Life On The Mississippi, Part 6.
Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)

Produced by David Widger



Part 6.

Chapter 26 Under Fire

TALK began to run upon the war now, for we were getting down into the
upper edge of the former battle-stretch by this time. Columbus was just
behind us, so there was a good deal said about the famous battle of
Belmont. Several of the boat's officers had seen active service in the
Mississippi war-fleet. I gathered that they found themselves sadly out
of their element in that kind of business at first, but afterward got
accustomed to it, reconciled to it, and more or less at home in it. One
of our pilots had his first war experience in the Belmont fight, as a
pilot on a boat in the Confederate service. I had often had a curiosity
to know how a green hand might feel, in his maiden battle, perched all
solitary and alone on high in a pilot house, a target for Tom, Dick and
Harry, and nobody at his elbow to shame him from showing the white
feather when matters grew hot and perilous around him; so, to me his
story was valuable--it filled a gap for me which all histories had left
till that time empty.


He said--

It was the 7th of November. The fight began at seven in the morning. I
was on the 'R. H. W. Hill.' Took over a load of troops from Columbus.
Came back, and took over a battery of artillery. My partner said he was
going to see the fight; wanted me to go along. I said, no, I wasn't
anxious, I would look at it from the pilot-house. He said I was a
coward, and left.

That fight was an awful sight. General Cheatham made his men strip
their coats off and throw them in a pile, and said, 'Now follow me to
hell or victory!' I heard him say that from the pilot-house; and then
he galloped in, at the head of his troops. Old General Pillow, with his
white hair, mounted on a white horse, sailed in, too, leading his troops
as lively as a boy. By and by the Federals chased the rebels back, and
here they came! tearing along, everybody for himself and Devil take the
hindmost! and down under the bank they scrambled, and took shelter. I
was sitting with my legs hanging out of the pilot-house window. All at
once I noticed a whizzing sound passing my ear. Judged it was a bullet.
I didn't stop to think about anything, I just tilted over backwards and
landed on the floor, and staid there. The balls came booming around.
Three cannon-balls went through the chimney; one ball took off the
corner of the pilot-house; shells were screaming and bursting all
around. Mighty warm times--I wished I hadn't come. I lay there on the
pilot-house floor, while the shots came faster and faster. I crept in
behind the big stove, in the middle of the pilot-house. Presently a
minie-ball came through the stove, and just grazed my head, and cut my
hat. I judged it was time to go away from there. The captain was on
the roof with a red-headed major from Memphis--a fine-looking man. I
heard him say he wanted to leave here, but 'that pilot is killed.' I
crept over to the starboard side to pull the bell to set her back;
raised up and took a look, and I saw about fifteen shot holes through
the window panes; had come so lively I hadn't noticed them. I glanced
out on the water, and the spattering shot were like a hailstorm. I
thought best to get out of that place. I went down the pilot-house guy,
head first--not feet first but head first--slid down--before I struck
the deck, the captain said we must leave there. So I climbed up the guy
and got on the floor again. About that time, they collared my partner
and were bringing him up to the pilot-house between two soldiers.
Somebody had said I was killed. He put his head in and saw me on the
floor reaching for the backing bells. He said, 'Oh, hell, he ain't
shot,' and jerked away from the men who had him by the collar, and ran
below. We were there until three o'clock in the afternoon, and then got
away all right.

The next time I saw my partner, I said, 'Now, come out, be honest, and
tell me the truth. Where did you go when you went to see that battle?'
He says, 'I went down in the hold.'

All through that fight I was scared nearly to death. I hardly knew
anything, I was so frightened; but you see, nobody knew that but me.
Next day General Polk sent for me, and praised me for my bravery and
gallant conduct. I never said anything, I let it go at that. I judged
it wasn't so, but it was not for me to contradict a general officer.

Pretty soon after that I was sick, and used up, and had to go off to the
Hot Springs. When there, I got a good many letters from commanders
saying they wanted me to come back. I declined, because I wasn't well
enough or strong enough; but I kept still, and kept the reputation I had

A plain story, straightforwardly told; but Mumford told me that that
pilot had 'gilded that scare of his, in spots;' that his subsequent
career in the war was proof of it.

We struck down through the chute of Island No. 8, and I went below and
fell into conversation with a passenger, a handsome man, with easy
carriage and an intelligent face. We were approaching Island No. 10, a
place so celebrated during the war. This gentleman's home was on the
main shore in its neighborhood. I had some talk with him about the war
times; but presently the discourse fell upon 'feuds,' for in no part of
the South has the vendetta flourished more briskly, or held out longer
between warring families, than in this particular region. This gentleman

'There's been more than one feud around here, in old times, but I reckon
the worst one was between the Darnells and the Watsons. Nobody don't
know now what the first quarrel was about, it's so long ago; the
Darnells and the Watsons don't know, if there's any of them living,
which I don't think there is. Some says it was about a horse or a cow--
anyway, it was a little matter; the money in it wasn't of no
consequence--none in the world--both families was rich. The thing could
have been fixed up, easy enough; but no, that wouldn't do. Rough words
had been passed; and so, nothing but blood could fix it up after that.
That horse or cow, whichever it was, cost sixty years of killing and
crippling! Every year or so somebody was shot, on one side or the other;
and as fast as one generation was laid out, their sons took up the feud
and kept it a-going. And it's just as I say; they went on shooting each
other, year in and year out--making a kind of a religion of it, you see
--till they'd done forgot, long ago, what it was all about. Wherever a
Darnell caught a Watson, or a Watson caught a Darnell, one of 'em was
going to get hurt--only question was, which of them got the drop on the
other. They'd shoot one another down, right in the presence of the
family. They didn't hunt for each other, but when they happened to meet,
they puffed and begun. Men would shoot boys, boys would shoot men. A
man shot a boy twelve years old--happened on him in the woods, and
didn't give him no chance. If he HAD 'a' given him a chance, the boy'd
'a' shot him. Both families belonged to the same church (everybody
around here is religious); through all this fifty or sixty years' fuss,
both tribes was there every Sunday, to worship. They lived each side of
the line, and the church was at a landing called Compromise. Half the
church and half the aisle was in Kentucky, the other half in Tennessee.
Sundays you'd see the families drive up, all in their Sunday clothes,
men, women, and children, and file up the aisle, and set down, quiet and
orderly, one lot on the Tennessee side of the church and the other on
the Kentucky side; and the men and boys would lean their guns up against
the wall, handy, and then all hands would join in with the prayer and
praise; though they say the man next the aisle didn't kneel down, along
with the rest of the family; kind of stood guard. I don't know; never
was at that church in my life; but I remember that that's what used to
be said.

'Twenty or twenty-five years ago, one of the feud families caught a
young man of nineteen out and killed him. Don't remember whether it was
the Darnells and Watsons, or one of the other feuds; but anyway, this
young man rode up--steamboat laying there at the time--and the first
thing he saw was a whole gang of the enemy. He jumped down behind a
wood-pile, but they rode around and begun on him, he firing back, and
they galloping and cavorting and yelling and banging away with all their
might. Think he wounded a couple of them; but they closed in on him and
chased him into the river; and as he swum along down stream, they
followed along the bank and kept on shooting at him; and when he struck
shore he was dead. Windy Marshall told me about it. He saw it. He was
captain of the boat.

'Years ago, the Darnells was so thinned out that the old man and his two
sons concluded they'd leave the country. They started to take steamboat
just above No. 10; but the Watsons got wind of it; and they arrived just
as the two young Darnells was walking up the companion-way with their
wives on their arms. The fight begun then, and they never got no
further--both of them killed. After that, old Darnell got into trouble
with the man that run the ferry, and the ferry-man got the worst of it--
and died. But his friends shot old Darnell through and through--filled
him full of bullets, and ended him.'

