IAGenWeb Project

 Iowa History

       An IAGenWeb Special Project




Collected From “THE OLD BOATS”


Additional Information from

Men Who Knew Them


The Saturday Evening Post

Burlington Iowa


Collected and Transcribed by Sue Rekkas

A. D. Summers


The Association of Pioneer Steamboatmen and Raftsmen

March 4, 1916


MARION JUNCTION, Ala. Feb.3.–Hon. S. R. VanSant, Minneapolis, Minn., My Dear Old Friend: I see that you are going to organize a pioneer association of rafters. Do we include “rooster?”


My, but I would like to drop in on the meeting one of these new days and hear those “old timers” coming down from Stillwater to St. Louis.


They are getting rather scarce now, I expect, but the latter lot, after floating days, still ought to be fairly numerous. I have just been reading Merrick’s “Old Times on the Upper Mississippi” but he only comes down to 1863 and of course that is legendary to me as I only remember a few of the boats he mentions, Sucker State, Milwaukee, Davenport and a few others. However, he made a pleasure trip on one of the Diamond Jo boats later and that much seemed fresh.


My daughter ran across this book somewhere and made me a present of it. I would like to know whether there is any more literature of a later date.


I suppose that the period where Merrick closes is just about where the rafting period comes in. I made a few trips on the McDonald or Silver Wave in 1877. I forgot whether she was renamed then or not. Most of the time I was on the Van Sant boats but made a trip or two with McCaffery on the Last Chance and as we had Walt Henderson and Charley Arind (his first experience) with us we had lots of fun. I also mated a while with “Tansy” on the Evansville, fired on the Stillwater, run nigger with Wasson on the Moline and picnicked on the St. Croix with Tromley.


Lots of fun but not much money, except for you fellows that eliminated the fun and worked for the money.

I was only a kid and never developed a sense of responsibility until about 25 and in fact have developed but little since.

I wish you and Mrs. Van Sant would come by this way on one of those winter trips you make and let us have a good old time visit, can’t you? Mrs. Summers and I would grow young again I believe.

Wishing you success in your undertaking and suggesting that you employ a good historian to gather first hand facts before it is too late. I remain with kindest personal regards, respectfully,


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Suggest Printing of Capt. Merrick’s River History in Book Form.

April 8, 1916


MARION JUNCTION, Ala. Mar.10 – Captain Geo. R. Merrick. Dear Sir; Your letter at hand and I wish to thank you for the pleasant expression as regards my letter to Capt. Van Sant. I had no idea that the letter was to appear in print or I might not have written it or at least I should have written somewhat differently.


While I am writing to you, however, I wish to express my gratification for the pleasure I received from the perusal of your book and I wish to know whether you expect to incorporate the present series of articles in book form. If so I wish to bespeak the initial copy and would be pleased to have it autographed.


I am also indebted for the several copies of The Post. I would like to have all of the back numbers containing sketches of boats if they can be had.


I have received notice that Captain Van Sant has remembered me by having the paper sent to my address during the coming year.  I don’t think I can be of much assistance to you as what little writing I could do would probably be of a gossipy order, for instance, I remember a trip I made on the Evansville, I think during the season of 1882. I was running line with Sankey Bicknell if I remember correctly. Harry (Crusoe) Robinson was on deck with us and possibly Brig Shannon, W. W. Whitney was clerk, Ira Thompson was mating and Jo Hawthorne (Tansy) captain. Tom Malley was on deck, too.


We had a scrapped up outfit of lines and boats and I think were out something over 30 days for Stillwater to Burlington. Jo Hawthorn was one of the best hearted men I ever ran with and he was a good pilot too but he didn’t like to hurry too fast.


I remember we laid several days at the head of the lake. Too windy to come though, Jo said, and we picked up bark and wood to keep up steam with to save coal, and we kept a boat out all the way down picking up stray logs. I remember one boat, I think it was the Caffrey, Carpenter, captain, hit a little towhead and knocked 15 or 20 logs out of one corner, but they just kept right on. WE stopped, however, and picked them up.


Well we were a good while doing it but we finally got down to Burlington in good shape but Jo had not ran Burlington Bridge for a long while and they had filled in considerably just above the bridge and as I remember it instead of hugging the Iowa shore the bow of the raft struck out for Illinois and Jo then decided to tow for the outer span but just as he got under good headway the current began to swing the bow back to the Iowa shore and we struck the pier with the corner of the raft and by the time we got the boat loose and the lines quit popping and the windlass poles settled back down, there came that pier out of the opposite corner of the stern just going diagonally though the raft.


As we were all rushing around after brail lines, oars, etc, Jo came walking down to the forecastle with his carpet slippers on and looking as unconcerned as though he was just out of a Pullman diner.


“Well. Boys, I gave her a good one, didn’t I?” and he walked back up in the pilot house and we went to tying up the fragments. We were to deliver just at the lower end of town, but we were three days doing it and towed some of those logs back up stream some 10 or 15 miles. Both skiffs looked and were clumsy besides, so Sankey Bicknell and I got a coil of brail line, took our clothes off and swam, taking turns. We would tie 30 or 40 logs together, one would swim and catch a log and the other stay on the bunch and pull it in and tie it. Of course all the wood hawks in Burlington were out too, and someone would tie up out bunch and we would get another together, and while it doesn’t seem possible, yet we checked out more logs then were due and “Tansy” wanted to make them pay for the overrun. I don’t remember how it came out, but the clerk checked over twice and then stayed behind the boat for a settlement.


Jo Hawthorne is still living at LeClaire. Whitney went to Haywood, Calif. Bring Shannon is engineer on one of Uncle Sam’s boats and lives at LeClaire, Ira Thompson died at LeClaire some years ago. I’ve lost track of Sankey Bicknell, Tom Malley I think is in Rock Island. Harry Robinson has been dead a good many years.


The next season I went out as mate. We ran packet Clinton to Davenport awhile between rafts. John Serviss and Bill White were on deck awhile. Art Dawley was also with us awhile. John Serviss went to Michigan. Bill White is still at LeClaire as is Art Dawley who I believe clerks on one of the Blair boats.


I cannot recall Henry Dyer. If he hung out at LeClaire, however, I must have known him. Possibly he had a nickname and many of the boys had.


Did you have a “Comet” in the C’s? Dana Dorrance wrecked her when I was a youngster and built his house out of her cabin. I don’t recall what became of her engine. She was a small boat, but he added to the cabin from time to time until he had a nice two story house in the lower end of LeClaire. I believe Dr. Skinner owns it now.


Dana is dead and I believe his widow lives in Moline, probably Fred Schwarm or J. L. Meyer at LeClaire could give you full information.

Well I suppose you are pretty by this time as although I can’t go back quite as far as you and Captain Sam yet I am in the reminiscent age and I very seldom get a chance to talk to a steamboatman away down here in Alabama but if you will be a little more specific it is possible that I might be able to answer some of your questions.


AS I was born and raised in LeClaire and clerked in the coal yard a couple years after I quit the river of course I know a good many steamboatmen and I recollect many boats of the period between 1875 to 1889 when I left there.

Am enclosing clipping written by an old riverman. Maybe you can get something out of it. If so keep it and use it.

With kindest personal regards and best wishes for the success of your efforts I remain respectfully.


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Captain Summer’s Trip on the Steamer Moline.

April 29, 1916


MARION JUNCTION, Ala., April 15.—Editor Post: About the year 1882 I got off of one of the Van Sant & Musser boats early in the season with a little fever and before I got on my feet again I underwent the only protracted spell of sickness in my whole life.


Dr. Coggeshall whose name was a household word with all old LeClarie steamboatmen, and Dr. De Armand worked on me for about three months and finally with the help of good nursing at home they brought me through an attack of typhoid-malaria fever, it was called at that time. I believe the doctors now say it must be either on or the other.


After I got up and started to walking around I developed a most wonderful appetite and soon realized that to appease it I should want to find a boat with a well stocked larder and a good cook.


