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Collected and Transcribed by

Sue Rekkas



Additional Information from Men Who Know

Valuable Contributions to River History, Supplementary to Captain Merrick’s Narrative.

The Saturday Evening Post, Burlington, Iowa,

April 13, 1918, page 11.






      Down in 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 follows:--


     On board 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.


      We arrived 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.


      We had regretted not being able to get passage on her because she is a swifter boat than the Amaranth, but wishes are not always best.


      Our 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.


      The McCools 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.


     Oct. 31, 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.


      A few 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.


      The 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.


     Today we 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 them noisy.


     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 channel.


     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.


     Brunswick, Mo. --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 map.


     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.


     Two years 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 Wisconsin.


      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.


     Mrs. Smith 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.






Collected and Transcribed by

Sue Rekkas

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