A Raft Pilot's Log by Capt. Walter A. Blair
1929-Arthur H. Clark Company
Transcribed by Joan Bard Robinson
To make my story more intelligible to readers not
acquainted with rafting
or steamboats, I will explain some of the terms and expressions used
frequently in our daily work:
To keep a raft-boat going on steadily required a double crew; that is,
two pilots, two engineers, two or four firemen according to the size of the
boat, two ash haulers and two watchmen or' Nigger-runners'. Half of these are
'on watch' (on duty) at a time and the other are 'off watch'.
On a few boats they stand straight six-hour watches changing at break-
fast time, dinner and supper time, and at midnight or 1 A.M., but on most
boats stand the 'dog watch' in which they divide the day in two and the
night into three watches changing after breakfast, dinner and supper as
usual but ay 11 P.M. and 3 A.M. or at Midnight and 4A.M.
To ' call the watch' means to wake up the other pilots, engineers and
firemen who are to go on duty. This is the pleasant part of the watchmen's
life. The mate on raft-boats and his crew on deck do not stand any regular
watch. They are called up when needed . They often get ' all night
in' but sometimes they strike what is called a ' Dutch watch' which means
'twenty-four hours and come on again.
The men in the deck crew are entered in the portage Book as Seaman but
in practise are called Roosters, Rounders, Rousthans or The Men as 'Get the
Men out and tighten up the lines' a common order.
The boats 'nose' is the extreme point of her hull forward, generally called
In John Hay's story of Jim Bludso and the 'Prairie Belle' he has Jim cty
out-' I'll bring her nose agin the bank till the last galoot's ashore', and
every paper or book that has retold this story has used the word 'nozzle'
instead of 'nose', making it ridiculous.
A steamboat has many nozzles. One on the loose end of every section of
fire hose and one in the lower end of each chimney to confine the exhaust
from the engines.
A green man may speak of 'hiring out' to work on a boat, but one soon
learns to use the word' ship' instead. He signs a ' Shipping List' or
'Shipping Articles', a form of contract.
The question is often asked why we use the feminine pronoun in speaking
a boat. Why always say she? I've heard many reasons given:
Because it takes a smart man to manage her.
Because no two of them are alike.
Because they need a little touching up with paint now and then
to look right.
Because her title is not complete without a 'husband'. (Until
recent years every American vessel's Annual License had to have
some one named in it as 'Ships-husband or managing-owner')
Because she moves with such grace and quiet dignity.
Occasionally some one builds a freak so homely and awkward
looking that we all refer to it as 'it'. No one uses the feminine
in speaking of it.
We always say 'make it fast' instead of 'tie it up' and we say
'let go' or ' let her go' instead of 'untie it' and in speaking
of a person looking sickly or run down we say ' he looks like he's
all let go'
We use quantitie of rope. good manila rope that comes in large
coils but we don't have any ropes on the boat or rafts, they are
all 'lines' from the small quarter-inch stuff to the heavy inch
and three-quarter to check the lines.
In running rafts through bridges or a piece of narrow, crooked river
where we have to divide the raft and take one-half through at a time
the usual way is to move the boat over on the outside half or piece-
then let go all the coupling lines except one at each end of the raft,
back the towboat to kill the headway and get the stern near shore in a
favorable place. Then the mate sends the linesmen ashore in a skiff with
the end of the check line which they make fast to a tree and the mate takes
turns with the bight on the check works built on the piece near
the stern and when he gets a good strain on the check line, the two
couplings lines are let go, the boat stops backing and proceeds with her
piece while the mate lands his piece by judiciously rendering and then
holding his line on the check works till the piece swings in to shore
Then the linesmen pick up the mate and his helper and overtake the
When below the bridge or bad place the pilot lands his first piece;
goes back up and gets the second piece and when below the bridge
or bad place that he 'split' for, he backs the second piece in beside
the first one keeps on backing it to hold it up against the current
while the crew put back and tighten up the lines that hold the two
pieces together. This is 'coupling up' and when completed the pilot
backs the whole raft out in the river and lets it float while they move
the boat over to the middle and get her all 'hitched in' to proceed
This whole operation at a bridge is called ' double tripping.
Another way to run bridges is to move the boat over on one piece,
let go the coupling lines and back on the boat's piece while the
other one floats ahead until it can be swung in just ahead and made
fast close up to the bow of the boat piece, making a 'double header'
only a half raft wide and two rafts long. By backing slow this long
timber mass can be placed in shape to slide through the draw span
of most bridges.
When below the bridge and clear of the shore the two pieces are
coupled up again while floating along and the boat moved back to her
place in the middle on the stern of the whole raft.
After bow-boats came into common use some pilots quite frequently
'split on the pier' at bridges like LaCrosse, Dubuque or Sabula where
each side of the long or pivot pier was opened and clear, and the shore span
has a sheer boom or stationary 'fence' to slide through on.