The country gentleman who told me these things had been reared in ease
and comfort, was a man of good parts, and was college bred. His loose
grammar was the fruit of careless habit, not ignorance. This habit among
educated men in the West is not universal, but it is prevalent--
prevalent in the towns, certainly, if not in the cities; and to a degree
which one cannot help noticing, and marveling at. I heard a Westerner
who would be accounted a highly educated man in any country, say 'never
mind, it DON'T MAKE NO DIFFERENCE, anyway.' A life-long resident who was
present heard it, but it made no impression upon her. She was able to
recall the fact afterward, when reminded of it; but she confessed that
the words had not grated upon her ear at the time--a confession which
suggests that if educated people can hear such blasphemous grammar, from
such a source, and be unconscious of the deed, the crime must be
tolerably common--so common that the general ear has become dulled by
familiarity with it, and is no longer alert, no longer sensitive to such

No one in the world speaks blemishless grammar; no one has ever written
it--NO one, either in the world or out of it (taking the Scriptures for
evidence on the latter point); therefore it would not be fair to exact
grammatical perfection from the peoples of the Valley; but they and all
other peoples may justly be required to refrain from KNOWINGLY and
PURPOSELY debauching their grammar.

I found the river greatly changed at Island No. 10. The island which I
remembered was some three miles long and a quarter of a mile wide,
heavily timbered, and lay near the Kentucky shore--within two hundred
yards of it, I should say. Now, however, one had to hunt for it with a
spy-glass. Nothing was left of it but an insignificant little tuft, and
this was no longer near the Kentucky shore; it was clear over against
the opposite shore, a mile away. In war times the island had been an
important place, for it commanded the situation; and, being heavily
fortified, there was no getting by it. It lay between the upper and
lower divisions of the Union forces, and kept them separate, until a
junction was finally effected across the Missouri neck of land; but the
island being itself joined to that neck now, the wide river is without

In this region the river passes from Kentucky into Tennessee, back into
Missouri, then back into Kentucky, and thence into Tennessee again. So a
mile or two of Missouri sticks over into Tennessee.

The town of New Madrid was looking very unwell; but otherwise unchanged
from its former condition and aspect. Its blocks of frame-houses were
still grouped in the same old flat plain, and environed by the same old
forests. It was as tranquil as formerly, and apparently had neither
grown nor diminished in size. It was said that the recent high water
had invaded it and damaged its looks. This was surprising news; for in
low water the river bank is very high there (fifty feet), and in my day
an overflow had always been considered an impossibility. This present
flood of 1882 Will doubtless be celebrated in the river's history for
several generations before a deluge of like magnitude shall be seen. It
put all the unprotected low lands under water, from Cairo to the mouth;
it broke down the levees in a great many places, on both sides of the
river; and in some regions south, when the flood was at its highest, the
Mississippi was SEVENTY MILES wide! a number of lives were lost, and the
destruction of property was fearful. The crops were destroyed, houses
washed away, and shelterless men and cattle forced to take refuge on
scattering elevations here and there in field and forest, and wait in
peril and suffering until the boats put in commission by the national
and local governments and by newspaper enterprise could come and rescue
them. The properties of multitudes of people were under water for
months, and the poorer ones must have starved by the hundred if succor
had not been promptly afforded.{footnote [For a detailed and interesting
description of the great flood, written on board of the New Orleans
TIMES-DEMOCRAT'S relief-boat, see Appendix A]} The water had been
falling during a considerable time now, yet as a rule we found the banks
still under water.

Chapter 27 Some Imported Articles

WE met two steamboats at New Madrid. Two steamboats in sight at once!
an infrequent spectacle now in the lonesome Mississippi. The loneliness
of this solemn, stupendous flood is impressive--and depressing. League
after league, and still league after league, it pours its chocolate tide
along, between its solid forest walls, its almost untenanted shores,
with seldom a sail or a moving object of any kind to disturb the surface
and break the monotony of the blank, watery solitude; and so the day
goes, the night comes, and again the day--and still the same, night
after night and day after day--majestic, unchanging sameness of
serenity, repose, tranquillity, lethargy, vacancy--symbol of eternity,
realization of the heaven pictured by priest and prophet, and longed for
by the good and thoughtless!

Immediately after the war of 1812, tourists began to come to America,
from England; scattering ones at first, then a sort of procession of
them--a procession which kept up its plodding, patient march through the
land during many, many years. Each tourist took notes, and went home and
published a book--a book which was usually calm, truthful, reasonable,
kind; but which seemed just the reverse to our tender-footed
progenitors. A glance at these tourist-books shows us that in certain of
its aspects the Mississippi has undergone no change since those
strangers visited it, but remains to-day about as it was then. The
emotions produced in those foreign breasts by these aspects were not all
formed on one pattern, of course; they HAD to be various, along at
first, because the earlier tourists were obliged to originate their
emotions, whereas in older countries one can always borrow emotions from
one's predecessors. And, mind you, emotions are among the toughest
things in the world to manufacture out of whole cloth; it is easier to
manufacture seven facts than one emotion. Captain Basil Hall. R.N.,
writing fifty-five years ago, says--

'Here I caught the first glimpse of the object I had so long wished to
behold, and felt myself amply repaid at that moment for all the trouble
I had experienced in coming so far; and stood looking at the river
flowing past till it was too dark to distinguish anything. But it was
not till I had visited the same spot a dozen times, that I came to a
right comprehension of the grandeur of the scene.'

Following are Mrs. Trollope's emotions. She is writing a few months
later in the same year, 1827, and is coming in at the mouth of the

'The first indication of our approach to land was the appearance of this
mighty river pouring forth its muddy mass of waters, and mingling with
the deep blue of the Mexican Gulf. I never beheld a scene so utterly
desolate as this entrance of the Mississippi. Had Dante seen it, he
might have drawn images of another Borgia from its horrors. One only
object rears itself above the eddying waters; this is the mast of a
vessel long since wrecked in attempting to cross the bar, and it still
stands, a dismal witness of the destruction that has been, and a boding
prophet of that which is to come.'

Emotions of Hon. Charles Augustus Murray (near St. Louis), seven years

'It is only when you ascend the mighty current for fifty or a hundred
miles, and use the eye of imagination as well as that of nature, that
you begin to understand all his might and majesty. You see him
fertilizing a boundless valley, bearing along in his course the trophies
of his thousand victories over the shattered forest--here carrying away
large masses of soil with all their growth, and there forming islands,
destined at some future period to be the residence of man; and while
indulging in this prospect, it is then time for reflection to suggest
that the current before you has flowed through two or three thousand
miles, and has yet to travel one thousand three hundred more before
reaching its ocean destination.'

