AS WE brought Aurora, Indiana, into view, a fine breeze sprang up directly aft. Immediately the word was passed to make sail. Paddling close under the shore to avoid the current the Aurora spreads her wings, and filling away, bounds along with delight to her skipper. But what is the matter with the Comfort? There she lies close in shore; her skipper standing in her cockpit with arms akimbo, while he seems lost in a brown study. I jibe and run up to him.

"What's the matter, Barnacle ?"

"Well, if you must know, I've come away from Cincinnati without my mast."

As we have had no use for the sails since leaving the Queen City, Barnacle's carelessness has remained undiscovered until now. Of course, he can't sail without a mast, and we paddle into the town of Aurora, where a new mast is made and within three hours we set sail and are off again, but with the wind very light. Our day's run has been a short one; when we build our camp on a beautiful smooth gravel beach beneath high, overhanging, tree-crowned banks on the convex side of a very abrupt bend in the river.


The Wrath of the Waters.

Barnacle wishes to make some alterations in his canoe, so we pitch the large tent and decide to remain in camp the following day. The Comfort is unloaded of all her duffle, which is piled in a heap about ten feet from the tent, which fronts the water. Between the tent and dunnage we built our fire, and spread about it are our mess chests and their accompanying cooking utensils. The Aurora lies near the water, her hatches securely covered with the hatch-cloth, while the Comfort has been carried to a convenient spot for working back of the tent. Comfortably wrapped in our blankets, we lie on the soft bed of leaves watching the cheerful blaze of the fire before us. "Chu-chu, chu-chu," I heard her say, as a huge steamer came down with the flood, belching forth volumes of steam from her great wide-mouthed pipes, and quicker than I can write it she was abreast of the camp, drawing the water down so low that it seemed as though she had sucked it all into her huge hull. Then came the reaction, and with one mighty rush the huge billows came sweeping along shore, picking the Aurora up in its strong embrace and flinging her against the tent, while it put out the fire and washed away and mixed together the pile of dunnage, mess chests and cooking utensils. Springing from my bed with the onward rush of water, I succeeded in saving my blankets from a wetting. With the fire out and wood wet, we are left in darkness, which seems all the more intense, with the thought that most of Barnacle's dunnage has been swept away, together with much of our stock of canned goods. A protracted search rewards us with the recovery of nearly all the articles, and with daylight we succeed in finding the balance. Again turning into our blankets, I resolve never to make camp again within the reach of a steamer's swell if I can help myself.

The weather is daily growing cooler, admonishing us that we must make good use of all the time we have, that we may not be overtaken by the fields of ice that are liable at any day to come down upon us from the upper waters. Such a condition of affairs would be very discouraging, as it would necessitate a camp until the run of ice had passed, for our frail canoes would soon succumb to its grinding influences if we should undertake to force a passage through it.

As we round a sharp bend a mile or two above Patriot, Indiana, the wind, which has been almost in our faces, comes out dead aft. Quickly making sail we shoot up to the wharfboat and intrust some letters to the pleasant man in charge, and then on at a lively speed. The air is decidedly cold, and as we sail along I add a heavy overshirt to the two that I already have on, while I wrap my feet in a thick rug and pull my soft hat snugly down about my ears, and cover my hands with a pair of stout gloves. At times the wind comes down the gullies in the high hills in such force as to tax my utmost skill in keeping the Aurora's keel down without reefing the mainsail or furling the mizzen. About the middle of the afternoon we came upon a flatboat photographer's establishment moored to the Kentucky shore, and I fancy the itinerant was doing a good business from the number of heads poked into view as we quickly passed his floating gallery.


Eighteen-Mile Island.

A short distance beyond we met a small steamer coming upstream. Heading directly for her, we pass within thirty feet. From one of her port windows could be seen the broad, full-moon face of her darky steward, his mouth wide open and his rows of ivories shining while he laughed in surprise and called out, "Yah-yah, jist see dem little boats go; deys gwine ter git dare, sartin sho."