Altho (Although) gaining in flesh quite rapidly and with such a ravenous appetite yet I was so weak on my pms I could hardly navigate and about the only job I could hold was nigger runner and the first boat along needing help of this order was the Moline.


I knew Captain Ike Wasson liked good eating and was going to get the best on the market and I furthermore knew that Fred Thomas could and would put it on the table in first-class style so jumped at the chance but I only made one trip.


I had known Ike my whole life and he had always been a friend of the family but I soon saw I was no favorite. Henry Massman was mating and he was an old acquaintance, Sam Nimrick was chief engineer and Dan Hanley, second, Dan, I had known always. John Rook was second pilot, and yet I could feel that I was not as welcome as I might be, even with so many old friends.


As I was so weak I was obliged to lay down as soon as I came off watch and to take it easy as I could at all times but as things got no better when we got to LeClaire I packed my grip and went ashore.


The next spring when I shipped out with “Tansy” (Jo Hawthorne) he asked me one day what the trouble was between Wasson and me. I told him we had never had any trouble but had just agreed to disagree. “Well,” he said “When he heard that you were going out with me he came around and told me that I was hiring the laziest man on the river, but I told him that that wasn’t what I was afraid of. What I was afraid of was that you would work too much and not work the boys enough” and then he proceeded to caution me along that line.


Well, I was rather stumped, Wasson and I had had no words and I had done my regular work, so I was at a loss to know what had come over Ike.


One day a good while afterwards I was talking to Dan Hanley and happened to bring this matter up when Dan burst out laughing and said: “Why didn’t you know what was the matter? Well, you remember Charley (Cully) Van Alstine was the other nigger runner and on his day to do the extra work such as cleaning the lanterns and other odd jobs he would have them go and turn in or hang around the pilot house, (he was a pilot house man always) and when Wasson would say anything about the lights not being cleaned he would say it was your day and that couldn’t get you to tend to any of that work.”


I never told Wasson any better, and if he takes the Post will be his opportunity to get the facts in the case.


Captain Ike lives at McCook, Neb. now on a farm and I believe is quite wealthy. I have had one or two nice letters from him since living here and would like to hear from him again. He used to write some for the local papers and if he is not already a subscriber you might send him a copy of the Post and I am satisfied you will secure a subscriber and possibly a correspondent as he one of the best informed men on early rafting and rivermen now living.


Johnnie Rock moved from Princeton to LeClaire for awhile and moved back to Princeton when the rafting business played out. I believe he has passed away.


Sam Nimrick was a Nauvoo man, at any rate I have lost track of him.


Dan Hanley died at LeClarie a number of years ago. Fred Thomas died at LeClaire, also. I believe he moved there from Nauvoo.


Henry Massman died at Marion Junction a number of years ago and his widow is living at present in Colorado, I believe.

Charley Van Alstine I think moved to Dakota. I don’t know his present whereabouts.


The trip itself was rather uneventful and about the only thing that stands out was that on coming down to Dubuque Bridge I think we passed about twelve or fifteen boats tied up waiting for daylight to run the bridge.


We came on, however, and made the bridge safely and the Old Man was quite pleasant from there down by reason of stealing a march on so many boats.


One other thing I recall was that Fred Thomas was going to serve meals on time if the heavens fell. His policy was that as it only took so long to eat and that to work you must eat and that you might as well eat on time as to wait, so eat it was.

Yours truly,


~~~ * * * ~~~


Suggest Issuing a Supplement.

May 17, 1916


MARION JUNCTION, Ala., May 18.—Editor Post: I note you reproduced articles on some of the boats in the issue of May 13, but only going back to March 4. As my subscription began March 4, I am still shy the boats before the Ingomar.


You say you are reproducing for new subscribers, and if so let me suggest that you issue a supplement containing articles prior to March 4.

This river news has been to me like a meal to a very hungry man, very enjoyable, and I begrudge missing any of it.


As I see Captain Merrick is back on the job and as you also have the article I wrote on the “Last Chance” yet, I will not send in anything at this time, but if in the future you should run short of copy I will use up some of my leisure in gossiping about the old days but not the oldest days on the Mississippi. With best wishes for the success of The Post and its editor,

I remain respectfully,


~~~ * * * ~~~


Captain McCaffery and the “Last Chance.”

May 20, 1916


MARION JUNCTION, Ala. May 16.—Editor Post: Along in the early eighties Captain J. C. McCaffery who then owned the “Last Change” secured a charter for a raft during an idle period and decided to make the trip himself.


Charley Trombley (Captain A. H. Trombley) had just secured his pilot’s papers or was about to secure them and he mated and helped Captain Jack at the wheel. I think Pat Mains was in charge of the engines with a very raw second.


Walt Henderson and Charley Averill were paired off. Tom Malley and I think Sam Larimez (Frisco) were partners and I forget the others and even my own partner.


Charley Averill, I think was one of the greenest hands I ever saw. Tom Malley had him running upstairs to tell McCaffery that the glass was all broken out of his windows and we had come off without either clean sheets or pillow slips before we were out of sight of land.


Even before that he, Malley, made it up with his partner to fill the coal boxes for awhile instead of taking it turn about and then called Charley aside and told him that Walt Henderson was “soldiering” on him as the man that carried behind didn’t have to shovel. You ought to have seen poor old Walt when they came out with the empty box next time and it being Charley’s time to shovel Walt stood waiting—finally Walt said, “Well, what are you waiting for?” Charley let a gentle smile play over his features and delivered himself about as follows: “Huh! Thought I was a sucker didn’t you? Well I’ll show you a thing or two. I just wanted to see how far you would go.” Walt, in the meantime, trying to get at what he was driving at. “Well, get hold of that shovel and fill the box.” “Oh, I guess not,” says Charley. “I knew all the time that the man carrying behind didn’t have to shovel but I just wanted to help you out but because you tried to impose on me you can shovel it all yourself.” And Walt had it to do as Walt would rather work all day than quarrel five minutes. Poor old Walt. I would like to drop a flower on his grave if I knew where it was. He could grab more regularly and run a crank augur longer than anyone I can remember (excepting possibly the noted restaurateur in LeClarie) but there was no malice or ill feeling in his composition. Peace to his ashes.


After we finally got started Malley suggested to Charley that inasmuch as Charley’s wardrobe was rather limited and would rapidly become soiled because of the absence of clean sheets that possibly it might be agreeable to the old man to divide his state room with Charley as they would not be on watch at the same time anyway.


Charley took another pilot house trip. I don’t know how he can out but it wasn’t long before McCaffrey sent for Tom and I noticed that Tom didn’t send Charley upstairs any more although he kept him quite busy on deck the entire trip. I think that was Charley’s first and last trip as I don’t remember seeing him on the river any more. If I remember correctly he was in Omaha some years since and I understood doing quite well.


I think I heard more astronomy that trip then I ever did before on the river. McCaffrey would get lonesome on the night watch and ask me to some up to the pilot house. The previous winter we had been having some fine lectures in LeClaire and one series was on astronomy and I believe McCaffrey remembered every word that lecturer uttered. He had a remarkable memory anyway and seemed to take to astronomy as a duck to water.


McCaffrey bought some property a few years since near Waverly, La. And I think is living there at present.


We came near having serious trouble on the down trip at Clinton Bridge. As we turned the raft loose in dropping thru and McCaffrey rang the backing bell we did not back and the original Swiss Bell Ringers never performed more zealously than McCaffrey did that day but to no effect; with and between bells he was inquiring strenuously and possibly somewhat profusely thru the speaking trumpet and around it why that many adjectured second engineer didn’t back up and the second was trying to explain that she was on the center. About that time Charley Tromley came boiling down the stairway and found out that she was shipped up to come ahead on our side and to back on the other. I think we knocked the flag staff down before we cleared the bridge.


McCaffrey after endeavoring in vain to ascertain from the young man how a stern wheel boat could get on the center finally paid him off and gave him an opportunity to experiment on someone else.


