Steamboat Pilot’s Wheel

I’m just back from my annual summer trip to Montana and am happy to report that I located the pilot’s wheel for the steamboat Rose Bud in the Montana Historical Society Museum – which is where my earlier post stated it might be.

It’s a little difficult to tell from this picture, but the wheel is rather large – probably about 5′ tall.  Below this photo is a photo of the museum label for this exhibit piece – see item #4 “Steering wheel”.

Rose Bud pilot wheel

Rose Bud

Note the “c. 1877” date, which seems to confirm my research that the steamboat was built in 1877.

Note: The featured image for this post is courtesy of the Montana State University Library, James Willard Schultz Photos and Personal Papers.

More on the Steamboat Rose Bud

Since I was feeling lucky and excited to have located a picture of the steamboat Rose Bud, referenced in the post 1879: Mary’s Trip to Montana, I got curious this morning and decided to do a little more research.  This was a fun – and very fruitful – research project!

First, I found another wonderful photo of the Rose Bud, courtesy of the Montana State University Library, James Willard Schultz Photos and Personal Papers.  The description of this photo is as follows:

“Photo of a steamboat docked on a river. It has 2 tall smoke stacks and a letter P on a banner between them. The name Rosebud on the wheelhouse. There are men on deck and a group of men including soldiers are standing on the shore with bags of freight stacked nearby.”

Rosebud_MSU image

Next, I learned that Missouri River steamboats transported passengers and freight to the gold mines in Montana from 1862 until 1888.  Many only made one or two trips.  Most were small stern-wheelers built for other rivers and not adapted to the strong currents and tortuous channel of the Missouri River.  Consequently, a large number of the ships were lost.  [see Complete List of Steamboats Operating on Upper Missouri River]

However, it seems the Rose Bud fell into a slightly different category from other Missouri River steamboats.  According to a 2011 article in the Billings Gazette, the Rose Bud was built in Pennsylvania in 1877, and was designed to work the shallower waters of the Upper Missouri and Yellowstone.  She was 193 feet long and could carry 286 tons, plus passengers and crew.  Her maiden voyage was in the summer of 1877 – with Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman on board.  He was on a tour of military facilities following the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876.

The Rose Bud made more than 50 trips to Montana over a 19-year period, and was one of the last steamers on Montana rivers before railroads made them obsolete.  The Billings Gazette article goes on to state that the Rose Bud was wrecked on pilings of a railroad warehouse in Bismarck, North Dakota, when the water level on the Missouri went down unexpectedly.1

And finally, I learned that the Rose Bud pilot’s wheel is located at the Montana Historical Society Museum in Helena.  I will definitely check that out on my trip to Helena this summer!

1.  went down unexpectedly.  I found a source that states the Rose Bud sank in the Missouri River near Bismarck on May 25, 1880.  If the Billings Gazette article is correct that the Rose Bud’s career spanned a 19-year period, this date is incorrect.

1879: From Missouri to Montana


Entry from Journal #1: circa 1935


My mother (Mrs. Eva Rumping) left St. Louis in March 1879, being 3 months on the Missouri river up to Fort Benton1, the boat was checked in the waters by heards [sic] of buffaloes and there [sic] calves fording the river . . . My Father coming up some months before Mother.  I (Mary) was born in St. Louis, 1878-3-3 and the first white child coming to Belmont, Mrs. Elizabeth Wilkenson Fletcher Forlander, next, Lawrence Welch found my baby shoe on the road to Belmont. The Indians and white mens [sic] scalps were met traveling by stage from Fort Benton to Old Silver, 300 miles, a place 6 miles below Marysville. Swamps and beaver dams were first where Marysville was built afterwards. Penobscot, Empire, Gloster, Mt. Plesant [sic] and Belmont were the mines working.  My Father was an engineer in the first 5 stamp mill built in Mary’le by Thos. Cruse.  T. Cruse came here clad poorly riding a black horse from California 49 yrs. ago.  Mother did his washing & baking, he used to fondle me and call me Mamie.  Father had a claim on the Drum Lumond [sic] hill he sold for $12,500 in about 1889 . . .

Later, Mary added the following three sentences at the top of the page:

Mother rode 300 miles on stage from Ft Benton to old Silver City.  Heavy sand bars delayed the boat for days.  The boat was the “Rose Bud”.2

And also this entry at the top of another page:

Mother came to Belmont July-7-1879 & so did Wallace Burkhead from St. Louis, MO. and myself, 12 mos. old.

  1.  Fort Benton. Originally established in 1847 as a fur trading center, Fort Benton (nicknamed “The Birthplace of Montana”) later attracted steamboats carrying goods, merchants, gold miners and settlers, arriving from several ports including St. Louis, Missouri. See this website for more information.
  2. Click here for additional research in this blog on the Rose Bud.