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On the River

  Old Times On the Mississippi

By J. D. Barnes

Port Byron Globe

March 14, 1935


Writer’s Experience as a Riverman



  Soon as my arrival at Le Claire from St. Luis I ran across George Tromley, who was airing men for the purpose of taking a big a raft to St. Louis, but the cholera was raging in the latter place it was somewhat difficult to ship the required number.  I decided, however, to go with him.  The raft was one that had been brought as far as Le Claire by another pilot who had returned with his crew to Stillwater.  It had to be delivered to the firm of Overstalze & Riorden of St. Louis.  But we never reached our point of destination.  Salt river was far as we ever got and it was known ever afterwards as George Tromley’s Salt River trip.


  The crew made up from, Le Claire as near as I can remember were as follows: Pilot, George Tromley; clerk, Little Jim Davenport; cook, John Wesley, also known in Le Claire as Injun John, and he was one of the finest cooks that was ever on board a floating raft.  Tho’ to relish his cooking you did not want to see him, for his appearance was not at all inviting.  He will be remembered as having been murdered a few years later and his body thrown in the river by “Red handed Mike,” who was captain of a floating house, while lying at the island this side of Rapids City.  His remains were found and identified a little below Hampton.  The names of the remainder of the crew were Walt Henderson, Miles Swank, Hayden Franks, Bill Amonds, Tom Miller, Daniel Gallager, Ike Pinkerton, Bill Webb, who afterwards proved to be a notorious jailbird, and others that I cannot recall to mind.  When we arrived at Muscatine, Tromley was not feeling very well and he was certain he was going to have the cholera, so he employed a doctor and we remained there three days.  Tromley however, got better and we once more pulled out.


  Arriving just above the town of Hannibal about dust one evening we made a landing with the intention of getting some provisions, as we were about out.  Accordingly, Tromley with the clerk and several of the crew started for town on foot, but they had not proceeded far before they met an old farmer coming out of town.  The enquired if there was any cholera in Hannibal yet.  Three men died there today.  That settled it.  They all turned and stamped back to the raft and the result was we went without any breakfast the next morning.  The news from Hannibal in regard to the cholera the night before was anything but encouraging, so accordingly a vote was taken, whether to lay the raft up or proceed to St. Louis, so in order to settle the matter a vote of the crew was taken and it was decided to lay the raft up.  And now the question was who would return to Hannibal, the nearest station, and dispatch to St. Louis.  The clerk had refused to go so Tromley came back to the stern of the raft, where I was working and he said: “Jo, you “fraid dem cholera?” I said, “George, I ain’t afraid of nothing.”  He says: “Well, here is a dispatch and a twenty dollar bill to pay your expenses and we will see you ashore and you foot it back to Hannibal and send it Overstaize & Riorden, and wait for a reply.”  The dispatch was to the effect that the crew was in mutiny and refused to proceed further and asking what he should do with the raft.


  So they put me on the bank about eight miles below Hannibal, and I struck out.  But fortune favored me for I was soon taken in by an old farmer with a spring wagon and we had a very pleasant ride to town.  I made inquiries in regard to cholera, but there had been no case in Hannibal.  The proceedings of the night before was only a scare.  The people were eating watermelons and scattering the rinds over the streets.  I sent the dispatch and the reply soon came back to lay the raft up in Salt River.  I then boarded the steamer Andy Johnson and overhauled the raft at dark the same evening and made a report of what had transpired during my absence.


  Salt River is a little sluggish stream flowing into the Mississippi just this side of the town of Louisiana, Mo.  The place is noted for being home and birthplace of the original Jo Bowers “all the way from Pike.” In the evening Tromley and most of the crew concluded they would visit the town for the purpose of seeing the sights and get something to eat.  Among the rest was notorious Bill Webb, who on the down trip had boasted of serving in the rebel army.  Several of them, however, entered a billiard hall, when Webb supposing he had met some confederates he began boasting of his prowess in the rebel army, but he was mistaken in his men, for two of them whipped out their knives and made for him.  He ran out of the room and down the street in the direction of the river and they after him.  They soon caught him had began slashing him with knives.  He yelled “Murder!” and the officers came to his rescue.  He felt sure he was going to die, so he made a confession to the effect that he had been a very bad man in his day.  He was sent to the hospital and it was found that he had five knife wounds on his body.  However he survived and returned to Le Claire.


Collected and Transcribed by

Georgeann McClure


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