As perhaps THE most notable descendant of Robert de la Berge, it is often stated with pride that Captain Joseph Marie La Barge was the one who taught Mark Twain about steamboating. More importantly, however, he was the one who taught Lincoln about it, too. In my opinion, Captain Joseph Marie La Barge was THE most notable descendant of Robert de la Berge.
La Barge met Abraham Lincoln on two occasions in 1859. The first on his journey from St. Joseph to Council Bluffs on August 12th and his return on August 15th. While in Council Bluffs, Lincoln met with General Grenville Dodge, the Chief Engineer for the transcontinental railroad. In 1860 Lincoln became president, in 1861 the South seceded, in 1863 the transcontinental railroad was signed into law by Lincoln and the northern line selected with its terminus at Council Bluffs. The boat that Capt. La Barge piloted was the Campbell which was not owned by him.
His second meeting with Lincoln was on December 7th, 1859 when he picked Lincoln up in Leavenworth, KS on his boat The Emile and brought him to St. Joseph.
In History of Early Steamboat Navigation on the Missouri River, it is said that:
“LaBarge remembered that he frequently came into the pilot-house, and asked many questions, particularly about the fur trade and the Indians. He expressed his desire to make a visit to the upper country. Before he left the boat he asked La Barge if he would not procure for him a fine buffalo robe and send it to him, giving him to understand that he should of course expect to pay him well for all expense he might be put to. La Barge promised to do so. Lincoln was not at this time much talked of for the Presidency, and in Missouri was unpopular on account of his attitude toward slavery.”
In the winter of 1862/1863, La Barge went to Washington. He and two others in his party (Burleigh and Galpin) met with Lincoln at the White House to discuss reimbursement for monies he had paid when he liberated a white prisoner captured by the Indians. La Barge presented Lincoln with the buffalo robe that he had requested at their meeting in 1859.
“He remembered at once the old steamboat Captain with whom he had ridden on the Missouri, and he greeted La Barge with great cordiality. After some general conversation Dr. Burleigh arose, took the robe, asked the President to stand up, and then threw it over his shoulders. Lincoln folded it around him like a blanket and danced about for an instant in Indian fashion. He seemed greatly delighted with the gift. He then asked the party many questions about the West, for the Indian troubles were at that time causing the administration a great deal of annoyance.”
In the winter of 1863/1864, La Barge met with the President regarding fraud associated with the annuities that were to be paid to the Indians.
In the winter of 1864/1865, La Barge met with Lincoln again regarding for payment for government contracts. The Secretary of the treasury had withheld payment because he was a “Missourian” who were all considered Rebels. After the meeting with his friend Lincoln, La Barge was paid what he was owed.
On that visit to Washington, La Barge was summoned to appear before the Senate Committee on Pacific railroads and questioned on his knowledge of the Western country and his opinion about the availability of certain routes for the transcontinental line.
He also went to Ford’s Theater one evening, sat in a box probably not far from Lincoln’s, and was met with cheers by the audience during a pause when he was recognized.
“The interesting notes of Captain La Barge’s observations of public men with whom he was thrown in contact would fill a volume. His acquaintance with the army was very extensive, owing to the Indian wars along the Missouri, and he personally knew nearly all the principal officers from General Sherman down. The same was true of the Indian agents, Territorial officers, and leading business men of the West. In a time when so much public travel went by steamboat he enjoyed exceptional opportunities of seeing and knowing the men who made the history of Western country.”
He was good friends with Grant and knew Jeff Davis and Robert E. Lee.
Captain Joseph Marie La Barge was a truly fascinating person. If you have a chance, read the History of Early Steamboat Navigation on the Missouri River by Hiram Chittenden. It is found online at: