CRUISE OF THE AURORA
IN WHICH WE SING A SONG.
THE country has now become more pleasing in character, and
many of the islands, as we paddle slowly by their shores, give
evidences of great fertility where cultivation has been bestowed on
them. Many of these islands have low stone wing dams connecting them
with the main shore, constructed for the purpose of deepening the
channel by diverting a considerable body of water into it. When the
waters of the river are at so low a stage as now, the tops of these
dams come into view, and must of course be avoided even by the
canoeist; but at times of high water they become submerged to such a
depth that steamboats are enabled to pass over them.
Towns are frequently passed on both sides of the river,
and at sunset we make our camp on the Ohio shore below the little
hamlet of Newport. At this season of the year it is seldom that we have
two successive days of fine weather, and I am not surprised, during the
night, to hear the rain pattering on my canvas roof. The day breaks
cloudy and dismal, but within two hours the wind changes, the clouds
part and the sun sheds his bright rays upon us, while the wind springs
up to a good sailing breeze.
Music on the Waters.
Away we go; and the high hills echo my voice as I
give vent to my feelings and sing:
THE CANOEIST'S AULD LANG SYNE.
- We've come from ocean, river, lake,
- To nature's fairest shrine,
- While far and near the echoes wake,
- In rocks of auld lang syne.
- On waters bright, 'mid silvery spray,
- Who cares for storied Rhine?
- We'll camp at close of summer day,
- 'Neath trees of auld lang syne.
- This life so old our life renews,
- While man and boat combine
- With sail, or blade our own canoes,
- the craft of auld lang syne.
- Although our friendship count not years,
- 'Tis friendship, yours and mine;
- And parting hath a thought of tears,
- Like love of auld lang syne.
- Auld rocks, auld trees, auld craft, auld ties,
- Auld waters, fresh or brine,
- Shall ever hold in our glad eyes,
- The charm of auld lang syne.
- Afloat, ashore, we'll meet again;
- Now here's my hand for thine;
- We'll meet again, we'll meet again
- For love of auld lang syne.
At the wharfboat on the levee of the thriving city of
Marietta, Ohio, the next day, I was accosted by a gentleman who, with
Dr. Z.D. Walter, had been awaiting our arrival; and with the kind
friends met here, we visited the points of interest, taking a peep into
the oldest church in the State, and the ancient Indian mound, of which
the citizens of Marietta feel justly proud. This is one of the most
prominent of the numerous works of the mound builders. Its interior
remains a sealed mystery, through the whim of its donor, who decreed
that it should remain the property of the city so long as not disturbed.
Singularly enough, the trading flatboat, that craft
peculiar to the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, was presented to my sight
on the Muskingum River. The Rechabite had been floated down the
Muskingum from Zanesville, Ohio, loaded with earthenware and bound on a
trading trip along the shores of the Ohio. As a village is approached
the trader is worked into some secure locality adjacent, where she will
remain sometimes for weeks, her stock being traded for cash or barter,
when she will move on to some other point. Making an afternoon start
from Marietta I bade goodbye to my friends; the canoes were launched
from the wharfboat, and, accompanied by one of our new-made
acquaintances in his canoe, we head out into the strong wind but
delightfully rapid current. We had not reckoned on so strong a wind,
and by the time we reached Neal's Island were prepared to make camp.
After supper our escort sat with us at the campfire, then launched his
canoe and paddled to Parkersburgh, three miles below, where he boarded
Blennerhassett and Burr.
