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On the River

Old Times On the Mississippi

By J. D. Barnes

Port Byron Globe

March 28, 1935


Writer’s Experience as a Riverman



    Before leaving this part of the country I will say something in regard to the Minneapolis of today.  Her population now numbers nearly 200 and she has a good steady growth.  Her manufacturers are vast in extent, but she prides herself mostly on her flouring industry.  She has in all over 25 magnificent granite mills and the chief of these is the great Washburn, a mill which is the largest in America and only equaled by one in the whole world, that being the celebrated Buda Pest toasted in Hungary.  It was her splendid water power at the Falls of St. Anthony that decided the question of operating factories and mills on an economical plan.


  In addition to her immense flouring industry she has a heavy lumber traffic, and is the center of great operations in fields of production.  On May 2, I took the overland stagecoach at St. Paul for Stillwater, 18 miles distant.  A regular Minnesota blizzard was on, the air was full of snow, and the roads were intolerably bad.  Among the passengers was Sam Atlee who was on his way to the pineries of the St. Croix.  The stagecoach was an old-timer, and it rocked and rolled like a vessel at sea, in consequence the writer became sea sick and was compelled to take a seat with the driver in the open air.


  In due time, after a stormy ride, we arrived in Stillwater all right, and I engaged board and lodging at the Union House.  Dutch Christ was the proprietor.  A somewhat strange coincidence occurred here which I will relate.  I had put up at this house on one occasion the year previous and on retiring at night, I put my pantaloons under my pillow, and in so doing my pen knife fell down behind the bed which stood against the wall.  I said to myself that I would get it in the morning, but I thought no more of it until I was on board a raft and far away down the river.  So, out of curiosity I thought I would make a search for the lost knife.  Accordingly I entered the room, and there stood the identical bed, in the same spot, and in looking underneath, to my surprise there lay the knife.  The bed had not been disturbed during my absence.  I kept the knife for a number of years as a souvenir, but finally lost it.


  One day while taking a stroll in the town I ran across Hiram Cobb.  He informed me that Mrs. Steve Rhodes was boarding at his house and he invited me to call which I did and had a very pleasant time enquiring about Le Claire, for I had not heard from home since I left, tho’ it was the fault of myself for I had not written, as I preferred to remain “non est.”  I had been in Stillwater a little over a week and time was becoming monotonous, so far a change I thought I would take a stroll down the lake, but I had not gone far before I sighted a boat coming up the lake, and it was not long before I recognized my old standby, the Canada, so I bent my steps back to the landing for I was almost certain there would be some Le Claire boys aboard of her.  Sure enough for when I arrived there I found George Tromley, J. R. R. Lindley (known as Kentuck), Sam Hitchcock and Jo Hawthorn, pilots and about forty men, all from Le Claire.  In answer to the question “Was there anybody left in the town?” The reply was “No, Le Claire took a vomit and there was nothing left of her.”  But laying all jokes aside, I was right down glad to see the boys.  It seemed like home, and as I had not heard any late reports from there I enjoyed the meeting very much.  It being a beautiful Sabbath day, and no work going on the boys scattered thru out the town in search of boarding places, and as some of the boys had no money after paying their fare up on the boat, consequently they took possession of an empty house in Schulenberg’s addition, and there they subsisted for about a week.  I have often thought of this occurrence, more especially when the tramps and bums as they are called, are driven out of our own town, for here was a dozen or perhaps more of our own Le Claire boys that were looked upon by the people of Stillwater as tramps and bums and they were actually afraid of them for when they saw them, yet when these same boys were at home they were respected and their parents before them.  They had brothers and sisters that were respected.  In fact, when at home they were all right.  That is just what I think about the majority of the men who collect around the green tree during the working season instead of being professional tramps or transient bums.  They are men out of employment who are looking for a job on the river and we often do them great injustice by driving them out of town for when at home, and it is the supposition that every person ahs some place on this great earth that they call home, and when at that place as a rule they are respected and have fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers just the same as our own Le Claire boys who took rooms in an empty house in Schulenberg’s addition while waiting for the tow to go out 28 years ago.


Collected and Transcribed by

Georgeann McClure


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