Excerpts from “A graphic story of his 55 years of service on the Upper Mississippi.
Edited and copyrighted, 1933 by Captain Fred A. Bill, St. Paul, Minnesota"
Transcribed by Georgeann McClure
Charlie Barnes, mate
Late in the season I shipped Charlie Barnes who seemed to be having a hard time in making a living. Charlie was a boyhood playmate, although older, and I was very fond of him. I told him to come on board and do what he could and when the boat laid up I paid him deckhand’s wages. Once I had him for a mate and he did very well but drink was his main trouble. Had another deck hand named William Ilif and after the boat laid up they got hold of a sort of house boat with the intention of going south. When ready to leave they floated down alongside of the Gile and helped themselves to whatever outfit seemed necessary taking a skiff, oars, blankets, kitchen utensils and anything that struck their fancy. We did not find it out until some time after, too late to do anything about it. [“When Rafters Ruled” Clinton Herald by Jerome E. Short]
D. J. Buckingham
The Carpenter family and our family lived as neighbors for many years only a street between us and we were the best of friends. Chris Carpenter and I were the only ones who quarreled. He was about twelve days my senior and we had a fight when we were about ten years old. The fight must have been a draw for when it was over I thought Chris had licked me and he thought I had licked him and we were so afraid of each other that we were warm friends ever after.
Jerome Short telling story: “Just before leaving I sold a little skiff I had for six dollars and so had money enough from sale of the skiffs to take me home. As I was too sick to knock around on deck I took cabin fare. On arrival at Burlington who should come on board but my old playmate Chris Carpenter. He was going back deck fare and suggested I change my ticket and come down with him and he would look after me, and this I was glad to do. That night I went to bed on a pile of five bushel sacks-filled with oats, I think and Chris bunked at my feet. In the morning I felt much better and Chris said I was talking in my sleep most of the night. He took good care of me until we reached Albany where I went ashore and he went on up river.” [“When Rafters Ruled”, Chapter Six, Fred A. Bill]
Captain Fred A. Bill, St. Paul, Minnesota : “The order to discharge the first one George Carpenter, was brought to me by Lafayette Lamb. I began to argue with “Lafe” and tried to have him talk with his father and let me keep George as he had not done anything to warrant discharge, just got stuck for a day at Bellevue slough, a thing that was liable to happen to any of us. But, it was no use, he had to go.
Frank Chamberlain, watchman
Ithamer Chasey , pilot
Mark Denneen , engineer
Thomas Duncan *see Clinton Rivermen
James Duncan *see Clinton Rivermen
Alfred Durant , Pilot
Edward W. Durant, Cook
“Among other things I had a barrel of butter weighed some three hundred pounds that cost me five cents a pound. This may be of interest as a contrast to the price today. Finished purchasing our supplies, chiefly groceries at Galena and went on to Stillwater and soon our men and supplies were sent into the woods. Our crew was made up of our summers rafting crew and in addition we had Edward W. Durant, now one of Stillwater’s most prominent citizens as our chief cook. He was from Albany and it was his first trip North.” [“The life and Adventures of Stephen B. Hanks” Burlington Saturday Evening Post]
We started some time in July, 1844 and to avoid the heavy pull through the lakes we secured a boat I think it was the otter, to tow all the rafts together through the two lakes and that part of the trip which had been such a drag was now quickly made and we were soon at it reaching the foot of Lake Pepin. The pilots in charge of these rafts were James (Sandy) McPhail: Gantey (?), Jun (?) Hickman; Mr. Bruce the surveyor; a man commonly called “(Bible back)” on account of being stoop shouldered and myself. There were twelve oarsmen, a cook and a helper and a pilot on each raft. Among the men who came up from Albany were Wm. Ewing, Jim Hugins (?), Mat Thompson; Tover Bard; Jim Withrow; two Robinsons and a man named Flack. Some of these were in the crews on the rafts and some had gone up to the mill to the log driver, as there were lots of logs still hung up. [“The Life and Adventures of Stephen B. Hanks” Burlington Saturday Evening Post July 23rd 1921]
“Capt. Frank Gladhill of Albany was in the city yesterday, and states that the Frontenac, Captain R. H. Tromley, will be in the river soon for the year’s excursion trade. She tows the barge Mississippi, and is owned by St. Clare Amusement Company. Harry Winter’s is manager of the boat. The Frontenac took a couple of excursions out of Clinton last year. Captain Gladhill will run on the Frontenac as pilot.” [Clinton Herald, April 11, 1913 - One Rafter On the Upper River]
Thomas Wright Hanks
David C. Hanks
Samuel S. Hanks
Chapter One: Thomas Wright Hanks left Kentucky with a cousin named Dick Hanks for some point in the South, I think Mississippi. He learned the saddler’s trade, a very profitable one at that time. We had only one letter from him and we do not know whether he is alive or dead. Mary Ann and myself went to northern Illinois, with the family of Alfred Slocomb. She made her home with us until she married Aaron Colvert about 1840. Later they moved to Iowa. Her husband went into the Union army and died in the South and she became a pensioner. Of Uncle Sam, and at the writing is living with a son in the state of Washington.
