can picture that old time to myself now, just as it was then: the white
town drowsing in the sunshine of a summer's morning
the great Mississippi,
the majestic, the magnificent Mississippi, rolling its mile-wide tide
along, shining in the sun."
From flatboats to keelboats to steamboats, life on the Mississippi was a world apart from life on land. Early flatboatmen and keelboatmen led a hard life as they guided their cargo to New Orleans, constantly on the lookout for eddies, sunken trees, and river pirates!
With the advent of steam, however, the public quickly demanded accommodation. Floating palaces appeared with gambling parlors and beautifully decked saloons. Showboats provided dockside entertainment that was enthusiastically welcomed by people living in the river towns. Other river characters included a steady stream of immigrants who arrived in Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois after gaining entrance to America through the port city of New Orleans.
There can be no name more synonymous with the river than Samuel Clemens, more familiarly known as Mark Twain. In books such as Life on the Mississippi, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain captured the meaning of 19th century river days.
Today, 175 million tons
of freight moves on the Mississippi each year. Grains are carried south
along with coal from Illinois and western Kentucky. North from the Texas
oil fields and Louisiana come gasoline and fuel oil. But rafts, pleasure
boats and steamboat casinos still create their own "river days"
up and down the river!