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THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF
CAPT. STEPHEN B. HANKS,

 

ROUGH LIFE ON THE EARLY UPPER RIVER

Oct 29, 1921 

  After we were well settled in the seasonís run my wife came up from Albany to Galena and boarded at the De Soto House most of the summer, the latter part being with the wife of one of the clerks whose acquaintance we had made.

  Some time in the early part of the summer, Cochran, our clerk, was taken sick and left us for a time.  It developed that he had small pox but we did not know it until he returned to us with a very much pitted face.  None of the rest of us got the disease and he thought it came from handling infected money.

  We had a number of experiences this summer.  With the advent of the railroad and the interest number of boats from St. Louis a floating population was poured in on us much of which seemingly was of the lowest of humanity.  That of these most of our deckís crews were procured and many of them were Irish and seemed possessed of the spirit of battle which was ever ready to flame up at a momentís notice. One row early in the season was at Galena about breakfast time.  The trouble came from a disagreement between two Irish factions of Orangemen and Fardowns, what ever that may have meant. Part were on shore and part were on the boat and missiles were soon flying in abundance and the din from them was nerve racking but I do not recall there was any serious results and the affair was quelled by the police and others of the boat in a short time.

  Later at Readís landing our crew and a lot of raftsman had a row in which some of our officers took part.  Our Captain was struck by someone and I think knocked down.  As we backed out to go on up the river a man with a shot gun fired at us, the bulk of the shot lodging in one of the derricks but some of the shot broke some of the glass in the pilot house where I was, none hitting me however.  Our express messenger, who was sitting in the outside door of his room, then fired with his revolver at the man on shore hitting him about the stomach.  He immediately dropped his gun yelling that he was killed.  We learned later that the ball glanced around his body doing him no particular harm more than burning the skin.  Hearing that we were going to be treated roughly the next time we landed at Readís our crew got out a small cannon we had for firing salutes, loaded it and mounted it on the capstan.  Doubtless it looked wicked from the shore and any way we had no more trouble there.

  At Hastings one time a raid was made on the boat apparently on account of a woman who had come on board as a chambermaid.  Again rocks and missiles were thrown and one of our men who was on shore was badly beaten and thought to be dead as we backed out for self preservation.  On our return trip next day we stopped at a place a little above Hastings and found our man there.  He had crawled under a pile of lumber until after night and then made his way to the landing above as he knew we would stop there. He told us the gang intended to mob and burn the boat when we reached Hastings.  With this warning we again fixed up our cannon and it or something had the desired effect as we were not molested.

  We also had small rows at frequent intervals with the raft men, especially at the head of Lake Pepin and in the river above to Prescott by reason of the crowded condition of the river, the rafting industry having increased fully as rapidly as the packet business.  Many times there would be a great congestion of rafts in this section of the river and the logging interests were not at all particular to leave a right of way for the steamboats and this resulted in plenty of friction as we were often completely clocked which resulted in delay, lengthening our trips and interfering with making our time schedule.  This engendered bad blood-between the conflicting interests and as a result there were rows, sometimes ending in fights but more generally ominous threats.  There is no question but that we often shook up the rafts, sometimes breaking them and often breaking ourselves as well.  We were often in danger from loose logs and logs in those days were much more formidable than those of today.  This reminds me of one particular incident that summer.  A boom above St. Anthony Falls broke and all the logs came down the river and their number was immense.  We met them on the up trip one evening just above Hastings and soon found the river so full our progress was very slow and as the night came on we could only creep along thru the jam which at the heaviest was about fifteen miles long.  These logs bothered us more or less for a long time, as they would show up around Lake Pepin when least expected, before they were gathered up by their owners.

  Sometimes previous to the close of navigation the Galena, was laid up as the water was low. There was a large amount of freight for St. Louis and other places along the river and the Alhambra was brought out to clean it up. Abe Mitchell was her captain and I was put on as one of her pilots.  Mitchell was an Albany man and a neighbor for many years.  Owing to the low stage of water we had some peculiar experiences on the rapids, especially the lower rapids.  While we drew not over two feet of water there were places where there was not an inch to spare and occasionally there was even less water then our drafts, nor was it a soft bottom, like the river generally, nothing but rigid and sharp rock and the water dropping from one step to another like a stairway.

  Our freight was on barges, some half dozen is all which were went down along the shore.  To get the boat over it was necessary to lighten her to the fullest extent and sound and buoy a route.  I secured one of the best rapids pilots, Wagener by name I believe, and together we went in a yawl slowly down over the chains of rock feeling our way and setting buoys at frequent intervals.  The water was very clear in those days and we could see the rocks almost as well as if they were out of the water but could not determine the depth by sight alone.  This we got by sounding and it was an all day job of hard work and we did not get back to the boat at Nashville a little below the head of the rapids, where we had the boat tied up, until night.  The next day we set out to take the boat over and it consumed nearly the entire day as sometimes we would have to anchor and do some more sounding.  A good many times we scraped on the rocks but we made headway slowly and finally got over all obstructions, got our barges over readjusted our load and went on to our destination with no more trouble.

 
     

Collected and Transcribed by

Georgeann McClure

 

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