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
On one trip we reached Stony Point opposite Clinton, late at night and as we had four or five hours I decided to go home. I was back before daylight and the watchman said that the Le Claire Belle had gone down through the bridge. We put the first half of the raft through under the bridge on the Illinois side and gave it a good “point” and then put the other half through. They went to the draw on the Iowa side, got through all right, hitched on to the second half of the raft, towed until we caught the first piece, coupled together and went on our way. That is the first and only time I ever tried that stunt and it is the only time I know of it being done although putting one piece through in that way and catching it was quite common. Late that night, at the head of Muscatine slough, we met the Le Claire Bell, then in charge of my brother “H,” and I asked: “What boat is that?” “H” answered: “The Midnight Belle, what boat is that?” “The Early Dawn,” and that was the end of the conversation.
One trip we had a lumber raft to be delivered in Sturgeon Bay, just above New Boston. Van Sant had employed Capt. Dan Davison to help me as I was none too well posted on the river below Davenport, and I was very glad to put him in charge. Some distance above I asked Dan where he was going to land to split the raft before taking it into the bay. He replied that it would not be necessary to land as the Wave could back the entire raft into the bay. I said I thought we ought to land and take half at a time in order to make sue of getting in without any trouble, but he had his way. The water was very high-all over the banks-and when we stopped and commenced to back the raft kept right on going. I had a line in the skiff waiting orders if he desired to land but got no word. When we had passed all possible chance of getting into the bay I asked him what he was going to do and he said land at the mouth of Edwards River. There we found the drift wood coming out in such quantities that it was not safe to land so kept on down until finally we backed in under the bar above Keithsburg. Tied the raft up in good shape and left a watchman on it and started back up the river. I wanted to see Capt. Sam at once and report to him but did not see him for some time and when I did he said that he had heard from the Burlington people that they did not want the raft where we left it, and that was all I ever heard about it!
Once we took a raft out of Lansing bay that had been there for some time. Weeds had grown up all over the raft and it looked more like a weed field than a raft as we went down the river with it. Alf Withrow was my partner and he was a good old pal. Everything went nicely until he was taking the first piece through Cassville slough. When near the second bend he got nervous and excited and began niggering the boat first one way and then the other, paying no attention to the rudders and all the time the boat was backing with all her power. He was pulling the raft so hard that the windlasses on the fore and aft, lines began to snap; the “A” lines and cross lines began breaking and all the time Alf was cussin the men for all he was worth. He had been getting on so well that I did not like to interfere but finally I went to the pilot house to stop his cursing the men. I told him h was pulling the raft to pieces and if he did not quit we would be a week picking up loose logs. He calmed down a little and when we had the raft adjusted so there was no more danger he said: “Lome, I would give a thousand dollars for your disposition.” I said he could have it for nothing if he would stop and think for one minute when he got into trouble. Instead of commencing to curse yourself; “We are in for it, now let us get out of it as best we can,” and be pleasant about it. He was all unstrung and said he never thought of that! It was the first time I ever knew him not to argue his side of the question as his long suit was a controversy. We got along nicely together and if he is alive today I wish him happiness and prosperity. If he has passed on I hope he is with some of our old cronies with whom he can argue to his heart’s content, as that is the way he will get the most pleasure.
(Note Alfred R. Withrow was born on a farm in Henry Co., Ill., January 7, 1837, commenced his river career on a raft with David Hanks-no raft captains in those days-in 1854. Enlisted in the sixth Wisconsin regiment in the Civil War in 1861. Returned to the river after his discharge and followed the river as long as he was able. His last few years were spent in the Soldiers Home, Milwaukee, Wis., where he died July 26, 1928. (F.A.B.)
One trip Capt. Meads with the Ida Fulton was just ahead of us in entering Lake Pepin. Capt. Meads suggested that he put the rafts together and with both boats behind we could save some time in getting through. That was done and worked very well, but I never knew of another occurrence of the kind. One boat would be towing steadily and the other would do the steering of the raft, in addition to pushing, the change being made when he changed watches.
Generally we had little trouble among the men. Usually when things did not run smoothly some one man was to blame and we found him and let him go. Once we had a cook, one of the best in his line, who always slept with a revolver under his pillow, why I did not know, but it developed that he had a grudge against a boy, one of the employees on the boat. Although I knew nothing about it at the time. After delivery of a raft at Muscatine while the two were in town the cook shot the boy. The cook was immediately arrested and the boy sent to a hospital. The cook sent for me to come and see him in the jail. He never mentioned the shooting but asked that I have his money and his clothes sent to a certain place in the city. The Mussers looked after the boy, in fact Miss Sue Musser was nearly a daily visitor until the boy was out of the hospital. I was served with a subpoena to appear at the examination the next day. Of course the boat could not be delayed so she went up river under command of Capt. J. B. Jenks, who was my second pilot, with instructions to keep going and I would catch her as soon as I could.
Next morning I asked the judge to have my examination as soon as possible and he very kindly put me on the stand as the first witness. I was asked to tell what I know of the two men and of the shooting. I told the judge that I knew little about them, except that their work with me had been entirely satisfactory and that I knew absolutely nothing as to the cause of the shooting, as I never knew there was any trouble between them. I never knew how the case came out. After being excused I took the first train and caught the boat at Buena Vista, she having made exceedingly good time with one pilot.
As we passed Clinton on one up trip the W. J. Young Jr., was taking the lines off a raft she had just delivered at the lower Young mill. All she would have to do before leaving would be to take on fuel and supplies and I said to the engineer that she would eat us up before we got to Dubuque, and all the advantage we could have was to put as much distance as possible between us before she was ready to leave. It was not long after this that the Silver Wave began t tremble as though she had a congestive chill. Soon the smoke stack rods began to play rat-tat-tat, and it was good music to me! Then the safety valve had its innings. Meantime I was playing my part in hunting all the slack water possible and cutting corners wherever it was safe to do so. All at once the safety valve stopped blowing off and I thought steam was going down, but not so- the engineer had slyly slipped out and put on some additional weights and that part of the music ceased. Then the hog chain braces began to squeak, and that did not sound so good and I began to wonder if the wheel was trying to lift the stern of the boat out of the water; never before did I hear such a racket on a boat. When the engineer punched the gauge cocks I imagined there was no water in the boiler and if there was any I knew it was mighty warm! Then the thought came to me that perhaps the Lord was about to start another steamboat cemetery and the good ship Siler Wave would be he first to b e laid inti with the bodies of the crew scattered to the four winds! At night there was no Young in sight and when off watch I could not sleep, so anxious was I as to the result of the race. Next day about Bad Axe we saw a thin line of smoke behind us and when at Brownsville the Young was just putting her nose out of Coon slough. She took us in at Root river and then it was all off and a great strain was over. It was the fastest time I ever made, Clinton to Root river in twenty hours. Not a bell was rung on the Wave during that period and the throttle was wide open all the time. We were all glad it was over but we did not consider ourselves so badly beaten considering the difference in power of the boats. Each boat had 14 inch cylinders, but the Young’s were six feet long and the Silver Wave four feet. It was the last time I ever asked an engineer to “warm her up” for a race. The Silver Wave was one of the best raft boats in her day. She was light draft, light on fuel, made steam readily and a child could handle her at the wheel.
In 18812 we had a clerk named Charley Pierce or Pearce. While lying opposite Moline waiting for the wind to go down he went ashore and walked down to Davenport. We were there about 24 hours and when we pulled out in the morning sent a skiff out for him at Davenport, but he did not show up. On arrival at Muscatine one of our men wanted his money but as we had no clerk we were unable to make settlement with him but offered to give him some money and make final settlement later on, but that would not answer-he wanted it all and he wanted it then. The result was that on arrival at Dubuque he had the boat tied up which cost us some delay and about $70. Meantime our clerk could not be located. He had the key to the safe and a reasonable supposition was that he had taken hat money there was and skipped. Later the sage was opened and every dollar was there, or accounted for. It was a strange disappearance and I never knew what became of the man.
(Note:- Harry dyer, Madison Wis. Says that Pierce was clerk on the Jim Watson when she came off the ways of Rock Island in July of that year. No one seems to know the reason for the strange caper.
Harry says, also in regard to the Shorts and his experience with Lome: “I worked for three of the Short brothers-Lome, “H” and Charles the youngest of the family lacked the experience of the others, I was with Lome on the Silver Wave a portion of the season of 1882 and he was one of the “star” pilots of the time, Cyp Buisson was on the Hershey and both boats were towing logs from Beef slough to Muscatine and Oh boy, it was some battle! The Hershey had better power and was faster than the Wave, besides Lome had George Harrell for a partner and Cyp had Antonine Rocque and not only that the Hershey had an electric light and we didn’t. Many a dark night I have taken five or six lanterns in a skiff and pulled ahead and hung them on the head of an island and my partner would pick them up as they came to them. No night seemed to be too dark for this man. He was also wonderful at bridges-always calm and cool headed.” F.A.B.)
I was very fond of Van Sant when I worked for him. When he came on the boat he never found any fault and always had a good story. Instead of making one feel blue he would cheer him up. Walter Blair was another one of whom I was very fond. Later he did me many good turns that have been thankfully remembered.
One trip Capt. Sam’s mother went with us. The father brought her to the boat at Le Claire and the chief conversation between them as she was getting on the boat was in regard to the cat and the canary! Then Mrs. Said “Now don’t you let that cat get into where that bird is!” The Mr. assured her he would not. Just as we were about to pull out and he was leaving her she said” “Now watch that cat!” “I will,” he says. After we had boated out and straightened up and were abreast of Mr. Van Sant on the bank waving his handkerchief at her, she strained her lungs to yell at him: “Now you watch that cat and do not let her get that bird. She was good company and we enjoyed having her on the boat. While it made us squirm sometimes to answer her questions. Never knew how the bird-cat affair came out but my opinion is that Mr. Van Sant obeyed orders!
Transcribed by Georgeann McClure