Muscatine County, Iowa
Muscatine Journal & News-Tribune
Centennial Edition
31 May 1940

Section 4 - Page 8-10, Submitted by Shirley Plumb, March 29, 2012

History Centers Around Big Stream
Earliest Settlers Depended on River for Supplies, Mail

Muscatine has watched the whole pageantry of the river pass her doors and profited thereby. The Indians in their birch bark canoes and dugouts brought furs which were taken by the traders to St. Louis fur markets in bateaux and Mackinac boats.

The first settlers came by boat down the Ohio and up the Mississippi and others followed them by later boats. The mail and newspapers from the east and south, merchandise for the merchants and furniture for the pioneer homes came by packet. Hugh quantities of manufactured products, meats from the pork packing plants and grain from the farms found their way to market by the river.

The mills which helped build the town got their logs from the northern pineries by the rivers and the mussel shells for buttons came from the river and were towed by barges from northern and southern tributaries. The circus and showboats brought amusement to the citizens and sailboats, rowboats gave them sports. In the winter there was skating and in the summer swimming and later motorboats and excursions on boats provided diversion.

* * *

The keelboats and the broad horns which went down river seldom came back for they had no motive power except the strong arms and back of the crew. The few which came back were cordelled up the river. A line was run out to a tree on the shore and the boat pulled up to the tree and this process repeated until the destination was reached. This method was so tedious that most of the boats were sold for the lumber and the crew returned afoot overland.

The advent of steam-driven craft was in May, 1823 when the Virginia commanded by Captain Crawford, made the perilous journey up the river to Ft. Snelling. The engine and the passengers shared the cargo box, much to the discomfort of the latter. The pilot stood at the stern and manned the sweep unprotected from the weather and a handy target for the Indians along the shore who feared and resented the passage of the fire canoe up their river.

The later boats were a far cry from this glorified keelboat and were designed by Henry Shreve who departed from the keelboat idea and designed a slender, graceful hull, keeping the width of the decks by overhanging guards, placed the engine on top of the first deck and lengthened the chimneys to obtain greater draft for the fires. He did away with the dormitory sleeping arrangements in the cabin and made staterooms.

* * *

Later cabins were lavish in decoration making much use of scrollwork and heavy chandeliers of etched brass or adrip with myriads of glass prisms. The carpets were thick and imported and the doors hung with mirrors or paintings of scenes along the way. Drinking water was supplied through a water cooler as big as a small reservoir, ornate with cupids, wreathed with roses and hung around with silver cups.

Orchestras provided music for dancing in the cabin and presented concerts on the guards at landings when the duties of the members, who were also waiters and baggage men, permitted.

The steamer Excelsior, Capt. Ward, master, introduced the first “steam piano,” or calliope. Its tones were so seductive that at one landing the entire congregation of a church rose as one man and ran for the levee. The minister delayed only long enough to lock the church door. However the novelty soon wore off, and the passengers no longer found it charming, especially at three o’clock in the morning. Through it was abandoned on the packets, the showboats and excursion boats found it to be of invaluable use in drumming up a crowd.

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The chimneys of these early boats were decorated with feathers or cut to resemble a crown and were so tall that hey seemed to scrape the sky. The paddle boxes were painted with scenes suggested by their names. The Minnesota Belle had a pretty girl with a sheaf of wheat on one arm and a reaping hook held in the other hand, the Northern Belle had a pretty girl, and the General Brooke and the Phil Sheridan had portraits of the men for which they were named.

Immigrants to the west traveled as deck passengers amongst the freight and the livestock which they were taking west with them. It was uncomfortable, but cheap. Rafts men returning home always rode deck and kept things in a continual uproar with their fighting and drunken brawls. One time they carried their fight to the second deck and caused a riot on the steamer Dubuque, the third of the name, short way above Davenport. They took issue to the mate sending a Negro waiter to tell them that they were not to be allowed to ascend to the bar for their usual morning eye-opener after a night of drunken carousal. They killed the man and several others and took over command of the boat before being subdued by officers who boarded the boat the Clinton Bridge.

