Chapter One

The Short Family


Ira Short was born in the state of New York October 1, 1803.  Eliza A. Higgins was born in Trenton N. J. October 4, 1804.  Just when the couple became man and wife and where they lived during their early married life is not known but there were born to them, during their life in the east, Abigail, August 28, 1831, Adeline March 30, 1835, Jane, January 25, 1838.

During the year 1833 the family moved from New Jersey and settled in Carol county Illinois, near the present village of Thompson and lived in the regulation log house of the times.  Here were born; George Lyman, March 11, 1841, Ira H. January 2, 1844; Allen Marne, April 26, 1847 Marne, April 26, 1847: Jerome Elijah, March 4, 1849.  In 1850 the family moved to Albany Illinois and first lived in a house on Front Street not over 75 feet from the river.  A few years later the father built a house some two blocks from the river, which was home so long as any member of the family resided in Albany.  There were born in Albany Charles Martin, November 30, 1853: Anna A., December 9, 1856.

The father left home to seek his fortune in the gold fields around Pike’s Peak in 1863 and was never heard from.  The mother died at the home of her daughter Anna, in Davenport, in 1883.  There are living today, 1933 only Jerome and Anna, (Williams).

Albany was long known as the home of rivermen.  It will be remembered that the family of Alfred Slocomb of which Stephen B. Hanks was a member arrived there during the summer of 1836.  It is not of record that there were many river men there at that time but they increased rapidly and many of the crack pilots, especially in the rafting business, came from the busy and historic burg.  At the time of the arrival of the Short family it is perhaps fair to say that a majority of the male population of the village were employed in the river.  Into this environment came the four boys of this family and the fifth was born there soon after.  Is it any wonder they took to the water like young ducks.

George Lyman Short was familiarly known as “Lyme” during his long river career.  He took to the river early in life and before the Civil War was a raft pilot of the class later known as “floating pilots” to distinguish them from those engaged in running rafts with steamboats.  He was one of the first to offer his services in response to Abraham Lincoln’s first call for volunteers and served all through that momentous struggle and participated in some of the heaviest battles.  At the close of the war he was a member of C Company, 8th ---Calvary.  On its return to Albany he again entered rafting service, which had made great strides both in volume and in mode of operation.  He soon learned all the new kinks and for over 40 years continued the work interrupted by his enlistment.  During this period among the boats on which he was pilot or master were: Lumberman, Chancy Lamb, Artemus Lamb, Alfred Toll, J. G. Chapman.  He was rather peculiar in disposition and very independent.  Never sight a job and appeared not to care whether or not he pleased his employer.  He was rated a first class raft pilot and retired about 1906 and died at his home in La Crosse Wis., January 26, 1909. 

Ira H. Short was known through out his river life, and probably in early boyhood as “H”.  He was early attracted to the river in fact, that life offered great inducements to most red-blooded boys.  His first experience in the late 50’s, or early 60’s was as “shiner” on the old freight and passenger packet Audubon, then eking out a precarious existence in the trade between St. Louis and St. Paul.  It was his duty to see that knives, forks, spoons and other silverware had the regulation orthodox polish.  That position was a little better than that of the ordinary cabin boy and it had been in many cases the stepping stone to that of steward.  If the boy had such a hope he lost out for one day he fell out with his boss and threw black pepper in his eyes and jumped his job.  He continued service on the river, however, and on the first call for troops, enlisted with his brother, George, being then a little over 17 years of age.  Not long after his enlistment from some unknown cause he lost his speech and was discharged on account of disability.  He returned home and after a few months rest his voice returned and he reenlisted and served to the end of the war, coming out in the 8th Illinois Calvary.  He immediately went back to the river and became a successful pilot and master on various raft boats, among which were:  Arrow, Abner Gile, Blue Lodge, Clyde, Hartford, Dan Thayer, Le Claire Belle, Park Painter, Musser, Chancy Lamb and W. W. his last work being on that steamer in the excursion business.  He had a happy-go-lucky streak and was ready to divide his last dollar with his pal-which he frequently did.  In 1898 he went to the Yukon but returned to the Mississippi in 1900.  His most successful service perhaps was as master of the Le Claire Bell in 1881-2-3, of this service, Capt. Sam. Van Sant says:  “She was one of the first boats to have an electric light and as Captain Short was a first class pilot and did not want to be surpassed by any pilot on the river, he kept her going day and night.”  He died at St. Paul Park, Minn., October 4, 1907