'Splitting on the pier' meant moving both the tow-boat and the bow-
boat over on the piece that was to run the span on the outside of the
long sharp-pointed draw-pier.
Holding on to the other piece with coupling lines till they got it in
shape, to let go so it would float and slide along the fence or sheer
boom the two boats one at each end of the other piece, could back it
out so it would slide along the outside of the long pier and with a little
shoving by the tow-boat it was soon placed beside the floating piece
and coupled up.
This was a very clever performance when properly done and was the
method of all.
Saddle-bagging an island, bar or bridge-pier meant drifting or settling
down on to onto it sideways, to either break in two or to wallop around
it horseshoe shape and hang there.
This was a very serious affair and the usual comment by the deck
crew was that 'He (the pilot) made an ape's tail of her.
Aside from that derived from experience and observation I gained
a lot of information about rafting from George Tromley and Stephen
Hanks who were engaged in the work from the start; from E.W.Durant,
James Hugunin, George Rutherford, J.M. Hawthorne and others who learned the
river while pulling an oar on floating rafts before steamboats were used
to tow them.
I learned most from Sam R. Van Sant who built the first real raft
boat. He was my employer for four years and my associate in business
for forty years thereafter. he was always well informed about the
rafting business outside of our own boats and their operations.
All these men I have mentioned were not only intelligent gentlemen
but careful in their statements and dependable for their good judgement
and their honesty. They never gave me what the slang users call ' a bum
In the material i had saved up to use in this work were the lists of
raft-boats , their owners, their masters and home ports found in the
appendix. These were made out by Captain Van Sant and myself and
published in local papers. We were careful in preparing these lists and
know they are correct.
Lists of Pilots, engineers and mates were made out later from memory.
The list of pilots is complete for I had excellent help to make it so. I know
the other lists are not complete but we could do no better.
I have been greatly assisted by many kind friends who have shown a
genuine interest in my task by hunting up and sending me photographs
to illustrate the work and information to guide or correct me. I want
also to acknowledge the courtesy of my Publisher, Mr. Arthur H. Clark,
for his valuable suggestions and changes made in the preparation of
I want especially to acknowledge my indebtness to my friend, Captain
Fred A. Bill of Saint Paul, Minnesota, who edited the Life and Adventures
Stephan b. Hanks, published in the Saturday Evening Post of Burlington, Iowa,
1921-1922, and who has made many original and interesting con-
tributions to the Burlington Post and other papers that have encouraged
the study of what the preceding generation was doing on our great waterways.
The Burlington Post also published Recollections of the Old River by Cap-
tain J.M.Turner of Lansing, Iowa, from which I secured some of the most
interesting facts in the captain's long and successful life.
The Burlington Post in August, 1926, began publishing the Memories of
Captain Sam R. Van Sant, my old-time employer and long-time business
associate, who, is better known as Ex- governor of Minnesota for two terms.
The chapters are very interesting but it is impossible to get the
governor to furnish copy regularly, Although eighty-three past, he is so
active in G.A.R. work and politics that the Memories were laid aside
the presidential campaign.
My information about early logging on the river above Saint Anthony's
was derived from the Personal Narratives of Daniel Stanchfield published in
the Minnesota Historical Society's Collections, vol. ix, pages 324-362.
My authority about operations on the Saint Croix river is based on
a paper read at the Monthly meeting of the Executive council of the
Minnesota Historical Society, April 11, 1904, by Captain Edward
Durant of Stillwater- see Minnesota Historical Collections, vol.x,part
ii, pages 644-675.
Authorities for earley operations on the Chippewa, Black, and Wis-
consin rivers are History of Lumber and Forest Industry of the North-
west, G.W.Hotchkiss, Publisher, Chicago, 1898,and an article on
Waterway and Lumber Interests of Western Wisconsin by John Milton Holley,A.B.
in 'Wisconsin Historical Society's Proceedings, 1906,' pages
211-212- through the kindness of Anie A. Nunns, Assistant Superintendent.
My authority for the output of logs through Beef Slough
1889 and for that of West Newton Slough, 1889-1896 is the American
Lumberman, James E. Defenbaugh, vol.i , 1907.
For the output from West Newton 1897 to 1904, I could only get
partial reports from the Surveyor- general of Logs and Lumber of
Minnesota and from other sources which enabled me to make the estimate
given. It is very close to the actual figures.
The reported output of the Saint Paul Boom 1888 to 1916 is complete
as given by the Surveyor- general of Logs and Lumber of Minnesota.
my Authority for information about the organization and operations
M.R.L. Co. or 'Pool' as it was usually called is The Mississippi River
Logging Company- an historical, sketch by Matthew G. Norton, 1912. Mr.
Norton of 'Laird' Norton & Co.' of Winona, Minn., was a prominent
member of the company.