Another Dubuque figured in the history of Muscatine, then Bloomington, on Aug. 14, 1837. It was a blistering hot afternoon; the boat was a few miles below town, running under moderate pressure, bound from St. Louis to the lead mines, when one flue suddenly collapsed. Clouds of scalding steam and water poured out on the deck passengers. The pilot kept cool and ran his boat to the bank where the injured were removed. It was not until several hours later that aid came with the steamer Adventure and the dead and wounded were removed to Muscatine. Twenty-two lives were lost in this the first disaster on the upper river.

The packet trade flourished briskly during the 1850’s and 1860’s when the Civil war and the fast growing railroads helped to kill off the trade. Many boats were pressed into service for fighting in the war and for transporting troops to the south, were destroyed by the enemy and others were not built to replace them. By the end of the 1870’s there was a scant two dozen boats in the packet trade where originally there had been three and four hundred boats running. The last of the short line packets was sold in 1923. One last attempt was made when the Harry G. Drees was brought here, but she was a hard boat to manage and could not keep up with her schedules and soon gave up. In 1939 the last packet on the Mississippi, the Golden Eagle, made a trip to St. Paul from St. Louis, and has two trips scheduled for this year.

* * *

Packet lines serving the upper river were the Northern Packet Co., the Minnesota Packet Co., Keokuk Packet Co., St. Louis and St. Paul Packet Co., Dubuque and St. Paul Packet Co., Galena, Dubuque, Dunleith and St. Paul Packet Co., and others, besides independent packets. Most famous of them all was the Diamond Jo line. Strangely enough, Joseph Reynolds was not a steamboat man, ...

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Peak of Rafting Days Noted in 1880
Lock and Dam Played Part In Later Revival

... but a grain merchant. Beset by a scarcity of barges and boats to ship his grain in, he bought the Lansing in 1862 and from this small beginning branched out until he was dominant factor in steamboat circles. Boats owned by him during his lifetime and by the company formed after his death in 1891 were the Diamond Jo, John C. Gault, Ida Fulton, Imperial, Josie, Josephine, Libbie Conger, Mary Morton, named for his wife, Gem City, Sidney, Pittsburg, Quincy, and St. Paul. In 1911, following the death of Mrs. Reynolds the last four boats of the line, the Quincy, St. Paul, Sidney and Dubuque (Pittsburg) were sold to Capt. John Steckfus.

* * *

Capt. Steckfus had bought the Verne Swain in 1889, sold her in 1898 and bought the City of Winona which he renamed the W. W. In 1901 he built the J. S., a stern wheel excursion boat. She later burned in Bad Axe Bend. The four boats were eventually remodeled into excursion boats. When the ice crushed so many boats in St. Louis in 1918 and there was a demand for excursion boats the St. Paul was taken out of winter quarter in government harbor at Davenport and sent down the river with a crew of carpenters and painters transforming her into a pleasure boat on the way. The Dubuque became the Capitol, and the St. Paul retained her original name. The Sidney became the Washington and the Quincy, the second J. S. These two latter boats were junked in St. Louis just this past year.

The last short line packet company was the Carnival City Packet co., of Davenport formed in 1892 with Capt. Walter Blair, president and Capt. S. A. Van Sant, afterward governor of Minnesota, vice president. The first boat purchased was the rafter, Silver Crescent, afterwards the Blackhawk, which started to revive the trade between Davenport and Burlington on June 17, 1892. The rival company, the LaClede Packet co., of Burlington owned two boats, the Pauline and the Matt F. Allen. When three years later he sold the Pauline, the Davenport Company bought the Allen to kill competition.

In 1898 Frederich Daut, Muscatine merchant, was appointed vice president. That year the rafter volunteer was converted into a packet. She burned two years later and the steamer Unrania was bought on the Ohio River, and placed in service in July, 1900. On Sept. 5, 1900 she was discovered to be afire in the laundry chute while at the levee at Muscatine. The passengers and freight was quickly removed and the Muscatine fire department did its best to quench the flames, but a boat burns quickly and they could not reach the river side of the boat. The top two decks were destroyed. She was rebuilt and came out as the Helen Blair and remained in the trade until she was sold in 1919 and taken to Memphis, Tenn., where she burned a few months later, in 1920. The Columbia was purchased in 1905 and ran as combination packet and excursion boat until sold to Peoria, Ill., interests. She struck an obstruction in the Illinois River July 5, 1918 and sank with an appalling loss of life. The rafter Musser from Muscatine was acquired by the company and the name changed to Keokuk, and the Eloise became the Wenona. The W. J. Young, Jr., and the Morning Star were two of the most famous of the company’s boats. Their last remaining boat, The Keokuk was sold in 1923.

