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On the River

 Old Times On the Mississippi


J. D. Barnes



By J. D. Barnes


Port Byron Globe

Feb. 7, 1935


Writer’s Experience as a Riverman



    After the Adventure of the little steamer Le Claire over on the east side of the lake she once more headed for Stillwater and at her arrival at that place about half the crew was ordered to report to Clerk Rogers and get their money and go ashore.  The writer was among the number where we will leave him for a short time.  I will now give a sketch of the brief but brilliant career of the steamer, Le Claire as a rafter.


   At birth man is the most helpless and knows the least of all creatures, in fact, he has to learn everything he acquires and at the period of which we write he knew enough to which his boat on the end of the raft that was up stream and that was about all.  My readers can draw their own conclusions how the primitive little steamboat Le Claire looked behind the logo behind the logs with an old-time crab or windless attached to the raft which was used for a nigger and bent down on the bow of the raft where men were working at the oars, and besides it required two or three men to work the crab.  Such was the appearance of the Le Claire and her raft as she pulled out of Stillwater on her trial trip in ’66.


  The trip throughout was a very unsatisfactory one, for they were not making any better time than the floaters.  The boat was an encumbrance on the raft and consequently, detrimental to its progress.  It was laughable to see Tromley down on the raft, giving orders now at the men working the crab, and then at the rouster who were working the oars, and then he would address Tom Doughty, the head engineer who had the misfortune to be bald headed, something after this fashion.  “I say hello, you feller wid de tin plate on your head, give that engine of yours a lick back or a lick ahead.” as the case might be, and so on until finally after a laborious trip they delivered their raft and returned to Stillwater for another.


  The second trip knocked them completely out and the result was Tromley jumped the boat in disgust and returned to the old floating way.  When questioned as to why he quit the boat business his laconic reply was “I was not quite ready for the poor house yet.”  The boat soon after came down the river and was engaged in rapids work and various other business until finally she was sold out to the government and what became of her after that is unknown to the writer.  So endeth the career of the pioneer rafter Le Claire.


  We will next return to Stillwater where the writer with several other Le Claire boys had been set ashore and we realized the fact that we were adrift in a strange town that was fast beginning populated with all classes of men.  The arrival of every boat from the south brought a fresh supply of river men while they were coming in daily from the nine forests of the north and the results was the little town presented a lively appearance as most of this new population were of sporting character.  Accordingly for mutual protection, Ira Thompson and the writer agreed to stand by each other, that is, in case one got into trouble the other was to use all available means for his rescue.  So off we started up town but had not proceeded far when we ran across Ike Wasson who was acting in the capacity of linesman for Sam Register, an old floater who resides in Stillwater and he was also shipping up a crew.  After some parley we hired him at $1 a day, down time, and get back the best way you can.  On arriving at the raft we were greeted by quite a number of Le Claire boys, among the number were Lige Wakefield.  Lefe and Dick Boem, Bob McCall, Chris Adolph, Orrin Thompson, Jake Schuck.  Billy Moore.  The tow was not going to start out until the following evening so the time was spent in rigging up our oars, as it was the custom for each individual to attend to that matter himself, but he had to be very careful not to raise his car too high.


  For the benefit of those of my readers who may not understand in regards to the tow going out I will explain.  A tow consisted of several rafts all lashed together and were towed thru the lakes by a boat.  At the period I write of the steamer Minnesota under Capt. Ames, did the towing.  They would always leave Stillwater in the evening making the run to Prescott, 30 miles distant by daylight, then the rafts would be cut loose and each one would strike out on its own hook for the head of Lake Pepin where they would remain until all had arrived then they would again be lashed together and towed by the same boat thru the latter lake, making it in the night arriving at Reeds Landing in the morning when they would again be cut loose and each be floated down the river to its destination.  I suppose the reason for running the lakes at night was on account of the wind which was much more prevalent thru the day than night.


  Among the old floaters that comprised this now I can recall John Leach, Dave Hanks, Charley Rhodes, Bill Dorr, Ed Du Prant, Ed Dunham, known as Crazy Ed, Geo BrasserSam Register.  These men were pilots had to stand his watch but they did not seem to have but very little control over the men at the oars.  On one occasion when George Brasser was on watch, he called to the men to pull a certain way but the men did not understand so Orrin Thompson hollered back, “Which way.” He replied. “Oh, any way, so you pull.”


Collected and Transcribed by

Georgeann McClure


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