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
BECOMES A MASTER
In 1869 I put in part of the season with Capt. James Hugunin on the little side wheel Viola. On one trip to St. Louis the Missouri was at flood stage and the Mississippi very low. The mouth of the Missouri was then considerably above present mouth and the water in the Mississippi proper there was not as wide as the raft. The Viola was chugging with all her might and the men were pulling the oars with all their power trying to get the raft into the Missouri river water in order to keep it form being shoved on the Illinois shore, but all to no avail as on the shore we went with two strings of logs practically in pieces, entailing delay and expense, although we did not lose any logs.
The Des Moines, Wisconsin and Chippewa rivers exert a good deal of influence on a raft when they are high and the Mississippi low, and they all have to be reckoned with when a raft is passing them. I once saw-in later years-the water in the Mississippi backed up to the old lower loc when the Des Moines was at flood stage.
On our return from St. Louis when just above the Quincy bridge the Viola mashed a piston head and we drifted ashore and tied up at the upper end of the grove above the bridge. The engineer got the pieces out of the cylinder, took them to a foundry in Quincy and had a head made. While lying there the Rob Roy, the St. Louis and Keokuk packet came down, and such a swell as she made! The little boat was thrown out on the bank and then sucked back into the river and we all thought her time had come. The smoke stack, only a little larger then a stove pipe, was thrown into the river, but her staunch hull stood the racket and she came through without any special damage. We had to lie there several days and the job of watching the boat fell to me. One night the George D. Palmer, a big stern wheel packet running between St. Louis and Keokuk, came down with two big barges loaded with wheat. What went wrong I do not know but the tow entered the right side of the draw, pointed a little to the left in just the right position to allow the west draw pier to cut diagonally through the entire fleet. Such a smashing, cracking and bell ringing I never did hear. John Hoy and I went down the next morning and found the entire outfit a total wreck. There were several darkies there telling their experiences. One of them said he had a notion to take a dive off the end of the barges, and another said: “if you done take a dive off that barge, it’ll be de last dive yo’ll ever dive!” There were several lives lost in the wreck.
Later the company bought the Julia Hadley and Capt. Huginin took charge of her and I remained on the Viola with Capt. Cornelius Knapp. Not long after Capt. Knapp got orders to put me ashore near Buffalo city with instructions to take charge of the Lone Star and a raft that had been stuck near that point while in charge of Tom Forbush. I did not want to go and asked Capt. Knapp to get some real pilot for the job for I did not consider I was capable of taking charge of a boat and raft. Capt. Knapp said: “Well, you have to get off this boat,” so off I went! I was not old enough to get a pilot’s license and it was pretty ticklish business fooling around with a steamboat with no license.
(Note: No license was required to pilot a raft, either afloat or being handled by a boat, but a boat must be handled by herself except by licensed men, F. A. B.)
On arrival at the boat I found no pilot but a boat and raft well grounded. Alonzo Jenks was engineer and William Durant, a half brother of Capt. Edward Durant, was the chief financial man, being clerk and cook. The crew went to work with me cheerfully and in due time we had everything afloat and coupled up at the foot of buffalo slough. We were all pretty well worn out, so I knocked off for a good nights rest and an early start in the morning. During the night I hit every sand bar and island in the river and a good many that did not exist! When I awoke in the morning I did not know where I was but when I came out of it was certainly glad that the troubles, at least thus far, were all in a dream.
Fortunately the dream did not come true and in due time we delivered the raft to W. J. Young & Company at Clinton Without any great amount of trouble, but I must say that a number of those Forbush men had a better knowledge of the river than I had and they were a great help to me.
The next trip I was joined by William Hugunin as a partner. We were to take ten strings of logs out of the bay at thee foot of Lake Pepin and a few cribs of lumber from the slough just below Red’s Landing. In going down into the slough, Hugunin struck a snag with the boat and she went down. As neither of us had a license, it was not a very pleasant predicament. He took the skiff and went up the Read’s hoping to get a pump that might help us out. Fortunately we met William Cassidy, who had charge for Knapp, Stout & Company there, and he told us where to go to have one made and gave us the dimensions of one that would serve our purpose. We went as instructed and in a couple of hours were at work on the boat with the pump, which did the work, but the boat would not come up. Further investigation showed that our trouble was a knot on a log that had come through the bottom plank and stuck in such a way that the knot was holding the boat down. We cut the knot off and the boat came up as soon as the water was out again.
