IAGenWeb, dedicated to providing free genealogy.

Iowa History

       An IAGenWeb Special Project


Join the IAGenWeb Team











  SIXTY YEARS AGO THURSDAY THE Mississippi river packet Robert E. Lee backed away from the canal street wharf at New Orleans and began an upstream race with the Natchez which had gone down in steamboating history as the greatest race ever run on any river in the world.


 When Rafters Ruled” 
Chapter Six
Fred A. Bill
Clinton Herald, 1933  

In the spring of 1867 my brother Lyman and myself took the big sidewheel steamer Hawkeye State from Albany for Stillwater .  As we were short of money we did what now would be called “hitch-hiking” and took deck passage hoping to get on the good side of the second clerk.  It was slow traveling in those days as the packet stopped at every landing where there was a warehouse to take on and out off freight and passengers.  We were in Dubuque for quite a while and passengers went ashore and some of them got left.  The Key City , another fine sidewheel packet, was at the landing when we left and soon after Lyman said he thought we were in for a race.  I asked why he thought so and he called my attention to the speed we were going, the racket the hog chains and guy rods were making and the smoke that was rolling out of the chimneys.  We looked behind but could only see another bunch of smoke, evidently from the Key City .  It was nearly dark when we backed out from the landing at McGregor to go around he island and up the west, or Prairie du Chien channel and the Key City was in sight about at Pictured Rocks.  She made the most beautiful sight I ever saw of a steamboat under headway.  It was a perfectly calm evening.  We could see the spray running up the stem and gently curling over the falling back into the water; the white top of the side swells looked as though they would make mammoth soap bubbles; the smoke from her stacks, black as tar, gently rolling out and behind her in a straight line for at least a quarter of a mile; the steam from her exhaust pipes forming two lines of pure white that declined to mix with the two lines of black above them; the green foliage from the waters edge to the peak of the bluff; all combined to make one of the most beautiful sights I ever looked upon and a picture worthy the brush of the most talented painter.

  Meantime the Hawkeye State kept on going, made the Prairie du Chien landing and as she was going out into the main river above the island, the Key City came up the North McGregor side and we thought then and there would be a race for blood!  Just then the Key City blew a hailing signal; the Hawkeye answered it’ the Key City landed along side of the Hawkeye and let off the passengers who had been left at Dubuque .  The boats separated, the Key City went down the east channel to Prairie du Chien and we continued up the river and the supposed race-which was only in our minds was off.  


April 12, 1964
Morning Democrat


And there they go…chugging, snorting, puffing, steaming.


This extremely old  photo shows yesteryear phase of racing., taken by H. M. Rehder, 429 20th St. , Bettendorf .  

  The Excursion steamers Majestic and J. S. race to Muscatine .  The picture was taken just below the Crescent Bridge , opposite the Servus Rubber Co. plant.

Sue Rekkas


“When Rafters ruled”

        Jerome E. Short

Chapter 23

  The Crescent and the Flying Eagle

  One little race in which perhaps I was not exactly square had a somewhat disastrous ending.

The stern wheel Flying Eagle was owned by Thomas Adams at Quincy and when not running excursions was engaged in any old job that came handy and just at that time was towing wood from Long Island slough.  It seems they had been wanting a race with us, so one day when we left Quincy on our regular time they pulled out right after us.  Soon after we went through the bridge I could see that she would soon pass us if we kept on the regular course, so I kept well over to the right hand side of the channel in the hope that the Eagle would drop in behind us before we got to hog island to the right of which she should go and we would go to the left.  In event she did not do so we would have a good chance to crowd her past the channel she should take.   But she kept on coming on the port side of us and pretty soon we were locked together and both boats doing their best to get up the river, the Crescent being just far enough ahead that the Eagle could not crowd us out of our course.  I called to the pilot of the Eagle that I would stop and let him go ahead but he made no reply.  He was “on” to my scheme to force him past the place he should turn to the right and was going to work a similar scheme on us as soon as we had to cross to the Missouri side to make our La Grange landing.  I was determined not to g out of our way nor to be beaten out of our course, so when nearing the place where we should cross the river told the engineer what I was going to do and asked him to make the shift as quickly as possible when we gave the signal to stop and back for I was fearful we might do some damage to the Eagle in breaking loose.  Soon as we stopped our engines, the Eagle shot ahead and in backing away we broke nearly every one of her stanchions from the front end of the boiler to the engines and barely missed taking a portion of the fan tail.  While the race might be said to have been a draw, I figured we were ahead as we had not lost any time nor gone out of our way, whereas the Eagle had to turn around and go back a mile or so to get into her proper channel.  I expected we would get a bill for damages on account of the wrecked stanchions but doubtless the Eagle people thought it a case of “pot and kettle” as no bill ever came.  It was a fool stunt for both of us and I never ‘locked horns” with another boat.


Collected and Transcribed by

Georgeann McClure


back to History Index