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The Gardie Eastman, the last Steamboat on the Red River?

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

The Gardie Eastman in 1908 (Quincy, Illinois Public Library).

In 1922, the "Gardie Eastman" chugged its way up the Red River from New Orleans, piloted by long time riverboat captains L.C. Miguad and E. Johnson who, back in the 19th century, plied the Red River for a living.

The purpose of the Gardie Eastman's trip was to prove that navigation between the Gulf of Mexico and Jefferson, Texas was possible, especially through funding for the Jefferson-to-Shreveport Waterway project, a canal that would connect Caddo Lake to the Red River (which it once did, before the removal of the Red River Raft in 1872). As the Shreveport Times described in an article in April of 1922:

"the steamer demonstrated the feasibility of a project which caused a most enthusiastic mass meeting in Shreveport a few years ago... it has shown that the bayou-drainage canal can be navigated by steamers and barges of light draft... Gardie Eastman draws five feet... With a channel through Caddo Lake (a matter of more dredging) navigation between Shreveport and Jefferson, once the gateway to Texas, may again become a fact instead of a recollection from the past."

The captains provided some impressions into how the river had changed from the time they had stopped running it until the 1922 trip: "In the early days the Red was narrow and deep, you could stand on the deck and throw a [New Orleans] Times newspaper to either bank. Whereas now, it is wide and shallow. It is so full of snags and logs." They even witnessed "slices of rich farm land sliding into the water." The captains also saw, in the middle of the river forty miles below Shreveport, "water boiling from the Hodges Geyser* that once was well inshore opposite Elm Grove, but now had moved into the middle of the river by caving banks and the travels of the Red in a direction well-regulated rivers are not supposed to go." The river had become so wide that the Gardie Eastman could safely navigate around the geyser.

The Gardie Eastman a paddle wheeler, was a hard-working ship. Built in Iowa in 1882 as a "rafter" (log remover and dredger), it floated up and down the Ohio, Mississippi, Ouachita, Arkansas, Black, and Red Rivers. It was also once piloted by Ida Moore Lachmond of Iowa, the only female riverboat captain in the nation in the 1890s. Later, in 1915, the ship signaled to the draw bridge in Quincy, Illinois, to rise for clear passage. A late-running train did not notice the signals to stop and plunged its locomotive headfirst into the Mississippi River (no passengers were hurt, as the air brakes disconnected the rest of the train, although both the engineer and firemen were killed upon impact with the bridge pier).

Decommissioned in 1926, the Gardie Eastman may well have been the last steamboat to traverse the entirety of the Red River.

*The "geyser" (a bubbling spring which created a whirlpool in the Red River?) was at Elm Grove on the Bossier Parish side of the Red River below Shreveport. In 1892, land owner L.K. Hodge purchased several cubic feet of dirt to shore up two levees to stop his land from cleaving into the ever-widening Red River, which continued to expand wider after the 1872 raft removals. His ploy did not work; the "geyser," along with the land surrounding it, ended up in the Red River channel.

A 1915 photograph of the Gardie Eastman on the Mississippi River at Quincy, Illinois (Adams County Historical Society).

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