© 2023 WVIK
Listen at 90.3 FM and 98.3 FM in the Quad Cities, 95.9 FM in Dubuque, or on the WVIK app!
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Rollett's Leap

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

The following story is likely too good to be true, but it's also too good not to tell.

Sometime in the 1840s, the steamboat General Pike was ascending the Rock Island Rapids when it went aground on a large rock just off Campbell's Island. The large rock had claimed many steamboats forced to steer around the crosscurrents it created. As the boat waited for help, a tall man with a useless left arm stood at the rail looking at the rock. He grew agitated when he overheard another passenger remark that the man responsible for Campbell's massacre was aboard, up on the cabin deck. "Rollett?" said the man with the bad arm. "Yes," said the passenger, "Pierre Rollett."

Indeed, if any one person was responsible for the Battle of Campbell's Island on July 19th, 1814, it was Pierre Rollett. Rollett was a Canadian French Indian trader who helped the British stir up Indian resentment against the Americans during the War of 1812. Rollett himself had led a detachment of soldiers against the American fort at Prairie du Chien.

In July of 1814, Rollett discovered that American keelboats led by Lieutenant John Campbell were headed up the Mississippi from St. Louis with troops and supplies for the fort. He hurried to Saukenuk with gunpowder to arm Black Hawk, and to encourage the Sauk Indians to confront the Americans. When Campbell's boat grounded on an island in the Rock Island rapids, the Indians attacked, killing sixteen Americans and seriously wounding Campbell, and forcing the Americans to retreat to St. Louis.

Upstairs on the cabin deck, the tall man confronted Pierre Rollett. "Do you see this island," he asked. "That is Campbell's Island and I am John Campbell...It was you who persuaded the savages to murder me and my men." Campbell drew a knife against Rollett's neck. "Either jump to that rock and take a chance of drowning, or I will cut your throat from ear to ear." Rollett jumped and was left there by the boat.

Did it really happen? Perhaps not. But for years, until steamboatmen came to call the large rock by Campbell's name, local people knew it at Rollett's Leap.

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.