David C. Hanks came to Albany, Ill., about 1843. He soon followed me in river work and has spent most of his life as a pilot and master, engaged chiefly in the rafting business. He married Helen Bennett in 1852 and has spent the last eighteen years with his family in Albany.
Samuel S. Hanks
Came to Illinois in 1844 and to Albany a little later. He has spent the larger portion of his life on the river and apart of it in farming. With others he went to California during the gold excitement but did not remain long. He was married to Hannah Stagg, previous to going to California. He moved to near Davenport some thirty-five years ago and recently went to Princeton, Iowa, where he still lives with some of his children, his wife having died a number of years ago.
“I was fortunate enough to get a job with Capt. David Hanks on the Hiram Price and finished the season with him. On one trip, and I think it was the last one of the season, I learned a lesson that never was forgotten and I learned it cheaply. He had a raft of logs in cattail slough, above Albany to be taken to Benton Bay, above Oquawka. We were ten days on the trip, including fitting up and one day stuck, and were paid off after the raft was laid up and I received $20. After we started up the river one John Hooge suggested we have a game of poker. I did not want to play as I knew nothing about the game but I was the sucker he was after and after awhile I was in it. It did not take long to lose $2.50 and then I came to and quit. That loss bothered me as much as would the loss of a friend for I knew what my mother would say to me when she learned of it and it did not occur to me to try and keep it from her.” [“When Rafters Ruled” The Career of Capt. Jerome E. Short, Clinton Herald]
Capt. Stephen B. Hanks
Capt. James Hugunin Of Albany Township, Whiteside Co IL
Capt. James Hugunin, resident at Albany, was born Dec. 24, 1839, in Butler Co., Ohio. His father, James Hugunin, was born in 1806, in Oswego Co., N. Y., and was taken by his parents, in his early boyhood, to Ohio, where his father secured a claim of land from the United States. The site of the city of Cincinnati now includes the land comprised in the claim. He constructed a residence, which his family occupied a short time, after which it was sold, and they went to Butler County. The father returned to Massachusetts and died in his native place. James Hugunin (first) grew to manhood in Butler County, and married Sarah Flack, a native of Ohio. They lived in Butler County until 1840, when they removed to this State, and five years later came to Albany. The parents, with five children, came from Ohio overland with their own conveyance. Mr. Hugunin at first selected a location a little east of Albany, and later went to the township of Garden Plain, whence he removed to Clay Co., Kan., and is now resident there. Capt. Hugunin was but six years old when his parents came to Albany. He was but 15 when, in the fall of 1854, he engaged in the capacity of a common hand on the river, and he has spent every successive season in the same service in the several capacities of common hand, pilot and Captain. He is also the owner of forty acres of land, and gives some attention to agriculture. He is interested in good breeds of horses, and owns some fine thoroughbred Almont Rattlers. He was married Aug. 16, 1859, to Sarah Whistler. She was born Feb. 7, 1841, in Morrow Co., Ohio, and is the daughter of John and Elizabeth (Kiehl) Whistler. John E., Clara M., Harry D. and Ida Augusta are the names of their children.
