Credit: Photographer, unknown.
Medium: Daguerreotype or wet plate.
Enlargement: 1500 x 1041pxs.
Built: 1857, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Type: Sidewheel, wooden hull packet.
Size: 230' x 35' x 5' 6", 340 tons.
Engines: 20's x 7 ft.
Boilers: Four boilers.
Paddlewheels: 28 ft. diameter with 10 ft. buckets.
The ITASCA ran in the Upper Mississippi trade between St. Louis and St. Paul, and was operated by the Northwestern Union Packet Company from 1864. She was teamed on this run with the KEY CITY. Her master from 1857-60 was Capt. David Whitten, and from 1861-62 Capt. Jesse Y. Hurd. It is recorded that she raced the GREY EAGLE No1. on August 17, 1858. She burned at Paducah, Kentucky, on 27 December, 1868. Her machinery was salvaged and went to the BELLE of LA CROSSE.
The one contest that has been cited by every writer on upper river topics, that has ever come under my observation, was the one between the “Grey Eagle" (Captain D. Smith Harris), and the "Itasca" (Captain David Whitten); and that was not a race at all. It is manifestly unfair to so denominate it, when one of the captains did not know that he was supposed to be racing with another bat until he saw the other steamer round a point just behind him. Recognizing his rival as following him far ahead of her regular time, he realized that she was doing something out of the ordinary. He came to the conclusion that Captain Harris was attempting to beat him into St. Paul, in order to be the first to deliver certain important news, of which he was also the bearer. When this revelation was made, both boats were within a few miles of their destination St. Paul.
Here are the details. In 1856, the first telegraphic message was flashed under the sea by the Atlantic cable – a greeting from Queen Victoria no President Buchanan. Captain D. Smith Harris had, the year before, brought out the “Grey Eagle", which had been built at Cincinnati at a cost of $60,000. He had built this boat with his own money, or at least a controlling interest was in his name. He had intended her to be the fastest boat on the upper river, and she was easily that. As her captain and practically her owner, he was at liberty to gratify any whim that might come into his head. In this case it occurred to him that he would like to deliver in St. Paul the Queen's message to the President ahead of any one else.
There was at that time no telegraph line
into St. Paul. Lines ran to Dunleith, where the "Grey
Eagle” was taking in cargo for St. Paul, and also to Prairie du
Chien, where the “Itasca” was loading. Both boats were to
leave at six o’clock in
The race proper began when Whitten sighted the "Gray Eagle” and realized that Harris was trying to beat him into St. Paul in order to be the first to deliver the Queen’s message. Then the "Itasca" did all that was in her to do, and was beaten by less than a length, Harris throwing the message ashore from the roof, attached to a piece of coal, and thus winning the race by a handbreadth.
The time of the “Grey Eagle" from Dunleith, was eighteen hours; the distance, two hundred and ninety mile; speed per hour, 16 1/9 miles.
The "Itasca", ran from Prairie du Chien to St. Paul in eighteen hours; distance, two hundred and twenty-nine miles; speed, 12 2/3 miles per hour.
The "Itasca" was far from being a
slow boat, and had Whitten known that Harris was
"racing" with him, the "Grey Eagle” would not have come within several hours of
catching her. As a race against time, however, the run of
the "Grey Eagle" was really something remarkable. A
sustained speed of over sixteen miles an hour for a distance of
three hundred miles, up-stream, is a wonderful record for an inland
steamboat anywhere, upper river or lower river; and the pride
which Captain Harris had in his beautiful boat was fully
justified. A few years later, she struck the Rock Island Bridge and sank
in less than five minutes, a total loss. It was pitiful no see
the old Captain leaving the wreck, a broken-hearted man, weeping over
the loss of his darling, and returning to his Galena home, never
again to command a steamboat. He had, during his eventful life
on the upper river, built, owned, or commanded scores of
steamboats; and this was the end.
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