Le Claire Iowa

River Men



Watching for the Ferry
John Bloom

Compiled by Georgeann McClure

This is not a complete list  
(If you have any information on river men please add it. )




Barnes Dennis



From History of Scott County, Iowa 1882 Chicago: Interstate Publishing Co."

When Dennis was 19 years old he left his home for Troy, N. Y., where he shipped aboard a sloop on the Hudson River two years. He then shipped on a schooner running between New York and Charleston, S. C. Then made a trip to the East Indies which took him one year.


In the fall of 1832 shipped for New Orleans, when he embarked in the steamboat business, which he followed for 11 years.



Barnes Joseph





Capt. Joe Barnes



Joseph D. Barnes, Civil War Veteran, Playmate of Buffalo Bill, Dead

July 9, 1931


  Joseph D. Barnes, Civil war veteran, playmate of Buffalo Bill and near life resident of Le Claire, died this morning at 1: 15 o’clock at the home of his granddaughter, Mrs. Albert Morey, 103 Thornwood avenue, Davenport.

  Mr. Barnes was 88 years old.  He had been in falling health since he suffered a stroke Jan. 30, 1923 and had been bedfast for the past six months.  He had been living with his granddaughter since the beginning of his serious illness.

  For many years some of the best know and most colorful figures in this vicinity, Mr. Barnes had been a resident of Le Claire almost continuously for 57 years.  There he was a playmate of William F. Cody, later the famous “Buffalo Bill” of that community for several decades, having been a member of the town council for 12 years, a member of the board of education for six years and commander of August Wentz post, G. A. R., for several terms.

  Of five children he is survived by only one son, Raymond J. Barnes of Des Moines.  He is also survived by four grandchildren, Mrs. Florence Morey, with whom he made his home in Davenport. Mrs. Russell Ross of Des Moines, Jack Barnes, also of Des Moines, and Thomas Barnes of Shreveport La.


Born in Ohio


  Mr. Barnes was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, March 11, 1843.  He was the son of Dennis and Emily Barnes, who moved to Le Claire in 1844, coming by way of steamboat to an area still sparsely settled.  The Cody’s, parents of the future “Buffalo Bill” were neighbors of Mr. Barnes parents in Le Claire until the Cody’s moved to Kansas in 1852.

  The great grandson of a Revolutionary war captain, the grandson of a patriot who died in the war of 1812, Mr. Barnes was 19 when the Civil War began.  He enlisted as a private in company K, Twentieth Iowa volunteer Infantry, and served for the duration of the war.  He took part in many engagements, among them being the battle of Prairie Grove Ark., the siege and capture of Vicksburg, and the assaults on Fort Morgan and Blakey, Ala. For good conduct and meritorious service he was commissioned first lieutenant of his company.

  At the close of the war he returned to le Claire and followed rafting on the Mississippi for two years.  Then for a time he engaged in farming near Port Byron Ill.


 He was married in 1873 to Miss Florence E. James in Davenport, and in 1878 returned with his family to Le Claire where he made his home continuously until his recent illness.  His wife preceded him in death July 20, 1923.  He retired from active business about 18 years ago.


  A number of years ago Mr. Barnes was commissioned an aid de camp on the staff of S. R. Van Sant, former commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, with the rank of colonel.  Eight years ago he donated and dedicated the monument under the “ Green Tree” stating “.  He also donated the monument to Colonel Davenport that stands in the Scott county courthouse yard.

  For many years his memory of the old days were an invariable source of information to the collectors and chroniclers of local history.


  The body was taken to the McGinnis mortuary pending funeral arrangements.


*Thanks to Larry and  Pauline Shannon For this obituary on Joe Barnes



“When Rafters Ruled’
Fred A. Bill
Chapter 6
Clinton Herald
April 8, 19  

  “I was fortunate enough to get a job with Capt. David Hanks on the Hiram Price and finished the season with him.” 

“One particular thing happened on this up trip.  The engineer’s name was Bartlett and he lived in Le Claire.  When we got to Sycamore chain, on the raft channel side, the boat would not stem the current.  Captain Dave tried a number of times and then gave it up and laid up for the night and the engineer went home.  In the morning when he came to the boat the fireman had steam up and the Hiram Price walked up over the chain as if there was none there!  Captain David was too easy!”