Captain R. H. (Charley) Tromley turned out to be one of the best raft pilots on the Mississippi and for some time was in command of one of the fine excursion boats. I believe he is at present (or at least during the open season) in command of a big boat on the Yukon. Pat Mains (Maines) died at Davenport some years since.


I believe Henry (Heneca) Henderson was cook on this trip. Henry could make a lemon pie that makes one’s mouth water until this day.


Henry was the youngest of the Henderson boys and I haven’t heard of him in years. Jim is dead as well as Walt. Charley is living in Davenport. Was slinging type and doing well the last time I heard from him. Kate, the oldest girl married Will Davenport and I believe still lives in Davenport. Frances the younger sister married a man named Scholl and moved to the Pacific coast. I think she still lives there.

Yours truly,


~~~ * * * ~~~


Old Days on the St. Croix.

August 6, 1916


MARION JUNCTION, Alabama, July 25.—Editor Post: I wonder if any of my readers ever picnicked on the old St. Croix with Captain Geo. Trombley, Jr.


If so, they can recall many pleasant memories of the old days.


George and I were schoolmates, although he was somewhat my senior and he married a mighty fine girl that I used to think a lot of although George never seemed to hold it against me.


George was running line on the old Silver Wave when I made my first trip on the river in 1877.


Some years afterward he came on board the boat while we were in the excursion business during a dull period in the rafting business and told me that he had just passed an examination and had gained master’s papers. As he seemed tired and worn out I put him up in my bunk and went about my duties.


We were running an excursion from Davenport to Clinton and just as we pulled out from the Albany landing the cylinder head right in line with my bunk blew out.


I was on guard duty and was right over my bunk leaning against the rail when she let go and the first thing I thought of was Trombley. Running down as rapidly as I could thru the steam I found him just about half way out of the skylight and hardly awake. We had to ease him down on to the guards as he was unable to get either way by himself.


I don’t believe Trombley knew what fear was (except fear of the fair sex) but he was about the most nervous person I ever saw. One of the first recollections I have of steamboat life was in seeing him light out of his bunk onto the deck before he was awake when the backing bell rang suddenly.


The old St. Croix wasn’t much of a boat as boats go but she was a mighty fine summer home when George was running her with Frank (Fisher) Long in charge of the engines and Aunt Sarah Rhoades in full swing in the culinary department.


I believe Frank Kitchen and Billy Woods were taking their summer vacation with us. “Kitch” was the only man on the river who could outclass Walt Henderson when it came to growling, not that he could growl any more regularly but he did in a rather more picturesque manner. Florida and Whistling Charley were also on deck if I remember correctly. Whistling Charley was the best whistler I ever saw. I believe his whistling act would have scored a big success in modern vaudeville.

I wonder who Florida really was and whatever became of him. It used to be said that his people were well to do citizens of some city in Florida and that Florida after trying to enliven the city and paint it a more brilliant carmine became discouraged by his lack of success or possibly being a little ashamed of himself moved his base of operations suddenly to the Mississippi River and burned his boats behind him, but be that as it may I will always have a warm spot in my heart for “Florida,” as he had many lovable traits of character.


John Laycock was clerking and running “nigger” and we had plenty of time to chew the rag about the “Tin Shop Gang” and to discuss ways and means for putting one over on the “Peacocks” as the Schwarm gang was called those days.


Big Chris Schricker was mating and I used to think he wasted lots of time putting in check works as about the only time we ever used them was when we delivered the raft at Mueller’s mill, but Chris had the characteristic German thoroness (thoroughness) and always wanted to be prepared for emergencies.


Chris was a good mate too although he worked almost too much himself to get the most out of the men. Yet he could and did turn off as much as three or four ordinary men. In that respect he was a good match for Trombley, who didn’t need a second at all as he was practically on watch all of the time.


I really believe he averages three hours of sleep a say during the season and he had Aunt Sarah Rhoades at her wit’s ends preparing delicacies to tempt his appetite as she was not used to having her cooking turned down and it worried her. She used to come around at breakfast and say: “Now Georgie, what shall I fix for your dinner?” and “Georgie” would say, “Oh, I don’t know, just make me so and so” probably some little tidbit she used to make for him when he was a little barefooted toddler and Aunt Sarah would put in a good part of the morning fixing up fancy dishes only to have him say, “Yes, that’s nice and I appreciate it but I am not very hungry today,” and do you know I have seen him when he was “roistering” on the Silver Wave in the old days just grab the batter cake plate out of the slush cook’s hand as he came in the door and we didn’t get a cake until he had about cleaned up our daily quota…


By the way, did you know that George was one of the best swimmers on the river when he was a boy? I remember one day we were over on the bar (it was just above the Port Byron saw mill in those days.) George didn’t get off with us and he hid his clothes under the McCarty bridge and swam across to where we were diving for clams for fish bait and he was apparently as fresh as the rest of us when he got there.


There were many good swimmers at LeClaire. Muzy Car was probably the best. I may tell you of some of his capers later. I remember Nelson Smith swam across one evening. It was not much of a trick if you don’t care how far you drifted down, but to get across nearly even was some chase.


Captain Trombley lives in Davenport at present. He was in the Van Sant line for a number of years but I don’t know what boat he is on at present. Frank (Fisher) Long is living at LeClaire, and is still handling the throttle. Chris Schricker has been in the sand business at Davenport for a number of years. Frank Kitchen is cutting a wide swath in the restaurant business in LeClaire. Mrs. Rhoades is living in Moline at present, I believe. John Stoltenberg of Davenport was with us for awhile but later joined the fire company at Davenport.


~~~ * * * ~~~


Experiences in Firing a Steamboat.

August 12, 1916


MARION JUNCTION, Ala., Aug. 3.—Editor Post: One season firemen seeming to be rather scarce and wages rather high I decided to try firing awhile. I was running on the Stillwater with Captain E. J. Lancaster: Vital Barrow second. Mr. Carver in charge of the engines with little Jim Davenport as assistant. Jack Bailey was mate and I believe Ben Shipley in the kitchen. I don’t suppose I would have made much of an out of it firing if it hadn’t been for Little Jim.


While I did not fire a great while during my river career yet, I had plenty of opportunity for observing and I never knew an engineer who favored his fireman as Little Jim did.


He could manage in less water, and yet never get in a tight place, than any engineer I ever knew, and if you had poor coal or wood or wanted to clean your fires, Little Jim watched his gauges like a hawk and while perfectly safe yet he always looked out for his fireman. Little Jim was strictly a second engineer, however, and seemed to have no desire whatever to assume full authority. While on watch he demanded and received full charge of the lower deck but off watch you would suppose him to be a casual visitor so completely did he eliminate himself.


While they were not built for speed yet there was considerable rivalry between the Rock Island boats and one morning we saw a boat coming up behind us just as we were passing thru Winona bridge. It was about 8 o’clock a.m. and I was just cleaning the fires when Little Jim looked out and saw her and decided that it must be the J. C. Caffrey. I had just about got to where I could begin warming her up when Vitel Burrow began to call for more speed. I suppose Vital had fished and hunted and wood-hawked over every foot of that river and he knew it like a book but he took on chance too many that morning and in making a short cut we ran into a shallow where we labored so hard that we broke a hog chain.


Of course we had her rather warm and when Jim shut her down the steam still run up, although we had the Doctor running and I was pulling the fires and throwing on green coal, and about that time down came Mr. Carver very meagerly attired. He was still about half asleep and demanded to know how much steam I had. I told him. Although he could see the gauge very easily himself and then he wanted to know why I was carrying so much when he had expressly told us to only carry around 160 (I believe that was it) I then said that as I had a good fire in her and as the steam was so suddenly shut off of course it would naturally rise for awhile, which was the truth, of course, but when that didn’t satisfy him I told him that Little Jim was on watch and as I was on the same watch with him I was responsible to him alone. As I was rather warm about that time I expect I said it rather impressively as he at once took his departure and he didn’t jump on Little Jim either.

Just then Captain E. J. came rushing down stairs. Now the Old Man didn’t get excited very easily but when he did he used to swear like the Bull of Bashan and he was raving purple now as he came down the steps and at the same time Mr. Carver was trying to explain to him that we were breaking the boat all to pieces.