The 'Le Claire Belle' made one trip to Saint Louis during low water in September. She made this trip under charter to the Eau Claire Lumber Company, Captain Peter Kerns took charge and Captain Hugunin went with him as pilot. He did not need a clerk, or had one of his own, so George Tromley and I did not get to make this trip, but we were transferred to the 'Silver Wave' until the 'Belle' returned. [Source: A Raft Pilot's Log by Capt. Walter A. Blair; 1929; Arthur H. Clark Company; Transcribed by Joan Bard Robinson]
Of Albany Township, Whiteside Co IL
Capt. Cornelius Knapp, a resident of Albany, was born July 9, 1830, in the township of Moers, Clinton Co., N. Y., and is the third son of Robert and Emily (Frost) Knapp. His father was born in 1792, in Nassau, N. Y., and was brought up in Lansingburg, near the city of Troy. He was a commissioned officer during the war of 1812, and after its close located in Clinton County, where he was a citizen until his removal to Illinois in 1845. He made the journey with his family, comprising his wife and five children, and they set out from Rouse's Point on Lake Champlain, whence they proceeded to Whitehall. They went from there via the Champlain and Erie Canals to Buffalo, and thence on the lakes to Chicago. A farmer brought the party from the Garden City to Whiteside County. Mr. Knapp bought a tract of Government land in what is now Garden Plain Township, on which he built a small frame house, suited to the times and his means; but it soon gave way to one of more convenient dimensions. On this place which the proprietor placed under excellent improvements, he resided until his death, in 1871, a period of 26 years. The mother was born May 4, 1799, in Rutland, Vt., and she died March 15, 1877, aged 78 years. Their children were five in number. C. Seymour lives in Garden Plain Township, which is also the place of residence of George M., the second son, and of Hiram F. and Mary Almira. Captain Knapp was 15 years of age when he accompanied his father's family to Whiteside County. In the winter following he attended school at Albany, and in the ensuing summer he was employed as teamster by Capt. W. S. Barnes. He spent the succeeding winter in school at Union Grove. In the spring of 1847 he engaged in rafting on the Mississippi River, and followed that occupation three consecutive seasons, attending school two alternating winters and teaching a third in the school-house in Cedar Creek District. In 1850 he went to California, journeying thither most of the way on foot, supplies, etc., being transported by horse teams. He was enroute three months. He became interested in gold mining and remained on the Pacific coast until the fall of 1853, when he returned via the Isthmus of Panama and New Orleans. In 1854 he once more engaged in his former occupation of rafting on the river, and was engaged in that business until the war. In 1857 he bought an interest in a steamboat, but was not concerned personally in its management. On the advent of civil war, Captain Knapp became master on a freight boat plying between St. Croix, and Burlington, which he conducted one summer. In the winter following he took the boat to Memphis and sold it. Captain Knapp continued in the river service until 1884, operating during the time principally as master and pilot on steamboats. He was engaged two years on the "Diamond Joe" line, which was his only digression from the service above mentioned.
Captain Knapp was married Nov. 22, 1855, to Harriet L. Townley. She was born in Quincy, ILL. and is the daughter of William and Harriet (Huntington) Townley. Her father was born March 5, 1803 in Elizabethtown NJ. Her mother was born in Oswega, N.Y. March 3, 1808. The family settled in New York in 1833. The two older children of Capt. and Mrs. Knapp, Florence and Mildred C., live in Chicago, William T. lives in Clinton Iowa, Mary L. lives with her parents. Florence is the widow of Harry Leland. [Source: Whiteside County History Portrait & Biographical]
“Then Capt. Cornelius Knapp came along with the Viola and took charge of the outfit and my first reign as master and pilot was over; greatly to my relief. I was glad to take a place in the viola crew. Our first trip was some logs from the bay at the foot of Lake Pepin, and right here came one of the closest call I ever had to passing out! While we were fitting up the raft Captain Cornelius bought a barrel of eggs for which I believe he paid three cents a dozen-and told the boys to help themselves. There was a steam pipe at the after end of the boiler and by running it into a bucket full of eggs and water the eggs were boiled in short order. They could be cooked for all kinds of tastes but the boys generally wanted them hard, and hard they were. We all ate our fill using salt onl7 for seasoning. During the night I awoke with a severe pain in my “egg basket” was given medicine and my stomach rubbed until it was raw, but got no relief. After we started down the river the boys went out at nearly every town for medicine some one would think about, but all to no effect and I got so I did not care whether I lived or died. On the seventh day we were down to Lansing and some of the boys went out for more dope. Captain Knapp spent as much time with me as he could and finally concluded I was going to die so when the dope came on board he told the boys to give me a double dose, which was done. Soon after the pain left me and I went to sleep and in the morning was all right, except very weak and it took a few days to get my strength back. It was a great experience and cured me of excessive egg eating for all time In going over the upper rapids the rapids pilot undertook to run the ten strings through the steamboat channel. We had two men on each oar in front and pull as hard as we could the raft would not follow the channel at Sycamore chain but went straight ahead and piled up on the rocks on which there were about 18 inches of water. I got the job of getting the raft off which took about ten days and it was hard and dangerous work. There were deep crevices between the rocks and frequently, some man would fall into the water, from which he was rescued with difficulty. After everything was cleaned up Captain Knapp and I had a falling out and he paid me off.” [“When Rafters Ruled”, The Career of Capt. Jerome E. Short, Clinton Herald]
