Chapter X

Burlington Saturday Evening Post

Capt E. H. Thomas  






Bodies were Lashed to Boards, Loaded with Old Iron and Shoved Overboard.  

   I think it was some time in the latter part of the sixties that there came a scourge of the cholera to St. Louis.  I was running in there at the time.  It started on what was called French town, and thro the rigid enforcement of the law it was confined to that part of the city.  The newspapers of the city made no mention of it and the steamboat companies gave it no advertising for fear of injuring their passenger business, but there were many deaths in St. Louis, and the disease was finally communicated to the boats.  The Steamer Canada was the first boat to get it.  On one trip up to St. Paul there were twenty deaths among the roustabouts and deck passengers.  The engine room was boarded up and the sick and dead men were placed within.  At night the dead men were tied to boards, loaded with old iron and given a water burial-slid into the river.  A Dubuque physician who had been a passenger on the Canada published a statement of the conditions.  The disease soon went to other boats, and the different towns and cities established a strict quarantine against all boats coming out of St. Louis, and they made it very warm for us.  The company ordered the Canada to go into Alton slough and lay up, as she had no business.  On the down trip her deck crew deserted her and the officers of the boat were handling her.  When she reached Burlington she was out of supplies and attempted to land there, but as she rounded to, the crew of the boat was looking into the business end of the Lyon battery-two pieces of artillery and they were loaded.  The Canada was forced to back away from Burlington and make the run to Alton Slough on short rations.  The boat on which I was employed continued her trips in and out of St. Louis, but we had but one case of the cholera.  On one of the up trips a cabin boy who was carrying a platter load of dishes and catables to the table fell to the floor with the cramps and doubled up like a jackknife.  We were just below New Boston, landed there, and sent for old Dr. Willits.  He at once pronounced it a case of cholera.  Very soon thereafter the marshall of the town, with a shot gun brigade forced us to leave the landing.   We went to the island above town, taking the doctor with us.  By working with the boy all night he was brought out of the cramps and recovered.

  I remembered that this was  dry year, and the river was at a low stage.

   We landed at St. Louis one day, and just above us was the steamer Ben McColloch and two barges.  The three boats were loaded with railroad iron, billed for Keokuk.  I met the Captain, Sanderson, on the levee and he told me he wanted a pilot, one who was posted on the water.  Peter Hall had made the trip down with us, I hauled him up and he took the job.  The Ben McCulloch started for Keokuk.  On the way Captain Sanderson took the cholera, and he sent for Hall, telling him to take the boat to Keokuk, collect the freight money,  pay off the crew and turn the boat over to the owners.  “I expect to live but a few hours.”  said the captain “and I want to be buried right on the head of Hickory Island  Now Peter and the captain were very much alike , eccentric characters.  Later on, in telling us of the death of his Captain Peter said “I obeyed his order, and by the light of the silvery moon planted him on the head of that island.” In after years we many times looked down from the pilot house upon the board and mound of earth which marked the resting place of Captain Sanderson.  He was a man well along in years and had spent his entire life upon the boats.

   There wee quite a number of deaths on the levee at St. Louis.  Men would fall to the stone paving and die in a short time, and there was one thing I noticed, the men who used intoxicating liquor were the first to contract the disease, and they died.

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