Chapter XXXVI

Burlington Saturday Evening Post

Capt E. H. Thomas



Led Relief Party that rescued John C. Fremont  

Afterward Built Ferry Boat at Nauvoo-More About Capt. Mose Hall.  

  Among the shippers and merchants of the olden time along the river was Col. John M. Finch of Dallas City Ills.  The colonel was a good business man, but he did not let his commercial affairs worry him.  Mark Twain, at one time, said: “Have a good time while you live, for you will be a long time dead.”  From my acquaintance with Co. Finch I am of the opinion that he must have adopted this policy at  an early age, and followed it thro life.  His store room and residence stood near the river, and in the rear of them was a building which contained about $500 worth of boats, wooden ducks, fishing tackle and other paraphernalia, which he used on his hunting and fishing trips.  One of his favorite resorts was Green Bay on the Iowa side, just above Fort Madison.  Then he made frequent trips to the northern lakes.  His companion on these expeditions to the north was Hank” Florida a railroad conductor, Col. Finch was a peculiar character, but a good fellow, when one became well acquainted with him.  He was also a joker, but the man who attempted to pry into his private affairs would be sawed off short, as a Minnesota farmer learned to his satisfaction.  Finch and Florida were camped upon the shore of the lake, and the farmer came around to see them.  He looked the two men over, and then started the pump on Finch.

“Where are you from?” said the farmer  “I live in the Sucker State,” said the colonel.

  “What business are you engaged in down there?”

  “Well,” said Finch,  “I am engaged in the very honorable business of turning the soil.”

  “Own much of a farm,”

  “No,” said Finch.  “Don’t own a foot of land.”

  “I understood you to say that you was turning the soil,” said the farmer.

  “You are correct,” said the colonel.  “I follow that business al thro the summer season, looking for fish worms.”

  Col. Finch was loyal to the town in which he lived.  He lived in Dallas City 40 years, and thought it the only place. He loved the river, and was a friend to the boats, and he could never understand how a person could be contented in an inland town.

  On one occasion the people of La Harpe advertised in to the world that a monster celebration would be held in that town on the Fourth of July.  Col. Finch said it would not do to have Dallas deserted on Independence Day, that something must be done to counteract this La Harpe movement.  So the colonel went to Burlington and had some full sheet posters printed.  These bills informed the people that Blondin the celebrated rope walker was making a trip down the Mississippi river, and that he would give an exhibition at Dallas.  That on July 4th, Blondin would walk the high wire from the roof of Frisb’s store building to Polk Island, in the middle of the Mississippi river.  Hiring a team and some men, the colonel had these bills posted all over Hancock and Henderson counties.  As a result of this advertising on the morning of the fourth the farmers, with their teams and their families, came streaming into Dallas by the hundreds.  The crowd at La Harpe this day was small, but the streets of Dallas were packed with people, and the merchants were having a big trade.  Soon after dinner the bank of the river was lined with people all looking for the steamboat which was to bring the noted Blondin to Dallas, and Finch was out there with them, enjoying the fun.  This fourth of July fake cost the colonel about $40, but the expense was a secondary matter with him.  This was one of the many jokes he perpetrated on the people around there, and strange to say, they never got sore.  They simply took it as one of the colonel’s jokes.  