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Racing on the upper river did not gain as much romantic glamor that it did in the south where the broad river was more conducive to tests of speed. The upper river, with much shallower water, was crooked and narrow, with two bad stretches of rapids—the one near Keokuk which was remedied by the Keokuk dam, and the Sycamore, Duck creek and LeClaire rapids in Davenport which was overcome by the building of the now outmoded Moline locks and the LeClaire canal. The only race which was in anyway famous was purely accidental. The first telegraphic message across the Atlantic Ocean from Queen Victoria to President Buchanan came in 1855. There was no telegraph line into St. Paul, but there was a line at Dunleith. The Grey Eagle, Capt. D. Smith Harris was taking cargo when the message came through. The Itasca was at Prairie du Chien also taking cargo. The Grey Eagle had 61 miles farther to run than the Itasca, but her captain knew that she was racing and the other captain did not. He cut his running time by not stopping at towns along the way, but tossed the mail sacks ashore from the end of the stage plank. When the captain of the Itasca sighted the Grey Eagle coming along at breakneck speed he realized that Capt. Harris was trying to beat him into St. Paul with the historic message. Almost neck and neck they raced up the river, the Itasca losing by less than a length, a man tossing the message tied to a piece of coal from the end of the Eagle’s stage.

* * *

The pride and joy of the city was the steamer Muscatine which was brought out by the Northern Line in April, 1864. Large crowds gathered on the levee to greet her first arrival. A salute was sounded on a cannon. The merchants of Muscatine through their spokesman, Henry O’Connor, Esq., presented her with a set of flags consisting of an ensign, a banner with the name of the boat, two side wheel flags, a Union Jack and a streamer. They were made of the finest English bunting and cost $ 95. Capt. Rhodes responded and invited the company to partake of refreshments in the cabin. The boat was 201 feet long with a 34 feet beam. Her engines were 18 inches in diameter and 6 ˝ foot stroke. Her draught was 25 inches light. There is in existence a Muscatine at the present time. She belongs to the government and is one of the four famous Silo Sisters, called so because they have only one stack instead of the usual two. Her sisters are the Nauvoo, the Minneapolis and the LeClaire.

The ferry boat was an indispensable part of the early life of the town. The first was a flatboat called the Polly Keith, owned by Charles Warfield and built in 1839 by D. C. Cloud and George Leffingwell, Sr. The next one was a steamboat, the Iowa, in 1842 which ran for one season under the command of John Phillips. Another flatboat ferry followed and then a horse drive craft, run by Brooks and Reece, and later by Col. A. Ml Hare and others. The Apex was a horse-drive ferry and owned by Fimple and Pettibone from 1855 in the service of Fimple and Pettibone, and ran until 1868. The Northern Illinois ran from the spring of 1868 until May, 1874. The last ferry boat was the Ida May, Capt. Eaton, master, which commenced operation May, 1874 and ran until May 16, 1891 when she ceased operation on the opening of the ...

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History of River Is Colorful Saga Through Years

... high bridge when she was sold to the Muscatine Fence company and used as a floating saw mill.

Photo of Pioneer River Craft - Wharf boats, used in the forepart of the 19th century, were similar in design to one pictured above, built in 1842 by E.B. Kinson. It was next owned by William B. Fish and after 1843 by enry Funck. It was fastened by chains and spars at the foot of Chestnut street for a steamboat landing. Its measurements were 65 to 70 feet in length, and 16 feet in width. The upper 20 feet were used as a boat store and thelower 30 feet for storage and at one time for Conrad Stahl's meat shop. The craft was sold in 1848 and moved to Rock Island. The sketch of the boat was prepared by Adam Funck.

