Dave, I have
recently published my GGGrandfather Asa C. Call's
1850's diaries. They contain
some interesting observations about and while
on various river boats. One
I like the best is a race between the "OCEAN
WAVE" and the "TIME
AND TIDE" on April 5, 1850 on the Illinois river. Here
is an excerpt from
his diary: Where there are "*" in the text, it is because
was difficult or impossible to discern.
Thursday. (April 4, 1850)
I felt rather down, after having seen A.A. start off alone, and almost
I took a final review of all our circumstances, and prospects,
and fears, compared past, present and future and I was much
But I am determined to do my best, and if submit is the word, why, I will
still try to be a man. So I engaged steerage passage for St. Louis on the
steam packet OCEAN WAVE at $1.50, and giving old Inman a dollar, I left
him to his own destruction. By the way, I presume they called him an "in
and Inman" in contradistinction to "an out and out man". I saw him charge
an Irishman an enormous bill, and then charge him extra for hauling his
to the Steam Boat. Paddy called him a pickpocket and he in turn
to drown him in the river. But Pat was too willing, to justify
him in undertaking
the job alone, and so the old imp was going to have his
hands do it. But
I concluded from their looks that they didn't crave the
job. If they had
undertaken it, we would have made fish bait of him and
old In and Inman with
as hearty a good will as we would have drowned a mad
dog, or a litter of
We left at 9 a.m. I was surprised to see the Illinois
so small here. It is
scarcely wide enough to allow a boat to turnaround in
but it soon gets larger.
It is a broad smooth stream in Peoria*. I have just
found on the boat Mr.
Hearns* of Wolf Lake . He now lives in Iowa, & Gary
Rowtins* and Wm. Rickett
are there yet*. The old Gentleman knew me & I found
him first rate company.
He had been back to Indiana.
I have today
made the acquaintance of a young Californian by the name of Hubbard
Michigan. One of the Cattenaugh* H's and a nephew to Ruery* & Geo.
He started with his father, and his father died at Ottawa of lung
The steerage is a filthy hole. I stay on the Hurricane deck or in
cabin all the time. The Race of the "OCEAN WAVE" and the "TIME and TIDE"
Friday. (April 5, 1850) The banks began to look green today, and some shrubs
are begin to show their leaves. We passed Peoria and Pekin in the night.
The Illinois is muddy and high. It must have rained here. Beardstown is
dilapidated mean looking place, but eggs are cheap, 4 cents a dozen and
15 cents. The banks have been flat and marshy the most of the way,
see a few bold promontories about. So guess I will call it *, as we
just passed Rome and Naples.
The "TIME and TIDE" is chasing us. She left
Naples about 10 minutes after we
did and has been straining every muscle to
pass us. We had a low head of
steam on, when they started in chase, but we
now make the old water boil to
some purpose. The Captain looks as red as Mars,
and says "Gentleman! If you
on't want yon boat to pass us, you must all go
aft. We are too heavy forward.
Don't you see we're down to the guards while
they only draw four foot water.
Look! Look! By God, Mr. Civiney*! How they
are poking the ton into her", and
so they are "poking the ton into her" and
to some purpose too for every time
I look up, & that is pretty often, I can
see that they have gained on us. I
went aft before the order, for I was afraid
we should blow up.
The Engineer says our head of steam is 78 pounds to
the inch and that the
boiler will bear 85. He is going to put on 83.
They are almost to us. --- The Captain says, "Charlie, cut 'em off then", and
the steersman has run our boat in towards the bank. I can hear them swearing.
They are mad because our Captain took the advantage of them. "Bear off then or
by God I'll run into you." "Run into Hell & be damned. I'd like to see yon old
thing run into the WAVE," shouts our fat old Captain. "What has she now Mr.
"80 to the inch Sir," replied the Engineer, and pressing his
mouth to a long
thin tube that runs from him to the furnaces he says, "five
up then, five up
The TIME and TIDE just now steamed past by
even as our wake tapers* us, but she
increasingly fell back a * . We are going
to stop at the next wood ***.