We made the shore all right and when Mr. Carver got into his overalls and his right mind he soon proved his right to be called a first class workman and he had us running again in short order. When Little Jim turned over the deck he went to his state room, dressed and played the gentleman until he come on his regular watch again.


I don’t know whether this cost Burrow his job or not but anyway we changed pilots not long after that and got Jim B. Jim was an old-timer. Things dated from floating days with him and while he seemed to know the river quite well yet he never made much of a mark.


One Stillwater trip has left a memory of a rather unusual event. While coming down thru Lake Pepin one beautiful starlit night with not a breath of air stirring. Little Jim and I sat on the guards admiring the wonderful panorama spread out around us by Nature and Nature’s God.


It was just such a night as to cause one to exclaim with the sweet singer of Israel “O Lord, our Lord now excellent is they name in all the earth: who hast set they glory above the heavens. When I consider the heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou has ordained: What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitist him?”


We sat some time watching the beautiful scene with the twinkling shore lights in the distance while waiting for the fires to burn low preparatory to cleaning the furnace. We then went about our usual work and were quite busy for probably an hour or so when we drifted back to our chairs, but had no more than sat down when Little Jim jumped up remarking “What in the world has become of all those shore lights. They surely haven’t put them out this early.” He then walked across decks and on finding the lights on the opposite remarked that I had better go up and investigate matters in the pilot house.


I went up walking as heavily as I could and as I stuck my head thru the companion way I called, making inquiring as to whether I should bring up a cup of coffee? I saw a form reclining in an arm chair with his feet up on the bell post and about the time I said coffee I heard the feet hit the floor and before I got back down to the engine room there began some of the most marvelous bell ringing you ever listened to. As we were never nearer than an half mile of the shore probably there was no harm done, but the captain said next morning that he didn’t remember ever to have been so long getting thru the lake.


That season we had some very high water and on trip down we got into LeClaire just about time to change watch, so Little Jim and I told Mr. Carver and the other fireman (I believe it was Carver’s son-in-law Jim McConnell: that we would stay and cool her down and they could dress and be ready to go ashore as soon as we landed. They did so going ashore with the line.


We tied up right back of the Meyer place, and put out two lines and was still backing on the slow bell when Captain Eli John started to go ashore. Little Jim had started to dress but he came running out and calling to the Old Man he informed him that he hadn’t rung off yet. “No, and I don’t intent to ring off,” quote Captain John, “Just keep up steam and back her slow till I come back.” Some of you may never have seen Little John mad but I can testify that he could get mad. He finally cooled though and lit the big reflector we used to carry before the days of electric lights and kept it playing on the homes in the upper part of LeClaire till daylight. That was one of the times few times I ever saw Lancaster exhibit a sense of humor and it is needless to say that I failed to appreciate it then.


