The following is the third installment in a seven part series entitled My Hometown, the chronicles of the Mississippi River town of Muscatine, Iowa.   A town of humble souls originally called Casey’s Woodpile in the mid 1800s.   …And then sometime after that they burnt the woodpile to keep warm and changed the name to Muscatine.

Not exactly like an Episode of Lost, you won’t necessarily need to start from the beginning to understand what is going on, and as you will find this set of stories may suffer from a chronological disorder anyway.  But if you prefer, you can start with My Hometown Part I – The Man and His Clam.  For that,  

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Now that you have read about the frolicking German clam hunter who ushered in the Great American Clam Rush, you can continue in the series by perusing My Hometown Part II – They Found What in a Ketchup Bottle? For that,

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I was surprised as well when I first learned about Wilber Surfurlong’s amazing use of his time as the Heinz Ketchup night watchmen.    

BACKDROP:

The childhood home of the proprietor of The Small Ball Report’s sits one block from the Muscatine Slough, a gentle, calm, and watery bog teeming with blue gills, crappies, and bullheads.   Among it’s other creatures, the Slough was also at one time home to the most frightening flock of water fowl you could ever imagine, a chicken-duck crossbreed that small kids with bags of Wonder bread crumbs would run from. 

If two of these birds had showed up at the platform to Noah’s Ark, the gray bearded cruise director would have probably said “ARK’S FULL” and sent them on their way.    …Or maybe, Noah is the one to blame, as he may have given the Ark Key Card to a male duck that couldn’t make it 40 days and nights without getting a piece of Strange, and the only strange feathery tail available was the slutty chicken in the next paddock.   I could not confirm or deny that account the last time I read the book of Genesis. 

Only this chicken ducks mom could love it.  Not sure if mom was the chicken or the duck.  Picture borrowed from http://www.kadavy.net/blog/

Only this chicken ducks mom could love it. Not sure if mom was the chicken or the duck. Picture borrowed from http://www.kadavy.net/blog/

It was at the Slough’s banks in 1982 that I first encountered the chicken duck.   I was fishing by myself and had no more than set my hook, when I saw a few of these scary fouls give chase towards me.    I dropped my pole in fear and ran away, but after only a few short steps, I tripped on an oddly shaped mound and fell to the ground.   Writhing in pain, I felt a sharp oblong object, protruding from the morning dew.

The sting of my fall apparently caused me to forget about the attacking chicken-ducks.   EDITOR’S NOTE:  Later research of Musser Public Library town newspaper microfiche revealed that there was no documented chicken-duck attacks on boys fishing in the 1980s so perhaps inserting the word SISSY in one of the previous sentences would have also been applicable.    

What I did discover, however, was that the sharp object that I had unearthed from the ground was in fact an Indian arrowhead.  Excited by this find, I took the arrowhead to the front porch of my Sloughtown neighbor, who happened to be my Grandpa.  It was there that he told me about one of the more amazing stories in the history of my Hometown. 

Check Out Those Melons

In the year 1815 among the first white settlers of the upper Mississippi River was a man named Colonel George Davenport. An Englishman by birth, the discharged US Army veteran was asked to lead a group of men in keelboats up the river from St. Louis to establish a supply post for the 8th Infantry.   Not to skip ahead, but Davenport ultimately succeeded at this task and the town he settled on the Mississippi would be named in his honor. 

Fun & Hilarity on the Keelboat

Fun & Hilarity on the Keelboat

Davenport, Iowa is one of the Quad Cities, a grouping of four connected cities twenty-five miles up-river from Muscatine.  The Quad Cities (QCA) are so famous today that people living within a radius stretching as far away as Central Iowa, Southern Wisconsin, and the Rockford-Aurora-Joliet, Illinois corridor can on average name two of the other three cities that make up the QCA.   If it helps, a clue: toward the end of his life, Colonel Davenport was known to play Texas Hold-Em with his buddies Sergeant Major Moline (Illinois), Lance Corporal Bettendorf (Iowa), and Captain Rock Island (Illinois).  

The QCA, as the nation’s 86th largest television market, has served as a launch pad for news media darling Paula Sands whose Paula Sands Finds-Another-Dog-a-Home-On-TV-Just-Like-She-Did-Yesterday Live show has been a long running hit.  Her daily inspired, insightful interviews with Humane Society workers about which mutt will land in the home of an elderly Geneseo widow is a cutting edge staple.

But enough about her, this story is about Davenport’s keelboat trip up the river in 1815.   Keelboats were an engineering marvel for their time.  They were about 10 feet wide, 60 feet in length, and were propelled by a dozen oarsmen with 12 foot long sticks, poor dental hygiene and heightened levels of body odor.   In the shallow hulls of the keelboats were crates of food, munitions and supplies, and various furry animal pelts and coon hats that were a hit with Davenport’s Indian patrons.          

That summer, among the fifty or so men traveling with Davenport, were two other recent discharges of Andrew Jackson’s Battle of New Orleans army, Charles Surfurlong and Benjamin “Shaggy” Van Slice.  They were both fortunate to be in the rear keelboat farthest from Davenport’s famous “Watch out for that F%(&%#  Log” tirades.

One could imagine a keelboat trip being a splendid time if you had about three Coors Light Party Balls, ice, and you were floating down the river throwing a Frisbee at your Whamo catching Lab.  But up river, not only was the travel slow and arduous – at best they could travel 10 miles a day – it was also froth with danger.   And, Colonel Davenport’s men had some very close calls from some flying Indian arrows from the river bluffs.