Receive, now, the emotions of Captain Marryat, R.N. author of the sea
tales, writing in 1837, three years after Mr. Murray--

'Never, perhaps, in the records of nations, was there an instance of a
century of such unvarying and unmitigated crime as is to be collected
from the history of the turbulent and blood-stained Mississippi. The
stream itself appears as if appropriate for the deeds which have been
committed. It is not like most rivers, beautiful to the sight,
bestowing fertility in its course; not one that the eye loves to dwell
upon as it sweeps along, nor can you wander upon its banks, or trust
yourself without danger to its stream. It is a furious, rapid,
desolating torrent, loaded with alluvial soil; and few of those who are
received into its waters ever rise again, {footnote [There was a foolish
superstition of some little prevalence in that day, that the Mississippi
would neither buoy up a swimmer, nor permit a drowned person's body to
rise to the surface.]} or can support themselves long upon its surface
without assistance from some friendly log. It contains the coarsest and
most uneatable of fish, such as the cat-fish and such genus, and as you
descend, its banks are occupied with the fetid alligator, while the
panther basks at its edge in the cane-brakes, almost impervious to man.
Pouring its impetuous waters through wild tracks covered with trees of
little value except for firewood, it sweeps down whole forests in its
course, which disappear in tumultuous confusion, whirled away by the
stream now loaded with the masses of soil which nourished their roots,
often blocking up and changing for a time the channel of the river,
which, as if in anger at its being opposed, inundates and devastates the
whole country round; and as soon as it forces its way through its former
channel, plants in every direction the uprooted monarchs of the forest
(upon whose branches the bird will never again perch, or the raccoon,
the opossum, or the squirrel climb) as traps to the adventurous
navigators of its waters by steam, who, borne down upon these concealed
dangers which pierce through the planks, very often have not time to
steer for and gain the shore before they sink to the bottom. There are
no pleasing associations connected with the great common sewer of the
Western America, which pours out its mud into the Mexican Gulf,
polluting the clear blue sea for many miles beyond its mouth. It is a
river of desolation; and instead of reminding you, like other beautiful
rivers, of an angel which has descended for the benefit of man, you
imagine it a devil, whose energies have been only overcome by the
wonderful power of steam.'

It is pretty crude literature for a man accustomed to handling a pen;
still, as a panorama of the emotions sent weltering through this noted
visitor's breast by the aspect and traditions of the 'great common
sewer,' it has a value. A value, though marred in the matter of
statistics by inaccuracies; for the catfish is a plenty good enough fish
for anybody, and there are no panthers that are 'impervious to man.'

Later still comes Alexander Mackay, of the Middle Temple, Barrister at
Law, with a better digestion, and no catfish dinner aboard, and feels as

'The Mississippi! It was with indescribable emotions that I first felt
myself afloat upon its waters. How often in my schoolboy dreams, and in
my waking visions afterwards, had my imagination pictured to itself the
lordly stream, rolling with tumultuous current through the boundless
region to which it has given its name, and gathering into itself, in its
course to the ocean, the tributary waters of almost every latitude in
the temperate zone! Here it was then in its reality, and I, at length,
steaming against its tide. I looked upon it with that reverence with
which everyone must regard a great feature of external nature.'

So much for the emotions. The tourists, one and all, remark upon the
deep, brooding loneliness and desolation of the vast river. Captain
Basil Hall, who saw it at flood-stage, says--

'Sometimes we passed along distances of twenty or thirty miles without
seeing a single habitation. An artist, in search of hints for a
painting of the deluge, would here have found them in abundance.'

The first shall be last, etc. just two hundred years ago, the old
original first and gallantest of all the foreign tourists, pioneer, head
of the procession, ended his weary and tedious discovery-voyage down the
solemn stretches of the great river--La Salle, whose name will last as
long as the river itself shall last. We quote from Mr. Parkman--

'And now they neared their journey's end. On the sixth of April, the
river divided itself into three broad channels. La Salle followed that
of the west, and D'Autray that of the east; while Tonty took the middle
passage. As he drifted down the turbid current, between the low and
marshy shores, the brackish water changed to brine, and the breeze grew
fresh with the salt breath of the sea. Then the broad bosom of the great
Gulf opened on his sight, tossing its restless billows, limitless,
voiceless, lonely as when born of chaos, without a sail, without a sign
of life.'

Then, on a spot of solid ground, La Salle reared a column 'bearing the
arms of France; the Frenchmen were mustered under arms; and while the
New England Indians and their squaws looked on in wondering silence,
they chanted the TE DEUM, THE EXAUDIAT, and the DOMINE SALVUM FAC

Then, whilst the musketry volleyed and rejoicing shouts burst forth, the
victorious discoverer planted the column, and made proclamation in a
loud voice, taking formal possession of the river and the vast countries
watered by it, in the name of the King. The column bore this


New Orleans intended to fittingly celebrate, this present year, the
bicentennial anniversary of this illustrious event; but when the time
came, all her energies and surplus money were required in other
directions, for the flood was upon the land then, making havoc and
devastation everywhere.

Chapter 28 Uncle Mumford Unloads

ALL day we swung along down the river, and had the stream almost wholly
to ourselves. Formerly, at such a stage of the water, we should have
passed acres of lumber rafts, and dozens of big coal barges; also
occasional little trading-scows, peddling along from farm to farm, with
the peddler's family on board; possibly, a random scow, bearing a humble
Hamlet and Co. on an itinerant dramatic trip. But these were all
absent. Far along in the day, we saw one steamboat; just one, and no
more. She was lying at rest in the shade, within the wooded mouth of the
Obion River. The spy-glass revealed the fact that she was named for me
--or HE was named for me, whichever you prefer. As this was the first
time I had ever encountered this species of honor, it seems excusable to
mention it, and at the same time call the attention of the authorities
to the tardiness of my recognition of it.

Noted a big change in the river, at Island 21. It was a very large
island, and used to be out toward mid-stream; but it is joined fast to
the main shore now, and has retired from business as an island.

As we approached famous and formidable Plum Point, darkness fell, but
that was nothing to shudder about--in these modern times. For now the
national government has turned the Mississippi into a sort of two-
thousand-mile torchlight procession. In the head of every crossing, and
in the foot of every crossing, the government has set up a clear-burning
lamp. You are never entirely in the dark, now; there is always a beacon
in sight, either before you, or behind you, or abreast. One might almost
say that lamps have been squandered there. Dozens of crossings are
lighted which were not shoal when they were created, and have never been
shoal since; crossings so plain, too, and also so straight, that a
steamboat can take herself through them without any help, after she has
been through once. Lamps in such places are of course not wasted; it is
much more convenient and comfortable for a pilot to hold on them than on
a spread of formless blackness that won't stay still; and money is saved
to the boat, at the same time, for she can of course make more miles
with her rudder amidships than she can with it squared across her stern
and holding her back.

But this thing has knocked the romance out of piloting, to a large
extent. It, and some other things together, have knocked all the romance
out of it. For instance, the peril from snags is not now what it once
was. The government's snag-boats go patrolling up and down, in these
matter-of-fact days, pulling the river's teeth; they have rooted out all
the old clusters which made many localities so formidable; and they
allow no new ones to collect. Formerly, if your boat got away from you,
on a black night, and broke for the woods, it was an anxious time with
you; so was it also, when you were groping your way through solidified
darkness in a narrow chute; but all that is changed now--you flash out
your electric light, transform night into day in the twinkling of an
eye, and your perils and anxieties are at an end. Horace Bixby and
George Ritchie have charted the crossings and laid out the courses by
compass; they have invented a lamp to go with the chart, and have
patented the whole. With these helps, one may run in the fog now, with
considerable security, and with a confidence unknown in the old days.

With these abundant beacons, the banishment of snags, plenty of daylight
in a box and ready to be turned on whenever needed, and a chart and
compass to fight the fog with, piloting, at a good stage of water, is
now nearly as safe and simple as driving stage, and is hardly more than
three times as romantic.

And now in these new days, these days of infinite change, the Anchor
Line have raised the captain above the pilot by giving him the bigger
wages of the two. This was going far, but they have not stopped there.
They have decreed that the pilot shall remain at his post, and stand his
watch clear through, whether the boat be under way or tied up to the
shore. We, that were once the aristocrats of the river, can't go to bed
now, as we used to do, and sleep while a hundred tons of freight are
lugged aboard; no, we must sit in the pilot-house; and keep awake, too.
Verily we are being treated like a parcel of mates and engineers. The
Government has taken away the romance of our calling; the Company has
taken away its state and dignity.