Captain David Lamb, of Albany, was one of the pilots on the Natrona, a good friend of mine and we were both graduates from the ash pan association of pilots at Albany in the early days. [“When Rafters Ruled” The Career of Capt. Jerome E. Short, Chapter 13, Clinton Herald]
In 1880 it was get the logs down! And we sure were pushing them down. One trip I had for a partner Perry Langsford, who lived in Albany, where all good pilots come from –except Tom Forbush who lived in St. Louis. Tom once made a trip with a floating raft from Stillwater to Maple Island, about four or five miles below Alton, in nine days and a few hours, a record never beaten to my knowledge. (Note:- we have to take exception to our friend in this statement. We will concede that all pilots from Albany were good ones and the celebrated “ash-pan school” of that burg turned out some of the best but it did not have a monopoly! Le Claire, Read’s Landing, Pepin and Stillwater-as well as some other places-were the homes of many “stars,” – F.A.B.) [“When Rafters Ruled” The Career of Capt. Jerome E. Short, Chapter 15, Clinton Herald]
On one down trip we were caught in a “Jimmy cane” in Richmond slough., a little above the village, about six or seven o’clock in the morning. It came over the bluff and mowed a swath down the side to the river laying everything flat. When it struck the oat I tried to back into it, but no go. Then the rain began to pour and it became so dark we could not see a thing; then it began to hail and such chunks of ice I never saw before nor since. Some of them were three or four inches long and an inch thick. There was not a regular hail stone to be seen and when these chunks hit the roof they ripped the canvas and filled it so full of holes that we had to put on a new one. Toliver McDonald was my partner and when the wind struck us he came rushing to the pilot house and got alongside but could not get any further. The windows were broken, sash and all, and went hurtling over his head into the river. When the storm was over we were opposite the upper branch of black river going down the river stern first. [“When Rafters Ruled” The Career of Capt. Jerome E. Short, Chapter 10, Clinton Herald]
In the spring of 1865 I got my first free ride on a steamboat. It was on the War Eagle commanded by Captain Abe Mitchell of Albany an old friend of the family. The boat had wintered in Le Claire and came up from that place with the side wheel steamer Ocean Wave on one side and a barge on the other en route to Dubuque. Capt. Mitchell had promised to take my brother Ira H. and myself to Dubuque and try to get work for us on some boat as we both had the “bug”. Think my brother was successful in landing a job as “shiner” but I did not get any kind of a job and how I got home has been a mystery since I have been trying to solve some of these kind of problems .I have no recollection how I got home from this trip.
Death: Feb -22-1876 Mitchell, Capt. Abraham in Albany, Ill. 58 years old. [“When Rafters Ruled” The Career of Capt. Jerome E. Short, Chapter 5, Clinton Herald]
“Reached the raft at Marion city in a few days and found the river frozen over but the ice not very thick. Had left the raft in charge of my clerk, Clem Nevitt, when we laid it up.” [“The life and adventures of Stephen B. Hanks, Rafting on the upper river in 1848-49”]
“During the year 1833 the family moved from New Jersey and settled in Carroll county Illinois, near the present village of Thompson and lived in the regulation log house of the times. Here were born; George Lyman, March 11, 1841, Ira H. January 2, 1844; Allen Marne, April 26, 1847 Marne, April 26, 1847: Jerome Elija, March 4, 1849. In 1850 the family moved to Albany Illinois and first lived in a house on Front street not over 75 feet from the river. A few years later the father built a house some two blocks from the river, which was home so long as any member of the family resided in Albany. There were born in Albany Charles Martin, November 30, 1853: Anna A., December 9, 1856. The father left home to seek his fortune in the gold fields around Pike’s Peak in 1863 and was never heard from. The mother died at the home of her daughter Anna, in Davenport, in 1883. There are living today, 1933 only Jerome and Anna, (Williams).”
*Shorts moved to Clinton, then to Keokuk [“When Rafters Ruled” The Career of Capt. Jerome E. Shor, Chapter One]
Note: _Albany without the Slocumbs would have been like one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays with hamlet left out. They were numerous and if all counted might have outnumbered the Fuller family of Pepin. They did not, however, take to the river with the unanimity of that famous family.
Alfred Slocumb, with whom Capt. Hanks made his home so long, was followed to Albany by his four brothers, Stephen, Charles, Samuel, and William, all being cousins of the Captain’s mother.
William W. Slocumb became a famous raft pilot in both floating and steamboat days and was in the employ of Knapp, stout, and Company, Mennomonie, Wis. and Laird Norton & Co., Winona , Minn. for many years. His nephew William R. Slocumb a son of Stephen Slocumb was with him for many years, to distinguish between them the former was known as “Old Bill” and the latter as “Young Bill.” Later W. R. was a successful pilot and master on his own hook.
Henry Slocumb, son of Wm. W., ran with his father for many years and succeeded him at his death. Both Wm. R. and Henry F. died during 1920, their deaths being duly recorded in the Post.
