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Crossing the Mississippi

In The Pamplisest Vol. 1, pg 169, is this story.  I have shortened it a bit, but I think it gives great insight to the trials our ancestors faced and to their pioneering spirit.  You may find yourself asking the question, "Why didn't they just settle on the Illinois side?"  You have to remember that many times, a prospector bought the land, as in the case of Dr. Kent and Camanche, and then he went to a big city such as Chicago, and sold lots to would be settlers.  To stay in Illinois would have been out of the question for most of these early pioneers.

In the early movement of settlers to Iowa, the Mississippi River played a double role.  To the emigrants from Virginia, Kentucky, and other States bordering on the Ohio and Mississippi, it served as an invaluable highway.  To those who came overland from Chicago, Milwaukee, or any point in Illinois, on the other hand, it loomed up as an almost impassable barrier.  Either as an aid or a hindrance to travel, it was a factor all early emigrants had to reckon with.

The difficulties to be encountered by travel in a white-topped emigrant wagon in those early days can hardly be over-emphasized.  There were few roads and no bridges.  Broken traces and mired wheels were the common happenings of a day's journey.  Rivers proved to be an unfailing source of trouble.  The small streams were crossed by fording; the larger ones by swimming the teams, wagons and all.  But when the Father of Waters was reached, these methods were out of the question: here apparently was an insurmountable obstacle.  However, these eager home seekers were not willing to be deprived of the hard earned fruits of their trying journey -- now lying within sight -- by a mere river.  And out of this situation came the ferry.

The earliest type of ferry to operate on the Mississippi River was the canoe.  While the canoe met very satisfactorily the needs of the early explorers, stray travellers, and occasional homeseekers, it proved wholly inadequate for the stream of emigrants which followed the opening of the Black Hawk Purchase. Imagine the situation when a group of twelve or more emigrant wagons lined up on the Illinois shore to be ferried over -- the confusion, the frenzied haste to get the wagons unloaded and taken to pieces, the long disheartening wait while the total tonnage of the wagons was being taken over, bit by bit, when the hours dragged and even the best natured grew surly.  Hence, to meet this situation brought about by the onrush of settlers to the Iowa country, regular public ferries equipped to carry whole wagonloads at a time came into use.

The article continues tell the story of the ferries and steamboats that were such a large part of life on the Mississippi.

 


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