The schooner CHIEFTAIN the largest wooden vessel on the Great Lakes was launched at the Davidson Yards Bay City last Saturday. The boat is 365 x 47 x 26 and has 11 hatchways.
Port Huron Daily Times
Monday, October 13, 1902
One of the longest wooden ships ever built on the Lakes, the CHIEFTAIN was launched from James Davidson's yard at Bay City, Michigan on the 11th of October in 1902. James Davidson built CHIEFTAIN for his own steamship company and used her and her near sister MONTEZUMA in the lumber trade for many years.
The CHIEFTAIN was involved in a few accidents in her lifetime. On October 23, 1906, she collided with the steamer TROY on Lake Superior and ran aground at Portage Entry near Houghton, Michigan. There was a large gash in her bow which extended down to the waterline. The CHIEFTAIN was towed to Marquette, Michigan on October 30th for repairs and narrowly escaped foundering while en route.
On September 18, 1909, she collided with the steamer LACKAWANNA at Point Edward, Ontario. The steamer's wheel chains had parted and she floated down stream broadside. The CHIEFTAIN, which was in tow of the steamer SHENANDOAH, hit the LACKAWANNA on her starboard side abreast of No. 3 gangway, breaking a number of plates. The LACKAWANNA was caught by the tug REID and towed to shallow water where she sank. Damage to the CHIEFTAIN was heavy, but she did not sink.
In 1928, both the CHIEFTAIN and MONTEZUMA were laid up at Bay City. The lumber trade had dwindled down to almost nothing, the forests around the lakes having been almost completely denuded. In June of 1941, the CHIEFTAIN was purchased by the W.J. Meagher Construction Company to be-used as part of a dock. In May of 1942, she was pumped-out and towed up the Saginaw River to the foot of 38th Street in Bay City and allowed to sink to the bottom. The CHIEFTAIN continued to rest quietly through the years, while children explored her hull and pigeons found her a handy place to rest.
On October 1, 1953, the rotting hull of the once proud wooden schooner was destroyed by a fire of "undetermined" origin. For almost eight hours the flames slowly devoured the vessel. Firemen were called to the scene shortly after 4:30 P.M. only to find the CHIEFTAIN too far offshore to fight the fire. Hurried phone calls soon brought the Meagher tug, MIKIE, to the scene. The fire department's portable pump was rushed aboard along with four firemen, and two lines were pouring water on the burning hulk within a matter of minutes. Shortly before midnight, the firemen left the smoldering hulk. The final ignominy for the once longest wooden vessel on the lakes came in the Fire Chief's estimate of damages: "It wasn't worth a nickel, except for some possible salvage from iron, so our records will carry no loss at all. It just wasn't worth anything."
Great Lakes Ships We Remember II
Schooner CHIEFTAIN. U. S. No. 127703. Of 2,704 tons gross; 2,692 tons net. Built West Bay City, Mich., 1902. Home port Duluth, Minn. 342.0 x 46.0 x 21.6
Merchant Vessel List, U. S., 1903