The first steam powered boat to come up the OUACHITA was built
in Pittsburg, and named the "Monroe". Before coming up the OUACHITA
it steamed first to New Orleans, where it sank upon arrival. After
being raised, it steamed up the OUACHITA scaring everyone along
the way. Some described it as a puffing monster ... others said:
" it looked like a backwoods sawmill on a wooden barge, that had
been set on fire." The city of Monroe, Louisiana was later named
after this steamnoat.
From 1819 to 1910 the OUACHITA River was the great highway of
commerce and transportation for the entire Ouachita Valley. The
Steamboat Era was the grandest and most colorful in the OUACHITA'S
The arrival of a Steamboat was always cause for celebration. Long
repeated blasts from the boat's powerful whistle, often accompanied
by the firing of a cannon, caused people to drop everything ...
and run to meet the boat.
Many farmers living along the banks of the Ouachita would meet
the boats to sell vegetables to the cooks on the boat. This family
photo, made in the early 1900s, is typical of the many farming
families that lived along the Ouachita and furnished the vegetables
for the steamboat kitchens.
The boilers of the steamboats that plyed the Ouachita in
the 1800s were constructed with little or no attention to safety
features such as pressure relief valves. Boiler explosions, therefore
were common occurances on steamboat runs. The steambot Edna blew
up at Columbia, Louisiana in 1866, hurling crewman and debris
into the streets of Columbia, a distance of over 500 feet.
to excessive accidents occuring on steamboats in the early 1800's,
the government was forced to establish
and regulate safety rules aboard all steamboats.These safety rules,
especially, applied to boilers, being fired to extreme pressures
to allow boat captains to outrun their competitors,... but, one
captain was quoted, as saying: "Regulations can be over-looked
for the right brand of whiskey
A famous 20 year feud between two Confederate officers, Colonel
F.C. Jones, and General John Liddell, ended on the OUACHITA in
1870. The two met up on the steamboat St. Mary, as it forged up
the OUACHITA towards Harrisonburg, Louisiana. Both were armed
with their civil war pistols. Colonel Jones, shot and killed,
General Liddell, before he could fire a shot; but, was killed,
himself, a few days later by friends of Lidell.
Competition between railroads and steamboats grew dramatically
in the early 1900's. In 1905, Captain L. V.. Cooley, steamed his
boat, the "America", to Camden, Arkansas, to pick up 500 bales
of cotton for delivery to New Orleans. Upon arrival, Cooley, found
the railroads, also, bidding for the same delivery; which ended
in a bidding war with Cooley, finally, winning. Cooley, delivered
the cotton to New Orleans for a mere... one dollar.
The first stationary lock and dams were built on the OUACHITA
from 1902 to 1925. There was a total of six locks and dams spaced
at intervals along the river from Franklin Shoals Arkansas to
Harrisonburg, Louisiana. By 1984 all of these dams had been replaced
by four more modern locks and dams spaced fromCalion, Arkansas
to Jonesville, Louisiana
The Steamboat Era faded into the past in the 1920s, as public
highways and railroads began being built. Landings,
once filled with with people anxiously awaiting the arrival of
steamboats, were abandoned. Some steamboat captains , however,
did not give up, but began using their boats like tugs, and pushed
barges loaded with industrial material up the OUACHITA. This effort
became the forerunner of the tug and barge commonly seen on the
Steamboat Captain , Louis Herbert
Swayze, Jr., a native of northeast Louisiana started riverboat
piloting with only a small tug and wooden barges. He eventually
built and piloted some of the most memorable steamboats to ever
ply the OUACHITA.