Channel Cat Tales: Water has shaped the Way we made our Fortunes.
Lawrence County was caught up in the Pearl Fishing Craze as these articles from Vincennes papers show. The dangers are apparent when the rivers are involved as well as greed.
June 14, 1907
HAS NOT YET BEEN FOUND – – BODY OF GEORGE DAVIS STILL IN THE WABASH – – SEARCH IS CONTINUED
Reports from down the River last night were to the effect that the body of George Davis, who was drowned near St. Francisville Wednesday morning has not been recovered, and his boat which went down at the same time that he sank has not been brought to the surface. It is thought that his body is either under the boat or entangled in the ropes or hooks of his muscle drag. Harry Williams, who is a near friend of the drowned man returned to Vincennes last night and reported that he and other man had been able to get one of the drags out of the water and had gotten hold of the other one once but were not able to bring it to the surface.
Men who claim to have seen the accident say now that another mussel digger was at work at the side of Davis and the party saw two large logs floating toward his own boat and took his oar and shoved one aside so that it would miss his boat and it ran against Davis’ boat upsetting it. As Davis went overboard it is said that he called to the man near him, but after he went under he was never seen to rise to the surface. There seems to be little hopes for his recovery at present, unless he is under the boat or on the hooks.
It was rumored here that Davis had been murdered by parties who knew that he had a large pearl in his possession, but this story has been denied by some of his closest friends and the mystery of his death seems to have become clearly understood to his friends, and in the first place had he been murdered, the river is a queer place to catch the man to rob him.
TWO MORE VICTIMS ARE CLAIMED BY THE WABASH – – ISAAC CALDWELL AND LAFE VANDERMARK, MUSSEL DIGGERS WELL KNOWN HERE DROWNED NEAR ST. FRANCISVILLE FRIDAY NOON
Friday afternoon at 12;30 o'clock Isaac Caldwell and Lafe Vandermark of St. Francisville were drowned in the Wabash River about a mile below the ferry at that town, and not very far from the place where George Davis was drowned last Wednesday.
The two unfortunate men were out in a boat with Clyde Caldwell, a son of the drowned Caldwell, and Raymond Cary, dragging for mussels when the bar on their mussel drag caught on a snag and all of them went to the rear of the boat and began to pull up, trying to loosen it. Their weight and the downward pressure of the boat was too great and it sank.
All four of them then started for the shore but the two elder men were not able to reach it, and sank and were carried away by the current before assistance could reach them. Up to a late hour that night bodies had not been recovered.
Both of the drowned men leave large families, and were well known to the citizens of Lawrence County and to some extent in Vincennes especially to the storekeepers down near the river.
Three days later June 18, 1907
BODIES OF TWO MUSSEL DIGGERS WERE FOUND – – REMAINS OF LAFE VANDERMARK AND ISAAC CALDWELL RECOVERED MONDAY – – BODY OF GEORGE DAVIS HAS NOT YET BEEN FOUND.
The bodies of Lafe Vandermark and Isaac Caldwell, the mussel diggers who were drowned in the Wabash near the St. Francisville ferry on last Thursday afternoon, were both recovered Monday. The bodies were found floating below where the drowning occurred.
A large party of men and boys has been dragging the River in that vicinity ever since the drowning of George Davis early last week, but nothing was seen of any of the bodies until Monday.
Monday morning shortly after daylight while dragging the River about 2 miles below where Vandermark and Caldwell were drowned, an object was noticed floating on the surface and upon making an investigation, the searchers found it to be the body of Vandermark.
Shortly after dinner, the body of Isaac Caldwell, Vandermark's companion at the time of the accident was found in the same manner only a short distance below where the first body was taken out. The two bodies were taken to the undertaking establishment at St. Francisville, after being viewed by Coroner Able of that place, and were prepared for burial.
DAVIS STILL MISSING
Although the drowning of George Davis, another mussel digger occurred several days before the accident which befell the other two men, his body, for some reason has not yet been found, and the failure to find the body has given rise to all sorts of rumors. This search is been going on for the Davis body ever since the drowning but the searchers have failed to locate it. The river was decidedly high at the time of the drowning and because of that fact, the bodies may have been carried down the River more rapidly, or it may have been caught in some drift which is still holding it down. The father and brother of the drowned boy were in Vincennes Monday on their way to St. Francisville to assist in the search and try and run down the rumors that have been circulated to the effect that the young man was foully dealt with. It is said that just the day before the drowning Davis had received quite a sum of money for a fine Pearl, and he still had a finer one in his possession, which he would not sell that day. Because of this fact and the peculiar actions of his partner after the drowning, the man who had been working with Davis, was thought to be instrumental in his death. This man was detained in St. Francisville, pending an investigation of the stories, but several persons were found, who claim they were camping on the Illinois side and saw the accident. They said that Davis and his partner were working in different boats some distance from one another, and that Davis's boat was sunk by a log which his partner had just successfully prevented from hitting his boat. As a result of the investigation the suspected man was allowed his freedom, Monday afternoon. It was reported that the young man had left the St. Francisville neighborhood and gone to St. Louis. As a result of the stories, the finding of the body is being awaited with great interest as its condition may throw some light on the manner in which his death came.
And then on June 21, 1907:
PEOPLE ARE MORE THAN EVER CONVINCED THAT THE MUSSEL DIGGER WAS KILLED
The boat of George Davis, the musseller who was drowned a short distance from St. Francisville a few days ago was found Sunday morning and had the ‘mule’, which is a large frame with a canvas stretched over it and used to pull the boat when dragging for mussels, and the bars tied up to the interior as they are usually left when the mussel diggers quit work for the night.
Since the finding of the boat many people have again commenced to believe that Davis was killed and his boat taken into the River and sunk to make it appear that he had been drowned. Men from down the River state that the partner of Davis is not to be found and that he left the camp at the time of the disappearance of Davis.
Some say that Davis had a large pearl with him, which weighed about 44 grains and also stated that the missing partner had been seen trying to sell a large pearl. Men who know him say that he had not found more than a water bucket full of mussels since he had been down at the river and had not fished before. It has also been said that the fisherman who stated that they were across the River and saw the accident have disappeared from the neighborhood and are not to be found. Investigations are being pushed and the missing man is being searched for. Practically all of the people there are now convinced that Davis met his death by the aid of someone, for had he really been fishing for mussels at the time of his death his ‘mule’ and oars would not of been tied within his boat.
HISTORICAL SOCIETY TO FEATURE PROGRAM ON
LAWRENCE COUNTY VETERANS OF WAR OF 1812
Barbara Ross, of Crawford County, will be the guest speaker at the meeting of the Lawrence County Historical Society on Monday, January 25, 7:00 p.m. at the Lawrenceville museum. Her program topic will be: Lawrence County veterans from the War of 1812.
Ms. Ross has been well noted genealogist in southeastern Illinois for more than 30 years. In 2011 she began her work of identifying all War of 1812 veterans buried in Crawford and Lawrence Counties, and much of her research was used by the State of Illinois to complete its soldier project in commensuration on of the war’s bicentennial.
The program is free and the public is invited.