The Famous Elwell Boat Captains of Snohomish County

Related to the Elwell family by marriage, I was thrilled to find out what an important role the Elwells played in the history of Washington State, specfically Snohomish County.

“In the summer of 1900, Captain Charles Wright sold the City of Bothell and then the Snohomish and Skagit River Navigation Company was formed by Captain Charles Wright, Captain Charles Elwell, and Captain Vic Pinkerton. It was then decided to build a boat for towing on the Snohomish and Skagit rivers.

“Captain Charles Elwell made the hull model and Bob Houston was given the job of building the Black Prince.” Dimensions of the Black Prince were: hull, 93 feet; over-all length, 112 feet; beam, 19 feet; depth of hold, 5 feet; tonnage measurement was 159 gross tons, according to the captain…

…The first crew on the Prince in 1901, was Captain Elwell; Captain (Engr.) Wright; engineer Mike Hertzberg; Captain Pinkerton; Forrest Elwell, deck hand, and Wes Harbert, fireman.

“In the late summer of 1901, she made a trip between Novelty and Tolt. In 1902, the Prince took a two from Haskell Slough (near Monroe) to the mouth of the Snohomish River.”

…”In 1922, Captain Harry Ramwell of the American Tugboat Company purchased the Black Prince. She was sold to the Everett Port Commission in the year of 1935 for one dollar. The Port Commission then turned her over to the Everett yacht Club.”
“Time marches on and we found that the Black Prince was too small, too old, and too expensive to repair. She was dismantled in the late fall of 1956 to make room for a larger clubhouse.”

“As a memorial to the sternwheeler days, the paddle wheel of the Black Prince sits on the lawn of the Port Commision Office on the Everett waterfront.”
Stump Ranch Online – Black Prince – reprinted from the Skagit Valley Herald, October 7, 1964

The Black Prince ran up and down the rivers of Snohomish county, providing transportation for local and immigrating families, and moving supplies and materials to the outlying Pacific Northwest in the foothills of the Northern and Central Cascade Mountains.

Two Elwells were directly involved in the history of the Black Prince. Charles Elwell (1865-1947) was part of the original team that helped to build and captain the paddle wheel boat. Forest Elwell (circa 1880-1970), brother of Charles, became captain of the Black Prince in 1907. Charles and Forest were the sons of John Elwell (1843-1895) and Susan (Guaquiath Kektidose (Guag-Wah-Ah)), an Indian from the Snohomish Tribe, and a descendant of the famous Chief Seattle.

Another departed old timer whose life work was as a tow boat operator on the Skagit and Snohomish rivers was Capt. Forrest Elwell, 90, who passed on at Everett.

He was more than a real pioneer; his grandmother was a sister of chief Seattle. He made his home in Mount Vernon many years where he skippered the river tugboat, Black Prince, well known to so many in delta areas and in Mount Vernon. Later he built the Ora Elwell. The boats took tows of logs from upriver to rafting areas on the lower Skagit, Skagit Bay and some on to Everett, and some of his boats also were in towing service on Snohomish river.

In his later years he was skipper on the Black Ball Ferries from which he retired in 1954. There he was captain on the ferry Quillayute on the Anacortes-San Juan run. In 1933 he was asked to serve for two terms as a member of the state planning commission as the Skagit authority on flood control, bank erosion and soil erosion.

The Everett Yacht Club took over the Black Prince as headquarters on its retirement and today a banquet room there is named for the old boat, with a model of it occupying a place of honor in the foyer.
John Conrad’s obituary notes: Colorful Lives 1970 Pioneer Picnic, part 1

For more information on the Elwell brothers and their adventures on the Snohomish rivers and Pacific Northwest, see:

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Lorelle VanFossen hosts Family History Blog covering her ancestors and related family members. She is one of the top bloggers in the world, and host of the Lorelle on WordPress, providing WordPress and blogging tips for bloggers of all levels. A popular keynote speaker and trainer, she is also editor, producer, contributor, and official disruptive thinker for Bitwire Media which includes WordCast, Making My Life Network, Stories of Our Journeys, Life on the Road, WordCast Conversations, and the very popular WordCast Podcast.
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8 Responses to The Famous Elwell Boat Captains of Snohomish County