The Davenport Democrat & Leader
Dec. 20, 1908
Pg. 11  

Le Claire  

The Many old friends here are grieved to learn of the death of E. P. Bartlett, which occurred at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Jennie Finley in St. Louis , Dec. 17.  Mr. Bartlett was an old Mississippi river engineer and later was in the government service on the river.

--Sue Rekkas


He has Been Identified With traffic on the Mississippi River For Nearly Half a Century

Davenport Democrat 
Sept 27, 1901  

   The flags on the river packets and at the Diamond Jo warehouse were at half mast today in respect to the memory of Daniel Dawley of Le Claire, one of the oldest and best known steamboat engineers on the upper river.  Mr. Dawley died at his home in Le Claire early this morning after an illness of but as few weeks.  The cause of his death was a fever contracted about a week ago.

   He was nearly 60 years of age and had spent nearly all of his life from early boyhood on the river.  He was a careful engineer and had been at different times on nearly every packet and raft boat on the upper river.  The last boat he was on was the W.J. Young, Jr., which left a week ago Wednesday to go home for a rest.

   The family has been connected with river traffic since the early days of navigation, the father being Captain Daniel Dawley who was on the river almost continuously from 1838 to shortly before his death when he retired and was appointed postmaster of Le Claire.

   Several brothers of the deceased are still living, one A.L. Dawley, being cashier of the Diamond Jo Line at St. Louis .  Another brother, Arthur, resides at Le Claire.  He leaves besides his aged  mother, a wife and two children, a son and daughter.  His death will be universally mourned among river men, who knew him as a faithful engineer and a true friend.  The esteem in which he was held is instanced by the fact that as soon as the news of his death was received the flags on the packets and at the warehouse were raised at half mast.

transcribed by Georgeann McClure         



Breen John

Deck hand



Breen Frank

Cabin boy


Davenport Times

July 11, 1902

Pg. 4




Coroner’s Jury says Justifiable Homicide


Other Witnesses Examined


  A number of other witnesses were examined, John Breen, brother of the mate, testified that both men had drawn their guns.  He did not stay to see the shooting.  Breen is a deck hand on the steamer.  Frank Breen cabin boy and son of the mate, testified that while the shooting was in progress the younger cowboy pointed his gun square at the mate.  All the witnesses testified that other men had examined the bodies while the boat was putting back.


Brown Eugene




The Davenport Democrat and Leader

March 16, 1930


Eugene Brown Le Claire, Dies; Heart Disease

Succumbs Suddenly to Stroke Altho Ailing Two years


  Eugene S. Brown, a marine engineer and a resident of le Claire for many years, died at 1:30 p. m. Friday at his home in Le Claire.  He had been ailing with heart disease for two years and death resulted from a sudden attack suffered at noon Friday.

  Mr. Brown was born in New York, Dec. 15, 1854, and came to Clinton county with his parents when 10 years old, later moving to a farm in Scott county.  He was married to Miss Virginia Van Aken at Le Claire, March 23, 1881, and had since made his home in Le Claire.  He followed the occupation of marine engineer, being employed by private interests.

  Surviving are one sister, Francis Swiggalt of Le Claire.  His wife preceded him in death on July 24, 1927.

  The body was removed to the McGinnis funeral home and returned home and returned to the late residence where funeral services will be held at 2 p. m. today.  The Rev. C. E. Thompson will officiate.  Burial will be made in Glendale cemetery.



Buisson Joe


Davenport Democrat & Leader

April 1, 1928


Last Surviving River Captain of Old Le Claire, Takes Out Boat at 88; is Veteran of Rafting and Packet Days


“ Capt. Hawthorne had a twin until three years ago in Joe Buisson, an old pilot of part Indian blood.  Because of their likeness in appearance, both with long black beards and snappy eyes, they were called the “Twin Joes.”