You see we were victims of our own goodness as it wasn’t our watch at all. Little Jim and the Captain have been gathered to their father. Mr. Carver, Vital Burrow and Jim McConnell I have lost track of. Brig Shannon and Jack Bailey are living in LeClaire.


~~~ * * * ~~~


Old Steamboat Days on the Upper Mississippi.

August 19, 1916

Paper No. 3.


MARION JUNCTION, Ala., Aug. 12.—Editor Post: It seems as (the) I had begun on the wrong end in telling of the old steamboat days and now I will go back to the very beginning and come down.


In 1877 I made my first trip on the “Silver Wave.” I think now that Captain Sam. Van Sant must have made a berth especially for me as I was the odd man in a crew ever on a boat with that many in the crew.


Capt. Geo Rutherford was heard of nine. The only time 11 was and captain, and Geo. Trombley Sr. was second. I am not sure, but think Sam Maxwel was head engineer and his brother, who was a good deal of dandy, was second. John Hanley was mate, Dan Hanley and I think Jake Berger, fireman. Jo Gallinor, if I remember correctly, was in charge of the kitchen. Bill (Muzzy) Carr and Geo. Trombley Jr., were running line, John Kim and Orrin Thompson were two of the men on deck and I believe the others were Hugh Sweeny, Charley (Windy) Johnson, Tom Malley and John Anderson but am not sure.


As far as odd jobs were concerned that crew certainly had a snap as the handy man swept decks, sawed cook wood, handed ashes sounded water, shoveled up coal for the side bunkers and occupied his spare time doing such other duties which might occur to the crew, the fireman or the engineer, not to mention the mate.


Another point of difference between that trip and any other I remember making was that this was a log raft equipped with oars and we were given plenty of opportunity to use them too.


We built some little shacks on the bow of the rail and we put in considerable time down there. Some of the lads were quite small in fact they would only hold one person at a time. I remember Kim and Thompson had one in partnership and there was considerable maneuvering to see which could get the inside track and they used to work many sharp tricks to secure occupancy. Both were very much afraid of snakes and snakes were quite numerous that season. One day Kim was laying in the hut about half asleep and Thompson looking in said, “Look out for that snake Kim.” As Kim made a hasty exit Thompson crawled in and settled down for a nap. In the course of an hour Kim came by and hollered out, “Look out for the snake, Orrin.” And Orrin sort of grinned remarking that he wasn’t as big a sucker as some folks and leisurely turning over to resume his nap when he put his hand right on a big snake about two inches in diameter and about 4 feet long which was lying on the log right beside him.


Thompson and the snake both came right up thru the top of the shanty and demolished it so completely that they didn’t bother to rebuild more especially as they were both so badly frightened as regards snakes that they hunted the highest logs they could to sun themselves on and where they had a plain view of any snakes that might wish to become too sociable during the rest of the trip.


The trip was rather uneventful as far as trouble went until we passed Davenport about dark on a stormy, cloudy day. It seemed to me to be about the blackest night I ever saw when the watch hailed me to sound on the right hand bow and as I was trying to gather my wits I heard the bell sound for the left hand corner and as I couldn’t be in two places at one time I stood still until the watch whose place it was to go in the beginning couldn’t wait on me any longer and started out. I had gotten as far by this time as the open space in the bulkhead just aft of the boilers when Dan Hanley came running by and grabbing me by the arm he slammed me clear in amid ship just as the guy line parted and wrapped around the stanchion I was leaning against. It would certainly have broken some bones and possibly have killed me if I had not been so arbitrarily removed.


Then ensued a scene of apparent confusion, more apparent than real although so sudden. The trouble was that our boat drew too much water to follow the raft over the bar a few miles from Jugtown and amid the flying of windless poles and the popping of lines the raft parted company with us. The men on watch who had finally gotten out on the raft immediately returned with a skiff and by this time John Hanley had reused all hands who crowded into the boat. AS the skiff was pretty well loaded and Geo. Tromley and I were still on deck he pushed me aside and jumped into the skiff, shoving off from the boat and then Dan Hanley who was standing by says “Well you can’t do anything now so just crawl under the boilers where it is warm and take a rest for you’ll have plenty to do tomorrow.


I thought that good advice so I took it. Dan went off watch and turned in. The boys had a hard time but finally succeeded in landing the raft about day light and then John missed me. Tromley didn’t say anything so John decided that I was either “rotting” or drowned and they pulled back up several miles to the boat and as they couldn’t find me there John gave me up for drowned. When I finally crawled out for breakfast they immediately began to study up ways and means to put me to work and work I did for the balance of that trip you had better believe.


We sent to Jugtown and got a couple of barges and lighter e d (?) fuel, anchors and everything else moveable and then getting a jack we set a line to the capstan and finally succeeded in pulling the boat off. When we started to set a jack Muzy Carr was out in the water floundering around like a porpoise and that water was some cold too, as I felt that it was up to me to regain my reputation, I followed without argument.


John Kim, I remember, was at the far end of the line as we stood along the bulkhead and just as we had enough to steady the jack John deliberately limped up to John Hanley to explain to him that he was suffering from rheumatism and that he could not stand to get in the cold water. John Hanley explained to him very briefly that he wasn’t hiring rheumatics and that it was up to him (John Kim) to get in the water right now, and he got. If he had stood still he would have been safe as he passed several to get to the front and was I believe the last man needed.


While this trip didn’t engender my ambition to be a mate or pilot it did demonstrate to me that I had had enough of being the odd man and as I was a fair oarsman, the most of my river life was passed in the capacity of linesman and as linesman I was thrown more in touch with Capt. S. H. Van Sant then I would have been in almost any other capacity and I think I shall have to give your readers in the near future a view of him as viewed by boyhood friend, employee, and friend of mature years with no axe to grind.


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A Pleasure Trip on the Great River.

February 3, 1917


MARION JUNCTION, Ala. January 22.—Editor Post: while on a visit to the old home in1900, Nelson Smith, one of my boyhood friends, suggested we take a pleasure trip up the river. Nelson, who is a member of the old Smith family which has been so long identified with LeClaire and the upper Mississippi river life that the love for the early memories and past associations has become incorporated in to their very beings, married a LeClaire girl who was also raised on the banks of the Father of Waters and they are now passing their mature years in a beautiful home located in one of the finest sites on the grand old river.


Nelson had a very staunch gasoline launch named the Ino in honor of his daughter. The launch was built for comfort but was not very speedy, she was about thirty feet in length and about seven foot beam and with her built in deck and canopy top she was an ideal boat for such a trip as we took.


She had a row of lockers built around the sunk deck with thick leather cushions for seats. These we utilized for bunks and as we had a good supply of bedding we were much better off than having to sleep on the ground.


Before starting out we purchased enough mosquito netting to run all around the boat and in consequence we were entirely free from the bites of flies and mosquitoes.


Included in the company were Nelson Smith, Charley Simpson, Jo (Tansy) Hawthorne from LeClaire, Harry Wade from Port Bryon and the writer.


Tansy happening to be idle at the time volunteered to act as pilot; needless to say that his offer was gratefully accepted. It was a very congenial party and a voyage that has left may pleasant memories.


Our outfit consisted of a few tin dishes, some cheap spoons, knives and forks, coffee pot, frying pan, etc.


We built an ice box on the stern of the boat with a false bottom for storing fish and when we caught a surplus we dressed them and put them on ice.


We bought bacon, eggs, milk, ice, light bread and such other supplies as were needed as we went along. Harry Ware was just back from Cuba, having served there with the volunteers, and he was a good camp cook. Tansy was also a splendid camp cook and with an occasional visit to hotel or restaurant at some of the towns we lived at the top of the heap.


We dallied along, stopped where we felt inclined and taking in such fishing places as Tansy recommended and were 6 days out to Winona. We had some fine fishing at different places but I think the best fishing and the finest camping place I have ever seen was just a short distance above Trempeakau.


A small stream, I believe it is called the Winooski, flows into the Mississippi and is spanned by a railroad bridge just above the mouth. Just beyond the bridge is a splendid blue grass pasture as level as a floor, closely grassed, and forming a perfect carpet of grass and there a fine old monarch of the forest beneath whose spreading branches a few sleek looking cattle could be seen chewing their cuds and from whose leafy coverts in the cool of the early morning could be heard the feathered songsters pouring out in melody their souls to the Giver of Every Good and Perfect Gift.


A tree clad and verdure covered bluff in the distance formed a background to this, one of the choicest views on the upper Mississippi.


As there was considerable rip rap around the bridge piers it gave good standing room and there I enjoyed the finest black bass fishing it has ever been my good fortune to experience.


If you were a Mississippi river raised boy you must remember the thrill that passed over you as in the freshness of the summer morning, while the birds were caroling their early morning mating, and stars were gradually fading before the reddening beams announcing the coming of the lord of the day you gently drifted down the stream in your old flatboat feeling with your drag hook for the trotline you so carefully baited the night before, and when you finally picked it up how gently you drew it in foot by foot feeling all the while for the surge which you will always remember, coming sometimes abruptly, when near at hand, sometimes just faintly when at the far end of the line, and how carefully you passed along hand overhand, reaching far down over the bow of your boat and keeping the line carefully under the water until near enough to distinguish the outlines of the fish (where you thought it was at the time) than grasping your gaff firmly, with a sweeping motion you struck with your gaff at the same time lifting the line clear of the water with the other and deposited your struggling prize in triumph at your feet. Sometimes you went sorrowfully home empty handed but again there were times when you went stepping along with a nice string of from two to half a dozen fine perch or channel catfish and at such time no king on his throne could have held his head more proudly than did that freckle faced, barefooted boy and the feeling of triumph in his breast was one which a king might have envied him.


Well if you wish to recall those days and desire to again feel that electric shock just as you felt it in those days of old, plant yourself beside one of these bridge piers, throw in a line with a live minnow and wait patiently only a short while until one of these big, game, hard fighting black bass strike you minnow and stirs up the stagnant blood in your views as you try to bring him to land.


There must be other good camping places near Trempeleau as we saw an island full of young folks just across from the town but I don’t believe they had the fishing we had. I should judge that they had an abundance of sport however from the amount of racket they kept up.


While at Trempeleau we enjoyed the pleasure of meeting an old schoolmate, Mrs. Pope, nee Fannie James. She was living at that time and was very pleasantly situated.


