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David Cloud's Pet Peeve

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

When the builders of the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad finally crossed the Mississippi River to Davenport in 1856, and headed west across America, they must have thought the hard part was behind them. Iowa had no mountains to tunnel through, no steep grades to climb, no walls of water in their way.

As it turned out, their work had just begun. They had not counted on David C. Cloud and his pet peeve. Cloud could not stand people who got something for nothing.

Cloud had worked hard for everything he got. He grew up on an Ohio farm, the fourth of fourteen children, where survival meant hard work by everyone. There was no time or money for a fancy education. In 1839, Cloud had come west to Muscatine, Iowa. Here he worked as a carpenter for six years while studying law books by the light of candles late at night.

In Muscatine, Cloud found, there were plenty of people who wanted something for nothing: the gambling fraternity. His fight against them as a young attorney had propelled him upwards through the ranks until he became Iowa's first elected Attorney General.

It was at this moment that the tracks of the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad reached Iowa. Other railroads were not far behind.

Forget the gamblers. For David C. Cloud, the greedy railroads were the epitome of the something for nothing philosophy. The railroads had extracted land grants of millions of acres from the United States Government in order to lay the tracks, the excess of which the railroads sold at a profit. In addition, cities and towns floated bond issues in huge amounts in order to bribe the railroads to route the tracks toward their communities. There was enough money to build the railroad free and clear, and also line the pockets of the promoters—those something-for-nothing boys.

Cloud got Iowa to adopt legislation making railroads responsible for all deaths and damages caused by operation of the trains. By the end of his career, David Cloud had tried more than two hundred cases against railroads and recovered more damages than any other lawyer in the Northwest, a record that must have soothed his pet peeve better than any Watkins liniment.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

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.