Burrow Vetal


Davenport Democrat and Leader

February 14, 1932



Other Mild Winters Recalled here by Old Time Rivermen-Attempt Made To Bring Ice Raft Down Mississippi;


By Capt Walter A. Blair



“Captains Hawthorne and Tromley engaged Vetal Burrow and a few others willing to take a chance and proceeded to get out a raft of ice to fulfill their contract.  They sawed out a section about the size of a half city block and fitted up and hung large oars on each by which they could keep it in or near the channel.  They borrowed a check line and a raft skiff from Captain Sam Van Sant with which to land and tie up at East Davenport.

  This adventure aroused great interest and caused much comment in Le Claire and fully one quarter of the population were on the bank to see the start and cheer them when they “Let go for Davenport.”

  There were a few doubters and some predictions of disaster but Hawthorne, Tromley and Burrow were raftsman of experience and reputation and the great majority were confident of their success.

  The oars worked all right and the raft of ice responded readily to their pulling and the crew wee ready to take bets the “She will make it all right, but when she struck the swift water and then the strong eddy on Smith’s chain the bow took a dive-the water came up over the head block and all the bow crew but Burrow let go their oars and ran aft, just in time, for she broke clear across and the broke in other places and in less than a minute the raft was just several cakes of ice rapidly separating in the swirling currents and eddies.


  When the first crack was heard all made for the skiff, hauled out near the stern, and reached it in time all except Burrow who hung on to his oar at the bow-went down in water above his knees until the cake came up and the water drained off.

  The heavy check line and the crew were all the skiff would carry.  They carefully worked to the Iowa shore near the mouth of Sycamore creek, moved the check line out on the bank and then three men, two to row and one steering, stared to rescue Burrow.  His cake had taken the suck” was down near Hampton when they got him.  Burrow pretty well chilled but not at all frightened gave the rescue party the Canadian laugh and said “What’s de matter you fellar?  I go deal more further den any of you.  You brought one or two dem oars wit you I take my piece to Stubb’s Eddy all right sure ting.”

  They had a long hard row back home.  The others had preceded them on foot and Le Claire had a topic for conversation that evening.

  The idea was all right, but very mild weather during the three days spent in preparation had weakened the ice.  Made it porous and it broke easily.  But no one tried it again.”





Craig John Wallace


Saturday Morning Democrat

March 22, 1952


The Craig Funeral


  Funeral services for John Wallace Craig, 82, a former resident of Le Claire who was found dead Friday morning, will be held at 1:30 p. m. Monday in McGinnis funeral home.  The Rev. Kenneth Carey, pastor of McClellan Heights Presbyterian Church will officiate.  Burial will be in Memorial Park.

  Mr. Craig was found in his bed at the home of his granddaughter, Mrs. Marion Ells, 1706 Bell Avenue, where he had made his home the last three years.  He died about 7 a. m. after a short illness.

  A riverman for many years, he was formerly employed on riverboats which operated on the Mississippi river in this vicinity.  He was born in Scott County, Oct 3, 1869.  He married Kate Shannon in Cable Ill., July 1, 1895.  She died in 1920

Survivors include his wife’ a daughter, Mrs. William Ristau, Davenport, a brother, Samuel Craig, Moline; and grandson, William W. Johnson, Davenport, and two great grandchildren.





Davidson Archie



Davenport Democrat & Leader

Feb 22, 1931


Boats of The Pioneer Days On Upper River

Sinking of Craft and Loss of Life Not Uncommon In Olden Days

Capt. Walter Blair


“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.”


Davidson J. E.





Deep be the grief that mourns the dead

Who never gave cause to mourn before.






Davidson P. S.


Boats of The Pioneer Days On Upper River

Sinking of Craft and Loss of Life Not Uncommon In Olden Days

Capt. Walter Blair


“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.”




Day L A.



“The wreck was raised, taken to La Cross and rebuilt as the Robert Ross.  This name was later changed to J. S. Keator.  She was for many years in charge of Captain L. A. Day of Le Claire, Ia., while she was running logs for J. S. Keator Sons of Moline, Ill., her owners.”