The records of the rafting industry industry are nearly all
lost. I cannot fully express my gratitude to those who have helped me gather
up and arrange
all we could and in order to preserve some reliable information about a
great, useful, profitable, and interesting activity that began in 1840
and ended in in 1915.
EARLY RIVER DAYS
I was born November 17, 1856, Galena, Illinois. Galena at that time
was noted for its rich and productive lead and zinc mines, for its many fine
steamboats, prominent and successful steamboat men, and big river commerce.
Captain Smith Harris, and his brothers, Scribe, Keeler, Meeker and
Captain Orrin Smith, Charles L. Stephenson, G.W. Girdon, Adam and Stephen
Younkers, Paul Kerz, N.F. Webb, and E.H.Beebe; Pilots William
White, Thomas Drenning, Will Kelly, John Arnold, George Tromley, Stephen B.
Hanks, Hiram Beedle, William Fisher, John King, W.R. Tibbals; and Engineers
Henry Whitmore ,William Myers, James Hunt, George Griffith, and Sam Maxwell,
were some of those actively engaged. I still remember them in those happy
boyhood days when I found so much enjoy-
ment playing around the old Galena levee, and watching them loading the
handsome big steamboats with pigs of lead, sacks of grain, or barrels of
pork, for which Galena was noted.
Galena was then the largest and wealthiest city north of Saint
with more of a population than it has today. It is on the Fevre river, five
miles from where it enters Harris Slough, which opens out into the
Mississippi six miles above Bellevue, Iowa. Fevre river and Harris Slough
were both deep then. Boats, fully loaded had no trouble getting out into
the Mississippi, and boats like the 'Northern Light' or the 'Grey
Eagle,' two hundred and fifty feet long could turn around in Galene harbor.
When I was there, a few years ago, with the 'Helen Blair', we had to back all
the way out of the river, and turn in Harris Slough. The 'Helen Blair' was
only one hundred and eighty feet long. The old, deep Fevre river has been
filled up by the soil from the cultivated hills. Besides
the large steamers that ran to Saint Louis or Saint Paul, there were smaller
ones, like the 'Alice Wild,' Charles Rogers,' Belle of Bellevue,' the
'Sterling', and the 'Willie Wilson,' engaged in local work, towing wood,
sand, and lumber, coming and going to and from the Mississippi.
I have in memory a few days that stand out with more than ordinary
interest. one was a fine afternoon when Matt Lorraine, a boy two or three
years older than I, took me out twing in a nice skiff named 'Mab,' and
generously shared with me a sack of peanuts, which he said cost five cents. I
recall nothing of the three hundred and sixty-four days of that year.
One of Galena's noted characters, in those days, was a little
called Conny O'Ryan. Conny had a strong dislike for steady employment. He
didn't object to a short job now and then, if the pay was good and the jobs
didn't come too close together. He spent most of his winters in jail.
Once, toward spring Owen M' Gaughy, one Vonny's old pals, took him up some
tobacco, and when about to leave, asked " Will you be soon out,
Conny?" He replied" Me time is pretty near up, but Mr. Pittam says I
in, a few weeks longer, if I behave myself." One day, as winter was
coming on, we asked him what he was going to do this winter, as they would
not keep him in jail there any more. He answered, quite cheerfully,
" I'll go over to
Dubuque, so I will, and get good and drunk and break in some man's window and
they'll sind me up for three months. Divil the lick of work
will I do till spring." And that is just what he did.
In 1857, the Illinois Central railroad extended from Cairo, at the
extreme southern end of the state, to Galena, in the northwest corner,
with a branch from Amboy to Chicago, and was then the longest railroad
in the world. The Galena steamboats connected this great railroad with
the entire Northwest and it gave the boats regular and reliable connection
with the East and South. These conditions, while they lasted, were
mutually advantages to all concerned, and many snug fortunes were made
by members of the Galena and Minnesota Company and a few independents.
The lumber handled by the Galena yards nearly all came from
on the Wisconsin river. It was floated down the Wisconsin and Mississippi
and towed to the Fevre river, by some of the small boats, or pulled and
poled up by hand, when the conditions were favorable.
Log to supply the local sawmills came from the northern pineries in
same way. Considerable Galena capital was invested in lumbering in the
Wisconsin pineries. Many of the men who worked on the boats as deck-
hands in summer went up to the pineries in winter and helped cut and
bank the logs and in early spring, to get the logs down to the sawmills.
Naturally some of these men were engaged to help float the rafts of
logs or lumber down the Wisconsin and Mississippi, earning good money while
getting back to their summer jobs. In doing this, a few of the more ambitious
chaps developed into 'raft pilots' who knew the river, and either piloted for
so much per
month, trip, or season, or took contracts to run rafts of logs or lumber
for so much per thousand feet. In the latter case, the Pilot-contractor
hired and paid his own crew, besides furnishing the necessary kit of ropes
((called lines) to hold the logs together, making the raft strong and stiff,
and also to check and hold it when landing. Some tools were required;
besides axes, crank augers, pike poles, snatch poles, pikes and peavies,
A prudent pilot would also provide a supply of plugs, lockdowns, and brail-
rigging, for repair work. Last of all, he must have two safe, easy-rowing
skiffs. These things had to be good or trouble was sure to follow. A pilot or
company that was know to be niggardly or indifferent about the kit,
often had to take men who couldn't get work elsewhere.
