Over Willamette Falls in a Barrel, 1895 and the Sad Fate of “Captain Webb”

Paul Webb

Cabinet card from San Francisco Gallery, 167 1/2 First St., Portland, Or.
Paul Webb, Mr. Brown, Capt. Sebastian Miller.
Emma Quinn on barrel. Barney the dog.
Donated by Emma Quinn Paine.


Thousands of Visitors Crowded Oregon City to see the Sport.

Oregon City, March 31. – Five thousand visitors were in Oregon City today. They came from all points in the valley from Independence and McMinnville to Albina. The weather promised to be so fine that half the visitors failed to carry umbrellas, and they received the full benefit of the light rain that began falling about 4 o’clock. The people were drawn by the announcement that Paul Webb, who by the way, is a wine clerk from Independence names Stewart, would go over the falls in a barrel, and that Frank Miller would make a parachute jump from a balloon. The programme was carried out faithfully. Ten minutes before the appointed time, 4 o’clock, five pistol shots rang out, and the barrel containing Webb was pushed out from the cataract. It was borne buoyantly along by the swift current, went through the first rapids without shifting ends, and in two minutes made the plunge down the cataract into the central whirlpool. Then the barrel was lost to sight about 15 seconds, when it bobbed up and was held 30 long seconds in the whirlpool. Finally it darted out, and lightly rode the most turbulent part of the river until caught, about 400 yards further down, and towed ashore. Webb came out in good conditions, seven minutes after making the start.

The barrel was seven feet long and three feet in diameter. It was made of yellow fir staves, an inch and half thick, had a double head in each end, and the inside was padded with moss and excelsior. Webb was suspended in a life harness to prevent injury from the violent tumbling of the craft. The staves were bound together by 11 iron hoops, three of which burst during the trip. One end of the vessel was much marred. The barrel has a center-board to assist it to get out of eddies. Webb estimates that it holds air enough to last him half an hour easily.

The balloon ascension, was as successful as the plunge over the falls. At an altitude of about 1200 feet Miller cut loose and descended easily with his parachute, landing in the river abreast of his starting point, where a boat soon took him in without mishap. The balloon drifted off to the northward and came down on the Rinearson place.

Paul Webb is the first man to go over the falls of the Willamette and live to tell of it. He deems this as dangerous an undertaking as to leap Niagara, because at the latter place there is abundant sea-room, if the fall is greater, and here the unescapable jagged rocks make the trip a hazardous one.

webb 2



“Captain Webb” Went Over the Falls – “Lieut. Vaught” Did Not Jump.

Oregon City, April 14. – “Captain Paul Webb” and his barrel went over the falls again today, and as large a crowd was here to see him as witnessed his performance two weeks ago. The trip this time occupied 10 minutes. After the barrel had been towed out into the stream and turned adrift, the brisk southwest breeze bore it in toward the breakwater, which it touched just before taking the first tumble over the electric company’s dam. The wind and the turbulent water held the barrel spinning half a minute at the foot of the dam, where it fell. Then it slid slowly down stream, hugging the dam closely, and it was a full minute longer before the barrel was released from its perilous situation and went tumbling down the rocks to its final plunge. The remainder of the trip was not noteworthy. The craft was towed ashore as before, and the navigator released in sound condition, except a fracture of the left wrist. When the barrel fell over the dam and was held there so long, the inside gearing broke and “Webb” put up his left arm to protect his head, fracturing it instead of his skull.

The intrepid “Lieutenant Vaught” who manages the horse that does the hoisting on the Oregon Railway & Navigation wharf in Portland on week days, did not jump from the suspension bridge as was advertised. Before the event at the falls the wind blew too strong, and afterward somebody made a speech, in which he said the “Lieutenant” had simply refused at the last moment to carry out his contract. It is reported, however, that the money was not paid him as had been agreed upon, and that that is the reason he would not jump.


Lost His Life Plunging Down a Log Chute in a Barrel

In the Coeur d’Alene Country

His Death was Due to Neglect to Take Proper Precautions for His Own Safety.

Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, July 4, 1895 – In all probability, Captain Paul Webb lost his life near here today in an attempt to ride his submarine boat or barrel down a 300 foot log chute. It is believed his back is broken. About 500 people witnessed the descent into Lake Coeur d’Alene, which took place at Rosen’s log camp, eight miles up the lake. On the arrival of the boats, at 4:30, a log was sent down as a test. It came like a flash of lightning. A mild rain was falling, which gave the chute a smoothness that added momentum to anything coming down it. The log passed down safely, and Webb’s marine boat had been sent down in the forenoon with a success that gratified the hazardous man who, at 5 o’clock, was placed within the boat for his last ride.

The affair was 6 feet 6 inches long, 2 feet in diameter, and cone-shaped. There was a strip of sheeting lengthwise on the barrel to make it slide smoothly and prevent its turning over too frequently. On the inside, it was upholstered with carpets and rubber fixtures to strap a man in such as way that the barrel could strike on end in a 100-foot fall and not injure the occupant. Webb, when placed in the barrel, neglected to take all the precautions his machine offered for safety. He was confident as they tucked him in the fatal barrel. He told his manager to have whistles blown when he struck the water.

The signal was given, and the barrel ran down the chute wildly. Two-thirds of the way down was a slight raise in the incline. Here the barrel jumped 30 feet in the air, striking the ground on end, then rolling 40 feet farther down the hill. Many persons on the boat turned their heads with horror. Some fainted, as all feared instant death to Webb. When the barrel was opened, Webb was jammed closely into the end. He was conscious and talked freely. Dr. Russell, of Spokane, examined him and pronounced his spinal column was broken. A tug was procured, and the unfortunate man hurried to Coeur d’Alene and then to Spokane.

Webb Died at Spokane.

Spokane, Wash., July 4 – Webb died at 11 o’clock. His name was James Stewart. He was a photographer at McMinnville, Or. Captain Paul Webb was a fictitious name assumed for professional reasons. He was a cousin of Senator Stewart, of Nevada. Webb was conscious until his death, but it was feared the accident was fatal after he left Coeur d’Alene City for Spokane.

(All from the Morning Oregonian, 1895)