1884 Memphis steamboat history

This interesting page of history covers May through October 1884 and covers some work history of Capt. James Lee Jr as well as chronicles a number of steamboat accidents beginning with a broken tiller line on the JAMES LEE.   Of interest as well is the mention of Lee Line Capt. Claggett who worked as a mate on the JAMES LEE when it caught fire while work was being done on the pilot house.  Mate Claggett picked up Capt. James Lee Sr who weighed 300 pounds and carried him to safety.   A previous description of Mate Claggett used the adjective brawny.

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ECLIPSE postcards circa 1916

Another recent EBay find.   A hand written inscription on the back of the card to the right reads “Excursion picnic on Eclipse to Garner’s Landing.”   A close examination for the card picturing the ECLIPSE shows the negative should have been printed from the other side as ECLIPSE is reversed.  The ECLIPSE was formerly named the CITY OF ST. JOSEPH and entered the Lee Line fleet some time after 1904.  According to Way’s Packet directory, “she collapsed a Flue in June 1911 killing 18 deck hands and injuring engineer Floyd Morgan.  She caught high and dry at Luna Landing March 1916 and remained there some time.  That November the Lee Line changed her name to ECLIPSE.   Additionally, Way’s records she ran Memphis and Caruthersville.  On Sept. 12, 1925 at 7:00 pm she ended up on a snag, opposite Osceola, Arkansas.  The crew and passengers go ashore over a sand bar.”

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1903 Lee Line pass

A recent EBay find.  1900’s Lee Line passes are somewhat harder to find than pre 1900.

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Definition of cotton

“Cotton is the over-coat of a seed that is planted and grown in the Southern States to keep the producer broke and the buyer crazy; is planted in the spring, mortgaged in the summer and left in the field in the winter.  The fiber varies in color and weight and the man who can guess nearest the length of a fiber is called a cotton man by the public, a fool by the farmer and a poor business man by his creditors.  The price of cotton is fixed in New York and goes up when you have sold and down when you have bought.”  A buyer working for a group of mills in the South was sent to New York to watch the cotton market and after a few days deliberation wired his firm as follows:  “Some think it will go up and some think it will go down , I do too, whatever you do will be wrong, act at once.”

This humorous definition of cotton came from the memoirs (dated July 21, 1921) of my mothers grandfather Marius Harrison Gunther who was a cotton and tobacco broker in New Orleans and Memphis in the 1870’s through the 1920’s.  The Lee Line hauled millions of pounds of cotton and cotton seed from 1867 until the early to mid 1890’s when the railroads took much of the cotton trade from the steamboats.

When cotton shipping season began in September and rouster crews were difficult to recruit, Capt. Stacker Lee (my 2 great uncle) would take his walnut cane and walk from the Beale Street landing where Lee Line boats were moored and walk up Beale Street and into the dive bars and brothels loudly announcing “indeter (winter) is coming and bellies will be empty and there will be no food for those who do not work.”  Rousters who worked on Lee Line boats knew they could find a meal on board Lee Line boats during the cold slow winter months.

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1868 Early Lee Line boats NATOMA and NATRONA

Capt. William Tippitt’s History of the Lee Line sited the Memphis Appeal Jan. 3, 1868 “A change has taken place in management of Str. NATOMA Capt. James Lee , formerly of DAN ABLE in Memphis & Vicksburg trade, will be in command and Capt. J. C. Cummings will return to piloting along with S. H. Whitehead.  Capt. Tippitt also recorded the following from the Memphis Appeal April, 26, Capt. Jim Lee has purchased from Mr. Ellerton his one half interest in the steamer NATOMA, at the rate of $9000 for whole.  This is much below her value, but Mr. Ellerton would no doubt prefer to have given an interest to the old veteran than to have sold at a good price to anyone else.   The NATOMA will be laid up a few weeks for and undergo a overhaul preparatory to resuming her place in Friar’s Point (Miss.) trade, where she will stay – live of die; sink or swim; survive or perish.”  The freight bill below is a recent find.

Memphis Appeal June 8, reported “Mr. Stacker Lee returned from Cincinnati , he reported that the NATOMA has been hauled out on ways there and that a new hull is being placed under her.”

