Chapter Twenty-One

When Rafters Ruled


One season I had for a partner and clerk, Capt J. B. Jenks.  I made a change in the steward and had Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, the latter being my niece.  They had charge of the cabin and cook house and it was the best arrangement I ever had.  She found out what the men liked and there was not a work of complaint as to grub.  The bills were much less than ever before, the cost of feeding per man being considerably reduced.  Unfortunately I only had them one season.

On one trip we had as guests, Mr. Brooks, president of the Canton sawmill company and a friend from out in Missouri named Gifford, a stockholder in the company.  They were both in the pilot house as we were coming over the upper rapids and when we were nearly over Gifford went down, as I supposed, to his room.  A little later I turned the wheel over to my partner, Brown Jenks, and when I got to the foot of the stairs the stopping bell rang and I went back up stairs to see what was the matter.  Jenks said there was a man overboard and I saw Brooks back by the wheel watching for the body to appear.  We landed at once and as there were a number of skiffs and men around I suggested to Mr. Brooks that we offer a reward of $300 for recovery of the body.  He said all right and the offer was made and in less than ten minutes the river was full of skiffs and men with grappling irons.  I was out with some members of our crew.

The accident happened abreast of the residence of Capt. J. W. Rambo and was witnessed by his wife.  She said the man walked along the guard and stopped at a room seemingly to open the door.  He stepped back to the outside railing and went over backwards, almost turning a somersault, and his head hit the lower guard and then he went into the river.

In less than an hour we had the body and Captain Rambo very kindly said to take it to his house. Brooks, Rambo and I held a consultation and it was decided that should go on up the river with the boat and that Mr. Brooks would arrange to get the body back to Canton.  A post mortem showed that his neck was broken. Before Mr. Brooks could settle with those when he thought had found the body there was an injunction served on him and I never did know how the reward was finally paid.

Gifford was a very nice man and in the short time he had been on the boat I had become quite attached to him and the catastrophe nearly “did me up” and when we got to Clinton I stopped at home and told Jenks to go on up the river and I would catch him as soon as I got my nerves settled.

One very foggy morning we were lying at the bank inside of jack Oak slough near the foot of the island.  It was just about daylight but the fog was too thick for safe running.  Pretty soon along came the Lafayette Lamb, Capt. Thomas Withrow, at pretty good speed apparently ignorant of the fact that she had a whistle and that U. S. regulations requited its use when navigating required its use when navigating in a fog.  She hit the Gile head-on a few feet forward of the starboard engine, crashing through the guard to the hull.  Withrow backed away and landed alongside to ascertain the amount of damage, which fortunately, was not great as the side and frame of the hull were uninjured, the damage being to the guard and outriggers.  Later we procured some material and made the repairs ourselves sending the bill, as per instructions, to the Lamb Company and it was promptly paid.  It was a very lucky ending of an unlucky strike.

Late in the season I shipped Charlie Barnes who seemed to be having a hard time in making a living.  Charlie was a boyhood playmate, although older, and I was very fond of him.  I told him to come on bard and do what he could and when the boat laid up I paid him deckhand’s wages.  Once I had him for a mate and he did very well but drink was hi main trouble.  Had another deck hand named William Ilif and after the boat laid up they got hold of a sort of house boat with the intention of going south.  When ready to leave they floated down alongside of the Gile and helped themselves to whatever outfit seemed necessary taking a skiff, oars, blankets, kitchen utensils and anything that struck their fancy.  We did not find it out until some time after, too late to do anything about it.

After they had been in the south awhile I got a letter from Charlie saying he was pretty hard up and asking if I could send him some reading matter and some money for tobacco and saying he expected to land a job very soon.  I forgot what he had done to us and sent him some magazines and a little money and that was the last I knew of him until he hunted me up in Quincy some years later-and that incident might as well be told now.

