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. )

Capt Alvah O. Day  


  Alva O. day, supervisor of the United States Steamboat Inspection Service in this district and old-time Mississippi river steamboat captain, died Monday at Howard Hospital , of septic poisoning from a throat infection.  He resided at 3324 South Jefferson Ave.

  Capt. Day, who was 66 years old, had been in river service for more than 40 years and had been connected with the Government since 1916.  Previously he was captain of steamers for the Diamond Jo Line.  In 1910 he piloted from the North the last large raft of logs sent down the river.


Capt. Hugh Pollock  

Davenport   Democrat
Dec. 5, 1911
Pg. 13  


Former Rapids Pilot Dies in Abject poverty Across the River  

  Concerning the death of Capt Hugh Pollick, (sic) brief mention of which was made in last evenings Democrat, the Rock Island Argus gives the following details:

  Walking along the levee yesterday morning at 11:30, Fred  Gall and Peter Trenkenchuh  approached the northern track of the Rock Island & Peoria Railway between Nineteenth and twentieth street , where they came upon a man lying behind a freight car, all curled up, his head resting near the rail.  A large bruise was discovered on the left side of the head just above the eye, and thinking that the man was under the influence of liquor, they took hold of him to arouse him, Gall at the same time remarking to his companion, “I guess you had better call the police patrol.” On seizing the supposed sleeper they were horrified to observe that he was stiff and cold, having been dead for some time.  

Pollock James

The Daily Times
December 2, 1918  

James Pollick Laid To Rest  

  The funeral of James V. Pollock, Jr., was held this afternoon at 2 o’clock from the home of his parents in Le Claire, conducted by Rev. Me. E. Krotzer.  Internment was in Le Claire cemetery.  Deceased was the eldest son of Mr. And Mrs. J. V. Pollock of Le Claire, at whose home he died Saturday afternoon at 2:30 o’clock after a few days illness of influenza followed by pneumonia.  He was born in South Dakota Oct. 4, 1883, and was a marine engineer by occupation.  On Oct. 4, 1910, he was united in marriage to Miss Bertha Schlpull, who preceded him in death June 15, 1917.

  He is survived by a little 7 year-old son, Robert, his parents two sisters, Mrs. F. S. Morey of Le Claire and Mrs. C. H. Suiter of Davenport also two brothers, Jno E. Pollock of Morse , Canada , and Corpi, Jos. Of Morse , Canada , and Corpi Jos. A. Pollock, now in France .

  He was a member of Snow Lodge, A. F. & A. M. also the McChanices Union.  


The Weekly Times
June 12, 1908 
Pg. 4  

Dubuque To Arrive From South July 2  

  “Crew of The Columbia  

“Captain C. H. Farris of Montrose

Pilot A. F. Hallinshall of Clinton

Mate Homer Roberts of Clinton

Clerk F. S. Ratterman of Warsaw

First Engineer F. E. Goldsmith of Canton

Second Engineer James Pollock of Le Claire

Steward Charles Efland of Moline

Chef Arthur Smith of Davenport  



Capt. J.W. Rambo 

One of Last Raft Pilots Succumbs at Le Claire in his Eighty-First Year

Captain Rambo; LeClaire, Iowa

Davenport Democrat
Jan 30, 1925

With the death at 5 o’clock this morning at Le Claire of Capt. J. W. Rambo, is marked the passing of one of the few remaining raft pilots who plied the Mississippi river in the heyday of steam boating before the ramifications of the railroad industry had made obsolescent and almost obsolete the slower and less direct transportation afforded by the locomotive.

Capt. Rambo was 81 years of age, and had been retired from active piloting since Oct 15, 1922. His declining health was not marked until the last few weeks.

For sixty years he piloted rafts thru the Le Claire rapids, having gained his first river experience when an adolescent.

The fascination of the river held for him the remainder of his life. He guided hundreds of boats up and down the Mississippi and earned a reputation as a rapids pilot in the days when railroading was in its infancy..

During the last years of his active river service, Capt. Rambo was commanding officer of the steamer “Artimus Gates” of Clinton owned by the Clinton Sand and Gravel company. He knew well every bend and shoal in the river for many miles on either side of his home city.

For four terms, he served as mayor of Le Claire, and was acting in that capacity at the time the present city hall was built there. He also served as a councilman of Le Claire for several years.

Capt. Rambo was born in Rapids City, Ill., July 27, 1844 across the river from Le Claire and with his parents came to Le Claire when he was but two weeks old, retaining his residence there ever since. He married Miss Josephine Slaughter at Princeton, Nov. 24, 1864, and the couple celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary on Thanksgiving day of last year.

In the Masonic fraternity, Capt. Rambo won distinction by serving in the various offices of the fraternity, including that of worshipful master. He was a member of Snow Lodge No. 34 at Le Claire, with which he became affiliated in 1871. At the time he was initiated, his brother-in-law, Capt. Joseph Hawthorne, also a pioneer river captain, also took the initiatory degree, and both were equally prominent in the offices of the lodge. In 1921, the lodge celebrated the golden anniversary of the affiliation of Capt. Rambo and Capt. Hawthorne.

In childhood, Capt. Rambo attended the old Sycamore school, at that time resided with his parents near the old water mill.

Those who survive are his wife; one daughter, Mrs. B. J. Metzgar; and one grandson, Ward Metzgar of Dubuque.

Funeral service will be held Sunday afternoon from the home under the auspices of the Masonic Lodge. Interment will be in the Le Claire Cemetery.

