Friday, September 16, 2011

Steamboats, Historic Newspaper Resource, OTD Revisions

The title of this item could have been “Random Thoughts,” but that would not have helped people decide if they wanted to start/keep reading. (Also bad karma for “Search Engine Optimization” – more on that in a later blog.)

A week or so ago, I received an e-mail from Bill Burley of the Snake River Sternwheeler Association, a non-profit corporation trying to restore an actual sternwheel ship. He tracked me down through my On This Day about the steamboat Shoshone, which made its first trial run on the Snake River on May 16, 1866. I have actually done several OTD items about steamers – North Idaho, as least, has a rich steamboat history. It took me awhile to respond here in my blog because I was then finalizing the proposal package for my book, and that put several other projects behind.

Li'L Millie in (Earlier) Operation. Association photo.
The Sternwheeler Association (see “Links” page above) has purchased a small steamer, called the Li’l Millie, which was previously approved to carry 43 passengers. They are seeking donations to restore the ship so they can run excursions on the Snake above Hells Canyon. In this, they are recreating another era on the Upper Snake, including operation of the steamer Norma. Stop by their web site to read more about it … and hopefully make a donation to help them out. (Umm. Wonder if Idaho had “riverboat gamblers” on its fancier steamers? Now that would be a cool re-enactment.)

The Norma, by the way, was built on the Upper Snake River in 1890-1891. The Idaho Register (Idaho Falls, March 20, 1891) reprinted an item from the Weiser Leader that said, “We learn the steamboat Norma will shortly begin making regular trips to the Seven Devils’ landing. The vessel is a masterpiece in steamboat mechanism, and during the coming year will convey a great amount of freight to and from Seven Devils.”

Things did not go well, however. “Instead of Sailing the Norma is Sold,” Owyhee Avalanche (October 24, 1891): “The steamer Norma, built in 1890 to ply upon the Snake River between Huntington bridge and the Seven Devils mining country, was sold at sheriff’s sale on Saturday last to Captain W. P. Gray, of Portland, for $4,000. [The builder could not pay his bills, so Capt. Gray bought it for one Jacob Kamm.] … What will become of the Norma we do not know positively, but from indications we believe she will be taken down the Snake into the Columbia with next year’s rise of water.” Reprinted from Weiser Signal.

Steamer Norma. Oregon Historical Society
Their guess was off on the timing; the Norma did not move down-river until 1895. The Idaho Statesman reported (June 21, 1895), “The recent trip of the little steamer Norma over the Huntington rapids of the Snake and on to Lewiston, a distance of 180 miles, is considered a remarkable feat of navigation.”

After that, the Norma operated only on the lower Snake and (possibly) on the Columbia.

That information about the Norma came from a very quick search in a new (to me) online research resource at, which I have also added to my “Links” page. While they are a fee-based (subscription) service, their prices are not unreasonable and they seem to have an excellent database. Their search process also seems much easier and more effective than other newspaper databases I have tried. (And no, I have no financial or other personal interest in this outfit.)

I gave GenealogyBank the state, a year span (1890-1920), plus the key words “norma” and “steamboat” or “steamer” and got a half-dozen or so good “hits” in newspapers of that period. Very impressive.

After I signed up for the service, a few weeks back, I almost immediately doubled my "stock" of historic newspaper articles related to my stock-raising book. Most of the early hits were confirmations of information I already had from other sources, but some were new.

I also found much new material for my "On This Day" blog series. Those of you who have followed that series for a long time have probably noticed that I am now "recycling" many of the older events. You have perhaps also noticed that most have been revised, with 10 to 30% new information.

With my book proposal on its way to a publisher, and the OTD cycle more into revision mode, I can start spending more time on other topics. Among those is a historical novel in the planning stage, using a lot of the information collected for the nonfiction book.