Newspaper Archive of
The Billings County Pioneer
Beach, North Dakota
December 22, 1960     The Billings County Pioneer
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December 22, 1960

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gILLINGS COUNTY PIONEER Family Once 'Owned the Missouri' Ago" I ! U IC Mr. and Mrs. W. A. Leach, Sr were guests of honor last week at a dinner given by "Doe's" fellow associates at the State Game and Fish department. The recognition dinner cited him for having become the department's first 20-year veteran. Leach was honored for his lengthy service to the sportsmen of the state and nation. (Photo by Shin Koyama) North Dakota PORTRAITS The daughter of the last of North Dakota's old-time steam- boat promoters, once widely known as "the man who owns the Missouri River," h~s packed up her personal treasures and is off to California with the river man she exchauged vows with forty-seven years ago. She is Julia Baker Leac]l. daughter of the late Captain Is- sac P. Baker, who came to Bis- marck in 1876 and whose 82 years spanned the great era of river transportation in America. And her husband is Willard A. Leach, who is regarded as one of the last of the "Master Pilots" of the Missouri River. The staff members and fami- lies of the State Game and Fish Department r c e n t ! y honored Capt. and Mrs. Leach at a banquet which noted that Capt. Leach is the first 20-year member of that office. Shortly after starting to work for the Game and Fish depart- ment in the fi-hery division, I,eaeh worked with a young m,'an lust out of college who was proudly using his freshly earn- ed "doctorate title" so the office .gt.qff affectionately b e s t o w c d tim same degree o,TM" Leach and he has become known as "Doe" to countless friends of "'North P.akota Outdoors." Leach has served in many capacities, having been in charge of the department's land nmuage- ~nenl division and in more re- cent years as purchasing agent as well. Born "at Running Water. South Dakota, Leach has spent his life along the Missouri River. His father. Captain Joseph Leach. operated his own boatline. His three brothers were all river boat captains ~oo. It w'as in 1909 that young Captain W. A. Leach came up to Bismarck to work for Captain I. P. Baker. hauling ma- terial for the south branch line of the Northern Pacific Railway. And four years later the girl that he married was Capt. Ba- ker's daughter - Julia Baker. She had been born in Bismarck and was educated in a finishing school in St. Paul and she shares her husband's affection for the river ,~nd all those boats of yes- ter-year. Their home is on the banks of the Missouri near the Memorial Bridge, on the Bis- marck side of the river. In 1921 Leach worked in Wash- ing-ton for two years, then on down to San Diego, California before returning to North Dakota in 1926 to resmne freighting grain and eo~l on the Missouri. The couple has ~wo children - Betty, Mrs. Bill Carter of Bow- man and Willard A. (Bill) Jr. of Valley City. Their son's daughter Palty has made her home with the senior Leaches since baby- hood. They are looking forward to being near her for their Cali- fornia home is at Pebble Beach and Patty is taking nurses train- ing at St. Luke's Hospital in Sal~ Francisco. There are two other grandchildren. Captain B~ker But going back to that remark- (Benton at Fort Yates -- August 1911) (Photo by Frank B. Flake} able Capt. I. P. Baker - - here was one of the most eloquent southern gentlemen whose erect figure and courtly manner set him apart from the crowd as he participated in every phase of frontier development. He knew the Missouri river intimately as a pilot, but was concerned about the business end of transporta- tiun from the great inland em- pire to eastern and southern markets. River transportation was in his blood. His father and grandfather before him had been rivevmen since the first flatboat was launched at the headwaters of the Ohio. Mark Twain lived across the street from his boyhood home in St. Louis and letters from this great humorist and other no- table military and political personages were kept in one of the most extensive letter and clipping files of early Dakota days. Before coming to Bismarck, Baker had operated independent- ly in St. Louis as an agent for several boatlines after working closely with his father in acquir- ing his business and boating background. He served as mana- ger of the St. Paul and St. Louis Packet Company, which was one of the leading steamboat lines on the Mississippi. In 1881 Baker, then a young man of 26, was hired by Thomas C. Power of t, he Benton Trans- portation Company to act as his general agent in Bismarck. One of his principal contributions to the company was the institutior of an efficient means of book- keeping, requisitioning and bud- geting. By 1883 he was part own- er with Power of some of the boats of the Benton Line and he was actively engaged as contact man with railroads, fuel sup- pliers and civil and military con- tractors. By 1916 the rivalry between the Benton Transportation Company and Missouri River Transporta- tion Company had ceased and it was Capt. Baker who had the only fleet on the Upper Missouri river. He operated at that time six boats and several barges through the Benton Packet Co of which he was owner. All but one was propelled by gasoline: engines, with the newest being the "Expnnsion." Thirty years ago Baker com- mented on the worries of the day concerning automobile wrecks He recalled then that there had been 295 steamboat wrecks on the Missouri river from the be- ginning of navigation up to 1897 Student of History Capt. Baker was not only a man to help ma~e history, but he was interested in preservinv, it and the "Baker Collection of Manuscripts and Records" whict~ has been housed at the NortL Dakota Historical Society foJ many years consists of 119 leg;~; size document boxes, which