* * *

The first small beginning of a great industry, the rafting of logs and lumber, began in 1831 when a raft came down out of the Chippewa River; the first lumber came from the St. Croix in 1839. A Stillwater to St. Louis trip was made in 1843, piloted by that dean of raft-pilots, Capt. Stephen B. Hanks, cousin of Nancy Hanks Lincoln. The last raft came down the river to Ft. Madison in 1915, towed by the Ottumwa Belle, piloted by Capt. Walter L. Hunter, formerly with the Streckfus excursion boats and now pilot on the Federal Barge Line towboat Mark Twain.

During the period between 1831 and 1915 a grand total of 46,974,220,170 feet of lumber came down the river, representing a value of $ 704,613,300 computed at $ 15.00 per thousand feet.

* * *

The first rafts were floated downriver using the current of the river as motive power, supplemented by men working eight to twelve, twenty-foot long sweeps made from tamarack poles, with a pine blade fourteen inches wide attached to the end. The men were quartered in small tents made of rough boards, larger structures being ruled out because of the wind resistance.

Rafts of logs and lumber were made up in the same manner, consisting of long strings each 16 feet wide and about 400 feet long, held together with boom logs fastened with plugs driven through holes bored in the ends of the logs. Board sidewalks made from these booms were familiar sights in Muscatine for many years, the last one being replaced a few years ago on Orange street above the alley to Seventh street on the west side of the street. The usual size of the rafts on the tributaries was seven cribs long and four strings wide. A lumber raft was easier to tow than log rafts because of the irregularity of the size of the logs which would catch on bars in shoal water, breaking up the raft.

* * *

It took a pilot of cool judgment and skill to successfully tow these unwieldy rafts down the river and not break them up on bridge piers or sandbars. One of the most colorful of these was Capt. Cyprian Buisson, French-Indian pilot from Wabasha, Minn. With the nerveless courage of his Indian ancestors he was a “lightning” pilot taking rafts down through chutes, and shoal water where bars lay in wait for him without losing a log. For 20 years he was pilot on the steamer B. Hershey of the Hershey lumber company of Muscatine, the first boat on the upper river to have an electric searchlight.

Other famous raft boat pilots were Capts. Stephen B. Hanks, Joe Hawthorne, who was still piloting at the age of 88, Jerry Turner, George Trombley, Walter Blair, Walter Hunter, Joe and Henry Buisson, Capt. Cyprian’s brothers, Paul Kerz, E. J. Lancaster, and E. W. Durant.

* * *

The mills at Muscatine were an important point for the log rafts and the slough on the west side of Towhead Island where the channel now runs was always jammed with logs. Mills supplied by these rafts were the Muscatine Lumber company which burned in 1886, the Hershey Lumber Company established in 1852 by Benjamin Hershey, the Musser Lumber Company established in 1870 and the Burdich Mill which was sold in 1893 to John Kaiser and renamed the South Muscatine Lumber company.

In 1880 at the peak of the rafting days there were in service 90 rafters. In addition to the rafters, bow boats were used to help guide the tow, acting as an auxiliary rudder in turning the head of the raft. Forest fires and ruthless logging created a scarcity of logs and the beginning of the twentieth century saw a marked decline in mill operations. It was cheaper to move the mills to the pineries than it was to transport the logs long distances. And so it was that the rafting trade, like the packet trade came to an end.

Towing of shells for the button factories, which supplanted the mills as the chief means of livelihood for the citizens of Muscatine, was carried on to a large extent by Fred and Orville Kennedy, brothers from Muscatine. They owned the steamers Lotus, Monarch, Nola K., and City of Idaho. Fred’s daughter, Vera, became a licensed pilot on the White River, Arkansas, where many of the shells were obtained.

While Muscatine was not known as a steamboat town, as were LeClaire, Princeton, and Davenport, there were many of the local citizens who were employed on the river in several capacities and owners of boats. Among the pilots were Capts. Heisel, Barrass, Conrad Koehler, E. A. Batchelor, Phelps, Fred Phelps, Frank Walters, and LeGrand Morehouse. Engineers were Charles Chaplin, Robert Carter, John Baer; William Fisher, James Martin, and a Mr. Whisler.

