IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
Saturday Evening Post
E. H. Thomas
CHOLERA ON BIG RIVER
DEATHS AMONG ROUSTABOUTS
AND DECK PASSENGERS
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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