GOING UP THE
MISSOURI--CATHERINE’S LETTER TO HER SISTER
THE OLD BOATS
Additional Information from Men
Valuable Contributions to River
History, Supplementary to Captain Merrick’s Narrative.
The Saturday Evening Post,
April 13, 1918, page 11.
GOING UP THE MISSOURI RIVER IN
EIGHT DAYS FROM ST. LOUIS TO
the thriving little city of Winona, Minn., lives one of the most
enthusiastic river men, who has never been full fledged, however,
whom we know. He has the record of being the second white male
child born in Winona, but we have never laid that up against him.
In early boyhood he was newspaper boy and telegraph messenger and on
account of these professions (*) came in contact with all the
prominent steamboat men of the time, for his messenger days were in
the hey-day of packets.
He is Orrin F.
Smith, named for the Captain Orrin Smith of Galena, Ills, than which
no name is better known in the annals of early steam boating on the
upper Mississippi, and founder of Winona. He is, however, no
relation to the original Orrin and bears his name solely on account
of the admiration which the father A. B. Smith, himself an early
lumberman and riverman, had for the captain.
Young Orrin gazed
with great awe upon, and treated with proper respect the mighty
captains, clerks, pilots and mates of those early days, any one of
whom was, to him, a bigger man than the president of the United
States. IN the course of time the boy reached man’s estate but the
main desire of his life was not accomplished, but he came to be a
near steamboatman by being Winona agent for Diamond Jo Line Steamers
for a number of years as well as representing at other times the
owners of several excursion boats.
When the Pioneer
Riverman’s Association was organized, he was one of the first to
join and he has taken a lively interest from its inception. In
response to the invitation to attend the last meeting he sent us a
copy of a letter descriptive of early day steam boating facts, the
passenger’s standpoint that we found very interesting and which
steamer Amaranth, St. Louis, Oct. 30, 1845.--My Dear Sister: AS the
boat is lying quiet here except for the carpenters repairing the
wheel, and the passengers having gone into the city, I will try to
write you a letter.
St. Louis had
improved beyond all description since we were here in 1833. We have
had a slow but pleasant trip though the weather was very cold and
rough while coming from Pittsburg to Cincinnati.
Twelve miles below
Cincinnati is the celebrated North Bend. It is as pretty place as I
have ever seen, particularly the place of ground where the remains
of General Harrison are interred. That is much the shape of a three
cornered handkerchief with the bias side next to the river. The
corners are rounded and fenced in with white railings. Light green
trees and dark box wood shrubs adorn the place. The ground rises
from the riverbank and at the top, General Harrison’s grave and
monument are located. The monument is about 5 feet high and ten
feet long. There is about 10 acres in the park.
This is not an
intelligent description but you will understand why I did not do
better when I tell you that I have been and am being interrupted.
The latest being
the arrival on board of about a hundred Indians, men, women and
children. One Indian brought his wife and papoose up into cabin to
show them. We had a good deal of sport with them. The man could
speak a little English and when some of the passengers would ask him
if we would sell his baby, he would shake his head and say No, No,
and with a most contemptuous laugh.
The baby is
very pretty but naked except for a little cape around his neck.
Most of the Indians are naked except for their blankets moccasins
and ornaments. When they walk the wind blows their blankets aside
and you can imagine how they look. It is sickening to me.
We are quite
comfortable in the cabin but the poverty and distress that I see
make me feel solemn and thankful that the Lord has been merciful to
me beyond what I expect. My nerves are so affected by the crying of
children and the quarreling of their elders on the lower deck that I
can hardly write. That deck is a dark, dismal and dirty place and
there are so many of them down there that you can hardly set your
foot down without stepping on one of them.
here yesterday after a safe trip but some of the boats that started
before we did are stuck fast on sand bars. The Express has been
snagged and came near sinking. The crew are suffering for food for
a while. They haven’t got her off yet.
regretted not being able to get passage on her because she is a
swifter boat than the Amaranth, but wishes are not always best.
prospects of getting away soon are not good. The Amaranth is bound
up the Missouri and is heavily loaded and the water is extremely
low. She doesn’t expect to get away for two or three days. Freight
rates are so high that we have stored our goods until there is some
prospect of getting satisfactory transportation to a point near to
father Goddards. The Amaranth can go only to Brunswick and that is
fifty miles away from our destination.
left today on the Galena and that boat is carrying all her freight
on a keel boat which she is towing. The Savanna in coming down the
Mississippi loaded all her passengers, freight and even her door and
windows on a keel boat in order to get down over the lower rapids.
There are some
families here that was to go up the Illinois River but the water is
so low that a boat can’t travel upon it. They have rented rooms
here, and will stay here until the water rises.
1845.--The Indians stayed all night on the boiler deck and this
morning they were tying their canoes to the boat, but the Captain
offended them and they put off in the canoes, the squaws paddling.
They have been encamped on an island all through the summer.
The land along the
banks above here is sandy and grown over with cottonwood trees.
Here and there are cliffs of rocks some of which are of singular
formation. One round pile is called Devils Tea Table.
Lucretia was quite
sick last night. She cats too much. Hucksters came aboard with all
sorts of things and men folks who buy of them are giving her
something to eat all the time. There are few that don’t notice her.
Today I saw some
limes for the first time. They’re the size of a walnut and look
like a lemon.
