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Life on the Rivers


(Part I)   (Part II)  (Part III)  (Part IV)  (Part V)  (Part VI)  (Photos)



Transcribed by Georgeann McClure
and Sue Rekkas
Researcher Sue Rekkas


The Times

November 13, 1903


He is here to testify in the Leonidas Damage suit


Tells of His thrilling Experience During the Burning of the

Steamer St. Louis Oct. 30 at St. Louis




Mate Breen, the man who shot the two Leonidas brothers in the affair on the Dubuque here two years ago arrived in Davenport yesterday and will remain in the city several days to testify in the damage suit of the administrator of the estate of the younger Leonidas against the Diamond Jo steamboat company.


When seen by a Times reporter Mate Breen was at the local Diamond Jo office talking to Captain James Osborne. When questioned about the trial and the shooting affair he said: “Well when two fellows come on your boat and bother you for nearly an hour making threats and telling you what they are going to do and then pull their guns and tell you they are going to give you some of their medicine you can’t be blamed for trying to protect your life. I wish to God that some one else had done it, but I simply had to shoot, or be shot.”


Breen expects to be in Davenport, for a week, as the trial will probably last that length of time. The trial of the case of the elder Leonidas, which was decided in favor of the steamboat company lasted eight days and it is said that the evidence in the present trial will be very much the same.”


Tells Story of Fire


Mate Breen told a thrilling story of the burning of the steamer St. Louis a week ago that Friday at St. Louis in which he nearly lost his life.


“I was mate of the St. Louis” said Breen,” and we had come up the river from New Orleans with a big load and had landed at St. Louis. The boat needed some slight repairs and we took her down to the ways about five miles below St. Louis and tied up.


“How the fire started we were not able to discover, but it must have broken out somewhere in the stern on the boat. There were five men on the boat beside myself and we all escaped except the bartender, who was burned to death in his stateroom. The fire was well started before we found it out and the captain and myself got everyone off except the bartender. When we saw that he was missing we went back on the burning steamer to look for him. We found his stateroom and as the door was locked we broke in the door but he was not inside and by this time the fire had become so hot that we were compelled to get off the boat or be burned to death.”


“The bartender must have been sleeping in one of the staterooms and have been burned to death where he lay. The St. Louis was one of the biggest boats on the river. She was 305 feet long and had a 99 foot beam so that you can see when she was all ablaze she made a terrible fire. After we left the boat the heat became so intense that we could not get within a hundred feet of the shore. The stacks fell over shortly after we left her and it was only a matter of a few minutes till she was burned to the waters edge.”




The Davenport Democrat

Nov. 13, 1903




Traveling Man Crary Testified Thursday Afternoon


When the Democrat closed its report of the Leonidas case on Thursday afternoon, Dan Breen, the mate of the Dubuque who shot the two Leonidases, was on the stand undergoing the rigors of the cross examination.

The mate was followed by Charles Crary, a traveling man, who had arrived too late to testify in the case of the elder Leonidas. Fearing that he would fail to appear this time a resort was had to a bench warrant but it was not needed.’

Crary reported in person at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and followed Breen upon the witness stand. On the direct examination he testified that he was directly behind the mate at the time of the shooting. He saw the elder Leonidas draw his gun just before the mate shot. He heard the elder man swear, and testified that the younger man did not plead for his father’s life, but pulled or attempted to pull a gun just before the mate shot him.


Detective Mundt followed the traveling man on the stand. He testified that the holsters of the guns were buckled at the time the bodies of the two men were removed form the boat.


Frank Nagel, ambulance driver, testified to the same thing after which attorney Frank Cooper was made a witness to prove that the traveling man Crary had told him in his (Cooper’s) office that the mate had done the shooting with his right hand.


Shortly after 3:30 o’clock the arguments began, Attorney F. Dickinson Letts speaking for the plaintiff. This morning N. D. Ely, Wm. M. Chamberlin, and Judge Lenehan of Dubuque, made the arguments for the defense. Attorney Cooper will close for the plaintiff and the case will doubtless be submitted to the jury this evening.




The Daily Times

Nov. 14, 1903

Pg. 4




Jury Awards Plaintiff thousand Dollars


“One thousand dollars for the plaintiff was the verdict brought in at 9:45 o’clock this morning in the Leonidas case after the jury had been out since 4:30 o’clock yesterday afternoon. This means a victory for the plaintiff after a long and hard fight. The killing of the two Leonidas men occurred a year ago last July and the matter has been in the courts most of the time since then.


