IAGenWeb Project


 Iowa History

       An IAGenWeb Special Project


Join the IAGenWeb Team


On the River

 Old Times On the Mississippi

By J. D. Barnes

Port Byron Globe

March 21, 1935


Writer’s Experience as a Riverman



  On the following morning, which, was Sunday, Tromley, Walt Henderson, and the writer called at the hospital, to see how Bill Webb was, and also learn the extend of the wounds which he had received the night previous.  We found him getting along as well as could be expected under the circumstances.  The citizens informed us that one of the best surgeons in the state was attending him.  He was a graduate of McDowell’s college of St. Louis, and on one occasion had saved a man who had his throat cut, and so feeling satisfied he was in good hands we left him.  As it was nearly noon we concluded we would go to the hotel and get our dinner and now comes a case of man’s unkindness towards man.  We were all pretty hungry I will admit, but because Henderson remained at the table a little longer than the rest the landlord charged him 75c for the most, when the usual price was only 50c.  Henderson paid him, however but under protest and at the same time declaring he would get even with him before he left town and right well did he keep his word, tho’ his act was not strictly in accordance with the doctrine that teaches “if a man demand your coat give him your cloak also.”   The means, however, justified the end in this case and he did right in getting even.


  At three o’clock we all boarded the steamer Reserve worthy of note occurred until the boat reached Horse Island, which is situated a little below the city of Rock Island.  It was early in morning and the boat made a landing.  The passengers wondered what it meant.  Presently several deck hands walked the stage plank with shovels in their hands.  The truth was a man had died with cholera about an hour before and they were going to bury him.  He was an immigrant with his family bound for Minnesota.  The family were in the cabin while he was below looking after his horses and while doing so was taken ill in the night and died the following morning.  The occurrence caused quite a commotion on board and it was astonishing to see the men all flocking to the bar about that time and calling for something to warm them up.  I will state right here that the writer was among the number and he found the remedy all right.


  One of the first symptoms of cholera is a ‘squamish” feeling then your finger nails begin to have a bluish cast and without waiting for further developments powerful remedies should be resorted to at once, and there is nothing better than good brandy or whiskey.


  My stay in Le Claire was of short duration for I boarded the next boat due from the south, which was the old reliable Canada and she had a big trip.  Besides several raft crews Reynolds and Saupough, bridge builders from Rock Island with their whole outfit, were on board.  They were going to Minneapolis to build a bridge across the river at that point and they wanted a man to take charge of one of their teams so I decided to go with them as it would be a winter’s job.


  The trip up was a lively one and the clerk knew that he had not collected near all the fares, and the boys were shirking on him, so under pretense of cleaning and fumigating the boat as a preventative against cholera, we were all ordered ashore at Dubuque and after remaining a half hour were invited to return, and the gentlemanly clerk examined our tickets and by so doing collected something over $400.  At Winona we were transferred to the steamer Charles Cheaver, and finished the run to St. Paul and on the following day started overland for Minneapolis.  At that time the latter place and St. Anthony were two separate towns, but they are now consolidated and Minneapolis is a flourishing city.  I was very much taken with the place at first sight and I predicted a brilliant future for it.  The inhabitants even at that time seemed to realize that it was destined to become a great city, altho’ at that time there was but one street that amounted to anything which was Nicolet avenue.


  The people were principally from the New England states and Canada, and were full of energy and determination.  The town on the east side of the river was quite a different place.  It had but one street which ran along the river front for about a mile and boasted of 12 saloons.  Gambling was the chief occupation of the male portion of the town, besides the sporting fraternity of the neighboring towns would gather there to ply their vocation.  The work on the bridge began October 1st and continued without cessation until finished.  Tho’ the thermometer often indicated 35 degrees below zero.  The first train of cars passed over it on April 30th and we were discharged.  I decided that I would go over to Stillwater and board a raft from down the river, stop at Le Claire long enough to get my personal effects, then I would return to Minneapolis and grow up with the place, but the fates decreed otherwise and I never returned.  I will explain more fully in the next chapter.


Collected and Transcribed by

Georgeann McClure


back to History Index