The John Slocumb who was the third husband of the mother of Capt. Hanks was no relation to the five brothers mentioned but was a brother of one known as “River” Charley Slocumb and of Nancy Slocumb and they all added to the census of the Slocumbs in Albany. F. A. B. [“The Life and Adventures of Capt. Stephen B. Hanks” Burlington Saturday Evening Post, Aug 30, 1921]
Chapter One: “Albany was long known as the home of rivermen. It will be remembered that the family of Alfred Slocomb of which Stephen B. Hanks was a member arrived there during the summer of 1836. it is not of record that there were many river men there at that time but they increased rapidly and many of the crack pilots, especially in the rafting business, came from the busy and historic burg. “When Rafters Ruled” The Career of Capt. Jerome E. Short A graphic story of his 55 years of service on the Upper Mississippi Edited and copyrighted, 1933 by Captain Fred A. Bill, St. Paul, Minnesota
The John Slocumb, who was the third husband of the mother of Capt. Hanks was no relation to the five brothers mentioned, but was a brother of one known as “River” Charley Slocumb and of Nancy Slocumb and they all added to the census of the Slocumbs in Albany . F. A. B.
Henry and W.W. Slocomb
Chapter 8: “The Champion was another Knapp Stout & Company boat and about the smallest of that class then engaged in rafting and one of the best for her inches. She was then commanded by Captain W. W. Slocumb. We left Reads Landing a day or so after she left and for some reason Capt. Dan did not lay up on Saturday night and on a Sunday we passed the Champion, at the bank near Capoli, obeying orders as to Sunday lay up. Henry Slocumb, son of Capt W. W. and the clerk of the Champion, came out in a skiff, went to the pilot house and asked Capt. Dan why he was running on Sunday, to which Capt. Dan replied: “to get down the river,” which reply did not set well and they had an argument that was quite hot, but of course did not accomplish anything. I never did know why Capt. Dan violated the general rule of the company.
(Note: Generally speaking Sunday on the river was as good as any other day and treated about the same. Occasionally a skipper would recognize the day but there are very few instances where the day was observed, differently from any other. Knapp, Stout & Company had a rule requiring the boats to lay up on Sunday and it was generally observed. Just the reason for the order we never knew, but some who followed the regular rule of running all the time the boats were on regular trips were unkind enough to say that it gave the company a chance to clean boilers every week and save some expense while that was being done as the per day men got no pay for Sunday -when they did not work! F.A.B.)”
Edgar Smith, clerk
“After the season closed at Stillwater I went to Reed’s Landing hoping to get something that would help me out on the way home. As luck would have it I found Dan Davison and Boyd Newcomb taking eight strings of lumber to Dubuque and I got an oar on the bow. I do not think we put out a line on the trip. Nicholas Suitor an Albany boy, was cook on the raft and both of us anxious to get home. So after getting our pay, there being no boats running, we decided to take the skiff route. We started down late in the afternoon. The weather was quite cold. It was practically dark, when we reached Catfish so we landed, built a fire, made some coffee, hung around the fire awhile, and slept by jerks until about 4 o’clock the next morning when we pulled out. Put in a full day and camped that night on an island just below Savanna. It was getting colder and the next morning was very foggy and we were wet to the hide by the heavy dew. Floated as best we could and when the fog lifted we were about six miles above Lyons and made home about 4 o’clock that afternoon.” [“When Rafters Ruled” The Career of Capt. Jerome E. Short; Clinton Herald]
Charles Townley, Clerk
I regret to announce the death of Capt Frank Wild, which occurred March 3rd at his home in Albany, Ills., at the age of 73 years. All old time river men will remember the genial Frank Wild and regret to hear of his death. I have not seen him for 30 years, yet I knew him well, and remember him as an active, genteel young man, away back in the 60’s. he went on the boats at an early age and last year completed his 50th year as a steamboat pilot. He was a good pilot, loved the business, and stayed with it to the end. My remembrance is that the family at one time lived at St. Francisville, Mo. And from there moved to Quincy, Ills., where Frank was born. He leaves a wife and daughter to mourn his loss, and the sympathy of all of Frank’s old time friends and associates will be extended to them in their bereavement. [From The Burlington Saturday Evening Post March 1912, Chapter 28 of Captain E. H. Thomas]
Chapter One: “My first attempt at improved boating was not wholly a success. My father had a very nice skiff, or row boat, and I was eternally after him to let me have it so I could make it a side wheeler. Finally he consented and told me to go ahead and see what I could do, so I started on the job. The first move was to get material. This I did by gathering all the lumber and timbers that could be found along the shore of the rivers above and below Albany for some distance. It took me some time to get the necessary material together but at least I was ready for work and had as tools a saw and hammer. Of course I was not able to work continuously but did it at odd times. The top of the skiff was decked over and there was very little guard forward and aft of the wheels. The wheel frame was made out of saplings about three inches in diameter. Having no way to make it exactly square I had to use my eye-and was fairly well satisfied. The two shafts were made of round sticks about one and one-half inches in diameter, to which the wheel arms that carried the four buckets on each wheel were fastened. The engineer sat in the hold of the skiff with good splash boards between him and the wheels. The captain pilot and engineer were in one person. The crew was Wallace Wilson who I had induced to make the trial trip with me.
