"On the River"
Davenport Democrat and Leader
February 22, 1931
By Capt. Walter A. Blair
This is the Artemus Lamb built in
1873 and was one of the best known rafters on the upper Mississippi
The picture shows the boat
with an excursion party in 1898. It was owned by C. Lamb & Sons of
Boats of The Pioneer Days On
Sinking of Craft and Loss of Life
Not Uncommon In Olden Days
When the Rock Island railroad gave us a direct and regular service
to Chicago and the east in 1854 steamboat owners soon established
service connecting with it, and we had a daily service to Galena and
Dubuque and all intermediate points by the sidewheelers Royal Arch,
captained by E. H. Gleam, and the Greek Slave, captained by
A. H. Wood.
Both boats were built at Pittsburgh, Pa. the former for the
Galena and Minnesota Packet Company, and the latter for the noted
Louis Robert founder of St. Paul, and owner of other boat’s
including the Jeannette Robert and the Time and Tide.
The Royal Arch engaged and sunk at Nine Mile Island below Dubuque in
The next boats we find in the Galena and Dubuque trade were the
Manes Means, built at Wheeling W. VA. In 1860, and the Bill
Henderson, built at Brownsville, Pa., in 1861, and both owned by the
These fast light-draft stern-wheelers were 140 feet long, 24-foot
beam, and had engines 14 inches by 4 feet. Like the Royal Arch and
Greek slave, they carried the United States mail and made
connections at Dubuque for the boats to St. Paul. Warren Teele
ran on these boats as mail clerk. Aside from Capt Sam Mitchell,
Capt. Jerry Wood and Engineers Robert Solomon, Ben
Wilson and Lew Smith, I cannot recall other officers who
reside her but many of them did.
Connected at Savanna
In the fall of 1868 the James Means was in the wheat trade from
Stillwater, Hudson and Prescott. The Warren Union railroad, now
part of the Milwaukee system, had been completed from Savanna to
Rock Island, and the Henderson ran in connection with it, making a
round trip a day between Savanna and Dubuque. The Henderson soon
left for the south to return no more.
In 1871 the Northern Line had a lot of heavy repairs done at the Le
Claire boat yard on their boats and barges, and in the final
settlement J. W. Van Sant and son (Sam) took over the James Means
for $4,000. They removed the after half of the cabin, repaired and
fitted her out for a rafter and she proved a good one, Capt. John
McCaffey bought a half-interest, went on as her master and
pilot, found plenty of work and made a lot of money with the old
boat before she was dismantled in the fall of 1877.
J. H. S. Coleman and his brother Egbert, had each a
tenth interest in the great Homestake mine at Deadwood, S. D., and
each got about 410,000 for his share, Egbert put his money back in
the ground in various places looking in vain for another Homestake.
J. H. S. or “Sullivan” as we knew him, brought his money back
home and with his older brothers, James and Andrew, contracted for a
new boat, 140 by 28 feet, at St. Louis they bought the engines,
shaft and all other usable parts of the James Means and placed them
on their new boat which came up in the spring as the Golden Gate.
Many Seek Trade
We never had a short trade packet service to Dubuque after the Means
and the Henderson quit, except by the sidewheeler, Countess, a very
fast boat in the trade for the latter part of 1869 but we had many
aspiring candidates for patronage in the trade from here to Clinton,
Lyons and Fulton.
There was the Jennie Brown, a beauty of small side-wheeler, 140 by
24 feet, engines 14 inches by 4 ½ feet, up one day, down the next,
with William Pierce as master Charlie Negus of Rock
Island, clerk and W. P. Hall, pilot, I made a trip on her and
although very bashful I made my way to the pilot house and got
acquainted with “Pete Hall.
The Jennie Brown was a nice boat and the schedule was dead easy for
her crew, but it wasn’t the service needed and did not pay. She was
in this trade in 1871 and 1872, and then John Lawlor, of
Prairie du Chien had her a few seasons in local work until he sold
her to Isaac Staples of Stillwater, Minn., who put her usable
parts in the rafter Isaac Staples that came out new in 1880.
The next was a nice little sternwheeler called the Viola that had
been running form Prescott to Lake St. Croix, She started in at a
good time-during low water season and just before fair week-but she
didn’t have enough power to buck the strong rapids current and soon
The next attempt to fool the public as well as themselves was made a
little “Cheap John” sternwheeler in the mouth of Black river at
North La Crosse. Davidson placed agents in small towns to buy
wheat, lime or other cargo and help her, but the B. F. Weaver was
not taken seriously by our people and she rested quietly until the
Davidson’s made their “Yellowstone” expedition in 1878. They sent
the B. F. Weaver along to help the big boats to scout ahead and to
get fuel and supplies. She was in such trouble and caused the fleet
to lose so much time that they left her at Fort Pierre, pick her up
on the way back and made her fast along side the tidal wave and
towed her down.
Blown Onto Bank
She put in her last days running rafts from Beef slough to La
Crosse, once, in a short, violent, summer storm, which caught her at
Chimney Rock Island; she was blown into the riprapped bank and her
wheel badly broken. The raft went on. When they got the boat off
the bank two men with a skiff were sent to overtake the raft, and if
possible to land and tie it up.
Going up with the J. W. Mills and only a short distance above Winona
just before dark I met the two men who wanted to know where I had
met their half raft, when convinced it had not passed Winona they
accepted my invitation to haul their skiff aboard and go back up to
the B. F. Weaver. When we met her paddling down with a badly broken
wheel, of which only a third remained. I hailed her to stop and get
her skiff and two men.