Plum Point looked as it had always looked by night, with the exception
that now there were beacons to mark the crossings, and also a lot of
other lights on the Point and along its shore; these latter glinting
from the fleet of the United States River Commission, and from a village
which the officials have built on the land for offices and for the
employees of the service. The military engineers of the Commission have
taken upon their shoulders the job of making the Mississippi over again
--a job transcended in size by only the original job of creating it. They
are building wing-dams here and there, to deflect the current; and dikes
to confine it in narrower bounds; and other dikes to make it stay there;
and for unnumbered miles along the Mississippi, they are felling the
timber-front for fifty yards back, with the purpose of shaving the bank
down to low-water mark with the slant of a house roof, and ballasting it
with stones; and in many places they have protected the wasting shores
with rows of piles. One who knows the Mississippi will promptly aver--
not aloud, but to himself--that ten thousand River Commissions, with the
mines of the world at their back, cannot tame that lawless stream,
cannot curb it or confine it, cannot say to it, Go here, or Go there,
and make it obey; cannot save a shore which it has sentenced; cannot bar
its path with an obstruction which it will not tear down, dance over,
and laugh at. But a discreet man will not put these things into spoken
words; for the West Point engineers have not their superiors anywhere;
they know all that can be known of their abstruse science; and so, since
they conceive that they can fetter and handcuff that river and boss him,
it is but wisdom for the unscientific man to keep still, lie low, and
wait till they do it. Captain Eads, with his jetties, has done a work
at the mouth of the Mississippi which seemed clearly impossible; so we
do not feel full confidence now to prophesy against like
impossibilities. Otherwise one would pipe out and say the Commission
might as well bully the comets in their courses and undertake to make
them behave, as try to bully the Mississippi into right and reasonable

I consulted Uncle Mumford concerning this and cognate matters; and I
give here the result, stenographically reported, and therefore to be
relied on as being full and correct; except that I have here and there
left out remarks which were addressed to the men, such as 'where in
blazes are you going with that barrel now?' and which seemed to me to
break the flow of the written statement, without compensating by adding
to its information or its clearness. Not that I have ventured to strike
out all such interjections; I have removed only those which were
obviously irrelevant; wherever one occurred which I felt any question
about, I have judged it safest to let it remain.


Uncle Mumford said--

'As long as I have been mate of a steamboat--thirty years--I have
watched this river and studied it. Maybe I could have learnt more about
it at West Point, but if I believe it I wish I may be WHAT ARE YOU
at West Point, and plenty of books and schooling, will learn a man a
good deal, I reckon, but it won't learn him the river. You turn one of
those little European rivers over to this Commission, with its hard
bottom and clear water, and it would just be a holiday job for them to
wall it, and pile it, and dike it, and tame it down, and boss it around,
and make it go wherever they wanted it to, and stay where they put it,
and do just as they said, every time. But this ain't that kind of a
river. They have started in here with big confidence, and the best
intentions in the world; but they are going to get left. What does
Ecclesiastes vii. 13 say? Says enough to knock THEIR little game
galley-west, don't it? Now you look at their methods once. There at
Devil's Island, in the Upper River, they wanted the water to go one way,
the water wanted to go another. So they put up a stone wall. But what
does the river care for a stone wall? When it got ready, it just bulged
through it. Maybe they can build another that will stay; that is, up
there--but not down here they can't. Down here in the Lower River, they
drive some pegs to turn the water away from the shore and stop it from
slicing off the bank; very well, don't it go straight over and cut
somebody else's bank? Certainly. Are they going to peg all the banks?
Why, they could buy ground and build a new Mississippi cheaper. They are
pegging Bulletin Tow-head now. It won't do any good. If the river has
got a mortgage on that island, it will foreclose, sure, pegs or no pegs.
Away down yonder, they have driven two rows of piles straight through
the middle of a dry bar half a mile long, which is forty foot out of the
water when the river is low. What do you reckon that is for? If I know,
THAT COAL-OIL, NOW, LIVELY, LIVELY! And just look at what they are
trying to do down there at Milliken's Bend. There's been a cut-off in
that section, and Vicksburg is left out in the cold. It's a country
town now. The river strikes in below it; and a boat can't go up to the
town except in high water. Well, they are going to build wing-dams in
the bend opposite the foot of 103, and throw the water over and cut off
the foot of the island and plow down into an old ditch where the river
used to be in ancient times; and they think they can persuade the water
around that way, and get it to strike in above Vicksburg, as it used to
do, and fetch the town back into the world again. That is, they are
going to take this whole Mississippi, and twist it around and make it
run several miles UP STREAM. Well you've got to admire men that deal in
ideas of that size and can tote them around without crutches; but you
haven't got to believe they can DO such miracles, have you! And yet you
ain't absolutely obliged to believe they can't. I reckon the safe way,
where a man can afford it, is to copper the operation, and at the same
time buy enough property in Vicksburg to square you up in case they win.
Government is doing a deal for the Mississippi, now--spending loads of
money on her. When there used to be four thousand steamboats and ten
thousand acres of coal-barges, and rafts and trading scows, there wasn't
a lantern from St. Paul to New Orleans, and the snags were thicker than
bristles on a hog's back; and now when there's three dozen steamboats
and nary barge or raft, Government has snatched out all the snags, and
lit up the shores like Broadway, and a boat's as safe on the river as
she'd be in heaven. And I reckon that by the time there ain't any boats
left at all, the Commission will have the old thing all reorganized, and
dredged out, and fenced in, and tidied up, to a degree that will make
navigation just simply perfect, and absolutely safe and profitable; and
all the days will be Sundays, and all the mates will be Sunday-school

During our trip to New Orleans and back, we had many conversations with
river men, planters, journalists, and officers of the River Commission--
with conflicting and confusing results. To wit:--

1. Some believed in the Commission's scheme to arbitrarily and
permanently confine (and thus deepen) the channel, preserve threatened
shores, etc.

2. Some believed that the Commission's money ought to be spent only on
building and repairing the great system of levees.

3. Some believed that the higher you build your levee, the higher the
river's bottom will rise; and that consequently the levee system is a

4. Some believed in the scheme to relieve the river, in flood-time, by
turning its surplus waters off into Lake Borgne, etc.

5. Some believed in the scheme of northern lake-reservoirs to replenish
the Mississippi in low-water seasons.

Wherever you find a man down there who believes in one of these theories
you may turn to the next man and frame your talk upon the hypothesis
that he does not believe in that theory; and after you have had
experience, you do not take this course doubtfully, or hesitatingly, but
with the confidence of a dying murderer--converted one, I mean. For you
will have come to know, with a deep and restful certainty, that you are
not going to meet two people sick of the same theory, one right after
the other. No, there will always be one or two with the other diseases
along between. And as you proceed, you will find out one or two other
things. You will find out that there is no distemper of the lot but is
contagious; and you cannot go where it is without catching it. You may
vaccinate yourself with deterrent facts as much as you please--it will
do no good; it will seem to 'take,' but it doesn't; the moment you rub
against any one of those theorists, make up your mind that it is time to
hang out your yellow flag.

Yes, you are his sure victim: yet his work is not all to your hurt--
only part of it; for he is like your family physician, who comes and
cures the mumps, and leaves the scarlet-fever behind. If your man is a
Lake-Borgne-relief theorist, for instance, he will exhale a cloud of
deadly facts and statistics which will lay you out with that disease,
sure; but at the same time he will cure you of any other of the five
theories that may have previously got into your system.

