IAGenWeb Project

Iowa History

       An IAGenWeb Special Project


Join the IAGenWeb Team



"On the River"


Davenport Democrat and Leader

February 1, 1931


 By Capt. Walter A. Blair


 More About “Diamond Jo” Reynolds and His Line of

Upper Mississippi Packets


Diamond Jo


Diamond Jo never had bars on his boats when all the others had them.  He discouraged drinking and gambling and set a good example himself.  With those of his officers who would occasionally slip over he was patient and forgiving.  He paid good wages and gave steady employment for long seasons and it was considered an honor to have a berth on his line.

  Mr. Reynolds had a son born in 1860.  Blake Reynolds was greatly interested in his father’s mining interests in Colorado and Arizona but not very strong.  He died in 1885.

  With his other interests Diamond Jo built and for many years was the sole wonder of the 22 –mile railroad from Malvern into Hot Springs Ark., which he finally sold to George J. Gould.

  Mr. Reynolds kept a close rein on his steamboat business, but seldom appeared on or around the boats.  Very few people knew him even by sight.  There was a mystery and charm about this man.  Diamond Jo, who was doing so much business on and along the river yet seldom appeared himself.

  I never saw him but once.  That was on the Mary Morton when she was leaving Dubuque (where she was built) on her maiden trip to St. Louis.  The cabin was crowded with nicely dressed people, passengers who were going and friends to see them off.  Diamond Jo in his shirtsleeves with hammer, chisel, and plane was quietly working on some of the stateroom doors that bound at the top or bottom.  He was fond of tools and enjoyed using them when he had a chance.

  When Mr. Reynolds began steamboating in the late sixties, Commodore Davidson and his brother, Peyton had control of nearly all the steamers on the upper Mississippi.  They advised Mr. Reynolds “to stick to his grain business and leave steamboating to those who knew something about it.”  I think this talk aroused all the fire, energy and ambition Mr. Reynolds had in him, for he made great strides in the next decade and by 1890 all his competitors had faded out of the game and the Diamond Jo Line was supreme on the upper Mississippi.





Capr. Fred A. Bill



Buys Gem City


   In 1891 the Diamond Jo Line bought the Gem City 62 and in 1892 the St. Paul with all the remaining property of the old Davidson Lines, including the warehouse between St. Louis and St. Paul.

  Mr. Reynolds died of pneumonia at the Congress mine, 60 miles away from Prescott Ariz., the nearest railroad station, Feb. 21, 1891. There was neither physician to prescribe for or give him treatment nor lawyer to draw his will, but he had all the care that Mr. Pierce his superintendent, and many faithful employees could give him.

  His widow, who inherited all his property, carried out his wishes as he had expressed them.  At the annual meeting held at McGregor on March 19, 1891, E. M. Dickey was elected president of the Diamond Jo Line, Capt. John Killeen, vice president and Fred A. Bill, secretary and treasurer.

  The line then had three steamers which ran in the St. Louis and St. Paul trade in 1891 and 1892 the Pittsburgh, Capt. John Killeen, the Sidney, Capt. William Boland, and the Mary Morton, Capt. L. H. Cubberly.

  In 1891 the Gem City was bought and ran in the St. Louis and Keokuk trade, with George W. Jenks as master.  In 1892 she was in the same trade.  In 1893 the St. Paul joined in the St. Paul trade in charge of Capt. William Burke.  In 1893 Fred A. Bill was sent to Hot Springs railroad.  In 1895 the cabin and engines of the Gem City were placed on the new and larger Steamer Quincy.



 Mrs. Reynolds Dies


  Mrs. Reynolds died in august 1895.  She left the entire estate, worth several millions to her only brother, of Rockland, N. Y. Jay Morton moved to Chicago and from his office in the Monnadnock building, gave the estate the best management possible; with Capt. Killlen in charge of the Diamond Jo line; Isaac P. Lusk, general passenger and freight agent, and A. L. Dawley, cahier.  Fred Bill managed the Hot Springs railroad while E. M. Dickey looked after the grain and coal business.

