Among the numerous Missouri River steamboat pilots, Grant Prince Marsh (1834-1916) was possibly the greatest ever.
Early Life & Career - Civil War To Upper Missouri
After the war Marsh worked as a pilot and captain in the St. Louis-Fort Benton (Montana) trade. In later 1869, he was captain of the North Alabama loaded with vegetables for the army posts up river. Despite the dangers of becoming ice-bound for the winter a thousand miles from home, Marsh went all the way to Fort Buford at the mouth of the Yellowstone River to deliver the fresh provisions. These foods provided a welcome relief from the usual salt meat, canned goods and hardtack.
Saving The Survivors - The Seventh Calvary Expedition
On that trip Marsh exhibited his consummate skills on the Missouri. He had learned to "grasshopper" his way over sandbars with the spars on the bow of his various boats, and there were those who said he could navigate a sternwheeler through a sea of dew. Marsh traveled 64 miles up the shallow Bighorn to the mouth of the Little Bighorn in support of the troops.
The Far West's 54-hour, 710-mile day-and-night dash to Bismarck with more than 50 wounded troopers of Major Reno's command was one of the most remarkable exploits in the history of Missouri River steamboating. It was Marsh and those he brought with him who relayed the fate of the Seventh Cavalry to the rest of the nation then celebrating its centennial year.
Master Of The Missouri
He did, though, return to Bismarck, North Dakota, operating snag boats, towing coal barges, transporting grain and cement. He stayed active on the river as long as he could. Marsh died in near poverty in Bismarck in early January 1916, at the age of 83. He was interred in St. Mary's Cemetery located on a hilltop overlooking the Missouri River valley.
Hanson to Marsh Letters - Rare Insights
Transcription of an editorial letter written by Grant Marsh's biographer in April 1908 to Waterways Journal in public protest of the denial of the renewal of Marsh's pilot's license by the Duluth District steamboat inspectors. This copy in the MNRR archives, from an unknown source, appears to be a photocopy of a marked-up draft.
Did You Know?
Yankton, on the Missouri River, was the first capital of the Dakota Territory. This area included the states of South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and parts of Idaho and Nebraska.