cer- tain about 2,000 pieces on the average. In addition to the manu~ scripts there are 239 journal ledgers, and various types of steamboat record books and 65 bound volumes of letters and telegrams. Most of the material is concern- ed with river transportation. But Baker was also interested in sci- entific agriculture, particularly in the breeding of purebred cattle and the adoption of new grasses Two N';rth Dakota firms have enteredinto an a~freement to exploreland in the state for possible manganese in commer- cial quantities. Uraniam Exploration, Inc Mh]ot. has about 1,500 acres un- der lease, where there is rea- son to believe that manganese deposits may exist. F. C. De Witt, president of the firm. said an agreement has been reached with Ames Min- ing Co headed ~by Donald Ames of Fargo whereby the Ames firm will shortly investigate approx- imately 640 acres located two miles north and a mile west of Dunseith in l~olette county. Other lease holdings are in Pembina county, and the agree- ment covers these as well. The Fargo firm plans to use a core drilling rig near Dun- LIKE 1to GO?--This is a copy of the official invitation to the presidential inauguration. The Capitol emblem at top is embossed in gold, printing is black. to North Dakota l~nd. Becoming one of the politica! and business leaders in Dakota Territory, Baker is credited wit~ helping locate the State Capitol at Bismarck and recently his daughter, Julia Baker Leach, turned over to Prof. I. E. Sol- berg of the Bismarck Junior Col- lege the proclamation with the original signers of the official document. Active in Politics Eaker was mayor of Bismarck In 1880-91, a member of the Democratic National Committee, 1892-96, and a delegate to the Democratic National Convention at Kansas City, Missouri in 1900 }{e was one of tile first citizens to interest Andrew Carnegie in establiship-g a public library in Bismarck. His personal library of first editions of the West and Ammqcana was remarkable. Afler !997 Baker was one of the du'eetors of the NMiona~ Rivers and Harbors Congress and an active member of tile Mis. souri River Navigation Congress. ]Both of these organizations were dedicated to the goals of rive- improvement and a revival of river commerce. He consistent]-- fought for increased government support of Missouri River im- provement. Scrapbooks he kept sIlows his varied interest of all ph~es of economic and cultural develop- ment. His friends were among the Indians as well as the pew- ors that ruled the high places in government. It is fitting to his memory that one of the last civic projects his daughter Julia Baker Leach did before leav- ing North Dzkota was to serve on the Captain Grant Marsh Memorial Committee which erected a handsomely i6scribed native stone at Capt Marsh's u n m a r k e d grave in St. Mary's ceme- tery in Bismarck. The gallant Capt. Marsh was with Terry and Custer on the Yellowstone river in the smn- mer of 1873 and in 1876 he won ~'ame for himself and his boat, "The Far We~Y by racing down to Bismarck in record time with lhe wounded from the Custer battlefield. Ti~e "Far West" was c, nce un- der command of Capt. Baker and Capt. Marsh in late years worked for the Benton Packet Co. until his death in 1916. ~lrs. Leach, as her father be- fore her, has maintained an in- ,forest in the development of N0vth Dakota's resources. For twenty years she has reported legislative activities to an eastern concern. Although Capt. and Mrs. Leach are now enjoying a well deserv- ed winter vacation in sunny Calf- . fornia-~they will be heading back to North Dakota with the first meadowlark~ next spring. It was the custom of tile early steamboat days on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers for the ~wner of the steamboats to place between the ~moke stacks some emblem or trade mark show- lug who owned the boats. The "Block P" came into existence about 18"/1. It was run under the management of the Benton P~ket Company and eastern headqnar ters of the company were s/tuated at Bismarck When the Northern l~teifle Railway was built to that point, Capt. L P. Baker was superlntende~, of the Benton Packet Ce. and later became mares- ger, then owner. The steamboat business proved profitable and new boats were built or pueehased until tn ~S87 nine steamboats carried the trade mark "Block P" beween their smoke stocks. They were the Benton, Helena, Butte, Black Hills, Missouri, F. Y. Bgtehelor, Judith. Bismarck and the Re.e- bud picured here, The only means of transporting freight over- land, when the goods landed on the sttamboat~ at Ft. Benton, which was the head of navigation of the Missouri river, was by bull team. Captain Joseph Leach, seated, is shown with his four sons--all Missouri river pilots. A Master Pilot himself, two of his sons also earned this dis- tinction. Standing behind him are Capt. Wlllard A. tMaster), Joseph Jr. {Master), George Clinton and Clifford D. The "Josephine" which the family owned was one of the most colorful of any in Missouri or Yellowstone river trade. It was built by Jo- seph La Barge, famous river captain and pilot of the Mlscoari, under ,the instructions and for the use of another and considered even more famous pilot--Captain Grant Marsh. Designed especially for filling a government charter on the shallbw Yellowstone, the Josephine was laid down at Pittsburg, Pa shipyards early in 1873. The Couison Packet Co, of which Marsh was a member, had contracts for working with the Northern Pacific survey party of 1873, which was escorted by the Seventh Cavalry under the leadership of Gen. G. A. Custer. For 34 years the Josephine dodged snags in the Missouri river, had made about 30 trips to Fort Benton up to 1889, served the wild frontier, a useful life in middle age and then the government before Capt. Leach owned her. In 1907, while in winter quarters, the Josephine was cut down by an Ice floe at Rmming Water, S. Dak.