EARLY in July, 1860, we
started on our journey. I am now in my seventeenth year. We sailed from
Collingwood on an American propeller, which brought us to Milwaukee, on Lake
Michigin. Here we took a train through a part of Wisconsin to Lacrosse, on
the Mississippi River, which place we reached about midnight, and
immediately were transferred to a big Mississippi steamer.
Here everything was new—the
style and build of the boat, long and broad and fiat, made to run in very
The manner of propelling this
huge craft was a very large wheel, as wide as the boat, and fixed to the
stern, and which in its revolutions fairly churned the waters in her wake.
The system of navigation was
so different; the pilot steered the boat, not by his knowledge of the fixed
channel, but by his experience of the lights and shadows on the water which
by day or night indicated to him the deep and shallow parts.
Passengers and mails had no sooner been
transferred, than tinkle! tinkle went the bells, and our big steamer
quivered from stem to stern, and then began to vibrate and shake as if in a
fit of ague, and we were out in the stream and breasting the current of this
was going on in the cabin of the boat when we went on board; but soon all
was quiet except the noise of the engines and the splash of the paddles.
Next morning we were greeted with beautiful
river scenery. Long stretches, majestic bends, terraced banks, abrupt cliffs
succeeded each other in grand array.
During the day we came to Lake Pepin, and here
were joined to another big steamer. The two were fastened together side by
side to run the length of the lake, and also to give the passengers of the
other boat opportunity to come aboard ours, and be entertained by music and
The colored steward and
waiters of our boat were a grand orchestra in themselves.
One big colored man was master of ceremonies.
Above the din of machinery and splashing of huge paddles rose his voice in
stentorian tones: "Right!" "Left" "Promenade!"
Change Partners!" "Swing partners ! " And thus
the fun went on that bright afternoon; while, like a pair of Siamese twins,
our big sternwheelers ploughed up the current of the "Big River," this being
the literal translation of the word Mississippi.
Both boats had crowds of Southern people and
their slaves as passengers; and if what we saw was the whole of slavery,
these were having a good time. But, as the colored barber on our boat said
to me, "This is the very bright side of it."
And then he asked me if we were not English. And
when I told him we were Canadians, he wanted me to ask father to help some
of these slaves to freedom. But it was not long after this when the mighty
struggle took place which resulted in the freeing of all the slaves.
These were the days of steamboats on the
Mississippi, which Mark Twain has immortalized.
From port to port the pilot reigned supreme.
What a lordly fellow he was! As soon as the boat was tied to the bank the
captain and mate took the reins, and they drove with a vengeance, putting
off or taking on freight at the stopping- places, and taking in cordwood
from the barge towed alongside in order to save time.
They made those "roust-abouts" jump. The captain
would cuff, and the mate would kick, and the two would vie with each other
in profanity, and thus they rushed things; and when ready, the pilot with
quiet dignity would resume his throne.
When the channel narrowed our boats parted, and
to change the excitement began a race.
Throw in the pitch pine-knots, fling in the
chunks of bacon! Make steam! more steam! is the meaning of the ringing of
bells, and the messages which follow each other down from the pilot house to
the engine room.
time we seemed as yet to be about matched, when our rival pilot undertook to
run between us and the bar, and in doing so ran his boat hard and fast in
We gave him a
parting cheer and went on, reaching St. Paul some twenty-four hours ahead.
St. Paul, now a fine city, was then a mere