Thursday, June 6, 2013

Steamboat Competition Squelched on the Columbia and Snake Rivers

The San Francisco Evening Bulletin received a story, dated June 6, 1863, from “Our Own Correspondent” in Portland for publication in the newspaper. He began, “All the world knows that during this summer there has been a very lively steamboat opposition between here and Lewiston, and the points intermediate.”

The correspondent did not sign himself as “Rover,” the one who had submitted items from Lewiston to the Bulletin on April 12 and May 24. But Rover had, indeed, made a point of mentioning the steamboat competition, which significantly lowered shipping costs on the river. The current writer went on, “I have to make known that it has come to a close. … The People’s line have sold their boats above the Cascades, the Cayuse and Iris, to the Oregon Steam Navigation Company for three boats that now ply between here and Oregon City, and $10,000 in money.”

While the writer had most of the deal correct, he failed to give the People’s investors full credit: The OSNC had agreed to continue the $10 thousand cash payout for ten years. Still, as the correspondent said, “Like Lot and Abraham of old, these rival companies have concluded that it was not profitable to dwell together, and so they have separated, dividing the water of the country between them.”
Steamboat on the Columbia. National Archives

The writer provided further details, saying, “The Oregon Navigation (the old company) keep all the running water between here and Lewiston, and as much further east as they can get, while the People’s (the new company) occupy the Wallamett [sic] river from here southwards.”

The OSNC would remained unchallenged on the Columbia and Snake rivers until the late 1870s, when railways arrived to offer an alternate means of transportation. But as the correspondent said, “Of course, this is the end of carrying freight and passengers at nominal rates, though the high prices of last summer are not likely to rule again.”

The writer was apparently correct in his last observation. Although shipping rates did return to high, monopolistic levels, they did not revert to the scandalous rates of the previous season. In the short term, it certainly helped that, “The up-country is full of goods, gone up this summer on cheap freight, and the holders will consider themselves in luck.”

References: [Illust-North]
“Letter from Oregon,” Evening Bulletin, San Francisco, California (July 10, 1863).

No comments:

Post a Comment