Furnishing the provisions, or 'grub', was not so particular a
little was expected in the way of variety or delicasies. Salt meats, flour,
cornmeal, beans, and potatoes, with coffee and sugar, filled the bill. No
milk or butter was expected, but molasses, then plentiful and cheap, was
George Tromley, William Simmons and David Philamulee were the only
'floating pilots' living in Galena, remembered in my boyhood. Later when
steamboats were used to guide and tow rafts down the river, the term
'raft pilot' applied to a pilot who piloted a raft and the boat towing it.
He had to have a government license to pilot the steamboat, while no license
was required to pilot a floating raft. Those pilots were usually
called 'floaters', to distinguish them from others running rafts with steam
My father was engaged in a retail lumber business, first in Galena,
afterwards in Princeton, a smaller town, on the Mississippi. He secured all
from floating rafts that would land above our yard so we could pick out
the cribs and strings that had the kinds of lumber we wanted for our trade.
While this work of selection was going on, the pilot usually stayed
our house. I spent much of my time on the raft with the crew, and was always
glad to be invited to sit up to the table with them at meal-time;
not because the food was better or even as good as we had at home, but
it was different, quite different.
I was greatly interested in the talk of the crew, especially in their
arguments. I asked many questions about the Wisconsin river, the Dalles,
Little Bull Falls, and other features I had heard so much about. Some of
the information they gave me was correct perhaps; at any rate it was colored
up enough to create a strong desire to see that wonderful river.
For over forty years I have been planning a voyage in an old-fashioned
raft-skiff, from Stevens Point to its mouth. I have crossed the river
many times, on the railway bridge, near its mouth, but never rode a mile on
My favorite pilot was Joe Blow, an old Frenchman of Stevens Point,
whom we bought lumber every year. He was intelligent above the average,
and had such a delightful Canadian- French dialect and such agreeable
manners that no matter how late he stayed up and talked, Mother could
not drive us children to bed until Captain Blow went upstairs.
He owned the raft or an interest in it, and did his own piloting
the Wisconsin to the Mississippi and down the Mississippi to Saint Louis,
including both the Upper and Lower rapids. His crew were nearly all
'Canucks' like himself, and they treated him with marked respect.
The Mississippi has an average current of two and a
half mile per hour. A floating raft would have the same speed if there were
no wind, but it was very much affected by even a light wind, and
and had to be tied up for any moderate side or down- stream wind. Much time
was lost on this account, and even a short trip in distance often turned to
be al long one, in time. One windy spring, Captain Blow was six
weeks from the mouth of the 'Wisconsin' to 'de rapids' only one hundred and
The pilots wanted calm weather to run the rapids, because it was
impossible to tie up, in such strong current, if there was much wind. A
favorite place to wait for daylight, or calm weather to run the Upper or
Rock Island rapids , was under the bar, in front of Harvey Goldsmith's place,
above LeClaire, Iowa . When half a dozen rafts, with their crews
of from twenty to thirty men each, were held up here for a few days,
with nothing to do, they had high old times.
In low water these rafts had to be cut up into several sections and
oars shipped up on each end and men taken on, so the sections
could be kept in the narrows, crooked ' steamboat channels' , whereas in
ordinary stages of the water the whole raft could be rub down 'raft-
This low-water work made good business for the 'rapids
'trippers' in LeClaire and Montrose, who received four dollars for the
fifteen mile trip 'bucking' an oar from LeClaire to Davenport, or from
Montrose to Keokuk. This was hard on the owner or contractor though.
I guess 'bucking' an oar on a raft was the best exercise to
lungs and all the muscles that has yet been found. It sure produced a
strong, husky lot of men.
The oars or sweeps by which the raft was handled, consisted of stems
twenty feet long, usually young tamarack poles about twelve inches thick
at the big end. Into this was pinned a pine blade fourteen inches wide,
about twelve feet long and two and one half inches thick at the end attached
to the blade, and sawed tapering to one and one quarter inches
at the outboard end.
Each string of the raft had one of these oars hung on a head-block
across the end and held in place by a two-inch oak pin, working in a fong
slat through the oar-stem near the big end, and driven deep down into
the head-block. This made the heavy oar balance nicely, and with a big, strong
man at the end of each of eight to twelve oars, directed by an intelligent
pilot, very satisfactory work was done when the weather was calm.
