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

 

THRILLING EXPERIENCE IN LAKE PEPIN

 

Oct 8, 1921

 

  My wifeís father, Lyman Bennett, was one of the earliest settlers in Whiteside county, coming from Western new York to Rock River about 1835, although born and raised in New England.

  After our marriage we lived with my brother and spent a quiet winter; the most I did was to hunt a little.  One shot I remember yet.  One Sunday morning I saw a bunch of quail in a fence corner where the leaves made a snug shelter.  I did not make a practice of using a gun on the Sabbath day but the temptation was too strong so I fired into the nest with fine shot and got either sixteen or nineteen, am not sure which, and only one got away.

  Late in the winter my wife and I moved to the home of W. G. Newitt, our nearest neighbor a half or three quarters of a mile east of us, as my wifeís father had arranged to come over and work my brother Davidís place and wanted the room in Davidís house.  I might say here that they lived there until the moved into Albany about 1868

  After getting my wife settled for the summer I was called to Galena early in March to make arrangements for the season, going from Fulton to Dixon, thence Illinois Central.  On reaching scales Mound found they were just getting the deep cut cleared of snow which was between twenty and thirty feet deep.  It was before the day of snow plows and the snow had to be all moved by men with shovels, a long and tiresome work requiring the handling of the snow a number of times.

  I remained a week or so at Galena consulting with the officers as to the crews and planning the seasonís work.  As usual I was treated with great consideration by the men comprising the official board of the company and I never worked with or for a better set of men.  They gave me the first work in the spring and the last in the fall, and on my part they never had occasion to complain of failure of any trust they placed in me as their interests were always my own.

   Returning from Galena to my home I soon went to Le Claire to look after getting the three boats there put into the water which was soon accomplished and then I set out to take them to galena.  I had an engine crew, a mate and three or four men and towed two of the boats.  This was easily done by unshipping the buckets on each wheel that would be in the water. 

We were obliged to double trip thru the railroad bridge at Clinton which gave us some trouble, but nothing serious.  When about Savanna the wind came up and blew us ashore where we remained from the night until late the next day.  The boats being all perfectly light they would not handle well in a wind as the wheels did not get deep enough into the water to give us sufficient power.  We tied up for the night at Sand Prairie and here we had a furious snowstorm that lasted all night and in the morning we had six or eight inches of snow.  After the storm was over we went on reaching Fevre river that day and Galena- in all three days from Le Claire.

  The boats were all made ready for service as soon as possible and the Galena to which I was assigned left Galena on April 1, 1857, that being the date on which the boats commenced to carry the U. S. Mail.

  Our Captain this year was Wm. H. Laughton; my partner was Tom Drennen; the clerk was named Cockran and Jim Hunt the first engineer.

  On our first trip we went to Readís Landing where we found the ice still solid in Lake Pepin.  Returning to Galena we made a second trip to Readís and found the ice still unbroken.  Our order for this trip was to go to St. Paul so we tied up at Readís and temporarily made the boat a warehouse and a hotel as all the freight and passengers from the other boats of the line that arrived and returned were turned over to us to take to destination when we should be able to get through the lake.  Everyday we went up into the lake to see what he chances to get through were.  Toward the last of April the ice had melted from both shores so much that we felt warranted ink making the attempt to go through.  There was a wind off the Wisconsin shore so we started up that side, the ice being driven to the Minnesota shore.  When we got just above Bogus Bay the wind changed and began sending he ice towards us.  Well knowing what it would do if it caught us at the shore, we pointed the bow of the boat straight into the lake, breaking the ice until we were far enough out to insure our safety and the dropped the anchor and rested in safety until the next morning.  Meanwhile a number of other boats followed us, some of them being of our own line, and they were not all as fortunate as we.  The Areola was caught a little above Pepin and shoved ashore and crushed to pieces.  The Falls City was caught on the Minnesota shore and shoved out on the rocks much as had been the Senator some years before.  She was finally pulled into the water by another boat.  Another boat was caught out in the lake between two fields of ice and her hull sliced from under her, the people on board saving themselves by jumping on the ice.  In the morning we were able to continue our trip and got thru the lake without further trouble.  In the meantime the War Eagle, a faster boat than the Galena, had come up and gone by us, but she had one wheel somewhat damaged which slightly crippled her.

  With the ice out of the lake there was one grand rush by all the boats for St. Paul, each wanting the honor of being the first boat in.  This was not an empty honor for in those days each boat paid for the privilege of the use of the levee each trip in a charge known as wharfage.  This was a general charge by all cities and St. Paul gave free wharfage for the season to the first boat to arrive from below.  This was a stimulus to each boat to get through the lake, the river above the lake always being free from ice before the ice was gone in the lake, and into St. Paul first.

  As stated the War Eagle was ahead of us, but we were trailing close behind and behind us were a number of boats, all doing their best to catch up.  I was satisfied we could get past the War Eagle and laid plans accordingly.   Our Captain suggested we run her into the woods and crowd, but I refused as she belonged to our line and that was not a fair way to win a race.  Then it was proposed to get alongside and lash the two boats together, but this did not suit me and I told the Captain that I would get by in my own way in due time and asked him to prevent the boats being lashed together when we got alongside.

 
     

Collected and Transcribed by

Georgeann McClure

 

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