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.
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
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
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,
~~~ * * * ~~~
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,
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.
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
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.
~~~ * * * ~~~
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
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
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
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
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.
~~~ * * * ~~~
Suggest Issuing a
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
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,
~~~ * * * ~~~
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
~~~ * * * ~~~
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
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
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
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
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
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.
~~~ * * * ~~~
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
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
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
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
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
~~~ * * * ~~~
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
~~~ * * * ~~~
Death of Dr. J. A. DeArmond, and Passing of LeClaire as a Busy
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?
~~~ * * * ~~~
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
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
With kindest regards. I remain,
~~~ * * * ~~~
Some Reminiscences of Early
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
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
~~~ * * * ~~~
About A. D. Summers:
A. D. Summers was the son of Laurel Summers (1812 to 1890) and Mary
Parkhurst Summers (1820 to 1921).
LeClaire City, Scott County, State of Iowa.
1880 Census LeClaire City, Scott County, State of Iowa
by Whom Preformed
||Summers, A. D.
||13 Oct 1885
||B. Mills, Minister
Benjamin and Catherine Moore
1910 Census Marion Junction Dallas County State of Alabama
|Augustus D. Summers
|28 September 1943