IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
Saturday Evening Post
Capt E. H. Thomas
Upper Mississippi Fifty Years Hence
The River Fronts To Be Taken in Hand by the Women’s Clubs
agitation for the building of power dams at Keokuk and Davenport was
commenced many years ago. The
wise men of that time, those who could look into the future insisted
that these improvements would be of great benefit to the people, but
they could not get the necessary assistance to start the work.
Keokuk held on to the project with bulldog tenacity.
The officers of the first company have been dead for many years,
but new men came to the front and the agitation went on until the
desired result was secured. The
great dam is now in course of construction.
This has put new life into the project at the foot of the upper
rapids. The people of
Davenport, Rock Island and Moline say that they will have a power dam at
that point. The engineers
tell them that it will develop 150,000 horse power, or about one fourth
less than the Keokuk dam. The
sale f the power from these two dams will certainly prove a paying
proposition, and be of great benefit to navigation on the Mississippi.
The back water from them will deeply bury the rock chains on the
two rapids and instead of the heavy equipment the boats will sail along
in dead or slack water. Those
improvements will cover up abut 80 miles of the worst river between St.
Paul and St. Louis. The
discussion of these projects brings to my mind the thought that at some
time in the distant future when the valley becomes densely populated,
the government may adapt the lock and dam system on the upper
Mississippi, as it had one on the Ohio river.
Thro the work done by the government in the past 25 years, the
banks are now pretty well protected.
Taking the figures given out by the Keokuk company as a base,
there will be nine feet of water at a point about 35 miles above the
dams. So that it will be
seen that by building 19 more dams there would be a nine foot steamboat
channel from St. Louis to St. Paul, ad the greater portion of the
distance would e easy sailing for he boats, for they would e in deep
slack water. Of course this
great improvement would cost a large sum of money and to ask a
congressman of the present to assist such an enterprise would throw him
into convulsions. However,
50 years hence, when the upper Mississippi valley became densely
populated when, in fact, it should be the center of population of this
country, such improvements will be needed and demanded by the people.
With the increased wealth of that period the building of 18 or 20
dams will be reared as a small item in the national expense account, and
t will be necessary to provide additional shipping facilities.
J. J. Hill and others, who have made a life study of the
transportation question concede that the railroads will not be able to
keep pace with the constantly increasing business during the next 25
years. That they have not
been able to do so in the past. They
also say that it will be necessary to improve and use every waterway in
the country, wherever it is possible to float a boat.
As I have stated heretofore, when the boats left or were driven
off the upper Mississippi river, the inhabitants of the different towns
and cities along there went into a rip Van Winkle sleep on water
transportation and the river fronts.
The latter have been permitted to go into decay and present a
dirty ragged appearance. The
visitor now judges a town by the appearance of its river front, and
these places should be repaired and improved, as I have said before, and
I am pleased to notice that Hannibal is making a move in that direction.
The ladies of that city have taken up the project and resolved to
make the river front a thing of beauty, thro construction of a decent
landing place for the boats, and some beautiful, shaded parks.
Other towns and cities along there should do likewise.
If the men will take
no interest then the ladies should follow the example set by their
sisters in Hannibal. Take up
the work and push it along. Any
town with one mile of river front can have a good, paved steamboat
landing a half mile in length, and two beautiful parks, one above the
landing and one below it. As
the Blair and Streckfus companies have invested a large sum of money in
steamboats and are making an earnest effort to build up a business along
there they should have a decent landing place at all the towns.
Give them a smooth sloping paved bank, where they can land at all
stages of water, and these enterprising companies will do the rest.
Navigate the grand old river, as in former days.
And handle the business. If
the ladies will all come up on the fighting line, the sleepy men along
there can e lined up on this proposition.
It is a good move on the part of the ladies, and I trust that it
will prove contagious, and spread to all of the towns along there.
Some time during the 60’s the owners of steamer, Iowa City, contracted
with the Wolverton brothers of La Chien, Iowa, for the building of two
barges. The boats were built
at a saw mill, 10 miles below Iowa City on the upper Iowa river.
It was a dry year in the month of August, and the Iowa City and
other boats were at the bank waiting for business and water on which to
do it. The Iowa river was at
such a low stage that there was a doubt as to whether the empty barges
could e brought out of there. I
was sent to there to make the 60 mile run to the Mississippi river.
We left the saw mill with the two barges lashed together., and a
crew of four men to use the oars and poles.
We had some trouble o the upper Iowa, but after entering the
lower Iowa, we had plenty of water.
We reached the mouth of the Iowa about 9 p.m. , pulled across the
Mississippi river, and put our boats into the mouth of the New Boston
bay just above the steamboat landing.
We had a strenuous day, were tired, and crawled under our
blankets and went to sleep. Next
morning we concluded to go to a hotel and get a square meal.
We found the streets full of excited men and learned that the
Ives & Dennison store had been entered abut 12 o’clock the night
before, and that the burglars had got away with about $7,000 in cash.
There was much excitement among the people, scouting parties were
being sent out, and all strangers who happened to be in and around the
own were arrested. At that
time I had a personal acquaintance with all of the business men, of New
Boston. Had it not been for
this fact, I think all of the barge crew and myself would have been,
caught in the drag net. I
assured the officers that the five of us were sleeping soundly on the
barges, at the hour the burglary occurred, and they took my word for it
I was in the court when some ten or twelve strangers were
arraigned. Among them was a
short built fellow, who said that he knew nothing abut the burglary.
Justice Prentiss asked him if he knew any one in the tow, who
could identify him. Pointing
to me he said “There is a man who knows me, knows me as a printer, and
not a burglar.” I looked
the man over and recognized him as a Muscatine printer, when I had known
for many years. He was on a
tour looking for work, and happened to strike New Boston at the wrong
time. However, the officers
released him, and he at once hit the road for the next town.
Burglars as a rule open a safe with explosives, but in this case
they took the safe with them. Gaining
entrance by forcing the front door of the store, the thieves simply
rolled the small safe out on to the sidewalk, loaded it on a wagon,
hauled it to the river , dumped it into a small flat boat, dropped down
the river seven miles and there used their powder, blew the door off the
safe, retrieved the $7,000, and then started east for the timber.
They Kept under cover
of the woods all day and night but doubled on their trail.
After entering the timber they intended to go southeast and strike a railway station but instead they lost their bearings and went north. On the following day they were caught within three miles of New Boston, just north of the town. There were three of them, and only a portion of the money was found on them. What they did with the balance of it was a mystery for the men would not talk. They were sent to the Aledo jail and later on were convicted and sent to the pen.
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