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United States: Oregon

Coos Bay

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Coos Bay, Oregon's largest bay has represented a commercial passage to the sea from pioneer days to the present. The region has prospered as a center for wood products, shipbuilding, shipping and products of the sea; throughout its history, the Coos Bay area has been the center of trade for the entire southwestern Oregon coastal region.

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A Coos Bay Shipping Scene at Dock North Bend, Oregon

Transportation systems radiated from Coos Bay to inland Oregon, the Pacific Ocean and other areas of Coos County. The mosquito fleet of small boats delivered people and products to places of pleasure, culture and transshipment to other parts of the world.
The name is derived from one of the area's Native American tribes and has two Indian meanings — "lake" and "place of pines." lace of pines. Several Native American tribes call the Coos Bay region their ancestral homeland. Before the advent of European settlement the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians and the Coquille Indians lived in the area for thousands of years. They were dependent upon the land and the water, the Pacific Ocean and other waterways, and the forests and meadows providing sustenance.
Since the 16th century, its dramatic beaches, promontories, blazing sunsets, endless stands of massive forests, golden dunes, and waters teeming with fish have awed explorers of the southern Oregon coast. Sir Francis Drake is believed to have sought shelter for his ship, the Golden Hinde and its crew, near Cape Arago in 1579.

In the mid 1800's, the waterways and forests that had supported the Native American settlements equally encouraged European settlement. The city, founded in the 1850's, was named Marshfield after the Massachusetts hometown of the city's founder J. C. Tolman, and was incorporated in 1874 under that name. (Editor's Note: In 1944, residents voted to change the name to Coos Bay.)

Shipwrecks occurred with alarming frequency in the early years of Coos County maritime history. Heavy seas, violent storms, hidden reefs, and shifting sands plagued mariners as they attempted to bring their vessels across the mouth of the Coquille River and entrance to Coos Bay. Dozens of ships were stranded between the 1860's and 1920's off Oregon's south coast. Loss of life and cargo were enormous.

Coos Bay, Oregon.
Coos Bay, Oregon - Ships Loading Lumber
Lantern Press

One of the region's most tragic, documented, and photographed maritime disasters was the wreck of the 223 ft. wooden steamship Santa Clara.


Passenger on Santa Clara Says Mammoth Sea
Engulfed the Steamer
Lack of Panic and Death Declared
Due to Heroism of Captains and Crew

Ed Miner, a traveling salesman, and the first passenger on the submerged North Pacific steamship company's Santa Clara to reach this city after the disaster, arrived yesterday morning from Eureka on the Pacific Coast steamship company's steamer City of Topeka. With the exception of the loss of his hat and gloves, Miner came through the wreck scatheless. He was one of the few who witnessed the approach of the wave which buried the vessel under tons of water and led to the foundering of the ship.

Steamer Santa Clara Shipwreck in Coos Bay.

Steamer Santa Clara Shipwreck. Coos Bay, Oregon.

"From my stateroom window," said Miner. "I saw the great wave approach the ship. It towered above the mastheads and seemed as huge and as solid as a five story building. With a terrible roar it broke over the vessel and I thought that we would sink. There was a tremendous wrenching, as if the ship would be torn apart. But no one was injured and it was several hours before we learned that the Santa Clara had been damaged, but at the time the wave struck us I was sure that we would go under.

Wave Smashes Ports

"Every window but two on the port side staterooms was smashed in. The window to my room was not smashed, but it was struck a terrific blow by the wave."

Miner is a traveling salesman for Livingston & Co., 3445 Seventeenth street, and lives with his wife and family at 436 Steiner street. While the other passengers of the Santa Clara waited in Eureka to come down today on the. F. A. Kilburn, Miner came ahead on the City of Topeka. The City of Topeka passed close to the wreck of the Santa Clara, as it lay half submerged off Table bluff, 12 miles south of the Humboldt bar. Captain Gielow reported that the coaster was still afloat, but was filled with water, which was wallowing the decks under every time it sank with the swell.

Miner told in full his story of the disaster which overtook the Santa Clara. "There were 60 passengers on the Santa Clara, including five women, but no children," said Miner. "We left Eureka Wednesday and crossed the bar shortly after noon. The day was fair, but there was a heavy sea on and the waves buffeted the vessel about as it crossed out into the Pacific.

"Captain Noren instructed all the passengers to stay inside and that was fortunate, for any one who had been on deck at the time the great wave struck the steamer would have been washed overboard. Most of the passengers were in the social saloon, but I was in my stateroom.

