May 17, 1859
Our friend Sergeant Fathom, one of the oldest cub pilots on the
river, and now on the Railroad Line steamer Trombone, sends us
a rather bad account concerning the state of the river. Sergeant
Fathom is a "cub" of much experience, and although we
are loth to coincide in his view of the matter, we give his note
a place in our columns, only hoping that his prophesy will not
be verified in this instance. While introducing the Sergeant,
"we consider it but simple justice (we quote from a friend
of his) to remark that he is distinguished for being, in pilot
phrase, 'close,' as well as superhumanly 'safe.' " It is
a well-known fact that he has made fourteen hundred and fifty
trips in the New Orleans and St. Louis trade without causing serious
damage to a steamboat. This astonishing success is attributed
to the fact that he seldom runs his boat after early candle light.
It is related of the Sergeant that upon one occasion he actually
ran the chute of Glasscock's Island, down stream, in the night,
and at a time, too, when the river was scarcely more than bank
full. His method of accomplishing this feat proves what we have
just said of his "safeness"--he sounded the chute first,
and then built a fire on the head of the island to run by. As
to the Sergeant's "closeness," we have heard it whispered
that he once went up to the right of the "Old Hen,"
but this is probably a pardonable little exaggeration, prompted
by the love and admiration in which he is held by various ancient
dames of his acquaintance, (for albeit the Sergeant may have already
numbered the allotted years of man, still his form is erect, his
step is firm, his hair retains its sable hue, and more than all,
he hath a winning way about him, an air of docility and sweetness,
if you will, and a smoothness of speech, together with an exhaustless
fund of funny sayings; and lastly, an ever-flowing stream, without
beginning, or middle, or end, of astonishing reminiscences of
the ancient Mississippi, which, taken together, form a tout ensemble
which is a sufficient excuse for the tender epithet which is,
by common consent, applied to him by all those ancient dames aforesaid
of "che-arming creature!") As the Sergeant has been
longer on the river, and is better acquainted with it than any
other "cub" extant, his remarks are entitled to extraordinary
consideration, and are always read with the deepest interest by
high and low, rich and poor, from "Kiho" to Kamschatka,
for be it known that his fame extends to the uttermost parts of
R. R. STEAMER TROMBONE,
Vicksburg, May 8, 1859.
river from New Orleans up to Natchez is higher than it has been
since the niggers were executed, (which was in the fall of 1813)
and my opinion is, that if the rise continues at this rate the
water will be on the roof of the St. Charles Hotel before the
middle of January. The point at Cairo, which has not even been
moistened by the river since 1813, is now entirely under water.
Mr. Editor, the inhabitants of the Mississippi Valley should not
act precipitately and sell their plantations at a sacrifice on
account of this prophesy of mine, for I shall proceed to convince
them of a great fact in regard to this matter, viz: That the tendency
of the Mississippi is to rise less and less higher every year
(with an occasional variation of the rule), that such has been
the case for many centuries, and finally that it will cease to
rise at all. Therefore, I would suggest to the planters, as we
say in an innocent little parlor game, commonly called "draw,"
that if they can only "stand the raise" this time, they
may enjoy the comfortable assurance that the old river's banks
will never hold a "full" again during their natural
the summer of 1763 I came down the river on the old first "Jubilee."
She was new, then, however; a singular sort of a single-engine
boat, with a Chinese captain and a Choctaw crew, forecastle on
her stern, wheels in the center, and the jackstaff "no where,"
for I steered her with a window shutter, and when we wanted to
land we sent a line ashore and "rounded her to" with
a yoke of oxen.
sir, we wooded off the top of the big bluff above Selma--the only
dry land visible--and waited there three weeks, swapping knives
and playing "seven up" with the Indians, waiting for
the river to fall. Finally, it fell about a hundred feet, and
we went on. One day we rounded to, and I got in a horse-trough,
which my partner borrowed from the Indians up there at Selma while
they were at prayers, and went down to sound around No. 8, and
while I was gone my partner got aground on the hills at Hickman.
After three days labor we finally succeeded in sparring her off
with a capstan bar, and went on to Memphis. By the time we got
there the river had subsided to such an extent that we were able
to land where the Gayoso House now stands. We finished loading
at Memphis, and engaged part of the stone for the present St.
Louis Court-House, (which was then in process of erection) to
be taken up on our return trip.
can form some conception by these memoranda of how high the water
was in 1763. In 1775 it did not rise so high by thirty feet; in
1790 it missed the original mark at least sixty-five feet; in
1797, one hundred and fifty feet; and in 1806, nearly two hundred
and fifty feet. These were "high-water" years. The "high
waters" since then have been so insignificant that I have
scarcely taken the trouble to notice them. Thus, you will perceive
that the planters need not feel uneasy. The river may make an
occasional spasmodic effort at a flood, but the time is approaching
when it will cease to rise altogether.
conclusion, sir, I will condescend to hint at the foundation of
these arguments: When me and DeSoto discovered the Mississippi,
I could stand at Bolivar Landing (several miles above "Roaring
Waters Bar") and pitch a biscuit to the main shore on the
other side, and in low water we waded across at Donaldsonville.
The gradual widening and deepening of the river is the whole secret
of the matter.