During the night I heard her passing our camp, as
she churned the water into dirty foam with the huge wheel propelling
her toward Marietta. Either fog or rain seemed to be of everyday
occurrence, and the morning following our departure from Marietta was
no exception. In the thick fog we paddled with caution, for the stream
was full of steam craft. Parkersburgh, at the mouth of the Little
Kanawha River, was scarcely visible through the fog; but we were
reminded that there are other oil-producing regions than those of
Pennsylvania by the amount of oil on the current of the river that
flows from the oily soil of West Virginia. We caught a glimpse of
Belpré, opposite Parkersburgh, on the Ohio shore, as we passed
beneath the massive iron bridge over which a heavily-laden train of
cars was being slowly drawn by two powerful engines. Two miles below
lay Blennerhassett's Island, made famous by the exploits of the
unprincipled Aaron Burr, in his attempt to carry out his bold and
extravagant dream of wresting Mexico from Spain and taking the Ohio and
Mississippi valleys from the United States. All this fertile region,
with its varied climate, was to be blended into one empire; the great
lakes were to be his boundary on the north, the Gulf of Mexico should
dash with its salt waters his southern shores, the high peaks of the
Rocky Mountains should guard the west, while the towering Allegheny on
the east should protect him from invading foe. This was his dream, and
a fair one it was.
THE VAGABONDS' HIGHWAY.
THE day became uncomfortably warm as the fog cleared away,
and the sun sent his rays down out of a cloudless sky; and at length a
shady spot was chosen on the Ohio shore, where we ate our dinner-supper
meal; and then we started on an evening paddle. Little is gained by
this sort of traveling though, as one loses much of interest and
subjects himself to many little annoyances, not compensated for by the
distance gained. After three miles, the last one in darkness so black
that we frequently found our craft aground on the low muddy shores, we
swung around a bend and came on a group of lights, which proved to be
those of a steamer tied to the shore for wooding up. Making camp on a
strange shore in darkness is a difficult operation; but a smooth spot
beneath a high bank of clay was chosen, and hauling out we spread the
canvas roofs over our cabins and were soon enjoying our well-earned
repose. The heavy rumbling of a wagon wakes me as the sun is glinting
the water; and on turning out I see, almost over my head, a six-mule
team drawing a huge wagon heavily laden with tobacco.
A passing boatman tells me that we are one mile
below Murraysville, W. Va. From this point in our trip the selection of
a camp site for the night becomes an important consideration. It is an
easy matter to draw the craft out on a smooth, sloping beach of clay
and sand, but these places are not always to be found at the proper
time for ending the day's run. The shores are now oftener precipitous
bluffs. Generally at the base of such a bluff there is a short beach,
but the danger that tons of loose earth may fall on us forbids our
making use of it, and again the heavy swash from the passing steamers
is so great that we would be in constant danger of having our cabins
filled with water. The high bank of the river is always on the convex
side of the river, while on the concave side there is usually found a
bar with low land running back from it. Hence, we choose the concave
side when practicable. Another objectionable feature, and the one most
to be guarded against, is the army of tramps, unprincipled boatmen, and
scoundrels of all descriptions. The Ohio and Mississippi rivers are the
great western highways for a large class of vagabonds who prey upon the
country as they pass through it. They travel singly and in twos and
threes. Stealing some valuable article from a farmhouse or barn, they
appropriate the first skiff they can find, pull across and down the
stream for a hundred miles, and then abandoning the stolen boat take
passage on a steamer, flatboat or other craft and escape to New Orleans
or some Texas town; intercourse with these desperadoes is to be avoided
as much as possible. In selecting our camp site for the night we
usually make as little show as possible.
For some days we had been warned of the dangers of the
Setart's Falls to our light boats. All day we had been meeting with
slight descents, where the current would be perceptibly increased, and
at times the waves made by the swifter current meeting the almost
motionless waters of the pools, would cause our craft to dance about
with that motion which is so delightful to the canoeist's soul; but
nothing more alarming than the wetting of the decks occurred. It was
with much amazement that, when toward the close of one day I asked the
whereabouts of Setart's Falls, I was asked, "Why, didn't you come
The 2nd of November was a red-letter day for us. Breaking
camp at eight o'clock, we made sail with a brisk down river breeze,
which in the course of the next two hours increased to half a canoe
gale, giving the Aurora's skipper, at least, all he wanted to do to
keep her right side up and avoid wetting her cargo. The wind came down
with a howl as we approached Pomeroy, Ohio, opposite which is a long,
low sandy point jutting into the stream, forcing the water through a
narrow channel scarcely wider than a steamer's breadth. And as ill luck
would have it, we here met an upward bound steamer. Unfortunately the
Aurora's lateen sails could not be taken from the mast nor lowered
without coming up into the wind, and from the want of room I was unable
to bear away. Thus I was forced to take my chances of being run down by
the steamer or driven on to the bar by the force of the wind; but I
escaped both and shot by clear.
