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THE OLD BOATS, Additional Information from Men Who Know, Valuable Contributions to River History, Supplementary to Captain Merrick’s Narrative. The Saturday Evening Post, Burlington, Iowa February 9, 1918
By J. P. Kennedy


From a river standpoint Montrose was, in an early day, one of the important points on the Great Father of Waters.  All the old river men knew of Montrose, which up to 1876 was noted for its saloons, gambling houses and general cussedness. Its floating population demanded these things and there was no great protest from the masses as moral questions were not as much in the public eye then as they are at this time.

The original business houses of the town consisted of a row of small box buildings on the river bank, known as “Rat Row,” so named for the innumerable number of rats that took shelter in them and also to a lesser degree perhaps, from the character and appearance of the inhabitants who were mostly of the class known as the submerged tenth (unreadable) in an old ordinance book of the town I find an “Ordinance Relating to Rat’s Row.” This ordinance, by its own, did not apply to the ordinary citizen of the town but only to those living in “Rat Row.”

Old timers claim that in an early day Justices of the Peace granted divorces here and tried offenders for larceny and other felonies. In other words it was sort of independent community. The same individual often dispensed booze and justice and the first Methodist sermon ever delivered here was from behind a barrel of whiskey which was used as a pulpit.

With the building of the railroad in 1855, Montrose advanced a step in the scale of civilization. The saloons were housed in more pretentious buildings; the bars were longer and the display of glassware more imposing; starched shirts and collars were more noticeable and the light fingered gents were reinforced by recruits from Chicago, St. Louis and other large centers. These, changes were noted with satisfaction by the old residents who would casually remark that "Montrose seems to be looking up a little."
Of course all your readers who are familiar with the river know what made this town so prominent or notorious in old days. For the benefit of your other readers who may peruse this article I make the following explanation:
From Montrose to Keokuk, twelve miles, was what was known as the Des Moines Rapids a wide shallow part of the river with a rock bottom. In an ordinary stage of water a boat drawing about four feet of water could pass down by keeping in the channel which was very narrow and crooked. When the water got so low that this channel could not be navigated, the freight was transferred the flat boats or lighters at Keokuk and Montrose, and if going down, floated to Keokuk, or if coming up, drawn by horses on the bank to Montrose. At a later period light tow boats were used for this purpose.
After the railroad was built a good portion of this freight, when a low stage of water was reached was transferred by rail between the two points. This transferring, or "ratting", as it was called was all done by Montrose labor, no outsiders being permitted to work at it and as the regular wage for this work was fifty cents per hour, the town laborer did not worry much but loaded around about eight months in the year counting on making from $5.00 to $10.00 per day during the low water season.

The character of the river at this point gave us a large number of men who were known as "rapids pilots." No regular pilot on a steamer would take his boat over the rapids, that work, being reserved for a regular rapids pilot.

My next article will be devoted to the rapids pilots and other historical characters of Montrose in an early day.
THE OLD BOATS, Additional Information from Men Who Know, Valuable Contributions to River History, Supplementary to Captain Merrick’s Narrative. The Saturday Evening Post, Burlington, March 2, 1918, page 6.
By J. P. Kennedy

The ten years following the war was the most exciting and interesting period in the history of Montrose. St. Louis was the great grain market of the Mississippi valley and the products of the farm travelled to that city by water.

The Northern Line Packet Co. had a steamer each way every day when the stage of water permitted them to make the time and some years saw opposition lines running from three to six boats in the trade. These boats were side wheel steamers about the size of the Dubuque and St. Paul of the present time. The deck crew of a packet consisted of four deck hands and about forty roustabouts commonly called roosters. This force was divided into two watches and one watch was supposed to sleep while the other worked. However was the work was all done when the boat was at a landing, putting off or taking on freight or taking on coal, it was customary to rout them all out and hustle to get away from the landing as soon as possible.

The deck crews were practically all Irish until about 1869 when the ex-slaves from the South were called into service and by 1872 they had about monopolized this class of labor. The deck hands were still Irish as some little responsibility was attached to the position, but the roosters were all darkies. The Negro character was such that he was peculiarly fittest for this position. As a slave he had been compelled to work long plodding days with no relaxation and he was weary and tired of plodding work. When called out at a landing to take off or put on freight he would run in with one load and run out with another and in one hour would accomplish as much as the plodding Irishman would in a half day. The mate was always an Irishman and of course a politician, and by shipping a quarter to one or two of his best actors he could keep the whole gang on a run all the time. When the boat landed at a coal yard then the darky was in his glory and no one who has ever watched a gang of southern ex-slaves coal a boat would ever need to attend a minstrel show to get an insight into negro character. Of all the stunts and wiggles and twists and swings and cake walks that would be pulled off on that stage plank; no wonder the boats were loaded to their capacity with passengers. It was like travelling with minstrel troupe with no responsibility but to see the fun.