--from book  "Rivermen Muscatine, Iowa" compiled by Georgeann Mcclure


Rhodes William


Davenport Weekly Gazette;

February 23, 1881

Capt William Rhodes ,

The death of Capt. Wm. Rhodes, one of the best known steamboatmen on the Mississippi river, occurred at his home in St. Paul the 14th inst. This intelligence will prove a painful surprise to his many friends up and down the river, as there were but one or two persons outside of his domestic circle who knew he was sick. Capt. Rhodes was born in Devonshire , England , February 21, 1825, and came to this country in about 1843. He was engaged in business at Cincinnati , Ohio , from 1854 to 1858 and went to Minnesota in '59. He was connected with the business of Commodore Davidson from that time until his death. He was an officer of all the steamboat companies that Commodore Davidson controlled and generally acted as financial manager of such companies. It is said that the Commodore is largely indebted for his property to the sound judgment, excellent management, and industrious methods manifested by Capt. Rhodes in discharging the trusts confided to him.


Rhodes Stephen

Senthouse George  


E. Servis

Engineer T. J. Robinson

* see St. Clair Roderick  




Shannon Stone Glendale Cemetery                  le Claire, Iowa

Photo Bob Jones

Shannon Family Stone



Shannon George

Sept. 19, 1951 

 Final rites for George W. Shannon, Sr. were held at 3 p. m. today in Full Gospel tabernacle, Le Claire

Burial was at Glendale Cemetery , Le Claire

  Pallbearers were Roy Long, Earl Pitzenberger, Ben Youngers, Jim Roberts, Francis Buchiet and Arthur Newton.


  • He was mate on steamboat on the Mississippi river
  • He and his wife, Ada , worked as cooks on the river together.



Photo Shannon

George Shannon 1868-1951

Ada Shannon



Robert Shannon  

The Davenport Democrat
Sept 14, 1910
Pg. 2

Robert Shannon  

The remains of Robert Shannon who passed away Saturday in Rock Island , was brought to his native town Monday morning and laid to rest in Le Claire’s beautiful “City of The Dead ”.  The remains were accompanied by the sons and mother of the deceased and joined here by brother and sisters and many other relatives.  Rev. Bailey and a choir composed of Mrs. George Tromley, Miss Annie Laird and Jas Suiter, held services at the grave.  The following assisted with the casket.  L. Morey, M. Ney, August Abraham, Lee Suiter, Ralph Ewing and S. W. Disney.

Researcher Sue Rekkas  

* there were three Shannons Hugh Shannon, Robert Shannon and James Shannon  

Shannon Hugh


Hugh Shannon



November 9, 1923
Rock Island Argus.
Port Byron Globe
Nov. 17, 1923


Had Worked Continuously on Mississippi Since 1886; Death Follows Illness of One Week.  

  Hugh Shannon aged 80, veteran riverman on the Mississippi , died at 4:20 yesterday afternoon at the home of his daughter, Mrs. H. J. Dodds, 1029 Seventeenth street , Rock Island .  He had been ill for only a week, having worked until Nov. 1, when he was taken sick with complications, which caused his death.

  Born in Londonderry , Ireland , July 3, 1843, he came with his parents to Le Claire , Iowa , when two years old.  He lived there until 1901, when he moved to Rock Island .

  He was educated in the Le Claire School, and at the age of 17 was granted a license to operate a ferry oat between Port Byron and Le Claire.  A few years later he worked as an engineer on the Milwaukee railroad.  In 1866, at the age of 23, he was issued an engineer’s marine license, and up to the time f his death he had not missed a season working as a river engineer.  For a period of 25 years Mr. Shannon was employed by the Weyerhaeuser & Denkmann company., and when that concern discontinued operating raft boats he began working on river pleasure craft.  Recently he had operated the Kalatan, pleasure boat of Mr. and Mrs. William Butterworth of Moline .  

Married in Le Claire  

  Martha Alvira Holsapple and Hugh Shannon were married in Le Claire, in August 1867.  Mrs. Shannon died in Le Claire 35 years ago.  Five Children were born to the union, of whom two survive.  They are; Mrs. J. A. Dodds, Rock Island , and Mrs. J. A. Mayer, Le Claire, he had three grandchildren.

  Short services will be held Sunday afternoon at 1 o’clock at the Dodds home in Rock Island , after which the body will be taken to Le Claire, where the funeral will be at the Presbyterian Church. Rev W. L. Essex will officiate at the service in Rock Island .  Interment will be in the Le Claire Cemetery.  

Photo Shannon

 Capt. Hugh Shannon 1845-1923  

Shannon James



Le Claire
March 25, 1909

  Tuesday morning at 3:30 o’clock at his home here occurred the death of James Shannon, after an illness of about ten days duration from infirmities of old age.  He was 78 years of age.  He was born and married in county Donegal, Ireland, and came to America in 1852, locating in Rock Island, Ill., where he owned a large track of choice timber and coal land which he afterward sold and moved to Le Claire about thirty years ago.  At the beginning of the Civil war, he enlisted in 152 Illinois Infantry, with which he taught throughout and received an honorable discharge.  Four daughters and one son survive him as follows:  Mrs. J. C. Swank of Coal Valley , Ill. , Mrs.  

