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As It Was: Boats Play Major Role in Settling the Klamath Basin

The first Europeans to explore the Klamath Basin on foot and horseback in the early 1820s were amazed at how the Indigenous people near present-day Klamath Falls, Ore., depended more on canoes than
horses.  When the army, gold miners and settlers arrived by mid-century, they too relied on water travel.

In 1852, Indian fighter Ben Wright brought the first boats to the region for his pursuit of Modocs who had fled to an island in Tule Lake. 

Soon, ferry boats eased river crossings for miners and settlers, and when Fort Klamath became the first permanent settlement in the Basin in 1863, Yreka-built boats transported 13,000 pounds of supplies across the Klamath lakes to the fort.

It wasn’t long before steamboats arrived on the lakes.  The first steamer was the 65-foot-long General Howard, built in 1879 by H.M. Thatcher and Sykes Worden. It towed logs from Upper Klamath Lake to a sawmill on the Link River. Eventually, other steamers offered weekend excursions that included food, entertainment and music.

In the early 1900s, railroads and automobiles opened the region to the rest of Southern Oregon and California, reducing lake travel to fishing and pleasure boats.

Sources:  Helfrich, Devere. Klamath Echoes, vol. 1, no. 2, 1965, pp. 1-90, https://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/downloads/xd07gx541. Accessed 24 Feb. 2018.

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Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.