Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Wednesday Westerns - River travel in the West

Getting from point A to point B in the days of the West you only had a two options: River and Overland. This week I'm going to talk about river travel.

Sternwheeler from wikipedia
To have the luxury of the steamboats the rivers had to be wide and deep to accommodate the side-wheelers and stern-wheelers. Most of the river's and streams weren't navigable by steamboats. You could find steamboats on the Mississippi starting in 1811 and by 1820 the paddle wheelers were on the river. The Missouri could handle the steam boats for miles. They would provide transportation as far north as Fort Benton and in 1850 into the Montana Territory. The Sacramento had some steamboat travel and the Columbia Rivers had many who traveled up and down the river by paddle-wheel and steamboats.

In 1859 the first true Missouri riverboat was in use. It was a stern-wheeler capable of hauling 350 tons of cargo.

Bull boat
But if a traveler were headed somewhere that the river wasn't wide or deep enough to handle a steamboat they used other smaller vessels such as:
Canoes -- made from hollowed out trees.
Bull boats -- made from hides stretched over a willow frame that was usually round or oval.
Flatboats or Mackinaws -- these vessels made of whip-sawed lumber could be as long as 70 feet. They were propelled by oars or a small sail with a man using a large oar at the back to steer. they were used to haul large amounts of cargo downstream. Never upstream.
flat boat and keelboat from Wikipedia
Keelboats -- 70 feet long and used to haul cargo upstream and down. A cabin sat in the center of the boat with a narrow walkway on either side. The sides had wooden cleats to keep the men from falling when they used poles to maneuver the vessel. there were six to twelve oarsmen on a keelboat. While the men used the poles or the oars to move the boats, when going upriver the boats were usually pulled by heavy ropes from shore.


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joye said...

Interesting information. I recently took a trip on the Delta Queen paddle wheel boat down the Mississippi river. Very nice trip. Was a fun way to travel and see a lot of the different areas of the landscape we rode through from St Louis to New Orleans.

Paty Jager said...

Joye, That sounds like a great ride! I hope to get back to that area one of these days and take a ride on the Mississippi on a paddle wheel boat. But first I need to take one on the paddle wheeler here on the Columbia River.

bn100 said...

Hadn't know about all these different kinds of vessels

bn100candg at hotmail dot com