“A Raft Pilots Log’
Page 130
Walter Blair

Walter Blair speaking:

“With our boat repaired, painted and fitted she passed a fine annual
United States inspection and on orders from Manager Van Sant I got coal and
provisions aboard and left LeClaire for Beef Slough on the night of
April17, 1882. I had Vetal Burrow, a French-Canadian as my pilot; the
engineers. Shannon and Lancaster, previously mentioned, James Shannon, mate,
with seven good men on deck. Two men to be watchmen and
nigger runners and two firemen, composed the operating crew.”


Glendale Cemetery Le Claire
Photo Shannon

James Shannon  

Shannon Lawrence



  Bettendorf Lawrence M. Shannon, 85, of 1611 Golden Valley Drive , died Wednesday at St. Lukes Hospital

  Services will be 11 a. m. Saturday at McGinnis funeral Home.  Burial will be in Glendale Cemetery , Le Claire , Iowa

  Visitation will be 4-8 p. m. Friday at he funeral home.

  He had been employed on steamboats on the Mississippi river for years had been a supervisor at Rock Island Millworks many years and was employed at Annie Wittenmyer Home, Davenport , retiring in 1972.

  He married Nina Marsen in 1945 in Davenport .

  He was a graduate of Coyne Electrical College , Chicago .

  Survivors include his wife, a daughter, Ruby (Mrs. Lyle) Cook, Le Claire, a son, M. Lawrence Shannon, Dixie, ala; 11 grandchildren; 20 great-grandchildren; and sisters, Leatha (Mrs. Roy) Couch, Cincinnati, Ohio; Vivian Craig, Rock Island; and Gladys Cade, Elgin, Ill.  

Photo Shannon

  Lawrence Shannon 1904-1989
Glendale Cemetery Le Claire  

Shannon Robert  

Globe Port Byron Ill. 
Feb. 13, 1913  


  Robert Shannon, whose death occurred in Le Claire Feb. 6th 1918, was born in Londonderry , Ireland , Feb. 5th 1847, making his age at death 66 years and one day.  He came with his parents from the old country to Le Claire in 1853, and in 1861, at the age of 14 years, he enlisted in Co. F, 52nd Ill. Vol. Inf., for three years of during the war, and after serving a little over two years he reenlisted for three years more. Making him a veteran, and he served until the end of the war.  He participated in the battle of Shiloh , Tenn. , and the battle of Corinth , Miss. , and was with Gen’l Sherman in the campaign through Georgia , his march to the sea and back through the Carolinas to Washington, D. C. when he marched in the grand review and was discharged from the service at Louisville , KY.   He was first united in marriage to Sarah E. Huginun of Albany , ILL. And by this union two children were born and are now Mrs. Ryan and Mrs. Frank Shannon of Benton , Iowa .  He was an engineer of the river for 53 years, and in the year 1871 his wife died leaving him the care of the two small children.  In the year 1877, he was again united in marriage to Miss Amelia Meyer of Le Claire, and by this union one child was born a son, Charles who died in 1888, at the age of ten years.

  In the year 1899, he quit the river business and moved to Oklahoma City , but the climate did not agree with him so in 1901 he returned to Le Claire and opened a confectionery store and had established a good business when death had overtaken him.  He leaves to mourn a wife, a wife, a son and a daughter, before mentioned.  The funeral services were conducted by the Rev. Memmot of Le Claire, and the Odd fellows had charge of the remains.  The remains were laid to rest in Le Claire Cemetery,

  Those present form out of town were as follows:  Bradford Chandler, a member of his old company, of Clinton, Iowa; Hugh Shannon, Rock Island; Mrs. Harry Dodds, Rock Island; Jack Byers, Rock Island; Mrs. Miller and daughter, Camanche; James Shannon, Silvis, Ill.; Joseph Turner, St. Louis; Mrs. Jack Vogel, Davenport; Mrs. Blanche Zuber, Davenport, Jack Shannon, Davenport, Mrs. C. La Grange, Pleasant Valley, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Schafer and daughter, Port Byron.  J. D. B.


Robert Shannon 1847-1913

  Glendale Cemetery Le Claire

Shannon  Robert

The Davenport Democrat
Sept 14, 1910
Pg. 2

Robert Shannon  

The remains of Robert Shannon who passed away Saturday in Rock Island , was brought to his native town Monday morning and laid to rest in Le Claire’s beautiful “City of The Dead ”.  The remains were accompanied by the sons and mother of the deceased and joined here by brother and sisters and many other relatives.  Rev. Bailey and a choir composed of Mrs. George Tromley, Miss Annie Laird and Jas Suiter, held services at the grave.  The following assisted with the casket.  L. Morey, M. Ney, August Abraham, Lee Suiter, Ralph Ewing and S. W. Disney.

Researcher Sue Rekkas  


“A Raft Pilots Log”
Walter Blair
Pg. 130

Walter Blair Speaking:

“As soon as I finished my term of school I secured a room  at the Gault
House in Le Claire and took real pleasure in working on my own boat, cleaning,
painting , changing a little here and there to enable me to
house, feed and sleep a crew of eighteen men.”
   “I was fortunate in securing Robert Shannon as chief engineer and George O.
Lancaster as a good carpenter and a handy man in many ways in addition
to being a good engineer.”  


Photo Bob Jones

           Robert Shannon 1910
Glendale , Le Claire     

*Descendant Larry Shannon and his wife Pauline Shannon contributed the information on the Shannon Rivermen.