I have had all the five; and had them 'bad;' but ask me not, in mournful
numbers, which one racked me hardest, or which one numbered the biggest
sick list, for I do not know. In truth, no one can answer the latter
question. Mississippi Improvement is a mighty topic, down yonder. Every
man on the river banks, south of Cairo, talks about it every day, during
such moments as he is able to spare from talking about the war; and each
of the several chief theories has its host of zealous partisans; but, as
I have said, it is not possible to determine which cause numbers the
most recruits.

All were agreed upon one point, however: if Congress would make a
sufficient appropriation, a colossal benefit would result. Very well;
since then the appropriation has been made--possibly a sufficient one,
certainly not too large a one. Let us hope that the prophecy will be
amply fulfilled.

One thing will be easily granted by the reader; that an opinion from Mr.
Edward Atkinson, upon any vast national commercial matter, comes as near
ranking as authority, as can the opinion of any individual in the Union.
What he has to say about Mississippi River Improvement will be found in
the Appendix.{footnote [See Appendix B.]}

Sometimes, half a dozen figures will reveal, as with a lightning-flash,
the importance of a subject which ten thousand labored words, with the
same purpose in view, had left at last but dim and uncertain. Here is a
case of the sort--paragraph from the 'Cincinnati Commercial'--

'The towboat "Jos. B. Williams" is on her way to New Orleans with a tow
of thirty-two barges, containing six hundred thousand bushels (seventy-
six pounds to the bushel) of coal exclusive of her own fuel, being the
largest tow ever taken to New Orleans or anywhere else in the world.
Her freight bill, at 3 cents a bushel, amounts to $18,000. It would take
eighteen hundred cars, of three hundred and thirty-three bushels to the
car, to transport this amount of coal. At $10 per ton, or $100 per car,
which would be a fair price for the distance by rail, the freight bill
would amount to $180,000, or $162,000 more by rail than by river. The
tow will be taken from Pittsburg to New Orleans in fourteen or fifteen
days. It would take one hundred trains of eighteen cars to the train to
transport this one tow of six hundred thousand bushels of coal, and even
if it made the usual speed of fast freight lines, it would take one
whole summer to put it through by rail.'

When a river in good condition can enable one to save $162,000 and a
whole summer's time, on a single cargo, the wisdom of taking measures to
keep the river in good condition is made plain to even the uncommercial

Chapter 29 A Few Specimen Bricks

WE passed through the Plum Point region, turned Craighead's Point, and
glided unchallenged by what was once the formidable Fort Pillow,
memorable because of the massacre perpetrated there during the war.
Massacres are sprinkled with some frequency through the histories of
several Christian nations, but this is almost the only one that can be
found in American history; perhaps it is the only one which rises to a
size correspondent to that huge and somber title. We have the 'Boston
Massacre,' where two or three people were killed; but we must bunch
Anglo-Saxon history together to find the fellow to the Fort Pillow
tragedy; and doubtless even then we must travel back to the days and the
performances of Coeur de Lion, that fine 'hero,' before we accomplish

More of the river's freaks. In times past, the channel used to strike
above Island 37, by Brandywine Bar, and down towards Island 39.
Afterward, changed its course and went from Brandywine down through
Vogelman's chute in the Devil's Elbow, to Island 39--part of this course
reversing the old order; the river running UP four or five miles,
instead of down, and cutting off, throughout, some fifteen miles of
distance. This in 1876. All that region is now called Centennial

There is a tradition that Island 37 was one of the principal abiding
places of the once celebrated 'Murel's Gang.' This was a colossal
combination of robbers, horse-thieves, negro-stealers, and
counterfeiters, engaged in business along the river some fifty or sixty
years ago. While our journey across the country towards St. Louis was in
progress we had had no end of Jesse James and his stirring history; for
he had just been assassinated by an agent of the Governor of Missouri,
and was in consequence occupying a good deal of space in the newspapers.
Cheap histories of him were for sale by train boys. According to these,
he was the most marvelous creature of his kind that had ever existed. It
was a mistake. Murel was his equal in boldness; in pluck; in rapacity;
in cruelty, brutality, heartlessness, treachery, and in general and
comprehensive vileness and shamelessness; and very much his superior in
some larger aspects. James was a retail rascal; Murel, wholesale.
James's modest genius dreamed of no loftier flight than the planning of
raids upon cars, coaches, and country banks; Murel projected negro
insurrections and the capture of New Orleans; and furthermore, on
occasion, this Murel could go into a pulpit and edify the congregation.
What are James and his half-dozen vulgar rascals compared with this
stately old-time criminal, with his sermons, his meditated insurrections
and city-captures, and his majestic following of ten hundred men, sworn
to do his evil will!

Here is a paragraph or two concerning this big operator, from a now
forgotten book which was published half a century ago--

He appears to have been a most dexterous as well as consummate villain.
When he traveled, his usual disguise was that of an itinerant preacher;
and it is said that his discourses were very 'soul-moving'--interesting
the hearers so much that they forgot to look after their horses, which
were carried away by his confederates while he was preaching. But the
stealing of horses in one State, and selling them in another, was but a
small portion of their business; the most lucrative was the enticing
slaves to run away from their masters, that they might sell them in
another quarter. This was arranged as follows; they would tell a negro
that if he would run away from his master, and allow them to sell him,
he should receive a portion of the money paid for him, and that upon his
return to them a second time they would send him to a free State, where
he would be safe. The poor wretches complied with this request, hoping
to obtain money and freedom; they would be sold to another master, and
run away again, to their employers; sometimes they would be sold in this
manner three or four times, until they had realized three or four
thousand dollars by them; but as, after this, there was fear of
detection, the usual custom was to get rid of the only witness that
could be produced against them, which was the negro himself, by
murdering him, and throwing his body into the Mississippi. Even if it
was established that they had stolen a negro, before he was murdered,
they were always prepared to evade punishment; for they concealed the
negro who had run away, until he was advertised, and a reward offered to
any man who would catch him. An advertisement of this kind warrants the
person to take the property, if found. And then the negro becomes a
property in trust, when, therefore, they sold the negro, it only became
a breach of trust, not stealing; and for a breach of trust, the owner of
the property can only have redress by a civil action, which was useless,
as the damages were never paid. It may be inquired, how it was that
Murel escaped Lynch law under such circumstances This will be easily
understood when it is stated that he had MORE THAN A THOUSAND SWORN
CONFEDERATES, all ready at a moment's notice to support any of the gang
who might be in trouble. The names of all the principal confederates of
Murel were obtained from himself, in a manner which I shall presently
explain. The gang was composed of two classes: the Heads or Council, as
they were called, who planned and concerted, but seldom acted; they
amounted to about four hundred. The other class were the active agents,
and were termed strikers, and amounted to about six hundred and fifty.
These were the tools in the hands of the others; they ran all the risk,
and received but a small portion of the money; they were in the power of
the leaders of the gang, who would sacrifice them at any time by handing
them over to justice, or sinking their bodies in the Mississippi. The
general rendezvous of this gang of miscreants was on the Arkansas side
of the river, where they concealed their negroes in the morasses and