Leaving Trempeleau rather reluctantly, we pushed on the Winona. This city with the beautiful name has tried with considerable success to keep the general appearance of the city up to the name and it is noted as being one of the handsomest cities on the river, and that is saying something. I had been in and by Winona many times but this was the first opportunity I had ever had to explore the city thoroughly and I was pleased to find my first impressions verified.


The neat, trim, well-kept look of the pleasant homes, the wide shady streets, the solid appearing architecture of the public buildings and do (?) Sugar Loaf for a bakery and have left a mental picture enjoyable to reflect upon.


On our return trip down the river, took matters quietly stopping here and there. One call we made on Charley Johnson and one of the Lancaster boys who were engaged in clamming. They were cozily fixed up in good house boats with roomy cabins. The boats were as neat as a pin inside. Charley was engaged in baking on our arrival. Big flaky loaves as white as snow and as light as a feather. I don’t believe I have ever seen better looking bread. Charley said any one could make as good if they wasn’t too lazy but if that is a fact there must be a lot of lazy people. We were then showed over the boat and found it fully up to the standard of the bread. The bed linen was immaculate, the pantry fairly shown and the comfortable living room was as “homey” as anybody’s house.


He had a large rail pan full of shells some distance from the boat and he showed us a lot of slugs as well as a few pearls. One was a beautiful small pink pearl, perfect in shape and color. I think I almost envied him that one.


Parting from Charley for the last time in his life, although at that time he looked the picture of health and likely to outlive all of us, we arrived at McGregor just before sun down. A short ways above McGregor I saw, what was to me, a wonderful sight. It looked to me as if all the skiffs and flatboats on the Mississippi were packed in a space of a few miles. At first, I couldn’t believe imagine what the matter was but “Tansy” said, “Oh, that’s just some clammers.” They looked as thick as a flock of black birds that sometimes used to light on our craft in the olden days.


One thing I was about to forget, was to tell you about our swim. One afternoon “Tansy” says, “How would you boys like to go down to the beach and take a swim?” Now I had always been of the impression that one place was as good as another for swimming but “Tansy” showed us the most ideal swimming spot I have ever seen. A perfectly sanded beach with the water as clear as crystal, just current enough to keep the water pure and no undertow. A perfect slope, the water just gradually deepening with no abrupt drop off.


If I remember correctly this beach is not far from Victory.


Fortunately there was no one ahead of us and we took it in the “altogether” as we had no bathing suits with us and while we were cavorting about “Tansy” who didn’t take much to water anyway had stayed on the bank, hailed us and wanted to know if we were aware that the ice was out and that there was no place where we could replenish soon and then he called our attention to the fact that our fish would soon spoil, upon which Charley Simpson suggested that he cook them right away as it was then three o’clock and we had had no dinner as yet.


In due season, the welcome cry of “Grub pile” was heard and we sure made tracks. We were about the hungriest bunch you ever saw and in going ashore we run alongside the launch grabbing for the first article of wearing apparel we could get hold of and one could be seen running along with a shirt another a pair of drawers another an undershirt or just the first thing that come to hand and not taking the time to dress but holding it for a shield with one hand and reaching out for a fish with the other. Jo had fried one turn and piled them on log and had another run in both pans just about ready to take off the fire, about that time some inquired for bread. “Bread” says Jo “There ain’t no bread nor anything else but just what you see” and that what was we made our dinner out of and it was one of the best dinners I ever had too. Tansy did rustle up a pot of coffee for dessert, however.


Fish and coffee was all there was but it was cooked to a guest’s taste and with hunger for a sauce I don’t believe there ever was a meal more genuinely appreciated.


We decided to wind up our river trip with a visit to Gen. Grant’s old home. We started up Fevre river early Sunday A. M. but the river was so shallow and crooked that we didn’t get to Galena until nearly noon and had to lock thru to get there at all. It looked pitiful to see the old deserted warehouses enclosed by willows where once the pulse of business beat with feverish activity. That Sunday was a record breaker for heat all over the north but down on that slugg’st muddy stream shut in by willows it was simply awful and after we had climbed up on the bluff in the hope of getting our lungs filled with fresh air we decided to forgo any further exploration until a cooler season and headed our craft for home after a most delightful trip and one that has been enjoyed in retrospection during many a quiet hour since.


It has always been a mystery to me why so many of our wealthy people scour the ends of the earth for pleasure and recreation when they know so little of the beauty and resources of our own country close at hand. There is no more enjoyable trip than a leisurely vacation on the waters of the upper Mississippi. Probably a lack of systemic advertising has much to do with it. I trust Captain Blair and the Streckfus family may meet with success in their efforts to overcome that handicap.


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The Hobo on the Big River.

March 24, 1917


MARION JUNCTION, Alabama, March 20.—Editor Post: An extended article dealing with LeClarie or the upper Mississippi River which failed to take role of the Genus Hobo would be like a reading of Hamlet with Hamlet left out.


My mother in looking back over this feature of river life starts about 1835 or 36 with the Aborigine, who when he tired of one location calmly instructed his squaw to pack her few belongings and transport him to another more to his liking, but I shall start a little later.


Ever since the earliest days of wheat harvesting on the lands bordering on the Mississippi there has existed to a certain extant the tramp problem.


Since the earliest beginnings of farm life in Western Tennessee, Western Kentucky, Southern Illinois and Eastern Missouri there has been a demand for extra labor at certain seasons of the year to care for the bountiful crops of small grain. As the country gradually developed and the wheat area grew along the upper Mississippi until expanding into the Minnesota and the Dakotas there was required a monstrous force of men to handle the immense crops which it was necessary to harvest and care for during a short season of the year, thus there appeared at the beginning of the harvest season numbers of men, who, starting in on the lower river moved on up with the season winding up in the extreme north and getting back to a milder climate in any manner possible.


Many borrowed skiffs and flatboats as they could pick them up along the river and, during the hey-day times of the harvesters they could be seen an unending line of boats of all description wending their way southward.


These men demanded and got his wages for that day and time. During large crop years and labor scarcity $5.00 per day was about the regular wage and instances were not unknown where farmers were boycotted for trying to gain a reduction or even trying to induce the neighboring boys to work for a smaller wage. The harvesters bundling up their small possessions and passing on to new fields leaving the crop to rot behind them unless enough neighbors to care for it could be procured.


These men nomadic in their instincts as most of them were, and with small sense of responsibility and loosely bound by home ties and making as they did good wages were also free spenders and there appeared presently in their wake another type, a parasitic class who were adverse to labor, in fact would not work at all but by reason of their being proficient gamblers they soon annexed the results of the labor of others and while the poor harvesters were wearily wending their way down the river as best they might, happy and joyous apparently but flat broke, the parasites were traveling first class on palatial steamboats of that day.


These classes were called by old timers, not tramps or hobos, but Harvesters and Followers.


The introduction of the twine binder and other improved farm machinery put a quietus on the industry and great numbers of these men, just floated aimlessly about.


A few soldiers, the most of them probably deserters and coffee coolers who had been recruited from the cities and who had acquired a dislike to a fixed habitation and joined the ranks of these floaters, although the numbers of such were small when compared to the great host thrown on their own resources at the close of the Civil War, according to my own personal observation.


Probably a few more recruits came from crews of the floating rafts on the advent of the raft boats. The boats not only using fewer men to transport the same sized rafts but doing it in much less time and using boys and younger men thus shelving the older and less adaptable men.


Then came the Hobo, sub genius, the man who as a usual thing belonged to the common laboring class and having no settled employment as a consequence after travelling from place to place finally lost all sense of responsibility and became filled with a spirit of wanderlust degenerating at last into the hobo pure and simple.


This class of tramps are as a general rule found to be inoffensive, goodhearted and reasonably honest; to be sure his ideas of neum and teum were a trifle vague concerning anything edible but if he happened to have a dollar of his own he used it first and not only for his own needs but it was common property as long as it lasted.


During the two seasons that I worked as night clerk in the McCaffrey and Disney coal yard I suppose there were few nights during the season when LeClaire sheltered less than one hundred and possibly at times the number ran up to five hundred tramps.


I have seen, I should judge, on some beautiful moonlight nights from one hundred to four hundred tramps lying along the levee from the Green Tree to the Davison warehouse, their hats and shoes all wrapped in their coa’s (coats) and tucked under their heads for pillows, and possibly also for security. On cold nights and rainy nights they hunted vacant houses and barns where most convenient.


I recall one night when after one of my regular shovelers, Dan Tucker, who lived on second street decided on my way back that as I was badly in need of more men I would take a chance on getting one or more out of Mr. Schworm’s barn which was just a little way off my road. I had been on night work long enough to know about where to look for hands but it was an extremely rare thing to find any tramp that would work for forty cents an hour, but on this very particular night as I was needing hands mighty badly I thought I would take one more chance.


Mr. Schworm’s barn was a basement barn with a hayloft overhead and I went in on the ground floor. Seeing nothing down stairs but a cow and calf, the calf being tied to at the foot of the stairs I went on up stairs. Just as I got up in the loft a tramp awakened by the light made inquiry with an oath or two what I wanted but I never had time to answer his question as about a dozen or worse, tramps came tumbling out of the hay and still being half asleep, probably believing me to be Mr. Schworm who I believe was the Mayor at the time, went crowding down the step so much confusion aroused the calf which ran across the path and the foremost tramp fell over the rope the rest tumbling over tramps and calf in one struggling cussing mass. Salisbury’s Troubadours never pulled off a more ludicrous scene and I sat there on the top step directing the rays of the lantern on the kaleidoscopic view fairly collapsed with laughter. I don’t believe I could have helped laughing had Mr. Schworm really appeared with a forty-two centimeter. All thought of boats and coal left my mind for the time being, and I never did find out if any of them wanted to work as they had all vanished in the darkness before I had caught my breath.

On other occasions I have gone along the levee waking tramp after tramp and after inquiring what I wanted they would roll over on the other side and calmly go back to sleep not even taking the trouble to cuss me out for disturbing them as a rule. Forty cents an hour was considered pretty good wages those days but it didn’t tempt any of them to desert their downy lays.