Photo Shannon

John Shannon



Davenport Democrat and Leader
Dec. 15, 1918  


Captain Fuller Smith of Steamer 
Verne Swain Dies in Chicago  

  According to word received late Saturday, Captain Fuller Smith, former well known river pilot, and for years captain of the steamer “Verne Swain” passed away at 8 o’clock Saturday morning at the home of one of his daughters in Chicago.

  The remains will be brought to Le Claire for burial, and interment will take place there, announcement of the time to be made later.

  Captain Smith’s old home was in Le Claire, and during the long period that he spent in navigation the river he resided there, but removed to Davenport .  He has however, made his home in Chicago for the past ten years.

  The survivors are two daughters Mrs. Grace Tolleson and Mrs. Lola A. Stone, both of Chicago ; two sisters, Mrs. Net Holsappple and Mrs. Cynthia Becker, of Le Claire: also two brothers, Peter of le Claire and George of Moline, Ill.

--Sue Rekkas  

The Daily Times
Dec. 17, 1918
Pg. 12  

Capt. Smith Funeral Held  

  The funeral of Capt. Ira Fuller Smith, who died in Chicago , Saturday, was held Monday afternoon at 2 o’clock at Le Claire, Rev. M. E. Kroster officiated at the service.  The pallbearers were six nephews of the deceased.  They were Orrin Smith, Nelson Smith, Frank Smith, George Holsapple and Frank Becker.  Interment was in Le Claire cemetery.

--Sue Rekkas

Smith Fuller 

Davenport Sunday Democrat
June 12, 1898 

Clears up mystery
Pilot Fuller Smith Explains the Low stage of water

George M. Waters, Moline Correspondent of the Waterways Journal, has the following interesting bit of pilot house profanity and philosophy charge up to him.

  Moline, Ill., May 30, 1898.  Do you Know Fuller Smith?  If not, I will introduce him to you: Mr. Editor, Mr. Smith, pilot on the Verne Swain for the last nine years, making two trips a day over the rapids.” Now, there is a sly old fox of a wheel spinner that can juggle a boat and is up to all the tricks.  He knows all the little pickets, ct offs and openings to put his boat into and through when the water is low, and in a race he will beat you every time.  He is a lovely talker.  You should hear the ornamental language he uses, especially when the bridge tender is slow to open the draw.

  When a new engineer came on and asked: Mr. Smith, which is your slow bell?  He answered: “H--! Got no slow bell!  What you want a slow bell for?  This boat’s slow enough without running on slow bells.  When you get signals, twist the wheel out of her; that’s what you do, Huh! Slow Bells? Nit!”

  While coming down yesterday from Hampton on the Swain I was always in the pilot house, and asked Smith about the stage of water.  “Water? Got no water! Just had wheels put on her bottom!  Can’t you feel her when she runs over the rocks?” “They are moving freight down below.”  “No, sir; that’s rocks-hard rocks.  As long as they allow street sprinklers and sich to pump the water all out of the river and spread it over the ground, just so long we’ll have low water, Gad! I drove a nigger off up at Le Claire the other day that had his mule down to water, and the next morning he came down to the land and says:  “Please Mr. Captain, can let my mule drink out of your river?” 

The Davenport Democrat and Leader
June 10, 1928


CAPTAIN ORRIN SMITH, Le Claire, ran largest rafts down rapids: Father furnished Evidence for Lincoln  

  On a fair day in May 1856, the sidewheel excursion steamer Effie Afton, puffing down the Mississippi , struck a pier of the first bridge across the river between Davenport and Rock Island .

  The impact of the collision or some other force, upset a stove on the steamer’s deck and the big boat went up in flames.  The bridge property of the Chicago , rock Island and pacific railway, being a wooden structure was also partially destroyed.

  Out of this incident grew the famous rock Island bridge case in which Abraham Lincoln distinguished himself, winning the case for the railroad when the steamship company brought suit.

  What is more important the resulting decision set a precedent which struck the opposition in the building of trans-Mississippi bridges a death blow.

  Probably no one at this day remembers the incident more distinctly than captain Orrin Smith of Le Claire, for 48 years a river pilot in all capacities and today actively engaged in guiding the Lone Star on almost daily trips between Princeton and Davenport . 

 Father Furnished Evidence 

“My father, Captain John E. Smith furnished evidence in that case for the railroad company,” he recalled the other night.  Tilted back in an old chair on the lower deck of the Lone Star he rehearsed the incident while a kerosene lamp with yellow light shown thru the smoke from a cigar he puffed occasionally.

  “It nearly made a farmer out of my father after years on the river.  Lincoln and the rock Island wanted to prove that the bridge was not an obstruction to river traffic and hired my father to pilot a boat up and down the river for an entire day.”

  He did it successfully, easily.  Probably made a dozen trips or so in the same channel where the Effie Afton had gone down.  “That made the river men mad and they wouldn’t give dad a square deal so he went back to Le Claire and moved into a small farm.   In 30 days steamboat owners were after him.

  “Come on back and pilot our boats for us” they begged him, “They’re going to pieces in the rapids.”

“I’ll come on back for $10 a day, work or play,” was his reply and they agreed to his terms.  

Compensation Unknown  

  Records show that Lincoln received $500 for winning the case, but what Captain John Smith received, more than his daily wages, Captain Orrin Smith does not know.

  “Like father, like son” the present Captain Smith has proved himself the equal of his father in his mastery of the rapids, which have been the downfall of many a river pilot and stout steamboat.  In his half century of river navigation he has never lost a boat on water that churn over treacherous stones.  He made a name for himself when huge lumberrafts were run down the river from Minnesota and Wisconsin forests and ahs the distinction of bringing down the two largest rafts ever floated across the rapids.