Photo McClure

 L. A. Day 1870-1935 


J. S. Dodds

Davenport Democrat
Dec. 28, 1903

Death of J. S. Dodds of Pleasant Valley
One of the successful farmers of the county  

Was the father of the well known Steamboat Man, Captain Robert Dodds, and had lived to an advanced age-funeral today.  

Announcement is made of the death of John S. Dodds, one of the old settlers of this county and for more than 40 years one of the best known farmers of Pleasant valley township.  He died at his home four miles west of Le Claire on Christmas night.  Mr. Dodds had been in feeble health for the past two years and his death was largely the result of the declining of the physical forces incident to old age.

  The deceased was born in butler county.  Pennsylvania , Aug 22, 1822, and had therefore attained the ripe old age of 81 years, 3 months and 28 days.  On March 10, 1857, he was united in marriage to Miss Susan Shannor of the same county, and together they came west that year, settling on the large farm in Pleasant Valley where they have since continued to live.  Mr. Dodds was one of the most successful farmers of that part of the county and one of its most highly respected citizens.

The members of the surviving family consists of a wife and six children-bird Dobbs of Colorado, Captain Robert Dodds of Keokuk, Miss Lillie Dodds and Mrs Guy LaGrange at home.  John in Kansas and George of Colorado .

Mr. Dodds was a brother of the late T. J. Dodds of Le Claire, for many years, postmaster at that place.  A brother Jesse Dodds and a sister Mrs. Susan Trimpler, reside in this city, while two sisters Mrs. Maggie Humes and Mrs. Elizabeth Stevison reside in Pittsburgh Pa.

The funeral was held this afternoon from the late residence .all the members of the family being present except the son John, who was unable to come.   

Capt. D. F. Dorrance
Pilot, is dead

Passed Away Sunday at Local Hospital at age 73 Years.  

Davenport Democrat
Dec. 18, 1916, Pg. 12

   Capt. D.F. Dorrance of Le Claire, well known Mississippi river pilot, died Sunday morning at 9 O’clock at a Davenport hospital.  Death followed a stroke of paralysis sustained early Thursday morning, since which time he has been in a critical condition.  He was 73 years old.

   Capt. Dorrance was one of the veteran, as well as best known pilots on the upper Mississippi .  During his life he probably brought as many log and lumber rafts over the hazardous Le Claire rapids as any other pilot.

  Capt. Dorrance was born in Rock Island county, Oct. 5, 1843.  He was educated in the district schools and early in life took to the river.  When a mere boy he had the reputation of handling the oars with more dexterity and skill than any other lad on the river.  He soon became a pilot on a raft boat and later acquired several boats of his own.  His last boat was the “Irene D,” named after his daughter, Mrs. Irene Spinsby of Le Claire.

   Capt. Dorrance was united in marriage to Miss Elizabeth Lancaster who died in 1892.  For the past five years he has been retired from active service, during which time he did occasional work at the pilot wheel.  The past summer he worked on one of the Bedra Wood’s sand boats in Moline and his last engagement was on the steamer Alice, owned by the interstate Material company..

  In his day Capt. Dorrance was known as one of the most skilled and daring pilots on the upper Mississippi .

  Surviving are two children, a son Herschel, and a daughter Mrs. I. S. Spinsby, wife of Capt. Spinsby of Le Claire.

  Funeral services will be held at 2 o’clock Tuesday afternoon from the Suiter undertaking parlors in Le Claire.  Interment will take place in the Le Claire cemetery.  

                              D. F. Dorrance


Capt. D. H. Dorrance  


ARREST OF D H. Dorrance for driving without a license
What is claimed by the inspectors and what Mr. Durance claims, held for appearance
Nov. 18, 1886  

     There was some more pilot business before Commissioner White this afternoon.  D. H. Dorrance, one of three Dorrances who are so well-known as rapids pilots, was the party in custody, charged with the crime of violating section 4438 of the laws of the United State,”  which forbids any person to sail as pilot of a vessel on the navigable waters of the United States without a license.