In St. Louis, he boarded the JULIA
for the trip up the Missouri.
See excerpt below: We got in about 4 o'clock
this morn. I remained on board
till daylight, and then engaged a steerage
passage to St. Joseph on the Julia,
at $2.50--cabin fare is $8.00.
The Captain, a fat old Southerner who says, Bar, and whar, and thar, and
exactly like the Negroes, tells me that he can run up in five days.
got my things aboard and left my principal valuables in charge of the clerk
and started in search of the Post Office. After much ado, I found it in a Crevice
of the City called Chestnut Street, and I mailed my letters. I got some papers
of a news boy and learn that John C. Calhoun is dead.
The JULIA will not start till morning. I have been up to see
works. Their principal feature consists of two immense reservoirs
about 50 feet deep and 800 in diameter, built of stone and banked
to the top. Into these the water is forced by a steam pump from the
whence it is distributed to all parts of the City.
There are a great many Boats engaged in the Missouri trade, and they are all
loaded with Californians, many of whom take their teams aboard. I can see
dead oxen floating down the river almost constantly. There is a fatal distemper
among them, something like the murrain ---.
The levee which is about
200 feet wide, is completely covered as far as the
eye can reach, with Horses,
oxen, men, mules, drays, boxes, bags, negros, lumber,
and every thing else,
so close that one can scarcely move.
On the Missouri River Sunday. (April
So we are on the Missouri! The rough, turbulent, relentless old Missouri.
fickle Missouri! The Grand Missouri! How nobly it rolls along. It has
its way for thousands of miles through mountain and desert, forest
scorning control and despising all established usage and etiquette.
of its own strength, it seems to take a pride in its rude contrariness.
It is a genuine "Reformer". Here it bends an ancient bank and there
a white head. This year it chooses its channel in one place, and
in another. It is so muddy. It is enough to kill a man to drink
it. I have
a small cholera today but I have taken my allowance of bread and
and unless I get worse, I think I shall be apt to get better.
We have some
200 persons aboard and they generally have the cholera more
or less. I believe
if all the cholera there is aboard was boiled down, there
would be enough
to kill at least 50 men. It is occasionally fatal, but there
have been no
deaths on our boat. But we are entirely too much crowded. Besides
biped passengers, (I can't say Human) we have about 50 horses, oxen
I am very surprised to find the navigation of the Missouri
so bad. I always
heard that it was a bad stream, but I never dreamed of its
being so bad
as it is. I supposed that we should see no material, *inviolate
between this and the Mississippi, but even at the mouth it is
different stream cut up by islands and sand bars, shallow, irregular
full of snags. They have been sounding at least half the time, and in
places they find only 5 feet water. Our boat draws 4 1/2. We have touched
bottom several times already.
We left St. Louis today at 11 a.m.
I went all over town this morning. It looks
like a large place and it is.
It contains half as many people as all the rest
of this state. I find that
the streets back, are wider and more regular than
those near the levee but
all the streets in the principal business part of the
city are narrow alleys,
barely wide enough to allow two waggons to pass and
paved mostly with a rough
cobble stones, though there is an abundance of good
stones at hand. The city
is built on a lot of very good building stone, and the
stone that is taken
from a large cellar will almost build the house. I believe
that all the retail
establishments are kept by Jews, who have no regular prices
On the whole, I rather dislike St. Louis. There are many valuable buildings
in it. In fact, the Town is almost one solid block of brick five stories
high without streets or lights, but there are very few handsome buildings
and the public houses are generally mean looking and I should think badly
kept. I presume of course that "Planter's House" is the best, but that is
"no great shakes". The lower story is all rented out to shop keepers, etc.----
I got a good bed on the boat last night, as they promised to start yesterday.
I made then keep me free* as part compensation for the *delay. --- Monday.
(April 8, 1850)
We have* to* tie* up nights* caught * bars etc.,
and we get on very slowly.
We passed St. Charles this noon but didn't stop.
