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

By George Byron Merrick | Go to book overview

Chapter XXVI
In War Time

In the early spring of 1861 the “Fanny Harris” was chartered by the United States government to go to Fort Ridgeley, up the Minnesota River, and bring down the battery of light artillery stationed at that post, known as the Sherman Battery, Major T. W. Sherman having been in command long enough to have conferred his name upon the organization, and by that it was known at the time of which I write. It is three hundred miles from St. Paul to Fort Ridgeley by the river; as a crow flies, the distance is about half of that. A little more than one year after our visit there was business at and near the fort for many crows— the gruesome occupation of picking the bones of a thousand white people (men, women, and children) murdered by the crafty Sioux, who saw in the withdrawal of the troops an opportunity to avenge all their wrongs, real or imaginary, and to regain the lands which had been sold under treaty, or which had been stolen from them by the fast encroaching white population of the state.

The Minnesota River is the worst twisted water course in the West. No other affluent of the Mississippi can show as many bends to the mile throughout its course. It is a series of curves from start to finish, the river squirming its way through an alluvial prairie from Beaver Falls, the head of navigation, to Mendota at its mouth. Up this crooked stream it was the problem to force the largest boat that had ever navigated it, and a stern-wheeler at that. At the time the trip was made, there was a nineteen-foot rise in the river, resulting from the melting of the snow after an exceptionally hard winter. This precluded any danger of touching bottom anywhere, but it added ten fold to the difficulties of navigating a two hundred-foot steamboat around the short bends for the reason that the water did not follow the regular channel, but

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