The title of the suit was P. W. McManus administrator of the estate of Ellsworth Leonidas vs. the Diamond Jo line of steamers and Dan Breen, mate. The verdict as returned this morning was.


“We, the jury, find for the plaintiff, P. W., McManus, administrator and assesses the amount of its recovery at ($1,000), one thousand dollars.”

Signed Arthur M Diemer.


After the finding of the jury, considerable discussion arose as to what subsequent action might be. It is thought by some that the matter will be taken up by the grand jury and indictment may be brought against Breen for the killing of the two men or at least one of them.”




Davenport Republican

Nov. 15, 1903




Plaintiff gets the Award

Leonidas Case Settled in Court



“We the jury, find for the plaintiff, P. W. McManus, administrator, and assess the amount of the recovery at $1,000 (one thousand dollars) Signed Arthur Diemer



“A coroner’s jury exonerated Breen, but P. W. McManus was appointed administrator of the estate left by the two men, and he engaged Letts and McGee and F. A. Cooper as his attorneys to bring suit against the Diamond Jo line steamers and Dan Breen for $10,000.


A verdict for the defendant was given in the case of the elder Leonidas, tried before the spring term of court, there being evidence in favor of Breen, but in the case of the young man, who, according to some of the testimony given, was asking at the time that his father’s life be saved.


What the subsequent action of the defendants will be is at present unknown. They have the privilege of appealing the case. It is thought by many that Breen will be taken before the grand jury to answer to the charge of murder. William Chamberlin, Ely & bush of Davenport and Judge Lenehan of Dubuque appeared as attorneys for the defendant.




The Daily Times

Nov. 17, 1904


BREEN Asks for Another Trial

CLAIMS VERDICT AND Instructions at Fault.


Dan Breen, one of the defendants in the Leonidas case, has filed a motion for a new trial through his attorneys, Ely & Bush, claiming that the verdict was not sustained by the evidence or by law, that the court erred in its instructions and that the jurors were prejudiced.


It is claimed that the court erred in ruling that Breen could not answer as to the conversation which took place between him and the two Leonidases prior to the shooting and that it was an error not to allow evidence of Breen’s good character and the quarrelsome disposition of the two Leonidases. It is further claimed that on the face of the verdict it shows that it was a compromise and that the same was a result of prejudice and passion.






Davenport Democrat & Leader

Dec. 23, 1904

Pg. 6


Ellsworth Leonidas Verdict Sought to Be Collected by Plaintiff


The hearing of the issues between P. W. McManus administrator for the estate of the late Ellsworth Leonidas who was shot to death by Mate Breen upon the lower deck of the steamer Dubuque at the Davenport levee in July, 1902, and the Diamond Jo company, began in chambers. Judge House’s court at 2 o’clock this afternoon.


Messsars. G. W. Kreitringer, M. Gallager and Jr. J. Rooney of the firm of Gretzinger , Gallagher and Rooney of Chicago, arrived this morning to look after the defense of the case, in conjunction with Chambers & Petersen, Frank A. Cooper and D. Letts will appear for the plaintiff who secured the verdict for $1,000 the local court, upon the trial of the case.


The books and papers of the Dickey Grain co. which is alleged to be the same company jointly with the old Diamond Jo Reynolds concern, which the federal court adjudicated as sold under bankruptcy proceedings, were produced in court this afternoon. These had to be hauled to the court house in the St. James bus, and consisted of half a dozen dress suit cases filled with books and documents.




Tri City Star

Dec. 23, 1904




P. W. M’Manus Will Not Be able to collect damages


Transfer Was Legal One.


The case of P. W. McManus against Diamond Jo Line Steamers, et al., which was up for hearing before Judge House yesterday, was dismissed by the court for want of equity. P. W. McManus, administrator of the Leonidas estate, brought action against the Diamond Jo line steamers at the time of the killing of Christopher Leonidas and Ellsworth his son, on the steamer Dubuque, Mr. McManus received a judgment for damages to the amount of $1,000, but the fine has never been paid.  Mary Reynold’s was the former owner of the Diamond Jo line steamers, but upon her death, Jay Morton, a brother, was appointed executor of the estate and upon taking up the affairs of the company he found that they were in debt many thousands of dollars and bankruptcy proceedings were begun. The company was declared bankrupt in the circuit court for the northern district of Illinois.