When all was ready the captain issued orders to let go and we backed out slowly, the engineer at the crank of each wheel. After we got clear and straightened up we came ahead slowly and having checked the backward speed came ahead strong. After three or four revolutions both wheels dropped into the river! The crew was ordered to take the headline and jump in the water, wade ashore and make the boat fast. He obeyed orders to some extent but unfortunately took both ends of the line with him and I was adrift without oars, compass or pole. For a little while I thought my time had come and that I was due to be wrecked or starved but fortunately Dave Byer saw my trouble an came out in a skiff and rescued me. My reply was that a sidewheel boat did not need oars! That was my last attempt at boat construction.” [“When Rafters Ruled” The Career of Capt. Jerome E. Short]
TWO OLD PILOTS HEAVE ANCHORS - Veterans Winans and Tromley sail for unknown
Captain Mahlon S. Winans was one of the earliest settlers in the village of Albany, a river town dating from the early days of the river’s greatness. His residence in Albany dated from 1839 from which time until his death Sunday evening at 9:30 o’clock, he made his home in that village. From the start, he engaged in the life of a riverman, working his way up from the lower deck to the pilot house, which berth he held for sixty years. Guiding passenger and freight boats, rafters and tugs from the Falls of St. Anthony to St. Louis and to the gulf up and down the tributaries of the Mississippi, he learned every nook and cranny, every rapid, shoal and rock in the great river, as one knows the topography of his dooryard. Taking an active part in the river traffic when before the advent of the railroad, it was at its height and the great west was beginning to push its wealth of grain and timber to the market of the world, the history of the Mississippi valley during the most momentous periods in its history was personally familiar to him. Broken down by the years of labor from heart trouble for some time and his end was not entirely unexpected. He was a brother of Captain George Winans, connected with many river interests in the capacity of boat owner. [The Daily Times, Oct. 18, 1904, Pg. 4]
Chapter XIX: Early in the spring of 1857 we made our first trip pulling an oar, there was a raft of lumber belonging to Carson and Rand going to Burlington, Iowa. This lumber raft wintered about a quarter of a mile above Nelson’s Landing. A man by the name of Boyd Newcomb had a contract to run that lumber. He had a young man with him, who acted as second pilot by the name of Tom Forbush, who soon became a first class pilot on rafts. He had a knowledge of the river to St. Louis. We shipped on this raft to Burlington, Iowa. After we got back Carson and Rand had no lumber for some time to go down the river and we shipped with a pilot by the name of Malin Winans. On this trip to Dubuque, we first became acquainted with George Winans, a brother of the pilot. He was a year younger than myself. He afterwards became Captain George Winans, a noted pilot and later owner and builder of steamboats. We made a second trip with Pilot Malin Winans. We do not recall where this raft went to, but we do recall that it went below the Rock Island Rapids. [“When Rafters Ruled”, Jerome E. Short, Clinton Herald]
Chapter 15: Once we took a raft out of Lansing bay that had been there for some time. Weeds had grown up al over the raft and it looked more like a week field than a raft as we went down the river with it. Alf Withrow was my partner and he was a good old pal. Everything went nicely until he was taking the first piece through Cassville slough. When near the second bend he got nervous and excited and began niggering the boat first one way and then the other, paying no attention to the rudders and all the time the boat was backing with all her power. He was pulling the raft so hard that the windlasses on the fore and aft, lines began to snap; the “A” lines and cross lines began breaking and all the time Alf was cussin the men for all he was worth. He had been getting on so well that I did not like to interfere but finally I went to the pilot house to stop his cursing the men. I told him h was pulling the raft to pieces and if he did not quit we would be a week picking up loose logs. He calmed down a little and when we had the raft adjusted so there was no more danger he said: “Lome, I would give a thousand dollars for your disposition.” I said he could have it for nothing if he would stop and think for one minute when he got into trouble. Instead of commencing to curse yourself; “We are in for it, now let us get out of it as best we can,” and be pleasant about it. He was all unstrung and said he never thought of that! It was the first time I ever knew him not to argue his side of the question as his long suit was a controversy. We got along nicely together and if he is alive today I wish him happiness and prosperity. If he has passed on I hope he is with some of our old cronies with whom he can argue to his heart’s content, as that is the way he will get the most pleasure. (Note Alfred R. Withrow was born on a farm in Henry Co., Ill., January 7, 1837, commenced his river career on a raft with David Hanks-no raft captains in those days-in 1854. Enlisted in the sixth Wisconsin regiment in the Civil War in 1861. Returned to the river after his discharge and followed the river as long as he was able his last few years.) [Source: “When Rafters Ruled” Capt. Jerome E. Short Clinton Herald]
Among the men who came up from Albany were Wm. Ewing, Jim Hugins (?), Mat Thompson; Tover Bard; Jim Withrow; two Robinsons and a man named Flack. Some of these were in the crews on the rafts and some had gone up to the mill to the log driver, as there were lots of logs still hung up. [The Life and Adventures of Stephen B. Hanks”, Burlington Saturday Evening Post, July 23rd 1921]
THE ROCK RIVER
Capt. Harris was First Man to Navigate "The Rock" in 1838
Sauk and Fox Indian Tribes Dwelt on Banks of Colorful Rock River
The swift flowing Rock River spearates the cities of Sterling and Rock Falls in its unplanned course directed by nature itself, forming the winding path which leds to its terminus with the great Mississippi River at Rock Island. The Rock River may have been one of the reasons the early settlers in the area chose the sites along the scenic banks of the "The Rock" in wich to establish their settlements with the intention of using the river as a source of transportation and later, to harness the rapids to produce the power necessary for industrial development. Even before the settlers arrived in the Sterling-Rock Falls area, the Rock River provided the local Indians a means of transportation and a valuable source of their food supply.
