Chapter Nine

Clinton Men and Mills


In the winter of 1872-3 the company built the Artemus Lamb and in the spring my brother Lyman was given charge of her and I was placed on the Chancy Lamb as master and pilot.  I had my crew engaged, supplies on board and was all ready to start when Mr. Chancy Lamb said to me:  “Loman, I think you better take Lyman with on your first trip!”  I said : “ No Mr. Lamb, if I am not capable of making this trip with my own crew as I have arranged to do, I better quit now before we start.”  To which he said that they were very anxious to get a raft from La Crosse in order to start the mill.  I replied:  “It’s up to you!”  He hesitated for about ten minutes and I thought surely I would be let out.  Then he said, “go ahead,” and my heart went up into my throat.

We left Clinton at 4 o’clock on Saturday morning, went to La Cross, got 15 strings of logs and the following Wednesday morning half of the raft was in the boom when the whistle blew to start the mill.  I got plenty of compliments for that trip and of course I felt proud.  It was not credit to myself I was thinking about so much as to get that raft to the mill and give work to the crew that had been idle all winter. 

Mr. Artemus Lamb told me later that the lumber from some of those logs had been cut, dried, shipped and put into a house in Kansas in 11 days.

(Note:_ As Clinton was the base of Captain’s Short’s operations for several years and reference will be frequently made to various localities, a sort of pen picture of the place is deemed advisable.

Lyons and Clinton-the business centers of which were some two miles apart at this time, although the city limits we believe always joined-are on the west bank of the Mississsippi river, which at these points flows almost directly south.  At the upper end of Lyons was the Gardner-Bachelder mill; then, just above the levee, the Stockwell mill.  About half a mile below the Lyons levee was the head of an island and the slough between it and the Iowa mainland was called Ringwood.  Near the head of the island, on the main land, on the main land, was the David Joyce mill.  A little below the foot of the island and just inside the city limits of Clinton was the Hosford mill.  The Chicago & North Western railway bridge is just below the bridge was a mill of W. J. Young & Co. two mills of C. Lamb & Sons, and below them the big mill of W. J. Young & Co, said to have been the largest mill in the United States when built.  Just below the big mill was the head of a slough that separated Beaver island from the main land.  This slough was known to the United States engineers as “Comanche slough” but later, locally at least, it became known as “Clinton slough.”  The water therein flows nearly west from where it leaves the river proper.  On this slough, between the foot of Second and Fourth streets, was the boat yard of C. Lamb & sons-in fact their main mills.  In all ten saw mills and two paper mills.

Without having any figures to back up the idea we have always considered that Clinton cut more lumber during the period of pine slaughter than any other place between Minneapolis and St. Louis, and it would be interesting to know the capacity of the various mills.

The only figures at hand show the totals cut during one season of about nine months , working ten hours per day, and are taken from a Clinton history for 1879:

Lumber-115, 700, 000 feet

Shingles-63, 200, 000

Laths-81, 680, 000

Claim is made in this same history that Clinton led the world in the industry.

Speaking of big mills we are told of one constructed at Virginia, Minn., during the latter days of the pine orgy that cut during a steady 24 hour run a little over 1,000,000 feet of lumber.  While we do not vouch for it the report comes so well verified that we believe it. F.A. B,) 

Mr. William J. Young was the head of W. J. Young & Co. and Mr. Chancy Lamb the head of the firm of C. Lamb & Sons.  There was much good natured rivalry between the two firms as to the cut of lumber, character of boats and a number of other things.  When Mr. Young built the W. J. Young, Jr. it was a nicer boat than any belonging to the Lambs and the immediately built the Lady Grace and both boats were among the best rafters ever built.

Mr. Young was a great stickler for loyalty and attention to duty.  He was always on the job himself and expected every man to do to the utmost that which he was paid for doing.  He was first at work in the morning and the last to leave the mill to see that the night watchman were wake and doing their duty.  One night he found an old and trusted employee asleep.  He did not disturb him but when he came for the box keys the following evening Mr. Young took him into what was known as the “sweat room” and said to him:

Flaherty, I found you asleep while on watch last night.  Do you think my property is safe with my most trusted watchman asleep while on duty?”  Mr. Flaherty said:  “Mr. Young, you are right.  I was asleep for a time.  I am an old man and I guess not to be trusted any more so must go, I am very sorry.”  “How long have you been working for me, Flaherty?”  “Thirty five years, sir!”  “Well in all that time I never had any fault to find with you and you always did your duty.  Now you go home and take it easy and every pay day come to the office and draw your $40.00 a month as long as you live, or I am in business. 

