Steamboats were mainly used to carry freight from one
port to another along the Red River, and it seems that
the first organized riverboat company on the Red was the
Bayou Boeuf and Red River Navigation Company, which was
established in 1833.
In the hey-day, the leading operators of steamboats
along the Red River were the Red River Packet Company,
which connected Shreveport to New Orleans; the Carter
Lines, which connected Shreveport and St. Louis; the Red
River Coast Line, which ran up and down the Red River;
and the largest ownership, the G. L. Kouns and Brothers
The Kouns line’s first boat was called the Era.
As one boat reached its limit of use, another was built
with the same name. There was an Era No. 1,
Era No. 2, and so on through number thirteen. In
about 1850 larger steamboats were made and had such
luxuries as dining rooms, individual cabins, and
entertainment. The Era No. 11 published its own
newspaper on board in 1870.
Warehouses and stock pens were visible on the riverfront
from its earliest days. Cattle were driven along the
Greenwood road to the unpaved Texas Street where they
would wait in cattle pens for t3he boats that would
transport them. Cotton, hides, furs, bear grease,
tallow, beeswax, and wool were stored in the warehouses
until the steamboats arrived.
In 1873 the Red River ran closer to Commerce Street than
it does today. Steamboats carrying goods could dock
close to the stores.
Steamboats once traveled through the area near Querbes
Golf Course and South Highlands to dock at what is now
Betty Virginia Park.
Changes in the rates offered by the railroad caused an
increase in river shipment in the 1800’s. In June of
1882, 55,000 bales of cotton were shipped from
Shreveport to New Orleans. In 1883 and 1884 steamers
traveling to New Orleans from Shreveport carried 108,000
bales of cotton along with several thousand pounds of
other goods. 35,000,000 feet of lumber also went to
market in New Orleans after arriving from Shreveport.
But ten years later only seven steamers regularly
traveled between the two cities. Shipments of cotton
sent by river decreased, as the railroad carried most of
the goods. By 1900 only six steamers ran between New
Orleans and Shreveport.
It was popular for steamboats to race one another, and
in 1866 the sidewheeler Anne Everson broke all of
the earlier speed records when it reached Shreveport
from Alexandria in fifty-two hours.
Steamboat travel was often dangerous with low water and
stumps in the rivers and bayous and the threat of fire
and explosion with the boilers and machinery. One famed
case was the Mittie B. Stephens.
Joseph L. Stephens built the Mittie B. Stephens
in Madison, Indiana in 1863 and named it for his
From April 19 until July 25, 1864 the ship was used to
transport Union troops.
Confederate guns aimed at the steamer as it transported
Union troops in Mississippi; later on in the Civil War
it was used in the Federals’ attempt in capturing
In February of 1869 the ship was making a trip from New
Orleans to Jefferson, Texas when it stopped in
Shreveport on the way.
The ship was carrying 274 bales of hay, eight to ten
kegs of gunpowder, and $100,000 in gold to pay the
Federal Reconstruction troops in Jefferson.
On February 11, 1869 the Mittie B. Stephens left
the Commerce Street wharf with its cargo, forty-three
passengers, and sixty-six crewmen under Captain H.
At twelve a.m. when the ship was about two miles below
Swanson’s Landing, the watchman changed shift, and
William Swain, the pilot on watch, remarked that he
smelled something burning. At about that time he
noticed the hay on the bow had caught on fire,
presumably caused by a spark from the ship’s torches.
One of the crewmen, remembering the kegs of gunpowder,
rushed to throw them overboard, saving the passengers
from a larger explosion.16
Several people jumped overboard, but the fire cost the
lives of sixty men, women, and children, many of whom
did not realize they were twenty-feet from shore.
One of the ship’s three boilers was salvaged, but it was
later used as scrap metal in World War II. The 300-pound
bell went to the Presbyterian church in Vivian and later
to Harold H. Gilliam’s plantation in Gilliam. In 1971 it
went to the Jefferson Historical Society Museum.
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