Chapter XLIII

Burlington Saturday Evening Post

Capt E. H. Thomas



Disappeared From Dallas City 30 Years Ago

No Trace of Her Was Ever found

Facts About Canal Barge Line--

Crossing the Bar


   Editor Post:  I note what you say in reference to discontinuance of South Ottumwa post office.  It is a station, and as one of the dozen clerks in the Ottumwa office, I have had charge of it for nearly 15 years.  No official order has yet arrived, but should it be closed, the four carriers and myself, will simply be transferred to the main office north of the river, and retain our places in the classified service.  

   As to the barge line thro the two Illinois canals to Chicago.  If the merchants and people of the different towns and cities between the two-rapids really want the cheap water transportation, they can get it through the establishment of the barge line.  Two fleets, two steamers and four barges, can be put in this trade for about  $25,000.  Boats of the canal type.   This is a small sum, and ought to be easily secured by two active young men, who wish to engage in a pleasant and profitable business.  By working thro the commercial organization of the different towns along there this amount of stock should be secured in two weeks.  There are plenty of experienced river men who can be employed to operate the boats between the river towns and Chicago.  Two young men, one for each fleet, could handle the business part of the enterprise, make money, and save the shippers from two to three dollars per ton on all of their shipments of heavy stuff.  Steel and iron, nails, salt, sugar, vinegar and whiskey, molasses, all barrel freight grains and many other articles.  All can be carried by the boats, and at a lower freight rate than can be made by the railroads.  Such fleets could also go up the Iowa, Cedar and Des Moines rivers, under the bridges, and secure a lot of business.  There is 5 feet of water in the Des Moines river at the present times.  The stream will make a record of 5 months of good steamboat water this spring and summer.  

  It was a standing rule, with the pilots in the old time, that when they were sure of their crossing marks, to “stay in the river,” as we called it.  In other words, the channel, as we knew it.  Taking short cuts, or running around hunting a new route, often got the pilot into trouble.  Besides, the insurance policies on the boat and its cargo, stipulated that the boat should be run in the regular or recognized channel of the river.  To leave it and sink the boat on some short cut, would forfeit the insurance.  I remember one lawsuit under this head, and it was still in the courts when I left the river.  The John T. Herron, a powerful Ohio river tow boat was delivering hard coal at the different towns and cities there, dropping barges here and there, to be unloaded.  The Herron left two of the barges at Burlington, and when she left this city the pilot, crossed the river and took the Illinois side, past Drew’s Prairie.  There was a good stage of water, and the pilot anticipated no trouble.  The usual channel along there was up thro Rush chute, and then along the left shore to “Kentuck wood yard,”  where  a crossing was made over to the Illinois shore.  By running the Drew Prairie route, a considerable saving was made in distance.  As I have stated in a former chapter, the big bar at Dew’s prairie caught a great many trees.  One of the Herron’s coal barges, drawing seven or eight feet of water, hit one of these trees, and punched a hole in her bottom.  The barge was out loose from the stream and went down to the bed of the river.  The officers of the company refused to pay  insurance.  Their contention was that at the time of the accident the steamer an its tow was not in the channel of the river.  The steamboat company put up the plea that there were two channels between Burlington and the Kentuck wood yard, and that the pilots used both of them.  To a certain extent this was true.  When there was a good stage of water to save time and distance, we would take the chance on snags, and go up and down on this Drew’s Prairie route.  This was shown by the evidence presented and it made a very knotty case for the courts.  There were no light boats in those days to sound the crossings, and keep track of the ever shifting channel.  The pilots adhered so closely to the rule to “stay in the river,” that they simply followed one another to making the crossings.  They would very often be rubbing the bottom, when better water might have been found near the shoal crossing.  I remember a place of this kind, at the foot of Johnson Island, above Oquawka, Ills.  There was a short crossing there.  In coming up stream, the marks were the head of Benton Island over to a point above the foot of Johnson’s Island.  During the dry months there would be but three and one-half feet of water on the reef of this bar, which put out from Johnson’s island, and it was a mean place in the night time.  One clear day, when I could plainly see the reef, I concluded that the draft of water was straight down, the river along and past the foot of Johnson’s island.  Having a tow boat and three empty barges, I rang the slow bell, and called for the lead on both sides.  Here I found seven feet of water.  One hundred yards farther out in the river, we had been struggling with three and one half feet for many weeks, and frequently hitting the sand.  Such may have been the conditions at other points, but as stated, we made it a rule to “stay in the river,” as we knew it.  Taking short cuts to make time, and scouting around with a steamboat in search of better water over the reefs, was liable to get us into trouble.  Like a recent stand pat conversation in Kansas we resolved to “let well enough alone.”  

  In a former chapter I referred to the criminal class and a few of their many crimes.  Many floaters were found along the shores who had been killed and thrown into the river.  After being in the water until they came to the surface it was impossible to identify them, and they now sleep in unknown graves.  The bad men did not all live on the islands and in the houseboats.  Along the front row and levees of all the cities was a tough element.  If we went ashore in the night  time, it was our custom to take a gun with us and to keep a sharp look out for sluggers.  These fellows would hide among the sack piles and there wait for victims.  A clerk went ashore at St. Louis and collected a freight bill of $1,300.  On his return about 9 p. m. he was killed and robbed when in with a few feet of his boat.  The towns along there all had their mysteries.  As I remember, it was in November, 1875,  there was intense excitement in and around the town of Dallas City.  Lizzie Clark, a girl of about 15 years of age, was an orphan.  Her guardian had placed her in a  hotel at Dallas where she acted as a waiter.  She ate supper there one Saturday night, and on Sunday morning she was missing.  Search was made of the premises but she was not found.  Her wearing apparel, pictures and other keepsakes were all in her room, showing that she had made no preparation for leaving the place.  Her parents had left her and a sister about $2,000, which the guardian had deposited in a Carthage bank.  At the end of ten days the people of the little town had become very much interested in the matter.  The mayor called a special meeting of the town council.  Witnesses were examined, and a thorough investigation was made, but nothing was developed, except the fact that Lizzie Clark was in the hotel Saturday evening, and not there Sunday morning.  The hotel was searched from cellar to garret.  Men were employed to dig in the cellar and an old cistern was cleaned out, but no trace of the missing girl was found.  All sorts of stories were afloat, and all manner of theories advanced.  Many clues were followed but nothing new developed.  Some one suggested that the $2,000 in the Carthage bank used to employ the Pinkerton detectives.  Lizzie’s sister a resident of Louisville, Kentucky, wrote to the mayor to spend every dollar of it in the search, but the fact was developed that under the laws of Illinois this money could not be used for such a purpose.  The Board of Supervisors was finally induced to offer a reward, but the amount was so small that the Pinkerton agency would not take the case.  And so ended the investigation by the people in the town.  I was in Dallas City two  years ago, and they told me that no tidings had ever been received as to her fate.  Thirty six years have elapsed, and the name of Lizzie Clark is still in the list of missing ones.  

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