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Pioneer of 1852

Captain Isaac Thomas

1842 - 1890

Captain Thomas was born on March 17, 1842 and died on November 14,1890 on Sauvie Island. He is buried in the Old City Cemetery in Vancouver, Washington. (Section NW, Lot31- 4, Line 16)

His wife Mary, was the administrator of his estate (Columbia County Probate, #111). He is listed in the 1860 census, Columbia county, Oregon, as the son of Henry Thomas.

He was a leading force in the river boat traffic on the Lewis River. Together with other families from Sauvie Island and the Lewis River he built and ran steam boats.

Three of Isaac’s sisters married Bonser men, a Bonser girl married a Caples and one of Isaac’s sisters married James Copeland. All of these men worked together in building and running steamboats in Oregon and Washington.

1876        Steamer “Hydra” built by locals.

During this year the people along the river formed their own transportation company. Among the owners were Captain Isaac Thomas, Captain Weir and Hez Caples. They built the “Hydra”. Later these men formed the Lewis & Lake RiverTransportation Company.

The “Hydra” was launched from St. Helens in 1876. It was on the river from 1876-1882. Isaac Thomas was one of the owners and later Captain

1878 Steamer “Latona” built

The Lewis & Lake company built the “Latona” in 1878 in Portland, Oregon. It ran until 1892. Captain W. G. Wier was at the helm until John Henry Bonser became Captain in 1882. Lewis & Dryden says he took over in 1878.

1880         Residence in Vancouver, Washington

Isaac Thomas and his wife, Mary, are living next door to Charles W. Slocum and his wife Laura. This is probably the house on 5th street where Columbia Lancaster lived after he sold his farm on the Lewis River.

1881         Steamer “Dewdrop” launched!

Lewis & Lake River Transportation Company launched the steamer “Dewdrop”. Captain Thomas ran both the “Dewdrop” and the “Lucea Mason” for several years.

1882         Fourth of July!

The “Latona” and the “Dewdrop” from the Lewis river brought settlers to the celebration in Vancouver, Washington. The “Gazelle” brought a full load from St. Helens. Including the people from Portland and Vancouver, it was said that attendance was 10,000.

1882        Columbia Lancaster

On September 7, 1882 Columbia Lancaster sold his 1,000 acre ranch and moved to the Isaac Thomas place on 5th street in Vancouver, Washington (Cowlitz County Historical Quarterly, Vol.XXIII, No. 1 & 2, Spring and Summer 1981).

1883        Name Change...

In 1883 the Lewis and Lake River Transportation Company became the Farmers Transportation Company. They petitioned to have a lock built on the Lewis river so the water would be deep enough for boats to get to LaCenter all year. The people were very much against it. They were sure they would have to pay higher rates, etc. Captain Thomas went before the legislature to argue for it but the people were opposed and nothing was done.

1883        Steamer “Lucea Mason” launched

The “Lucea Mason” was launched at St. Helens by the newly formed Farmers Tranportation Company of Pekin, Washington. It ran until 1891. Isaac Thomas was the leader of that company and part owner along with James Copeland. Captains were Isaac Thomas and John Henry Bonser. It ran daily from Woodland to Portland. A round trip cost 50 cents.


The “Lena” was put on the Lewis River by Captain Isaac Thomas. After he died in 1891 it was sold to Jacob Kamm and ran until 1895.

1886        Steamer “Isabel”

The “Isabel” was launched at Salem in 1887. John Henry Bonser was captain, followed by Isaac Thomas in 1889 and ran until 1890.

1888        Steamer Mascot” comes to the Lewis

The “Mascot” joined the river traffic in 1890. John Henry Bonser was captain until 1893.

1889        Death of Captain Thomas

After Thomas’s death in 1890/91 the Farmers Transportation Company fell apart. Thomas had been the leading force and without his guidance and vitality the others weren’t able to keep going. Some of the boats were sold to Kamm Transportation and Jacob Kamm took over the Lewis river routes. Captain Wier retired and his sons continued working on the Lewis, Lake and Columbia rivers. Both of the boys, Pete and Cassius, had spent their childhood working with their father on the steamers.

1890       Wife of Captain Thomas Dead.

Mary Thomas passed away on October 21st 1892. She was survived by a son, Alexander, age 34 of Columbia County, Oregon (Columbia County, Oregon Probate Record, #115).

We checked the card index at the Central Library in downtown Portland for any information on Captain Thomas. We were very pleased to find a card indicating a newspaper clipping describing the death of Captain Thomas on Sauvie Island. It was included in an interview with Mrs. James Sturgeon/Spurgeon.

(I wonder if this might have been Sturgess) The clipping was in a set of four volumes of assorted clippings about various people, places or occurences. It was listed under USO. We checked with the librarian and found that those four volumes had been thrown away during the move back to Central. Those in charge had decided they had no value!

Information on the Steamboats and their captains was found in “Lewis & Drydens, Maritime History of the Pacific Northwest”. Additional information was provided by Robert Waldt, Historian, Chuck Cardinell, Trustee and Bill Kune, Librarian, at the Oregon Maritime Museum in Portland,Oregon.

Information about Steamboats on the Columbia can be found in: Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol LI, No.l, March 1950, page 50.

Information regarding Cattle transportation by boat can be found in Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol.L, No. 4, December 1949, page 251.

Information on Steamboats on the Lewis River can be found in A History of The Woodland Community, 1858-1958, page 120. It was published by the Woodland Community Development Study, 1958. Available at the Genealogical Forum of Oregon and the Vancouver Public Library.

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