The Davenport Democrat and
Friday, April 6, 1906
Race on Upper River
When the Pittsburg of the
Northern Line Beat the War Eagle.
Steamers Speeded from St.
Louis to Davenport in Race for Supremacy
The rivermen in Davenport and up and down the river remember the War
Eagle, one of the greatest steamers that ever was on the
Mississippi. The great race between the War Eagle and the Pittsburg
is remembered by many and the following from a recent issue of the
Quincy Journal will be read with great interest:
“The story of the famous river race between the Pittsburg and the
War Eagle never grows old and was discussed at the river convention
held at Dubuque recently. Capt. John Killeen of that city was
captain of the Pittsburg, which won the race, and gave the Diamond
Joe line its reputation.
“The War Eagle was the flagship of the Northern line, and the other
competitor in the Northern river packet was the “Diamond Joe, the
Pittsburg being the pride of the latter company. The boats were
sternwheelers and both were acknowledged, to be the best and
swiftest in their respective fleets. The Northern line operated from
St. Louis to St. Paul. The Diamond Joe was in the days of the race a
maiden concern, and but a short time before ran its boats from
Burlington to St. Paul. The company decided to extend its territory
and make the boats attend to business from St. Louis to St. Paul.
This angered the Northern company, and on a pretty summer afternoon
in the early 8o’s the Pittsburg and the War Eagle cut loose from St.
Louis destined for the north.
“There had always been a dispute between the two companies as to
which had the faster boats. The fact that the War Eagle and the
Pittsburg were headed for the north was considered by the captains
on the two boats to offer a fine opportunity to settle this
contention. The two big floating palaces cleared the bridges at St.
Louis and then the race began. The Pittsburg steamed poorly. Capt.
Cook was on the War Eagle and on the hurricane deck of the Pittsburg
stood Capt. John Killeen. Both boats stopped at Alton. It was
understood that the regular stops would be made by both boats, but
that no freight would be taken. After Alton was passed the contest
between the two white vessels was on in earnest.
“After leaving Alton the Pittsburg steamed better and soon reached
her competitor. Both boats raced almost neck and neck until
Davenport was reached. The Pittsburg landed exactly 15 minutes ahead
of the War Eagle. The entire crew of the two boats did nothing but
fire up the boilers. Resin, grease, pine boards and kerosene were
heaped into the furnaces of both boats, and when they landed at Rock
Island the boilers looked as though they would explode. After the
landing the race was discontinued, as the boats were not collecting
passengers or freight, and both retuned to the routine of a packet.
Press dispatches were passed along the Mississippi and at points
where the boats stopped large crowds gathered at the landings and
cheered the respective boats.
“This is perhaps the longest and hardest steamboat race which ever
occurred on the upper Mississippi, and it is talked of as familiarly
as the great race between the Lee and the Natchez from New Orleans
to St. Louis."