It was five days since the last arrow onslaught near what is now Burlington, Iowa, but the men had finally started to settle and feel safe as they prepared their nightly meal on that September night in 1815.   Earlier that day, Charles and Shaggy and the other men in the rear keelboat were thrilled to enter what was now a very slow moving channel of water, a diversion from the broader, bigger Mississippi.  

It just so happened that the channel that Davenport and his men were now navigating through was in fact the Muscatine Slough.   In that day, the Slough was not a stand-alone body of water, but rather a channel of alternate water flow from the main portion of the mighty Mississippi.   And in the middle, between the Mississippi and the Slough, was a sandy piece of land known now as the Muscatine Island.   It was a mile up from the start of the Slough channel that Davenport and his men made camp, and the Islands of the Mississippi were always their preferred camp spots because of the protection from the harmful natives.  

Early in the morning at first light, Charles and Shaggy, feeling the safety of the island felt compelled to explore beyond the sandy dune levies.   They hiked on foot up the sandy beach, through the initial outcroppings of brush, grass, and trees and looked out into the distance and saw pockets of vegetation, more dunes and watery sand pits.  

They walked a few hundred yards further through a marsh of trees, stumps and other plant life, and as the vegetation got thicker, eerily in a world with few previous footsteps, they found what appeared to be a walking trail.   Only a few more steps up this trail they both were startled to hear a foreign sound, the voice of apparent laughter of a Native American.    They immediately ducked fearing this was an approach to an Indian village and that they would most likely be vastly outnumbered, with each carrying only a hunter’s knife.

To one side of the trail, Shaggy dived into the marsh, to the other side Charles. 

Shaggy was first to speak, “Charlie man was that what I think it was?”

“Shaggy, it’s Indians let’s run, let’s get out of here” Charles responded.

“Hold on, let’s wait it out,” Shaggy replied.

“Not for anything else,” Shaggy Van Slice continued.  “But, we need to get over that dune and report back to Davenport on who is living on this Island.”

Reluctantly Charles Surfurlong rose and started to creep low to the ground.   “Get behind me and let’s go slow up to the top of that dune,” he said.

Shaggy Van Slice and Charles Surfurlong, veterans of many Indian skirmishes were two toughened men and they unsheathed their daggers to be ready for what might come next.    At that moment, they were able to hear more clearly the voices on the other side of the dune and although it was foreign in its dialect, it was also soft, feminine, and inviting, almost melodic.    They couldn’t yet catch a glimpse of the Indians, but it was apparent that instead of just casual talking and laughter, what they could hear were at least two female Indians in song.   And as they got closer the soft dance of a running stream was now in harmony with their choruses.

As they finally crested the dune, they bent over under a shrub and prepared themselves to see a large camp of war crazed Indians.  What they instead found were two beautiful, angelic native women indeed in song as they appeared to be dancing and bathing together in the slow moving stream.        

“Let’s try to get closer,” Shaggy was heard to have said as it appeared that there were no other Indians around.

They didn’t yet have a clear angle and picture of what the Indian women were doing, as there was still much plant life between them.   It was also unknown as to what state of dress these women were in, but from what could be seen, they were both endowed with a dark and succulent skin, glowing and glamouring, much different than the girls that they had seen in the saloons of Memphis, Louisville or Baton Rouge.     

As they got to a vantage point that would give them a full view of the women’s activities, Charles and Shaggy were startled by the beautiful canvass that unfolded before them.  It did appear that these two women were in a state of undress.   With her back to the peeping Davenports, one of the women cupped a handful of water and both Charles and Shaggy were captivated to see every trickle dance off the naked back of this mysterious goddess.

“Look at that…this is, this is, this is …amazing.  Maybe the keelboat can go on without us,” Charles whispered.

Not great boots for walking in sand

Not great boots for walking in sand

The other Indian lady, more beautiful than the next appeared to bend down and then she raised up, and it was at that point that Shaggy could stand it no longer and was heard to yell out.

“Check Out Those Melons!” He screamed.   

“Oh my, what a beautiful set of melons!” Charles yelled out soon after.   

It was at that moment that Charles and Shaggy had seen for themselves a pair of the most voluptuous, tantalizing and tasty looking…Watermelons.    

Remarkably, the men of that time although clearly entranced by mysterious naked women bathing, they also were equally captivated by fresh fruit.   …And on that morning they had stumbled upon the most fertile and revered piece of fresh fruit farmland in the territories of the young nation.  

Muscatine, Iowa and more specifically the Muscatine Island with its sandy, inviting soil would become the Watermelon capital of the world.      Delicious green Melons with its succulent pink fruit and the light brown with orange fruit Cantaloupe Melon would be planted for the next 200 years after the keelboat men’s discovery.  Not a coincidence, the Cantaloupe is also known in some circles as the Musk-Melon in honor of my hometown.  

And while the men on Davenport’s keelboat didn’t make a love connection that morning in 1815, they did pave the way for eventual relations with the residents of that island, the Mascouten Indians.   And it was for the Mascoutens that the town would eventually be named.   …Or something like that. 

Check back later for My Hometown Part IV – Donny Clamwood aka Clammers – A Miller’s Hill Wipeout.

For more half truthes and outright lies, visit www.smallballreport.com

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