By four o'clock the wind had died out and we ran ashore, made some coffee and eat a hearty lunch and then paddled on, passing Madison, Ind., as the Cincinnati packet was swinging out of her berth into the stream. Four miles below we landed, and building a rousing campfire, rolled in our blankets and lay with feet to the fire, first having noted the day's run of forty-seven miles. The crisp, frost-laden air of the next morning caused us to be very active in our preparations for the hearty breakfast which we eat as a fortification against the heavy twenty-mile to windward paddle that followed, ending on Eighteen Mile Island, so called from its distance above Louisville, Ky. Our heavy, restful sleep was not broken until long after the sun was glinting upon us through the trees.




THE afternoon of November 22 saw us paddling against a strong head wind as we approached Louisville, where are located the Falls of the Ohio River, that great barrier to uninterrupted navigation on this long water course. Before leaving Cincinnati, my friend, Judge Longworth, of the Supreme Court of Ohio, took me by the hand and said:

"There is one thing I want you to promise -- don't attempt to run the Falls at Louisville. I have stood on the bridge and wished that I might be able to go down them in a canoe, but it is too dangerous."

I promised not to undertake it, unless I thought there was a fair prospect of getting out alive, and now the time had arrived to solve the problem. Paddling up to the float of a pretentious-looking boat house, we were welcomed to the quarters of the Louisville Rowing Club. Leaving Barnacle with the canoes, I made a short call in the city, my mind all the time filled with thoughts of how I was to get reliable information about the Falls. By the advice of a friend of Mr. Lucien Wilson, of Cincinnati, I called at the Life Saving Station.


Heroes of the Falls.

So great are the dangers to life and property of the Falls at this point, that the Government has established and maintains one of the life saving stations here, and has placed in command the brave, warmhearted William M. Devau. The story of these men, Capt. Devau and his two comrades, John Tully and John Gilhooly, is well known.
"They were," says a recent issue of the Louisville Commercial, "all plain simple men, living on the river front, whom long years of experience had made expert oarsmen. They knew every current and rock on the Falls, and whenever they saw a boat going over, they would put out and save the occupants. They rescued all kinds of people -- tradesmen, boys and women; and they took them from above the dam, over the Falls below the bridge, and on the dam. All this was done without the least hope of reward. Their deeds became noised abroad, and the State presented them with magnificent medals. Their fame reached Washington, and after they had saved fifty-eight lives, a station was located at Louisville Nov. 3, 1881. William Devau was made Captain, and among the crew were his gallant associates, Tully and Gilhooly. Since the station has been started the crew has saved one hundred and seventy-five people, of all ages and both sexes."

Calling on this man, in his neat station, I told him of my wish to run the Falls, and asked him if he thought there was a chance of getting through right side up. Said he:

"The waters of the river are now at a very low stage, consequently the dangers of the Falls are much greater than at any other stage. Come up into the lookout and I can show you the least dangerous course."

There, in the distance, I could see the angry, boiling water, as it churned itself into foam about and over the huge rocks in its course.

"Now the principal danger is in getting into the reaction and being drawn back under the Falls. If that should happen, nothing but certain death awaits you."

I decided to go. After looking our craft over and being assured that we both have had some experience in running fast water, he said: "I believe it would be consistent with my duty to take the lifeboat and crew and pilot you through."

In fifteen minutes the lifeboat, with its crew of four brawny men, was launched from the house and led the way, closely followed by the Aurora, with the Comfort bringing up the rear. In single file, we went over to the Indiana shore, and there turning slowly off to the left, we rapidly got into the powerful current and were shot past the end of the huge stone dam, whereon had assembled a crowd of spectators, who lustily cheered us and shouted words of encouragement as we went flying down the boiling, seething cataract, now buried beneath and anon tossed on the summit of the foam-crested waves. There is no time to look about, scarcely time for thought, even, as we bound along, the lifeboat ahead, the Aurora closely following, while the Comfort is some distance astern. In this order we reach the foot of the angry, roaring flood, where our kind friends are to part from us and return to the station by the canal through which the steamers and other vessels pass around the Falls.


Smooth Sailing Again.

As the boat's crew peak their oars, the Aurora rounds up to them, and I grasp each one by the hand in grateful acknowledgment of their kindness.

© 2000 Craig O'Donnell
May not be reproduced without my permission.