Way’s Packet Directory makes no mention of the NATOMA nor can a picture be found of her in the Univ of Wisconsin LaCrosse archive of steamboats.   However, Ways’s Directory recorded the NATRONA becoming part of the Lee Line April 1868 to replace the PRINCE OF WALES (owned by Capt James Lee prior to the war) which was burned July 13, 1863 prevent capture.

The drawing below the freight bill is from Capt. Tippitt’s History of the Lee Line.

1868 Natoma

00032 year 1867 picture of Natoma

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Capt. Stacker Lee as recorded by Capt. William Tippitt

Tippitt Stacker Lee brief bio


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1871 PHIL ALLIN and 1877 COAHOMA payment receipts

1871 1877 bills

These receipts are 2 of 4 recent finds dating to the early history of the Lee Line.  Both show James Lee Sr. my great great grandfather as Captain.    The clerks signature Lee would have been Stacker Lee who is listed as the clerk on the PHIL ALLIN in Capt. William Tippitt’s History of the Lee Line January 8, 1872.  Capt. Tippitt in another part of his history recorded his inability to find a photograph of Stacker after searching old newspaper archives.  The PHIL ALLIN was constructed in Memphis and began service January 1871.

Way’s Packet Directory reported the COAHOMA had a $18,400 annual US Mail contract to carry mail between Memphis and Friars Point.

Capt. Tippitt’s history reported Capt. Stacker Lee in command of the COAHOMA Jan. 1, 1878.

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The page below from Capt. William Tippitt’s History of the Lee Line recounts the clash and competitive spirit between the Lee Line and the St. Louis and New Orleans Anchor Line.  The JAMES LEE “Took the Horns” (deer antlers – signifying the fastest boat) May 27, 1882 from the CITY OF PROVIDENCE in a record time of 5 hours 33 minutes between Helena Arkansas and the Beale Street Landing Memphis.  A careful reading reveals a great deal of “trash talk” from the St. Louis news paper.  Below this page is a model of the BELLE MEMPHIS which is part of the Howard Shipyard Museum, Jeffersonville Ind.

1882 James Lee Helena record time

Howard Mansion Belle Memphis

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ECLIPSE formerly City of St. Joseph


My new friend Jeff Wilkes of Savannah TN gave me this great old picture.   Jeff has an amazing collection of St. Louis and Tennessee River Packet items.  This picture was cropped from the original which is a stereoscopic card.  The City of St. Joseph was built at St. Joseph MO in 1901.   As you can see from this picture the Eclipse was in a bad way.  Way’s Packet Directory reported the following, ” The Lee Line at Memphis in latter (November) 1916 changed her name to ECLIPSE (from CITY OF ST. JOSEPH) and ran her Memphis –  Caruthersville.  She ended up on a snag at 7:00 pm, Sept. 25, 1925 Opposite Osceola Ark.  Crew and passengers got ashore over a sand bar.  The picture of the City of ST JOSEPH below shows a much different configuration with an extended bow.  Ways also reports the City of ST JOSEPH collapsed a flu in June 1911 killing 18 deck crew and injuring engineer Floyd Morgan.  She was caught out high and dry at Luna Landing, Ark in March 1916 and remained there some time.”CITY OF ST JOSEPH 2

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August 1, 1944 Rennes France 50 young American men died in less than 5 minutes


This historical account was sent to me by Nancy Buchant whose father died along with my uncle Jim and 47 other young American men August 1, 1944.  The Captain in charge was told by a young French boy that if he continued down the road they were on they would be cut down like rabbits but if the went into Rennes by a different way they would slide in like butter.  The Captain replied that tanks weren’t designed for street fighting and continued down the road they were travelling, resulting in German 88 mm fire destroying 6 tanks, a number of half tracks and the lives of almost 50 men.  This unit had landed on Utah Beach approx. 2 weeks previously.  Later that day 2 P-47’s destroyed the German 88’s.  The following is a brief account of this fighting.  The citizens of Rennes France have memorialized the deaths of these young men who died fighting to free them from German occupation and oppression.  The town build a memorial listing each man and the place of his burial.   The wiki link below can be translated from French to English and gives greater detail about this memorial.


Rennes France Aug 1 1944 pg1.jpgRennes France Aug 1 1944 pg2Wrecked armored personnel carrier 8 1 1944

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