Chapter XX

Burlington Saturday Evening Post

Capt E. H. Thomas


                    LIGHTERING FREIGHT SHIPMENTS OVER LOWER RAPIDS.                       
Circus Gangs and Other Bad Men Who Were Beaten Up in the Attempt to Terrorize the Town.


   During my time on the river the rapids at Rock Island and Keokuk were serious obstructions to navigation. But little work had ever been done to improve the channel. On a down stream run it was difficult to make all of the short angles and crooks with a boat, and we frequently bumped the rocks. At a low stage there was more water on the upper rapids than on the lower one. Before the war R.E. Lee, then a government engineer, did some work on the lower rapids. For the greater portion of the distance the channel was along the Illinois shore. Lee’s plan to widen and deepen the channel appeared to have been to take the rock from the bed of the river and pile it on the west side, and near the channel. The rock piles were circular in shape and ran up to a peak. This work widened the channel but it did not increase the depth to any extent. The rock piles appeared to scatter the water. To throw a portion of it into the channel and a great deal of it to the west of the stone piles. At a low stage the boats could bring a fair load over the upper rapids but on the lower one there would be from 15 to 24 inches of water. At such times the freight from above was transferred to lighters and manned by oars, these boats were floated to Keokuk. The lighter was a long wide flat boat which would carry a good load on little water. When there was sufficient water these lighters were towed back to Montrose by the steamer Dan Hine. When the Hine could not make the trip the lighters were towed back along the shore by horses. The steamer Dan Hine was a light draft stern wheel boat,  with good power. Her bottom was of six inch lumber and she could crack the rock without breaking the plank. However, she wore out three of such bottoms during the years she operated on the rapids. Capt. Patton was her commander and Robert Faris her pilot. It was conceded by all that Faris knew more about the lower rapids than any other man on the river. His daily trips had enabled him to locate all the rock piles and chains and at a low stage, I have seen him send the Hine along at full speed without hitting any of them. We had much trouble along there  and were frequently hung up on the rock piles and chains, all the while hoping that the canal, then in course of construction, would be completed in time to do us some good during the remainder of our time on the river. But the work was going slowly. Now and then the annual appropriations was turned down by Congress and the work would stop until next session.

   The  transfer of freight at the head of the lower rapids furnished employment to a large number of men and in those days Montrose was a live town. These freight handlers were a healthy, well developed bunch of fellows and thorough believers in the doctrine of home rule. Outsiders were not permitted to interfere with their ideas and customs. A raft crew landed there one day and after taking some drink, intimated that they could run the town and paint it bright red. In this they were mistaken. The war cry of the Montrose legion was heard and the men from the lumber regions of the north were thoroughly whipped, driven on to their raft and the raft cut loose and started over the rapids.

    A circus gang under the management of one Grady arrived at Montrose one morning and after loading up with whiskey at Fred Green’s saloon announced that  they were bold, bad men and that they were looking for some of the noted fighting men of that town.  And a few hours later they found them. It so happened that the writer was present on this occasion and witnessed the entire contest. Tho. Burns of Montrose, was a trained fighter and had seen much service in the ring. He passed the word around that the Grady gang must be licked and he led the attach on the showmen. The tents were all torn down, the circus men severely punished, driven onto the ferry boat and forced to leave Montrose without giving a performance. The boss canvas man was so badly disfigured by Burns that he looked as though he had been run through a corn sheller.

   At one time during the progress of the battle I discovered that the air around my head was full of tent stakes, stones and other missiles and in front of me I could see the glittering steel of knives and the business end of a number of guns. As I was not there to be either killed or wounded, I fell back. The line of battle was moving toward me, and I took a new position behind a tight board fence, where I could see just  as well and be in less danger. I had learned this much in the Army that when a position could not be held, the thing to do was to retire or fall back. My reverse movement on this occasion was strictly in accordance with military science as we had it from Grant and Sherman. At least this was my defense in after years when Wm. Spain, Wm. Owens, Steve McBride, Charlie Patton and the rest of them accused me of showing the white leather on the day they gave the circus gang such a drubbing. These handlers of freight at the head of the rapids were good fellows when let alone. The steamboat men had no trouble with them. But it was not a safe proposition for a non-resident gang to come in there and attempt to run Montrose.

   The passengers who congregate around the pilot house of a steamboat are usually loaded up with questions for the pilot. Among other things the travelers want to know are the following: The depth of the water? Does the pilot run by a compass? What is his object in crossing the river so many times? Why does he not take a straight course and keep it? Why does he toot his whistle when meeting another boat? Why does the boat go so slow at certain times, etc. On one occasion I heard an interesting conversation between a passenger and pilot O.M. Ruby. The pilot answered all the foregoing  questions and then the passenger wanted to know if he would not rather work on a faster boat.  (We were going against the current and a head wind and towing two barges.) Ruby answered this last question in the negative and said that he would prefer the slow boat for the reason that it  gave him a better opportunity to get acquainted with the farmers along the shores of the river!

