River Boats or Paddle Wheel Boats 
River Boats or Paddle Wheel Boats riverboat pilot sternwheeler by the mark twain

River Boats or Paddle Wheel Boats

     Known by numerous names such as riverboat, paddleboat, sternwheeler, and the showboat, the steamboat was invented by Robert Fulton and revolutionized river travel between 1810 and the Civil War along the muddy Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri Rivers. St. Louis alone saw close to three thousand steamboat arrivals in 1850. Commerce was on the move as the steam riverboat provided a cheap and quick means of delivering merchandise and passengers

     No two steamboats were built exactly alike but all of them had port and starboard smokestacks, engine exhausts and a pilot house on the top deck.    Usually constructed with four decks, the steam riverboat was in general, poorly built out of a conglomeration of wood, tin, shingles, canvas, twine and thousands of dollars worth of scroll work

     The steamboats were elaborate and held a certain aura with their grand staircases, carpeted lounges and luxurious passenger cabins.    Professional gamblers frequented the saloons and lounges on the boats

     Few escaped catastrophe as 44 collisions, 166 fires, 209 boiler explosions, and 576 steamboats sank from hitting obstacles in the water were recorded in 39 years 

     Samuel Clemens, a pilot on the Mississippi River before the Civil War, coined his pen name, Mark Twain, from remembering the sounders yelling the depth of the river by calling out, "By the mark, twain!" 

     With the building of the first transcontinental railroad in the West, the steamboat became a relic to an era gone by.   With the passengers and gamblers gone, the saloons were no longer needed.   The upper decks were converted to theaters, playing Shakespeare and opera to vaudeville and burlesque

     Some steamboats were employed to push barges.   The Army employed steamboats to deliver supplies and carrying mail  

     It was the small steamboat, the Far West which brought the news of the Battle of the Little Big Horn and the death of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and his men, the wounded from Reno + Benteen battalions, and Comanche, the sole survivor

     In 54 hours, the pilot, Captain Grant Marsh, covered 710 miles of treacherous uncharted water to reach Bismarck and deliver the news to the nation
     The few steamboats that remain today are either excursion boats or moored to banks in states that allow riverboat gambling

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