As far back as 1830 folks were talking about the Trinity and what might be done with it. The first navigation of the mighty old river goes back well over 100 years, to a voyage by the vessel "Scioto Belle." I have found documentation of two different dates, one in 1836, the year Texas won its independence from Mexico and one in 1844.
The citizens of Dallas, TX, desirous to be a port city, began to get serious about navigating the Trinity in the 1860s and put together a pot of money, amounting to $500 saying it would be given to the first person to successfully navigate the Trinity between Galveston and Dallas. Word of the challenge reached Captain James H. McGarvey, or Cap’n Jim, as he was known, a fearless steam-boatin’ man.
Cap’n Jim cared nothing for the prize money, but he loved a good adventure! He successfully navigated the Trinity from Galveston to Dallas in his steamboat, Job Boat No. 1 (later dubbed The Lost Heir), with a full load of merchandise. The trip was hard and many times they had to push, pull, break up log jams, cut down trees, etc, to navigate the waters of the Trinity.
Job Boat No. 1, left Galveston in September of 1867, and arrived in Dallas May of 1868, the trip taking 8 months. In an unnamed newspaper account in our files, the writer, Arthur F. Sanders writes, “The town of Dallas, as Cap’n Jim found it in 1868, was little more than a spot where the driver of freight teams could stop to wet their whistles and water their horses while passing along the trail. The town was young and awkward but lusty, and the citizens were whooping and boasting of the port they were going to have just as soon as a few dams were built and a few cricks in the river straightened out. They didn’t think it would take much money to bring the Gulf of Mexico to their front door.”
By the time Cap’n Jim arrived in Dallas there was no prize money left, so the officials offered him a parcel of land, much of which was at the foot of Commerce Street in downtown Dallas. Cap’n Jim said, “Pish and Tush, I’m no farmer, I’m a steamboatin’ man,” so he traded the land for a mess of groceries and a bolt of cloth. Cap’n Jim, not possessed by the gift of prophecy, figured the land would cost him a lot of money in taxes and such.
Cap’n Jim met with tragedy when he was about halfway home on his return trip to Galveston. The crew had gone ashore to attend a shindig given in their honor at night. A sudden rise swept down the river and the stern wheeler caught the full force of the swirling water, yawned, broke her lines, and overturned.
Taken from an article by
Georgia Gonzales ~ 1945
Material related by engineer who made the trip on the Harvey.
Brilliant in her new coat of white paint, her crew dressed in handsome uniforms, the band playing and whistle blowing, the H. A. Harvey Jr. a stern wheel boat, glided gracefully along side the dock at the city of Dallas, Texas, and made her lines fast.
For months, the citizens of Dallas had awaited this event. The crowd that greeted the Harvey Jr. was so immense and enthusiasm so great that people swarmed over her deck like flies. Finally, to keep the crowd off and prevent an accident, the Harvey had to back out in the stream until the enthusiasm died down.
In 1893, anxious to make a port of Dallas, Texas a group of Dallas citizens, to prove the Trinity was navigable, purchased the stern wheel steamboat, H. A. Harvey Jr. from the Harvey Brothers in New Orleans, LA. They proceeded to have her navigate the Trinity River. This she did after much delay and patience on the part of her sponsors and crew.
She was three months going from the head of the Trinity River to Dallas and four months coming down again. In addition to a supply of cant hooks she carried other tools for clearing the stream of lumber jams. These were caused by fallen trees which were uprooted by the swift current of the river during high water. For days between rains, she would have to wait for a freshet in the river before she could proceed. Making her way slowly as far as she could after each freshet, picking a deep place in the river to stop until another rain and thus another rise in the river, then proceed carefully on.
The Harvey Jr. remained three years in Dallas operating successfully as a pleasure boat until a slight accident changed the course of events.
She was sold to the Walker Brothers of Lake Charles, LA. And thus began her decent of the Trinity River on her trip to Lake Charles.
Commodore Basil Muse Hatfield, the bearded giant known by many as “The Prophet of the Trinity,” carried on the work started by Captain Jim McGarvey 60 years earlier, making the trip down the Trinity in less than half the time it took Cap’n Jim. However, Hatfield traveled downstream in a small shallow draft flatboat and Cap’n Jim traveled against the current in a much larger heavier boat.
The Cruiser-tug, Bessie Mae, left Anahuac docks in April of 1940 for a trip up the Trinity River to Mile 236 near Madisonville returned after a successful trip, Wednesday afternoon about 5:15.
Making the trip were Chamber of Commerce representatives from each of the towns along the Trinity.
Those in the party included the owner of the tug, Captain Krebbs, Commodore Basil M. Hatfield, photographer, F. L. Flickinger, and newspaper journalists including H. B. Lusk of the Anahuac Progress.
The Trinity is without a doubt a navigable stream and is on its way to big and better development. The party making the trip encountered no hardships, and said that it was possible for them, with the river on the rise as it was, to have successfully reached a point within fifty miles of Dallas.
This is an 1867 navigation chart showing the landings along the Trinity River with Galveston being their port of origin. More than likely this was used by the mail boats. Many of these landings do not exist today.