A Broken Spar.
Just as I cleared her I was caught in the huge
rollers from her great wheel, the wind swept down and my craft went up
one sea like a flash, when she suddenly pitched into the trough with
such force that the long slender spar was snapped off at the masthead,
and overboard went the sail. So suddenly released from the pressure,
the boat rolled to windward until her coaming was for an instant
submerged. It was no time then to mend the broken spar, we must make
all we can of the fine breeze. The sail was rolled up and stowed below,
and as the Comfort came down her skipper loaned her unused mizzen to
the Aurora, and I set the borrowed sail aft, and with my own mizzen
forward, I managed to keep Barnacle in sight the rest of the day. A
huge campfire warmed all outdoors while we sat about it that night; and
while I brought up the log, Barnacle fished the broken spar, that all
might be in readiness for a breeze on the morrow. As the brilliant
sparkle and flash of the silvery lamps above were reflected from the
diamond points of the heavy frost, we turned into our snug quarters,
well pleased with the run of forty-four miles under sail alone.
The whipping of the little A.C.A. burgee on its staff at
the bow of my canoe awakened me at an early hour. I found a brisk
downriver breeze blowing. Breakfast hurriedly eaten, canoes packed and
white wings spread, we went dancing toward the briny waters of the
Gulf. Well it was that we made the early start and gained the help of
the wind, as we had not made more than twelve miles when it died out to
a complete calm and forced us to again take up the well-tried double
paddles. At noon we landed at the mouth of Big Sandy Creek, the
dividing line between West Virginia and Kentucky. On the south shore is
the town of Cattellsburgh, Ky. The Sandy was pouring out a large volume
of discolored water, which bore on its bosom great quantities of
debris, in the shape of fence rails, boards, cut timbers and trees.
Some of the latter had their great long roots with the slender tendrils
trailing after them, showing that there had been a heavy storm at the
headwaters and on the tributaries.
As I knocked the ashes from my pipe and threw aside "Round
the World in Eighty Days," with which I had beguiled the last two
hours, I perceived that the mercury was rapidly falling, warning us
that the weather tomorrow would savor more of winter than any we had
thus far had; and so it proved, for on turning out in the early morning
the marks of Jack Frost were everywhere visible, and the canoe tent
came off without a wrinkle, making it necessary to thaw it before the
fire in order to stow it in its proper place. Again the wind is in our
faces, and the flying spray frequently reaches far enough aft to wet
the woolen mittens, which in turn impart their cold moisture to our
chilled hands. The current is a strong one, and by two o'clock we have
made a distance of thirty miles, when the river, making a sharp turn to
the east, gives us a fair wind and we again make sail and reach the
town of Portsmouth, Ohio, where we receive our mail.
A Vision of the Old Times.
Camping about three miles below the town, the
appetizing odor of fried beefsteak and onions, together with that of
fragrant coffee, filled the air as the sun sent long, slanting shadows
across the waters.
During the night I was awakened by the deep toned whistle
of a towing steamer as she signaled her approach to Portsmouth.
