Sunday, May 4, 2008

John Griffith Prather

John Griffith Prather, a member of the Cyclone Club, was more commonly known as Griff Prather. In the Neale and Garesche family genealogy, he is identified as John Griff Prather. The New York Times stated that he was "better known throughout Missouri and the Southwest" as Col. Griff Prather.

In the 1860 St. Louis City directory, Prather is listed as working for Daniel G. Taylor & Co., selling wine and liquor. In the 1864 directory, he is running John G. Prather & Co., described in an advertisement as being a successor to Daniel G. Taylor & Co. and supplying wine, liquor, and cigars to hotels and steamboats.

There is a profile of Prather in The History and Archaeology of Two Civil War Steamboats:

John Griffith Prather, owner of a 3/8 share of the Ed. F. Dix, was born on June 16, 1834, in Clermont County, Ohio. He was the son of Wesley Fletcher and Margaret (Taylor) Prather. His father was of Welsh ancestry and his mother was Scotch. His mother died when he was an infant (Stevens 1909:1018). His family is said to have been connected with steamboating from its earliest days on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. John G. Prather started on the river at a young age and worked in almost every position on steamboats, from the “deck to the roof.” He went to St. Louis in 1850 following his interests on the river until 1852, when he went to California (Gould 1889:703). There, he fished for salmon on the Sacramento River (Stevens 1909:1020) but, in 1855, he returned to St. Louis and worked with his uncle Daniel G. Taylor in the wholesale liquor business (Gould 1889:703). By 1864, John Prather had succeeded his uncle in the liquor business (Figure 3-5) (St. Louis City Directory 1864:328). Advertisements show that John Prather’s company specialized in supplying “Wines, Liquors, Cigars, &c.” to steamboats, presumably, a lucrative business considering the number of steamboats calling at St. Louis and the popularity of alcohol consumption onboard steamers. John Prather, also, participated in the ownership and operation of steamboats, owning shares in several during the 1850s to the 1870s (Figure 3-6a). In addition, he served as the captain on several boats. The sidewheeler Westerner seems to have been one of the first steamboats that Prather was associated with. The Westerner was built at St. Louis in 1853 and was owned by the St. Louis & Keokuk Packet Company. John Prather served as her captain before her loss to ice in 1855 (Way 1994:484). The St. Louis & Keokuk company was known for the magnificence of service aboard some of their boats. An example is an account of an 1856 bill of fare for one of the company’s steamers, the New Lucy, noting that food aboard the boat:

. . . would tempt the most exacting epicure. It consisted of buffalo tongue, antelope steak, wild turkey, prairie chicken, buffalo hump, roast quail, woodcock, mutton, all vegetables in season, red snapper, sheepshead and bass. The pastries and confectioneries were excellent. The repast ended with claret, white wine and champagne. The cooking was of the best and the service beyond criticism [American Association Masters, Mates and Pilots 1919:29].

Prather served as captain and part owner of at least one other steamer owned by the company. This was the sidewheel steamboat Des Moines, built at Madison, Indiana, in 1857. In 1864, the Des Moines was one of the many steamboats chartered by the Army Quartermaster Department for transport service during the Red River Campaign in Louisiana (Gibson and Gibson 1995a; Way 1994:125).

John Prather was captain of the sternwheel packet Fairy Queen in 1859 in the Cincinnati to Mayersville trade. She was built at Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania, in 1854. Another boat in the Cincinnati-Mayersville trade was the Magnolia, which, according to Way (1994:303) was built for and commanded by a Capt. James H. Prather, presumably a relative of John Prather. Constructed in 1859 at Cincinnati, the Magnolia’s boilers exploded at California, Ohio, in March 1868, killing many on board, including James Prather.

The Bart Able was another steamboat that was partly owned by John G. Prather. She was built in 1864 and in 1867 was sold to a group of men consisting of Capt. W.C. Harrison, W.H. Thorwegen, J.N. Terrel and Prather. The Bart Able was a 206-ft-long, sidewheel packet built at Louisville, Kentucky, and named for Capt. Bart Able of St. Louis, a well-known and accomplished riverman. Originally built for the Merchants & Peoples’ Line in the St. Louis-New Orleans trade, when the Bart Able was sold to Prather and the others she was used in the New Orleans-Shreveport trade (Way 1994:38). Like the Des Moines and the Ed. F. Dix, the Bart Able served as an Army Quartermaster transport during the Civil War (Gibson and Gibson 1995a:29).

During the Civil War, John G. Prather was considered a staunch “Union man.” He helped organize a regiment, and served as Lieutenant-Colonel of the 5th Regimental Missouri Militia during the war (Gould 1889:703-704). Prather continued in the steamboat business after the war and was one of the owners of the Fannie Tatum, a 177-ft sidewheeler built at Madison, Indiana, and completed in St. Louis in 1873 (Way 1994:161). This steamer was constructed specifically for the St. Louis and Arkansas River trade.

It is apparent that John G. Prather was involved in wide-ranging steamboat activity for many years, holding ownership in boats working on the Mississippi, Ohio, Red and Arkansas rivers. With his ownership of the Ed. F. Dix, he, also, was involved in the Missouri River trade. In addition to his business involvement with the St. Louis & Keokuk Packet Company, Prather, also, was associated with one of the largest steamboat lines on the Mississippi River, the Anchor Line. He was affiliated with the Anchor Line for over twenty years, serving for a time as its director.

Prather was involved in the Democratic Party in St. Louis, was a member of the Democratic National Committee and, according to The New York Times, was "instrumental" in securing the 1888 Democratic National Convention for St. Louis.

On January 13, 1859, Prather married Marie Clementine Carriere, a member of the prominent Chouteau and Laclede families of St. Louis. They had four children: Helen May Prather, Daniel G. Prather, Eloise Prather, and Marguerite Prather. Interestingly, one of Prather's granddaughters married the grandnephew of his Cyclone teammate Ferdinand Garesche.

John Griffith Prather died on December 27, 1903.

Note: Again I have to thank Scott Green, who sent me the article on the Ed. F. Dix which contained the piece on Prather.

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