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"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 river.

 The picture shows the boat with an excursion party in 1898.  It was owned by C. Lamb & Sons of Clinton.



Boats of The Pioneer Days On Upper River

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 1858.

     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 Northern Line.

     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 left us.

     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 raft.

    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 service suspended.

     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.


Satisfaction-No profit


     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.

  I am 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, Mo.

  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.

  The 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



   The steamer “Josephine” of the Diamond Jo line was a familiar boat in the Fulton-Davenport Burlington trade in 1878 and 1879.                                                                     


Collected by Sue Rekkas

and Transcribed by

Georgeann McClure


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