Capt. F. A. Whitney,
Centerville , Iowa  

From the Saturday Evening Post
Burlington , Iowa


Transcribed by Georgeann McClure


First Installment  

  During the Civil War in the sixties, there was a packet line of steamers running between St. Louis and Keokuk.  These were named the Hannibal City , Warsaw , Rob Roy, Lucy Bertram, Die Vernon, Hardy Johnson, and Andy Johnson.  These were all splendid side wheel steamers.  The crews were noted for their skill and popularity, their stewards and chefs were the best money could hire.  Many a passenger made the trip on one of these boats to enjoy the accommodation, music and meals, for traveling at that time was indeed a pleasure.  These boats being larger and drawing too much water could not go above the lower rapids at Keokuk, so there was another line of boats called the Northern Packet Company which ran its boats between St. Louis and St. Paul .  In this line was the Northerner, Grey Eagle, Wm. L. Ewing, Canada, Pembina, Hawkeye State , Sucker State , Minnesota , Red Wing, Muscatine , Dubuque , Burlington , Davenport , Rock Island and Lake Superior .  

  All fine side wheel boats.  Also the stern wheel boats Savannah , a packet, and the tow boats, G. H. Wilson and Dan Hine.  The packets were all patronized and a trip on one of these boats from St. Louis to St. Paul was a trip long to be remembered.  The beautiful scenery on the upper river, the moonlight, lights and shadows, the music and dancing, the splendid meals and the ever to be remembered ride in the pilot-house and enjoy the pilot’s stories.  During the seventies these boats would be crowded on the up-river trip with men going to the harvest fields of Minnesota and Dakota.  

  The Northern Line was succeeded by the Davidson or White Collar Line, all of their boats wearing a white band or collar near the top of each chimney.  The Milwaukee , Tom Jasper, Alex Mitchell, and Belle of La Crosse, all side wheelers.  The Annie, Charlie Chever and White Eagle being stern wheelers.  These were nice boats, but not as fine as the Old Northern Line.

  During the late seventies and early eighties, there were three fine and fast side wheel boats running between St. Louis and Keokuk.  These were the War Eagle, Golden Eagle, and Gem City .  These boats were very fine, and well patronized, many St. Louis people making the round trip.  About the time the White collar Line boats began to disappear another line called the Diamond Jo Line took its place with the steamers Mary Morton, Libby Conger and Diamond Jo, all fine, fast stern wheel boats.  The Diamond Jo Line of Steamers was the last line of boats to run between St. Louis and St. Paul .  

  As these boats carried colored deck hands, some of them were always ready to entertain the passengers when at leisure by dancing, singing, diving in a pan of water for nickels, etc., and when the boat left the wharf at St. Louis for its up river trip at 4 p. m. the deck hands would sing as they hauled in the head line “I roistered on the Rob Roy, I roistered on the Lee, I roistered on the Belle La Cross, she got away with me.  The Libby is a good boat, and so am the Lee, but the Old Diamond Jo, she’s too much for me.  Get on board, get on board, we’s goin’ up the river, get on board… making up the words to fit the song as they hauled in the lines.  Oh, those were the happy days.  


Second Installment  

  In my river article last week, I failed to mention among the White Collar Line boats, the Northwestern.  It was a fine and fast side wheel boat.  One accident happened to her, being sunk on the chain of rocks on the lower rapids, opposite Sandusky , but was raised and entered the trade again, good as new.  I was engineer on this boat for a while and when the water got too low for her to go above Keokuk, I was transferred to the stern wheel Charlie Chever, a light draft boat.  

  The lumber business on the Mississippi River was done first by small rafts using oars for steering and floating down the river with the current.  In calm weather this did very well, for the time, but when the winds started blowing hard the rafts were compelled to lay at the bank which was expensive and delaying.  When the rafts were delivered to their destination, the crews would return to the pineries on the packets.  This being not always satisfactory, the lumber companies began to have a small steamboat attached to the raft.  As soon as the raft was delivered, steam was raised on the boat, and lines, chains, and crew were on board and the little boat took them up the river for another trip.  This led some of the enterprising captains to conceive the idea of having the boat push the raft when going down river.  This was tried out and found they could make better time and also could run on windy days, which saved expenses.  

