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A-Rafting on the Mississip’

A-Rafting on the Mississip’

Copyright Date: 1955
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 372
Stable URL:
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  • Book Info
    A-Rafting on the Mississip’
    Book Description:

    During the nineteenth century, pine logs were lashed together to form easily floatable rafts that traveled from Minnesota and Wisconsin down the Mississippi River to build the farms and towns of the virtually treeless lower Midwest. These huge log rafts were steered down the river by steamboat pilots whose skill and intimate knowledge of the river’s many hazards were legendary. Charles Edward Russell, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, chronicles the history and river lore of seventy years of lumber rafting. " A colorful and entertaining account." New York Times Book Review Fesler-Lampert Minnesota Heritage Series

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9363-4
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. ix-2)
  3. Chapter I THE BAD MEN FROM BLACK RIVER (pp. 3-20)

    That hot, sun-flooded, breathless afternoon, when the Mississippi below us was all polished gold and blue and the town was mostly asleep, the women folks of our house had gone in a skiff bargain-hunting to Port Byron and my grandfather and I were left alone. Down in his den on the riverside he was silently at work, but whether concreting his next sermon or mending West Rambo’s best trousers, I was to guess. Either would have been within the lines of his habitual endeavors, for on Sundays he was the preacher of the Baptist church of Le Claire and on...

  4. Chapter II HERE COMES THE STEAMBOAT (pp. 21-39)

    As if at a touch, the rivers became the arterial system of this wonderful new empire; they were to its people then what railroads are to us now. Transportation, communication, supplies, trade, news, and knowledge must go along these highways. Say that a man in New York was impelled by business or other dire need to venture far away into the pathless wilds, perhaps as far even as Dubuque. His natural route would be to Pittsburgh or Cincinnati as best he could, thence by Ohio River steamboat to Cairo, and so up the Mississippi, being perhaps three weeks on the...

  5. [Illustrations] (pp. None)
  6. Chapter III THE PINE-TREE ELDORADO (pp. 40-59)

    With amusement or with concern, as the case may be, the philosopher is now to note that as the tide of this great business mounted, the two extremes of crime met in the pine-woods to work for it side by side.

    Half-savage vagrant men cut down the trees and occasionally fought, robbed, maimed, or murdered one another in a region without law or other restraint. Cultured and respectable business men sat in carpeted offices and directed what was in cold truth a gigantic plunder of their fellow-citizens. To picture the uncouth lumberjack of the woods and the suave dweller in...

  7. [Illustrations] (pp. None)
  8. Chapter IV THE LUMBERJACK (pp. 60-72)

    But to return to the logging camps. The work was hard, the management stupid, and its ways beyond knowledge. In general, the governing idea seems to have been mechanical. To arise at a specified time, whether work was to be done or not; to load in food as one would fire a boiler, and at night to herd bedward as one would turn off the steam—this seemed to be all the philosophy there was in the enterprise. At each camp was what was called a “chore-boy,” usually about sixty years old, whose first duty was to wake everybody up...

  9. [Illustrations] (pp. None)
  10. Chapter V CAPTAIN HANKS COMES IN (pp. 73-94)

    The river men had reason to curse that day’s work in the courts, and did so with enthusiasm and resource of eloquence. Bridges began to multiply and boats and rafts go to pieces on them. “A bridge just has a natural grudge against everything that floats,” said the pilots, and the annals of those days give them countenance. With one curious exception hereafter to be noted, the bridges were built by railroad companies in more haste to make a crossing and sell bonds than to conserve public safety. They hung their bridges upon stone piers built in the river beds...

  11. [Illustrations] (pp. None)
  12. Chapter VI SO LOG WAS KING (pp. 95-108)

    A Towny of mine, who was also (at times) a poet, once wrote some exceedingly bad verses in which he likened our little riverside city to a princess and its water-front to her crown. This, though far-fetched and vinous in origin, pleased local pride, always easily titillated. But no ecstasy in this mind or any other could make of the old sawmill, always the chief note in the scene, anything in the way of a jewel in that crown, for the sawmill reared itself in a mere swank of aggressive ugliness. I think there was no point of view from...