To a person who knows only the modern negro this may seem an overdrawn picture as it often looks as though it would be a hard task to get much of a run on our Sambo of today. The reader should remember that the slaves were trained to work long hard days. They were strong active and very susceptible to applause and when they saw a hundred appreciative eyes watching them they immediately ascended up to the seventh heaven and abode there as long as that condition existed. No, the ex-slave and the present day negro are entirely different animals.

Each packet carried four or five barbers and a modern up to date barber shop. These barbers comprised the boat's string band for it was customary for the passengers to indulge in a dance every night while taking the trip. While the boat was transferring its freight and passengers at Montrose the band was usually at liberty and this little vacation furnished some of the happiest moments of my youth.

I was working in my father's shoe shop on the levee, as it was called, but it was awful hard to keep me on the bench at these particular occasions. The musicians would come up from the boat and locate in front of one of the saloons where chairs would be placed for them and soon the banjos and guitars would be pinging. A score of the de k darkies would gather in a circle outside and the concert would begin. It has been my pleasure to hear about all the minstrel troupes of our country and I have appreciated their work I think as well as the ordinary mortal not skilled in music but nothing I have ever heard in this line has made the impression on me that the old plantation songs did as sung by those ex-slaves.

Whenever I hear Nellie Gray, Swanee River, Old Folks at Home, In the Evening by the Moonlight, Way Down in my Old Cabin Home, and others sung on the stage my mind harked back to the days of real music when I heard these songs rendered with a pathos and beauty impossible now, for they were sung by the ones who were the actors in many of these pathetic scenes.
THE OLD BOATS, Additional Information from Men Who Know, Valuable Contributions to River History, Supplementary to Captain Merrick’s Narrative. The Saturday Evening Post, Burlington, Iowa, March 18, 1918, page 4.
Applause for J. P. Kennedy.
ST. PAUL, Minn., March 12.--Editor Post: We are very interested in the articles commenced by Mr. J. P. Kennedy, of Montrose. He ested (?) in the articles commenced by of different text and we hope he will keep at it, for certainly articles of that nature will be of great interest and form a valuable addition to the river history as published in the Post.

In chapter 1 issue of February 9, 1918, this occurs "With the building of the railroad in 1855" & etc. We question this date. Look it up, please and in the interest of historical accuracy, correct if necessary.
Chapter 2 is very interesting and brings forth many things from the "cob webby" section of our memory. We cannot quite stand for the statement that the work of the "rooster" was "all done when the boat was at a landing." The watch on deck was generally busy between landings getting freight out and ready for the next landing and in doing the numerous things which an active mate had no trouble in finding for it to do. "All hands on deck", was a very frequent call at coal and large freight piles.

In the early days of Diamond Jo Line Steamers the deck hands roosters and firemen were all white men, largely Irish. It was not uncommon that a man would put in the entire season on one boat, a number leaving for a short time during the harvest season to go "tying straw." The first innovation came in colored firemen and later mixed crews of white and colored roosters and later, after the run was extended south to St. Louis, to all colored roosters.

We have worked them all and found both races full of sturdy workers. Generally, however the colored roosters could wear out his white co-laborer in handling barrels or other rolling freight, and in carrying coal and boxes but when it came to toting five bushel oat sacks "Mike" was in the game long after "Sambo's" feet were sore.

Our better half commends what Mr. Kennedy says of the music of the early day colored rooster and the article brought to her mind the many times in her early girlhood she had gotten up in the middle of the night, accompanied by a girl companion, and steal from her home on the beach at Reed's Landing to the adjacent levee and from the porch of the old Knapp & Stout and Company warehouse listened to those old time songs. Good old days, eh? Keep it up, Mr. Kennedy.
Fred A. Bill
About Mr. J.P. Kennedy
Iowa Official Register 1927-1928; Biographies of State Representatives, page 247.

General Assembly: 42 (01/10/1927 - 01/13/1929)
Other Information

John P. Kennedy
State Representative
Republican, District 1
JOHN P KENNEDY Representative from Lee County, was born in Keokuk, Iowa, and came with his parents to Montrose, Iowa, when six weeks of age, and has resided there ever since. Never held any political office except president of the board of education. His father came from County Mayo, Ireland, and his mother the city of Dublin. Educated in the Montrose high school, and the law department of the State University at Iowa City. Is married and has three daughters. Member of Masonic, Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias and Woodman Fraternities. Republican in politics.

