Pioneer Days On The Mississippi By J. W. Lawhead

Pioneer Days On The Mississippi By J. W. Lawhead

The names of a few of the many magnificent steamers that were frequent callers at our levee in the days before the civil war, when steamboat business was at its zenith, are still fresh in my mind. Many of our citizens will remember such boats as the Time and Tide, Brazil, Lady Franklin, Montauk, Bonacord, Anthony Wayne, Danube, Greek Slave, Julia Dean, Lamertine, Golden Era, Itaska, Grey Eagle, Effie Afton, Excelsior, James McKee, and Lusern. All these boats were large, finely equipped side-wheelers, for a stern-wheeler in those times was seldom seen. Boats were constructed in a manner to best take care of the business demands. Each boat was pre-pared to carry a large amount of freight, and so arranged also as to accommodate comfortably two hundred and three hundred passengers. No hotel in any city surpassed their bill of fare. Their tables were furnished with the best that the markets could afford, and served in a manner unexcelled. Steam boating fifty years ago was attended with many difficulties, chief among which was the lower rapids. There it was that through the major part of the boating season all freight and passengers had to be transferred over and around the portage. Each boat’s cargo had to be removed and placed on great litters or flat boats, each one covering about one-half an acre of river, so to speak. These were towed over the rapids, and then the goods were replaced aboard the boat on which they belonged. Then the steamer would proceed on her journey. These were vexatious delays and attended by great expense and much labor. The pilots on the river in those days were men who had the chart of the river and the course of the channel and the numerous difficult crossings, the shoals, hidden rocks and other obstructions which lay in their bath, in their heads. It required years of constant practice and diligent study and close observation. To attain the vast and important knowledge they must know the path on the darkest and stormiest night as well as in the light of day. How different the condition of today. The lower rapids have been shot out-with a great stone wall that forms the outer bank of a ship canal, through which steamers pass with their cargo undisturbed. The reefs, sandbars, snags and other obstructions have been removed, the channel deepened and widened where required, stone piers and buoys in the river, provided to mark the course of the channel by day, with lights in vast numbers to show the way by night. The government has expended vast sums of money in the past years to improve navigation and encourage commerce on our western rivers.


Early Settlements of Rock Island County 


Source: Historic Rock Island County, pub. Kramer & Company, Rock Island, Illinois, 1908

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