The depredations of this extensive combination were severely felt; but
so well were their plans arranged, that although Murel, who was always
active, was everywhere suspected, there was no proof to be obtained. It
so happened, however, that a young man of the name of Stewart, who was
looking after two slaves which Murel had decoyed away, fell in with him
and obtained his confidence, took the oath, and was admitted into the
gang as one of the General Council. By this means all was discovered;
for Stewart turned traitor, although he had taken the oath, and having
obtained every information, exposed the whole concern, the names of all
the parties, and finally succeeded in bringing home sufficient evidence
against Murel, to procure his conviction and sentence to the
Penitentiary (Murel was sentenced to fourteen years' imprisonment); so
many people who were supposed to be honest, and bore a respectable name
in the different States, were found to be among the list of the Grand
Council as published by Stewart, that every attempt was made to throw
discredit upon his assertions--his character was vilified, and more than
one attempt was made to assassinate him. He was obliged to quit the
Southern States in consequence. It is, however, now well ascertained to
have been all true; and although some blame Mr. Stewart for having
violated his oath, they no longer attempt to deny that his revelations
were correct. I will quote one or two portions of Murel's confessions to
Mr. Stewart, made to him when they were journeying together. I ought to
have observed, that the ultimate intentions of Murel and his associates
were, by his own account, on a very extended scale; having no less an
POSSESSORS OF THE TERRITORY. The following are a few extracts:--

'I collected all my friends about New Orleans at one of our friends'
houses in that place, and we sat in council three days before we got all
our plans to our notion; we then determined to undertake the rebellion
at every hazard, and make as many friends as we could for that purpose.
Every man's business being assigned him, I started to Natchez on foot,
having sold my horse in New Orleans,--with the intention of stealing
another after I started. I walked four days, and no opportunity offered
for me to get a horse. The fifth day, about twelve, I had become tired,
and stopped at a creek to get some water and rest a little. While I was
sitting on a log, looking down the road the way that I had come, a man
came in sight riding on a good-looking horse. The very moment I saw
him, I was determined to have his horse, if he was in the garb of a
traveler. He rode up, and I saw from his equipage that he was a
traveler. I arose and drew an elegant rifle pistol on him and ordered
him to dismount. He did so, and I took his horse by the bridle and
pointed down the creek, and ordered him to walk before me. He went a
few hundred yards and stopped. I hitched his horse, and then made him
undress himself, all to his shirt and drawers, and ordered him to turn
his back to me. He said, 'If you are determined to kill me, let me have
time to pray before I die,' I told him I had no time to hear him pray.
He turned around and dropped on his knees, and I shot him through the
back of the head. I ripped open his belly and took out his entrails, and
sunk him in the creek. I then searched his pockets, and found four
hundred dollars and thirty-seven cents, and a number of papers that I
did not take time to examine. I sunk the pocket-book and papers and his
hat, in the creek. His boots were brand-new, and fitted me genteelly;
and I put them on and sunk my old shoes in the creek, to atone for them.
I rolled up his clothes and put them into his portmanteau, as they were
brand-new cloth of the best quality. I mounted as fine a horse as ever
I straddled, and directed my course for Natchez in much better style
than I had been for the last five days.

'Myself and a fellow by the name of Crenshaw gathered four good horses
and started for Georgia. We got in company with a young South
Carolinian just before we got to Cumberland Mountain, and Crenshaw soon
knew all about his business. He had been to Tennessee to buy a drove of
hogs, but when he got there pork was dearer than he calculated, and he
declined purchasing. We concluded he was a prize. Crenshaw winked at
me; I understood his idea. Crenshaw had traveled the road before, but I
never had; we had traveled several miles on the mountain, when he passed
near a great precipice; just before we passed it Crenshaw asked me for
my whip, which had a pound of lead in the butt; I handed it to him, and
he rode up by the side of the South Carolinian, and gave him a blow on
the side of the head and tumbled him from his horse; we lit from our
horses and fingered his pockets; we got twelve hundred and sixty-two
dollars. Crenshaw said he knew a place to hide him, and he gathered him
under his arms, and I by his feet, and conveyed him to a deep crevice in
the brow of the precipice, and tumbled him into it, and he went out of
sight; we then tumbled in his saddle, and took his horse with us, which
was worth two hundred dollars.

'We were detained a few days, and during that time our friend went to a
little village in the neighborhood and saw the negro advertised (a negro
in our possession), and a description of the two men of whom he had been
purchased, and giving his suspicions of the men. It was rather squally
times, but any port in a storm: we took the negro that night on the bank
of a creek which runs by the farm of our friend, and Crenshaw shot him
through the head. We took out his entrails and sunk him in the creek.

'He had sold the other negro the third time on Arkansaw River for
upwards of five hundred dollars; and then stole him and delivered him
into the hand of his friend, who conducted him to a swamp, and veiled
the tragic scene, and got the last gleanings and sacred pledge of
secrecy; as a game of that kind will not do unless it ends in a mystery
to all but the fraternity. He sold the negro, first and last, for nearly
two thousand dollars, and then put him for ever out of the reach of all
pursuers; and they can never graze him unless they can find the negro;
and that they cannot do, for his carcass has fed many a tortoise and
catfish before this time, and the frogs have sung this many a long day
to the silent repose of his skeleton.'

We were approaching Memphis, in front of which city, and witnessed by
its people, was fought the most famous of the river battles of the Civil
War. Two men whom I had served under, in my river days, took part in
that fight: Mr. Bixby, head pilot of the Union fleet, and Montgomery,
Commodore of the Confederate fleet. Both saw a great deal of active
service during the war, and achieved high reputations for pluck and

As we neared Memphis, we began to cast about for an excuse to stay with
the 'Gold Dust' to the end of her course--Vicksburg. We were so
pleasantly situated, that we did not wish to make a change. I had an
errand of considerable importance to do at Napoleon, Arkansas, but
perhaps I could manage it without quitting the 'Gold Dust.' I said as
much; so we decided to stick to present quarters.

The boat was to tarry at Memphis till ten the next morning. It is a
beautiful city, nobly situated on a commanding bluff overlooking the
river. The streets are straight and spacious, though not paved in a way
to incite distempered admiration. No, the admiration must be reserved
for the town's sewerage system, which is called perfect; a recent
reform, however, for it was just the other way, up to a few years ago--a
reform resulting from the lesson taught by a desolating visitation of
the yellow-fever. In those awful days the people were swept off by
hundreds, by thousands; and so great was the reduction caused by flight
and by death together, that the population was diminished three-fourths,
and so remained for a time. Business stood nearly still, and the streets
bore an empty Sunday aspect.

Here is a picture of Memphis, at that disastrous time, drawn by a German
tourist who seems to have been an eye-witness of the scenes which he
describes. It is from Chapter VII, of his book, just published, in
Leipzig, 'Mississippi-Fahrten, von Ernst von Hesse-Wartegg.'--

'In August the yellow-fever had reached its extremest height. Daily,
hundreds fell a sacrifice to the terrible epidemic. The city was become
a mighty graveyard, two-thirds of the population had deserted the place,
and only the poor, the aged and the sick, remained behind, a sure prey
for the insidious enemy. The houses were closed: little lamps burned in
front of many--a sign that here death had entered. Often, several lay
dead in a single house; from the windows hung black crape. The stores
were shut up, for their owners were gone away or dead.

'Fearful evil! In the briefest space it struck down and swept away even
the most vigorous victim. A slight indisposition, then an hour of
fever, then the hideous delirium, then--the Yellow Death! On the street
corners, and in the squares, lay sick men, suddenly overtaken by the
disease; and even corpses, distorted and rigid. Food failed. Meat
spoiled in a few hours in the fetid and pestiferous air, and turned

'Fearful clamors issue from many houses; then after a season they cease,
and all is still: noble, self-sacrificing men come with the coffin,
nail it up, and carry it away, to the graveyard. In the night stillness
reigns. Only the physicians and the hearses hurry through the streets;
and out of the distance, at intervals, comes the muffled thunder of the
railway train, which with the speed of the wind, and as if hunted by
furies, flies by the pest-ridden city without halting.'