Got the boat ashore, where we put a patch on the inside and on the outside of the hole, with oakum between, after pulling her up on the bank. This did the work and we went on our way and the hole never troubled us as long as I was on the boat. We got along very well until we were down near Finley’s landing. Hugunin mistook a little island above the landing for island 208. I told him he was wrong but he insisted he was right. I was not sure enough myself to dispute him very hard and the result was he went into a hole that was not wide enough to get through and struck half of the raft. There was room for the half raft to go out the lower end of the slough and we took the rest of the raft out in two pieces and got out of that scrape without any serious loss. Delivered the raft in fairly good order at Galena and got out of town without being held up William Huginun left me there and I never saw him again.
Frank Wild was the next man I got and he had some experience as a pilot or cub pilot on some of the packets, and I believe held a license at that time. He was not much of a success as a raft pilot, but I was glad to get his help to get the boat back up the river.
Our engineer, Alonzo Jenks, had been on one of the gun boats on the lower river during the Civil war. One time in action, as the story is told, he got excited and fell down in the hold through an open hatch and thought he had been shot. He came out shouting: “Boys, I am all shot to pieces; my body is full of holes; please write to my folks and tell them I died fighting for my country!” One day as we were going up the river very quietly, he suddenly appeared in front and called to the pilot to land the boat at once as she was sinking! The pilot did not pay any attention to him and shortly after, when he had taken another look in the hold and saw the water over the timbers, he came out again still more excited and so we landed. I went back to take a look at the trouble. We had a skiff on an even keel and some cord wood on the same side that made that side a little heavy and all the water in the hull ran to that side and as the timbers were covered- where Jenks had looked-he got excited immediately, although the other side of the boat was dry. He got a piece of my mind, but it did little good for he was very excitable.
(Note: - The Lone Star was not much larger than a big skiff of her Capt. Harvey Smith, of Wabasha on his 85th birthday said:
“I spent fifty years on the river as a raft pilot and steamboat captain and guess I saw the river at its best. Rafted lumber from Stillwater to St. Louis in the old days when rafts were manned by oars and later towed them with steamboats. My first steamboat was the Lone Star and I now laugh when I think of her. She was a sidewheeler about 75 feet long and every time I would swing her around she would list so badly I was afraid I’d fall out of the pilot house, I had to lash a skiff alongside and tow it or every trip in order to make the old tub ride on an even keel.” She was built at Lyons, Iowa in 1868 and rebuilt into a stern wheeler lengthened and widened – in 1890. F. A. B. )
One trip going up river I was sitting on the roof in front beside one of the crew when Wild hit a bluff bar, going at full speed. When she hit I instinctively grabbed the fellow alongside me by the coat collar and together we fell to the boiler deck. Having hold of him broke my fall a little and his coming down on top of me saved him fro being hurt. When we got out of the tangle his coat was half way over his head and he looked at me as though to say, “did you mean it?” but it was all over in a minute. When the bottom struck the bar we had a good head of steam and the safety valve blew off with a terrible noise. At the same time Frank rang the stopping bell but the engine did not stop. Looking back along the guard we saw Jenks in the act of trying to climb on board out of the river. When the valve let loose he went into the river post haste. Investigation proved the Star was all right and we went on up the river.
Our next trip was from Beef Slough to Winona with six strings of logs for Younmans Brothers. I believe it was the first raft that left those works and they were fine logs. A man named bacon was in charge of the works. This was a short trip and we had no trouble.
Frank Wild left me about this time and I was obliged to wrestle the little old Star by myself from this time on.
Our next trip was a raft of logs for W. J. Young & Company Clinton and I thin we go them at Beef Slough. I do not remember any special trouble until we went aground at the head of swift slough near Guttenburg, and from the on we had plenty. As I jumped from the deck of the boat to the raft to get the end of the check line to take to the bitts of the oat, binding pole to which a breast line was fastened came loose and started for me. It happened to have a very sharp little know on one side and this knot struck me just below the right cheek bone and knocked me down. I was soon on my feet and got the one piece for the raft checked. The other one, for the raft broke in two, went on down the river. We chased it in a skiff, and succeeded in landing it on the head of the island below town. My heart was broken and it was a pretty tight place in which to put a 20 year old kid. The wound in my cheek was very painful but I forgot about it temporarily, although I have the scar to this day. After landing the second piece we got the boat and the first piece and proceeded to put the raft together again. This was no small job as we had little equipment to work with our tools being axes and hand spikes.
Transcribed by Georgeann McClure