Kate Ward

By: Mary M. Standifer

Type: General Entry

Published: September 1, 1995

The Kate Ward was the first steamboat to operate on the Colorado River. In June 1844 the La Grange Intelligencer announced that a local merchant, Samuel Ward, was to build a steamboat for use on the Colorado. The engine and other equipment had already been bought in Pittsburg and were to be shipped to Matagorda by July 15. The boat would be assembled at the head of the raft, which obstructed navigation on the lower part of the river, and was to be in operation by November 1. The article praised Ward for his part in selling the stock of the Colorado Navigation Company, which had been rechartered in January 1844 for the purpose of clearing the raft. Plans for construction of the steamer evidently changed, however, for the next relevant notice of a steamboat concerns the launching of the Kate Ward at Matagorda, near the mouth of the Colorado, on June 21, 1845. The vessel was said be owned by "Messrs. [George W.] Ward and Robinson" or by "Mr. Ward and Co. of Matagorda and a Mr. Robertson of Columbus." The Kate Ward, named for Ward's sister, was described as 110 feet long, twenty-four feet across at the beam, and capable of carrying 600 bales of cotton. It was reckoned that with such a cargo she would draw three feet of water, but at her launching she was said to draw only five inches. The reporter expressed the hope of going along "before many months . . . on her first trip up to Columbus and La Grange." Further work on the vessel, therefore, may have been necessary. Several months later, an identical announcement in two Houston newspapers reported that the Kate Ward, which was "intended to ply between the head of the raft and the landings above," was "nearly completed." She was expected to make her first trip in eight to ten days. Before she tried to reach Columbus, however, it was felt that many snags downriver from that town would need to be cleared out. Somehow the Kate Ward managed to get past the raft; she arrived in Austin on March 8, 1846, her first and only visit to the capital. On March 11 she took a party of excursionists, including citizens, legislators, and United States Army personnel, several miles upriver to visit Mormon Falls. At this time the boat was described as being a side-wheel steamer, 115 feet long and twenty-four feet wide at the beam, with two engines rated at seventy horsepower each and a draft, "with wood, water, etc.," of eighteen inches. The steamer stayed above the raft from 1846 to 1848. At the head of the raft, cargoes were loaded on wagons for the ten to twenty mile trip to Matagorda, where they were reloaded on ocean-going vessels for shipment. High water on the Colorado in the summer of 1848 cut a temporary channel around the raft, and the Kate Ward descended to Matagorda Bay.

From 1848 or 1849 to 1850, at least, the Kate Ward was in use on the Guadalupe River, where another steamer, the Victoria, seems to have preceded her. The town of Victoria contracted with two brothers, Iso and William J. Ward, to clear drift from the Guadalupe and to provide transportation from Victoria to the bay. The Wards were offered $40,000 for the work of clearance and for making twenty-five trips between Victoria and the bay before June 1850. They employed the Kate Ward, which apparently reached Victoria in early 1849. By June 1850 she had made thirty trips and at that time was completing the round trip from Victoria to Cavallo Pass in forty-eight hours. In 1852 W. T. Ward used the Kate Ward as a snag boat on the Colorado, where he succeeded in clearing a twenty-mile stretch from the mouth upstream. The owner of the boat at this time seems to have been the Colorado Navigation Company. A company stockholders' meeting in October 1852 noted that the Kate Ward was then in Matagorda Bay and in need of repairs after Ward's work on the river. The United States government bought the Kate Ward in July 1853 and had her repaired that fall. In November she was back on the Colorado, where United States Army engineers used her to help dig a channel around the raft. What later became of the steamer is unknown.

Comer Clay, "The Colorado River Raft," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 52 (April 1949). Houston Morning Star, October 30, 1845. La Grange Intelligencer, June 13, 1844, July 7, 1845. Brownson Malsch, Indianola-The Mother of Western Texas (Austin: Shoal Creek, 1977). Telegraph and Texas Register, November 5, 1845. Texas Democrat, March 11, 14, 1846. Texas National Register, July 10, 1845. Texas State Gazette, October 9, 1852, January 22, 1853. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin (Steamboats).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Mary M. Standifer, “Kate Ward,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 03, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/kate-ward.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 1, 1995