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 Oct 1, 1921

    It might not be amiss, and I trust it will not be considered egotistical, to say something of my habits while on the river.  During my rafting experience my companions were almost all addicted to drink and many generally had liquor with them most of the time.  Whenever opportunity was given they would make for the saloons and dives where drinking and card playing and worse were the chief amusements.  These things seemed t fill their minds and were largely the topics of their general conversation.  Now, I never touched liquor and cared nothing for card playing so I had very few social intimates during my rafting career as the character of most of those with whom I was throw was not such as invited many close friendships.  When I commenced steamboating I was brought in contact with many people with whom it was an advantage to be acquainted and tended to better impulses and the formation of a better character which I knew was to my advantage and reacted favorably on my mind and undoubtedly on my body as well.  As an evidence of this I will cite the fact that now I am in my eighty-sixth year and in such health as warrants the expectation that I may reach the good old age of ninety, while very few of the men with whom I was associated in those rafting days are alive today and many of them were much younger than myself.

  In the fall of this year, 1855, I was transferred from the Glena to the nominee and on our first up trip had orders to transfer to the Alhambra when we should meet, which happened a short distance below Dubuque.  The Alhambra was a light draft stern wheeler and in those days stern wheel boats were something of a rarity on the upper part of the river and many of our pilots were not accustomed to handling them.  I had learned steamboat piloting on stern wheel boats so was perfectly at home on either type of boat.  The Alhambra had been recently acquired and the pilots assigned o her could not handle her, hence the transfer of my partner, then George Nichols, and myself.  George was very much displeased at the transfer but shortly after was consoled b the fact that the Nominee sank and I said to him that had we remained on her we would be out of a job the rest of the season.  This was allright for an argument but there is a possibility that had we remained on her the sinking might not have occurred; not meaning to say that she would have been better handled or saved by superior skill, or foresight, but the circumstances would have been different in any one of many ways and a very little thing often causes or prevents casualty.  We closed the season on the Alhambra without any further incident of importance. 

  I began the season of 1858 on the Galena with about the same crew as the previous year.

  The flood tide of western immigration was on in earnest and the favorable season was made the most of by the settlers of previous years and the early arrivals of the current year in breaking, starting gardens and those who were far enough along were making their first crops, but not many had yet reached that point.  We had generally a good stage of water all season and there were few incidents out of the ordinary, one of which I recall.

  One Saturday morning we had on board Capt. Orren Smith, president of the company, and some friends who were very anxious to reach Prairie du Chien in time to catch a train for the east, which would be the last one until the following Monday.  We were late in leaving Lynxville and soon ran into a dense fog. Under all the rules of piloting we should have tied up at once but there was a good stage of water and I kept going as fast as I dared,  Running was almost by instinct but I made all the crossings fairly well and when close enough to the bank to distinguish it form the water would stop, straighten up and go ahead, repeating this at each crossing and frequently sounding our whistle as a warning to other boats, should there be any in the vicinity, as well as t let the railroad people know we were coming.  Below Yellow river the fog thinned a little and when within a couple of miles of our landing we could see quite clearly.  As soon as the people discovered the train waiting for us they gave me three rousing cheers as an appreciation of my efforts to avoid their remaining over Sunday in Prairie du Chien.

  Among the improvements at galena this year was the erection of the De Soto house, first class for the times.  It was necessary to get more room in the harbor in which to turn our larger boats which was done by cutting away the bank on one side so that one of the be run while she was being warped around.  At Dubuque William Ryan, who had been in business wit his brother James in Galena established a large packing plant.  A levee was established at the mouth of the slough, the lower part of which was dredged out and made a winter harbor for boats.  Our boat store was moved from Galena to Dubuque and enlarged to meet the requirements of the growing business.  New boats were contracted for and everything pointed to a continuance of our now very prosperous business.

  The previous season some parties at Dubuque had placed the Fannie Harris in the run between that city and St. Paul and this year they added some more boats under the name of the Dubuque & Minnesota Packet company running in all some five boats and our line had some nine boats in the service.

  Our last trip from St. Paul was commenced after ice began to form and we were loaded down with people.  Many of them were old settlers returning to their old homes.  These with the baggage and freight practically overwhelmed us.  One article of freight was cranberries, of the wild variety but large and fine and were gathered largely with rakes, as described in my logging days.

  At the close of the season I took the Galena to Le Claire and put her on the ways.  There were some other boats of the line there for repairs.  On my return to Albany I began preparations for my marriage to Miss Emily Bennett which had been arranged for some time previously.  The wedding took place at the home of her parents in Kingsbury where they lived on a farm on Dec. 16, 1856.  I had my wedding suit made in galena during the fall.

  I now made my home with my brother David where he lived on a farm some three miles south of Albany, where he had gone after his marriage.  It was expected that he would attend the wedding but he went to St. Louis with a raft late in the season and did not return in time, so I took his wife and babe and sister Sophia (afterward the wife of Dr. R. L.Hill of Dubuque) in a sleigh and we started for Kingsbury.  The snow was deep and there was not much road and at one place we stuck in a drift and broke the harness.  I remember that Sophia cried, but I don’t know what for, but the delay was not long as I soon had the harness toggled up and we finished our journey on time.

   Note:-anent the characteristics of the early day raftsman the following from an article on old river life which appeared in the Winona Republican-Herald of Feb. 6, 1909 may be of interest:-

  “They were great, big, broad chested, square shouldered, men; rugged and full of spirit.  They usually wore a big, white, broad brimmed felt hat, set well back; a cotton shirt, seldom, if ever, closed at the neck, cheap cotton trousers the legs of which were trust into the tops of high boots, which they were never seen without.

  “ As a rule these men were a happy go-lucky set; hard workers, but easily angered when under the influence of liquor and a temperate man was a scarcity in their ranks.  When aroused they would fight at the drop of a hankerchief, often committing crimes for which they were never apprehended.”

  “Still there were many good men engaged in this work who are still alive and look upon those days as the making of their lives.”

  The quotations above were mad by Capt. Robert N. Cassidy, of Winona and applied more particularly to the old “floating days” when the current of the river was the only power that took the rafts to market.  The captain was there at that time and is competent to speak. F. A. B.


Collected and Transcribed by

Georgeann McClure


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