Chapter XLVII

Burlington Saturday Evening Post

Capt E. H. Thomas

[Using Hennipen Canal  - Cargoes of Salt Coming from Michigan

At Saving in Transportation ----at lay Reclaiming Iowa’s Over- ----ow Lands -- An old Tragedy]


Millions of dollars have been spent by individuals, companies and the government in the dry regions of the west in bringing water on to the lands there to bring them under cultivation, and it has proved a paying investment.  Now a movement is on to take the water off the dry lands and convert this almost worthless land into productive farms, Thro the building of levees and other work our neighboring states Missouri and Arkansas have reclaimed thousands of acres of their bottom land which have been swamps and bayous heretofore.  Not by this, but thro the drainage of these lands, a sickly malarial region has been made as healthy as the other lands of Iowa, there is a great need for this reclamation work, the conservation of our natural resources, which divine providence has put here for our use.  There are no less than 75,000 acres of land in the Des Moines river valley much are subject to overflow and on the Iowa, Cedar and Skunk rivers, there are probably 175,000 additional acres of this excess of land making a total of at least 250,000 additional acres.  The men who own the land have no certainly of securing a living.  Some of it introduces a crop between floods, but each and every year the bottom land farmer is taking chances on losing his seed and his labor.  And I have no doubt that after a series of floods, the major part of this land is entirely abandoned for several years.  Under such conditions the land has little value, where it has been properly protected by levees and the water kept off of it, it has proved to be the most productive land in the country, and its value has been increased from $12 to $100 and $150 an acre.  A great many of the states which are now engaged in the reclamation work have a high rate of taxation and a heavy bonded indebtedness, and they regard it as good policy to go ahead with this work, and by so doing increase the productions and wealth of their people.  Iowa has made a move in this direction, and yet it is amply able to do such work and pay for it, without imposing a heavy burden upon the people.  It is sometimes said that a “public debt is a public blessing.”  this is not always true, but if the State of Iowa thro a sale of its bonds, could reclaim and put under its cultivation its 250,000 acres of lowlands it would certainly prove a blessing and benefit to the people in after years.  The owners of the land would probably be willing to assist in this work, by paying the interest on the bonds.  Our representatives at Des Moines should at least make a start, devise some plan thro which this important work can be done.  Get a law thro the legislature authorizing the issuance and sale of bonds for this purpose.  Very many of the people in the Des Moines river valley favor such action by our law makers.

   The writer, who has been advocating the use of the two Illinois canals as a connecting link between the lakes and the Mississippi river is pleased to notice that Capt. Wallace has made the second successful trip.  This time he brought a cargo of 1600 barrels of salt from Chicago to Davenport.  It appears that a Chicago firm who deal exclusively in salt, are behind  this movement and that they will establish distributing storehouses in the different river cities.  It will prove a good thing for the dealers in salt, and give them a decided advantage over their competitors who ship by rail rate, between river and lake alone will give them a good margin of profit.  If other Chicago merchants would adopt the same policy they could build up a large trade in the river cities and the companies at this end of the line would get the benefit of lower prices on the goods.  And if the grain buyers in the river cities would use the cheap, all water route to Chicago they could afford to pay the farmers better prices for their grain.  It takes too much of the farmers grain to get it to market.  A short time ago a farmer out in central Iowa had a large quantity of oats and he concluded to ship to Chicago. On applying to the railroad agent for rates he found that the freight charge of a car load of the oats would amount to more than the value of the oats in the Chicago market.  This rate was prohibitive and therefore he could not ship.  Such conditions should not exist, but I have no sympathy for people who live along a navigable waterway for they can get out from under the burden by using the boats for transporting their grain and merchandise.  However, they are learning-showing an interest in water transportation, and as a result the boats are returning to the rivers.  I notice that one day last week ten steamers were at the St. Louis levee taking in and discharging cargoes.  This is the largest number seen here for many years, and the newspapers called attention to the fact.  Contrary to the predictions of the knockers the new line between St. Louis and Kansas City is having a good business, and this is the third season.  The boats on the Ohio and Mississippi river are also doing well, and the number is being increased.  The cry of no water and wait for river improvement, comes from those who are interested in delaying or preventing the restoration of cheap water transportation.  If the shippers will furnish the business the steamboat men can and will navigate the rivers, just as they are.  They demonstrated this in the old days, and they are doing it now.  The one all important thing is the business for the boats.

   Along in the early ’70’s there was a mysterious disappearance from the city of Keokuk, in which I took an especial interest for the reason that I was personally acquainted with the missing one.  E. B. Isett was born in Wapello, Iowa.  His father was a prominent merchant in the town during the ’40’s and ’50’s.  Young Isett was of a quiet disposition, had little to say but was an industrious student, and a bright, intelligent young man.  His sister, Mary, married D. N. Sprague, whom the older residents of that section will remember a prominent lawyer and who held the office of District Attorney for a number of years.  Mr. and Mrs. Sprague left Wapello in the ’70’s and located in Keokuk.  Young Isett went with them and made his home with them.  After going to Keokuk young Isett became a court reporter.  He received a good salary, and as he had no bad habits, he saved some money depositing it in a Keokuk bank.  One evening he came home ate his supper, went out into the city, and was never seen again by any of his relatives or acquaintances.  His best clothing was found at his home, and his savings in the bank.  The police department of the city took the matter up, and a thorough search was made, but no trace of him could be secured.  During the winter of 1879 I was publishing a paper at Dallas City Ills.  While there I received a letter from the young man’s aged mother, asking me to assist her in the search for her lost son.. The mysterious disappearance of this young man brought grief to the home of this good mother,  which she carried to the grave. Night and day for years, this burden was upon her mind, and as she told me it would have been a relief to her to have known that he had died and received a Christian burial.  From a photograph of the young man I had a cut made, and printed and mailed several thousand circulars, giving his description and the details of his disappearance, but learned nothing concerning him.  

Return to Table of Contents - Life on the Mississippi

Return to Iowa History Project