  Fifteen hundred feet in length was one of these monsters, in reality a raft and a half.  Captain Smith explained and conceived when a river captain was roused to new efforts by a story in a Davenport newspaper telling of the “greatest raft in history.” Brought down the river by a rival.

  The second raft, not quite so long, but a double decker and containing 2,600,000 feet of lumber is shown in the accompanying photograph. 

Two Boats required  

  To move these tremendous bulk of logs down the river, two boats were required, one at the stern and another at the head of the raft, the “after called a “bowboat”  the bowboat made it possible the swinging of the raft back and forth across the stream.

  Incidentally it was captain John smith again who conceived the idea of the bowboat and his son who carried this idea to the ultimate perfection.

  “Huge rafts power the essential downfall of river men.”  Captain Smith declares, “With smaller rafts logs would have been moved less rapidly and the supply would have lasted longer.  As it was the last raft was floated down the Mississippi many years ago and a lot of pilots were thrown out of work.”

  “I’ve run all kinds of boats.”  He recalls.  “Raft boats freighters, excursion steamers, and sand barge boats.  There used to be a boat each way daily between St. Paul and Davenport , crowded too with people sleeping on deck cots or wherever they could find a place.  

Will Never Come Back  

  “Now they’re all gone, burned, sunk, rotted, except for a few small ones which as were running here.  They’ll never come back.  They don’t pay, the railroads put them on the run and now the automobile has the railroad going.  Once owned a boat myself, paid $15,000 for her and was lucky to get  $1,800 when I sold her.”  He explained.  Consequently in the attempt to return large traffic, Captain Smith sees but madness where, he says, the cost will far exceed any return and where ice locks the channel for five months out of 12 months.

  But as long as any kind of a boat courses up and down the river here Captain Smith will live the life he knows best.  He has been on the water from the time he was able o row his first skiff.  “I used to swim like a fish, tho I haven’t been in the water for years.”  He says.  Why I used to swim across the river from Le Claire to Port Byron any time the notion struck me, and back again,  “Many’s the time I’ve given passengers on those daily boats a good scare.  Just as they pulled away from Le Claire bound for Pt. Byron, I’d paddle up behind in my canoe, throw a rope over the rudder beam and ride into mid-river.  Then I’d upset my canoe and come up under it, making a big shout as I went down.  

Under the Boat  

  “People would see the canoe turned over and wouldn’t see me come up.  I’d be under the canoe where there was plenty of air and there I’d stay until I thought a boat would be coming after me, then up I’d pop.  What a laugh and stare that would give them.”  He roared. 

“Used to be a crack shot too.”  He reminisced.  “Where other fellows used a shot gun I’d use a rifle or pistol.  Always used to hunt rabbits with a revolver and get them too.  If I saw them before they ran.

  “One day we were coming down the river and saw a big flock of swans way ahead.  I called to my engineer, Frank Long.  He got his shot gun and I my rifle.  When we were about 50 yards away, close enough for the shot gun, I banged away twice and to swans fell, frank called up and asked “did you see those two I got”  “Well until you see the balled marks I answered and sure enough I’d hit them and he missed ‘em.  “One other time Jake Brasser, a boxer, wrestler, and a crack shot, as he claimed, boasted he could out shot me.  Fellows always used to be shooting and then hanging the targets up in a saloon.  

A Crack Shot  

  “Well we put up a six inch target at 35 yards.  Jake had a five shot and O a seven shot revolver.  We fired and then investigated the results.  I’d placed all seven shots in the six inch circle, piecing the bull’s eye with all of them. Jake had hit t only once, but that was right in the center of the bullseye.  Say, he put that target up in the saloon, and didn’t get over it for days.  We used to laugh about that.

  Returning once more to the talk of swimming he warned “Don’t ever get into ice water, it’ll paralyze you.  He told the incident of his own initiation, his first and last experience which happened about 30 years ago.

  “We were coming back from hunting near Princeton .  Had our boat full of guns, camping stuff and straw in the bottom.  A stiff wind was whipping the waves into whitecaps and water stopped into the boat.  All at once she started head first for the bottom.  

Into the icy water  

  “The fellow with me grabbed his gun and went down but I grabbed an oar in one hand the boat with the other.  Down I went too, and then managed to get a hold of George.  Under water I turned the boat upside down, out fell the stuff and up came the boat, bottom side up.  “Hang on the boat I called as I pulled George up, and holler like the devil.  “ I managed to climb on top the boat , straddle it and began to paddle.  Finally a fellow heard us shouting and paddled out.  He pulled George into the boat and I sprawled in paralyzed from the hips down where the icy water had soaked me.  When I got to shore I ran all the way to a saloon, got three hot whiskeys, went home, put on dry clothes and came out all right.  We both did, but stay out of ice water.”

  With that Captain Smith fell back to dreaming a minute.

  “Well guess it’s about time to look for the hay, he spoke suddenly,” and rose to turn down the lamp.

Researcher Sue Rekkas  



                                                                                                  John Smith



Smith steamboatmen from Le Claire  

1870 Le Claire Federal Census
Smith Peter M. 40 M W Runs Ferry Boat Pa

Smith John E. 36 M W Boat Pilot . . Pa .

Smith Oren 11 M W . . .      Iowa . . .

