Pig’s Eye Island owes its name to a nineteenth-century trader, Pig’s Eye Parrant, who sold liquor and guns along the Mississippi’s watery highway.
When I was growing up near Mounds Park during the fifties and sixties, fresh milk was delivered to our stoop like clockwork; however, no one came to haul away the refuse. A big, rusty metal drum in our back yard received the trash instead. When it got full, my father lit it on fire. Items you couldn’t burn—bottles, cans, old plastic toys—were driven to the Pig’s Eye Island City Dump. My brother almost always got to go with Dad to the dump, a fact that he lorded over his little sisters. But sometimes we got to go too.
A grizzled old towboat mate of twenty-six named Steamboat Bill explained the dangers of working in high water to me in very simple, very direct terms. “Rule number-one is: Don’t fall in! If you fall in, you’re dead. It’s that simple. The current will drag you under and you’ll drown!” He told me this from the deck of a barge moored in South Saint Paul in the spring of 1975, when the Mississippi River was rising fast. Years later I watched as another young deckhand learned this lesson.