Steamboat Slough, California, USA Historic natural freshwater Sacramento River in the California Delta region of Northern California. Named Steamboat Slough because this waterway was the favored route for steamships transporting people and goods between Sacramento and San Francisco in the gold rush days of California up until the 1930’s -121.6164130,38.2432200,-2.94


Welcome to Steamboat Slough in the California Delta … History page!

Here is your launching pad for hundreds of links, maps, sketches and historic Delta information.  You can read about California’s Historic Steamboat Slough, and see Ryer Island and Snug Harbor Maps too!  A “slough” is an old fashioned word for “river”.  Steamboat Slough was considered by famed California historian Mr. Bancroft to be the main branch of the Sacramento River when the original survey maps and books were written.  That is one reason both Sacramento County and Solano County boarder along Steamboat Slough.

This is Page 1.  See also Page 2 Or a Youtube video or a look at “Old River” Sacramento
(this page may load slowly due to the many photos and maps on this page)

Over the years we’ve been collecting old books on the Delta, and historic maps of the whole Delta area.  We’ve scanned those maps, and some of the pages of books from the 1850’s to 1880’s.  This page focuses on Steamboat Slough, which certainly has a colorful history, particularly when it was one of the primary routes for steamers or paddle wheelers taking passengers, dry goods and foods between the gold mining hub or launch point of Sacramento to San Francisco, and back.  Hence there’s lots of records of shipwrecks from those truly wild west water days!  (see also “Delta River Names“)     Steamboat Slough was originally referred to as the “Middle Fork” of the Sacramento River, (click below) according to the map from 1852, and official surveys for the federal government by Mr. Ringgold, chief surveyor at that time.   In the 1852 map there is an area referred to as “Hog’sback Shoal” on the Middle Fork, which is probably in close proximity to where Snug Harbor is today.

However, very soon thereafter, maps began referring to the waterway as Steamboat Slough.   A noted author of the time, Mr. Hutchings, in his 1862 book of California refers to it as Steamboat Slough in his sketches.. The 1949 Guide book of “California Place Names” says on page 320:  “Steamboat Slough {Yolo}  When the Sacramento was first navigated fewer obstructions to navigation were encountered in Steamboat Slough than in old Sacramento River, as the other branch is called.  For many years the slough was therefore the channel preferred by navigators….”    You can read history of the Delta King and Delta Queen steamboats for a sample of river travel back then.
See our new page “Historic shipwrecks on Steamboat Slough”  or the summary by the state:  Shipwrecks of the Sacramento River including Steamboat Slough, Cache and Sutter Sloughs.



From old maps, (click on the one above-its by W.P. Blake in 1855) historical books or commentaries and the recorded documents for the property we call “Snug Harbor” we know that a small island on Steamboat Slough was sold by the State of California to G. W. Blake in 1875.  Mr. Blake was a builder in the Sacramento area and was listed as one of the contractors approved to build the state capitol building. original land grant on Steamboat Slough (The state Geologist for the 1855 . Geological Map for the Railroad route to the Pacific Ocean See 1855 map is listed as William P. Blake.  Perhaps these two Blakes are related.  Current resort owner is a Blake from her great-grandmother’s side fo the family-the SoCal Blakes)    Anyway, Ryer  island was considered part of Solano County, not Sacramento County as many people assume.   There may have been a time it was considered part of Yolo county, as some old maps indicate.  In the meantime, Steamboat Slough continued to be one of the routes to Sacramento, as the captain’s map below shows.

Hydraulic gold mining of the 1860’s to 1890’s made many of the rivers silt in, including Steamboat Slough, for a time.  Then the state made that form of gold mining illegal, and primary rivers and sloughs were dredged to allow for boating navigation once again.  Steamboat Slough continued to be a boat navigation “shortcut” to Sacramento, even though the longer Sacramento River route became popular for land travel to Sacramento, as the roads going by river towns of Isleton, Ryde, Walnut Grove and Locke received the mail for this area of the Delta. (click on steamboat capatain’s map to the right)

In 1930 the family entered into an agreement with the state to have dredging soils from Steamboat Slough be placed at the north end of the island, thereby making it a peninsula attached to much larger Ryer Island.  By 1945, the land had been sold to the Martin family, who began to sell off residential parcels to friends who wanted to build their own waterfront homes on Steamboat Slough.  The north half of the peninsula subdivided into residential parcels with a private road running down the middle to the resort property also in development in the 1940’s.  The oldest Solano County permit & map we still have in hand is dated 1959, and the first parcel subdivisions (see below maps) are dated 1945.  Recorded land records for the peninsula known as Snug Harbor  1875 Land Grant map for the island that became Snug Harbor

Ryer Island was a naturally-formed island area of the Delta, but was called Sutter and Merritt on the first official maps of the area between 1840 1860.  By the late 1860’s it was called Ryer, and had received ongoing improvements to its levees in the early 1900’s, 1930’s and so on.  As early as 1852 writers noted there were “Snug little cabins on Steamboat Slough”!  Ships captains wrote in their ship logs about seeing “flickering campfires” along the banks, and about being stuck on the sandbars at Hog’s Back Shoal for twelve hours while they waited for higher tides.

