Old Times on the Upper Mississippi: Recollections of a Steamboat Pilot from 1854-1863

By George Byron Merrick | Go to book overview

Chapter III
On the Levee at Prescott

When we first knew it, Prescott was in many respects a typical river town. But in one, it differed from all others with the possible exception of Wacouta and Reed’s Landing. “Towing through” had not then been inaugurated. The great rafts of logs and lumber from Stillwater and the upper St. Croix, were pushed to Prescott by towboats from Stillwater, at the head of the lake. From there to Lake Pepin they drifted. They were again pushed through that lake by other boats, and from Reed’s Landing, at the foot of the lake, drifted to their destination at Winona, La Crosse, Clinton, Le Claire, or Hannibal.

The necessary preparation for the trip down river was made at Prescott. Stores of pork, beans, flour, molasses, and whiskey were laid in. The hundreds of rough men who handled the great steering oars on these rafts spent their money in the saloons which lined the river front and adjacent streets, filling themselves with noxious liquors, and often ending their “sprees” with a free fight between rival crews. A hundred men would join in the fray, the city marshal sitting on a “snubbing post”, revolver in hand, watching the affair with the enlightened eye of an expert and the enjoyment of a connoisseur.

Prescott was also a transfer point for freight consigned to Afton, Lakeland, Hudson, Stillwater, Osceola, and St. Croix Falls. The large boats, unless they were heavily freighted for Stillwater and Hudson, did not make the run of thirty miles up the lake. The freight was put ashore at Prescott, and reshipped on the smaller boats plying between Prescott and St. Croix River points. This made necessary large warehouses in which to store the transshipped goods. My father, L. H. Merrick, engaged in this business of storing and transshipping, as well as dealing in

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