  On May 27, 1896, the “Pittsburgh” lying at the wharfloat close to the shore abutment of the St. Louis east bridge had her entire cabin texas and pilot house torn off by the terrible cyclone that sank nine steamers and badly damaged 15 more.  Capt. A. H. Lovett of this city was one of the few persons on her when this happened.  He was not injured and helped Capt James Boland tied up the wreck when it went ashore on the Illinois side.

  The hull was towed to the Diamond Jo yard at Dubuque and an excellent new cabin, a long texas, pilot house and all other features of a first class boat were built on the repaired hull, and she came out as the Dubuque in 1897.



Sinks in Shallow Water


  In 1901 on a down trip full of passengers and freight she tore a great hole in her bottom and sank in shallow water 6 miles below Keithsburg.  A submerged stump in the channel was the cause of this disaster as of most other sinking’s on the upper Mississippi, snags usually make bold breaks or give plain indications of their location but submerged stumps or logs do not.  They are located by hitting them as in the Dubuque case. 

    Capt. Killeen did a proud job in raising her with a hole ten feet wide and 140 feet long in her bottom, but he got her up and back to the ways, where she was hauled out and thoroly (sic) repaired.  In 1908 the Dubuque was given an entire new hull and boilers.



No Fire catastrophes


  Of the many steamers that Diamond Jo had bought he never lost one by fire, sinking, explosion or seizure.  The line had a few sunken boats but they were always raised and repaired.  When they were worn out he dismantled or rebuilt them, when the trade outgrew he sold them-he never lost one in the 40 odd years of operation.

  In 1910 the water was very low all thru the summer.  The Sidney or Dubuque kept up a service between St. Louis and Burlington but no trips were made to St. Paul.  The St. Paul and Quincy did not leave Dubuque harbor all season.

  In 1911 Mr. Morton sold the four steamers, the barges and St. Louis wharfboat, the boat yard and many warehouses to the Streckfus Steamboat Company.  The Sidney was converted into an excursion boat to replace the first J. S. that had burned in 1910; and a few years later the St. Paul, Quincy and Dubuque were also rebuilt and changed to fine excursion steamers.  The St. Paul is still sailing under her original name, but the Quincy was renamed J. S. and the Dubuque’s name was changed to Capitol when she came out in May 1920.

  The Sidney was dismantled at Mound City on the Ohio and her engines and some other parts put on the Washington that came out in 1921.


Capt. J. F. Killeen



Killeen Retires


  When the properties of the Diamond Jo Line were sold Capt. John Killeen retired from the river and became interested in local enterprises such as the Boat and Boiler Works and the Sand and Gravel Company.


  John Killeen as a young mate rigged and fitted to Diamond Jo’s first steamer, the little Lansing in 1862, and also the much larger Diamond Jo in 1863 and excepting a few seasons as master of the Imperial when she was owned by John Robson of Winona John Killeen was continuously in the line as master, superintendent and president until it was sold out in 1911.  Capt. Killeen was known, admired and respected by the best people who travel on steamers of the Diamond Jo line and all of them now living will be glad to know that he is still living and occasionally walks down to the landing to see how we are carrying on. 

  William Beyers, his old steward, and Charles Petersen who managed the boat store, are still there in Dubuque ready to answer his call.

  Fred Bill, who began as clerk in 1863, remained in Diamond Jo services until the Hot Springs railroad was sold in 1902 and is now living in St. Paul.  He has gained quite a reputation as river historian and is at present engaged on a complete and very interesting history of navigation on the Chippewa River.

  Among the few now living who were prominent as officers in “The Good Old Days” when a round trip to St. Paul on a Diamond Jo Steamer was considered a privilege and a luxury, we have here in Davenport Mr. Harry C. Lusk, who was very popular as purser of the Sidney; Capt Con McGee, one of Capt. Killeen’s graduates from deck hand to captain of the St. Paul, and Capt. A. H. Lovett, who began in the line as cub pilot or roof watchman and became pilot of the Sidney, with Levi Williams in the St. Louis and St. Paul trade.

  The Diamond Jo line sold all the property but retained the title under which it had operated for almost 50 years with honor, credit and profit and in the language of Capt. Merick.  “This title and its history constitute the greatest monument that can be erected to its founder -“Diamond Jo Reynolds.”                                                                        


Collected by Sue Rekkas

and Transcribed by

Georgeann McClure


back to History Index