Great Wave Approaches

"About 2 o'clock in the afternoon I was standing by the window in my stateroom on the port side when I saw that the sea was becoming heavier and the waves more savage. I noticed a greater wave than the others gaining momentum off shore. It was coming toward the ship on a diagonal. Suddenly the tremendous mass of water reared itself over the ship. I looked up but could not see the top of the wave. It was as huge as a four or five story building and seemed as solid and as menacing as a toppling building would be.

"Then it broke over the Santa Clara. I could hear nothing but the roar of the torrential flood that submerged and deluged the ship. A torrent of water poured over my window and darkened the stateroom. I felt that we would be toppled over.

"The ship staggered and hesitated under the blow. I felt for an instant that we were in the grip of a tidal wave that would bury us. Every timber in the vessel seemed to groan and strain and struggle in the grip of the sea. I heard the breaking of window glass as the wave battered the side of the cabin. It seemed all off with us. "Then I felt again the turn of the propellers and the throb of the engines and knew that the ship had at least temporarily survived.

Sea Slowly Moderates

"There was no recoil nor return wave and the sea quieted to some extent, though it continued heavy. When the deck became steady again and the flood water had drained off I made my way from the stateroom toward the social saloon. The deck, I found, had been washed clean of everything movable. Every window but two on the port side had been smashed in by the force of the sea.

"I found that the water had poured down into the hold and the engine room and drenched the men below. Captain Noren of the Santa Clara and Captain Carsons, a passenger, were in the pilot house at the time of the disaster.

"At first it was thought that the Santa Clara had weathered the shock. The captain and others were positive that the vessel had not touched bottom, and that is my opinion. We thought that we could continue all right.

"But about an hour and a half after the ship was hit the engineer reported that the water was coming up to the engines. It was decided to turn back and to signal by wireless for aid. We got an answer that the tug Ranger was coming out for us. By 4 o'clock the water was up to the fires and that stopped the engines and the dynamo, so we could not use the wireless. after that. We waited for the tug. The boat was slowly settling, but there was no uneasiness among the passengers. Every one on board behaved admirably. Too great credit can not be given for their courage under the trying circumstances of the disaster."

"At 4:30 the tug Ranger came up. Captain Coren wanted it to tow us in, but the Ranger was not equal to the task, with the bar running as rough as it was". P

Passengers Are Transferred

'Immediately upon the arrival of the Ranger the work of transferring the passengers was begun. The women were taken off in the first Boat. There was a heavy sea running. The small boat would approach as close as possible to the Santa Clara, and as it would be carried on a swell toward the sinking vessel, the people would spring into it. I was taken off on the third boat.

Cape Arago Lighthouse, Coos Bay, Oregon.

EUREKA. April 15. The Red Stack tug Hercules arrived off the entrance to Humboldt bay this evening at 5 o'clock, but instead of crossing in it turned about and proceeded down the coast to Table Bluff, where it hove to near the water logged Santa Clara. No effort was made by the Hercules, as near as could be seen, to put a line on the deserted steamer and no effort was made to place men aboard. Reports from the Table Bluff wireless station are that the Santa Clara has been slowly settling ever since its crew and passengers were taken off Wednesday night by the bay tug Ranger, and this evening only the cabins and wrecked superstructure of the vessel could be described above the crest of the waves. The Hercules has no wireless apparatus, and communication with it could not be had, but it is believed that there is little chance of the Santa Clara being saved or towed to San Francisco. The Hercules was standing by the Santa Clara at nightfall and will probably stay in that vicinity until morning, when an attempt to get a line on the craft will be made, or it will be abandoned to the mercy of the ocean. The members of the crew and many of the passengers from the Santa Clara were taken to San Francisco this afternoon on the steamer F. A. Kilburn.

San Francisco Call, April 16, 1910, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Late in the afternoon of November 2, 1910, she struck an uncharted reef or sandbar on the south side of the entrance to Coos Bay, near Coos Head. (Four years earlier, in March 1909, the schooner Marconi had wrecked at approximately the same location.)

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Timber Floating Around Coos Bay
Brimberg & Coulson

North Bend is the northern gateway to the bay. It boasts a history of great innovators and business people. Asa M. Simpson and his son Louis were prime movers in the town's development. North Bend was the hub of their northwestern timber holdings. The Simpsons built large sawmills and shipyards, and were instrumental in the development and promotion of the town.

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



Merchant Shipping

Merchant Shipping.Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.  
History of Merchant Shipping and Ancient CommerceMerchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.
W. S. Lindsay

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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