  13. [Illustrations] (pp. None)
  14. Chapter VII DAYS OF THE GREAT MIGRATION (pp. 109-128)

    In this swift rise of a great industry, Hanks became a man of mark and before long a man of wealth. He was now about twenty-three years old and engaged in taking contracts to deliver log rafts to the new mills down the river. He was one of those uneasy souls that hunger and thirst after work and are never filled. In the winter he went into the woods and directed the cutting of the logs, commanded the driving and raftmaking, and then got himself aboard the raft when made and piloted the thing to its destination. He was looked...

  15. Chapter VIII THROUGH FIRE, FOG, AND CYCLONE (pp. 129-147)

    But we have still much to do with Hanks and theDr. Franklin.

    Soon after this stout old craft had participated in the Rollingstone story and had polished off theNominee,she had an encounter of another kind with the steamerGalenaof the same line. It happened in Maquoketa Slough, which, next to Coon Slough and the Davenport bridge, had earned the imprecations of pilots. The point at the lower end of the slough was covered with a dense growth of thickets and trees, so that it was impossible to see through, above, or beyond them, and the channel...

  16. [Illustrations] (pp. None)
  17. Chapter IX THE SLUSH COOK FINDS A PICTURE (pp. 148-162)

    When Thomas Doughty landed in Le Claire three years before the Civil War, people perked up and said, “Here comes a prize.” He was a good-looking young man, for one thing; besides, in his blue eyes shone honesty, and he had a way of talking that took everybody with a pleased surprise, because he was so plainly without guile. He talked well and with confidence, and was just out of college. College men were rare in Le Claire. I think he and old Dr. Gamble divided the eminence.

    Back in Pennsylvania, where Doughty had been born, his family had been...

  18. [Illustrations] (pp. None)
  19. Chapter X GOOD BUSINESS ON THE LAMARTINE (pp. 163-174)

    The Valley of the Mississippi from its earliest settlement has been more infested with reckless and bloodstained men than any other part of the country, being more congenial to their habit and offering the greatest inducements to follow their nefarious and dangerous trade.”

    So concluded a competent authority of the times, writing in 1849.¹ The judgment seems to have been ably sustained, having even the indorsement of the chief magistrate of the State most affected. “Horse stealing, murder, counterfeiting and robbery were common throughout Illinois, according to Governor Ford. Citizens were in the habit of banding together for protection because...

  20. [Illustrations] (pp. None)
  21. Chapter XI AFTER TOM DOUGHTY WENT SMASH (pp. 175-187)

    Slush cooking on the picture-adornedLamartinewas not much of an occupation to one that aspired to command. It did not last long for Young Hopeful. Other engagements of a more dignified character came next and, just as the prospect opened for learning the river, the Civil War broke.

    The day after President Lincoln’s call for 75,000 men was published, Samuel R. Van Sant, aged sixteen, stood in the line at the enlistment-place. He was rejected for youth. In a few days he tried again and was told that if he could bring a written consent from his father he...

  22. [Illustrations] (pp. None)
  23. Chapter XII RAFTSMAN JIM AT HIS WORST (pp. 188-204)

    Surely the wise and the thoughtful that write so confidently about man and his ways of fortune-making have often overlooked one element of his success that comes near to top all the others. I mean the happy conjunction of the right time, the right conditions, and the right material, with the right man, and these must be beyond mortal control. In a calm review of the gigantic lumber industry of the West, the main part of its phenomenal development seems at each crux to have been minor to any human agency. Just at the time that, following Stephen Beck Hanks’s...

  24. Chapter XIII OTHER PHASES OF RAFTSMAN JIM (pp. 205-219)

    If in the face of the fairly eloquent testimony of the foregoing examples I continue to maintain that my rascals of the raft had sometimes a redeeming substratum of sentiment and poetry under their rowdyism, I may be judged merely eccentric. Yet I have reasons. I knew the floating raftsmen. Not many men now alive had first-hand knowledge of them. Besides, there were raftsmen and raftsmen. As to which, perpend.

    To impressionable minds, of all the singular, mysterious spells that pertained to the Mississippi River the strongest came about the windless and cloudless sunset of a summer day. I do...

  25. Chapter XIV CAPTAIN PLUCK TAKES CHARGE (pp. 220-238)

    Twisting back and forth like a snake along the broad shallow bed of the upper Mississippi is a trough, deeper than the rest of the bottom and, of course, hidden from sight. This trough is the steamboat channel. It may be less than a hundred feet wide in a place where the total width of the river is half a mile or a mile, and it may turn and wind about like a drunken man while the visible total of river goes placidly and deceitfully straight. A raft afloat without a steamboat had, because of its lighter draft, a considerable...