     It appears that the district inspectors, Barns and Scott, are at the bottom of the prosecution.  They notified U. S. Attorney finch of the alleged offense and he added accordingly, and Captain Jack McCaffrey was summoned as the prosecuting witness.   The information alleges that on the 14th day of September, 1886, the License of D. A. Dorrance was suspended by the inspectors for a period of ten days, and that on the 17th day of September he acted as pilot on the steamer Pilot, “on the Mississippi river, in Scott County, Iowa,” that he did the same thing with the same steamer on the 30th and 31st  day of September.  

   Attorney Fisch was present for the government and Abner Davison appeared with Mr. Dorrance as his counsel.  Mr Davison claimed that Mr. Dorrance had not been properly suspended -that he had been given no opportunity for a hearing before the inspectors. , who suspended prematurely  without notice to him,, and that therefore the suspension was waived and the commissioners held Dorrance in the sum of $300 for appearance of the next term of the U. S. court in Keokuk.

   All the pilots on the upper Mississippi and the masters and mates of steamboats are watching the proceedings against Dorrance with great interest.  There are some very peculiar features in the case.  For instance,  Dana Dorrance claims that he did not get a pilot during his suspension, that because he was seen in the pilot house of the steamer it was taken for granted that he was acting  at the wheel, when he wasn’t.  he claims, too, that he employed another pilot, giving him $300 a month to do his work.  But the government will endeavor to show that durance was really the pilot when he was in the pilot house the times complained of that the party he employed was not a rapids pilot at best a packet pilot; that the later stood at the wheel. While Dorrance told him how to direct the raft in the channel, and he steered the raft accordingly; and that thus Dorrance was pilot in fact.  The inspectors say that there is no use of having rules and regulations for the government of pilots if pilots are to be permitted to get around them in that way, or to pay no attention to suspensions.  


Eads James


Engineer for the Eads Bridge in St. Louis once lived in Le Claire, Iowa.




Elliott John



Old Times On the Mississippi

By J. D. Barnes

 Port Byron Globe

April 4, 1935


Writer’s Experience as a Riverman



  In the chapter preceding this one, referring to the le Claire boys, that the good people of Stillwater looked upon as tramps and bums in the spring of 1867.  I failed to mention that many of those same boys are today our most prominent river men and are numbered with the pilots and engineers.  The next boat from the south after the Canada brought another installment of Le Claire boys into Stillwater.  It appears that John Elliott, John Hanley, Fritz Peterson, Walt Henderson and Herb Rutledge, had been calking down at la Crosse, but business being rather dull they came up to Stillwater for the purpose of rafting, so the place was well represented.  You could have stood on a street corner and seen them all almost any time of the day.






Goldsmith Frank



The Davenport Democrat and Leader

March 6, 1932

Pg. 19


Walter Blair Speaking of the Abner Gile

  “Her last work was work dropping logs from St. Paul to Prescott.  In 1899 she sank at South Stillwater where she was dismantled and her engines used on some other boat.  Frank E. Goldsmith was her chief engineer several years while owned by Captain Short.  She had 28 years continuous service without a single serious accident.”


Goldsmith William Harvey

Rapids pilot



The Daily Times

Sept 27, 1923



Wm. H. Goldsmith 97 years old, is dead at Le Claire


  William Harvey Goldsmith, Pioneer resident of Le Claire and former river pilot, died at his home of his daughter Mrs. Eva Reiter, in Le Claire yesterday.  Mr, Goldsmith would have observed his 97th birthday next week.

  Born in Upsher, Pieple county Ohio, Oct 6, 1830, he came to Iowa with his parents in 1840, settling in Pleasant Valley township, and later moving to Le Claire, where he ahd since made his home.  For many years he followed the river and piloted rafts over the rapids.

  Mr. Goldsmith in his earlier days also had gained fame as a horseman.  He was a stage coach driver in Iowa long before the days of railroads and good highways.

  In 1856 Mr. goldsmith was married to Mary Jane White, also a native of Ohio, who died Dec. 30, 1909,  For the past nine years he had made his home with his daughter Mr. Goldsmith had been in good health until the past few weeks.  He was one of a family of twelve children.  The only survivor are two half sisters and his daughter Mrs. Reiter,.

  The funeral will be held Thursday at 2 p. m. from the home in Le Claire, with interment in Glendale cemetery.  Friends are asked to omit flowers.