But there is life enough there now. The population exceeds forty
thousand and is augmenting, and trade is in a flourishing condition. We
drove about the city; visited the park and the sociable horde of
squirrels there; saw the fine residences, rose-clad and in other ways
enticing to the eye; and got a good breakfast at the hotel.

A thriving place is the Good Samaritan City of the Mississippi: has a
great wholesale jobbing trade; foundries, machine shops; and
manufactories of wagons, carriages, and cotton-seed oil; and is shortly
to have cotton mills and elevators.

Her cotton receipts reached five hundred thousand bales last year--an
increase of sixty thousand over the year before. Out from her healthy
commercial heart issue five trunk lines of railway; and a sixth is being

This is a very different Memphis from the one which the vanished and
unremembered procession of foreign tourists used to put into their books
long time ago. In the days of the now forgotten but once renowned and
vigorously hated Mrs. Trollope, Memphis seems to have consisted mainly
of one long street of log-houses, with some outlying cabins sprinkled
around rearward toward the woods; and now and then a pig, and no end of
mud. That was fifty-five years ago. She stopped at the hotel. Plainly
it was not the one which gave us our breakfast. She says--

'The table was laid for fifty persons, and was nearly full. They ate in
perfect silence, and with such astonishing rapidity that their dinner
was over literally before ours was begun; the only sounds heard were
those produced by the knives and forks, with the unceasing chorus of
coughing, ETC.'

'Coughing, etc.' The 'etc.' stands for an unpleasant word there, a
word which she does not always charitably cover up, but sometimes
prints. You will find it in the following description of a steamboat
dinner which she ate in company with a lot of aristocratic planters;
wealthy, well-born, ignorant swells they were, tinselled with the usual
harmless military and judicial titles of that old day of cheap shams and
windy pretense--

'The total want of all the usual courtesies of the table; the voracious
rapidity with which the viands were seized and devoured; the strange
uncouth phrases and pronunciation; the loathsome spitting, from the
contamination of which it was absolutely impossible to protect our
dresses; the frightful manner of feeding with their knives, till the
whole blade seemed to enter into the mouth; and the still more frightful
manner of cleaning the teeth afterward with a pocket knife, soon forced
us to feel that we were not surrounded by the generals, colonels, and
majors of the old world; and that the dinner hour was to be anything
rather than an hour of enjoyment.'

Chapter 30 Sketches by the Way

IT was a big river, below Memphis; banks brimming full, everywhere, and
very frequently more than full, the waters pouring out over the land,
flooding the woods and fields for miles into the interior; and in
places, to a depth of fifteen feet; signs, all about, of men's hard work
gone to ruin, and all to be done over again, with straitened means and a
weakened courage. A melancholy picture, and a continuous one;--hundreds
of miles of it. Sometimes the beacon lights stood in water three feet
deep, in the edge of dense forests which extended for miles without
farm, wood-yard, clearing, or break of any kind; which meant that the
keeper of the light must come in a skiff a great distance to discharge
his trust,--and often in desperate weather. Yet I was told that the work
is faithfully performed, in all weathers; and not always by men,
sometimes by women, if the man is sick or absent. The Government
furnishes oil, and pays ten or fifteen dollars a month for the lighting
and tending. A Government boat distributes oil and pays wages once a

The Ship Island region was as woodsy and tenantless as ever. The island
has ceased to be an island; has joined itself compactly to the main
shore, and wagons travel, now, where the steamboats used to navigate.
No signs left of the wreck of the 'Pennsylvania.' Some farmer will turn
up her bones with his plow one day, no doubt, and be surprised.

We were getting down now into the migrating negro region. These poor
people could never travel when they were slaves; so they make up for the
privation now. They stay on a plantation till the desire to travel
seizes them; then they pack up, hail a steamboat, and clear out. Not
for any particular place; no, nearly any place will answer; they only
want to be moving. The amount of money on hand will answer the rest of
the conundrum for them. If it will take them fifty miles, very well; let
it be fifty. If not, a shorter flight will do.

During a couple of days, we frequently answered these hails. Sometimes
there was a group of high-water-stained, tumble-down cabins, populous
with colored folk, and no whites visible; with grassless patches of dry
ground here and there; a few felled trees, with skeleton cattle, mules,
and horses, eating the leaves and gnawing the bark--no other food for
them in the flood-wasted land. Sometimes there was a single lonely
landing-cabin; near it the colored family that had hailed us; little and
big, old and young, roosting on the scant pile of household goods; these
consisting of a rusty gun, some bed-ticks, chests, tinware, stools, a
crippled looking-glass, a venerable arm-chair, and six or eight base-
born and spiritless yellow curs, attached to the family by strings. They
must have their dogs; can't go without their dogs. Yet the dogs are
never willing; they always object; so, one after another, in ridiculous
procession, they are dragged aboard; all four feet braced and sliding
along the stage, head likely to be pulled off; but the tugger marching
determinedly forward, bending to his work, with the rope over his
shoulder for better purchase. Sometimes a child is forgotten and left on
the bank; but never a dog.

The usual river-gossip going on in the pilot-house. Island No. 63--an
island with a lovely 'chute,' or passage, behind it in the former times.
They said Jesse Jamieson, in the 'Skylark,' had a visiting pilot with
him one trip--a poor old broken-down, superannuated fellow--left him at
the wheel, at the foot of 63, to run off the watch. The ancient mariner
went up through the chute, and down the river outside; and up the chute
and down the river again; and yet again and again; and handed the boat
over to the relieving pilot, at the end of three hours of honest
endeavor, at the same old foot of the island where he had originally
taken the wheel! A darkey on shore who had observed the boat go by,
about thirteen times, said, 'clar to gracious, I wouldn't be s'prised if
dey's a whole line o' dem Sk'ylarks!'

Anecdote illustrative of influence of reputation in the changing of
opinion. The 'Eclipse' was renowned for her swiftness. One day she
passed along; an old darkey on shore, absorbed in his own matters, did
not notice what steamer it was. Presently someone asked--

'Any boat gone up?'

'Yes, sah.'

'Was she going fast?'

'Oh, so-so--loafin' along.'

'Now, do you know what boat that was?'

'No, sah.'

'Why, uncle, that was the "Eclipse."'

'No! Is dat so? Well, I bet it was--cause she jes' went by here a-

Piece of history illustrative of the violent style of some of the people
down along here, During the early weeks of high water, A's fence rails
washed down on B's ground, and B's rails washed up in the eddy and
landed on A's ground. A said, 'Let the thing remain so; I will use your
rails, and you use mine.' But B objected--wouldn't have it so. One
day, A came down on B's ground to get his rails. B said, 'I'll kill
you!' and proceeded for him with his revolver. A said, 'I'm not armed.'
So B, who wished to do only what was right, threw down his revolver;
then pulled a knife, and cut A's throat all around, but gave his
principal attention to the front, and so failed to sever the jugular.
Struggling around, A managed to get his hands on the discarded revolver,
and shot B dead with it--and recovered from his own injuries.