The Weaver proceeded to La Crosse, where she was given a new wheel
and a new kit of lines, and sent back to Beef Slough for another
Some years before the M. R. I. Company had done a good job of
placing a few clusters of pilling and short sheer booms to turn
stray logs in to the head of straight, or Youman’s, slough. This
time they caught an entire half raft, lines and all. This unusual
feat was the occasion of much joshing of the Weaver crew and she was
known ever after as the B. F. Loser.
Next, beginning in 1874 or 75 the Diamond Jo started and excellent
tri-weekly service between Fulton, Ill., and Burlington, IA. The
Diamond Jo was a good steamboat, a little larger than the Helen
Blair of later years, and she had an excellent crew in charge of her
Capt. Ben Congar and his mate, Moses Mullen, her
pilots were Andrew Coleman and H. S. Ruby, her
engineers, John Scott and William Hamilton and her
clerks, John Carlisle and Al Congar.
Handled Good Business
With excellent connections at both ends of her run and the steady
patronage of the lime kilns of Le Claire, Port Byron, Princeton, and
Cordova, the Diamond Jo handled a good business and nearly always
towed one, and often two barges to carry it. In 1878 the Josephine
came out new to take her place in the trade. She was slightly
smaller, but very nice and real fast, She could hold her own with
any of the big sidewheelers. Capt. Conger was in
charge with Frank Thompkins, mate, Hight and Dick
Stevens, pilots, J. L. Carver and James
Davenport, engineers, O. P. H. Gooley and his son,
clerks, and Henry Alford steward.
The Diamond Jo was placed in the St. Louis trade in charge of Capt.
R. F. Isherwood, and in 1880 (I think) the Josephine was
withdrawn from the local run and put in the thru run.
When the Josephine withdrew from the short trade P. S. Davidson
of Le Claire put the Maggie Reaney in the Clinton-Davenport daily
run in charge of Capt. James Eldridge, with “Dole”
Holsapple, pilot and Archie Davidson, clerk.
The Reaney was a handsome and speedy boat about the size of the U.
S. Ellen, a familiar sight to these waters, and kept on her regular
schedule, might have succeeded. But she towed coal in heavy barges
from Rapids City to Clinton and this made her late and irregular.
Bringing the empty barges back down delayed her considerably.
Her patrons liked the boat but did not like the barges and by the
end of the season she did not have much left, but the coal
business. And I don’t think she came out in the trade in 1881. We
had very high water in October, 1881-17.7 feet and in November,
16.2. the rail wood was floated between Moline and Hampton and the
At this time the little Jennie Gilcrest, towing two light barges was
doing her best to help but the situation. One evening she left
Davenport after 8 o’clock with two barges partially loaded and
several passengers. When a short distance above the government
bridge she had a break down on one engine, and before P. M.
Maines her engineer had time to even disconnect it so he could
even use one engine, he drifted down, her upper works caught the
girder, and she turned over and sank with some loss of life.
The Albany was built in 1850 for service on the Minnesota River and
had run on the Chippewa and put in several seasons on the
Wisconsin. Then she did some rafting, running half rafts only,
after which she dropped out of view for a year or two, and then came
in as a daily packet, Clinton to Davenport. While sailing
ostensibly in charge of H. A. Barr as master and pilot
a lawyer named Shaw of Cordova was her real manager and, poor craft
as she was, doing the best they could and treating people right,
there was fair satisfaction, if not profit during the year 1862.
In 1883 Capt. H. B. Whitney entered the Davenport-Clinton
trade with a small new sternwheeler called the Nellie, of 78 tons
and hull by the A. J. Whitney and Sons of Rock Island.
Dole Holsapple was pilot and Parn Lancaster, mate. She
was hardly large enough or fast enough for the run was sold south,
her name changed to Dick Clyde and used as a towboat on the
Tennessee River. Capt. Henry Whitney is still doing contract
work for the United States, at present at Bonnots Mills, Mo.
The next aspirant in the trade was the Charles Rebstock, a very nice
and comfortable boat about the size of the Verne Swain. She was
built at St. Louis in 1880 for a wholesale liquor dealer to carry
his goods and his salesmen to the cities, towns and landings on the
lower Mississippi and its tributaries.
I never learned what was the error in Mr. Rebstock’s plans, possibly
the crew and their friends got away with the stock; anyway, two or
three years put an end to that and she came up into the Davenport,
Rock Island and Clinton trade in charge of Capt. William Lumbeck,
who was later on the U. S. Boiler Inspector. Al Conger was
clerk and I think H. A. Barr, pilot.
uncertain whether she was in the trade, more than one season, but we
know she burned at Cordova, Oct. 2, 1885 Capt. Van Sant bought the
wreck and salvaged the machinery, and I sold the engine and all
parts belonging to a man fitting out a ferryboat at Cape Girardeau,
Various other boats ran in the trade for a few trips, in spring when
the roads were bad or during fair week. The Artemus Lamb, Silver
Wave, Le Claire Belle, Rambo, Pilot, and Evansville made many such
special trips when rafting was slack.
Evnasville helped out greatly during the high water in the fall of
1881 after the Jennie Gilchrist sank. She was in charge of
J. M. Hawthorne of Le Claire who is still living and in good
health. So is Capt. Van Sant, who was down with his boat, the D. A.
McDonald, on Christmas day, New Year’s Day and Washington Day. All
of the winter 1877-78
steamer “Josephine” of the Diamond Jo line was a familiar boat in
the Fulton-Davenport Burlington trade in 1878 and 1879.