I have said that in addition to “knowing the river”, and knowing that he knows it, the young pilot must also be fortified with a large measure of self-reliance, or all else will go for nothing. The time of trial comes to every one, sooner or later, and the manner in which it is met usually determines the standing of the young novitiate in the estimation of river men. The reputation of every man on the river is common property the length of his run, from St. Louis to St. Paul. It was proverbial that river men “talked shop” more than any others, in those early days, probably because they were more interested in their own business than they were in that of other men. Possibly because, as one government engineer stated it, they didn’t know anything else. However, the doings of all the river men were pretty thoroughly discussed sooner or later, from the latest dare-devil exhibition of fancy piloting by “Ned” West, to the mistakes and mishaps of the youngest “cub”. Sooner or later, each and all were served up at the casual meetings of river men, at whatever port they might foregather.
My own “baptism”—not of “fire”, but of water and lightning—came on the very first trip I made alone on a steamboat. I had been running with Charley Jewell on the “H. S. Allen”, from Prescott to St. Croix Falls. Mr. Jewell fell sick and was laid off at Prescott. On the levee, the day he went home, was a steamboat load of rope, rigging, boats, and camp-equipage, together with a couple of hundred raftsmen landed from a downriver packet that did not care to make the run up the lake. The disembarked men were anxious to reach Stillwater with their cargo, that night. Our regular starting time, as a United States mail boat, was at 7 o’clock in the morning. They offered extra compensation if we would take them up that night, and