Rafts of both logs and lumber were made up of long strings each
teen feet wide and about four hundred feet long. The string was composed
of logs placed in rows, close together, side by side and butt to butt, and
the rows held together by sixteen -foot poles laid across the string and
fastened to each log by hickory or elm lockdowns and wooden plugs. The
lockdown was bent over the pole, the ends stuck down into one and one-quarter
inch holes in the log, and then the plugs driven in to hold them.
Lumber was built in strongly framed cribs at the mill where where
was sawed, and slid off into the river by a tilting cradle on which it
Rafts were not made up to size until they were safely on the
About seven cribs long and four strings wide was the usual size run on the
The crew lived on the raft on its voyage down to the
mill, where it was to be sawed, or to market to be sold. There was so much
objection to any structure that would catch wind and cause more work
at the oars, that they were contented with very small tents made of rough
boards. If any ambitious members of the crew built higher shaties they
were usually told to knock them down, the first windy day. Failure to comply
with this suggestion frequently resulted in a a fight that was sure
to end in defeat for the owner, because the pilot or the rest of the crew
would knock it down anyway.
They generally had a low wide 'cook-shanty' in which they sat down
eat; but often the cooking was done with only a cover to keep the rain off
the stove, and the grub was served out in the open, the men standing to eat.
The success of the cook depended more on his ability to lick any man
in the crew than on his skill in the culinary art. Even the pilot had to give
in to the cook, at least until the end of the trip. Most of the cooks were
only known by their nick-names, such as sailor Jack, Spike Ike, Calfskin Ben,
Steubenville Ben, Kelly the Cutter, Hayden the Brute, Slufoot Murphey, Double
Headed Bob and many more just as musically names; all
good cooks and most of them agreeable when sober, but real bad actors
when liquored up.
One day two of them especially noted for their skill as cooks and
for their bilbulous habits, met in the Lansing boat store and and strange to
tell they were both sober.
After friendly greeting Hayden said to Luker "I thought you were on the
"Why leave her; she furnishes well?"
"I couldn't give her satisfaction, I was paid off."
"Where did the kick come from, the cabin or the mess room?"
"Why the mess room, of course. The officers were delighted with me
work. The captain had tears in his eyes when I left the boat; but I couldn't
please the men."
" Well Jimmy Luker! I'm really surprised that a 'cuke' of your experience
should fail to handle a common situation like that. Why didn't you fill
them up on sweet stuff-pie and cake and candy."
"Thats just what I did. I sat up nights making candy and gave them pie and
cake three times a day and for midnight lunch and then the reprobates
set up the howl for 'puddin' and I quit her right then."
BEGINNINGS OF THE RAFTING INDUSTRY
The first lumber run from Lake Saint Croix was from marine Mills, in 1839;
the first logs from Stillwater to Saint Louis by S.B.Hanks, 1843;
The last, a lumber raft in Augusta, 1915, to Fort madison, Iowa, by the
steamer'Otumwa Belle', W.L.Hunter, pilot.
The Mississippi River Logging Company began operations on the
river, and took over the work begun by the Beef Slough Boom Company, in
1871, and increased the output steadily, reaching its maximum about 1892,
when over 600,000,000 feet passed through its booms in a season.
In 1889-1890, the works were moved to West Newton , from which
three hundred million to six hundred million feet were turned out annually,
until 1909, when the exhaustion of the timber supply caused a final shutdown.
The first lumber was rafted down the Chippewa river in 1831, and
small beginning the industry developed rapidly.
The following large companies were engaged in sawing pine lumber
sending it down the Chippewa and Mississippi rivers:
The Badger State Lumber Company
The Eau Claire Lumber Company
The Daniel Shaw Lumber Company
The Lafayette Lumber Company
The Northwestern Lumber Company
The Union Lumber Company
The Valley Lumber Company
The Dells Lumber Company
The Sherman Lumber Company
Also Ingram, Kennedy and Company; the great Knapp Stout and Company
cut two billion feet of lumber in sixty years, from 1836 to 1896, and the
Chippewa Lumber & Boom Company, which cut 325, 000 feet a day, with 75,ooo
lath on the side.
There was lively work bringing this down the Chippewa to Read's
where small rafts or pieces were made up into a large Mississippi
raft for downriver.
Sawed lumber and timber were fitted at the rear of the mill into a
or or heavy crate sixteen feet wide, thirty two feet long and twelve to
twenty inches deep made of grub plank two inches by twelve inches , held
together by heavy two-inch pins of hickory or oak, holding top and
bottom sides and end all solid together. This made a 'crib', the unit which
was built on a moveable platform that, when tilted, would let the crib, slide
down, into the river.
A number of these cribs, fastened in regular strings by strong
of planks fore and aft and also crosswise, would make a raft of perhaps
twenty- four cribs for the Chippewa, and from one hundred and twenty to
one hundred and sixty cribs for the Mississippi.