  The next step in the rafting business was to get larger boats with more power, and run longer and wider rafts.  This way of rafting was performed for a number of years, and was quite profitable.  As the years went by the number of bridges increased and the government had loaded a good many wing dams, which made it not practicable to tow side rafts so they were made longer, one half put ahead of the other, which we called double headers.  As each captain was trying to see who could handle the longest raft, they got them so long it required a small boat to lie across the bow of the raft to steer it around the crooked ends or through bridges and this was the way the lumber and logs were handled on the Mississippi during the last days of rafting.  Many readers of the Post might like to know how many boats were engaged in this business, and to show another great industry that has gone forever.  I will give you the names of the boats.  The first boats were all side wheels and small, of which were the Champion, Annie Girdon, L. A. Barden, Jessie, and Iowa City .

  As more powerful boats were in demand, the stern wheel was built and boat yards were established at Quincy , Rock Island , Clinton , Lyons , Dubuque , La Crosse and Wabasha, and some of them were built over on the Ohio River .  All these boats were built for the towing business and some of them were finished as fine as could be, being better than the old packet lines.  They paid the highest wages of those years, and consequently had the best officers and white crews, also had the finest cooks and best provisions money could buy.  Here is the list:  I. E. Staples, Bro. Johnathan, Clyde, Eclipse, Gassy Girdon, Lady Grace, W. J. Young, Lafayette Lamb, Chauncey Lamb, Rutledge, Denkman, Ben Hershey, Dexter, D.A. McDonald, Natrona, Inverness, Helen Mar, Mountain Belle, Moline, Mollie Mobler, Bart E. Linehan, Abner Gile, Keator, Golden Gate, Tiber, Blue Lodge, Pauline, Lilly Turner, Everett, Sam Atlee, J. C. Atlee, Lumberman, Kit Carson, Lumber Boy, Saturn, Satellite, Alvira, Jennie D., Jennie Gilchrist, Rambo, Pilot, A. J. Whitney, Le Claire, Penguin, Prescott, Park Bluff, Rescue, Remova, Robt. Dodds, Helen Schulenburg, Charlotte Buckler, J. G. Chapman, Last Chance, Wm. White, D. C. Fogel, Dan Thayer, Hiram Price, Lizzie Gardner, Silas Wright, North Star, C. W. Cowles, Menominee, Sam Van Sant.  

  All these boats have disappeared from the rivers.  Their whistles will never again be heard at the landings.  Some have been dismantled, others met with accidents, fire or sunk, and a number have been sold to parties on southern rivers.  

Third Installment  

  How many of the readers of the Saturday Evening Post remember the old Mississippi river before the bridges were built at so many of the river cities?  At Louisiana there was the ferry boat Parke; at Quincy the center wheel boat, Frank Sherman; at Canton the little stern wheel ferry Cantonia; at Keokuk during the sixties, was the Hamilton Belle, later the Gate City, both center wheel boats; at Montrose was the old side wheel ferry A. Barton, which has been replaced by a stern wheel ferry and is still making trips between Montrose and Nauvoo.  At Fort Madison was the center wheel ferry, Niota Belle.  The first ferry boat at Burlington was the Jo Gale, way back in 1856-7, and next came the side wheel ferry, President, owned by the C. B. & Q. R. R., and the last ferry was the John Taylor.  How many Burlington people have crossed the river on the old John Taylor?  Every boy in Burlington knew this old craft.  At Rock Island was the side wheel ferry, Rock Island , which crossed from Rock Island to Davenport .  Later, the fine large stern wheel ferry, Davenport , entered the trade.  At Le Claire for many years a flat boat operated by horse power, doing good work there.  Clinton had the Artemus Gates, owned by the Lamb Lumber Co.  At Dubuque was a twin screw ferry running between Dubuque and Dunlieth.  I have forgotten its name and will be pleased if Capt. Fred A. Bill will prompt me on it and also finish up the list of ferry boats from Dubuque to St. Paul .  The railroad bridges have taken the place of many of these good old ferry boats, on which so many of the early settlers of this good old state of Iowa crossed the great river when coming west.  

