Though there has been comparatively little crime, St. Joseph county has by no means been destitute of thrills not the least of the disturbing agencies have been Ole Man River and the floods.
From a safe vantage point on the east shore of the St. Joseph river, an excited little darky bounced up and down like a rubber ball. He was excited watching the river-ice break up, and as the ice cakes ground and shot high on edge in air, the little darky gleefully shouted: "Dat ribah he suah am kickin' his covah's off !"
Since the time of the earliest inhabitant, the banks of the St. Joseph river have been lined with excited spectators "when the ice gois out." For an ice jam is thrilling even though staged by a mild-mannered river which long since, has been tamed by industry to do nothing other than make the wheels go round.
The conquest of St. Joseph, however, has been no easy task for at flood time, "Old man river, rollin' along, jes' rollin along," has brought days of suspense and nights of anxiety to those along the shore who fought through long hours of strenuous labor to save dams and bridges and other property from the havoc wrought by rushing, rolling waters.
An observer of such a flood, W. H. Clute, editor, wrote a graphic description for the News Reporter of 1866.
Mr. Clute wrote in part:
"One of the most drenching rains commenced the middle of last week and continued steadily to fall upon the unprecedented body of snow which in a furious gale had fallen a few days before, rendering travel impossible.
"On Sunday the Rocky river, whose source is among the bluffs and knobs in the region of sawmills west of here, rushed madly down to its confluence with the St. Joseph river. To save the mills along the shores, several dams were allowed to be cut out by the ice floes and rushing water.
"All day Sunday the St. Joseph in a silent majesty, lay ice-bound as though it would never unbend to a popular excitement - but a busy scene was going on at the mouth of the Rocky. The stream took the railroad' and cut for itself a new bed, turning three rivers into four. Freight cars tilting at all angles were sunk three and four feet below the grade. Stumps, straw, stone, trees, and sand were used in making a dam to the high bank across the track. Without stopping to eat, the shovelers and teamsters worked without ceasing until the careening waters of the turbulent Rocky were turned back to their original course.
ST. JOSEPH IN HOMESPUN
"Jack Frost was of use that anxious night. He fought on the side of man.
"Sunday evening the Portage, which rises in the level country north, began to exhibit signs of sympathy with the Rocky and the old St. Joseph gradually rose to meet it.
"The residents on Flint's Addition looked anxiously over the new grading. The broad bed of thick ice above the bridge, and the pond above, appeared to safely bind the water, but water witches, who always haunt the sawmills, drew into the contest two thousand dollars worth of splendid logs, around which lay a boom of heavy poles and chains - the winter's harvest of Jackson and Whipple. These were added to the confusion, as with grinding and crashing they sought to come through a cut in the high bank at David bridge.
"For five days faithful men with pikes, axes, teams, boats, boys with lanterns, fought the ice, cut logs, felled trees. From the 'Red Bridge' to Lockport the water filled the wagon beds of passing travelers. Families of the new Flint Addition took lodging among their higher-minded neighbors, lest the boom break.
"On Wednesday Isaac Kimbal, returning home at night from church, started to cross the lower Lockport bridge. The darkness was blackness as he reached the middle span and just as he was about to step forward the dim light of his lantern revealed that the middle span had settled into the roily, roaring waters. Unlike St. Peter, it was Isaac's second thought that hastily saved him from going down.
"Excitement culminated Thursday as the great body of ice gave way above the dam. It left nothing standing in its wake, until it struck the old 'Red Bridge.' The bridge stood like a sturdy pioneer soldier on guard. And when the broom of logs broke and with the ice floes, struck it broadside, the people on the sand bluff to the east of the bridge sent hastily for the printer and all his devils to come and see the old bridge go, but through all the roaring, whirling flood - it stood.
"Lockport is cut off by a flood a quarter of a mile in width; Brooklyn by a deep stream flowing over the approaches to the Brooklyn bridge; and Canada may be seen across the runaway Rocky, which still seems rebellious."
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