Until the middles sixties, all rafts of both logs and lumber , were
floated down by the current and kept in the channel and clear of sand bars,
heads of islands, bridge piers and other besetting dangers, by a crew of
strong, lusty men, who used large oars or or sweeps on the bow and stern.
There was an oar at each end of every string of cribs, so that a raft of ten
strings had had a bow crew of the ten best men, and the other ten pulled on
the stern. All were under the direction of the pilot who hired and paid
them off and usually had fair control of them.
The first trace of rafting on Black river was in 1844,
when Myrick and
Miller sent some logs to Saint Louis, but about two years before this, the
Mormons had got out some timber for their buildings at Nauvoo.
This timber was sawed in the mill of Jacob Spaulding at Black River
The mill, built in 1839, seems to have been the first to begin cutting on
Black river. The greatest output was in 1881- 250,000,000 feet.
Governor C.C. Washburn, prominent in lumbering on Black river, had
home in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and organized the LaCrosse Lumber Company,
in 1871. He was born in Maine, taught in a private school in Davenport in
1839, and in 1840 was elected county surveyor of rock Island county.
John Paul, C.L.Colman, N.B.Holway, W.H.Polleys, G.C.Hixon, Abner
Gile, Oran and Levi Withee, Sawyer and Austin, A.W.Pettibone, P.S.David-
son, G.B.Trow and McDonald Brothers, were all engaged in extensive logging
and lumber operations.
The earliest lumbering was probably on the Wisconsin river. Pierre
had a sawmill operating in 1822, and possibly earlier, on Dutchman's creek.
Some of the product was floated out and down the Mississippi, but records are
very meager. By treaty with the Indians in
1830, Governor Henry Dodge secured the rights for lumbering, and by 1840 many
mills were located, and some in operation.
The first raft taken through to Saint Louis of which we have
record, was run by Honorable Henry Merrill, who took charge of it at Portage,
rebuilt and refitted it at the mouth of the Wisconsin river, and delivered it
in Saint Louis, in 1839.The early saw mills in Galena and Dubuque were
supplied with logs prior to this long trip to Saint Louis
In 1857, three thousand men were engaged in lumbering on the Wisconsin,
and the value of the log crop was estimated at $4,000,000.00.
As all the lumber had to be floated out of the Wisconsin and down the
Mississippi, rafting grew into a great business, and was handled quite
systematically, by a hardy, rough, but industrious and reliable lot of men,
working under such floating-raft pilots as Dave Philomalee, Bill Skinner,
Bill Simmons, Wild Penney Joe Blow, and Sandy McPhail.
Some went through direct to saint Louis, others peddled by string
to dealers in the towns along the way, and the trips would often end
at Davenport, Muscatine, or Quincy. Then the crew would take passage on a
steamboat going north to start another trip down. They had no work to do
going up river, ansd usually made it one long carousal, so that by the time
they reached the mouth of the 'Wisconsin' or Black river they were broke
and glad to go to work again.
Sme of the pilots worked by the month, others by the season or
the 'company' paying all expenses and taking all the chances; but a few had
their own kits and ran the rafts under contract-so much per thousand feet, or
so much a string.
From 1870 to 1875, I had considerable acquaintance with these
account of my father's lumber yard at Princeton, Iowa,
which received all its supply from floating rafts, mainly from the Wisconsin.
Daniel Stanchfield cut the first logs on the Upper Mississippi,
Saint Anthony's Falls, in 1848.
These logs were sawed into lumber by the first mill in Minneapolis, owned by
Franklin Steele and others. It began sawing in September, 1848, by
The business increased rapidly, and settles and immigrants poured
Saint Paul and Minneapolis. In 1856, the surveyor-general reported scaling
6,000,000 feet of logs for Borup and Oakes alone. These logs were run over
the falls to be caught in the Saint Paul boom, where they were rafted
and floated down river to other sawmills, a large number going to Saint
Rum river was cleared of obstructions in 1850, and logging on this
tributary increased increased from 6,000,000 feet in 1850, to 32,000,000
feet in 1854.
The output of the Upper Mississippi above saint Anthony's Falls
678,000,000 feet in 1899, and totaled 11,000,000,000 feet for the
fifty-two years from 1848 to 1899 inclusive.
From 1869 to 1887 very few if any logs passed over Saint Anthony's
Falls for down-river mills, as the many large mills in Minneapolis sawed
that came down from the Upper Mississippi and its tributaries within the
site of Minnesota.
In 1888 the Saint Paul boom was opened, and rafting logs for
mills was carried on here quite successful. When it finally closed, in1913,
the surveyor's record showed an output of 1,555,854,900 feet during the
Some pilots took pride in their work and the appearance and good
performance of the crew, and made few changes during the season. There was
marked difference piloting even a floating raft. A bright, sober,
intelligent pilot, who learned the drafts or water at different stages,
would make better time and give the
men less work in bucking the oars. Such pilots could always get rafts to
and men to run them.
