95°F
weather icon Clear

River exploration mistaken for invasion

A case of mistaken identity caused a great deal of concern among the early Mormon settlers in the Nevada Territory in March 1858.

High political tensions between the Mormon settlers in the Southwest and the federal government at the time were of particular strain. So when Jacob Hamblin, a Mormon scout and missionary out on a hunting expedition, spotted a Yankee gunboat near the present day site of Hoover Dam on the Colorado River he was doubly concerned. He speculated this might be the forerunner of a federal troop invasion.

The strange craft did have soldiers aboard and sported a 4-pound howitzer to boot.

Rumors had been circulating among the local Indians of “Americats” on the river.

Hamblin raced back to the tiny Mormon settlement at Las Vegas and told them all to return to safety in Utah, and so the mission there was abandoned, in part for that reason along with continued troubles from the local Indians.

What Hamblin did not know was that the Yankee paddle wheeler was not an armed gunboat, but rather an expedition sent by the United States Corps of Topographical Engineers, commanded by Lt. Joseph C. Ives and the good ship Explorer. Its main function was to see how far up the Colorado was completely navigable? In other words, a purely scientific expedition.

Steamboats had been traveling up and down long sections the Colorado carrying immigrants, miners, mail and supplies for about five years, but this one was somewhat different.

The Explorer was manned by Ives, a few soldiers and crew. But the Explorer was not really a “good ship.” As one historian wrote, it was rather “a monumental piece of red tape and folly.”

Built by Ives and tested on the placid waters of the Delaware River back East, then disassembled, shipped to the Isthmus of Panama, hauled overland to the Pacific, reassembled and sailed up to the Gulf of California, to the mouth of the Colorado and on up to Fort Yuma in Arizona.

Ives and his party of scientists had numerous problems with the Explorer. It wasn’t really made to handle the rough, turbulent waters of the Colorado, was continually running aground on sand bars and rocks as well as in need of constant repairs.

Finally, after a long, exhausting journey, the expedition made its way some 550 miles above Fort Yuma to Black Canyon, site of present day Hoover Dam and a little beyond. This is when Hamblin saw the Explorer working its way up river. Ives also saw Hamblin on shore, but Hamblin then mistook what the Explorer was doing on the river. No hostile intent at all.

Soon the Explorer crashed again on the rocks, threw three men overboard, jammed the boiler and tore loose the wheelhouse. It would be three months before it could sail again.

Eventually, the Explorer was used for hauling freight and supplies for the Army. It was based out of Fort Yuma for many years.

Ives, even though New York born, joined the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He served in several engineering capacities and was finally appointed aide-de-camp with the rank of colonel to Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis from 1863 to 1865. After the war he settled in New York City, where he died Nov. 12, 1868, at the age of 38.

(Adapted from a story by Harold’s Club and Ives family papers, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.)

Dave Maxwell is a Nevada news reporter with over 35 years in print and broadcast journalism, and greatly interested in early Nevada history. He can be reached at maxwellhe@yahoo.com.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST
Davidson celebrates 100th birthday at senior center

With childlike incredulity, Gwen Davidson was surprised over and over Friday afternoon as friends at the Senior Center of Boulder City stopped by to wish her a happy 100th birthday.

Water safety focus of worldwide swimming lesson

If there is one thing that Cheree Brennan is passionate about, it’s making sure everyone is safe “in, around and on the water.”

Toddler helps raise cultural awareness

With his dancing blue eyes and impish grin, it’s easy to see why Braxton Ott caught the attention of others.

Meals on wheels: More food trucks hitting streets as entrepreneurs see new chances

The school bus parked outside of some Henderson breweries four days a week is no ordinary bus. Walk a bit closer, and onlookers will find an open window, with arms reaching out to hand slices of Detroit-style pizza to eager customers.

Free training bolsters microbusinesses

The Boulder City Chamber of Commerce has been invited by Workforce Connections to be involved in its latest partnership in bringing Venture Forward by GoDaddy to Southern Nevada to implement world-class training for local microbusinesses at no cost to them. This will be just one more addition to the no-cost resources that are already offered here in Southern Nevada by Workforce Connections and their partners. Microbusinesses have a proven positive economic impact in a community and need this type of assistance to be an asset to the business environment.

Fishers angle for best spot

Anglers covered the shorelines at Veterans’ Memorial Park on Saturday, June 11, as Boulder City hosted the Southern Nevada free fishing day event.

Nevada’s Yesteryear: Rabbit hunt captured Fremont’s attention

Capt. John C. Fremont, U.S. Army, traversed Nevada at various times in his explorations of the West in 1844-1845. He and his party were prepared for surprises and had seen many strange sights.