   During my time along the river I formed the acquaintance of Andrew Burton.  He was a Frenchman and lived at Nauvoo, when Gen.  John C. Fremont started on his trip of exploration thro the Rocky and Sierra Nevada mountains, Burton was operating supply trains out there.  Selling goods to the miners and ranchmen.  Thro this business he gained a knowledge of the mountain roads, trails and passes.  It will be remembered that Fremont was caught in a terrific storm.  He and his party were snowed in, and could neither go forward nor back.  Their supplies ran low, and for a time it was believed that the entire party had died of exposure and starvation.  Hearing of the situation, at is own expense, Burton started a relief train into the mountains.  With a force of men he fought his way thro the storms and snow drifts until he reached Fremont camp where he found the men in a starving condition.  Some of them had died, but Burton arrived in the nick of time to save Fremont and a larger portion of his men.  The general was under lasting obligation to Andrew Burton, and told him that he owed him a debt which he could never fully pay.  Gen. Fremont at that time was a wealthy man.  Burton continued in the supply business out there, and thro the financial backing of Gen. Fremont, he made sufficient money to retire.  He came east and first located in St. Louis.  Later on he came to Nauvoo, purchased a fine tract of land on the river bluff, just below the town, where he erected a fine residence and lived in ease and comfort.  During my one year in the newspaper business in Nauvoo, Burton came into the office one day and told me in detail of his battle with the elements in his search for Gen. Fremont and his party, and the rescue.  He also informed me that he had some idle money, and that he would like to invest some of it in something which would be of benefit to Nauvoo.  I told him that the one thing needed was a steam ferry boat which would give the place connection with the trains at Montrose.   He told me to make a plan for the boat and he would build it, and he made good.  He built and started the steamer, A. Burton, which enabled the people to have a daily mail, instead of a tri-weekly, and proved a benefit in many other ways.  Later on Mr. Burton built a brick block for the accommodation of the business men there.  I found him to be a fine old gentleman, well informed of the affairs of this country as well as his native land.  He was also an enterprising citizen, always ready to give the town a boost.

  The discussions and investigations of the Titanic disaster are bringing out some additional information.  An investigation is now going on in the city of London.  A few days ago a fireman of the ill-fated vessel, testified that about one hour after the big steamer hit the iceberg, that he and other firemen, on the order of engineers, opened the gates of the water tight bulkheads, and that the hull rapidly filled with water and went down.  When asked for what purpose, or why these gates were opened, the witness answered that he did not know.  The evidence is also showing that the men who were ordered to man the life boats were largely made up of firemen, and what we call “cabin roosters” on the river--men and boys employed  in the cabin.  With such sailors as these, of the cornfield class, the wonder is that any of the people were saved. 

  Another discovery has been made that our lake boats, which go and come from Chicago and other parts, carry but six life boats each, and that they take from one to two thousand excursionists at a trip.  That the six small boats carry but 500 people, and with the other so-called lifesaving traps are in a dilapidated condition.  An examination of all of the lake and sea going vessels would probably show the same conditions.  This information will probably result in the enactment of some stringent laws compelling the vessels to carry a greater number of these worthless so called life saving devices.  As I have said before, under certain conditions, and at the critical moment they prove absolutely worthless;  A second boat, a relief vessel, close up in the wake of the passenger steamer, is the only sure protection for those who go to sea, or cross the lake.  With this the passengers will have a means of escape from a burning or sinking ship.  What is needed at the present time is sane, practical men with practical ideas, to handle this matter.  To create and have enacted new laws and regulations for the protection of the people on ocean and lake.  The English Parliament and the American Congress know but little about it.  There legislation, like the leaky life boats and life belts, and the “cornfield sailors,” will not protect and save the lives of the people.

  I have just received a letter from “Capt. Fred A. Bill of Minneapolis, in which he gives some recollections of Captain Mose Hall, known to us of the olden time, as the “Arctic explorer,”  I give his letter below. 

  In our article in THE POST of the 11th you have brushed away memory’s cob webs in the mention of the name of “Mose Hall.”

  We knew Mose quite well although he was much older than the writer.  He always seemed to light on the feet and while he had many “ups and downs generally got there.”  in the end.  Being a good steam boatman he was a good deal of a thorn to the organized lines with his outside boat as he was able to pick up some old tub whenever he wanted to.

  He was well known to shippers, especially in the Calhoun trade, where he was regarded as the “Moses”  to deliver them, and always had a good following.  Once he had been especially active with a good sized stern wheeler called the “Colossal,” I believe.  The Diamond Jo people thought it would be a good idea to put up a little competition and so hired and put him and a bunch of his crew as well, on the Josie. The scheme worked pretty well  but the next year Mose got another old one and went back to his early love.  It was this boat I believe which called forth the characteristic remark when asked by some shippers as to why he had no cabin on his boat- “What da ya need a cabin fur?  Can’t carry hawgs in a cabin!”  Lack of cabin accommodations, except for the crew saved him a lot of money as he rarely charged a patron any fare for carrying him and when he had no accommodations for people he was relieved of the necessity of carrying them.

Your Truly                        Fred A. Bill


Return to Table of Contents - Life on the Mississippi

Return to Iowa History Project