Before Mark Twain: A Sampler of Old, Old Times on the Mississippi

By John Francis McDermott | Go to book overview

THE WESTERN STEAMBOAT

CHARLES JOSEPH LATROBE

[Charles Joseph Latrobe, who had sailed to the United States in 1832 with Washington Irving and had visited the Osage Prairies with him, in November of that year went up the Mississippi and the Ohio with his young friend, the Comte de Pourtales, from the mouth of the Arkansas to Wheeling in (West) Virginia. His observations on this trip, perhaps reinforced by further travel on the Mississippi in the following year, formed the basis for an objective report on the satisfactions and the discomforts, the tedium and the pleasures of steamboat voyaging. The following pages are from the second edition (2 volumes, London, 1836) of his The Rambler in North America (1, 281‐ 304).]

On the evening of the second day, a small cloud of white steam, seen like a star in the dark blue shade of the forests, seven or eight miles off, announced the approach of a steam-boat toiling up the river. In half an hour's time we could distinguish the sonorous breathing of the scape-pipe, and by the time that the wild song of the negro fire-men reached the ear, all was bustle and preparation. The bell on shore was rung to bring the steamer to; and jumping into a wherry, we found ourselves on board the 'Cavalier,' a boat of the second or third class, bound from New Orleans to Pittsburg, and took possession of the berths which we eventually retained, till our arrival at Wheeling a fortnight after. We found that since they had left the city, they had had no case of cholera on board, and thanked God with all our hearts.

You may imagine us then toiling for thirteen hundred miles and upwards against the rapid currents of the Mississippi and Ohio. This, at a season when natural scenery had lost its charm, you will suppose must necessarily have proved a trial of patience. In some degree I grant that it was such, nevertheless not so great as might be argued by those who know the impatience of modern

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