Thoughts of the inventive genius of the day fill my mind as I lay in my
snug quarters. I see far back in the years gone by the red Indian, as
he swiftly and silently descends the stream in his birchen canoe or
shapely dugout; the white man, a few years later, encroaching on the
domain of the child of the forest in the rudely-built batteau, scow or
sailboat, is borne on its swiftly flowing current. I see them in their
vain attempts to stem the same current in their endeavors to reach the
upriver country. Then comes the thought of the application of steam to
the conquering of the powerful current, where wind as a motor, has only
been partially successful. As the Clermont was the first
steam-propelled vessel to ascend the Hudson, in 1807, so the New
Orleans was the first to part the waters of the Ohio and Mississippi in
1811, making a successful trip from Pittsburgh to New Orleans, and
filling with awe the minds of the children of the forest, who gazed
upon the puffing, fire-eating monster and called it "penelore" (fire
Owing to the muddy condition of the shores our canoes need
a thorough overhauling, and under a bright November sun we go about our
housecleaning. A water mark placed the night before shows that the
never stationary but always rising or falling Ohio is now rising
rapidly, and as our camp is but three or four inches above the river
surface, we search for a site that will be well above the reach of the
rising flood. A paddle of eight miles brings us to a broad beach of
sand, fringed on its upper edge with a dense growth of willows, while
on the opposite side of the river is the dismal-looking, tumbledown
village of Quincy, Ky. Here we camp and build a rousing fire, before
which I am seated, jotting down the notes of the day's run, when we are
much surprised at hearing voices on the water and soon after the
grating of a boat's prow on the shore. Stepping out from the glare of
the fire I receive three visitors, who prove to be shanty boatmen, who
have their craft moored to the opposite shore.
"Good evenin', strangers; we see yer light, and
thought as yer might hev a skiff ter sell."
"No, we are simply on a pleasure trip and have two
canoes only," said I, pointing to the little craft lying side by side.
"Well, now, ef thet ain't the purtiest trick I ever did
see. What mout sech a boat as thet cost, stranger?"
"Hundred and fifty dollars."
"Great snaix. My woman's fust man had one as cost fifty
dollars, and I thought as she was ab'ut the harns'mest thing I ever did
see; but she couldn't come nigh thet trick. Ain't yer 'fraid thet a
tramp'll come 'long and knife yer some night and steal the little boat?
Tearin' Good Cider.
"There's plenty of um as would be willin' ter do
it if they got a chance. Say, stranger, bring yer chum along, and come
over to our shanty and hev a game of seven-up. I ain't got no whisky;
but I hev got some tearin' good cider."
I deny having any knowledge of the game of seven-up or a
fondness for "tearin' cider," and excuse myself on the plea that I am
tired and must turn in. Taking the hint, they depart, evidently
satisfied that there is no chance to make a haul from our camp or
All the next day we are forced to remain in our camp
during a heavy downpour of rain, the rising waters of the river by
nightfall reaching almost to our fireplace. The shores of the river are
now in no way particularly interesting, if we except the tumbledown
appearance of most of the buildings, predominant among which are the
decayed negro quarters of the old slave days. The inhabitants of the
Kentucky shore have a particularly forlorn and wretched aspect.
Singularly enough, it is impossible to obtain a piece of salt pork in
this hog-raising region. Ask the native what they live on, and the
almost invariable answer is, "Corn and bacon, but mostly corn."
SHANTYBOATS AND BOATMEN.
SHANTYBOATS, one of the peculiarities of the river, are
now met with daily, and their construction and the characters of their
occupants are a source of interesting study. These craft are sometimes
called "family boats," and justly so, too, as they are often the
dwelling places of an entire family, who spend their lives in floating
on the river. Starting from points high up on the Allegheny or
Monongahela rivers with the first signs of approaching winter, arriving
at Cairo they are joined by the fleet from the upper Mississippi and
Missouri, and together drift to the Southern cities, or "tie up" within
the mouth of some small stream, spending the winter in trapping,
fishing, and in some cases stealing, until they accumulate sufficient
funds to pay for a tow by steamer to some upriver port, when they again
go to "floating." These boats differ in their build and fittings as
much as the house of the planter differs from the humble quarters of
the negro laborer.
