Marker Logo HMdb.org THE HISTORICAL
MARKER DATABASE
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”

Fort Benton in Chouteau County, Montana — The American West (Mountains)
 

Grasshoppers in the River?

Perils of Steamboating on the Missouri

 
 
Grasshoppers in the River? Marker image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, August 22, 2020
1. Grasshoppers in the River? Marker
Captions: (upper left) This 10-mile section of the 1893 Missouri River Survey shows the last obstacles (the Shonkin Bar and Brule Bar) before steamboats reached Fort Benton.; (background, bottom right) Steamboats like the Benton (center left) carried both people and their supplies to the West-and everything needed a ticket. Top, a passenger's 1883 ticket from St. Louis to Fort Benton on the Cora; bottom, an 1886 "bill of lading" to take one safe and seven packages from St. Louis to Helena. (center) A "grasshopper" illustrated: capstan, derrick, spar, pulley's & lines.
Inscription.  In the 25 years following the first gold discoveries in western Montana, before railroads arrived in Fort Benton 1887, steamboats made hundreds of trips bringing fortune-seekers and their supplies from St. Louis to Fort Benton. Some of the boats eventually sank or were destroyed in the turbulent, hazard-filled waters. One world traveler of the era said the trip against the current of the Missouri was more frightening than sailing the high seas during a wild storm.
A frequent-and exhausting-challenge the boatmen faced was running aground on the sandbars that are surprisingly common in this river. At those times, long wooden poles (spars) were driven into the river-bottom of lift the boat. While noisy engine revved backwards, boatmen used ropes and pulley's to pry the wooden spars and wrestle the boat free. Called "grasshoppers" because there use made the boats resemble giant insects, the spars often had to be used repeatedly, each time lifting and moving the boat mere feet or yards further on its way, literally walking the boat down the river.
You can look from here to the patio of the Interpretive Center to get a picture of the scene.
Grasshoppers in the River? Marker image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, August 22, 2020
2. Grasshoppers in the River? Marker
The 'grasshopper' is up the hill in front of the Missouri Breaks Interpretive Center.
The patio is shaped to mirror that of a steamboat deck, with a wooden "grasshopper" coming off the side. A capstan (rotating machine) on the deck, driven by a noisy engine that was in constant use at such times, moved ropes that raised the bow of the boat to free it from the sandbar.


"...we found the boat hard-fast on the Shonkin Bar. The boat backed and shoved forward in efforts to free itself but only came more firmly wedged on the bar. The spars were lowered into the river bed, the engine started and the wheel reversed in an attempt to pry the boat off the bar. First one spar broke, then the second one... The crew was ordered overboard with picks, shovels and crow bars. After thirty hours of ceaseless toil, the hard bar under the boat parted into clods of sand and gravel and we floated clear." May Flanagan, 1887 from "Packets to Paradise" Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., Missoula , by John G. Lepley.
 
Erected by Missouri Breaks Interpretive Center.
 
Topics. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: Waterways & Vessels.
 
Location. 47° 48.591′ N, 110° 40.352′ W. Marker is in Fort Benton, Montana, in Chouteau County. Marker can be reached from 7th Street near River Street. The marker is beside the Missouri
The 'Grasshopper' image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, August 22, 2020
3. The 'Grasshopper'
River, in front of the Missouri Breaks Interpretive Center. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 701 7th Street, Fort Benton MT 59442, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Priming the Pump (within shouting distance of this marker); The Little Shell Chippewa (within shouting distance of this marker); Cow Island Incident (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); Most Progressive in Montana (about 400 feet away); Fort LaBarge (about 800 feet away); Whoop Up Trail (approx. 0.2 miles away); Great Northern Railway (approx. 0.2 miles away); Nez Perce Fight (approx. ¼ mile away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Fort Benton.
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on December 3, 2020. It was originally submitted on December 3, 2020, by Barry Swackhamer of Brentwood, California. This page has been viewed 28 times since then and 3 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on December 3, 2020, by Barry Swackhamer of Brentwood, California.
Paid Advertisement
Mar. 3, 2021