Goldsmith J. G.







Daniel Hanley R.



Davenport Democrat

Feb. 3, 1929



It is not without interest to recall that Daniel R. Hanley, prominent river man of those days and now a resident of Davenport, was fireman at the time on the D. A. McDonald.  He escaped death in the McGregor explosion by reason of not making the trip in question.  He had remained at Le Claire and was in a Scott county harvest field when the boilers of the steamer gave way.  Mr. Hanley declares it is a fiction that colored men or boys were made to sit on the safety valves, when steamers were racing or trying to break records.  He admits, however, that the valve braced down with heavy timbers, were sometimes tied down or braced down with heavy timbers.  D. R. Hanley is a brother to J. A. Hanley the well known lawyer and recanteur.

Sue Rekkas



Hanley Dennis



D. Sept. 27, 1878



“Dennis Hanley ,Jr., engaged in boat-building until his death in 1878. Daniel R. and Michael L. took up steam boating and became licensed engineers.”




Hanley John



D July 18, 1880



Old Times On the Mississippi

By J. D. Barnes

 Port Byron Globe

April 4, 1935


Writer’s Experience as a Riverman



  In the chapter preceding this one, referring to the le Claire boys, that the good people of Stillwater looked upon as tramps and bums in the spring of 1867.  I failed to mention that many of those same boys are today our most prominent river men and are numbered with the pilots and engineers.  The next boat from the south after the Canada brought another installment of Le Claire boys into Stillwater.  It appears that John Elliott, John Hanley, Fritz Peterson, Walt Henderson and Herb Rutledge, had been calking down at la Crosse, but business being rather dull they came up to Stillwater for the purpose of rafting, so the place was well represented.  You could have stood on a street corner and seen them all almost any time of the day.





Hanley Michael L. 











Glenwood Cemetery

Le Claire, Iowa



Harbeck 1870

                                                            Marine   Anchor


Tansy Hawthorn
Capt. Tansy Hawthorne

Retired Boat Captain, 93, Pilots Ellen

Capt. Tansy Hawthorne, Le Claire, Guest of U. S. Engineers

 Captain Joe Morehead “Tansy “ Hawthorne , 93, Le Claire, basked in the Limelight today.  

   The old river captain was the guest of the U. S. engineers station in the Clock Tower and was brought to Davenport by the U.S. Ellen, the engineers’ boat, this morning.  He was an honored guest at the Clock Tower and at a dinner served aboard the Ellen at noon.

  In the afternoon the Ellen was taken thru the locks and below the dam, and on the return trip to Le Claire Captain Hawthorne took the wheel, piloting the boat over once familiar rapids now submerged by the lake.  Although he retired from the river in 1930 after 73 years service, he is given his pilots license each year by the government.

   Captain Hawthorne told the engineers that John D. Rockefeller, who celebrated his 96th birthday Monday, had only three years start on him and that he would live longer.

Transcribed by Georgeann McClure

Hight Washington

Rapids pilot


The Davenport Democrat & Leader

January 25, 1931

“Diamond Jo” Reynolds and His Line of Steamers

Was for Many Years the Most Picturesque Figure on Mississippi


Capt Walter A. Blair


In the spring of 1878 the Josephine came out new from the Diamond Jo yard at Eagle Point and took the place of the old Diamond Jo in the run, between Fulton and Burlington, Capt. Ben Congar and some of his crew from the old boat were on the new and pretty Josephine.  J. L. Carver and “Little Jim” Davenport; were her engineers.  They carried her hot and she soon acquired a reputation for speed.  Washington Hight and Dick Stevens were her pilots, both fine gentlemen and both regular rapids pilots.   


Old song


Washington Hight Rapids Pilot.”



“What are we waiting for?” passengers cry,

  When the Diamond Jo’s stops at Le Claire

“We wait for the Pilot,” the captin’s reply,

“The rapids begin over there.”


“Your pilots were here a minute ago,

  Are they leaving me, captain.” They say.

“They’re not licensed to run the rapids, you know

 “Tis a winding and perilous way”


“But where are the rapids, we’ve looked all around

O, Captain, what is there to see?”