John P. Kennedy was brought to Montrose when but 6 weeks old. He attended the public schools here, afterward becoming a student in Eastern Iowa Normal School, graduated from the Law Department of the Iowa State University with the class of 1892. He never practiced law, always preferring to attend to his extensive nursing business in which he has been engaged in connection with his brother Charles since 1883. The company is still intact and is now one of the large proportions. His business connections, important and prominent have made Mr. Kennedy well known and his integrity and enterprise and his methods have gained him the high esteem of all who have come into contact with him.
 This is the only line of business in which he was engaged save that of a teacher which he took up at age 20 and followed at intervals of 14 years, during part of which he attended school. During 6 years he was principle of the schools of Montrose.
The Annals of Iowa
Volume 20/ Number 4 (Spring 1936) pages 318 and 319.
JOHN P KENNEDY was born in Keokuk, Iowa, September 8, 1860 and died in a hospital in Keokuk November 11, 1935. Burial was at Montrose, Iowa. His parents were William and Mina Burns Kennedy. In October 1860, the family moved to Montrose where John P. grew up and where he resided though out his life. He obtained his education in the Montrose public schools, in Eastern Iowa Normal at Grand View, Louisa County, and was graduated from the Law School of the State University of Iowa in 1892. During the years he was servicing his education he was teaching much of the time. For 6 years he was principal of the Montrose Schools. In 1883 he and his brother, Charles A. Kennedy, established the Kennedy Nurseries which grew into a large business enterprise. John P. Kennedy took a keen interest in public matters. He acted as Chairman of the Lee County Republican Central Committee for several years. He was appointed postmaster at Montrose by President McKinley in 1897 and served consecutively for 15 years. In 1926 he was elected Representative and served in the Forty Second General Assembly, both the regular and extra session. He was a man of ability and of influence in his part of the state.
The Keokuk Daily
Gate City, Monday, November 11, 1935, page 2
Well Known Resident of Lee County, Prominent in Community' Affairs
Dies Today at St. Joseph's Hospital.
John P. Kennedy, former postmaster of Montrose, and Lee County representatives in the state legislature, died at St. Joseph's hospital this morning at 10:10 o'clock after a period of illness. Both of Mr. Kennedy's legs were amputated in an effort to save his life, the last operation occurring just recently, but he failed to rally.

One of the most prominent men in the county in which he was a life-long resident. Mr. Kennedy was accorded a high place in the esteem of all whom he came into contact and maintained that position though out his life. Endowed with splendid personal qualities and an inherent personal qualities and an inherent honesty and integrity he was respected and admired by the entire county.

Interested in Politics.
Especially interested in politics, Mr. Kennedy has been a leader in local republican circles for years and has held many important offices, including the chairmanship of county committees as well as state representative and postmaster.

In 1897 he was appointed postmaster of Montrose by President McKinley and continued in that office for 15 years through ensuing administrations, making a very creditable record through prompt and faithful service. He served as chairman of the republican county committee for several years and the opinions were always sought by party leaders.

Graduated in Law.
Although he was graduated from the University of Iowa law school in the class of 1892 he never practiced his profession, preferring to attend to the extensive nursery business which he and his brother, Charles, established in 1883. He also was a school teacher for some time, taking it up at the age of 20 years and continuing at intervals for 14 years, although he attended college during a period of that time. For six years he served as principal of the Montrose school.

The son of William and Mina Williams Burns Kennedy he was born on September 8, 1860 in Keokuk. When he was 6 weeks of age, his parents moved to Montrose where he has since resided. He attended the public schools in Montrose and the Eastern Iowa Normal School.

Leaves Three Daughters.
On June 14, 1894, he was united in marriage with Miss Margaret Ballou. Three children were born to this union, all of them surviving.

He was a member of St. Barnabas' Episcopal Church in Montrose and was fraternally affiliated with Jeppa Lodge A. F. & A. M. and Casceade Lodge No.66 I. C. O. F..

Survivors besides his wife, are three daughters, Miss Catherine Kennedy, a teacher in the Los Angeles schools; Mrs. Margaret King of Los Angeles, and Mrs. George Benner of Montrose. There are also three grandchildren and the following brothers and sisters: C. A. Kennedy, George Kennedy, Timothy Kennedy, Mrs. Frank Kerr and Miss Lillie Kennedy all of Montrose, and Mrs. Jennie Rtzer of Los Angeles, and William Kennedy of Washington.

The body was taken to the Cunningham Funeral Home. The funeral arrangements have not been completed.




Montrose Cemetery
Montrose, Lee Co., Iowa
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