It was wonderful to see how carefully they guarded LeClaire from petty robbery.


Mr. Gault was mayor of LeClaire for some time during the palmy days of the hobo and at that time he lived in the brick house just at the lower edge of town. He had a fine apple orchard just below the house and adjoining the old Clark lime Quarry which was the regular kitchen and dining hall of the tramps during the summer sojourn.


Every afternoon about four o’clock you might see the stewards and cooks of the different gangs starting up to Butcher Rathman’s for their daily supply of meat, then down to Jimmie Davenport’s for potatoes, onions, etc., then down to the old quarry where a fire was built and the cooking utensils whirl were stored about in odd corners were taken to the river and carefully washed, then you might see a string of cooks wending their way up to Gault’s home where Mrs. Gault (who was one of LeClaire’s finest noted cooks) always kept a supply of home baked light bread, fresh butter, and cold milk for sale and I have heard Mr. Gault say on several occasions that if they ever molested his orchard, garden or front yard he did not know of it.


To be sure it was good policy not to aggravate the citizens if they desired to hold their headquarters but it also showed that there was some recognized authority to keep such a large numbers of hungry men in restraint.


We used to hear occasional complaints from the surrounding country and from over about Port Bryon that some light fingered gentry had raided cellars, gardens, or occasionally poultry houses but LeClaire proper was free from such visitations as a rule.


We were not troubled greatly by moochers either in those days although occasionally someone might apply at the back door for a handout.


I recall that on one occasion we were just sitting down to the table when mother, who was sitting where she had a view of the gate said, “You had better go to the door, son, I see some tramps coming.” I waited until they marched around to the kitchen when I went out and there stood four strapping fine looking fellows, none of them over thirty, and all well dressed. “Well, boys,” I said ”what can I do for you?” “Captain, we are broke and hungry and would like a bit to eat.” was the reply. I generally kept a pretty good sized wood pile on hand and I had one then to which I pointed saying, “Do you see that wood pile? Well we are just sitting down to supper but you will find axes and a saw there and you can cut wood till we are finished and then we will rustle you up something to eat.” They broke into a hearty laugh and said, “Why, Captain, you were mistaken we did not ask for work, we asked for something to eat.” And out they marched again apparently very much amused. I watched them go over to a neighbor’s where the neighbor’s wife gave them a lunch.


One season a few years before this and while I was running on the Silver Wave we picked up a load of tramps at Muscatine, Rock Island, Davenport, and LeClaire if my memory serves me correctly, about four hundred of whom wished to go to Winona, Minn. The fare I believe was three dollars and fifty cents. They were all over the boat, some asleep, but most of them playing Seven Up and they all had money to gamble with too. When we arrived at LeClaire, as we were short handed, Captain Sam Van Sant offered the fare back to any man who would help coal up and just one grown overgrown German boy out of all that bunch offered to work his way.


We heard some time afterwards that there were two packets at Winona the same day we arrived and that the three boats deposited in neighborhood of two thousand tramps on the unfortunate city during the day.


It was reported on the river that the whole gang moved out to Rochester and commandeered all the eatables in town and that the state authorities had to be called on to move them. This happened along before the Mayos gained such a reputation however. If such an invasion was to occur at the present time they would just open the doors of the sanatorium, corral the whole bunch and proceed to crave them up in the interest of science.


On the whole the Mississippi River tramp was a rather likable fellow. Always good natured, generous to a fault, and while his ideas of neum and team were rather hazy yet he exemplified in his own life his beliefs as he was always ready to go down in his own pocket if there happened to be anything in it. Before applying for outside help; without malice, most of them were their own worst enemies more especially when booze had put them in the bum.


Frequently boats coming in during the night would settle their bills from fifty to two hundred and fifty dollars, and sometimes several boats would be of necessity custodian of the funds till morning. There being no safe place to deposit the money it devolved upon us to carry to carry it about with us until the day force came on duty and I never knew of but one instance in the history of the coal yards where a night clerk was molested. Personally I felt the slightest anxiety. I had always treated the gang fairly and had been able to render some of them some little assistance at times and there was a strong sense of gratitude in them as a whole. I believe some of them would have fought for me if necessary and if I had been troubled by any tough who might have happened to turn up I should have had no hesitancy in calling on them for assistance.


Some of them told me their stories and while of course they might have been fairy tales, as I had no means of verifying them, yet a lot of them rang true and if they were true, they were more to be pitied than censured.


The fall of the year when the boats began to lay up was their holiday season.


Many of the boats paid off in the vicinity of LeClaire and the lower river men and deckhands would stock up on clothes, settle their small bills, buy a ticket for St. Louis and then go down to the levee to say farewell to the boys. When there was a fair sized roll as there was frequently the case, the fare well process sometimes consumed several days and nights as well after which Mr. Fireman could be seen picking his way carefully along the street where he had left his ticket for safe keeping, gather up his grip and blankets and strike out for the Sunny South probably pulling in the winter on a Louisiana sugar plantation repeating in the Spring at St. Louis the programme carried out at LeClaire the previous Fall and then going north for the heated term.


These men were without homes and were wanderers on the face of the earth but they were not like the genuine hobo in the fact that they would work and in fact were miserable when not working.


Some of this class were above the average mentally, honest and loyal to their friends and if they could have been anchored by regular employment would have been in time citizens of which any community might be proud but the vitiating surroundings, the aimless floating life finally sapped their vitality, their ambition gone they soon degenerated, disease ravaged their frames and the little flame of life was soon snuffed out.


The old time Harvester is now a thing of the past. The palatial packets no longer thread their sinuous way up and down the winding channel of the old river. The palmy days of the raft boats are now but memories of an heroic age which needed only the pen of an Scott or Cooper to embalm them in chronicles which will read like sagas of old to the generations yet unborn and which will tell of the building of a great empire in the middle west and which was so greatly indebted to the brawn and muscle of the mighty pioneers who hewed their way through the giant forests that flung their waving plumes defiantly in the heavens and rocked not winter’s storm nor summer heat till the woodman’s ruthless ax laid the once powerful monarchs of the forest prostrated in defeat and placed them under the control of the great army of raft-boatmen who guided their destinies down the Father of Waters until it was fulfilled in the building of the many homes that cover the middle west as the water covers the sea, and even the hobo is deserting the once great artery of commerce and is following the great transcontinental lines of railroads from coast to coast, but his glory has departed: dirty, ragged and greasy he is no more to be compared with the Mississippi River Harvester than the firefly that glows in the poisonous air of the swamp, is to compared with the brilliant comet with speeds its trackless way across the heavens.

Yours truly,


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Death of Dr. J. A. DeArmond, and Passing of LeClaire as a Busy Boating Center.

June 17, 1917


MARION JUNCTION, Alabama. June 30.—Editor Post: Having recently received word of the death of my old neighbor and chum, Dr. J. A. DeArmond, constrains me to send a few lines to the River Column detailing some of the circumstances that accompanied the decline and fall of the old town of LeClaire, just upstream from Davenport as a busy river town.


Dr. DeArmond gave special attention to his patients among the large permanent and floating steamboat population of LeClaire, and many of your readers will hear of his death with regret.


Coming to LeClaire as he did in 1876 and remaining there until 1889. Dr. DeArmond as one of the leading practitioners engaged to a great extent in river practice was probably as well acquainted with raft boats and river men as any of the medical fraternity of the large river towns outside of those directly engaged in marine hospitals.


I recall as though it were only yesterday the first appearance of the Dr. in the social life of our town. It was at the home of Capt. Reub. Owens, a pilot whom many will recall with pleasurable feelings. Capt. Owen had married, not long before this, Mary Rambo, the youngest daughter of Captain Rambo, one of our pioneer rapids pilots. She was also the sister of Capt. Wes Rambo the present dean of the rapids pilots and was a sister-in-law to Capt. Sam Hitchcock and J. M. Hawthorne (Tansy) and as you may readily imagine there was considerable of a Mississippi river atmosphere in that home.


I think Dr. DeArmond had just about hit our city that day as very few seemed to have met him and he was generally designated as New Dr. and when, during the evening, we were playing charades and the Dr. knocked on the door and walked in, we might have been guessing yet he there we would never have guessed him.


After thirteen years of practice the Dr. wishing a wider field moved to Davenport where he soon gained a good practice. He also forged rapidly to the front in politics and after serving for several terms as alderman he was elected state senator and was a candidate for congress but just at that time the democratic party met with a serious reversal and the Dr. gradually withdrew from politics to attend to his medical practice.


While not an active participant the Doctor was a great admirer of manly sports and we enjoyed several of the games together during the season of 1901 which I spent in Davenport. Our ways then drifted apart again and I only met him on one or two occasions after that.


Let us go back now to one cold blustery day during the winter of 1887. Seated around a table in Tom Hanley’s law office in LeClaire were T. B. Hanley our sole representative of the legal fraternity at that time, D. G. Carr our only barber, Dr. DeArmond and myself. The beginning of the end in the rafting industry was in sight and with no other business activities the outlook for future progress was rather gloomy. We had been playing a social game of hearts when Tom Hanley laid his hand on the table and remarked quite casually. “Business is rotten, I don’t see anything in the future and I have made up my mind to get out.” Dr. DeArmond said he agreed with him and that he had a notion of selling out and moving too. Dave shipped in and said he was like minded. I had no notion at the time of going anywhere and I didn’t think the others had considered the matter of moving seriously but I followed suit and said the fever was contagious and that I was going along. Tom says, “Well, be sure you buy a round trip ticket, for you’ll never stay away from LeClaire.” The subject was then dropped and we finished our game.


Along in June of 1888 Tom Handley sold out and moved to Des Moines. He was elected Grand Chancellor of the K. of P. in 1895 and organized the M. B. A. in 1897.


Dr. DeArmond moved to Davenport in 1889. I moved to Alabama in October 1889, and Dave Carr moved soon after to Davenport.


Whether Tom Hanley’s casual remark caused the exodus or whether it was just a coincidence we will never know but thus completely was broken up a social fellowship of many years standing which I at least have missed many times since.


Dr. DeArmond’s passing is the first break in that group. May we not hope to meet him again under happier conditions and in a sphere where partings are unknown?

Yours truly,