“Beneath the smooth unruffled water the dangers abound

Though the surface unruffled may be.”


The treacherous river’s a blank to our view

  But the pilot we’re waiting for knows

How to hold the great Sycamore straight, steady and true,

  Wherever the curved channel goes.”


“Down the rapids, the next fourteen miles, rocks stretch, out

  Unseen, over eager for prey,

While above them the water good boiling about

  And beat dizill whirling away.”


Should we reach, hand or foot of the rapids at night,

We tie up till, dawn of the day,

Ah, here comes the with our pilot Wash Hight,”

  Cries the Captain, “Well now get away.


“When the pilot was young he and one who is dead ,

knew the long Mississippi by heart

From Saint Paul to New Orleans, the whole rivers bed

She, Could real like a book, ov’ry part.”








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


Holsapple E. T


Holsapple W. D.  


The Davenport Democrat and Leader

May 11, 1926

Captain W. D. Holsapple, Veteran River Pilot, is Dead, 50 Years at Helm.

Capt. W. D. Holsapple

  Captain W. D. Holsapple, aged 80 years, for more than half a century a pilot on the Mississippi river, veteran of river men and admired by them for this knowledge of the shifting currents of the father of waters, died at 5:45 o’clock yesterday afternoon at his home at smith’s Crossing, tow miles below Le Claire.  His death followed several months illness of cancer.

  Captain Holsapple was retired by the P. S. government three years ago after nearly 30 years service on the government boats in this district and with a record which included service at Muscle shoals and on the Missouri as well as the Mississippi, where he learned the art of guiding river craft and developed his skill at the helm of great packets.

  His death yesterday ended a career of adventure typical of the hardy pioneer of the early days.  Born in Indiana, captain Holsapple’s family came to Illinois in the late ‘50’s and when Lincoln called for volunteers to save the Union, he was among the first to answer.  Four years of the conflict only sharpened his desire for a zestful life, and returning from the Civil War young Holsapple was drawn to the then thrilling life of the river.  Stalwart sharp of eye keen of judgment and hardy with the strength and fire of the pioneer, he mastered the ways of the river and soon given charge of a boat.

  The Le Claire rapids, terror of the staunchest rivermen, were a challenge to him that he was ever ready to accept and Captain Holsapple skill in steering a course thru this variable and ever-changing water marked him among the bravest pilots of the river.  With him at the wheel captains and owners felt a confidence that few men of the gallant company of river pil9ts inspired.

  When the Moline canal was finished the United states paid its tribute to this ability by turning over the first boat to go thru the channel to Captain Holsapple.  Similarly he was called upon for the maiden voyage thru the Hennipin.  The Verne Swain, The Maggie Raney, the Josephine the Nellie, the Dick Clyde and a dozen other of the packets that were the chief means of transport between the river cities of those days knew the determined and trustful command of his hand.  So adept and so closely and well did he know the signs and tricks of the river that when he made his first voyage up the muddy, bar-dotted Missouri, which held disaster for men who had spent their lives studying its changing course, he finished the trip without damage.

  Three Decades on U. S. Boats

  Twenty years in the packet service and Captain Holsapple, as the railroads encroached upon the river transportation entered the government service.  He spent nearly three decades piloting U. S. craft up and down the Northern Mississippi, his love of the river being exceeded only by his fulfillment of every responsibility which the pilots of those days accepted as their creed. 

  From a half hundred thrilling experiences in his long river career his friends yesterday recalled the occasion when several years ago the captain and Mrs. Holsapple wee passengers on the Bald Eagle, an excursion steamer, which ran out of the Tri-Cities with a capacity crowd of pleasure seekers.  Above the Clinton bridge the boat got out of control of its pilot and altho Captain Holsapple was on a lower deck with passengers, he realized that all was not well.  He sought the captain and warned him but the Captain  confident of his pilot paid no heed.  The second warning went unnoticed and Captain Holsapple rushed to the pilot house.

