Before Mark Twain: A Sampler of Old, Old Times on the Mississippi

By John Francis McDermott | Go to book overview

STOPPING TO WOOD

JOSEPH M. FIELD

[Joseph M. Field, actor, manager, play doctor, and play‐ wright with the Ludlow-Smith theatrical company on the New Orleans-Mobile-St. Louis circuit, was a contributor to the New Orleans Picayune and one of the founding editors of the St. Louis Reveille as well as a frequently met writer in the New York Spirit of the Times. This river-life sketch is taken from his The Drama in Pokerville ... and other Stories (Philadelphia, 1847), pp. 173-76.]

In spite of the magic changes which have been wrought in the "way of doing things" upon the western waters, the primitive mode of "wooding" from the bank remains unaltered—as a sort of vagabond Indian in the midst of a settlement—as the gallows does in the light of civilization. The same rude plank is "shoved" ashore, the same string of black and white straggle through the mud to the "pile," the same weary waste of time exists as was the case twenty years ago. Steamers have grown from pigmies to giants, speed has increased from a struggle to a "rush," yet the conception of a ready loaded truck, or a burden-swinging crane‐ despatching a "cord" for every shoulder load, appears not to have entered the head of either wood dealer or captain.

At the same time, though the present mode is to be condemned as "behind the time"; as tedious, slovenly, and unnecessary, there are occasions when "stopping to wood" is an event of positive interest and excitement. Passed over be the fine sunshiney morning when, jogging along—nothing behind—nothing before, the passengers lounging about—heels up, or heads down— the unnoticed bell gives the signal for "wood," and the boat draws listlessly alongside of the "pile." Equally unregarded be the rainy day, when, mud to the knees and drenched to the skin, the steaming throng, slipping and plashing, drop their backloads, with a

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