Smith Nelson 18 M W Works on Boat . . Iowa  

St. Clair Roderick (Red)

The Daily Times
July 27, 1001
Pg. 5


Fireman Has A Narrow Escape

From Being Crushed and Drowned In River

Red St. Clair, employee on ferryboat Robinson saved by timely action of engineer  

  Roderick St. Clair, fireman on the ferryboat Robinson which plys between Davenport and Rock Island, had a narrow escape from almost from almost certain death while the boat was pulling up to the Davenport bank.  The whole thing happened in the space of a  very few minutes and only the promptness of Engineer E. Servis saved the mans life.  

  The ferryboat was coming from Rock Island and was about four feet from the dock.  One of St. Clair’s duties is to secure the boat to the dock as it pulls into port.  He stood with the rope in his hand until the boat neared the landing and then made a leap for the landing the same as he does scores of times a day. But he leaped a trifle short and his foot striking the edge of the dock St. Clair slide over the side.  He caught himself in time to keep from going into the water and held on with both hands to the side of the dock. The boat was coming on to the dock with enough force to hit the dock and crush both of St. Clair’s arms if he did not let go. He appeared to loose all sense of his impending danger and clung wildly to this hold. Engineer Servis who was standing near and saw St. Clair go over shouted to him to let go and drop into the river. He saw that his was his only hope. St. Clair still hung onto the dock and the engineer running up shoved the man’s hands from the dock so that he dropped into the water. Quick as a flash the engineer thrust with his foot a rope into the water just as the boat bumped the dock.

  All this happened as the boat was moving a distance of about four feet. It immediately slid out from the dock not being fastened, and there St. Clair could be seen clinging to the rope. He was hauled out uninjured but not without cause badly scared. 

Capt. Isaac Spinsby  

Davenport Democrat
July 24, 1947  

Capt Spinsby Retired Veteran Of River, is Dead  

Record Includes Mississippi
Piloting and Hennepin Pioneering  

     Capt Isaac Sturgeon Spinsby, 83, a former riverboat captain on the Mississippi, who saw nearly half a century’s service aboard various craft prior to his retirement about 20 years ago, died at 8:20 a. m. today in his home in Le Claire following a six months illness.

   The body was removed to McGinnis funeral home, and services are set for 2 p. m. Saturday, with burial in Glendale cemetery, Le Claire  

   A native of Montgomery City Mo. Capt sturgeon was born Feb. 14. 1864, received his education in the schools of Montgomery City and Le Claire, and married Irene Dorrance in Le Claire, Dec. 18, 1889.  

Began at 17  

   It was while he lived in the Mississippi river community that he learned to love the river and people who worked on it, and longed to become a part of this group.  At the age of 17 he became a deck hand on the Glenmont, and worked successively on such boats as the Saturn, Wild Boy, and Irene D., owned by his father-in-law and named for his daughter, receiving the respective ratings of cub pilot, pilot and later master.  He was named captain on the USS Mac, a government owned boat, in 1891.

  He later served as captain on other government boats such as the USS Ruth, USS Le Claire and the USS Louise.  He had worked for the government for over 35 years on the Mississippi in the Rock Island district and had served as river captain on the Mississippi for over 30 years.  

Hennipen Pioneer  

   Capt. Spinsby was instrumental in the building of the Hennipen canal, waterway from Chicago to the Mississippi , and was in charge of the first boat that passed through.  He held a license to operate on the Mississippi river and all its tributaries, which included the Missouri , Illinois , Wisconsin and various other navigable streams.

   Survivors include four sons.  D. F. Spinsby, at one time candidate for mayor of Rock Island, John Spinsby, South Dakota, and George and Court Spinsby both of Le Claire; five daughters, Mrs. W. L. Pierce, Milwaukee, Mrs. Howard Cole, Los angeles, Mrs. L. W. Amman, Fulton, Ill. And Mrs Curtis Boedecker and Mrs John Moeller, both of Davenport , and nine grandchildren.

   Capt. Issac Spinsby  

Henry Spinsby

Henry Spinsby
St. Louis Post Newspaper
April 16, 1909  

Spinsby-On Thursday April 15, 1909 at 11 a. m. Henry Spinsby in his eighty-ninth year.

Funeral from Louis Spellbrink’s funeral parlors.  1923 Franklin Avenue , on Friday, April 16, at 3:20 p. m. to Crematory.  Incineration private.  

[Spinsby info Contributed by relative  Nancy Schroeder]


Stedman James  

Capt. W.   Blair


“This company bought from W. A. Blair the excellent raft boat, the Silver Crescent . She was 123 feet long with a 23 foot beam. She was built of selected Kentucky oaks and was a fine model. She had the engines of the two-boat Park Painter of Pittsburgh, with 14 inch cylinders and a 4 1-2 stoke.  She was fitted with a comfortable cabin and was one of the handsomest and fastest crafts in the entire rafting fleet.”

   “The writer was her master and pilot with Parm Lancaster as mate, James Stedman as engineer and S. R. Dodds as clerk. For a few weeks Capt. Lon Bryson was with us, to teach and show us raftsmen how to handle passengers and freight as well as the clerical work connected with these things”.



