First Sighting of Perry County

Today, I am going to return to a story that has already been written on this blog.  I wrote the story two years ago on January 27, 2017.  It was titled, Intersecting Exoduses.  The story was told about how the steamboat, Knickerbocker, had to stop for repairs at the small Illinois village of Hamburg to repair the barge that the steamer had been towing.  There was a reference in that post which came from Zion on the Mississippi.  That reference had as its source Pastor Loeber’s diary.  Rev. Loeber was aboard the Knickerbocker.  I will repeat that excerpt from Walter Forster’s book, Zion on the Mississippi here.

“The last day of the week, January 26, found the immigrants at New Madrid, Missouri, and one more day brought them to the mouth of the Ohio River.  Two days later, near Hamburg, Illinois, it was necessary to halt for repairs, because the barge had sprung a leak from bumping into some obstruction in the water.”  Zion on the Mississippi, p. 213

If you do the math, that would put the Knickerbocker at the Ohio River on January 27th and two days later at Hamburg on January 29th.  At the time when I wrote that article two years ago, I was not aware of another resource that Gerard and I would discover during this past year.  That resource is the one which has been placed on this blog for the past week or so.  It is an English translation of Teacher J.F.F. Winter’s journal.  Teacher Winter was another passenger aboard the Knickerbocker.  After reading Teacher Winter’s account of his Mississippi River journey, Gerard and I put together a presentation that was part of last October’s immigration conference sponsored by our museum.  The presentation was titled, Crossing of Cultures: Cherokees and Lutherans.  I will share some added information today that should embellish the previous blog post written two years ago.

First, here is a map made in the 1880’s showing Hamburg, Illinois.  It gives a much better idea of what that area must have looked like in 1839.  Nowadays, with all the changes in the Mississippi River channel, you no longer see the large sandbar islands at this location.

hamburg landing

Across the river from Hamburg was the village of Bainbridge, Missouri.  This location is not far south of where you find Trail of Tears State Park in Missouri.  Now let’s take a look at what Teacher Winter wrote for January 29, 1839.

“On Tuesday, the 29th, at 1 a.m. (not far from the little city of Hamburg) the flatboard [barge] which we were towing sprang a leak, having struck a rock, by the impact of which we were all driven from our beds.  The man at the wheel swerved the steamboat, along with barge, hard by the shore.  God’s kind hand here rescued us from a great peril.  The leaky boat was immediately unloaded and repaired.  When the cargo had been loaded again, on this day, we proceeded farther.  But progress was made with even greater difficulty; for we came upon a great deal of ice through which our steamer had to work its way.”

It is reported in several places online that the winter of 1838-1839 was one of the most severe winters in the history of southern Illinois.  It is a chief cause for so many deaths among the Cherokee Indians who were part of the Trail of Tears.  The German Lutherans aboard the Knickerbocker (and aboard the other three steamers that went up the Mississippi River during the months of January and February) had to have suffered through some very frigid temperatures also.

The drawing shown below shows a steamboat towing a barge during the Trail of Tears exodus.  Some of the Indians traveled to Oklahoma at least partway by riverboat.  This is not a drawing of the Knickerbocker, but it may assist you in imagining the situation for the German Lutherans on their boat.


In the wee hours of January 29th, the immigrants aboard the Knickerbocker had another problem to deal with.  My mind starts imagining what may have taken place.  First, they were jarred from their beds by the impact of something hitting the barge they were pulling and causing a leak.  Next, they all are now aware that their boat had stopped dead in the water.  It is my understanding that most of the passengers did not have cabins in which to sleep, but had to bed down on the deck of the boat.  I can just imagine that the most desirable place to sleep was near the boiler of the boat where its heat may have provided them more comfort.  All of the passengers must have been anxious to get this whole journey completed.  They had been on water for more than two months.  I can just imagine the women telling their spouses and older boys to get out there and help unload that barge and help with repairs so that they could be on their way.  The menfolk were probably just as anxious to get going, and were probably very willing to pitch in.  A little hard manual labor may have even warmed them up a little.  I have every reason to believe that the work ethic of these German Lutherans contributed to the fact that the Knickerbocker did not have to remain in Hamburg for very long.

The Knickerbocker likely was repaired and on its way before the break of day on that morning.  Meanwhile, the Cherokee Indians likely did not continue being ferried across the river until daylight.  Therefore, I do not think it very likely that the German Lutherans actually saw any Cherokees on the river.  However, we do know that the Knickerbocker went past two different ferry locations on that January 29th.  We also know that the tail end of the Cherokees exodus was being ferried across the river on January 29th.  So it is certain that the exodus of the German Lutherans and the exodus of the Cherokees did indeed cross paths at this location at this time in 1839.

According to my calculations, and I may be wrong about this, I think the Knickerbocker passed by Perry County later on January 29th in 1839.  They also likely passed that point on the river during daylight hours, so they certainly could have seen Perry County.  At that point in time, these passengers would not have been aware that the Gesellschaft would later purchase land in Perry County and settle there.  There was a place called Sullivan’s landing where Wittenberg would be located later.  It could have been that the Knickerbocker stopped there for wood, but we do not know if that happened.

One landmark may have gotten their attention when they passed this way.  That would have been Tower Rock.  That rock formation has been an attraction around here for a long time.  We do know that Tower Rock got the attention of Lewis & Clark when they passed by on their way to St. Louis to begin their famous journey.  The painting of Tower Rock shown below was supposed to have been produced in 1838, the year before the Knickerbocker passed by.

Karl_Bodmer_Travels_in_America_(9) Tower Rock

I also wrote another blog post about an event that took place on Tower Rock later in 1839.  That post was titled, Mississippi Marriage Misfortune: Tragedy at Tower Rock.

The Knickerbocker was the third steamboat which was part of the Gesellschaft to pass Perry County.  The last steamboat would not pass by until about three weeks later.  My best guess for the time when the Olbers passed by, based on information we have from Gotthold Guenther’s journal, would be February 17th or 18th.

The Knickerbocker’s passing carries special significance to me because my Schmidt ancestors were aboard that boat.  I may just have to go down to the river today to pay homage to that historic passing.


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