There is a man on
board with two little children, the wife being dead. He cooks for
them and the first cabin passengers have paid his fare. I wish my
sympathy was not so strong. I could scarcely eat my supper after
seeing those motherless children.
minutes ago a man fell thru a hatch with his trunk which he was
carrying and his head was badly cu. His daughter is holding his
head now while a doctor is dressing the cuts.
We have constant
reason for real thankfulness.
It is warm and dry
today and the cabin doors are open.
November 4. -- When I wrote at St. Louis I expected to finish my
letter but the baby was taken sick and I couldn’t.
Friday evening we ran up to the
mouth of the Missouri and laid up till morning.
On Saturday we ran
slowly but stuck on a sand bar and didn’t get off until Sunday
morning at ten o’clock. Were two days in going 40 miles, or rather
two days going miles, for we ran sixteen of the 40 on Friday and we
got to St. Charles at dusk Sunday evening. The Missouri is too full
of snags to be safe. We met 3 steamboats on the way up and all fast
on sand bars.
scenery below St. Charles is not at all pretty and the flats of sand
often a mile in length make one think of the sand of Arabia.
passed the cave where Lewis and Clark wintered 40 years ago. It has
two entrances about the width of a person but not so high.
I’ll have to quit
writing because the passengers at a nearby table are playing Hearty
Jack, a card game, and the whiskey punch they are drinking makes
Tuesday. -- I
can’t tell whether it is the fourth or the fifth but we have come 50
miles today. This is a very dangerous river because of the changes
in the channel. A flood two years ago changed so much that some
towns, then close to the river, are now a mile away from the
We are the only
Pennsylvanians on the boat although there are a good many going to
the same section that we are. Most of the passengers are
Kentuckians and I think the lest of them of any people I have ever
met. I can place them before I hear them say ten words. They talk
large and bite their words off like negroes. They speak slightingly
o’ Pennsylvania Dutch and abolitionists or anti-slavery men.
What they said
roiled me up a good bit, you can tell mother that I bridled my
tongue and didn’t pay them off for their chat. They are too
ignorant for me and it appeared to me that their souls would rattle
around in a tobacco seed. I don’t mean all of them, of course.
There is one young man on board who is a Kentuckian who lives in
Missouri, that we like very much. And there are others. But I
don’t like their everlasting boasting.
--We arrived here at three o’clock this afternoon having been eight
days on the way from St. Louis. Yours Truly,
This letter was
written by Mr. Smith’s mother, then Mrs. A. B. Goddard, to her half
sister, Miss Irene Laird, then living at Lewisburg, Pa. The
Goddards were then on their way to Bethany Missouri. To try out a
location in the then very wild and wooly Missouri. The previous
trip mentioned by Mrs. Goddard was that on her honeymoon in 1833,
the initial part of which, previous to embarking on a steamer at
Pittsburg had been made over the mountains, in a canvas covered
Pennsylvania Dutch wagon. At that time a home had been made or
attempted to be made, at Kaskaskia Ills., a place now not on the
While living in
Illinois Mrs. Goddard visited her old home taking her two children.
The trip was made by team to Chicago, thence by boat to Buffalo:
thence stage coach, wagon, and horse railroad to Lewisburg, Pa.
In all some
thirteen change cars before she reached her destination. This just
to show the joys of tourist travel in the 1830’s.
residence at Bethany nearly ruined the health of both Mr. and Mrs.
Goddard so they pulled up stakes and according to the prevailing
custom and mode of travel packed their belongings into a prairie
schooner and started for northern Illinois and a little later made a
home at New Diggings, a place in the lead regions of northern
In May 1852
the family went to Winona, better known then as Wapashaw prairie,
arriving there on the steamer Caleh Cope. The place then consisted
of three shanties and in one of them, size about ten by fourteen
feet, the Goddard family established itself and Mrs. Goddard entered
her career as doer of good by starting a boarding house and began at
once to mother the entire little community. It is said that when
bed time came that most of the furniture was set out of doors and
the people went to bed in the dark. There was much sickness in the
little settlement and the Goddard shack was frequently turned into a
hospital on addition to its other utilities. Mr. Goddard died
during the summer and the succeeding days and the next succeeding
months were mighty hard ones for the brave mother left to wrestle
alone with her little family.
In August 1853,
she married A. B. Smith, then owner of the Minnesota House, the town
having grown rapidly during the year. For two years life was easier
for the good woman and then Mr. Smith mysteriously disappeared one
night and no trace of him was ever found. As it was known that he
was accustomed to carry considerable cash on his person it was
presumed that he was foully dealt with.
was known to the community as Aunt Catherine, and her name is always
recently spoken by all the old settlers and citizens of Winona. The
letter published gives an index to her character and columns could
be written of her good deeds and of the encomiums lavished upon her
by the recipients of her good deeds. She liked to see all the world
made bright and it was a labor of love to do what she could do to
make it so. Her New Year welcomes; her Easter parties; her birthday
gatherings; her genial greetings to the veterans of the Civil War;
her thoughtful interest in all the employees of the city; all these,
and many more rise to call her blessed.
These early days
were full of women of the sturdy character exemplified in Mrs.
Smith. They were brought out by the exigencies of the times. Any
man now sixty years of age or over, will remember many of them as
prominent features of his boyhood. In fact there stands out most
prominent in his mind one the “Queen of her sex” his own mother.
FRED A. BILL.