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The Rivermen Biographies



Research and Transcribed

  By Sue Rekkas




The Davenport Democrat, Sunday, May 25, 1884, page 1.





And Stir Up LeClaire with Venture

--What the Heroine Had, What the Mate Had, How the Parties Interested Felt--

--The Result Up to the Latest--

  The matter-of-fact citizens of LeClaire were treated to a first-class excitement of the elopement order on Thursday evening last.  The facts as gathered from various sources, seems to be about these:

  The steamer Isaac Staples, owned by the Burlington Lumber company, is captained by Mr. Peele, who is also first pilot of the craft.  Mr. Peele’s (Peel) family consists of wife and daughter--the later has been clerk of the boat--and since navigation has opened they have lived on the steamer.  The daughter, fair and lovely, is 18 and has been in active demand in the matrimonial market.  Henry Bell, known in LeClaire, where he has been bar-tender and general man-about-town for several years, as “Shorty,” was employed as mate on the Staples.  An intimacy sprang up between the mate and the clerk.  The mother had had her suspicions aroused some time ago that there was likely to be trouble, so she kept her eyes on the couple.  At the time of the boat’s last trip down, her vigilance alone prevented the lovers from striking for a parson’s.  On Thursday evening, the boat on her way down with a raft, stopped at LeClaire for coal.  While the coal was being put on, the fair clerk and her married sister took a walk up town.  On their return they went into a boat store to order supplies.  The clerk stepped to the door, and handing the keys of the boat’s safe to her sister, said “good-bye, I am going to get married.”  So saying, she jumped into a buggy standing at the door.  The mate, as driver, picked up the lines and the twain were off, before the father and mother could be informed of the condition of affairs the lovers were out of sight.  No effort was made to head off the runaways.  The captain, although very much incensed and very much hurt, took the whole matter as a settled fact and the boat went up to her raft, while the heartbroken mother sobbed as if she had buried her child instead of secured a new son-in-law.

  Miss Libbie Peele, the heroine of the episode, is 18 years of age, fine-looking, educated, and refined in manner.  It is said that she has been engaged to a telegraph operator at Cedar Rapids and it was to avoid marrying him, who was her father’s choice that she eloped with Bell.  It is said that Miss Peele has some twenty-five hundred dollars in her own name.

  Captain Peele found, after the clerk’s departure, that the boat’s account was short a little matter of $275.  This amount it is presumed, the clerk took to defray the expenses of the honeymoon.

  On Friday Bell returned to LeClaire with the horse and buggy, but without the clerk.  He reported that he was, and also was not, married but, as no license was issued to the parties in this county, it is probable that the ceremony was performed in some other county.

  The bride’s sister, who was on the boat at the times of the elopement, was in the secret and lent her aid and advice, as did her husband.

  It is supposed that the clerk and her lover came to this city after the wedding.  She then realizing that she was a   defaulter went to Burlington to straighten up the cash account will Bell went back to LeClaire.



The Davenport Democrat, Saturday, May 31, 1884, page 1.





   The following paragraph from the Burlington Hawkeye will gratify everybody who knows the young couple spoken of:

  Captain Peel, father of Miss Libbie Peele, who eloped with a young man named Bell, who was mate of the rafter, Isaac Staples, called at the Hawkeye office yesterday to correct certain rumors set afloat in connection with the romantic episode of which his daughter was the heroine.  Captain Peel positively denied that the cash account of the boat was short or that he had made any statement to that effect.  His daughter posted the books before leaving, drew her salary and entered it upon the books.  He says that neither he nor his wife were aware of any intimacy existing between Libbie and Bell, that he is acquainted with the character of the latter, and neither opposes nor favors the union.  Mr. and Mrs. Captain Peel do not censure their daughter for her conduct, and hope her marriage will prove a happy one, though they think her husband is her inferior, intellectually and socially.  Mrs. Bell will be welcome to her parent’s home in Burlington at any time.  A letter has been received from her, dated at Davenport, seeking parental forgiveness, which has been granted.

  The Democrat regrets very much that the report that the young lady’s cash account on the steamer on which she was clerk, was short, was circulated.  It is pleasant to know that her pure character was not marred by any such defalcation as that attributed to her when she married the young man of her choice.


 1880 United States Federal Census Des Moines County Burlington

Surname First name Age Occupation
Peel Vincent 37 Steam Boat Captain
  Elizabeth 38 Keeping house
  Vincent 18 Work on boat
  Emma 17 Music teacher
  Elizabeth 16 Bookkeeper


Marriage Record No. 6447 Scott County Iowa

 Bell, Henry and Bell (Peel) Mary Elizabeth, date May 24, 1884 by Charles Weston, J. P., and Witness John Bard.


The Daily Gazette, Sunday, May 25, 1884, page 4.




  From the County Clerk’s office, yesterday, the following marriage licenses were granted:  Henry Bell to Mary Elizabeth Peel.


1885 Iowa State Census Scott County LeClaire

Surname First name Age Marital Status Where born
Gardner Elenor 42 W Scott
  Elenore 15 S Scott
  Lee 14 S Scott
Star William 68 W Scott
Bell Henry 28 M Scott
  Libbie 20 M Des Moines
Davenport Hattie 1 S Scott


 The Daily Times, Friday, April 19, 1889, page 4.