On lumber rafts, the crew usually had a board shanty where the cooking was
done, and little dog houses, improvised to sleep in. On long trips, such as
from Stillwater or Read's Landing, Minneasota to Saint Louis, they would fix
up comfortable bunks, as they had all kinds of lumber to use and and a
good floor to start on. On log rafts they usually depended on flimsy tents
provided by the pilot, and the conveniences of life were very meager, but
the work was healthful, and the life, and excitement, in the open pure air,
gave them good appetites and excellent digestion. They usually had plenty of
good, plain food, and strong coffee. They seldom had any ice, in the hottest
weather, or any milk. Sometimes delayed on a long hard trip, when
the pilot's money or credit gave out, these men were just as resourceful as
any of General Sherman's soldiers, on their March to the Sea.
The country above Dubuque was very sparsely settled, and the little
far apart, but it is pleasant to reflect that that there is no record
of a raftman dying of hunger. An anger farmer, who missed a fat two-year
old heifer one morning after a raft had passed down, overtook the raft by
a long, hard row in a heavy skiff. The dressed carcuss lay on the logs near
the center of the raft, covered with a piece of white canvas. The crew was
divided and crouched at the corners of the raft, while the old french pilot
sat alone with his head down when the farmer appeared and questioned him. Old
George said, " My friend, I'm glad to see you. I'm in
big trouble. My crew are all afraid of me." "How so?" "You
see. "he replied,
" that white ting down there?-
small pox, one of my best men, the cook. I stay and work with him all night
but taint no use. Now, my friend, you look like brave man. I want you to
help me take the cook ashore and bury him." But the farmer was gone; nearly
fell in the river in his excitement and hurry to get away.
On reaching a raft's destination - Dubuque, Burlington Iowa,
Missouri, Saint Louis or elsewhere- the pilot would ship his kit and provide
deck passage on a northbound steamboat back up the river. The pilot, of
course, took cabin passage. These returning had no work to do going back
up river. There were often several raft crew on each steamer., Having been
paid at the down trip, all had money. Every boat had a bar, and 'red liquor'
was in demand. The fighting was confined to the lower or main deck, where it
annoyed only the boat's crew and other deck passengers. On one occasion,
though, these orgies developed into a riot, on the steamer
'Dubuque', and several negros were killed or driven overboard and drowned.
The rioters then took charge of the boat for a few hours, and cabin pass-
engers were in terror, until officers intercepted the 'Dubuque' at the
Clinton, Iowa bridge, arrested the rioters and took them ashore for trial.
There has been much noise made about the "riot on the steamer
books and magazines , especially in recent years.
The trouble started easily through the mistake or oversight of the
or mate in placing a negro at the head of the main stairway forward to
Irish raftmen from entering the the cabin to get their
'Mornings Mornings or 'Eye-Opener'. There was a bar on the 'Dubuque' in
the front end
of the cabin and 'lower-deck' passengers were welcome patrons as rule.
These raftman had been patronizing the bar quite liberally all the way up but
the bartender accustomed to handling them kept them in good humor
and within a safe limit; but while lying at Rock Island and Davenport some
of them drank a lot up-town after the boat's bar was closed for the night.
She left early in the morning and when these men woke up after the
debauch they wanted whisky and wanted it bad.
The officer in charge should have been prepared to take care of
matter. It was an awful mistake to put a negro there to meet the situation.
Deck passengers were not allowed to eat in the cabin at all; they
from the kitchen down on the main deck. It was whiskey they wanted,
not breakfast, and it was no place for a negro in front to turn them back
from the bar.
I don't know what river these raftmen came from but think they were
from the Wisconsin, as the majority of them were Irish; while on the
Black,Chippewa and Saint Croix rivers, the Canadians and Scandinavians
were the most numerous.
I never heard raftmen from Black river spoken of as more belligeren
others; nor did I ever learn of of a single instance of a real raftman
assaulting injuring a woman or a child. They would fight when in liquor,
and this was not unusual on shore in those days.
When a boy I saw more fighting and more blood shed on one Saturday
in the little town of Princeton than I saw among raftman during my
twenty years among them.
The riot on the 'Dubuque' was the only affair of the kind that
during the seventy-five years of the
rafting period. Because it was so unusual, much was made of it.
While clerk on the 'Silver Wave' late in the fall of 1879 we had a
husky crew of real raftmen which included 'Ole' a big Swede and Tom
Cleeland an Irishman of good size and build, who was called one of the
best men 'in the woods'.
We had to lay over night at LeClaire on one way down. All the cabin
(captain, pilot, mate, engineers and cooks) lived in LeClaire, our home port,
and all of them had gone home for the night leaving me in charge.
Before leaving, the mate reminded me not to let the deck crew have
money; so when they were free to go up-town all came up together
and I handed one or two dollars each and told them that was all they could
have -'mates orders.' All O.K.
