Chapter XXXI

Burlington Saturday Evening Post

Capt E. H. Thomas



The Upper Mississippi Fifty Years Hence  

Beautifying The River Fronts To Be Taken in Hand by the Women’s Clubs  

  The 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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