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Collected and Transcribed by

Sue Rekkas


Steamboats and Steamboatmen of the Upper Mississippi,

Descriptive, Personal and Historical by George B. Merrick,

The Saturday Evening Post, Burlington, Iowa,

June 15, 1918, page 10.




     Packet, built in the early 50’s.  She was running in the St. Louis & Keokuk Line about 1855 in command of Capt. Eads.  In 1856, and 1857 she was commanded by Capt. John S. Shaw.


     The main interest that attaches to the Robert Campbell is the story of her trip up the Missouri in 1863, in command of Captain Joseph La Barge, as narrated in Capt. M. H. Chittendon’s life of Captain Joseph LaBarge, entitled “Early Navigation on the Missouri River.”  The story is one of hundreds like it that record the dangers encountered by the brave men who manned the steamboats navigating the Missouri from the Indians who in vain disputed the advance of settlers, sometimes denominated the advance of civilization into their country.  For this reason I am encouraged to quote a part of Captain Chittenden’s account of the voyage of the Robert Campbell.  Prefatory to this account it may be said that the Robert Campbell, and the Shreveport were sent up the river by the government loaded with Indian annuities, and accompanied by  at least two Indian agents proceeded to distribute the annuities to several of the Sioux bands assembled to receive the goods but the agents distributed only about two thirds of the goods, retaining, for some reason as Captain Chittenden guardedly states it, the other third.  He might as well have boldly stated the truth.  The agents retained one third as plunder for their own personal enrichment.  He adds:  “The Indians were not deceived in the matter, and were very angry.  Naturally they went to Capt. La Barge and asked him to interfere and give them their rights.  This he could not do.  They then told him that they would follow the boat and cause it all the trouble possible, and this they did.  They followed it, on horseback to Fort Union, six hundred miles,-- a very remarkable performance, Captain Chittenden says, this pursuit of a steamboat on its laborious voyage through the Western prairies, seeking at every turn to destroy it and kill the passengers and crew.  At every stop for wood the Indian attacked the woodcutters and crew, and time and again fired bullets thru the pilot house, intended for Mr. Atkins, the pilot at the wheel.


     They had a noted hunter in the employ of the boat, whose duty it was to go ahead of the boat, shoot such game as he might find, and hang the carcasses on a limb on the bank whence they were taken off by the crew, who were on the outlook for them.  On one occasion Capt. La Barge saw a hat floating down toward them.  Its Steadiness in the water surprised him, and he continued to watch it until it came abreast the boat when it rose, securely perched on the head of a swimmer, who proved to be the hunter, Louis Dauphin.  “I had to take to the water this time,” he said as he climbed aboard.  “They were too many for me.  You are going to have trouble at Tobacco Garden.  The Indians are gathered there to the number of fifteen hundred or more, and intend to capture the boat.”  Continuing, Captain Chittenden says--The name “Tobacco Garden” on the Missouri River designated the Bottoms at the outlet of Tobacco Creek, on the left, or north bank of the river.  The south bank of the river was a caving bank, or one that was being undermined by the river.  At this time there was a very narrow beach at the water’s edge, above which the bank rose perpendicularly to a height of six or eight feet.  The channel was close to the shore and a boat in passing had to come within thirty or forty yards of the bank.  Even if anchored to the sand bar immediately opposite it could not get more than sixty yards away.  It was an ideal place to hold up a boat, and the Indians were shrewd enough to understand this perfectly.


     “It was toward noon of the 7th of July that the two boats, the Robert Campbell,”  Continuing, Captain Chittenden says, “in sight of the Tobacco Garden, and there, true to Dauphin’s prediction they beheld on the south bank a large body of Indians, assembled with the evident purpose of stopping them.  There was no use in trying to run a gauntlet like that, and accordingly the boats made fast to the opposite sandbar, the Shreveport about one hundred yards below the Robert Campbell.  A parley ensued with the Indians, who were so near that it was perfectly practicable to talk back and forth.  La Barge asked them what they wanted.  They said they wanted the balance of their annuities; they wanted no trouble, but simply their just dues.