~~~ * * * ~~~


Death of Captain George Tromley.

April 19, 1919


MARION JUNCTION, Alabama, April 14.--Editor Post: I have just received a clipping containing a notice of the death of Captain Geo. Tromley at his residence in Davenport, Iowa, on Wednesday evening, April 3, 1919. Capt. Tromley had been a sufferer from stomach trouble for some time and had undergone a severe operation. He was one of my earliest boyhood friends, was about three years older than I (he was born Dec 7, 1856, at St. Louis), and he acted as peacemaker at our boyish sports when we became too rough. We went to school together and he looked after me later when we roistered on the Silver Wave and kept me out of difficulty on several occasions. I recall when he first received his pilot papers. We were running an excursion out of Rock Island, Geo. Came aboard and as he had just gotten back form Galena he was tired and fagged and I told him to turn in my bunk which he did just as we started up in the Rapids.


Everything went along smoothly until backing out of Albany landing the Silver Wave blew out the larboard cylinder head. I was sitting on the railing directly over my bunk when it let go. My bunk where George was sleeping was directly in line and not over twenty feet from the escaping steam. As soon as possible I made my way down and crawled along the guards until I located Geo. Only partially awake and caught about half way out of the daylight where he could neither get in or out without assistance. We soon got him out but he didn’t get much rest after that.


George was very nervous. The sudden ringing of the backing bell would automatically drop him out of his bunk onto the deck before he could awake.


Afterwards on the St. Croix he seemed able to go without sleep indefinitely. His appetite was also poor and I recall distinctly how assiduously his Aunt Sarah Rhodes who was cook at the time used to prepare him little delicacies such as he liked when a boy to tempt his appetite and how he tried to make her think he enjoyed them. He was always thoughtful of his actions. I do not recall a harsh word he ever used to me from boyhood up. I have run with some of the best of the pilots on the Mississippi (rafting pilots) but I always thought Geo. Tromley the peer of them all. He used to take lots of chances and by doing so he got in many tight places but he always got out right side up. For him to see his difficulty, to think of an outlet, and to act on the thought, was one simultaneous action. He was one of the quietest and clearest thinkers I ever knew.

I trust Capt. Sam Van Sant may see fit to give us a sketch of Capt Tromley’s activities, as he came in contact with him on the J. W. Van Sant and the Lydia Van Sant. I left the river before George went with the Van Sant boats but Capt. Sam could give us an interesting article if he would.


With the passing of the raft boat how rapidly are the old pilots and engineers dropping out of sight. It seems a pity, too, for they were giants in those days--self made men of strong personalities always ready for all emergencies. Some of them may have been unlettered but they had the native ability to do and dare things that many men of greater educational advantages would shirk from. Peace to their ashes.


~~~ * * * ~~~


Letter from Capt. A. D. Summers.

March 29, 1919


Laurel Park Stock Farm, Marion Junction, Alabama, March 26.—Editor Post: I am enclosing a clipping from the Davenport Democrat which I think will prove interesting to your readers during the interruption in the river history caused by Capt. Merrick’s illness. (The clipping will occupy the Merrick place of honor in our issue of the coming week. It is a review of early boating in the vicinity of Davenport.—Editor Post.)


I would like to suggest that you make some arrangement with Capt. Merrick’s physician to furnish you a weekly bulletin regarding the captain’s condition.


I wish to congratulate the editor and his friends and admirers as well on the better news that comes from his sick room. His return to active duties connected with The Post will be appreciated—although the office force has done wonderfully well when the absence of Captain Merrick and Editor Murphy is taken into consideration.

With kindest regards. I remain,

Yours Truly,


~~~ * * * ~~~


Some Reminiscences of Early LeClaire.

May 17, 1919


MARION JUNCTION, Alabama, May 14.—Editor Post: The last issue of the Post was very interesting number to me, although of course I missed Capt. Merrick. I am glad to note that you are fully recovering from your illness as is witnessed by the virility of the editorial columns.


The account of Walter Blair’s steamboat career carried me back a number of years. I started out on the river in 1877 one year ahead of Walter, was on the same boat with him at various times but I never got down to brass tacks like Walter did. He was always inclined to take life seriously while I was generally out for a good time.


Us LeClaire boys always held a little grudge against Walter as he came down from Princeton, carried off one of the handsomest and most popular girls of LeClaire and of course we couldn’t forgive that otherwise we were quite proud of him. I’ll tell you a little joke on Walter which occurred about a year after his marriage. You may not know it but Walter and Capt. Sam Van Sant and some others our wires (wives) used to hold debates to pass the long winter evenings and sometimes they diversified by making Blue Ribbon speeches. As of course you know Capt. Sam is a very interesting speaker on most any subject but he always seemed to be at his best on these occasions and he seemed to inspire Walter, and I recall one occasion when Walter’s first born was only a few weeks old we had a rousing meeting in the Baptist church. The building was crowded and Walter was indulging in a flight of oratory which held the house spellbound and then he struck a snag. To be sure after this lapse of years I cannot recall all but it went something like this: “Since we men began having babies”—and pausing to make the remark more effective or for timidity (yes, he used to be quite timid early in life) some snickered and then the laugh began to spread over the house and Walter was too overcome to finish as I recall it.


Capt. Sam could always be relied on the fill any hiatus either with talk or a song of which he knew two, “Hold The Fort” and “Old Hundred,” so that is probably what happened this time. With kindest regards and best wishes for the future success of the Post! I remain.



~~~ * * * ~~~


About A. D. Summers:

A. D. Summers was the son of Laurel Summers (1812 to 1890) and Mary Parkhurst Summers (1820 to 1921).

1870 Census, LeClaire City, Scott County, State of Iowa.



Given Name




Laurel 56 Brick Mason


Mary 48 Keeps House


Elsie 23 Teacher


Sarah J. 20 At Home


Augustus D. 10 n/a


1880 Census LeClaire City, Scott County, State of Iowa



Given Name








Brick Mason





Keeping house


Augustus D.






1885 Marriages


Rec # Groom  Bride Marriage Date by Whom Preformed
7005 Summers, A. D. Moore, Eveline 13 Oct 1885 B. Mills, Minister
    daughter of Benjamin and Catherine Moore



1910 Census Marion Junction Dallas County State of Alabama



Given Name





A. D.













Civil Engineer








Alabama Deaths


Name Death Date County Volume Certificate Roll
Augustus D. Summers 28 September 1943 Dallas 39 19083 4

Collected and Transcribed by

Sue Rekkas

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