  In the previous issue telling the story of rafting on the Mississippi which grew to be such a big business during those years which was caused by the great demand for white pine lumber.  The large saw mills at Stillwater , Wabasha and Winona were not able to supply the demands.  There were large saw mills and lumber companies organized in other river cities, namely, Dubuque, Lyons, La Crosse, Clinton, Moline, Rock Island, Davenport, Muscatine, Burlington, Fort Madison, Montrose, Keokuk, Canton, Quincy, Hannibal, Louisiana and St. Louis. Each city had one to four saw mills which were well equipped and ran day and night.  At first the lumber was cut with large circular saws.  These were afterward replaced with gang saws which could cut a log up into inch boards at one operation.  It was an interesting sight in those days to see a log start up the log way into the mill.  There a machine would roll it into the carriage and it would pass through the gang where the edger and sorter would size the boards and from there pass out on rollers to the yard or into cars as desired.  These saw mills gave employment to thousands of men at good wages and was a big industry those days.  Since their decline some of the smaller towns have gone back in population, as there has been no industry to replace them.  At one time it was impossible to sell southern or hard pine.  Now it is almost impossible to get white pine.  A pattern maker who makes wood patterns for foundries can tell you about the scarcity of it.  Some of the saw mills were very large operating the machinery.  

The next article was in a later edition of the Saturday Evening Post and is a follow-up to the above series.


Steamboats of the Good Old Days on the Mississippi


By F. A. Whitney, of Centerville , Iowa 1923-4  


    In my notes of the ferry boats of the river, it has been called to my attention by Capt. E. E. Heerman of Devils Lake , N. Dak. that I had forgotten to mention the Flint Hills, the old center wheel ferry that was at Burlington, Iowa so many years.  Everyone knew Capt. French, its commander, and I guess all the other citizens of Burlington have crossed the river on it or made the trip to Shockoken.  The Flint Hills was the next ferry after the Jo Gates.  The President took the Flint Hills place, and the John Taylor followed the President.  This goes to show that Burlington had four large strong, up to date ferry boats from 1855 until the high bridge was completed a few years ago.

  In Capt. Fred A. Bill’s last installment on the ferry boats on the Upper Mississippi , he asks when will the ferries be obsolete on the upper river?  At the following cities on the river I believe it will not be long before ferry boats will be discontinued:  Louisiana , Missouri , had a small ferry operated with an oil engine, can carry six autos or wagons at a trip.  A railroad bridge is located at the south end of the city, but is used by trains only.  

  Canton Missouri , has a steam ferry there.  There is no bridge, nor any prospects for one.  There is no bridge at Warsaw , Illinois .  I understand that a small gasoline power boat is doing the ferry business there.  Montrose has no bridge but has a steam ferry.  A ferry makes daily trips between Montrose , Iowa , and Nauvoo , Ill. , as there is no railroad in Nauvoo.  The ferry does a fine business, and her captain and owner, John Rheimbold is very popular with the shippers and traveling public.  

  The next cities to still keep the ferry are Rock Island and Davenport .  Bridge or no bridge the large stern wheel steamer Davenport is constantly going from 6 a. m. until midnight with many passengers both ways.  It seems like the people of Davenport work in Rock Island , and the people living in Rock Island work in Davenport .  

 Capt. Henderson don’t care if they do, he gets their nickels going and coming.  

  Captain Monroe of Lyons , Iowa writes me that some of the raft boats got away from me in my list.  I appreciated his calling my attention to it as they were all good boats and shall live in the history of the great river.  Here they are:  

Henrietta, Artemus Lamb, Daisy, Iowa, Junietta, Louisville, Musser, Vivian, D. Boardman, Wanderer, Volunteer, Reindeer, C. J. Caffrey, Gardie Eastman, J. K. Graves, Tenbroeck, J. W. Mills, Nettie Durant, Jennie Hayes, Pearlie Davis, Nona, Will Davis, Luella, Vernie Mae, Bella Mae, and Thistle.  

  All this great fleet of boats were busily engaged towing logs or lumber, in the rafting of the eighties and nineties.  I am always pleased to hear from any of the steamboat men who remember those days and can refresh my memory of anything that happened.


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