For four years Geoffrey John Slade had plied the Lower Mississippi riverboat game. Early in the game he had moved from boat to boat, practicing his con games and his prowess at the card tables. Slade traveled unarmed. In the 1850s this was virtually unheard of. No revolver, no derringer, and he never so much as carried a knife. His theory was that charm defused any situation, and his practice of this theory proved to be effective.
In June of 1853, though, Slade’s fortunes increased immeasurably when he settled on Grand Turk as his more-or-less permanent home. This riverboat had a capacity of 4400 bales of cotton. She carried forty stateroom passengers, and hoi polloi in numbers up to 300 passengers, depending upon direction of travel and time of year. The boat plied the Great River from New Orleans to Memphis, and up the Ohio to Louisville. Slade was good at what he did. It was clear, though, that things were about to change in this country. Differences of opinion, philosophy, and differences in theories of economic practice and human relations between the North and the South were stretching things to the breaking point. Old Geoff did a bit of reflection and personal analysis. He is 31 years of age, has no roots and nothing to look forward to but ceaseless trips up and down the river. He made a plan, a bold and daring plan, but one that if successful would see him into a new and different lifestyle.
Just before nine o’clock in the evening of January 17, 1854, Grand Turk pulled in to the landing at Napoleon, Arkansas where she picked up seven passengers for Vicksburg and New Orleans. When she steamed from the wharf an hour later, Geoffrey John Slade was no longer on board. But this fact was not to be discovered until the great steamer was far, far down the river. Meanwhile, Geoff with all his own worldly goods, that is, the clothes on his back and the hat and boots he wore, and one large carpet bag which contained the cash gains of the man’s gaming exploits in which he had recently done well, indeed. In addition, the bag contained most of the cash that had lately been nestled inside the steamboat’s vault. By the time it was discovered that the boat no longer carried its cash, Mr. Slade was many miles up the Arkansas on a small but fast packet that ran from the Mississippi to the interior of Arkansas. The man’s good fortune, or guile, or good looks, or whatever combination of these it might have been, held fast as he settled in Little Rock.
On February 6 that same year while at wharf in New Orleans, the Grand Turk, along with a dozen other craft, burned. On that same day, G. Jason Sloan opened a land office in downtown Little Rock.
© 2014 David W. Lacy
© 2014 David W. Lacy