  1. Janice Dugan says:

    I am a decendant of the Bothell Family from Creekside, PA. It is my understanding that relatives have traced information in our family and it included that the Bothell who bought this land in Washington State was related to my great grandfather who was David Platt Bothell. I am presently trying to gather information to do my family tree. If you have any informaion that would help me I would like to know where I can locate it. I understand you are busy doing you own history, but thought you might help me get started on the Bothell property sale in Washington? Thank you for any help.
    Janice (Bothell-Myers-Bearinger Dugan)

  2. @Janice Dugan:

    As it states on my blog, I can only help those within my own family tee. I do not do this for a living nor barely have time to do it as a hobby lately. :D

    However, I did grow up near Bothell, Washington, so I’d start there if I were you. Maybe it was named after your ancestor.

  3. Wanda Elwell says:

    My grandondson is doing a family history, in Washington State. I knew we have great ties With Monroe, Everett areas, along with the rivers in that areas also. I remember my father Andrew Elwell, son of Simon Elwell, also knew we were related to Chief Seattle’s wife. My father’s mother was Lucy, all I know of her a member of Snohomish Tribe, I believe. I am very excited to go over and look at more history in that area, to see all the wonderful things my family help build the City of Monroe. I did visit the cemtery the and found my grandfather site in Monroe.
    I also remember my father talking of the river boats and logging during high waters,pulling logs down the rivers Snohomish and Skagit Rivers, all this must be awsome history. I heard that there is a statue of Capt Elwell in Everett or Monroe but never could find it.Let me know where I can find more information, Looking to find the Snohomish County Book.
    I am the oldest of 4,of my fathers 3rd family, one brother Andrew Elwell Jr, 2 sisters, one 1/2 sister Maxine Elwell Andruss, Laura lee Elwell, and one late sister Sylvia Elwell. We are all very interested in this information. Great site will check on it more often.

    • Mikk Tallman says:

      I am Tallman my grandparents are buried near Forrest Ewell in the family cemetery in Monroe, Alvin H Tallman and Sophia Tallman, Sophia was an Aleut Indian dislocated from Alaska after the Japanese slaughtered her village.

    • In my research I noticed a connection with Simon Elwell family. Lydia (Lettie)
      Moxley, Indian name “Ad-Suilt-Sa” had a daughter that ‘married’ Simon Elwell.
      Lydia’s father was George Moxley and Lydia’s mother was “Ye-Barth-Ka-Lo”.
      Her father was a full Indian and was part Duwamish. In Moxley court papers
      regarding heirs of George Moxley (1835?-1895) Andrew and Goliath Elwell
      are noted as potential heirs and there a letter from Simon Elwell and a letter
      to him in the records. George Moxley is a full brother to my wife’s g.g.grandmother “Wayh-Sy-Uh” who is Snoqualmie and Snohomish Indian.
      Lettie’s daughter’s first name is not given but it notes that the father of the
      daughter is a brother to Mrs. Johnson of Monroe. From these records it appears to me that the “unknown daughter” must be Andrew Elwells mother
      Lucy otherwise they would not have been listed as potential heirs to George
      Moxley’s estate.
      Thanks, Steve
      (Researching REED)

  4. Jim Knapp says:

    I am a decendent of the Ketadose line as well. I have been a recent council member of the Snohomish Tribe as was my grandmother, Evelyn Elwell-Knapp, and great uncle, Forrest Elwell. You can contact me through MySpace.com. I am looking for relatives with stories and pictures and maybe even artifacts for archiving. I look forward to hearing from anyone who has information, etc. about my ancestors.

  5. Christine says:

    Hi, I am looking for Info on Charles Edward Knapp. We show him in the 1920 and 1930 census, but nothing before then and I have no parents listed for him. He was born (?) in WI and died in Astoria, OR 1945. I do not know of any siblings and he was part cherokee per the census and he had another wife(?) we think b4 he married Valna L Wright (AKA Bessie L Wright) born in 1892 KY.

  6. Mikk Tallman says:

    My family settled the town of Monroe Washington, Captain Forrest Ewell is buried near my grandparents in the Family plot at the Cemetery in Monroe. My grandfathers name is Alvin Tallman, he took an Aleut wife and they are buried next to each other.

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