A Note from Cottonwood Corners

An examination of the records shows that a large portion of the business of the Missouri River steamboats pertained to the Native Americans who were the first to live along what came to be called “Big Muddy.”  The many tribes were distributed along the course of the Missouri River and those of its tributaries, from St. Louis to their sources.

As the nation’s center of gravity and the population continued to move steadily westward, the importance of the Missouri River in the distribution of supplies needed to sustain the frontier became more important.  It had a significant impact on the buying and selling of products necessary for survival.

By the middle of the 1800s, those living along the shore of the Missouri were known and almost always accounted for.  But, especially in the early days out on the brawling “Big Muddy,” life was cheap.  No one knows how many bodies are interred in its secluded bottoms.

However, during the time of the steamboat on the Missouri, those who lost their life because of a boating accident were known.  The captain of each steamer had a record of those on board and if a death occurred, they made sure that proper arrangements were made and the family notified.

According to the Annual Report of the Chief Engineers of the Army for 1897 which was submitted by Captain H. M. Crittenden, two members of the crew of the Kate Swinney which sank in 1855 walked away from the vessel toward Sioux City.  They were never seen again.  At first it was suspected that they had been shot by the Sioux.  No evidence can be found which confirms this statement.  A chamber-maid burned to death on the Antelope which burned on April 12, 1869.

In March of 1870, the Hiram Wood No. 1 was snagged and sunk at Rosebud Landing, opposite Bijou Hills.  The boat was owned by Dr. W. A. Burleigh, a prominent citizen of Yankton, and was engaged in transporting supplies for Rosebud and Pine Ridge.  Later, Captain Grant Marsh bought the wreck and converted it into a ferry boat.

Rosebud Landing was the site of two large government warehouses.  One held the supplies for the Rosebud Agency and was under the charge of George W. Norris, clerk, and W. Bray, watchman.  The other belonged to the Pine Ridge Agency and was cared for by T. W. Fred, clerk, and W. Curran, watchman.

A private warehouse was used to store supplies and equipment necessary for the operation of the landing.  Two Indians residence, one for the use of members of the Spotted Tail band and the other for Red Cloud’s representatives, completed the facilities.  The Rosebud Landing location was the most important shipment site for Indian supplies going into the interior west of the river.

The total tonnage of cargo which was unloaded at Rosebud Landing from the countless river boats is unknown.  Whatever that number is, it is most certainly astronomical.  Records show that on July 22, 1881, two steamers left Yankton for Rosebud Landing with the following:  “The Tomkins with 200 tons of Indian goods” and “the Mollie Moore with 400 tons of Indian pork and corn.”

In November of 1878, a long string of Indian freighting wagons left Rosebud Landing with 250,000 (1250 tons) pounds of supplies for the Rosebud Agency, all drawn by Indian ponies and driven by Indian drivers.  This was the result of Major Pollock’s plan for the Indians to transport their supplies on the “Rosebud Landing Supply Road” from 1878 to 1886.  It was reported that there were “. . . one hundred loaded freight wagons, manned by Indians . . . plying between the Missouri river and this place.”  Before the rail system was established in South Dakota, transportation of supplies was by boat on the river and by wagon on the roads which had been established.

A cyclone descended upon Rosebud Landing in May of 1880 and completely demolished the warehouses and other facilities.  Supplies were scattered in all directions.  The steamer Black Hills was approaching the landing when the cyclone stuck.  For a few moments, the boat was roughly handled, but escaped without injury.

On April 26, 1880, at the Charles Lowe ranch, opposite Rosebud Landing, Jack Camp, mail carrier, was killed by James Loomer.  Camp had just crossed the river from Rosebud Landing and was walking up towards Mr. Loomer’s house, with a mail bag slung over his shoulder, when confronted by Loomer.

He was ordered to throw up his hands.  He did not obey, the order was repeated, and when Camp shifted the mail bag from one shoulder to the other he reached for his revolver.  Loomer then fired, his ball penetrating the abdomen of Camp and passed through his body.  Camp fell dead in his tracks.  Several persons were standing nearby, among them Rev. John L. Williamson.

The cause of this bloody encounter was supposed to be a woman.  Some four months earlier, as the story goes, Loomer and his wife separated.  Since that time she had been living with Camp.  Several quarrels had resulted from this intimacy and the final culmination was the shooting of Camp.  Loomer left the scene shortly after the tragedy with the purpose of surrendering himself to the sheriff of Charles Mix County.

The May 14, 1884, issue of the Press and Daily Dakotan reported:  “The government buildings (located at Rosebud Landing) were sold at auction the other day for $212.”


Author Clarence Shoemaker, originally published in the Gregory Times-Advocate on May 29, 2024