LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF
CAPT. STEPHEN B. HANKS,
EXCURSION VOYAGES UP MINNESOTA RIVER
Our next move was a trip up what was
then known as the St. Peter’s river now the Minnesota. On the
up trip we landed at a large Indian village. The guard of the
boat was even with the bank making it very easy to get on and
off the boat and soon the entire party and crew, except the
engineer and myself, were up in the village. The Indians were
as curious about the boat as our people were about the Indians
and large numbers of them-Indians- were on the bank and a few
adventurous ones had come on board. The engineer suggested we
have a little fun of our own as there were no duties to keep
us busy. The whistle, which was something of a rarity in
those days, was right on top of the boiler and as the engineer
gave a blast from it the Indians, probably a hundred or more,
made a break for the grass, which was some four or five feet
high, like a flock of quail shedding their blankets as they
ran. Many of them were children of all ages and the blanket
was the only garment. It was a surprise to them and about the
funniest thing I ever saw.
We went to what was known as the lower
rapids, a few miles above the present village of Carver and
returned. We might have gone farther but as the water was
falling we deemed it prudent to return.
We then went to Stillwater where we
entertained visitors and friends as at St. Anthony Falls.
Dancing was the main amusement and the fine string band with
the party was busy most of the time.
It was not all fun however as the
mosquitoes were terrific that summer due to the high water,
which was now going down leaving the overflow grounds to breed
them in clouds. The continued high water had prevented saw
mill operations at Stillwater and other places and many were
feeling the lack of business activity; in fact there were many
failures in the lumber and logging business. To show how high
the water then was at Stillwater will say that we walked off
the stage of our boat on to the steps of the Minnesota house,
the leading hotel at that time.
After leaving Stillwater we proceeded
leisurely to St. Louis, stopping at various places of
interest. I was very sorry to leave the party as I had been
royally treated and had reason to think that the regret was
In the winter of 1850-51 I went into
the pinery and worked by the day for Greeley and Blake.
During the summer of 1851 beside running the McKusick rafts
and remaining in St. Louis while they were hauled out, as was
the usual custom, I ran two log rafts to St. Louis for
Folsom. Remained in St. Louis so long during the hot season
that I contracted malaria and had chills and fever during the
fall. For a time I shipped as pilot on the Dr. Franklin No. 2
with Captain Smith Harris and returned to Stillwater at the
beginning of winter. I had made arrangements to go into the
woods that winter with Henry McLane but I got to Stillwater so
late that I sold my interest in the outfit and spent the
winter in Stillwater living with my brother. I took it easy
all winter and paid a good deal of attention to the girls and
my recollections of that winter are still a pleasure to me.
This leisure was almost a necessity for me as I had not fully
recovered from the effects of the chills and fever and I had
been working very hard for years and really needed a vacation.
1852 was cholera year and I am unable
to give much detail of my work except that connected with the
disease or fear of it. On one trip we were only a few miles
from Stillwater when one of the crew took sick and was dead in
a few hours. Coffins were not easy to obtain in those days,
and I got a man named Bohls, who had a mill close by, to come
with his tools and make a box from some lumber on the raft.
We then wrapped the body in a blanket placed it in the rude
coffin and buried it under a big oak tree on the bluff near
catfish on Lake St. Croix. All the crew, but one or two
friends, now left me for fright and I sent for my brother
David and some of the Albany boys who were rafting at Cedar
bend, above the lake, to come and help take the raft down.
They came and we were fortunate enough to escape the scourge
and delivered the raft in good time and order. On another
trip we tied up the raft at the mouth of the Illinois river
and I sent all the boys home remaining myself to watch the
raft. It was blackberry time and I remember that I feasted on
the fruit during my enforced leisure. On the home trip there
were several deaths on the steamer. Indeed they were panicky
times all around causing a general suspension of business and
making a very dull season, exceedingly unprofitable for me.
Of the St. Peter’s river, the editor
says:-“ so crooked was the river, that we seemed all the time
to be just at the end of it; but the pilot, who was certainly
very skillful, continued to wind the boat along in a labyrinth
of interminable twistings, apparently confident that wherever
he could direct the bow of the boat he could swing her stern
gracefully around and bring up the rear without conflicting
with the bank of the river.”
The Sixe’s village was some twenty
miles up the river and here was located the mission of Rev.
The article closes with an eulogy of
Captain Abel, the master of the Wayne, a statement that she
went to the head of the rapids and returned “as wood,
provisions and liquors were running short.”
This trip created additional interest
in the river, and explorations continued according to the same
paper in its issue of August 1, 1850 wherein we find the
following:- “the first exploration was made three or four
weeks ago by Anthony Wayne which boat went to the head of the
rapids, some sixty five miles by river, and returned. Shortly
after the Nominee went up still higher, left her shingle on
the bank and returned. The Anthony Wayne on her return trip
from below was again chartered by our own people and reached a
point within about fifteen miles of the mouth of Blue Earth
river where she planted her shingle upon the shore announcing
herself as the first steamboat in those waters and then
“In the meantime arrangements were made
with the Yankee, Captain Harris, to some prepared with fuel
and provisions to take a party as far as possible.” This trip
was made, the steamer leaving St. Paul July 22nd,
1850. The officers of the boat were:- Captain M. K.
Harris, clerk, G. W. Girdon; Pilot, J. S. Armstrong;
Engineers, G. W. Scott and G. L. Sawyer. The trip
consumed five days and the boat went nearly to the mouth of
the Cottonwood river, a point a little over half way between
the present cities of Mankato and New Ulm.
F. A. B.