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Nate Belcher

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Spring was stirring Nate Belcher's soul that April of 1836. He was walking along the Illinois bank of the Mississippi, looking for a very specific site where he could do two things: fish and build a great city.

He had come to a promising place. Tall oaks on the bluffs were leafing out, and wildflowers carpeted the level land below.

Just then a woman and several children emerged from the only cabin in sight. "Nice view here," Nate said. "Name's Belcher."

He asked if the fishing were good hereabouts.

"I'm Mrs. Wilshire," the woman said. "Yes, the fishing's good, but I'm thinking there are too many trees here for a farmer widow and her boys." Nate looked at the boys, one of whom would grow up to become W. W. Wilshire, an Arkansas Congressman.

"How big a farm you got laid out?" Nate asked.

"Sixty acres here on the bottom and another eighty on the bluffs, but I'd sell them all."

"How much?"

"About 900 dollars."

Just by coincidence, Nate Belcher had about 900 dollars. "I'll take it," he said.

On the way over to the new county seat of Stephenson, Belcher came to his senses: “I can't build a great city with an island right in front of it. And I can fish anywhere I want for nothing.”

A lawyer in Stephenson gave Nate the good news. The title to the farm was not clear. Seems one of Wells family claimed to own it, too.

No one was happier than Nate Belcher to have his money back. Fate had prevented him from making an absolute fool of himself. He left Stephenson a happy man.

And he might have remained so had he not returned several years later to revisit the site of his close call. Much to his surprise, the farm was gone. Several mills and factories now lined the waterfront, using power from a brush dam built out to the island. Several houses marked the beginnings of a town. Others were being built.

"What do they call this place?" Nate asked a passerby.

"Moline," the man said.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.