The Wreck of the Montana
Friday, July 5, 2013
Steamboat pilots on the Missouri River watched the horizon with great concern on June 30, 1879. Dark storm clouds were gathering, and by afternoon the rain had nearly reached the river near Bismarck.
The steamboat Rose Bud headed to Fort Berthold to wait out the storm. The Helena also steamed upriver in hopes of avoiding the bad weather. The Eclipse moored itself at the Don Stevenson ranch, far enough out to avoid damage.
The Dakotah, The Colonel McLeod, and the Montana rode out the thunderstorm moored in Bismarck. Only about four hundredths of an inch of rain fell by 7:30 that evening, but rain would be the least of the steamboats’ problems.
The Montana was one of the largest steamboats on the Missouri, and Captain Buesen wasn’t worried about his boat surviving the storm. He climbed to the upper decks to check that the tall, thin smokestacks were secure – only to see a tornado crossing the river, headed straight for the boat landing!
The tornado tore the roof off the Dakotah and knocked down the smokestacks of the Colonel McLeod, but the Montana was hardest hit. The twister threw the steamboat against the riverbank, and ripped the Montana’s cabin right off the hull.
Mr. Cox, one of the stewards for the Montana, realized the danger too late. He had taken only a few steps towards safety before the ceiling and walls were torn away around him, leaving him suddenly out in the open. Only two stewards, a chambermaid, and Captain Buesen were on board at the time, and all escaped serious injury.
On this date the Bismarck Tribune reported the destruction. The Montana’s smokestacks survived unharmed, but the pilot house was knocked forward, hanging precariously over the bow. The fine furniture and decorations of the passenger compartments were strewn all over the deck and the shore.
The Montana wasn’t a total loss, and its hull was towed to St Louis for repairs. The damage took the Montana out of service for the rest of 1879. However, the steamboat only avoided misfortune for another four years. In 1884, the Montana struck a bridge and sank to the bottom of the Missouri river.
Dakota Datebook written by Derek Dahlsad
“Wretched Work of Wind,” Bismarck Tribune, 7/5/1879
“Boating on the Missouri River,” E M Olson, St Charles (MO) Journal, 1/24/1963
“Steamer Montana wrecked by tornado at Bismarck landing, Dakota Territory,” http://www.digitalhorizonsonline.org/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=%2Fuw-ndshs&CISOPTR=2168, retrieved 6/7/2013.