Further gossip;--after which, everybody went below to get afternoon
coffee, and left me at the wheel, alone, Something presently reminded me
of our last hour in St. Louis, part of which I spent on this boat's
hurricane deck, aft. I was joined there by a stranger, who dropped into
conversation with me--a brisk young fellow, who said he was born in a
town in the interior of Wisconsin, and had never seen a steamboat until
a week before. Also said that on the way down from La Crosse he had
inspected and examined his boat so diligently and with such passionate
interest that he had mastered the whole thing from stem to rudder-blade.
Asked me where I was from. I answered, New England. 'Oh, a Yank!' said
he; and went chatting straight along, without waiting for assent or
denial. He immediately proposed to take me all over the boat and tell me
the names of her different parts, and teach me their uses. Before I
could enter protest or excuse, he was already rattling glibly away at
his benevolent work; and when I perceived that he was misnaming the
things, and inhospitably amusing himself at the expense of an innocent
stranger from a far country, I held my peace, and let him have his way.
He gave me a world of misinformation; and the further he went, the wider
his imagination expanded, and the more he enjoyed his cruel work of
deceit. Sometimes, after palming off a particularly fantastic and
outrageous lie upon me, he was so 'full of laugh' that he had to step
aside for a minute, upon one pretext or another, to keep me from
suspecting. I staid faithfully by him until his comedy was finished.
Then he remarked that he had undertaken to 'learn' me all about a
steamboat, and had done it; but that if he had overlooked anything, just
ask him and he would supply the lack. 'Anything about this boat that you
don't know the name of or the purpose of, you come to me and I'll tell
you.' I said I would, and took my departure; disappeared, and approached
him from another quarter, whence he could not see me. There he sat, all
alone, doubling himself up and writhing this way and that, in the throes
of unappeasable laughter. He must have made himself sick; for he was not
publicly visible afterward for several days. Meantime, the episode
dropped out of my mind.

The thing that reminded me of it now, when I was alone at the wheel, was
the spectacle of this young fellow standing in the pilot-house door,
with the knob in his hand, silently and severely inspecting me. I don't
know when I have seen anybody look so injured as he did. He did not say
anything--simply stood there and looked; reproachfully looked and
pondered. Finally he shut the door, and started away; halted on the
texas a minute; came slowly back and stood in the door again, with that
grieved look in his face; gazed upon me awhile in meek rebuke, then

'You let me learn you all about a steamboat, didn't you?'

'Yes,' I confessed.

'Yes, you did--DIDN'T you?'


'You are the feller that--that--'

Language failed. Pause--impotent struggle for further words--then he
gave it up, choked out a deep, strong oath, and departed for good.
Afterward I saw him several times below during the trip; but he was
cold--would not look at me. Idiot, if he had not been in such a sweat
to play his witless practical joke upon me, in the beginning, I would
have persuaded his thoughts into some other direction, and saved him
from committing that wanton and silly impoliteness.

I had myself called with the four o'clock watch, mornings, for one
cannot see too many summer sunrises on the Mississippi. They are
enchanting. First, there is the eloquence of silence; for a deep hush
broods everywhere. Next, there is the haunting sense of loneliness,
isolation, remoteness from the worry and bustle of the world. The dawn
creeps in stealthily; the solid walls of black forest soften to gray,
and vast stretches of the river open up and reveal themselves; the water
is glass-smooth, gives off spectral little wreaths of white mist, there
is not the faintest breath of wind, nor stir of leaf; the tranquillity
is profound and infinitely satisfying. Then a bird pipes up, another
follows, and soon the pipings develop into a jubilant riot of music.
You see none of the birds; you simply move through an atmosphere of song
which seems to sing itself. When the light has become a little
stronger, you have one of the fairest and softest pictures imaginable.
You have the intense green of the massed and crowded foliage near by;
you see it paling shade by shade in front of you; upon the next
projecting cape, a mile off or more, the tint has lightened to the
tender young green of spring; the cape beyond that one has almost lost
color, and the furthest one, miles away under the horizon, sleeps upon
the water a mere dim vapor, and hardly separable from the sky above it
and about it. And all this stretch of river is a mirror, and you have
the shadowy reflections of the leafage and the curving shores and the
receding capes pictured in it. Well, that is all beautiful; soft and
rich and beautiful; and when the sun gets well up, and distributes a
pink flush here and a powder of gold yonder and a purple haze where it
will yield the best effect, you grant that you have seen something that
is worth remembering.

We had the Kentucky Bend country in the early morning--scene of a
strange and tragic accident in the old times, Captain Poe had a small
stern-wheel boat, for years the home of himself and his wife. One night
the boat struck a snag in the head of Kentucky Bend, and sank with
astonishing suddenness; water already well above the cabin floor when
the captain got aft. So he cut into his wife's state-room from above
with an ax; she was asleep in the upper berth, the roof a flimsier one
than was supposed; the first blow crashed down through the rotten boards
and clove her skull.

This bend is all filled up now--result of a cut-off; and the same agent
has taken the great and once much-frequented Walnut Bend, and set it
away back in a solitude far from the accustomed track of passing

Helena we visited, and also a town I had not heard of before, it being
of recent birth--Arkansas City. It was born of a railway; the Little
Rock, Mississippi River and Texas Railroad touches the river there. We
asked a passenger who belonged there what sort of a place it was.
'Well,' said he, after considering, and with the air of one who wishes
to take time and be accurate, 'It's a hell of a place.' A description
which was photographic for exactness. There were several rows and
clusters of shabby frame-houses, and a supply of mud sufficient to
insure the town against a famine in that article for a hundred years;
for the overflow had but lately subsided. There were stagnant ponds in
the streets, here and there, and a dozen rude scows were scattered
about, lying aground wherever they happened to have been when the waters
drained off and people could do their visiting and shopping on foot once
more. Still, it is a thriving place, with a rich country behind it, an
elevator in front of it, and also a fine big mill for the manufacture of
cotton-seed oil. I had never seen this kind of a mill before.

Cotton-seed was comparatively valueless in my time; but it is worth $12
or $13 a ton now, and none of it is thrown away. The oil made from it is
colorless, tasteless, and almost if not entirely odorless. It is
claimed that it can, by proper manipulation, be made to resemble and
perform the office of any and all oils, and be produced at a cheaper
rate than the cheapest of the originals. Sagacious people shipped it to
Italy, doctored it, labeled it, and brought it back as olive oil. This
trade grew to be so formidable that Italy was obliged to put a
prohibitory impost upon it to keep it from working serious injury to her
oil industry.

Helena occupies one of the prettiest situations on the Mississippi. Her
perch is the last, the southernmost group of hills which one sees on
that side of the river. In its normal condition it is a pretty town;
but the flood (or possibly the seepage) had lately been ravaging it;
whole streets of houses had been invaded by the muddy water, and the
outsides of the buildings were still belted with a broad stain extending
upwards from the foundations. Stranded and discarded scows lay all
about; plank sidewalks on stilts four feet high were still standing; the
board sidewalks on the ground level were loose and ruinous,--a couple of
men trotting along them could make a blind man think a cavalry charge
was coming; everywhere the mud was black and deep, and in many places
malarious pools of stagnant water were standing. A Mississippi
inundation is the next most wasting and desolating infliction to a fire.

We had an enjoyable time here, on this sunny Sunday: two full hours'
liberty ashore while the boat discharged freight. In the back streets
but few white people were visible, but there were plenty of colored
folk--mainly women and girls; and almost without exception upholstered
in bright new clothes of swell and elaborate style and cut--a glaring
and hilarious contrast to the mournful mud and the pensive puddles.

Helena is the second town in Arkansas, in point of population--which is
placed at five thousand. The country about it is exceptionally
productive. Helena has a good cotton trade; handles from forty to sixty
thousand bales annually; she has a large lumber and grain commerce; has
a foundry, oil mills, machine shops and wagon factories--in brief has
$1,000,000 invested in manufacturing industries. She has two railways,
and is the commercial center of a broad and prosperous region. Her gross
receipts of money, annually, from all sources, are placed by the New
Orleans 'Times-Democrat' at $4,000,000.


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