 Port Louisa, for many years, was the Mississippi river shipping point for a large portion of Louisa, Des Moines and Muscatine counties, but the town and the roads to it were low, subject to overflow.  Between Muscatine and Iowa city there is a strip of territory known as Muscatine Island noted for rich soil and large crops of sweet potatoes.  Its width between river and bluff is from three to six miles.  Along and near the bluff is the Muscatine slough.  This body of water 15 or 16 miles in length no doubt marks the former channel of the Mississippi river.  At some time in the distant past, the Father of waters has flowed along at the foot of this bluff.  The head of the slough is just below Muscatine and its mouth a short distance above Iowa City landing where it enters the river.  Above Port Louisa the slough takes an easterly course to a point near the bank of the river, and just above Port Louisa, and then returns to the bluff.  At one time the river threatened to change its course and enter the slough at Port Louisa, and a heavy embankment was thrown in there, and the banks strengthened.  West and below Port Louisa is a wide place in the slough known as Lake Odessa.  From the shore of this lake rises a bluff, a gentle slope upward to the height of 75 or 100 feet.  The distance from the foot of the lake to the river is about 3 ½ miles.  Noticing the conditions here, Van Loon and Lockwood purchase a tract of land on the bluff, platted a town and called it Odessa.  A warehouse was built on the shore of the lake and a number of houses erected on the bluff.  This spot was regarded as a fine location for a city.  Back of it is a fine farming region, and it would have been the only town on the west shore of the river between Muscatine and Burlington.  When there is a good stage in the Mississippi, this slough is navigable from its mouth to the head of the lake, and we went up there frequently.  There are some short bends in it, but boats of the smaller class made the trip with cargoes of lumber, grain, etc.  Van Loon and Lockwood intended to get their town well started, and to then cut the levee at Port Louisa and permit the river to force its way down through the slough and the lake.  And these men would have built a town there had it not been for the opposition then of the property owners in Port Louisa and vicinity.  They objected to the plan of turning the river in behind then and leaving them on an island.  Some injunction suits were started in the course and to avoid litigation, Van Loon and Lockwood abandoned the project.  Later on Port Louisa went to pieces.  There was no business there, and the lots and low lands had little value.  This bluff was a good place to build a city then, and with the return of the boats to the upper river it is a fine location now. Money and push would build a good town here.  Had N. W. Burrus, with the money at his command, located his Burrus City on top of this bluff and dredged the slough for 3 ½ miles he would have made it go.  He would have had connection with the river and his town would have been 75 or 100 feet above the high water mark.  It would have been a better and cheaper proposition than his plan to make a fill on the bottom, and fight the floods from two rivers.  Even now, with the restoration of water transportation on the upper river, a god town and a shipping point on lake Odessa would prove of great benefit to the people of Louisa, Des Moines and Muscatine counties.  It would give them the benefit of the cheap water transportation to all water points and largely reduce the present railroad charges.  There is no doubt about this.  The only effective regulators of freight charges are the boats and the navigable waters of the country.  This is being demonstrated every day in the week.  For this reason people who have navigable rivers flowing past their doors should use them, as a matter of self protection.



   In looking over a newspaper last week I found a six line item announcing the death of Gen. Harvey Graham, in the city of Chicago, at the age of 84 years.  When the civil war commenced, Harvey Graham was a resident of Iowa City, Iowa.  He promptly responded to the call of his country, and went south on to the fighting line.  His first engagement was at Hartsville, Mo.  The Union force consisted of about 12 regiments of infantry, some cavalry and a battery of artillery, all under the command of a brigadier general Col Graham was the ranking colonel and as such in the absence of the general would be the commander.  When the brigadier leveled his field glass on the Confederate line     it did not     him.  He found that the  in battle array, waiting for the general, his staff, and  commenced a movement to the general sending an order to co.  to follow him with the entire   fighting had commenced a retreat did not reach Graham    that his general was misinformed and assumed command of the   made a vigorous attack on   broke the lie, and drove the through and beyond  the town, and with his calvary hustled them out of that part of the country.  After the battle the dead and wounded were cared for, the roll was called and all accounted for except the general, his staff and body guard.  Graham at once sent a courier after this bunch of men, telling them of the battle and victory.  The courier found them on the retreat, about 10 miles from Hartsville, and they were brought to a halt.  From Missouri Graham and his command went down the Mississippi river, and assisted Gen. Grant in the work of cleaning up the valley, including the capture of Vicksburg.  From Vicksburg Graham went east to Gen Sheridan where he and his brigade participated in all of the battles in the Shenandoah Valley.  For meritorious service there, he was made a brigadier general.  After the war, in 1866, Graham, Reninger and Sparelder built the Iowa City and two barges, and operated them on the Iowa, Cedar and Mississippi rivers for a number of years.  Each of these men, owned a one third interest in the boats, and Gen Graham was the head engineer, and he filled the place in a satisfactory manner, as he was a good mechanic.  All of the machinery on the steamer Iowa City was made and placed under his personal supervision.   General Graham made many friends on the river on account of his jovial disposition.  No-one went to sleep or had the blues when General Graham was on the boat, and all of his old time friends will regret to hear of his death.  However, he played his part in the dreams of life, lived to a good old age, received the loving care of a daughter in his last years, and died knowing that he had done what he could for his country and his fellow men.  He has followed the other members of the crew of the Iowa City-Capt. Reninger, clerk Sparleder, Pilot Mills Ruby and engineer Dillon and Pierce.  All have passed away.  The writer, the last of the group, has been permitted to live, for which he is truly thankful to our creator.    

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