  The pilot dazed and evidently confused in his helplessness, did not answer Captain Holsapple.  Pressed then by the necessity of action the captain said:  “Your letting this boat go against the pier: you’ll sink t if you don’t act quickly.”  And grasping the man threw him out of the cabin, saying:  “You shan’t drown these people! You can’t down my wife.” Seizing the wheel he averted the disaster and the captain then appreciating the service besought him to take the craft the remainder of the journey to Davenport.

Native of Indiana

  Captain Holsapple was born Oct 3, 1843, in Indiana and when he was 13 years of age his parents moved to Rapids City, Ill. Where his father conducted a general store.  There Captain Holsapple grew to young manhood, but left his home to serve his country being enrolled in company G. 47th Illinois infantry.  Upon completion of his army service, which continued thru the period of the war he returned to Rapids City and then turned to the river for his career.

  He was united in marriage Jan 13, 1867 with Miss Henriette Smith and a few years ago, surrounded by their family and scores of loving neighbors and friends they celebrated their golden wedding anniversary.  The widow survives and there are left to mourn his departure two sons, Roy of Davenport, George, and a sister Mrs. T. I. Hall of Ponoma, Ca. Three brothers M. V. Holsapple of Rock Island, George of Iowa city and O. F. of Realtrice Neb., and a sister, Mrs. J. F. Compton of Davenport.  Two Grandchildren also survive.


Interesting Figure Goes Into discard
April 10, 1921
Davenport Democrat  

  W. D. Holsapple, now 78 years of age, served as a pilot at Le Claire for over 50 years.  He now lives on the bluff behind Le Claire, over looking the great Father of waters on which he spent his life.  Captain Holsappple was born Oct 3, 1843, and lived for many years at Rock Island .  

Transcribed by Kathy Mahmens

Holsapple Dos pilot Le Claire
Holsapple E T engineer Le Claire

Photo McClure

Holsapple monument

Le Claire



Holsapple W. D.  

Interesting Figure Goes Into discard
April 10, 1921
Davenport Democrat  

  W. D. Holsapple, now 78 years of age, served as a pilot at Le Claire for over 50 years.  He now lives on the bluff behind Le Claire, over looking the great Father of waters on which he spent his life.  Captain Holsappple was born Oct 3, 1843, and lived for many years at Rock Island .  

Transcribed by Kathy Mahmens

Holsapple Dos pilot Le Claire
Holsapple E T engineer Le Claire

Davenport Democrat and Leader
Wednesday, May 14, 1924

The LeClaire Presbyterian Church is Filled at Last Services.

Last rites for Captain W.D. Holsapple, veteran Mississippi river pilot, who passed away Saturday afternoon at his home at Smith's Crossing, below LeClaire, were held at 2:30 o'clock this afternoon in the LeClaire Presbyterian church, Rev. J.T. Stewart conducted the services and burial  took place in the LeClaire cemetery. Jerry S. Green spoke at the services and the church was filled with friends and admirers of the late river man gathered there to pay their last tribute to one of the best known and respected pioneers of this community.


Henry Horton  

Davenport Democrat
Jan. 9, 1910

Henry Horton  

Henry A Horton died at his home in Le Claire early Saturday morning after a long illness from Brights disease.

 Mr. Horton was born in Frankstown, Blair County, Penn. May 4, 1844, and came with his parents Mr. And Mrs. Geo. Horton, to Le Claire when 10 years old, where he has always resided.

  He was married in Le Claire, Sept. 20, 1865 to Miss Elizabeth Hart.  He is survived by his widow and two children, Mrs. E. S. Kindly, wife of Prof. Kindly of Silvis, and George Horton of Rock Island, two grandchildren, Murina Kindly and Isabella Horton, two sisters and one brother, Mrs. A.E. Barrett of Clear Lake, Ia. Mrs. D.P. Redmond of Omaha, Neb. and George Horton of Springfield, Mo.

  Mr. Horton has been a marine engineer all his life.  He was the oldest mason of Le Claire lodge and had held many offices of trust in his town.  He belong to Masonic order and the American Patriots.  Burial at Le Claire Cemetery.   Transcribed by Georgeann McClure  



“May the waters that took you away, return you to me”


  Leclaire Rivermen Continued