Allen M. Short was known by all his friends as “Al” throughout a long career. Too young to get into the civil War in its early stages, he was obliged to wait until one of the last calls for volunteers, when he went into the 150th Illinois infantry and stayed until the finish, which meant that he was about 18 years of age when discharged.  The event most outstanding in his memory of the war was that he was a member of the bodyguard of General Sherman on that famous march from Atlanta to the sea.

Capt. Fred A Bill, St. Paul Minn.

Capt. Fred A Bill, St. Paul Minn.

The author of “The life Story of Captain Jerome Short” as he appeared on his eightieth birthday in 1930.  He is a veteran of the Mississippi himself and is widely known as the author of authentic and historical stories of the palmy days of that stream.


So far as we know, he had no river career previous to the war and first we know of him was when he was on the little side-wheeler Pearl, with Captain Frank Wild.  One account says that he had an interest in her, and he may have had for she disappeared from the Minnesota river trade, where she was being run by the Northwestern Packet company, about the close of the war and was reported on the Des Moines river soon after.  Later he acquired a pilot and master’s license and successfully operated a number of boats among which were Alfred Toll, Flying Eagle, G. H. Wilson and Lizzie Gardner, of which latter boat he was owner and master for about ten years.  A good deal of hi service was on boats owned by Captain Peyton S. Davidson of La Cross.  After his retirement, he went to California and died in the Soldiers home at San Bernandino February 21, 1921.

Charles M. Short. The baby boy of the family went on the river perhaps because it was in the blood.  His first experience was on the Chancy Lamb with his brother Jerome in 1874.  He early learned the river, secured pilot and master’s license and was on, among others, the Mollie Mohler, Chancy Lamb, Tiber and Lizzie Gardner.  While on the latter, under command of his brother Allen, they were landed for the night above Cassville in the season of 1900.  In the morning when the watchman went to call him, his berth was found empty, he having evidently gone ashore during the night.  Tracks were found in the damp sand up from the river and later it was known that he went home, packed his grip and left for parts unknown.  Some months later he was reported in Colorado but he never was never seen by any member of his family, a sad ending to what promised to be a brilliant career.

The above are only a few high spots in the careers of four members of this remarkable family.

Note: - In the month of August, 1930, we received a letter from A. T. Griffith, publisher of Boating, Peoria, Ill., who knew that the Pioneer Rivermen’s association desired to locate all the old time steamboatmen possible, advising that one Capt. Jerome E. Short was then living in Peoria and was a present old timer.  While not having a personal acquaintance with the captain we had known of him for many years and at once asked for his record on behalf of the association.  We had a prompt reply saying that he would be very glad to give us anything that was possible.  We took advantage of this offer by requesting the captain to give us a complete history of his river service and this he has done, very fully considering that he had only memory to guide him as to the happenings of the earlier years.  It is so full of interesting and historical incidents that we feel that it should have more prominence than the placing in the files of the association can give it and we thank the Clinton Herald for this prominence.

(In these articles we shall give the captain’s story, as he would tell it by the fireside-or rather we should say-by his radiator or electric heater!  When necessary or deemed advisable to tell the story in our own way or to make some addition to the story we shall use a “note” in such a manner as to preclude the possibility of a misunderstanding as to authorship.

(Necessarily this narrative will be largely personal but not one should consider that the big “I”, is intended to be prominent in the least as the contrary is true as all who know the men will vouch, Nor is any claim made as to literary merit as the education of both the captain and the writer was such as to preclude the possibility of getting away with such a claim.  However we hope the story will be introduced in such plain English as to be understandable. 

(Nor is it claimed that all dates are correct, as it is no small talks to gather out of an 83- year-old memory the amount of information that follows, and be absolutely correct in every detail.  The accuracy of the incidents, however, is vouched for F. A. B.)


Transcribed by Georgeann McClure