Keokuk, the famed leader of the Black Hawk War and a member of the Fox clan, was born on the Rock River around 1780. Keokuk's long time rival, Black Hawk, was also born on the Rock River at its mouth around the year 1767. His last speech contained the following pathetic words; "Rock river is a beautiful country. I like my towns and my corn fields, and the home of my people. I fought for it. Now it is yours."
While most of the benefits of the Rock River were on the plus side, history records some problems caused by the river including flooding and ice jams, several of which washed away entire bridges and due partially to manmade dams which failed to hold. One of the earlier problems of the river to the settlers of Sterling and Rapids City (now Rock Falls), was that of crossing the swift flowing river itself. The problem was first solved by fording the river in several places and in winter, theis problem was eliminated when the ice was sufficient to permit passage by area residents. Out of necessity, the creative ability of the the residents resulted in the establishment of ferry boat systems and finally the construction of bridges across the river to provide a safe crossing for residents and freight alike.
Hezekiah Brink, founder of Sterling, seemed to be a handy man in the early days of Sterling and he was the operator of the first ferry boat linking the two cities. This was during theyears 1839 and 1840 and Brink's ferry system was at the foot of Broadway or just above it. Old man winter caused the freezing of the river in winter and partially solved the crossing problem and also afforded some winter sports.
Early records indicate and credit Captain Daniel Smith Harris as the first man to navigate the Rock River to Sterling and vicinity. Capt. Harris was followed in the year 1840 by the steamer "Gypsy" which proceded up the river as far as Janesville, Wis.
John Mason of Sterling was the pilot of the "Gypsy" and the major problem was getting the steamer through the rapids. On her return trip, "Gypsy" landed at Harrisburg and unloaded her entire cargo and even a part of the flooring on the upper deck to insure a safe passage due to the drop in the water level at that time. The goods from the "Gypsy" were hauled to the local bank and transported then by horse team as far as Avenue B in Sterling, where they were reloaded on the steamer.
The very next season, a flatboat came up the Rock River and did not fare as well. The flatboat came as far as the "rapids" and an effort was made to pole the craft through, without success. The craft became hopelessly stuck and resulted in selling her cargo of whiskey, sugar, tea, coffee and others was sold to area residents.
Just a year or so before in 1839, an appropriation had been made under the internal improvement act of the Illinois General Assembly to build a canal around the "Rock River rapids" on the Rock Falls side of the river so steamboats and other craft might continue on, at least as far as the City of Dixon. The proposed canal went down in the economic crash which followed, blamed on the extravagant and reckless system of state finance.
Not to be deterred, local residents petitioned the state legislature to pass an act for the improvement of the Rock River under which a tax could be levied for the purpose. The General Assembly complied with the local wishes and on Feb. 25, 1845, passed: "An Act for the improvements of the navigation of the Rock River," under the provisions of which the County Commissioners of the counties lying along the river were authorized to levy a tax in their respective counties to secure the removal of all obstructions from the rapids (from which Rock Falls took its name later, the original name was Rapids City), at Sterling to the mouth of the river and the work to be done under the supervision of the board of commissioners.
The board of commissioners appointed John Dixon, president and made a thorough investigation and report on Dec. 6, 1947 as follows:
The contract, made with Thomas McCabe, to excavate a channel through the rapids at Sterling, having been given up by him, the board employed William Pollack, one of the members to superintend the work on said rapids with authority to empower the necessary workmen and procure the necessary tools and equipment."
The board appropriated $452.53 for the services of Pollack.
On Dec. 28, 1848, the board met and made a second report and during the meeting appropriated $80.50 for the removal of rock from the river. This was to be the last meeting of the board which probably soon afterwards disbanded.