I *see signs* of* little*
cattle* where* the river now for* and they say the
country is not very good
back. I saw men digging up stumps and digging terraces
in the bank of the river
for grape culture. We have come to some fine bluffs
today lime* rock* I believe.
My cholera is rather worse today. One poor
fellow has died. Tho not a Catholic,
poor fellow, one would have supposed
that he would be willing to exchange this
life for a happier one, but he seemed
to dread his Heaven and was as reluctant
to step into the threshold of Paradise
as I should be to enter the unknown
future* that awaits me.
(April 9, 1850)
Our boat is completely crammed. We take some at every landing.
We have today
430* aboard. I never go into the steerage. It is awful. One
sight is enough to
make me shudder. We have had some fine scenery today in
the lofty battlements
of rock, stands *of Cedar. ** a fine contrast with the
rich flat alluvium of
If I only had a brother* or a friend*
with me, and all who said at *** Jefferson.
It is nothing, nothing at all.
A State prison and a handsome* State* house* on
a promintory* that* commands*
an expansive* view of the river, and all is told.
A few * houses and shanties
and a few grinning* negro boys, one tavern* with
the paint all off the side
and Jefferson is all told. It is about like Fulton.
I am nearly well today
but there is much sickness aboard. I have made the
acquaintance of 3 tall
Pennnsylvaniamen today, & I think some of rigging
up a team with them. They
are brothers and average* about* 35 years*.
Wednesday. (April 10, 1850)
We grounded about 7 last evening, which saved us the trouble of tying up, but
we found no great trouble in getting off again. We passed Boonville this morning.
It is something of a place, the most respectable that I have seen since I left*
St. Louis. It is rather larger than Albany.
The Missouri is in many places
very shallow, and there are frequently immense
tracts sand, lying adjacent
to the river that are flowed in high water.
These are dotted over with huge
rafts or piles of flood wood, from 10 to
20 feet high and sometimes covering
3 or 4 acres. If this wood was all charred
it would make a fine coal bed.
But I should hardly venture to undertake
the job of making good stove coal
of it. Though if Professor Agasdig wishes
to try it, I have no objection
Some of the Californians went ashore today. I am glad they
are gone. I wish
they would do so some more. If they don't, I think I shall,
in a day or two.
It is too bad here entirely. Every place is * * and much
sickness* though* not***.
Thursday. (April 11, 1850)
It is cold
this morning. It froze some last night. I am tired of this creeping.
we are all getting sick. I have nearly recovered from my Cholera
but as Asa
Thomas said, "I don't feel very well yet." As I sit here on the
deck, I see some of the guards below making a coffin for a woman
last night, and there is a man below who cannot live many hours.
stuffing him to death with everything from *peppermint drops to
*. He has
been in the habit of drinking too much.
---- 12M. The man is gone, and
there is quite a panic on-board, as most all
have more or less diarrhea. I
have been talking with a few of the more sensible
fellows and they have continued
to be sane. But the most of them are dosing
with everything you can think
of. It makes good times for the Barkeeper. I firmly
believe that our 450*
passengers have taken stuff enough this morning to kill
Lexington, Missouri - Disembarking Friday. (April 12, 1850)
We reached Lexington
this morn about 6 o'clock, and the Thompsons and I concluded
to go ashore
and fit up our team here and go the Southern route, as we shall
two weeks earlier than they will at St. Joe. We shall intersect
some six hundred miles from here, a little this side of Fort Laramie.
is scarcely as forward here now as it was at St. Louis a week ago. ---
C. Call's 1853's Diaries
from site visitor
John R. Ca
The wreck of the "Winfield Scott" is part of the Channel
Islands National Marine Sanctuary
I have sent Asa's first person account of the sinking to the Santa
Maritime Museum, Santa Barbara, CA.. - - John R. Call
- Dec. 5th, 1853.
A rock in the Pacific, 20 miles from the coast - Monday,
Dec. 5th, 1853.