It often happens that a man, tiring of the restraints
imposed upon him by his better half, looks about for a more congenial
spirit, and having found one whom he fondly believes will be attentive
to his wants, sewing on the buttons of his shirt and cooking the stolen
hog, he pictures to her active imagination all the delights of
shantyboat life, where she will have nothing to do but drift with the
ceaseless current as she eats baked 'possum and dances to the music of
the fiddle or mouth organ, or swabs her gums with the ever present
snuff; so she ties the gaudily trimmed hat on her head, seizes her
European traveling trunk, and casting into it her personal effects,
hands it over to her new lord and master, who shoulders it to the
floating home, while she follows with "The Fiend of the Bloody Bayou"
or "The Life of Two-Fingered Bill" safely folded in her bosom.
Shipping a Housekeeper.
On arriving in New Orleans the shantyboat is sold
for firewood while her captain engages a deck passage for the Red River
region, and his deserted housekeeper, compelled to shift for herself,
becomes known in the low haunts of the city as the "Allegheny Rose" or
the "Mountain Gazelle," but never returns to her far upriver home.
In strong contrast is the shantyboat of the honest
mechanic. His scow or boat is constructed of the best white oak,
thoroughly braced and fastened with galvanized iron nails and screws,
while the house, 50x15x10 ft., is built of fine white pine boards. The
roof is rain-proof and has in the center a skylight. At either end is a
door leading to the deck, while a each side is a row of four windows
with green blinds. The hull is painted a lead color, the shanty a dark
brown. I took a peep into such a neat-looking craft and was not a
little surprised at what I saw. The forward door admitted me into a
sort of kitchen, where were many things usually found in an ordinary
country kitchen, with a brightly polished cookstove and pots and pans.
Opening from this was a general living room, the floor neatly covered
with bright colored Canton matting. The windows were surrounded
prettily with cheesecloth curtains, and on the walls hung small tasty
chromos and woodcuts. In one corner stood a substantial table, on which
was a family Bible and other books; ranged along the side was a
comfortable lounge, and beneath one of the windows was a sewing
machine. Several ordinary chairs and a Boston rocker were carefully
arranged. Beyond was the comfortably furnished bedroom from which a
door opened to the after deck. The good wife cares for this floating
home while moored to the levee in front of the town where her husband
works at his trade of carpenter. Work becoming scarce in one locality,
he floats his home downstream to some more likely spot; or, engaging a
tow, is taken up river, and so goes from town to town, and being a good
mechanic, finds work when it is to be had. His expenses are light; he
has no rent nor taxes to pay, and his fuel can be found in abundance
along the shore.
A SHORT ONE, IN WHICH BARNACLE TAKES THE CAKE.
WE frequently pass people along the bank who call out to
one another, "There goes two Injuns in canoes." Once, when approaching
a group of men, women and children, I gave a whoop that made the air
ring, while it had a decidedly terrifying effect on the juvenile
members, who took to their heels in hot haste.
After a day's run of thirty-four miles under sail, we made
camp within twenty-five miles of Cincinnati. On turning in we decided
on making an early start, that we may reach the Queen City before the
close of day. Reaching Maysville, Ky., I send Barnacle ashore to
procure some fresh bread. His tall, gaunt form, around which his blue
flannel shirt and trousers hang as on a pole; his sharp-cut features
and dark complexion; the mat of still darker hair, surmounted by a
broad-rimmed slouch hat, attracts the attention of the loungers and
wharf rats, some of whom follow him up the levee to see what his errand
ashore may be. He is absent so long that I begin to fear he may have
got into trouble, when I see him coming down the levee with long, rapid
strides. Bounding into his canoe, he says: "Let's get out of this as
quickly as possible." Landing on some smooth rocks about a mile below
the town, we build our little fire, and while the water is heating
Barnacle explains to me his anxiety to make a hasty departure from
"You see this is election day, and every mother's
son composing the crowd in that town is drunk, or nearly so. I went
into the bakery, and there found four fellows, all more or less drunk.
