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On the River

Old Times On the Mississippi

By J. D. Barnes

Port Byron Globe

April 04, 1935


Writer’s Experience as a Riverman



   In the chapter preceding this one, referring to the le Claire boys, that the good people of Stillwater looked upon as tramps and bums in the spring of 1867.  I failed to mention that many of those same boys are today our most prominent river men and are numbered with the pilots and engineers.  The next boat from the south after the Canada brought another installment of Le Claire boys into Stillwater.  It appears that John Elliott, John Hanley, Fritz Peterson, Walt Henderson and Herb Rutledge, had been calking down at La Crosse, but business being rather dull they came up to Stillwater for the purpose of rafting, so the place was well represented.  You could have stood on a street corner and seen them all almost any time of the day.


  In about a week the first tow of the season was to go out, and Sam Hitchcock and Lo Hawthorn had a raft that was to be delivered at Alton, Ill., accordingly the Le Claire boys on being appraised of this flocked them and it was not long before they had a crew comprised of our own town boys exclusively.  As this proved to be my last trip on the river aboard a raft I shall go more in details.  As before stated the tow was the first of the season, and besides the raft which composed the tow was Bob Dodds, Bill Dorr, Hank Peavy, Ed Durant and others.


  The following names comprised the boys crew of our raft; John Hanley, John Elliott, Fred Peterson, Walt Henderson, Ed Cassilly, Lige Wakefield, Orrin Thompson, Christ Adolph, Dave Carr and Herb Rutledge.  On the stern of the raft were Tom Kelly, Bob McCall, Ike Pinkerton, Billie Dodd, Billie Moore, Dick and Rave Boerm, Jo River, Ike Bard, Ira Thompson and the writer.  The str. Minnesota towed us thru both the lakes all right.  The trip down the river was a very pleasant one until we reached that much dreaded “Chimney Rock Crossing.”  The river at that time being at a high stage we were in consequence drawn onto a tow head and broke our raft up somewhat.  Our pilot, who was one of the coolest men to be found in time like that, did not get excited in the least, but on the contrary he stood like a statue until the crisis had passed, then he gave orders to the men what they should do.  There never was a better man at fitting up a raft than Sam Hitchcock.  The remainder of the journey was not disturbed by any more breakups of any note.


  On our arrival at Clinton a telegram was in waiting announcing the death of John Elliots father, so he boarded the first train for home.  This left a vacancy on the bow of the raft, which I was ordered to fill, and I was very glad of the opportunity, for the boys said I was pulling the hardest oar that ever cam out of the St. Croix. To tell of the truth, however, there was but two oars on the stern of the raft that amounted to anything, which were Ira Thompson’s and the one in question.  The other eight was what they called bug skimmers on the river.  You would be compelled to run to keep pace with them.  At Princeton Jim Rambo was taken aboard to fill vacancy caused by John Elliott.  Accordingly he was directed to oar which I had recently vacated and on taking hold of it he enquired who had been working it before he came aboard.  Ira Thompson who was nearest him gave the required information and this was his response:  “Well, I always gave Barnes credit for having more sense than to work such an oared as that.”  The first move he made was to raise it six inches by blocking it up.


  On reaching Le Claire it was necessary to have a pilot take us over the rapids and try the bridge, for at that time the old river was standing and it was a terror to raftsmen, old Mr. Rambo who always did rapid work for Hitchcock and Hawthorne, was over the rapids and would not return until the following day.  His son Wesley, who was just beginning to run the rapids was on hand and piloted us all right over the rapids and thru the bridge without the loss of a log.  A little later on the same season, the following article which needs no explanation appeared in the Scott County Register, a weekly published in Le Claire at that time by Gilbert W. Hunt.  I believe I can quote it almost verbatim tho’ it is almost 28 years since I saw it in print.  “A raft came down last night about midnight, and failing to make a landing, had to go on over, when that plucky young pilot, west Rambo, was taken aboard and the raft was landed safely thru the bridge.


  After a run of about 30 days from Stillwater we arrived at Alton, delivered the raft to the owners and left the same evening for home, Hitchcock, Hawthorn and the writer came by rail while the remainder of the crew boarded a Northern Line packet.  As before stated I had decided to settle in Minneapolis but circumstances decreed otherwise.  There seems to be a great significance attached to that one word circumstance, our whole lives, in fact our very existence is but a combination of circumstances.  Had it not been for the war of the rebellion but little would have been known of either Grant, Sherman, or Sheridan.  It was the circumstances that made them great.  And reader. Do not think because your neighbor is more wealthy than yourself, or because he ahs attained a higher position than he is necessarily any smarter than yourself.  Rather think that circumstances was in his favor, that is all.


  With this week’s edition close the writer’s experience on the river and because of the busy season of advertising, the biographies will not appear until later on, when due notice will be given.


Collected and Transcribed by

Georgeann McClure


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