* * *

The river, ignored and forgotten for a period of years is at last coming back into its own. The Federal Barge line started in 1929, fought a losing fight for almost ten years, but is at last in the “black” with freight tonnage increasing rapidly. The completion of the huge dam and lock system on the upper river will find a continual nine foot stage of water, insuring uninterrupted passage of boats during the season. Two more barge lines have been formed, the American and the Central, and oil corporations have built, their own boats to haul petroleum products. Steel, farm machinery, flour, package freight and grain shipments keep the barge line busy all season long.

With two elevators on her river front, Muscatine is shipping the largest amount of grain on the upper Mississippi River and receiving in return shipments of livestock feed from the south.

A little over one hundred years of river history has seen the rise and fall of the packet and rafting trade, and a revival of freight towing that will surpass the old packets. Passenger travel bids fair to return, not as a means of transportation from one part of the river to another, but purely as vacation travel. Streamlining, and Diesel engines have come to the river and the boat of the future will be a much different type than those of the past. With such healthy signs pointing to the future, the next hundred years of the river promise to be as important, profitable and fascinating as the last.

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Much Preparation Was Needed for Distance Travels

It took a lot of preparation for a Muscatine resident to travel a far distant as Oregon back in the year 1852.

With his sole objective a desire to give aid to those contemplating such a trip, one, William N. Byers, a former resident here, gave instruction as to route and preparation for the trip through the columns of the newspaper under date of Dec. 8, 1852.

Here’s his message:

    “ For each adult when leaving the Missouri river, flour 80 lbs., good crackers, (no hard bread), 40 lbs., corn meal 20 lbs., hams 30 lbs., bacon 15 lbs. dried beef 5 lbs., coffee 10 lbs., brown sugar 40 lbs., tea 2 lbs., beans 12 lbs., rice 6 lbs., cheese 12 lbs., dried fruit 15 lbs., salt 5 lbs., soap 3 lbs., cream of tartar 1 lb., soda 1-2 lb., total 296 1-2 lbs. Pickles 4 gallons, kegs with whiskey and water (1 gal.), 4th proof brandy, 1-2 gal., molasses 1 gal. Total 1 1-2 gal., Mustard, pepper, saleratus, matches, etc. Spade, 1: rope—100’, pack sacks, kegs, cheese in hoops. Do not loiter until you pass the South Pass. Use river water on Platte. Never use water from holes that have been dug. Beware. Nitric, tartaric or acetic acid will counteract the bad effects of alkali water. Prickly pear will clear Platte river water.”

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No Gold Rush Inspired This Historic Gain

From an actual count of 1,237 in 1838 to an estimated 14,000 in 1855. That’s the story of Muscatine County’s rapid expansion in a 17 year period contained in the first city directory on file in the P. M. Musser Public library. Records show a population total of 1,942 in 1840 and a total of 5,733 in the year 1850.

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The Flood - Muscatine Island, immedidately below this place, is almost one vast sheet of water and nearly all the crops on it are destroyed. June 7, 1951.

Six horses were buried beneath 30 tons of hay at Samuel Mather's farm near Springdale on April 14, 1883, when a tornado struck in Cedar county. Destruction of houses, sheds and other buildings was pretty general, but there was no loss of life.

"The C. R. I. & P. railroad has now about 30 hands east of Moscow building a new iron bridge across Sugar Creek" - a Journal news item of April 15, 1884 reported.

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Good At Guessing?

Mrs. Marton, Fanny Fern, brings along as her "dowry" two daughters and 25,000 words coined from her fertile brain. She is full forty-three, erect, robust, with a keen flashng eye; thin, grippy lip; pointed nose, and a form that an artist might, and that many have, admired. Rapid in movement, genteel in carriage, accomplished, gay, ammbitious, proud as lucifer, aristocratic, with a ring, selfish, cold, jealous, passionate - there she is, a marvel to others, and we doubt not to herself. Just emerged from the harness of a divorce, she signalizes her freedom by a new matrimonial servitude." - Journal, Feb. 12, 1856.

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