The Face That Piloted a Thousand Steamboats?

Could this be a portrait of William L. “Steamboat Bill” Heckmann?

Reverse of carte de visite portrait of an unidentified young man.

Sometimes you buy photographs in ignorance and only later realize their significance.

This carte de visite portrait of a young man, taken at the studio of Robert C. Mumbrauer, was not identified. But when I sat down to look at it, the face reminded me of someone I had seen in another Mumbrauer photograph.

It was the face of one of the four young men who posed with an African-American boy in a Mumbrauer and German  card photograph belonging to the Western Historical Manuscript Collection.

That photo was taken at Chamois in 1895. It came from the William L. Heckmann Jr. scrapbooks at the WHMC.

Only three complete names are given, and it is unclear which name goes with which individual. The names written in the scrapbook are “George Patton, Bill Heckman, Pumpkin Patton, and Andy.”

The man in this photo looks an awful lot like one of the two men on the left side of the photograph. Could it be that I have stumbled upon a portrait of the well-known steamboat pilot, “Steamboat Bill” Heckmann (1869-1957)–author of the classic 1950 memoir of river life, Steamboating: Sixty-Five years on Missouri’s Rivers?

I wrote to  The Museum at the German School in Hermann, which has significant holdings on steam boat history on the Missouri and Gasconade rivers, including a complete pilot-house in their River Room.

They referred me to the Gasconade County Historical Society. Here is my correspondent’s response:

“I asked a colleague to look at two group family photos that we have, which I did not identify to her, to see if your subject, at another stage of life, might be in either of the group photos. In both cases, she picked out the man identified as William Heckmann, Jr. In her words, ‘It was the nose.’ “

I’ve also sent the photograph to the Herman T. Pott National Waterways Library, to which Dorothy Heckmann Schrader, daughter of steamboat Captain Ed Heckmann, has donated a substantial archive of texts and images.

Stay tuned.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Everything I know, really, is embedded in this blog. If you go to my very first post,

    http://waldonia.wordpress.com/2010/03/13/110-years-of-photography-in-hermann/

    You’ll read a summary of what I know. There is a link to a short bio of R. C. Mumbrauer within that post. He was, among other things, at one time sheriff of Hermann and a detective for a railroad–so, a man of many talents.

    He died in 1917. You can find his death certificate on the Missouri State Archives website.

    I came across and became interested in him when I was researching the Missouri roots of a friend of my mother’s. The tree I constructed for her is on ancestry.com.

    I’ve yet to see a photograph of the man himself. I feel certain that somewhere in the old Hermann newspapers and other archival material, there must be images of him and his family.

    I will email you and we can continue chatting.

  2. RC Mumbrauer was my gr gr grandfather…. His daughter Margaret was my grandmother’s (Lynwood Epperson) mother… Any information you have on the family would’ be appreciated…. I met Emory Mumbrauer years ago in Ft Walton Beach Fl….Kathy Franklin


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