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America: 1900

America: 1900

"America, Mississippi riverboat, circa 1900-1910." Note the group of convicts in prison stripes. Detroit Publishing Company glass negative. View full size.


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History of Riverboat "America" 1910

I would like to find more info concerning the Riverboat "America" during 1910. My grandfather worked on it as a carpenter but died in 1918. Since then all his children also are deceased but info in my father's writings stated the above info. There was another "America" but it collided with another steamship, flipped, and burnt at Warsaw, KY in 1890's.

Convicts on the Steamboat

I did a little internet research, being curious about the convicts in the picture. This appeared in "Plantation Days at Angola: Major James and the Origins of Modern Corrections in Louisiana."

Until he died in 1894 (the lease survived him, not expiring until 1901), Major James ran what Dr. Carleton has called "the most cynical, profit-oriented and brutal prison regime in Louisiana history." Convicts worked on private property--both Major James's and that of other plantation owners who sub-contracted their labor --for the profit of the lessee, Major James. They worked the land, farming and cutting timber, they performed as household servants, they travelled not only "up the river" but down the river as well, on Major James's steamboat, repairing and building levees in the never-ending struggle to contain the Mississippi and protect the rich farmland.

S. S. Klondike

Canadian riverboats have shown up a couple of times in the comments, so I'll add my two bits.

The S.S. Klondike operated on the Yukon River until 1955. She presently sits on the bank of the Yukon River in Whitehorse, where I drive past her every day.

The Klondike has been meticulously restored by Parks Canada. If you are ever in this neck of the woods the tour is worth every penny.

More info here (there is some fantastic 8mm film shot in 1941 on that site).

[I've been to Whitehorse! The Yukon Territory and northern British Columbia are spectacularly gorgeous. - Dave]

Fire Canoes

There were steamboats (sometimes called "fire canoes" by the Native people) on the Saskatchewan River system from the 1860s into the 1910s. The last sternwheeler to work the lower South Saskatchewan was the City of Medicine Hat which had an unfortunate encounter with the Traffic Bridge in Saskatoon in 1908 and sank. Sternwheelers worked the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories until around 1940.

While it's true that train travel was faster and more efficient for passengers, it is also a fact that the most economical means for transporting bulk cargoes - in terms of cost of energy per ton of goods per mile is moving them by water...when you can. Sternwheelers then, tugs and barges today make a tremendous amount of sense.

Long-lasting river navigation.

Contributor "Jim" is correct that it takes a long time for any form of transport to completely disappear. Here in New Brunswick, Canada we had stern-wheelers, side-wheelers and screw ships on the St. John River and the various arms of the river. The last run of the last serving ship, the Motor Ship D. J. Purdy, downbound from Fredericton, where I live, to Saint John, was September 30, 1946. The record runs of several of the boats on the St. John River were faster than the Canadian National Railways trains that pretty well followed the river! Granted, the railway was very much a secondary line, not a main line, but still . . . .

I have a set of the 1977 navigation charts for the river, very interesting.

Sternwheel Longevity

They actually lasted longer than most people think, though in a freight hauling capacity once passengers defected to the much faster railroads. But they pushed their share of barges after that. There was a working sternwheeler around Charleston WV on the Kanawha River (Ohio River tributary) into the 1980s. It was a small one used to shuffle coal barges around a loading terminal, and was most likely diesel powered. Used to see it all the time when I was out fishing.

Mark Twain

I've been thinking about Mark Twain during these, too. Finished "Life on the Mississippi" late last year, finished "Roughing It" this year. Interestingly enough, Mr. Clemens would leave us to believe the river boat was long dead by the 1870s-1880s, but the dates of these pictures show not so. Probably nowhere near the traffic levels at its height, but it takes a long time for a transport model to completely die.

Mark Twain's river steamers.

Contributor "heks" rightly mentioned Mark Twain. He worked as a river boat pilot for a while. You could do worse than read his book "Life on the Mississippi." Then read his follow-up book, "Roughing It," about his trip west to Virginia City -- the tale of Tom Quartz, the mining cat, is particularly precious and, not to forget, hilarious -- and on to San Francisco, thence to Hawaii. These are by far his best books -- and probably the least known! A superb photograph.

The Convicts

Obviously they are being sent "up the river"


Are the convicts on the way to prison or did the riverboats use them as free or cheap labor?


I can never see a photograph of a paddle boat without thinking of Mark Twain. It's such a shame that these lovely ladies went the way of the dinosaur.

Sam'l Johnson would have loved it:

Going to prison, with a chance of drowning, indeed!

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