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The Davenport Democrat and Leader

Friday, April 6, 1906        

 Great Race on Upper River

 When the Pittsburg of the

Northern Line Beat the War Eagle.

 Rival Steamers Speeded from St.

Louis to Davenport in Race for Supremacy

           The rivermen in Davenport and up and down the river remember the War Eagle, one of the greatest steamers that ever was on the Mississippi. The great race between the War Eagle and the Pittsburg is remembered by many and the following from a recent issue of the Quincy Journal will be read with great interest:

          “The story of the famous river race between the Pittsburg and the War Eagle never grows old and was discussed at the river convention held at Dubuque recently. Capt. John Killeen of that city was captain of the Pittsburg, which won the race, and gave the Diamond Joe line its reputation.

          “The War Eagle was the flagship of the Northern line, and the other competitor in the Northern river packet was the “Diamond Joe, the Pittsburg being the pride of the latter company. The boats were sternwheelers and both were acknowledged, to be the best and swiftest in their respective fleets. The Northern line operated from St. Louis to St. Paul. The Diamond Joe was in the days of the race a maiden concern, and but a short time before ran its boats from Burlington to St. Paul. The company decided to extend its territory and make the boats attend to business from St. Louis to St. Paul. This angered the Northern company, and on a pretty summer afternoon in the early 8o’s the Pittsburg and the War Eagle cut loose from St. Louis destined for the north.

          “There had always been a dispute between the two companies as to which had the faster boats. The fact that the War Eagle and the Pittsburg were headed for the north was considered by the captains on the two boats to offer a fine opportunity to settle this contention. The two big floating palaces cleared the bridges at St. Louis and then the race began. The Pittsburg steamed poorly. Capt. Cook was on the War Eagle and on the hurricane deck of the Pittsburg stood Capt. John Killeen. Both boats stopped at Alton. It was understood that the regular stops would be made by both boats, but that no freight would be taken. After Alton was passed the contest between the two white vessels was on in earnest.

          “After leaving Alton the Pittsburg steamed better and soon reached her competitor. Both boats raced almost neck and neck until Davenport was reached. The Pittsburg landed exactly 15 minutes ahead of the War Eagle. The entire crew of the two boats did nothing but fire up the boilers. Resin, grease, pine boards and kerosene were heaped into the furnaces of both boats, and when they landed at Rock Island the boilers looked as though they would explode. After the landing the race was discontinued, as the boats were not collecting passengers or freight, and both retuned to the routine of a packet. Press dispatches were passed along the Mississippi and at points where the boats stopped large crowds gathered at the landings and cheered the respective boats.

          “This is perhaps the longest and hardest steamboat race which ever occurred on the upper Mississippi, and it is talked of as familiarly as the great race between the Lee and the Natchez from New Orleans to St. Louis."                                                


Collected by Transcribed by

Georgeann McClure


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