Meanwhile the hope of river navigation was continued for several years and spasmodic attempts were made to bring boats here, but the idea was finally abandoned except for a few and with the coming of the railroad, the idea was given up entirely.
Boating for pleasure and sporting events has been popular on the Rock River since the time Captain Harris landed his steamboat here in 1839. A.P. Smith, the founder of the City of Rock Falls was the owner of the first large pleasure boat locally.
The first boat club consisted of about 12 or more young men pooled their resources and bought "The Belle of the Isle." This was a large row boat with four or six pairs of oars and for several years was used to transport parties on river excrusions, picnics, etc. It also carried a large sail at times and its owners enjoyed many sailing trips both up and down the Rock River.
Later came the steam launches and a new trend of water pleasure was added to the earlier history. One of the most pretentious of these steam launches was the "Neptune", a 40-foot boat owned by L.C. Thorne and Harry Hubbard. The "Neptune" was shipped to Rock Falls on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, shipped to a siding nearest the river, a long skid was built from the river to the railroad track and the boat was unloaded in this manner. The skid was more than 100 feet long and extended from a railroad track to the river at a point above the First Avenue bridge. The "Neptune" was operated for several years and carried many parties up the river making the trip to Dixon and return.
Another old boat on the Rock River in the early days was the "Mascot" built by two brothers, John and B.P. "Pikey" Werntz.
During the summer of 1894, a gay, beautiful and spectacular boat parade was held on the Rock River. The parade was credited to the genius and interest of Albert Breiding, Sr., of Sterling. Breiding was a young man at the time learning the mechanics trade and he built a steam engine and a boiler. Some time later with the assistance of his brother Walter, they built the steam boat named "Anna B" after Albert Breiding's wife. The "Anna" was 23 and one-half feet long, six feet in width and had a capacity of 32 passengers. The engine and boiler were installed at midships and she carried a colored-canvas top.
During the boat parade in1894, the Breiding's "Anna B" picked up and pulled 35 small boats. The trip was up to the rapids which is now the Government Dam. At the rapids, a turn was made and the long string of gaily decorated craft behing was pulled back downstream and a figure "8" was made in the river by the boat's route.
Another notable outing of the "Anna B" was when the Sterling-Rock Falls YMCA held an overnight trip to Big Island and the men and boys making the cruise spent the night in a cabin on the island. In addition , during the history of the "Anna B" the steamer was used to carry many Sunday school classes on their picnics up the river to Big Island where the picnic camps were held.
The Breiding brothers traded the "Anna B" to Chris Burkeholder of Sterling for a horse and buggy and a lot on 14th Avenue in Sterling. Walter chose the horse and buggy as his part of the trade agreement while his brother Albert took the lot on 14th Avenue. After the trade was made, Burkholder changed the name of the craft to the "Alice B".
The boat was apparnetly dismantled at a later date and the Breiding steam engine was used to grind grain for awhile. It si currently owned by Ralph Wareheime of 1401 2nd Ave. Sterling.
The old steam-driven boats were doomed after the advent of the gas engines which made new types of boats available and a new era of boating was to make the scene on the Rock River. It was just a short time after the Chicago World's Fair in the early 1930's the gas driven pleasure boats appeared on the Rock River in the local area.
Among the first to own and operate the new gas powered boats were J.W. McDonald and James S. Greenough. A few of the well remembered launches was Heaton Bressler's "Summer Girl," Harry Hubbard's "Ada H" and Frank Oppold's "Bill of Expense." In the early 1930's there were boat houses along the river bank between the bridges where the Lawrence Bros. factory now stands, a cluster at the foot of Fourth Avenue, more at the foot of 13th and 14th Avenues and even further upstream.
Sail boats were popular on the Rock River for some time and the best sailing waters were above the Government dam and into the large body called "Sinnissippi Lake." In the early days, sail boating required experienced operators and many upsets were recorded andthe blame was placed on the high river banks which cut off the river breeze and caused gusting winds.
Even today (1976), the Rock River provides a welcome retreat for area boating enthusiasts who frequent the river turns and passages in canoes, kayaks, sailboat, house boats and the very popular and speedy pleasure boats called "run-abouts."
Three large marinas now store boats and provide necessary services including the Shore Acres Marina at ROck Falls; The Harry Oppold Marina operated by the Sterling Park District and Sorenson's Marina located at Moonlight Bay between Sterling and Dixon.
Each year the usage of the "The Rock" seems to be increasing and adding more pages to its already important and colorful history. Along with the usage of the Rock River is the ironic comparison of earlier days when angry residents were forced to wade the river in order to make a crossing, with the present day flotilla of speed boats which carry four or more passengers easily at speeds up to 40 and 50 milesper hour and to each grouping, it was a sign of progress. [Sterling Daily Gazette July 2, 1976]
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