One day we went to the Quincy paper mill with a barge of straw with the Cantonia from Canton.  I was very much surprised to have a disreputable looking tramp accost me n a familiar manner and I did not know him.  It proved to be Charlie and he was certainly the prince of all the tramps and wrecks of humanity I ever saw.  He had made his way back from the south and had succeeded in getting into the soldier’s home at Quincy, but was drunk so much they could not stand for him and he had been turned out and was just “all in.”  He wanted me to go up to the home with him and see if the major in command would not give him another trial.  I knew this major only by reputation and as he was celebrated for his outbursts when the occasion required-or he thought it did-I told Charlie I would rather face a cannon than go at this time with him in his awful condition, but that he should get on the boat and go home with me and we would think it over and he could come back with us on the next trip.

He was alive with cooties so we stripped him in the woodshed, gave him a good scraping, put on some of my clothes, burned his old ones, took him into the house and told him to take a bath and see that it was a good one.  Well, when he came out he looked better and after a few days of rest, with good food and pleasant surroundings he was much like his old self.  After about a week we made another trip to Quincy and I agreed to go with him to see the major.  Had stored up quite a bit of courage but it ran out rapidly as we approached the majors office and when we got there I was the more nervous of the two.  However, after being introduced by Charlie and the major had kindly asked what he could do for me I made the best plea I could for Charlie and wound up by saying that we had been raised together in the same town and I knew his failings and that he had solemnly promised me he would never take another drink of intoxicating liquor.  In view of the fact that he held an honorable discharge from service in the Civil War that I hoped the major would give him one more chance.  Charlie admitted that he had abused his privileges in the home and added his promise to do what was right if given another trial.

Well, the major turned loose, and of all the roastings I ever heard Charlie got at that time.  But it was so nice and gentlemanly done that the hurt went deeper than any ordinary bombast of a scorching could be an wound up by taking him back but if he failed, never again.

A few months later having a little time in Quincy I went up to the home and was very pleased to see Charlie looking well and as cheerful as one need be.  He was going straight and said that the worst was over and he had no fear of the future.  Once more I went up to see him and found him looking than before and after giving me a hearty greeting he said:  “come over to my office.”  I wondered what in time kind of an office he could have but after we went in I learned that he had been given special charge of the whiskey prescriptions that were issued to the inmates on the house.  That stumped me to place a reformed drunkard in charge of the whiskey.  They had put him in charge of the whiskey in such a manner as to give him an opportunity of drinking-at least for a time-all he wanted was an action beyond me.

This was the last time I ever saw him and I knew nothing of him for a number of years. On one of our excursion trips out of Quincy, Capt Thomas Withrow, an inmate of the home, came with an invitation from the major for many Helen and myself to come out and have dinner with him-Capt. Tom.

We were very glad to accept and both considered it an honor to sit at a long table, loaded with good things to eat, with a line of fine old veterans on each side of it, everything going with clock-like precision and as orderly as a church meeting.  The boys were very friendly and we enjoyed meeting a number of them after the meal.  It was an occasion never forgotten by either of us.

After dinner Capt. Tom showed us around the place and I asked about Charlie Barnes.  Tom said that in some official changes Charlie lost his position and his dignity would not stand for it.  He seemed to think the job was his for life so when he was displaced he left the home and was then hanging around a saloon down town.  I asked if he was drinking again but Tom dodged the question and said he would go down with me where Charlie was and I could see him.  This I declined to do.  I imagined him again in the gutter and had no patience with him for leaving a good comfortable home and I never knew what became of him.  

(Note:-J. B. Bessling: adjutant at the home recently gave us the following:

“Thomas Withrow was first admitted to this home October 6, 1914 and died while on a furlough July 30, 1919.”

“Charles S. Barnes was first admitted to this home November 10, 1892, and died in the hospital of this institution October 11, 1924.  During this period he served as steward of the hospital for about 20 years.”

Thomas Withrow was a brother of Alfred and Stephen and an old time river pilot, but perhaps not as prominent as his brothers.

Whatever happened to Barnes prior to the last visit of Lome Short to the home, is not known, but evidently he was again admitted and it will be comforting to know that Charlie was cared for in his last days. F. A. B.)


Transcribed by Georgeann McClure