The Last Trip of the Annie Faxon

Union Pacific's steamboat blows its boiler on the Snake River

| March/April 1969

  • Steamboat
    When the Annie Faxon exploded October 14, 1893, the 140-foot steamboat Spokane, shown here, hurried eastward with two Walla Walla, Washington, doctors on board to aid survivors of the blast. This picture of the Spokane was taken as she made a routine stop at Riparia, Washington, in 1901.
    Courtesy Clarence E. Mitcham

  • Steamboat

With permission from the writer, Norman Olsen of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin newspaper of Walla Walla, Washington, we reprint this story of the “Annie Faxon.” We thank the Union-Bulletin and Norman for this historical account. — Ed.

The steamboat was king on the Snake River in the almost forgotten past.

Roads were bad and the railroads were just starting to expand. Crops could only make money if they could be shipped and the farmers and inhabitants of inland Washington, Oregon and Idaho were buying merchandise.

The year 1893 saw the Northwest as the last frontier of the adjacent states.

Overland shipping was slow and expensive. Water freight was both faster and cheaper. And the Snake River was the freeway to the interior.

The sunburned hills and woods once echoed to the robust chant of steam engines laboring their way to Lewiston as the fragile steamboats swished up stream in clouds of pitchy wood smoke and white rooster tails from beating stern wheels.

The flat-bottomed boats were able to “float on a heavy dew” as they poked their snub noses in places with far less than 18 inches of water to pick up their cargo and passengers.

Afforded a good view

From the wheel house of the old boats it was possible to see a long way and spot farmers standing by landings with bags of wheat, fruit or the hope some needed item was arriving.

In the pilot house stood the big wheel — big because it took considerable leverage to turn the rudder. There was the bell handle for engine room signaling and a well worn wooden handle for the whistle cord.