over a bucket of tar, sitting on the deck. The black, gooey stuff started spreading out and in his panic, Alphonse stepped right in the tar puddle, and then he started running frantically away--leaving little black footprints in his wake, all over the boat deck!
      When he was finally caught, the captain informed the deckhand that Anna and Alphonse were no longer welcome on the boat and they'd better leave right now! I suppose the poor deckhand had a big job for the rest of the afternoon, cleaning up little black footprints from the deck!

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