One of the first water projects in California done by the agency that would become part of the US Army Corps of Engineers was to make a very sturdy retaining wall at the north end of Steamboat Slough for tie-off by the paddie wheelers.  There are some REALLY funny but sad stories of the antics of the paddlewheel captains on Steamboat Slough!  *new*(see Paddle Wheelers #1 and Paddle Wheelers #2)

There was a period when Steamboat Slough was almost impassable for the larger ships because the silt from mining in the foothills washed down the Sacramento River with winter and spring runoff, and literally filled up Steamboat Slough.  But dredging of the slough opened it to navigation again.  When the federal government agreed by 1917 legislation to assist California in building more secure levees and dredging key rivers of the Delta, Ryer Island and Steamboat Slough were included in the major project.  Hence, the levees of Ryer Island are listed as “Project Levees” and Steamboat Slough is one of the rivers to be maintained for navigation.  At the time the small island became a peninsula attached to Ryer Island, it was called “Martin’s Island”

Below are sections of maps from 1845 to about 1965, showing our area of the Delta, with notations about Ryer Island or Snug Harbor added to some of the maps to help the viewer understand the particular map.  “CLICK” on the maps or links to see these in full size.
Snug Harbor Peninsula in 1968



The above shows a Delta slough that has almost been clogged by silting over the years.  Steamboat Slough was dredged several times to keep it open for navigation, per the federal and state agreements.



Hutchings view of Steamboat Slough (right) at the “Old River” Sacramento River confluence in 1862…and a 2011 painting based on the Hutchings view

Added November 2011:  See the following slideshow & PDF from
Steamboat Slough and Sacramento River 1850 travel
Youtube video : Page 3

1850_Sacramento_Steamboat_Slough_travel.pdf (large file-may open slowly)
Paintings of Steamboat travel
Maps showning Steamboat Slough

Historic Delta Sketches

or read the whole book-travel on Steamboat Slough and the Sacramento River is in the last chapter about going to the Calevaras caves:
there is also a great website called and if you put in the name “Hutchings California Magazine” all 5 volumes are readable online.  Mr. Hutchings stories of early California life are very fun and his descriptions of travel on the Sacramento River and San Joaquin River are very informative. (caution:  some of the graphics were edited from the original version of the book, of which we have 2 copies from 1860’s publication.  For example, the words “Sacramento River” are edited out of one graphic in one instance)
Below is a section of a map provided in the SFEI book on Delta ecological history.  While we disagree with some of the locations referenced by SFEI, we do note the maps below shows that “hogs back” was identified as being in the location of Snug Harbor, and “Old River” was the name for the Sacramento above Rio Vista:

Below are other PDF’s we made of the sections that talk about travel and fishing

on Steamboat Slough, Sacramento River and the San Joaquin

1908 Official Survey of the Sacramento River and Steamboat Slough
hutchings_california_magizine_summary.pdf  1871_hutchings_delta.pdf


1957_thompson-dissertation.pdf  (see pages and maps of the Delta-good historical references)

Youtube video or a look at “Old River” Sacramento

Salmon & Steamboat Slough
Shipwrecks of Steamboat Slough from 1848 to 1890
pdf of shipwrecks:  Shipwrecks

New:  Shipwrecks of Sacramento River, including Steamboat, Sutter and Cache Sloughs
How to catch salmon on Steamboat Slough in 1862
U.S. Navy description of Middle Fork in 1952
U.S. Navy map (portion of) from 1852
More Hogsback

go to 1852 full size map

Chrysopolis steamboat on Steamboat Slough in the Delta
Artist’s vision of the nighttime run of steamboats on Steamboat Slough as this is the time many ships entered this section
of the Sacramento River route to Sacramento

California Magazine- Hutchings view of the Sacramento River at confluence of Steamboat Slough in the 1860’s


This scan of a plate from a book over 100 years old says its a view of “Steamboating on the Sacramento River”

Hutchings Sketches of California #1

1895 Cyclist’s map
1897 map –

1901 Southern Pacific Railway map –
1906 Official Survey Map of Delta area of California
1935 map showing small island before it became t
he peninsula we call Snug Harbor


1935 Soils map of the Delta, including Ryer Island

Article summarizing the timing for reclamation
of the major islands of the Delta


For many years, Steamboat Slough was the “preferred route”
because it was the shorter more direct route between Rio Vista and Sacramento as noted below: