Chapter Twenty

When Rafters Rule


Only one really disagreeable incident occurred during the season. One trip Capt Andrew Larkins with one of the boats of Knapp Stout & Co. was badly stuck with his

Raft.  We put in some little time pulling him off and when through he wanted to know my charge.  Of course there was no charge and when he insisted he should pay something I said that I might be stuck sometime and he might be along in time to give me a pull.  On that same trip as we were going down we went aground at about the same place where Larkins stuck and soon after it happened that Larkins came along after delivering his raft.  I hailed him but no attention was paid to the hail and I hailed again but he kept right on up the river.  I was pretty much disgusted but then he might have thought that when he offered to pay us for what we did that the debt was cancelled.  However, as between man and man I thought it was a mean trick and one of the very few incidents of the kind I ever knew.

This was the year we had Henry Frazier for steward and we lived off the fat of the land.  He was a fine cook, always ready for fun and was a favorite with the men.  Toward the close of the season he made a cake for me-or rather for my wife.  The lowest terrace was about twenty inches in diameter, the next one a little less and the entire height about three feet.  It was decorated with all kinds of curlicues and covered with a thick rich frosting. I took it home and Mary Helen put it in the window where it remained for some time and many of our friends came in to see it.  She took the names of the callers and had all of them in. When she cut it and she had more than a house full.  It was a fruit and nut cake and when she cit it she thought she would need an axe to get through the thick frosting.  The ladies all declared it was the finest cake they ever tasted and Henry got an unanimous vote of thanks.

At the close of the season the Gile was laid up in Beaver slough that being an ideal place in which to winter a boat.

Early in 1885 I contracted with our Clinton boiler maker, Ed. Owens to put two new boilers on the Gile.  They were to be 22 feet long and 42 inches in diameter.  At first I thought it would be nice to be around and watch the work of making them but after a few days I had enough of the noise of a boiler shop and was content to drop in occasionally and see how the work was getting on.  We got the new boilers installed early in the year in good shape.  The only change we made in connecting them up was that we discarded the wheel throttle for a lever throttle and found that a very good change.

One day Major Moulton, proprietor of the Revere hotel in Clinton suggested that we go to Washington and witness the inauguration of Grover Cleveland.  I had not been out of the Mississippi valley much and the suggestion sounded good and after getting Mary Helen’s consent we made the trip.  Took in everything pertaining to the inauguration and then went to New York for a few days.  I enjoyed the trip very much and it did me a world of good.

The new boilers proved to be good ones and very easy to fire and our fuel bill very light for the work we did, and rarely ran over $70 for the round trip la cross to Hannibal.  One day I noticed the exhaust was not going out as strong as it should and I went down to see what was the matter and found old Charlie, the fireman sound asleep.  I woke him and said:  “Charlie, there is a bridge just below here and we will want some steam.”  He replied:  “Captain you’ll have to pay me off, I guess, for I cannot fire this boat and keep awake!  But in two minutes I’ll blow you out of the pilot house!”

This year I had Hiram Bresee for a second pilot, and agreed to pay him $1,600 for the season.  A part of our agreement was that he would arrange that we would get all the running for J. C. Daniels.  We got two strings of lumber one trip and when I asked Bresee about more he said I had no kick coming for I had all they were going to run!  Looks as though I was the goat!

Generally we had a good quiet crew and no trouble.  In fact I would not stand for any bickering among the men.  Once we had a man called Frenchy and another called Yorker.  They had an enmity with each other and were fussing a great deal.  As they were both good dependable workers I did not want to pay them off it would be hardly fair to pay of one only.  So one day I told the mate to take them ashore and let them knock the differences out of each other as I was tired of their fussing.  Ashore they went up the bank to a little level place up the bank and squared off.  Yorker landed his right on Frenchy’s nose and started the claret(?) freely.  Frenchy ran and jumped into the skiff.  One hit one run, no errors, they all came back to the boat and peace reigned for a long time.

One trip we were going through raft channel and Capt. Wm. Kratka with the Lizzie Gardner was just behind us with a lumber raft, gaining a little on us all the time.  When we were past the island in the lower stretch of the channel the Gardner was just into the left of the island when she run through herself.  He had t land right in the left hand bend opposite the island where no one could pas him.  When I heard the noise of the accident I stopped the Gile and sent the mate back to see if I could be of any help to him.  Told him I would come back and take his raft out of the way if he wished.  He sent word that he would be very glad to have my help.  So we landed at the foot of the channel and went back, hooked into his raft and took it about three miles below Genoa and landed it in a good safe place under the bar.  He then wanted to know what my charges were for all this work and accommodation and I told him that “good will” was all I wanted and he did not know what to say, but certainly was very pleased to be where he would not give others any trouble during the period of his repairs.

Soon after that my work was crowding and I was getting behind and did not know just what to do.  As we were going down the river we met the Gardner coming up and I hailed her.  When Kratka came aboard I told him my problem and asked him if he would like to work for me from La Cross to Catfish Island.  He said he would be glad to so and I gave him an order to ----------------------------------

I was well repaid for the favor I had done for him.

On one up trip we found the Charlotte Boeckeler had gone aground at the head of Niota Channel.  Captain Robert Dodds was in command she had a large raft of lumber  and got over a little too far into the draft  and sucked into the chute.  Dodds commenced to back up but the boat could not stop and into the chute she went.  The raft was free but it had dragged the boat into the sand until she was stuck fast and held the raft as helpless as an infant.  Dodds came out in a skiff and hailed us and asked if we would help him.  I asked him what the boat drew and how much water there was where she was stuck.  He said the boat drew three and one half feet and that there were two feet of water where she was.  I told him that we could not get the Gile to his boat but we would try to help him.  And that is the way we did it.  We got the Gile in the draft of water leading into the chute, put our anchor attached to our check line, down to near the Boeckeler and threw the anchor overboard on the larboard side of the Gile, she being headed up river.  Used the line and anchor of the Boeckeler  in the same way on the starboard side.  The Gile was then like a horse between shafts with the check lines as tugs.  Then the boat dropped down until she stopped, taking in the slack of the lines as we went down.  Then came ahead on the Gile the anchors keeping her from making any progress.  We were then about 500 feet from the Boeckeler.  We then worked the same scheme we had worked at Ringwood slough some ten years before and in due time were down alongside the Boeckeler and had the sand pretty well out from under one side of her.  About this time the Lizzie Gardner came along going up and to make sure of it I suggested to Capt. Dodds to hail her, have her round to send her check line to the Gile be ready to back when I should blow he whistle and this was done.  We then made the Gile fast to the Boeckeler cast off our tugs, blew the whistle came ahead on the Gile backed on the Gardner and Boeckeler and out of the trouble we all came without a flutter and Capt. Dodds was a happy man.  We had  put in about twelve hours on the job and late I received a check from the Boeckeler Lumber company for $120 and considered I was well paid.

Once Abner Gile sold a raft of logs to a Mr. Davis, at Lyons, and said to me to go down to McDonald Brothers and learn their price for running logs to Lyons.  Both Capt. Dan and Charlie were in the office and told me the price was 80c per thousand.  I thanked them reported to Mr. Gile and he told me to go ahead with the raft.  On arrival at Lyons, Mr. Davis looked the raft over and finding it in good shape asked me what the running was and I said 80c per thousand, he said he had a telegram from McDoanld Brothers saying they would run the logs for 70c per thousand.  I told him their price was fine.  He showed me the telegram and settlement was made on that basis.  It was worth 10c a thousand to me to find something out and later on they were not ahead any by such an underhanded trick.

Not long after this the Cruikshank people had a raft of lumber which in the natural course I would run.  Just how it happened I do not know, but McDonald Brothers got the promise of the running but just at the time they had no boat at hand.  On the up trip I did not stop at La Cross levee but ran up to the mouth of Black river early in the morning, found a Cruikshank raft all ready hooked in and went on down the river.  It seems that not long after Cruikshank wired McDonald to get the raft down, -but it was already under way, and that was all there was to it.  It was the first time I ever found a raft already to hitch to!

Made up my mind when I first started steamboating for myself that I would not land at any place on the up trip unless absolutely necessary.  Clinton was headquarters and there everything was put on board except meat and such perishable stuff as we could not stow away.  We could easily take on enough to run us to La Cross and back and on the down trip take enough for the balance of the trip. The clerk and linesmen could get such other stuff as was needed by going out with a skiff on the down trip to such places as what we needed could be had.  Also that I would not allow any booze on the boat nor any card playing and that was fully understood.  One trip coming down in close to the bank and knocked off a few logs.  Rang and knocked off a few logs.  Rang the bell for the men to get out but no one sowed up.  Rang it again, and still no one came.  Soon as we got where I could let the raft float a few minutes I went down stairs to see what was wrong.  No one in sight.  Walked back took a look at the bunks no one there; went on back through the engine room into the blacksmith shop and there they all were laying cards, the mate with them! When they saw me there was a commotion and an attempt to hide the cards, but it was no use.  The mate was a good one and I hated to lose him but I told him to go to the office and get his money and get ashore at Cassville and told the rest of them to get their money if they wanted it.  The linesmen took the mate ashore at Cassville but before he got in the skiff he said he would see me in Dubuque.  And he did.  Came on board with a smile, apologized and asked for his job back saying he knew ha had broken a rule but that it would not happen again.  I wanted him and took him back.  Probably this card playing in the blacksmith shop had been going on some time and would have continued if the men had got out on the raft in answer to the bell.  However, I think that ended it.

On one trip we left La Cross early in the morning hoping to get though crooked slough before dark.  We were passing Lansing just at supper time and it began to ran.  The water came down I big drops.  There was no wind and the surface of the river was like glass.  When the big drops would hit the water a bubble would form, but would not last half a second until more would come and the river was covered from shore to shore with these bubbles and it was a pretty sight with the raft plowing through them.  At each corner of the raft it looked like a lot of mice chasing each other. Hiram Bresee was my second when he came on watch I said to him I always like to run a raft in a rain.  After supper I did not go back to the pilot house but went to bed.  Meantime the rain continued, worse if possible, and when he got near the head of Crooked slough it was so dark he could not see the lights on the corners of the raft.  He stopped the boat and came to me and said that as I liked to run a raft in the rain now here was a good chance.  I was game and got out, but was sorry I had said anything.  Hustled out the mate and linesmen and put them in a skiff with as bright a light as we had and told them to go to the left a hand shore and drop down that shore as fast as we were going with the raft, but to keep a little ahead of it, and when they got to the point to stop and when I blew the whistle to rush  over to the right-hand bend and do the same thing and when I whistled again to try and find the head of the island at the foot of the slough and stay there until we got by and then come on board.  Well, it worked out all right and we got through in good shape but a drowned rat was dry compared to those boys when they came on board.  The skiff was full of water up to the seats.  The rain did not let up until after 10 o’clock.  Hiram came on watch at midnight and said: “Well, you made it all right!” “Made what?” I said.  “Why, through Crooked Slough!”  “Oh, that was as easy as running in a fog.”  I replied, but just the same I breathed easier when we were through.

We had very little trouble that season but for some reason expenses had been higher than usual.  I had my brother “H” for a time but he and Hiram did not agree and so he did not stay long.  Altogether it was not as good a season, financially, as the rest of them.

On one up trip we met my brother Al. with a raft and he hailed us in.  His wife, Nellie, had been taken seriously ill suddenly and he wanted to know if we would take her up to La Cross.  Of course we would and she was taken aboard the Gile as carefully as possible and we made her as comfortable on the trip as we could and delivered her to her family in La Cross.

On that down trip when we were taking coal at Dubuque, Capt. George W. Girdon, one of the local inspectors, called me ashore and said it had been reported to his office that I was carrying passengers, which was unlawful as we had no passenger license.  I asked for details of the report and he gave the incident of our taking my brother’s wife to La Crosse.  I told him at once that I was guilty and that under the same circumstances I would do it again and furthermore I would take any one who was sick at any time any where I could, license or no license and that my license as master and pilot was hanging in the cabin and that I would get it for him if he wanted it but that in any event I would back the Gile form the landing and go on down the river.  Captain Girdon was not a bit put out by my explosion but suggested that in case there, should be another occasion of the kind that I put the name of the person the “portage” book of the boat.

(Note:-In the early days of rafting by boat very few of the boats were licensed to carry passengers.  Additional equipment as to life preservers, life boats and life rafts were required that added to the expense, besides being in the way.  Later on it became customary to equip the larger and better class of boats so they could carry a few people.  This was done chiefly that the families of the owners might travel on them and not for the revenue the passengers might produce.  The officers of the boats were not very keen for the families to make trips with them and go out of it when they could.  Capt. Stephen B. Hanks, in her memoirs published a number of years ago tells of one time in his long service with the firm of C. Lamb & sons that he was given choice of the boats in their line and strongly urged to take the lady grace, the newest, largest and best boat in the fleet, that he chose the Artemus, a smaller and older boat and one of the reasons was. “I knew the lady Grace was the popular boat and would catch all the family excursions and picnics, and I did not like those occasions.”  Rafting was a serious business and generally the men did not want to be bothered with anything on the outside, “Portage” was the name of the book containing the names of the crew. F. A.B.)

One of the hardest rafts to handle I ever run was a twelve string, sixteen cribs long lumber from the Turnbull mill at Stillwater to Hannibal.  It was rafted twenty-six deep and had a heavy top load so that the actual depth in the water was not less than twenty-eight inches.  In a log raft the water can run all around a log-except on top-but a lumber raft is a solid block set down in the water, influenced by the action of the water on its side and the suction underneath.  Flanking-the sidewise movement in a raft is much easier checked *cause of the water movement between the logs.

This deep raft kept me guessing at every crossing and at every bend as it was necessary to anticipate the flanking movement long in advance of that of an ordinary raft.  In fact, there are many “kinks” in running a raft of lumber from that of logs.  We had no trouble with this raft but I never delivered a raft at destination with more pleasure.

The Cruikshank people, at Hannibal were fine to do business with.  It is quite probable that during the long time we ran their lumber that some of it may have been damaged, but I do not recall that at any time they presented us with a bill for damages.  Nothing technical about them content to let the general average govern.




Pictured are some of the more prominent steamboats that plied the Mississippi river during the days when river traffic was at its height.

1.           Josephine.  A boat well known to many old resident of Clinton.  She was built in 1878 by the Diamond Jo Line, named after the wife of L. D. Richardson of Chicago.  The boat was dismantled in 1896.

2.           Brilliant.  It was a beautiful side-wheeler of about 650 tons built in the early sixties.  The boat beat the famous Hawkeye State in a race to St. Paul in June, 1865.  She made only one trip after that race and was burned in mid-summer above Canton Mo.

3.           Lansing.  The boat was built in 1862 by “Diamond Jo” Reynolds near Prairie du Chien.  It was the first venture of that famous man in the upper river trade.  The picture shows her blown up at Hampton, Ill., when six lives were lost and six injured.  H. Curtis of Dubuque was among those killed.  She was rebuilt at Dubuque and used for a short time as a ferry there.

4.           Alex Mitchell.  The giant side wheeler was built at la Cross in 1870.  It was termed the “unluckiest boat on the river during that era.”  She was dismantled at La Cross in 1881.

5.           Itasca. The boat was considered a fast and lucky boat of the period of 1860 to 1869.  In 1869 it was dismantled in Cincinnati

6.           Phil Sheridan.  The “Racehorse” of the Upper Mississippi was one of the most picturesque boats that ever turned a wheel.  She was built at Cinncinati in 1866.  The boat established the speed record from St. Louis to Dubuque when she negotiated the distance in 40 hours and 55 minutes.  It left St. Louis at 4:58 p. m. on July 2, 1867, and arrived in Dubuque on the morning of the fifth at 9:53 o’clock.  The boat was dismantled at La Cross in 1881

7.           Hawkeye State.  It was a side wheel packet built at Pittsburg, Pa., in 1860.  The Hawkeye State was considered one of the fastest boats on the river in its time.  It was dismantled in 1869

8.           Canada.  It was sometimes called the “Pest Boat” of the upper Mississippi.  It was built at Brownsville, Pa., in 1857.  In August 1866, while making her way from St. Louis to St. Paul several cases of cholera broke out on board and it was reported that three bodies were thrown overboard and several people put ashore.  Physicians at La Cross made an examination and found it was a case of cholera morbus “brought on by eating apples and drinking whiskey and milk.”  She was dismantled at Madison, Ind., in 1870.

9.           Josie.  Captain Killeen of Dubuque was master and Fred A. Bill clerk the first year the Diamond Jo Line operated the boat in 1875.  She struck a snag on the lower river in 1901 and sank.

10.        Sucker State.  It was the sister-ship of the Hawkeye State.  This boat was also noted for her speed.  It was built in 1859-60 at Pittsburg, Pa.

11.        Favorite.  The Favorite was built at Cincinnati in 1850.  She was busy during 1861 and 1862 in transferring troops from Fort Snelling.

12.        Key City.  This famous boat was named after the city of Dubuque and was a sister-ship to the Itaska.  The Key City was one of the fastest boats that ever ran on the Upper Mississippi.  She was built at Cincinnati during 1856-57 for the Dubuque, Dunlieth and St. Paul Packet Co., of which J. P. Farley was president.  The Key City was 230 feet long, 35 feet beam, 5.6 hold had four boilers 42 inches in diameter and 16 feet long, with cylinders 20 inches by seven feet stroke.  Her best time from Dubuque to St. Paul was 24 hours and 29 minutes making 13 landings.


Transcribed by Georgeann McClure