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Capt. Minnie (Mossman) Hill, Steamboat Operator on the Columbia River by P. Davidson-Peters
Minnie Mossman (c.1880s)Minnie May Mossman was born in Albany, Oregon on July 20, 1863. She was the second daughter of seven children, and came by her pioneering spirit naturally. Her great grandfather, Archibald Mossman, was born in Berwick Upon Tweed, England. He emigrated to Virginia by 1796 and served with Pendleton's Riflemen during the War of 1812. His youngest son George was born in Virginia in 1804 and made his way westward to Indiana where his son Isaac Van Dorsey was born on August 8, 1830.

Isaac, the father of Minnie arrived in Oregon City in 1853. After fighting in the Yakima Indian War, he started a sort of Pony Express business carrying letters on horseback between the town of Walla Walla and the Orofino gold mines in the mountains. He was married to Martha Eleanor "Nellie" (Jackson) in Eugene, Oregon in 1861 and the family lived in Thurston Co., Washington until shortly after or around 1880 when records list Nellie in Washington with her husband and children, and then in another census residing in Portland with three of her daughters - Clara, Aimee, and Lottie.

On the 25th of February, 1883, Minnie married Charles Oliver Hill who was born in New York City in 1853. His parents were Ralph and Nancy (Tinker), both natives of Connecticut, and family notes indicate his father was a hatter who had owned a large hat factory and store on Nassau Street called "New Hat Shop." At age twelve Charles was farmed out to his dad's Uncle Platt in Orange, New Jersey. He afterwards worked on a farm in Newark, Ohio and continued to make his way west from Bloomington, Illinois to Hartford, Kansas. He moved to Denver, Colorado where he spent six months in 1876, and then made his way to the Pacific Northwest. While in Washington, he embarked on a steamer bound for the mining country in Alaska and spent two years there, later becoming captain of a steamboat.

After their marriage Minnie also began to learn and master the details of piloting the steamboat. On the first of December, 1886, she received a master's license to operate steamboats and became the first licensed woman to command a steamer on the Columbia River. Her son has been quoted as saying, “Father always said it was much more difficult than the examination he took because the inspectors wanted to refuse her a license with justification.” But as noted, Minnie prevailed and remained the only licensed operator until 1907 when she opened the way for another woman in the Puget Sound area to receive a second-class master’s license.

In 1889 the couple purchased the steamer Governor Newell which had been built at Portland for the Shoalwater Bay Transportation Company and was one hundred and eleven feet long, with twenty feet beam, five feet hold, and engines twelve by forty-eight inches. Their steamer mostly transported jetty stone downstream from a quarry east of Vancouver, Washington where it met up with a U.S. Army Engineer tow boat which took the loads to Astoria where the stone was then used to build the south Jetty at the mouth of the Columbia River. Capt. Minnie Hill operated the steamer for fourteen years while her husband took charge as engineer in the engine room, and during that time had given birth to two children but according to the 1900 census, only one survived.

After Minnie’s retirement, Charles became engaged in the lumbering business and founded the Hill Logging Co. in Lewis Co., Washington. From the logging company sprang forth the town of Bunker which supported the industry. The mill was situated near the Chehallis river and operated a sawmill as well as a shingle mill. Donkeys and steam locomotives were used to haul and ship the logs to Tacoma and other surrounding mills in the region. In 1910 Charles was listed as president of the logging camp and continued in that occupation for some time. A fire in April of 1919 then destroyed the sawmill, but as noted in the 1920 census the company continued to ship logs and Charles was still manager of that operation until one year later when the business ceased operations and the company was dissolved.

It was reported that at least two movie producers attempted to entice Minnie to allow them to make a film of her life, but having denied them and history of all she might have shared, only fragments of her life as a steamboat captain remain. She died in San Francisco on 09 Jan 1946 at the age of eighty-six. She was preceded in death by her husband Charles who died in Portland on 12 Jun 1942. Their only surviving child, Herbert Wells Hill, was born in Portland on 19 Sep 1894 and married Edna Frances Wilcox of Milford, Connecticut on 16 May 1917. They were the parents of two daughters, Betty and Luella. Herbert died in Contra Costa Co., California in 1969 and his wife in Alameda Co., California in 1975.

Note: The property on which the Hill Logging Co. was situated, is now owned by Detering family. Richard Detering has done some extensive research on the history of the property and it’s founder, Charles O. Hill.
Sources: U.S. Federal Census Records; The Mossman Letter Collection of P. Davidson-Peters; Lewis & Dryden's Marine History of Pacific Northwest, ed. E. W. Wright, Portland; 1895 ; Quarterdeck Review, Summer 1985; Research Notes of Richard Detering; Family Notes of Barbara Troen.
Minnie & Charles O. Hill (1894)
Photo Index
Mossman Ancestry
Lewis & Dryden's Marine History of Pacific Northwest, ed. E. W. Wright, Portland; 1895
Hill Logging Company researched by Rich Detering (Outside Link at Lewis Co., WA GenWeb)


Updated 01 Jul 2015
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