HISTORY OF THE PACKET LINES AND
STEAMBOATS OF THE GOOD OLD
DAYS OF STEAMBOATING ON THE
Capt. F. A.
From the Saturday
Civil War in the sixties, there was a packet line of steamers running between
and Keokuk. These were named the
, 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
. In this line was the Northerner,
Grey Eagle, Wm. L. Ewing, Canada, Pembina,
, Red Wing,
All fine side
wheel boats. Also the stern wheel
, 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
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
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.
, 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.
late seventies and early eighties, there were three fine and fast side wheel
boats running between
and Keokuk. These were the War
Eagle, Golden Eagle, and
. These boats were very fine, and
well patronized, many
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
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.
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
, 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.
business on the
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
powerful boats were in demand, the stern wheel was built and boat yards were
and Wabasha, and some of them were built over on the
. 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.
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.
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
was the center wheel ferry, Niota Belle. The
first ferry boat at
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
people have crossed the river on the old John Taylor?
Every boy in
knew this old craft. At
was the side wheel ferry,
, which crossed from
. Later, the fine large stern wheel
, entered the trade. At Le Claire
for many years a flat boat operated by horse power, doing good work there.
had the Artemus Gates, owned by the Lamb Lumber Co.
was a twin screw ferry running between
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
. 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
crossed the great river when coming west.
previous issue telling the story of rafting on the
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
, Wabasha and
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
By F. A. Whitney, of
my notes of the ferry boats of the river, it has been called to my attention by Capt.
E. E. Heerman of
, 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
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
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
, 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:
, 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.
, has a steam ferry there. There is
no bridge, nor any prospects for one. There
is no bridge at
. 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
, 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.
cities to still keep the ferry are
. Bridge or no bridge the large
stern wheel steamer
is constantly going from 6 a. m. until midnight with many passengers both ways.
It seems like the people of
, and the people living in
Henderson don’t care if they do, he gets their nickels going and coming.
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
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.
to Iowa History Project