A-Rafting on the Mississip'

By Charles Edward Russell | Go to book overview

Chapter V
CAPTAIN HANKS COMES IN

THE river men had reason to curse that day’s work in the courts, and did so with enthusiasm and resource of eloquence. Bridges began to multiply and boats and rafts to go to pieces on them. “A bridge just has a natural grudge against everything that floats,” said the pilots, and the annals of those days give them countenance. With one curious exception hereafter to be noted, the bridges were built by railroad companies in more haste to make a crossing and sell bonds than to conserve public safety. They hung their bridges upon stone piers built in the river beds and were not careful to put the piers far apart. The result was that an ordinary raft could not get through any of them in one piece; and the roll of Mississippi steamboat disasters, already too long, was swelled with many additions, some poignant and memorable.

As to this same Davenport-Rock Island bridge, which Abraham Lincoln saved, the outcome might have been good in law but it was bad in practice. Nearly sixty years later Captain Merrick, writing of it, called it “that invention of Satan and the Rock Island railroad,” and declared that “no better trap for catching steamboats could be imagined.” The records show that

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