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Gazelle (steamboat) explosion.jpg
Name: Gazelle
Builder: Page, Bacon & Co., Linn City, Oregon[1]
Maiden voyage: March 14, 1854[2]
Fate: Boiler exploded April 8, 1854 at Canemah, upper works destroyed[1]
Notes: Hull salvaged, upper works rebuilt, and renamed (briefly) Sarah Hoyt and later Senorita[1]
General characteristics
Type: inland shallow draft passenger/freighter/towboat
Length: 145 ft (44 m)[1]
Beam: 23 ft (7 m)[1]
Depth: 5.0 ft (2 m) depth of hold[1]
Installed power: twin steam engines, high-pressure, one cylinder each, 14.5" bore by 48" stroke[1]
Propulsion: sidewheels[1]

Gazelle was an early sidewheeler on the Willamette River in what is now the U.S. state of Oregon. She did not operate long, suffering a catastrophic boiler explosion less than a month after her trial voyage.


Design and construction

Gazelle was built at the now vanished town of Linn City, which was located on the west side of the Willamette River across from Oregon City. She was driven by two steam engines, each one turning one of her sidewheels. Gazelle's builders were doing business as the Willamette Falls Canal, Milling and Transportation Company.

Reaching the upper river

Built below Willamette Falls, Gazelle was intended to run on the Willamette River above the falls, to serve the growing population in the Willamette Valley. To reach the upper river, Gazelle was lifted above the falls and launched on the upper Willamette at Canemah.


Gazelle made her trial run above the falls on March 18, 1854. Her first captain was Robert Hereford. The Oregon City newspaper was enthusiastic about the new steamer:

The fine weather and good music tended not a little to enhance the pleasure of the ladies and gentlemen on board, and all were highly entertained and pleased. Her tables are laden with Oregon's choicest productions, together with a select variety of imported fruits, etc. Who wishes for better accommodations, even in this tyee[3] day of Oregon refinement?[4]

During the voyage, Gazelle stood by as Oregon was sinking after hitting a snag just below Salem. Cargo from the Oregon was loaded onto Gazelle to lighten Oregon to better allow her salvaging. Suddenly Oregon broke free of the snag, drifted downstream, ran up on a sandbar and sank so deeply that only a part of her upperworks were visible above the water. Oregon, also a new steamer, was a total loss. On the way back down, Gazelle ran over a log and broke some paddle buckets, which however was not serious damage, and in fact was one of the strengths of the paddlewheel design over the propeller on inland waters.[2]


On April 8, 1854, at 6:30 a.m., Gazelle had come over to Canemah from the long wharf built above the Falls on the western side of the river above Linn City.[2] This was to be her first regular run after the trip up river where she'd attempted to assist the Oregon. [4] That morning, she was bound for Corvallis. Gazelle had been at the Canemah dock for about ten minutes. To make a speedy departure, the engineer had tied down the safety valve to build up steam. About 60 people were on board at 6:40 a.m. when Gazelle's engineer, Moses Toner, jumped off the boat, on to dock, and took off running.[4] About a minute later both boilers exploded. At least twenty people[5] were instantly killed, and everyone else was injured, including four people who died later. The sidewheeler Wallamet had been lying alongside Gazelle, her works were seriously damaged, and her pilot J.M. Pudge was killed in the explosion. The whole town of Canemah came running to the rescue, and boats had to be launched to rescue the living people and recover the bodies floating in the river. Captain Hereford was injured but survived. The coroner's jury blamed the engineer's "gross and culpable' negligence in keeping too much steam, and allowing the water level in the boilers to get too low.[4]

Partial salvage

The hull sank at the dock, but was later sold. Her new owners raised the hull, lined it over the Falls, and rebuilt it to become first the Sarah Hoyt and then the Senorita[1][2] The engines were salvaged and installed in Senorita''.[4]


Many years later a memorial plaque was placed on a rock outcropping overlooking the Willamette River and the long-abandoned Canemah landing, which stated:

600 yards south of this point
Explosion of Steamer Gazelle, April 8, 1854.
Loss of twenty-four lives.
Marked May 18th, 1933 by Multnomah Chapter D.A.R.[6]

See also

  • Senorita


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Affleck, Edward L., A Century of Paddlewheelers in the Pacific Northwest, the Yukon, and Alaska, at 14, Alexander Nicolls Press, Vancouver, BC 2000
  2. ^ a b c d Corning, Howard McKinley, Willamette Landings -- Ghost Towns of the River, at 41, 64-65, Oregon Historical Society, Portland, OR 1973 ISBN 87595-042-6
  3. ^ Chinook jargon for "excellent", "the best.
  4. ^ a b c d e Mills, Randall V., Sternwheelers up Columbia -- A Century of Steamboating in the Oregon Country, at 115-17, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE (1977 reprint of 1947 ed.) ISBN 0-8032-5874-7
  5. ^ Mills gives the casualties as twenty-eight killed.
  6. ^ Timmen, Fritz,Blow for the Landing -- A Hundred Years of Steam Navigation on the Waters of the West, at 69, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, ID 1973 ISBN 0-87004-221-1


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