                                                        Jim Suiter                     Robert Moore                          Lee Suiter

Stedman  James (Steadman)



The Times Democrat and Leader
Nov. 19, 1912
Pg. 15


Steadman James 
Wife Jennie Shannon  

  After an illness of four months, due to paralysis, James Stedman died at his home in Le Claire Monday night at 9 o’clock.  Mr. Stedman was born in Ohio Jan. 12, 1849, but came to Le Claire when a young man.  He was married at that place in November, 1873, to Miss Jennie Shannon, who survives him.  Besides his wife, one son, Fred Stedman, is left to mourn the loss of husband and father.  Henry Stedman, the older son of the deceased, died two years ago.

  Funeral services will be held form the Le Claire Presbyterian church Thursday afternoon.


Photo by Bob Jones

steadmanjames.jpg (946218 bytes)

James Steadman 1819-1912 

Capt. W.   Blair


By Capt. Walter A. Blair 

Career of Silver Crescent  

This company bought from W. A. Blair the excellent raft boat, the Silver Crescent. She was 123 feet long with a 23 foot beam. She was built of selected Kentucky oaks and was a fine model. She had the engines of the two-boat Park Painter of Pittsburgh, with 14 inch cylinders and a 4 1-2 stoke.  She was fitted with a comfortable cabin and was one of the handsomest and fastest crafts in the entire rafting fleet.

   This boat finished up some rafting and after a few changes and additions started to revive, on June 17, 1892, the old trade to Burlington. This was the summer of extremely high water.

   The writer was her master and pilot with Parm Lancaster as mate, James Stedman as engineer and S. R. Dodds as clerk. For a few weeks Capt. Lon Bryson was with us, to teach and show us raftsmen how to handle passengers and freight as well as the clerical work connected with these things.

  Our start was not encouraging.  The entire earnings of our first round trip were $16.75.  The increase was slow, but by the end of the season in 1893 we paid a 5 per cent dividend.




Last of The Rivermen At Le Claire
Davenport Democrat
January 24, 1969  

   There is an old saying along the Mississippi River that steamboat men live as long as the wake left by the buckets of their boats.  A “bucket” is another word for a paddle on the wheel, and the wake left by the churning buckets was always pretty long-which meant steamboat men live a long life.

   The last three steamboat men in Le Claire are living out that old saying. 

 Robert A. Moore, who has piloted just about everything from excursion boats to rafters, will be 83 in May.  

Jim Suiter, pilot and master and descendent of a long line of rapids pilots , is 81.  

Lee Suiter, a brother of Jim Suiter and who worked on “more boats than I can remember,” is 76.  

   All have considerable in common besides longevity.  They took to steam boating when they were boys, and haven’t quite shaken that meandering old river out of their systems.

  The boats upon which they have worked will stir memories among old timers who can hark back to the river days of tall smoke stacks and deep-throated whistles.  Remember the St. Paul and the old J.S. Streckfus excursion boats?  Raft boats like the Eclipse and the J. W. Van Sant or the many packets on the Diamond Jo Line?  The Suiters and Moore worked these boats at one time or another.

   With affection, they refer to all boats as “she” or “her” and understandably are saddened by the demise of steam on the river.

   Le Claire was famous as the home of the river men for several years.

   “My dad, John was one of the best pilots in the business,” recalls Jim Suiter today.

   Both Jim Suiter and Robert Moore were licensed rapids pilots.  “We made good money in those days.  I’d get $25 for taking just a regular steamboat through the rapids.  If a man took a log raft downstream over the rapids,  he might get $100 or $200” says Moore .

   “Everyone who didn’t know the rapids was afraid of them.  I learned them from my father, and a pilot pretty well got to know all the tricks.  You’d get near a ledge of rocks, sight on a tree and hove to the starboard and then you’d get through.  Such stuff as that was typical.” says Suiter.  “I remember one spot where you’d keep a government light on dead-set aim with a farmhouse on the Illinois side of the river between Clinton and Buffalo.” and a chief engineer’s license  for any navigable stream.  Of alert mind and memory, the alert 83-year-old Moore is full of tales of the Mississippi and his eyes sparkle as he talks about them.

  “ One day we were sitting on the fence at recess when I heard a steamboat whistle.  I was only 13 then, and I ran down the hill to look at the boat.  She was the Ten Broeck, and the pilot, Walter Blair, yelled, “boy, do you want a job? “ Yes-siree, I took that job, and I went from kitchen flunky to second engineer and chief engineer for the fleet of seven Van Sant boats.

  He quit, the Van Sants because he didn’t get a raise from $90 to $100 a month and went to work for Joseph Streckfus at Rock Island .  

Water Wagon

  “I was chief engineer on the old W.W. an excursion boat running between St. Louis and St. Paul .  Everyone called that boat the “Water Wagon” because Capt. Streckfus wouldn’t permit any liquor on board.  

Green Tree

   In Le Claire is a large tree called the Green Tree Hotel because rafting crews often spent the night under its limbs waiting to run the rapids next morning.  It’s limbs were so sheltering that Walter Blair, the pilot turned-author wrote an entire chapter in his “Raft Pilot’s Log” on the subject.  “The Green Tree Hotel”

  Suiter left the river as a young man and didn’t return until 1928 when he hired out as a cub pilot on the Le Claire. A government workboat.  Three years later he qualified for his pilots license, and his boats helped build a network of wing dams up and down the river “out of willow bundles and stones.”

  He retired in 1943 after service as master and pilot of the “Ellen” a big government steamboat with a crew of 22.  Now he lives in Le Claire in a house once owned by another riverman, the late Henry Horton.  An early engineer.

   Last summer a son-in-law took Jim Suiter out in a small boat.  “I got enough of that little boat in a hurry.  I wanted something big under me,” he smiles.  

