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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Cannonball's Tales"

Capt. William E. Rogers:
Beaumont Steamboatman

By W. T. Block
Perhaps no one in early Beaumont was as popular and well-known as the steamboat captains, and one of them whose biography comes readily to mind was Capt. W. E. Rogers. He was born near Nashville, TN. on Jan. 28, 1838, and moved with his parents, Joseph E. and Margaret Ann McFaddin Rogers, in 1845 to Swarthout, Polk County, and in 1857 to Beaumont. Rogersí first employment was as a cook aboard the Doctor Massey, captained by Cave Johnson, a Beaumont hotel keeper. He next sailed as second engineer aboard the Mary Falvey, owned by Capt. C. H. Ruff of Beaumont, and his ship carried cotton and freight between Sabine Pass, Beaumont, Wiess Bluff, and Concord on Pine Island Bayou. In 1859 Rogers sailed as engineer aboard the Florilda, which carried the first load of rails to Beaumont for the Texas and New Orleans Railroad.

Capt. Rogers enlisted as a private in cavalry Co. A, Spaightís Battalion on Sept. 20, 1861. Although that company engaged in 21 battles and skirmishes in Louisiana in 1863, it is uncertain how much action Rogers experienced since, due to his extensive steamboat experience, he was often detached to duty aboard any of several Confederate gunboats or tenders, operated by the Confederate Texas Marine Department.

It is likewise suggested that Rogers may have sailed on one or more blockade-running voyages, hauling cotton from Sabine Pass to Mexico. Although the remainder of Co. A were discharged on May 24, 1865, W. E. Rogers was not discharged until May 31, 1865, indicating that he may have been at sea on May 24. In 1864, Rogers married Sophia Kappas of Sabine Pass, by whom he had 3 daughters, the Misses Pynke and Kate Rogers, and Mrs. Nena Moore of Florida.

After the war, Rogers sailed on 3 of Capt Napoleon Wiessí sternwheelers, the Adriance, the Albert Gallatin, and the J. L. Graham. When Wiess died in 1872, Rogers and 2 partners bought the Graham, and Rogers sailed for the next 3 years as captain on that vessel.

The J. L. Graham was one of the fastest boats in Sabine Lake and soon cut the travel time from Beaumont to Sabine Pass from 8 hours to 4 hours and 30 minutes. The Beaumont News-Beacon of Jan. 4, 1873 carried a long account about Capt. Rogers and the steamboat Graham racing the Era No. 8 through Sabine Lake and Neches River. Although in 1875 the owners of the Graham sold the vessel to new Galveston owners, Rogers soon became the owner of a new steamer, the Pelican State.

Rogers kept the Pelican State under contract to Beaumont Lumber Company for 5 years, hauling feed and supplies to Yellow Bluff Tram Company in Jasper County, and returning with cotton from Wiess Bluff, Bunnís and Concord. Eventually the Pelican State was destroyed in a hurricane. In 1886, following the hurricane that destroyed Sabine Pass, Rogers moved his family back to Beaumont.


After that year, the captain earned his living as a carpenter, building houses. For 2 years he was once a foreman of a construction crew, building bridges and trestles for a railroad.

Rogers was a lifelong member of the Methodist Church. On 3 occasions he was commander of Beaumontís A. S. Johnston Camp of United Confederate Veterans. He was also a 35-year member of Beaumontís Masonic Lodge and Order of Eastern Star. In 1903 Rogers was the first Beaumonter knighted as a Knight Templar.

At age 87, Capt. Rogers died at his home at 815 Calder on May 14, 1925. Beaumont Enterprise and Polk County News both ran long editorials, memorializing his long life span; and the Confederate Veterans, Masons, and Eastern Star all published resolutions, honoring his memory.


© W. T. Block, Jr.
"Cannonball's Tales"
August 18, 2007 column

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