     The agent, S. N. Latta, refused them the goods but requested the Captain to send his yawl and bring aboard some of the chiefs and head men to have a talk, and he would make them a present of sugar, coffee, tobacco, etc., and by this means quiet them.  The Indians likewise wanted the yawl sent out, but wanted the agent to go with it.  They would send their principle chiefs back with him to the boat, where everything could be talked over.  They were very shrewd, and the agent fell into the trap.  The captain told him that he could not possibly think of ordering the yawl out, considering the disposition of the Indians and their evident bent for mischief.  Latta replied: “Why, I’ll go; I’m not afraid.”  “All right” answered the captain  “if you can get volunteers, I will order the yawl out.”  They then went to the mate, Miller by name, and a crew was made up to take Latta to the shore.  When the yawl was ready the captain sent word to the agent who had disappeared up stairs.  The latter sent back a reply that he was suddenly taken ill, and could not possibly go, but to send the men and bring the chiefs on board.


     “The crew of the Robert Campbell were not lacking in courage, and a crew for the yawl was soon made up.  It consisted of seven men.  The steersman, a gallant fellow named Andy Stinger, sat in the stern.  Two men named O’Malley and Chris Sharkey, sat in the bow.  There were four oarsmen, one of them a young man named Martin, and the other one of the Irishmen who had recently been whipped in a fight with a “Yankee Jack,” another deck hand on the boat.  The yawl put off, and as the distance was very short it quickly reached the opposite shore head on and swung around under the forces of the current, so that it lay alongside the bank.


     “A chief and three Indians were under the cut bank on the be (?) when the yawl arrived.  One of the Indians stood exactly opposite Stinger with a gun in his hand covered with a leather case.  The other two Indians were armed with spears.  The chief was a fierce looking man, and it seemed as if his eye would pierce one through and through, said Stinger, who motioned for him to get into the yawl.  The men meanwhile were sitting quietly with their oars across their laps.  The chief gave some quick directions and in an instant the two Indians with the spears jumped into the boat and the one with the gun ripped the leather case off.  Stinger knew what this meant, and great presence of mind instantly threw himself into the water on the side of the boat, where it was fortunately four or five feet deep.  Slipping up along the boat he seized it by the gunwale amidships and dragged it from the bank.  The movement, quick as it was, was not quick enough.  The two young bucks who had leaped into the boat thrust their spears into the bodies of the oarsmen, killing them instantly.  A third was killed by the Indian with the gun who had missed his chance at Stinger, and a fourth was severely wounded by an arrow from the bank.  The two men in the bow instantly threw themselves into the bottom of the boat.


  “The crews of both boats were watching with breathless anxiety the progress of events.  When they saw Stinger jump into the water they thought him killed.  Someone exclaimed: “There goes Andy,” and instantly both boats responded with their entire armament.  This included two howitzers on the hurricane deck of the Robert Campbell and one on the Shreveport, together with weapons of various sorts belonging to passengers and crew.  The fire, on the whole was very effective. Numbers of the Indians were seen to fall, and Captain La Barge afterward learned thru Pierre Garreau, the interpreter at Fort Berthold, that there were eighteen men and twenty horses killed, and many wounded.  The Indians soon withdrew, and in about an hour some were trying to get water for their wounded neat a pile of driftwood half a mile below.  It was an intensely sultry day.  The howitzers were turned on them and they disappeared.


  “Returning to the yawl we find that Andy Stinger, protected behind the gunwale was steadily pulling the boat into the stream and swimming toward the sandbar as the current drifted him down.  When about half way across he called to the men to get up, while he himself climbed into the yawl, which was then rowed to the bank.  The people on the two boats were so absorbed in the battle that no one thought of going to the assistance of the yawl crew.  The wounded man and the two who unharmed got out and walked up the beach.  Stinger was thus left alone to drag the yawl and its mournful cargo up alongside the boat.  This apparent neglect fired him up to a desperate pitch: and he let go so some powerful language to the mate and others of the crew.  Captain La Barge presently came aft and looking into the yawl.  He said not a word, but turned away shaking his head in a manner that showed plainly enough what was passing in his mind.  Such was the celebrated affair of the Tobacco Garden.


  As a sequel to the foregoing I may say that the one third of the annuities that Agent Latta retained and which caused the slaughter at the Tobacco Garden, were stored at the Fort Union, which was in command of Captain Napoleon B. Greer, of Co. I. 30 Wisconsin Infantry Volunteers, my own regiment, which was up the Missouri for two years skirmishing for Sioux Indians.  Captain La Barge afterward asked Captain Greer what became of the Indian annuities that were left at his garrison and he said:  “Oh, those, I don’t believe you will find much.  The agent had traded nearly all for buffalo robes.”  Of course the Indians never got a cent.  Perhaps the agent Latta, did not.  The reader must judge for himself  on this point.


  The Robert Campbell was burned at the ST. Louis level October 13, 1863  on her return from the upper Missouri.



Collected and Transcribed by

Sue Rekkas

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