Bridge Appreciation and the Diary of Benjamin F. Gue

While walking my dog along the Duck Creek Bike Path recently, I stopped on the little bridge that crosses the creek near our house and listened to the ice creaking and cracking as it was thawing. That brought to my mind a most amazing account of our mighty Mississippi River breaking up from a journal which I recently transcribed. Benjamin F. Gue left New York for Iowa in early February. He joined his brother Joseph along the way and they continued traveling west together with the intention of securing land and a future in farming for themselves. The following is Benjamin’s firsthand account of crossing the Mississippi over 150 years ago after spending the night at the Rock Island House in Illinois.

Wednesday March 3, 1852

 In the morning we looked round the town wrote letters and made preparations to cross the river. We overhauled our things filled out carpet bags left our trunks at the Rock Island House and started on our trip across the River. We got down to the shore and found that people had been crossing all the morning on the ice and that it was not considered very dangerous. A boatman pointed out the course for us to take-we got some staffs and started out on the sea of ice for the “Iowa” shore. We traveled for some distance without any difficulty until we got out over the current where we found the ice piled up in great ledges wedged in all shapes some piled up ten feet high-some immense cakes standing on the edge with deep chasms between with a swift current of water running at the bottom-we went on in this way for a long distance sometimes going a long distance up stream to avoid air holes-sometimes leaping from one huge cake of ice to another slipping and stumbling every minute until it got so bad that it was almost impossible to proceed. We looked back and it seemed as far to either shore as it did from one to the other when we started-the prospect looked dark and we could not help thinking how impossible it would be to escape if the ice should break up. We started on again thinking we must have gone over the worst of it and after a slow difficult journey of climbing-walking-sliding and jumping we at last reached the smooth ice and soon landed in Iowa as completely tired out as I ever was in my life. But the “Rubicon” was passed-we were in “Iowa” the “long wished for land of promise” and we walked on with renewed energy went up to the land office to make inquiries before starting out. As we sat there talking we heard a heavy rumbling noise the Agent stepped to the door and looked towards the river and exclaimed “the ice is moving.” I never was more startled in my life. I got up and looked out and could hardly believe my eyes as I saw the huge body of ice which we had crossed fifteen minutes before rolling, tumbling and foaming in a confused mass as it went thundering by. It was a grand sight-but I could not help thinking what a grand and awful ride our first and last would have been on the great Mississippi if we had started ten minutes later.

The Gazette newspaper published Thursday morning March 4, 1852 verifies Gue’s description.

“The river is again blocked up with ice-on Tuesday forenoon foot passengers crossed, and in the afternoon the whole mass of ice was again, for the half-dozenth time, in motion-it will all leave us in a day or two.”

Kind of makes you appreciate bridges, even when they do get backed up.

(Submitted by Karen)

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2 Responses to Bridge Appreciation and the Diary of Benjamin F. Gue

  1. Adrian says:

    What a great story! Did the river freeze more readily back then? It doesn’t seem to freeze over that solidly or that often these days. I like your new web page layout!

    • swesson says:

      It might be that the Lock and Dam system, and maybe the levies and other construction, modified the depth of the river somewhat. We’ll call the U.S. Corps of Engineers and see if we can get another blog out of it!

      We’re glad you like our new theme! We thought it looked a little more historic—and warmer, too.


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