Naval Reserve Ship Gopher

The USS Gopher. (Image: Library of Congress)

The Gopher went from the warmth of the Florida Keys to the cold of Lake Superior. At her launch in 1871 she was christened the Fern and sailed along the East Coast carrying coal and other cargo and using her guns to destroy shipwrecks that blocked safe navigation. In 1898 she was transferred to Key West to carry supplies and mail to the growing U.S. armada gathering at Santiago and Guantanamo Bay for the Spanish-American War. Decommissioned in 1898, she eventually became part of the Minnesota Naval Militia and was renamed the Gopher in 1905. She later served as a training vessel in Chicago and, later still, with the Naval Reserve in Toledo, Ohio. On her way to Boston in 1922 she rammed and damaged a lock in the Soulanges Canal. The Canadian government apprehended her and held her in Quebec. In 1923, after her release, a northwest gale sank her in the Gulf of Lawrence.