A new company was then organized and they took control of all the stock of the old company, everything being transferred to the new organization.


This left no way open for the collection of the judgment that had been rendered against the Diamond Jo line steamers.

The case just dismissed was one wherein the plaintiff, P. W. McManus, was endeavoring to show that the transfer of the property of the old Diamond Jo Line steamers to the new company was only a fraud, in which case the judgment could be collected.


The Case Dismissed shows that the court holds after the hearing of the testimony that the transfer of the property to the new company was legal and holds good.


E. M. Dickey was before the court yesterday explaining the indebtedness of the old company by means of the books of that concern.


Frank A. Cooper and Finger & Letts were attorneys for the plaintiff, and Chamberlin & Petersen, Krezinger, Gallager and Rooney were attorneys for the defendants.



Tri-City Star, December 24, 1904



Losing Money Every Year


There are hundreds of people in Davenport and scattered along the Mississippi are thousands more, who eagerly watch for the coming of the steamboats that ply our great waterway during the summer season.  To them the whistle of a steamer is the signal for dropping other business and making a beeline for the waterfront.  There is a fascination in watching the boat as she slides along towards her landing place, which draws the old timer even more powerfully than it does the man who sees a steamboat for the first time.  This is especially true of the big packets that make the trip from the head of navigation to St. Louis.  No one, as he has watched one of these boats glide gently up to the bank but has been thrilled by the sight.   And who shall wonder at the fascination?  Her throbbing, pulsating engines represent power; She is crowded with human beings representing every condition in life.  On her lower deck is piled the products of field and factory.  She is representative of the life along the river as no other one thing is. 


But there is something else-there is the commercial side of the story.  This phase of steamboating is practical.  There is no poetry about it.  The same laws that apply to other commercial enterprises apply equally to the steamboat business.  Yesterday, in the district court of Scott county, this die of the question was brought out sharply when the books of "Diamond Jo” Reynolds, Mary Reynolds, his widow, the E. M. Dickey Grain company and Jay Morton, were placed in evidence in the Leonidas case.  They tell anything but a bright story.  Nothing but cold, hard facts were there who heard then for the first time were surprised. By the books of E. M. Dickey Grain company, it was proven that the Diamond Jo line of steamboats has been losing money for the last twenty years not in dribbles, but in good substantial chunks, each year.  During that time up to 1895, the E. M. Dickey Grain company has practically kept the steamboat company running by advancing money whenever needed, to tide them through the winter season.  It seems to have been the practice of the Diamond Jo company to borrow money from the grain company every winter to the amount necessary for its expenses, and to repay in part the money thus borrowed during the summer months.  These amounts were large, in some instances reaching $35,000.  In 1895 the balance that had accumulated form year to year amounted to $108,000.  This claim was turned over, to the estate of Diamond Jo Reynolds, of which Jay Morton, the brother of Mary Reynolds, was the administrator and afterwards the owner as his sister’s heir.  The estate left by Reynolds was large, he having had gold and coal mining interests and railroad properties that netted a princely income.  Morton continued to advance money to the Steamboat Company in increasing amounts, until, in 1898; the indebtedness amounted to $282,000.  The company then executed three judgment notes in favor of Jay Morton for that sum.  Morton held these notes until 1902, when with accumulated interest, and money advanced subsequent to the making of the notes, the total indebtedness of the company amounted to the immense sum of $290,000.  It was then  that Morton applied for a receiver, and the Diamond Jo line was declared bankrupt.  The property was sold under the receivership and was bought in by Morton for $200,000.


So passed the Diamond Jo line.  It has been reorganized, and the steamboats that have been the pride of every true riverman will continue to make their trips as of yore.  The loyal fight of a faithful wife to manage the business established by her husband, when he, gay and debonair invested his money up and down the river, has come to naught.  The gallant effort of her brother to stave off the inevitable, have proved of no avail.   Slowly, but none the less surely, the through traffic, has deserted the river.  Slowly, year by year, the smaller boats have absorbed the local traffic, cutting heavily into the business of the big boats.  The railways, with their more rapid transportation facilities, have taken over the business of the big boats.  What is left for the big through packets?


Researched  by Sue Rekkas

and transcribed by

Georgeann McClure  & Sue Rekkas


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