Shantyboat Standoff Against Anheuser-Busch

In Shantyboats and Roustabouts, I include a chapter on resistance to waterfront evictions carried out by officials in St. Louis and other river towns at the behest of real estate developers, corporations, and civic elites. Riparian rights were often at the heart of battles between waterfront communities and those who sought to destroy them. Prior to Prohibition in the 1920s, shantyboat colonies generally respected federal authority but harbored contempt for local sheriffs and city marshals who did the bidding of those with powerful political influence and financial interests on the riverfront.

The words and warnings of the woman pictured here with a revolver in the early 1900s were aimed at St. Louis authorities and the Anheuser-Busch Brewery Association. At issue was Anheuser-Busch’s attempt to evict her and her husband and two children from their four-room houseboat at the foot of Utah Street. The woman, whose name I’ll reveal in my book, insisted that the land upon which her houseboat sat was a riparian accretion and therefore belonged to the federal government, not Anheuser-Busch. The brewery planned construction of a new building nearby, but the family stood in its way and refused to be bullied out of the area without satisfactory compensation. The woman’s husband, an Iron Mountain Railroad engineer, was quite sick and bedridden at the time.

Augustus A. Busch Sr. paid a visit to her houseboat between the Mississippi River and the Iron Mountain Railroad tracks, but when he and the city marshal threatened to drag it into the river, she was determined to resist. She stood guard with the family’s guns loaded at all times in anticipation. When asked what she would do if authorities carried out the eviction notice, she didn’t hesitate: “I will use a revolver or an ax.” Skilled in the use of firearms, she warned: “This is my home and I intend to defend it. All that it contains is the toil of years. If anyone attempts to pull my houseboat off without due process of law, I’ll kill the one who attempts it.”

Augustus Busch, Sr., ca. 1925. Photo by Bain News Service, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

When the marshal showed up with an eviction notice, she barricaded herself inside the houseboat with loaded firearms. He wisely slid the notice under her door and left. As she explained to a reporter, “”I’m an American woman and have just as much right to government land as any rich company with millions of dollars to back it. My husband is a sick man and for the protection of myself and the children, I had no other course but to stand up for my rights. . . We ask favors of no one. It is a hard struggle, and often I work from 5 in the morning until 10 at night, just to earn enough to keep us from being on the city.”

Triumphal Journey of the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Association's Famous Beer Around the World Advertisement, circa 1890s. Mit Feder Und Hammer: The German Experience in St. Louis Collection, State Historical Society of Missouri.

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