IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
“When Rafters Ruled”
The Career of Capt. Jerome E. Short
A graphic story of his 55 years of service on the Upper Mississippi. Edited and copyrighted, 1933 by Captain Fred A. Bill, St. Paul, Minnesota
A Pleasant Voyage
Once Mrs. Lafayette Lamb, her two children and a lady friend made a trip with us. I told all the men to be on their best behavior, answer all questions, render any help possible and to keep an eye on the kids. The captain himself was to do likewise and it was our intention to make his trip as pleasant as possible for them. Mrs. Lamb was a daughter of Robert Hufman, chief engineer for the company, and he was the right man in the right place. So we all said “yes, ma’am,” “no, ma’am,” and told them all the stories and legends of the river we knew-and perhaps some we did not know. All about the great battle at Bad Axe, the reason why victory was so called and many interesting things as they came to us. One day on the down trip I went ahead in a skiff with a couple of men in the hope of getting some ducks as we had seen some in that locality. Found a nice bunch of mallards and made the usual sneak on them that is made by all cowardly pot hunters and the result was an even dozen of fine fat fowls. Mrs. Lamb was very much pleased at the appearance of the lot and asked me if she could cook them for dinner for the whole crew on the next day. I said, “Mrs. Lamb, you could not do any thing that would please this crew any better. I will have the cooks get out of the kitchen in the morning after breakfast, after you have the location of things, and they can eat one good meal they do not prepare themselves.” The crew dressed the ducks and the next day we were called to dinner just below Buena Vista and it was a roast duck dinner, to perfection! Dressing and gravy delicious and everything done to a turn. We all thanked Mrs. Lamb as well as we could and she said she had enjoyed preparing the meal as much as we had the eating of it. When they left the boat they shook hands with us and said they hoped to make another trip sometime. We told them we would be very glad to have them do so, especially during duck season.
In 1873 the company had built a little stern wheel boat called the Emma Lamb. Bow boats were being tried out about this time and Mr. Lamb wanted me to take her up the river and give the scheme a trial. Towing it up the river was a problem. We had her alongside the chancy and when we would be going ahead full speed the little Emma would stand on her hind end and her vow would be up higher than the Chancy’s guards. We thought to help this by putting some coal on the Emma’s forecastle to hold her down forward. But this made it worse for then when we went ahead her stern went down until the wheel shaft was in the water and her nose looking into the Chancy’s cabin, the darndest sight you ever saw. The men wanted to laugh but I was too mad to make sport out of anything at that time: the idea of loading a boat down to front to keep her stern up! We took the coal off and towed her the best we could in the natural way.
Mr. Lamb was aboard this trip watching everything. After we got our raft at the slough we put the Emma on the bow and she proved a success in helping get the raft out of the slough. We ran it whole down and put one piece ahead of the other wit the Emma on the bow. We went through this cut off and Rollingstone chute without any trouble. The water was very low and without the Emma we would have been obliged to double trip as we were a day ahead on the upper end of the run. At this time the running of long rafts had not been fully tried out, so after practically floating through the slough we put the raft together again.
One trip when ready to leave beef slough, I discovered we did not have enough fuel to take us to Lynxville, a place where we could get wood in barges and thus save landing the raft for that purpose, so we went over to a wood yard at the head of West Newton and loaded the Chancy to the guards with wood. In making the crossing at the foot of Betsy slough to the high bar at the foot of island No. 63, we had a bad stick. There was water enough for the raft but the chancy had too much wood on her and she stuck so hard that I thought we would have to take the wood off. The U. S. steamer General Barnard was tied up at the island and I went over to see if Captain Durham would pot help us and he assented at once. I thought we better cut the raft loose from the boat and land it along shore but Capt. Durham thought he could pull us off with his three-inch hawser without going to that trouble. So he ran the end of the hawser up to us and did his best but the Chancy refused to move. Just at that time the Artemus Lamb happened to come up and she landed alongside the Barnard, ran her line up to us and the combined efforts of the two boats wee too much for the chancy and she gave up and we wee out of a bad situation easily, although it is a wonder that something did not give way with such a strong temporary improvement as the sand soon filled in again.
Every fall from 1873 to 1876 I would be towing coal with the Emma from Rapid City to Clinton with a couple of barges. The company had a charter to run a ferry between Iowa and Illinois at Clinton and the old ferry boat was worn out. The company built two model barges with open decks for general use. When the old sidewheel ferry went out of commission they took the two barges, placed them side by side, about ten feet apart, put timbers across the barges, bolted them down, decked them over with heavy plank, built them over with heavy plank, built a good strong railing around almost the entire length and had a space of about 36 feet by 60 feet. They put the Emma in between the barges at the stern and we had a ferry that would take care of all the business in good shape. After the raft boats laid up I got the job of piloting this ferry until the ice made us quit.
This fall, 1874, think it was, I got a new job. Artemus Lamb got the idea that a trade between Clinton and Davenport could be built up. So the Artemus Lamb was put in commission with Frank Wild as pilot and myself captain, making one round trip per day. One trip we had three passengers. On another no passengers and a folding harrow and on another a lonesome keg of nails, as freight. Some one asked me if there was money in the business and I replied. “Sure, we land at every place both going and coming the same as other packets and take in everything there is.” It was late in the fall and with no advertising it is no wonder that at the end of the week our receipts were $2.25 for passengers and 75c for freight. Expenses were about $40 per day and at the end of the week we quit and that ended my first packet experience.
I was married September 23, 1874, to Mary Helen Downs by the Rev, J. O. Cowden at Clinton. She was born near Malone, N. Y. August 15, 1856, and her people came west in 1856, and settled at Grand Mound in Clinton county, Iowa.
After my marriage we lived with my sister and her family. My brother Lyman was living on Third Avenue in Clinton, and desired to move north, so we bought his furniture and January 1, 1875, Mary Helen and I set up shop for ourselves in the house he was vacating. My mother continued to live with my sister, that seeming to be the best arrangement.
Transcribed by Georgeann McClure