A Deckhand  

Up the road from Jim Suiter lives his brother, Lee who hired out as a deckhand on the steamer “Eclipse” when he was “about 13 or 14 years old.”

   “When I was a boy there was nothing to do at Le Claire except go on the river, unless you wanted to work at the quarry or on the farm,” says Lee Suiter.

   He sucked a cigarette and wandered back to the days on the raft boats.

  “It was like being on a picnic.  It wasn’t hard work; it was a wonderful life,”  he reminisces.  “ A deckhand worked for $1 a day and board and it was a darned good board on the boats.

  “I spent many a year on the river, and it was getting so I could wake up any morning, look out the boat and tell exactly where I was.”

  Lee Suiter worked his river years as a deckhand and mechanic.  Some times he thinks he made a mistake and should have taken up farming, or should have gone on and become a pilot: “I knew enough of the river for the job.” he says a little sadly.

  Today, these three old river men in their twilight years are a rather lonely link with the exciting river days of yesteryears Le Claire.

   Not by coincidence, each one of them can see the “ Big River ” from his home.  transcribed by Georgeann McClure               


Davenport Democrat 
Feb 3, 1904
Pg. 6

Suiter J. G.  

   At his home in Le Claire at 7 o’clock Tuesday morning occurred the death of J. G. Suiter in his 79th year of his age.  Pleurisy was the cause of death.

  The deceased was born in Sangamon county Ill. Nov. 11, 1825 and came to Le Claire in 1836.  For a long time the deceased operated the raft boat Rambo in partnership with C. P. Disney, and became widely known as a riverman.

  The deceased was three times married.  His first wife was Mrs. Isabelle Greene of south Bend , Ind. And the second wife was the mother of his surviving children, Frank Suiter and Mrs. Bart Stone of Le Claire.  The third wife died several years ago.

   Three brothers also survive, Frank Suiter of De Witt, and Joseph Suiter of Le Claire.  The third brother Wm. M Suiter died last week.

  The funeral will be held Thursday afternoon at 2’oclock from the Baptist church at Le Claire.




Found Dead on Country Road Near Le Claire Saturday Night-Came Here Nearly seventy
Years Ago, and was Long a Rapids Pilot.  

Davenport Democrat
Jan 25, 1904 Pg 7  

   The cold snap has proved fatal in at least one case in this county , and removes no less a personage than William M. Suiter late president of the Scott County Pioneer Settler’s’ association.  Mr. Suiter left his home in Le Claire Saturday night, to deliver a cow to a party living some distance away,.  His relatives became alarmed when he failed to return some hours afterward, and instituted a search for him.  This resulted in his being found in the roadway, where he had fallen after being prostrated by the extreme cold.  His hands, feet and face were badly frozen when he was found and he had been dead for some time.  As he was 77 years of age, the cold had been too severe for his enfeebled vitality.

   Mr. Suiter had been a resident of Scott county since 1836, his father having come here the previous year and sent back for his family.  William M. was then 10 years of age, and had been born on the American bottoms, in Illinois , his parents being Phillip and Hannah Pancake Suiter. William H. was a rapids pilot at the age of 21 and followed that lucrative occupation all his life, amassing considerable property, in the town of Le Claire and its neighborhood.  The late Mrs. J. H. Manwaring of this city was a daughter of his.  

Davenport Democrat
Feb 3, 1904
Pg. 6

Suiter J. G.  

   At his home in Le Claire at 7 o’clock Tuesday morning occurred the death of J. G. Suiter in his 79th year of his age.  Pleurisy was the cause of death.

  The deceased was born in Sangamon county Ill. Nov. 11, 1825 and came to Le Claire in 1836.  For a long time the deceased operated the raft boat Rambo in partnership with C. P. Disney, and became widely known as a riverman.

  The deceased was three times married.  His first wife was Mrs. Isabelle Greene of south Bend , Ind. And the second wife was the mother of his surviving children, Frank Suiter and Mrs. Bart Stone of Le Claire.  The third wife died several years ago.

   Three brothers also survive, Frank Suiter of De Witt, and Joseph Suiter of Le Claire.  The third brother Wm. M Suiter died last week.

  The funeral will be held Thursday afternoon at 2’oclock from the Baptist church at Le Claire.

Sweeney James

The Davenport Democrat & Leader
Oct. 2, 1927
Pg. 21 

James Sweeney of Le Claire, veteran River Man, Dies 

  James Sweeney of Le Claire, Ia., a government employee on river boats for the past 30 years, died this morning at 9 o’clock at St. Luke’s hospital, Davenport, after a short illness.

  He was born in Le Claire on Jan 20, 1869, and had lived all his life in that place.  He was married on Nov. 25, 1903 to Miss Bertha Lambach at Le Claire.

  Mr. Sweeney was a member of snow Lodge, A. F. & a. M. of Le Claire, and was chancellor commander of the Knights of Pythias lodge of Le Claire at the time of his death.  He also held membership in the Modern Woodmen of America.

  He is survived by his wife and three sisters, Mrs. K. Hugener of Camnache, Mrs. Mary Reynolds of East Moline and Mrs. Fannie Buckheit of Le Claire.

  The body was taken to the Hill & Fredericks mortuary and will be removed tonight to his home in Le Claire from where the funeral will be held Friday at 2:00 p. m. Burial will be in the Glendale cemetery.

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


  Leclaire Rivermen Continued

Previous Page of LeClaire Rivermen