I embarked on the Steamer WINFIELD SCOTT last Thursday,
and at 12 o’clock we
left Vally’s St. Wharf for Panama. We had fine weather
till Friday evening, when it became foggy. One of the boilers had been leaking
through the day
which had retarded our progress, and the Sierra Navada had
passed us, but it
was repaired on Friday afternoon, and we were running about
twelve miles an
hour, when I went to bed on Friday night.
about 9 o’clock. I had just got to sleep, when I was awakened by a
shock. I knew we had struck a rock and hurrying on a part of my
hurried up on deck where I found a general panic, but the steamer
off and with the assurance that all was right the most of the
again to their rooms. But I didn’t believe she could have
struck a rock with
such force without sustaining some injury, and not knowing
what the upshot
of the matter might be, I went down to my state room and put
my money and
all other valuables in my trunk into my saddle bags, and went
into the upper
saloon intending to be ready for what was to come next.
I had hardly
taken a seat when the steamer struck again, and with such force,
that it seemed
as if the ship was breaking into a thousand fragments. I
again hurried on
deck, and went forward to see if I could see land. It was
so dark I could
see nothing, but I could distinctly hear the roar of the
breakers ahead, and
on the larboard side. The steamer was unmanageable, and
the order was given
to let off the steam and to extinguish the fires to
prevent the ship's taking
The decks were densely crowded but considering the circumstances
behaved remarkably well. It was a perfect jam. And all I could
was an occasional small shriek as the ship lurched to one side
evidence that she was sinking. About ten minutes after we last struck
long boat was lowered, and I heard the Captain call for the ladies to
aboard. Some men pressed towards the boat but the Captain’s orders were
“knock the first man overboard that attempts to get into the boat”.
some life preservers were got up and were being distributed among
There was now a great breach in the steamer and the water was pouring
a river. Our only hope was that she might not sink entirely, as we
her sliding down the side of a ledge of rocks. Pretty soon the
fog began to
break away a little and we could see the light in the long boat
as she was
coasting along in search of a landing. We could also see the top
of a high
peak just ahead of the ship and pretty near, but it seemed perpendicular
the white foam and the roar showed that we could never hope to land there.
As soon as the life preservers were distributed, the other ships boats
were lowered, and filled with passengers. They all held about one hundred
and fifty, and there were five hundred and twenty on board. After being gone
about half an hour the long boat returned, having found a landing. And in
about two hours all hands were taken off, and were landed on a rock about
fifty yards long by twenty five wide.
The next day we came to a larger
rock or Island, about half a mile long by
100 yards wide. We have succeeded
in getting provisions and water enough
from the wreck to do us so far. The
sea has been quite smooth, or we should
have been all lost. A boat went off
to the mainland day before yesterday and
returned last eve.
has been sent to San Francisco and I shall look for a steamer in
four days. Robbery and plunder has been the order of the day since
But today we appointed a committee of investigation and have had
searched. A good deal of property has come to light, and two
been flogged. I have recovered a pair of revolvers, a Bowie
knife, and some
clothing, but I am a good deal out of pocket yet. But
probably my other things
never came ashore.
We are on short allowance, but I today shot a seal
with my pistol, and we
shall have a luscious dinner. We are expecting a schooner
from the main land
with supplies of water and provisions.
9th 7 p.m.
The old steamer CALIFORNIA
came to our rock sometime in the night last night,
and made her presence known
by firing cannon. We climbed to the top of the
rock and made a large fire
of weeds, which is the only fuel we have on the
rock. The sea was very rough
which made it dangerous getting on board, but
we finally accomplished it without
any very serious accident.
It is now supposed that there were one or
two men lost when we were wrecked,
as they have never been seen since. One
was a Mr. Underwood, a butcher by
December 10, 7 a.m.
It is cold and foggy this morning, and the sea is rough. I stand in want
my India rubber coat and several other things I lost on the wreck. We are
now a little below San Diego.
December 11, 10 a.m.
It is pleasant
this morn though the ship rolls a good deal. We had a stormy
a good deal of rain. This is an old steamer and something
under my stateroom
creaked all night, which made me dream of wild cattle
bellowing and grizzlys
growling all night.
