IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
Saturday Evening Post
Capt E. H. Thomas
Relief Party that rescued John C. Fremont
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
“You are correct,” said the colonel.
“I follow that business al thro the summer season, looking for
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
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
Your Truly Fred A. Bill
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