At 10:30 P.M. five or six of them came back for more money. I tried
persuade them not to go up-town again- to go down and turn in for a little
sleep before four o'clock but they were insistent. So I gave in gracefully,
saying, "Boys, you know this is my first season on this boat
and I don't like to break orders, but you fellows have always treated me
nice, so here's a dollar apiece; spend that and come back and turn in for
the for the mate will be after you at four o'clock, remember." "Oh das
alright." "You been dam good feller" said "Ole', and of they
went and I
thought I was done with them.
Just before midnight I heard them come on. After some noisy talk
in the deck room, four of them, including Ole and Tom came up-stairs and
into the cabin and demanded more money.
I was stirring up the fire with a big poker of three-
quarter-inch iron. I swung the the door shut with the poker stuck down in the
down in the fire and the other end out.
I told them the safe was locked and I was going to
bed,"No more money
tonight, Olie." Big Olie answered, "Yas; das all right," and went
The two smaller men again demanded more money-all their money. I opened the
front door and succeeded in persuading one to go out and down but I
had to use force on his partner, but got him out and closed the door. Then
Tom Cleeland lit his pipe and remarked "That is a rough way to put a man
"Well," said I, " he wouldn't go out when I told him
to- I had to put him
out , I'm running this place , ain't I, Tom?"
Tom smilled and said ," Well you can't put me out that
"No Tom, I know that, you're too big for me and I hear you're
a hard man
to handle. But,Tom, I'm in charge her and when I start to put you out, I'm
going to do it."
"The hell you will. Just try it." said Tom. By this time
with my old
gloves on I grabbed the end of the log poker, jerked it out of the fire,
about eighteen inches of it red hot, and made for him, and in full tones
told him to fly or I would mark him for life. He caught my idea instantly and
acted on my advice. I had no trouble after that- we got along fine until the
Carrying these raft crews and their kits back up river, while
not a pleasant business, was always a profitable one, adding a large amount
to the earnings of the packet companies, with very little
added expense. Naturally the packet companies were against the use of
towboats helping these rafts down river and carrying back the crew.
One of the Northern Line packets, going up river in the night, ran
raft, , under way , and did it considerable damage . George Tromley, the
pilot of the raft, made a claim on the Packet Company, when he delivered
his raft to saint Louis. He was told to leave his bill and they would submit
it to Captain Hill when the steamer 'Dubuque' returned. Captain Hill refused
to o.k. the bill and Captain Tromley's lawyer libeled the steamer
'Dubuque' in United States District court. The bill was then promptly paid,
Some time later, Mr.Tromley, with his crew, were in Saint Louis to
back up river on the first, which happened to be the 'Dubuque.' Not long
after starting, Captain Hill met Mr.Tromley near the office and bar, and
began raking him for making such a big noise to the company and libeling the
boat. Mr. Tromley, in his pleasing manner and rich Canadian dialect,
said," Well, Captain Hill, I bring my crew and your boat today, don't I
" Yes." "I pay my way for all my people, ain't that so, Mr.
that's true, Mr.Tromley." "I ride on your boat before, ain't I,
wit my crew
and kit?" "Oh, yes, Mr. Tromley, you have traveled with us many times.
are a good customer." "Always pay my way, don't I, Mr. Clerk?"
"Yes,indeed, Mr.Tromley." "Then" turning to Captain Hill
with his peculiar
smile, he said, " Now Captain , you hear what the clerk say, and and these
gentlemen(passengers) they all here too. Now when you come and bring your
boat and crew and take ride on my raft,don't you think it only fair you pay
your fare same as I ?"
Captain Hill was glad to call all hands to 'splice the main brace'
supper, and a;; trouble was over. Mr. Tromley was in many ways the
brightest and most interesting character I met in forty years on the river,
three of which were spent under his tutorship in learning the river.
Some years later Pilot Tromley was running on the rafter 'Silver
Captain Mitchell, a much younger man, was very excited and one
day after striking the laCrosse bridge he got terribly worked up. Mr. Trom-
ley took charge of the affair and in a few hours the crew had the raft in
good shape again and the 'Silver Crescent' shoving at full head towards its
After clearing up, Captain Mitchell went up to the pilot-house and
down quietly holding his face in his hand, for several minutes.
Then, rousing he said, "Mr. Tromley, I believe I'm going
Mr. Tromley turned around and with a merry twinkle in his eyes and
kindest manner said, " Why my dear friend ! Are you just finding that
out ? There's many people on this boat could told you dat good while ago.
"Now captain let me tell you something ! It ain't no use
to get so dam
excite .I have been on this river long time; more than you have; and have had
all kinds of trouble raf's broke up, raf's ground on san bar, hit bridges,
caught in fog or storm but I never yet heard of a saw log come up in
pilot-house and kill a pilot." The captain laughed heartily and it