  26. [Illustrations] (pp. None)
  27. Chapter XV THE PILOT AND HIS WAYS (pp. 239-265)

    One trait all rivermen of my time had in common, if so be that they were not mere ruffians or roisterers. It was a great, absorbing, dominating, vital, and, to the outsiders, unexplainable passion for the river. To say that it was a fondness for the river or a liking for the river—that would mean nothing. What they felt was more like a lover rejoicing in his first love, only this was immune from satiety and did not change. I know I shall be thought extravagant, but not by those that knew the life I am writing about. The...

  28. [Illustrations] (pp. None)
  29. [Illustrations] (pp. None)
  30. Chapter XVI WHEN THE JULIA HIT THE BRIDGE (pp. 266-278)

    If imminent danger, plucking always at his elbow, produced in the packet pilot a peculiar temper of cool command and a ready capital of resource, much more were these traits developed in a pilot of a rafting steamer, whose responsibilities were so much greater and whose perils more insistent. Of course, there were among them varying temperaments, as with the rest of us, but I think no instances are recorded of a rafting pilot that lost his head in any emergency, however sudden and sharp. No matter what it might be, it was something he had already discounted in his...

  31. Chapter XVII THE STEERING WHEEL GUILD (pp. 279-292)

    The racing instinct was ineradicable in these people, if they were really of the river. Owners, underwriters, and elderly opinion (at a distance) were all against it, but it persisted virtually unchecked by good counsel as by imperative orders. Let two raft boats deliver rafts and start up the river about the same time; all the underwriters between Dubuque and kingdom come could not have prevented a race. The weight on the safety-valve had now been riveted to the beam, so there was no shifting of it; but nobody could prevent some handy article of a substantial character being hung...

  32. [Illustrations] (pp. None)
  33. Chapter XVIII THE MINNIETTA IN A STORM (pp. 293-312)

    Every pilot was a weather sharp and knew more about clouds, winds, sunsets, and signs than the chief engineer of the forecast factory. He had to know, in a region where storms were as plentiful as blackberries and steamboats were built as light as straw. Early summer was the open season for wind-storms, whether cyclone or hurricane, and that made little difference. Sometimes a cyclone would come up so stealthily that it burst almost without warning, but in general a pilot knew from something in the atmosphere whenever a tantrum was at hand.

    If to watch the weather was important...

  34. [Illustrations] (pp. None)
  35. Chapter XIX MR. HILL, MEET CAPTAIN PLUCK (pp. 313-325)

    We left Stephen Beck Hanks planting cherry-trees and watering his geraniums on his little farm at Albany, Illinois, convinced that he and the river were thenceforth twain. No man that ever held a wheel on the Mississippi was afterward content at anything else, though he might eat from gold plate of nightingales’ tongues. Hanks had been holding the watering-pot and the hoe about long enough to be fairly uneasy in his soul, when along comes his brother-in-law, Captain Jenks, with a proposal.

    The towing of rafts by stern-wheel steamboats had been demonstrated to be the right way, and theJ.W....

  36. [Illustrations] (pp. None)
  37. Chapter XX THE END FROM THE BEGINNING (pp. 326-337)

    There is rafting of logs on the River Elbe in Germany; much rafting of logs. All day long the rafts there follow one another down the stream as once rafts used to crowd the Mississippi. There has been rafting on the River Elbe for a thousand years. So far as any one can see, there is likely to be rafting on the River Elbe for a thousand years to come; much rafting.

    Rafting and lumbering on the Mississippi lasted seventy years and ended. With it ended a great, useful, profitable industry.

    So, then, Germany, an old country, thickly populated, keeps...

  38. [Illustrations] (pp. None)
  39. [Illustration] (pp. 338-340)
  40. Appendix A UPPER MISSISSIPPI RIVER DISTANCES (pp. 341-342)
  41. Appendix B A RAFTSMAN’S ORATORY (pp. 343-344)
  42. Appendix C THE RIVER BARD (pp. 345-346)
  43. Index (pp. 347-357)
  44. Back Matter (pp. 358-358)