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Huck and Tom

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Don't believe Mark Twain when he gives that weak apology at the end of Tom Sawyer for quitting where he does, before taking Tom into adulthood. He knows as well as you and I do that Tom Sawyer would have turned out to be Bailey Davenport of Rock Island. That is, Tom would have put away all that whitewashing the fence and scaring Sunday school picnics, gotten a job as clerk in a hardware store, joined the junior chamber of commerce and the Presbyterian church, built a house for his family, and perhaps even have become mayor.

Bailey Davenport and his brother, George, were the sons of Colonel George Davenport, who came to Rock Island as the first white settlers in 1816. As boys, George and Bailey must have grown up playing games and exploring caves with Sauk and Meskwaki children in an uncivilized wilderness—much as Tom and his gang did in Hannibal.

When their father was killed by robbers in 1845, however, the two boys went in opposite directions. Bailey inherited his father's extensive land holdings, moved to Rock Island, became a prominent businessman and eventually mayor. He helped establish the first public library in Illinois. Bailey built a 40-room mansion on a hill overlooking his holdings. The baron, people called him.

His brother George was more like Huck Finn, not interested in the civilized life of Rock Island. George's close childhood friends had been Indian boys. Even before his father died, George had moved away from home, across the river into the territory that would eventually become Iowa but was still Indian land then. George became the first white settler there, in a house now known as the Claim House. After 1836, when the town of Davenport was founded, George build a small store there.

Bailey Davenport left a complete record of his doings. His ideas were newsworthy and often reported in the newspapers. About the loner George, much less is known. Were his feelings about civilization like those of Huck Finn? Both Huck and George, in the end, "lit out for the territory ahead of the rest." Perhaps if we can discover what happened to Tom by studying Bailey Davenport, we can understand his brother George better by reading Huckleberry Finn.

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.