One in particular had more on board than his companions, and when I
asked the baker for two loaves of bread, this Kentucky juice-guzzler
told him he wanted all the bread there was in the shop. 'There are but
two loaves left, sir,' said the mixer of flour and water, and this
gentleman has bought them.' 'He shan't have them,' replied Mr. Kentuck,
and reached out to take them from me. I tell you there was a lively
scrimmage there for a minute or two."
I don't know what Barnacle did, he is noncommittal on such
matters; but I am satisfied that he cleaned the quartet out -- he is
capable of such a performance. "To the victor belong the spoils," and
we have the bread.
IN WHICH IS SHOWN THE WISDOM OF SITTING STILL.
A HEAD wind sprang up and gave us a hard afternoon's work,
precluding the possibility of reaching Cincinnati before night, and we
went into camp within seven miles of the city. Some time during the
night, as I lay awake listening to the ripple of the waters along the
shore, I heard a rich, clear baritone voice singing, "Way down on the
Suwanee River," and looking out from my cabin window, I saw a raft
slowly drifting past, on which was seated the musical being.
About mid-day on the morrow we came in sight of the great
pork-packing city of the West, and ere the whistles had screeched out
their announcement of the commencement of the second half of the busy
day we passed under the first bridge that connects the city of
Cincinnati with Covington, Kentucky. Here a busy scene meets our view.
Both the Ohio and Kentucky shores of the river are a mass of steamers
of all classes, both side wheel and "kick-ups," freight barges and coal
scows, together with small river craft of every description. Ferryboats
are crossing from shore to shore, dodging the ever-present shantyboat
that always seems to be in the wrong place. We meet the skippers of the
craft belonging to the Cincinnati Canoe Club, and by them are
introduced to the sights of the city. We spend a couple of delightful
days at their club house on the miniature Lake Ross, sailing their
canoes and enjoying their hospitality, for which they are so famous.
November 16 sees us again afloat, and as we swiftly pass
beneath the magnificent suspension bridge connecting Cincinnati with
Covington, Ky., we wave our hands in adieu to the friends and city that
have afforded us so much pleasure.
The river now runs through a narrow gorge. Steep hills,
attaining a height of three hundred feet, sparsely wooded and seamed
with deep ravines, wall it in on both sides. The trees have been
denuded of their leaves through the effect of the frosts and winds of
the past two or three weeks, and their bare branches are outlined
against the bright sky, which is now bathed in a crimson light by the
setting sun. As we had tumbled a large quantity of provisions into our
canoes without properly stowing, we made an early camp on the wooded
Kentucky shore, about ten miles below the city.
Early in the morning, as our breakfast fire was brightly
blazing, we received a call from the owner of the farm on whose
waterfront we had made our camp. After some pleasant conversation, he
said that if we would wait half an hour he would bring us some genuine
Kentucky leaf tobacco. Ah, ha! here was a chance to smoke a pipe of
The Unadulterated Leaf.
Of course we will wait. On his return he handed me
a large bunch of leaf tobacco, saying:
"I don't know whether you will like this leaf; it
ain't now'er's near as stout as we ginerally smoke; it is some I cured
fer my own use."
So eager was I to smoke genuine unadulterated tobacco that
I soon had my pipe filled; and as I sat by the fire and puffed away
like a locomotive, I thought I had never smoked finer tobacco in all
the long years that I had been a smoker. By and by, though, my head
began to feel queer, and I made spasmodic clutches at the sides of the
mess chest on which I was seated, for fear that I would fall over into
the fire, which seemed to rise and fall as though some subterranean
agency was at work heaving it up and down. I cast my eyes to the
hilltops, and they were going round and round, while the river seemed
to have changed its flow, and was now running up instead of down. I
dared not offer to rise, as I feared that action would betray my
condition to Barnacle and our visitor, and so I remained on my seat
until the sensation had passed.
© 2000 Craig O'Donnell
May not be reproduced without my permission.