  A terrible wreck occurred last night during the storm.  The tug boat, Pete Eberett (Everett), was about entering Boston Bay some forty miles south of here in order to take out another raft, when the violent storm which was then raging upset the boat and sank it, resulting in the drowning of the captain, his wife, child, nurse girl and three others.  The boat was owned in Burlington.


The Morning Democrat Gazette, April 20, 1889, page 4.





How the Storm Came on

--Efforts of the Gallant Crew to Prevent the Catastrophe--

--Sinking of the Boat--

--The Life Struggle--

--The Survivors and the Lost.



  The storm of thunder, lightening, wind and rain which prevailed in Davenport and vicinity Thursday eve from 7 to 8 o’clock extended down the river for more than a hundred miles, and in some cases proved disastrous to steam boat interest.


  A special dispatch to the Democrat Gazette from Burlington gives the details of the sinking of the steamer Everett in the gale.  The boat was a rafter belonging to the Burlington Lumber Company.  She was sunk at the head of Otter Island Thursday, and five of the 16 persons on board were drowned.  The names of the dead are:


                Captain Vincent Peel,

                 Mrs. Harry (Henry) Bell, the clerk,

                 Mrs. Bell’s 3 year old daughter,

                 George Howard, first cook,

                 A nurse girl name unknown.

  The Everett was on her way from Burlington to New Boston bay, when she was struck by a terrific gale of wind and sunk in 20 feet of water.

  Ten of the persons on board were on the lower deck and were flung into the water as the craft sank.  They were rescued in a skiff.  Those drowned were inside the cabin, and were carried down when the steamer sunk.

  The raft boat was valued at $8,000.

  Further particulars of the wreck of the ill-fated raft steamer Everett, is thus given by the Burlington Gazette:

  Rain fell and gusts of wind blew occasionally as the boat proceeded on her way, but nothing unusual or alarming happened until the boat reached the head of Otter Island.  As the boat was crossing the channel at this point, and when she was about two hundred yards from the Illinois shore, the storm broke in all its fury.

  The first blast of the storm was not severe, and although the boat went part way over, she almost immediately righted herself.   The pilot then endeavored to get her head pointed into the wind and had almost succeeded, when the second and fatal blast struck and she immediately went over on her beam ends and began to sink.

  As the boat settled down in the water her side caught on the river bottom and the current swung her around until she lay almost directly across the stream, with her bow towards the Iowa shore.  As the boat went over a number of the crew clambered up to the windward side and clung to the guards with desperate energy, well knowing that certain death stared them in the face if they loosed their hold.  Others who were not so fortunate, but who were all luckily, able to swim, swam around until they were rescued by their comrades and pulled up onto the wreck out of immediate danger.  About six feet of the boat’s side protruded above the water and to this fact alone the survivors owe their lives, as had the water been deeper and the boat gone entirely under, it is hardly probable that any would have been saved.

  Harry (Henry) Bell, the pilot, was at his place at the wheel, and when the boat went over the pilot house stove was torn from its fastenings and struck him in the face, cutting a severe gash under the eye, but luckily not knocking him senseless.  As the pilot house was settling in the water Mr. Bell broke a number of the windows out and made his escape, swimming to the side of the boat and climbing up on the wreck with the others.  Captain Peel, Mrs. Bell and her little child, George Howard and his wife, and Rhoda Van Ettan were shut up in the cabin and it is a wonder that even one of them was saved.  The windows and doors were all shut tight, but the water forced its way in like a sluice.  It is supposed that Captain Peel was knocked senseless and perhaps killed as the boat went over, as he has a terrible wound on the left side of his head, which must have been caused by his striking something hard with great force.  The others, with the exception of Mrs. Howard perished miserably beneath the waves, there being no chance of rescue for them.  Mrs. Howard fortunately found a place along the outer edge of the cabin which was not submerged, knocked a hole though a transom with her hand to get air and after enduring about 30 minutes of the keenest agony was rescued by the men, who at last heard her cries.

  The situation of those clinging to the wreck was now desperate in the extreme as the current was liable at any minute to tear away the sunken boat from her resting place and carry all the survivors to watery graves.  Harry Bell knew that his wife was in the cabin at the time of the disaster, and being unable to stand the awful suspense of not knowing whether she was drowned or not, he soon began to search for her.  Nothing could be seen except at intervals when flashes of lightening lighted up the scene, but at last through a hole kicked by him in the transom Mr. Bell grasped a woman’s dress, the dress worn by his wife.  The body of Mrs. Bell was drawn out, but although it was still warm, life had fled.  Willing hands worked for hours, but all efforts to rescue her were in vain.  About 9 o’clock, two hours after the boat went down, the continued cries of the survivors were answered by the appearance of two men, Andy and Sam Jacobs, who had rowed to the scene in a skiff from the Illinois shore, and who at once conveyed the eleven people clinging to the wreck to the shore and fire was built and the rescued people made themselves as comfortable as possible under the dreadful circumstances.

  All the bodies which have been recovered were caught in the wreck and had to be torn loose, Capt. Peel being found head downwards, his head being imprisoned between two heavy timbers.


The Morning Democrat Dispatch, Tuesday, April 25, 1889, page 4.



   They raised the safe belonging to the sunken steamer Everett Tuesday afternoon, together with her headlight and a great number of ropes.  The safe might about as well have been left at the bottom of the river; however, as the combination refuses to work and it will be a rather serious job to get it open.  An experienced diver from Cairo, Ill., is now working around the wreck, and efforts are being made to get the boat, which is now lying on its side, pulled over and righted.


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