We passed a number of whales yesterday, and immense
numbers of porpoises.
The wind is ahead this morning, and I think we shall
have more rain.
I find it very inconvenient to have strangers for room
mates, as it compels
me to wear my gold on my person, and twenty pounds is
comfortable on ones breast, if it is gold.
12, 10 a.m.
A fine morning, lots of whales, wind aft, sails set. Passed
a ship yesterday
evening. See land occasionally. I have made the acquaintance
Jouan, the Emperor Kurbidi’s* land agent, who is about to locate
acres of land for his heirs in Lower California. I have a good
mind to go
with him. I think I might do well.
Fine day, here in the torrid zone, a little below Cape St. Lucas .- There
a crazy man on board who went down into the steerage last night and told
passengers the ship was sinking, "but" he says, “Keep cool, be quiet,
get excited, it can’t be helped, go up quietly”. But they didn't keep
In about two seconds they were all on deck, and then the panic communicated
to the cabin, and we took our turn. The passengers are like sheep that have
been stampeded a time or two.
I am homesick.
Herbs, Vitimins and Minerals
We reached Acapulco yesterday at 2 o’clock a.m.
and left at 12 M. Much of
the Town has been lately shaken down by an earthquake.
I found much more that was novel and interesting than I had expected.
vegetation is altogether different than that of Cal. I know the names
five trees, one variety has large yellow flowers, and green fruit,
fruit all at the same time. There are a great many palm trees, and
trees, and orange, and lime etc.
The streets are narrow and
crooked and there is a blind beggar kneeling at
every corner, and several
lepers showing their disgusting carcasses, and
plenty of old hags begging
for the church and lots of little boys and girls
with pans and curious baskets
of coral and sea shells for sale, and if you
decline buying they will urge
you to take a trifle as a present, filling your
hands and pockets exclaiming
"yo presenta" "yo presenta" and afterwards they
will follow you holding out
their hands and whenever they can catch your eye,
it is “one little pickyman.”
They have learned so much English.
And there are plenty of baths where
bright eyed senioritas officiate, as "uno
peso no mas" and all seem to derive
their whole support from the California
The harbor is small,
but very secure. The shore is bold, the town is shut in
by high hills, and
not a breath of wind can ever reach it unless it blows
directly down from
The weather is hot and sultry. With nothing on but cotton pants
shirt, I am sweating like a fireman.
December 19th 1853.
It is cool and comfortable. We had a strong breeze last eve and the
rough. Something in the engine got out of fix in the night and we
for two hours. We are crossing the gulf of Tehuantepec.
The sea is very rough. Our old steamer labors terribly.
The wind nearly
ahead and we get along, but slowly.
They got up
a sail this morn thinking it would hold the ship more steady,
but the wind
soon tore it to shreds. I think we have rather a hard voyage.
in the steerage died today, and was buried in the sea. Poor man, the
of collecting a little sum with which he might return to his childhood's
had sustained him for four long years through toil and disappointments,
now when he was thinking that in two weeks more he would be at home with
means to make his home comfortable and happy, he had to die. Poor man.
We are now almost to Panama. Yesterday the Captain gave
us a champagne
dinner, and we gave him a testimonial, and raised 250 dollars
to present him
a memento. Capt.
of this steamer and Capt.
of the WINFIELD
are Gentlemen but Capt.
of the COLUMBIA
in the same line is a
Heading Home Aboard the ILLINOIS
We are at sea, going north, towards home. Thank fortune,
we got aboard of
the ILLINOIS last night at dark. The railroad is uneven.
Aspinwall is in a
swamp, every place stinks. No man but a fool would stop
there to live.
December 29th, 1853 3 p.m.
Very pleasant, water
smooth, Jamaica in sight on our left and St. Domingo
streaming away on our
I am excited, full of strange enthusiastic feelings. We see that
as Columbus saw it 360 years ago. The same, and yet how different.
glorious country our fathers have created since then. I am full of
and hope and enthusiasm.
Hope you found all of this interesting.
Sincerely, John R. Call