IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
Saturday Evening Post
E. H. Thomas
SHOULD STAND BY BOATS
Secret of Building Up River Traffic
Capt Lon Bryson, present postmaster of Davenport, is an
old river man. I remember
him quite well as a captain on the fine passenger steamer, operating in
between St. Louis and St. Paul. In
a recent interview Capt. Bryson made use of the following language:
“The thing that is of the greatest importance in building up
the steamboat business to its former glory is the securing of shippers
who will stand by the boats.”
This is the whole thing in a nutshell, and plainly expresses the
views of all river men, who have had and experience in the business.
As I understand it will be the policy of the government to spend
fifty million dollars per year for the next ten years in the improvement
of the rivers. Of what
benefit will this be to the people, if they do not use these steamers
after the work is completed? None
whatever. It will simply be
a waste of government money. River
men take the position that the principal rivers now navigable, just as
much so as in the olden days when they were used by the large passenger
steamers, and the powerful tow boats with their great fleets of barges.
All are in accord with the present movement to increase the depth
of the channels, but business, freight for the boats, is the first and
important thing. The boats
should be put on the rivers now, and demonstrate that the people intend
to use these great water ways as a means of transportation.
Convince the new generation of men that there is something in it.
As President Taft said to the shippers of Memphis: “Here you
have a great river flowing by your doors.
Why don’t you use it now?”
That’s the question. I
am here to say, and all river men will endorse my statement, that water
transportation cannot be restored and maintained unless the merchants,
manufacturers and shippers generally, take an active interest in the
movement. There must be a
combination of the steamboat and shipping interests.
St. Louis and Kansas City have made a movement in this direction.
The shippers have purchased the boats and started them.
A start in the right direction has been made by the business men
of the different cities and towns between St. Louis and St. Paul, but it
will require a campaign of education.
Many of the shippers do not appear to understand the situation,
nor to realize the benefits to be derived from the restoration of water
transportation. They imagine
that at some distant time, after the government has deepened the
channels, steamboat men will purchase boats and operate them and take
all of the chances. As I
have before stated, the river men will not do this.
The return of the boats can only be brought about through a
combination of the shippers and the steamboat men.
The latter must have some positive assurance that the boat will
get some business at least sufficient to keep them busy during the
boating season. My plan
would be to hold meetings in every town between St Louis and St. Paul.
Travel by boat, advertise the meetings of shippers ahead.
Have some good speakers along to explain to the shippers the
benefits they would secure thro the restoration of the cheap water
transportation. That it
would largely reduce their freight rates and give their towns and cities
new life. Stock in a
steamboat company should also be secured at these meetings, and at the
close of the campaign a company organized, the boats purchased and put
in the trade between St. Paul and St. Louis.
I am satisfied that Capt. Streckfus, Capt. Blair and other
river men would encourage this sort of a movement and with the shippers
interested, they would also put some money into the boats and operate
them. Thro this combination,
or partnership of shippers and steamboat men, the business could be
established, maintained and made a financial success.
And in my opinion it is the only feasible plan.
In Kansas City the business men put up more than one million
dollars for steamboats and barges. Not
only this but each of them have entered into a written contract with the
company to furnish a certain amount of freight each season for their
boats, guaranteed, in advance, sufficient business to keep the boats
employed between. A number
of steamers and barges who successfully operated last
year, and an
addition will be made to the fleet this season.
The St. Louis merchants have started the business in a
conservative way, on a capital of but $200,000.
With the money they have purchased a low boat and three barges,
all steel hulls. These boats
will be operated between St. Louis and New Orleans, and take a cargo of
3,000 tons at a trip. The
business men of these two Missouri cities have set a pace for these in
the different town on the upper Mississippi.
An organized earnest effort would bring the same result on the
upper river. It ought to be
very easy to raise one million dollars for steamers and barges.
The Upper Mississippi river Improvement association, under the
leadership of your townsman, Captain Wilkinson, could do it.
I think he is president of this association.
Let the government work go along, but in the meantime start the
boats, and give the people of the present day a practical demonstration
that there is something in it. That
what was done in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s can be done now.
There was no bridge at that time, and the Burlington company was
doing a transfer business there. My
boat was lying at Burlington levee, and I was sent across the river to
look after some freight. Was
then known as East Burlington was quite a village and a busy place.
On the return trip and when near the Iowa shore I saw that the
levee was covered with people, and among them recognized Marshal
Hofer, or as he was better known, “Big Horse,”
There were a number of policemen there also.
Above me was a man in skiff pulling for the Illinois shore.
I recognized this man as Tom.
Tom had worked on the steamboats, but at that time was fishing
and doing odd jobs with his skill around Burlington.
As we passed each other in the river, Tom threw his oars in the
skiff, pulled his gun on the marshal and told him to get off the levee
or he would fill him full of lead. The
marshal being near the Ingersol fish house, went behind it at a rapid
gait. Tom picked up his oars
and pulled over to the Illinois shore.
When I landed my boat the marshal came down on to me, and asked
why I did not stop that man, saying that he was a fugitive from justice.
That he had commanded me to do so.
I answered that it was not in my line of business stopping
fugitives who carried loaded guns. Then
I asked him why he did not take a boat and go after Tom, instead of
hiding behind the fish house. The
fact was that Hofer and his police force knew this man and were afraid
of him. Tom weighed about
200 pounds, and was recognized in the Burlington levee as the chief
fighter and would use his gun when in a close place.
I went out into the large crowd on the levee and put out the
cause of all the excitement there. As
they gave me the story, a large party of excursionists from Galesburg
had come to Burlington. They
chartered the ferry boat and went down to the “Cascade,”
below the city. Tom was down
there with his skiff, and he was charged with enticing two young ladies
into his boat and taking them over to the gunboat, which was tied to the
shore of Big Island. The
rehearsal of this story caused intense excitement and Tom had gotten
away from the Iowa shore none too soon.
Had he remained there the crowd would have lynched him.
Big Horse, the marshal was up in the air and got busy.
He put 50 armed men on to the ferry boat and sailed to Big Island
to rescue the Galesburg girls. No
resistance was made down there and the two young ladies were brought
back to Burlington. That
night on our up stream trip, Tom came onto the boat to learn something
as to conditions in Burlington. Tom said that he had committed no crime.
That the two girls came to his boat and asked him to take them
over to the gunboat, and that he did so, charging them one dollar for
the trip. After being
brought back to Burlington, the girls admitted this.
That wishing to learn something as to the shady side of life,
they had voluntarily gone over to the gunboat.
After a lecture from the crowd the girls returned to their homes
in Galesburg. In a few days
Tom returned to Burlington, as soon as he thought it was safe to do so.
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