(Note:- We have heard of similar actions by Mr. Young and while not susceptible of proof we believe them to be true.  He was also a very shrewd man and a good judge of human nature.  One year during the 70’s mill strikes were in the air. There was trouble in many mills and especially in the Chippewa valley.  Mr. Young had an inkling of dissatisfaction among his men and so he asked all the heads of the different departments, especially those who were under suspicion, to meet him in one evening.  When the gathering was complete he asked one of the men:  Henry, what would you do if you had $50, 000?”  Well, Henry would buy a farm, move on to it and pass the rest of his life that way.  Another man was asked the same question and he would invest it and live off the income.  The same question was passed along to all those gathered and various answers given-but none of them would invest it in a way that would give employment.  After all had expressed themselves, Mr. Young thanked them and congratulated them on their good sense, saying he had that amount and instead of investing it as they would have done he had induces his friends to join him and they had built up the business that gave employment to hundreds of men, and of course made him a little more money but it was at the expense of a good deal of hard work and anxiety for him and at the same time there was a constant risk of fire and business changes and fluctuations and he believed he might have been better off if he had used that money in some of the ways mentioned by them and taken life easier.  He thanked the boys for coming for the little talk, wished them good night and the meeting closed.  There was no strike!  F.A.B.) 

Artemus and Lafayette Lamb were the sons in the firm of C. Lamb and Sons, both young, vigorous and capable.  Mr. Chancy Lamb was not what might be called a college man.  He had a fair education but penmanship was not one of his long suits.  In fact he wrote a miserable hand.  A story is told that he sent a telegram to one of the boats up river one day.  No one in the telegraph office could read it so it was sent back to the office to be translated.  Lafe Lamb took it from the messenger, looked it over a few minutes and handed it back to Lafe, saying, “Well, I cannot either.  You write one they can read.”  Telling him the substance of the message, which of course he could remember. 

On one trip to La Crosse, Mr. Chancy Lamb went with us and we were very glad to have him along and did all we could to make the trip pleasant for him.  On arrival Mr. Lamb went to see Mr. Abner Gile regarding some logs.  Soon they came to the boat and we went up into black river and landed on a half raft.  Mr. Lamb and Mr. Gile got off, walked over the logs and Mr. Lamb told me to line up the raft.  We then ran up to another piece which Mr. Lamb said to line up, after looking it over, we did so sufficiently to drop it down along side the other piece and then began to get both in shape for taking down river.  We then went down town and while coaling up Mr. Lamb and Mr. Gile went up town and had a glass of lemonade.  On his return we went back to the raft and got ready for an early start in the morning.

This was the finest raft, and composed of the largest logs I ever handled.  While only 12 strings it scaled over a million feet.  And it was the best rafted bunch of logs I ever saw.  Each log was talled into another of the same diameter the full length of the raft.  The small logs were on the outside of each string and the largest in diameter in the middle.  They averaged seven logs wide to a string and wee all strictly white pine.  The logs floated up so that more than half of the ends would be out of water and a view from either end of the raft was like looking at an ocean wave.  I have often wished we had a picture or painting of that raft.  The bark on most of the logs was three or four inches thick and just like cork, and fine for whittling and the crew, were like a lot of boys, carving all kinds of things out of the bark.  Generally they were boats, with a piece of cloth for a sail.  I shaped one like a bateau, about 18 inches long and dug out in the center.  It was rigged with a sail and a piece of a shingle for a rudder and it sailed always as though alive.

We left early the next morning to get through Coon slough before night in order to get the bad river below in the daytime and the good river for the night.  While getting ready to double trip through Coon slough Mr. Lamb wanted to know what I was doing and after I told him he said. “ You can put the whole raft through can’t you?”  I said we could and I was going to, but it would be in two pieces.  He said if he knew how to ring the bells he believed he could put the raft through in one piece!  I told him that would suit me and that I would ring the bells for him and guarantee that the boat would stop, go ahead, back or be niggered around in any way he pleased, he always had a little hand bag with him containing his cigars, handkerchiefs, etc., and he turned around and took something out of this bag, but did not carry the subject further.  I then said that if he did not want to try the entire raft that he might run the second piece through.  He could see how the first piece went through and perhaps could improve on it and I would be very glad to learn something from him.  That was the end of the conversation as his bluff had been called.

I made my mind to try a new stunt at the Dubuque bridge, so I moved the boat over to the right hand piece and when at the foot of Eagle Island split the raft and let the left hand piece go with one man on it.  This puzzled Mr. lamb and he wanted to know what I was going to do.  “Oh just going down through the Dubuque bridge.” 

“But what are you going to do with that other piece?”  “Oh that will come through all right.” I said.  There were no ore questions at that time.  I put the first piece through the wide span, cut loose and picked up the other piece, put it through the draw and caught the first piece, coupled up and went on down the river as though there had been no bridge in the way.

After we got righted up Mr. Lamb said he did not see any sense in taking chances like that! “Oh, Mr. Lamb,” I said, “If you had not been on the boat in all probability I would have doubled tripped through the bridge”.  “Suppose the boat broke down” he said, what would you have done in that case”  “Well, I never thought of that. Steamboats should be built so they do not break down”.  And that seemed to settle the matter to his entire satisfaction.  Anyway he had a new idea as to some of the things we had to go through to get logs to his mills.  We delivered the raft in the best of shape the next day with not even a plug pulled out and not a binder broken.  It was the finest raft I ever run.

Another trip was to Stillwater for a raft to be delivered at Louisiana Mo.  The Artemus had been laid up and my brother Lyman, was put on board the Chancy to help me out and I was very glad of it for I did not know the lower part of the river well enough to take chances on a raft at that time of the year, as this was to be our last trip.  At Burlington we got instructions to lay the raft up in Dallas bay, which we did, got a man to watch it and returned to Clinton.

It seemed good to be home and to give my good and faithful servant, Chancy Lamb, a rest with us during the winter.  I had placed great confidence in my old standby and she had helped me out of trouble many a time when help was sorely needed and not once had she gone back on me.  I was pleased at the interest the crew took in our work.  I liked to have the boat neat and clean and not one of them ever rebelled at a request to scrub paint or do any kind of work I desired.  We had a quiet sort of discipline that seemed no discipline at all but it answered the purpose and I was master of the Chancy Lamb so long as that was my title.  We kept her away from the bank all that was possible and our work was perfectly satisfactory, so far as we could learn.  Fact is at this time I was only a big boy myself and I had boys with me-all full of good spirits that had to be worked off.  Mr. Chancy Lamb called me down a number of times for what he considered “Boy play” on the boat.  There was lots of it but when work was to be done we all attended to business and no one was ever harmed by any of the pranks of the crew.  Mr. Lamb once said to me that there was no money in a steamboat lying at the bank nor turning a wheel backward.  Also that a dollar lost today never would be returned to the financial benefit of the loser, I kept those sayings in my “dome” and acted on them whenever possible.



Capt Stephen Hanks

Captain Stephan Hanks, of Albany, Ill. Now deceased, above is regarded as one of the greatest pilots who saw service on the upper Mississippi when “Rafters Ruled the River.”  His feats in handling boats and log rafters regarded as being among the most remarkable of that unusual period.  References to his activities and abilities are made in Captain Short’s story of his own career.


The company decided that winter sawing was not a success but did want more storage room for logs so the mills could get an earlier start. There was some storage at Hasford’s mill. Ring Wood Slough farther up was pretty shallow, but if dredged would make ideal storage room.  They asked me what I thought about dredging the place and without much thought I said if we had another boat to put with the Chancy that we could lash the two together, put them at the head of the slough, head up, anchor them in such a way that they could be worked full force that the wheels might dig a channel and in that way work sand out to the mouth of the slough. That was all I thought about it.

The Joyce Lumber Company had a mill on the upper end of the slough and was having trouble in getting logs to float on account of shoal water and I presume the matter was taken up with Mr. David Joyce by the Lamb people. Anyway I was very much surprised to have Artemus Lamb say to me one day that they had Capt Hollingshead and the Abner Gile to work with the Chancy in dredging the slough and for me to get busy at once!  Well, I was stunned.    I had no idea whether the scheme would work, or not but I was in for it and I saw myself taking a lot of joshing if it failed.

Capt. Hollingshead and I got the two boats in place at the upper end of the slough: put out an anchor on the outside of each boat, well aft, came ahead slowly until the slack was taken up and the anchors fast and then came ahead strong.  I could see by the amused expression of Hollingshead’s face that he thought he was about to have the best laugh of his life, and I did not feel that he was far wrong.  Five minutes after we began work ahead full speed we had a pile of mud and sand just behind the wheels at least three feet higher than the water.  I was then ready to commit suicide, but the water was too shallow so I said to Hollingshead that we would stop the boats, drop back against the mud piles and try again.  We dropped back, took in the slack of the lines on the capatans and went at it again.  In a few minutes the nearby mud pile was gone and another one was in sight a little further down.  We repeated the process and in about two hours we were down about four hundred feet and laid up for the night.  Next morning we took in our anchors ran long lines down to stumps and in that way we could nigger the boats down as we desired without stopping them.  When we got to the lower end of the slough we took a run up through it and found generally about four and a half feet of water, where in most places there had been about 20 inches, with a fair current that would insure a good channel for some time.  So the fool stunt was a pretty good success. One-half of each raft for several trips went into the slough in order to “hold our rights.”


Transcribed by Georgeann McClure