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Sept. 24


  This is a natural dividing line in my river life; the rafting days closing with the running of the two rafts to Clayton and Dubuque as already mentioned.  The winter of 1854-5 was spent in Albany where I boarded with E. H. Nevitt.  During the winter I made a trip to Galena, and secured a job as pilot on a new boat lately completed for the newly organized Minnesota Packet company.  The War Eagle was another newly built boat for the same company.  In the line were also the Nominee, Albambra, Lady Franklin and Dr. Franklin No. 1 as I now recall.

  It might be of interest to know just how the Dr. Franklin was once sunk and one of the results of the disaster.  The channel makes a sharp turn around an elbow at one point in Maquoketa slough a few miles above Dubuque, and high timber along the shore close to the water makes it impossible to see far ahead.  The Dr. Franklin was going downstream and the Galena going up and both were running at full speed.  As the Dr. Franklin shot past the point the Galena crashed into her just about the forward end of her boilers on the starboard side.   She sank at once, but fortunately there was no loss of life and only minor damage to the Galena.  This collision brought out the present U. S. law that the whistle must be blown on each boat when entering a narrow or crooked place where the pilots cannot see very far ahead.

  As early as the season permitted we started out from Galena, Russell Blakely master.  My partner was John Arnold, one of the best pilots I ever ran with and formerly on the lower river.  I think Jim Hunt was first engineer, he is still living (1907) at savanna; Wm. McLaughlin was mate and Charles C. Mather was first clerk.  Our first trip was to Read’s landing only as the ice was not out of Lake Pepin.  There were lots of passengers but not much freight as the passengers and baggage gave us a pretty good load.  We also carried the U. S. mail and had an express messenger.  The I. C. R. R. had not reached Galena at this time, being held up by a big out (?) at scales Mound and the gap to Galena was literally black with stages and team transfers transporting freight and passengers.  Those were busy times for us, our boats being crowded continually.  Early in the season the passengers were mostly Americans but by June foreigners were coming in crowds, mostly Norwegians and Swedes, with their peculiar dress, habits, speech and odor.  Galena was a busy hive, being in fact at his time the principal shipping point of the Northwest.

  On our second trip we reached St. Paul and then began our regular trips a round trip being made every five days, there being five boats in active service.  Our heaviest leads were on the up trip as this was before the Northwest had become a shipper of produce.  One large item of our down freight was buffalo hides, furs and other peltries.  These came mainly from the Red River country and were brought to St. Paul in the famous red River carts, which were constructed entirely of wood and rawhide.  They would squeak in an alarming fashion and would weave around when under way looking as though they would collapse at any moment, but they proved to be very serviceable carts.  The harness that was used on one ox that hauled each car was made of rawhide.  The hides were put in bales about the size of hay bales of today and seven or eight of these would constitute a load.  Trains of these carts would come frequently, and sometimes it looked as though the trains were a mile long, each ox being attended by an Indian or half breed as these skins were nearly all from Canada and chiefly from the Hudson Bay company.  It was cheap transportation, the Indians requiring but little and oxen living on the country they came through.  The loads would be transferred direct to the boat or stored in the warehouse of Borup and Oaks who were our agents at St. Paul.

  There was another class of freight going, but the amount was much greater a couple of years later, and that was ginseng.  A young botanist while cruising around in Minnesota woods noticed a plant that looked very much like ginseng.  After satisfying himself that his surmise was correct he had a wood cut made of the plant and got out circulars describing it and offered fifty-cents a pound for it delivered at a certain place.  These circulars were sent far and wide and soon shipments were gong to him in large numbers.  The revenue proved of great value to the settlers as many of them as is usual in a new country, were often in great need.  Shipments were usually in small hog heads or casks weighing from two hundred to three hundred pounds.

  St. Paul at this time was simply a big overgrown village of the frontier.  Minneapolis was making its first start and I was very familiar with the wild untouched prairies where now is the great city.  These prairies were covered with luxurious grasses and other growths usually on prairies of the west and North west, as resin weed, various forms of sun flowers, great waving fields of phlox, golden rod, asters and many other different hued flowers in their seasons.  During this season I was at the upper end of our route every five days and usually had a day to spend as I pleased.   We were carrying many passengers who were traveling for pleasure and this was a new country and full of novelty for tourists so, as I came in contact with our passengers on the way up, it was natural that I be solicited to act as guide or courier during the leisure day to show them around.  St. Anthony falls, and its environs; the new suspension bridge over the Mississippi at above the falls; Minnehaha falls, than in its primitive wildness; Fort Snelling, then one of the best constructed of forts in the county; were all places of great interest and could be taken in with the aid of one of the good horse teams common at that time in a day and it was really an enjoyable trip.  The nearby Indian villages then quite numerous, were very interesting to the tourists and were frequently visited.  The peculiar custom of burying their dead in the trees or on high scaffolding always fascinated them.

  I enjoyed these trips as I was as much a tourist as I was royally treated and not allowed to share in any of the expense of the trips.  I also made numerous friends many of whom I numbered for many years.  I was comparatively a young man, fond of social life and there were many young people among our passengers and I was particularly interested in the young ladies.  All this was of much value to me at this particular time when I had not recovered my spirits from the disaster of he year previous.  The total loss of my property had a very depressing effect upon me and was the main reason for taking up steamboat piloting instead of rafting.  It was hard to keep from yielding to the “blues” and I felt that this change of work and the mingling with a different class of people were the best things that could have happened to me and I soon began to throw off the burden and assume that cheerfulness that was my normal condition.


Collected and Transcribed by

Georgeann McClure


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