Steamboat Artwork Group 1

‘Lewis & Clark: The Departure’ ~ May 14, 1804

Having left their winter camp at Wood River on the banks of the Mississippi adjacent the Missouri River confluence, the expedition at last broaches the swift, snag-studded waters of the Missouri. The 55-foot keelboat, fully loaded with supplies and trade goods, is rowed against the current into the mouth of the muddy Missouri, with William Clark in command. The two pirogues follow. Meriwether Lewis, on business in St. Louis, will re-join the expedition at St. Charles. The Corps of Discovery are just beginning their epic journey up this formidable river, and beyond …

The full title of this fascinating work is: ‘Lewis and Clark: The Departure from the Wood River Encampment, May 14, 1804’

Gary R. Lucy is known for his historical accuracy and his eye for detail. Prints are available directly from the artist in Missouri. Please contact the artist at for further information about this print.

‘Meeting The Cajaux’ ~ June 8, 1804

On this day, Lewis and Clark encountered three Frenchmen descending the Missouri in two “Cajaux” lashed together, bound for French settlements downriver with their furs, having spent the previous year trapping in the “River of the Sioux” north of Omaha Indian territory. Their valuable furs have been baled using deer hides for protection and ease of handling.

Lewis and Clark gathered upstream information from the trappers. The standing man is wearing a Sioux sheath-knife secured in his sash. The keelboat and pirogues are approaching midst the usual river debris. The summer thunderheads building in the distance would bring afternoon rain.

Historic artist, Michael Haynes, undertakes highly detailed research to achieve remarkable historical accuracy. For further information, please contact the artist at

‘Fur Traders Cordelling a Keelboat’  circa 1825-30

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A keelboat being dragged up the Yellowstone by early fur traders, taking trade goods to the ‘Rendezvous’. The men are using a cordelle, a rope fastened to the mast.

The usual method of ascending a river was poling using poles eighteen to twenty feet long. The poles would have a crutch on one end into which the men would set their shoulder. On the bottom end would be a knob or iron shoe to set against the river bottom. The men would walk to the stern. When each pair of men reached the stern, they would run back to the bow and begin the process over again. With a crew of twenty, at any given time 16 would be walking toward the stern and four returning to the bow.

A third method of ascending a river during highwater was “bushwhacking;” that is, pulling on the bushes and willows along the shore. The goods constituted a veritable department store: cloth, butcher and scalping knives, rifles, mackinaw blankets, vermillion, powder horns, tools, bridles, Spanish saddles, sugar, ink, paper, quills, flints, calico, flannel, shirts, kettles, traps, axes, branding irons, wool socks, combs, beads, rope, flour, coffee, and, of course, alcohol. In 1830, as an example, William Sublette carried to the Rendezvous on the Wind River some $30,000 in goods in ten ox-drawn wagons along with 12 beef cattle and a milk cow.
Credit: ~ Wyoming Tales and Trails.

‘Camp of the Gros Ventres on the Prairies’ ~ 1833

Karl Bodmer (1809–1893) was born in Switzerland and studied art in Paris. In 1832 he was commissioned by German Prince Maximilian to make detailed illustrations of his expedition across the American West. By 1833, the company had reached St. Louis where they decided to proceed up the Missouri River under the protection of John Jacob Astor’s Fur Company.

From April 1833 to April 1834 Bodmer and Prince Maximilian travelled the Missouri River, first aboard the steamers Yellow Stone and Assiniboine and then by keelboat to Fort McKenzie, the last American outpost in the Upper Missouri. Almost three thousand miles upriver from St. Louis and in the heart of Blackfeet country, Fort McKenzie was the farthest point on the Prince’s journey. The Blackfeet hostility with neighboring tribes soon forced the travellers downriver to winter in Fort Clark. Here they spent five months under conditions of extreme hardship before returning downriver in the spring, arriving at St. Louis on May 27, 1834.

Meanwhile, Bodmer had captured the reality of the Missouri River Basin: its vastness, its remarkable landforms carved by waterways, its perilous snag-choked navigation, even its extraordinary sandstone formations, resembling new world castles. Bodmer recorded scenes in the present states of Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming, making detailed sketches of Indians and their surroundings at every stop. It was in his portrayal of the American Indian that this highly talented twenty-three year old artist excelled most. During the Missouri River travels, Bodmer and Prince Maximilian made contact with at least twenty Indian tribes including the Blackfeet, Assiniboin, Cree, Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara and Sioux. Unlike some artists, he tried not to romanticize his subjects, depicting them as they really were. His work is considered the most accurate rendering of the period prior to the advent of photography.

Karl Bodmer’s frontier works, and Prince Maximilian’s written studies, represent some of the finest records of virtually lost Indian cultures in the American West.

‘Yellow Stone Arriving At Fort Union’  circa 1835

The American Fur Company established the Fort Union Trading Post on the Upper Missouri in 1828. The fort was built at the request of the Assiniboin Indians to accommodate trading and was given their protection for this purpose. Some ten other northern plains tribes eventually traded at the fort, which did business until 1867, making it the longest serving American fur trading post.

The river provided the main access for fur traders. Keelboats were used until 1832 when the first steamboat, the Yellow Stone reached the Upper Missouri. Mackinaw boats were constructed at the fort, and bull boats were fashioned by the tribes out of a green buffalo hide and willow.

The site was acquired by the National Park Service in 1966, and after three archaeological projects, the reconstruction of Fort Union was completed in 1991.

‘Steamboat on the Arkansas’  circa 1840

In this fascinating work, an early steamboat is passing through a large herd of Buffalo as they migrate across the Arkansas River.  A waving Indian on horseback indicates that these unusual craft were a welcome sight to some tribes during the early fur trading period.
Sadly, as trade and westward migration increased, steamboats also brought diseases such as Smallpox that would take a terrible toll on many tribes.

‘Hannibal, A View From Mark Twain’s Boyhood Home’

This enchanting view, looking down Hill Street, is reminiscent of Hannibal in the 1840s. By the end of the decade steamboats landed three times a day. The small, two-storey, white-washed building on the far left of this scene was built in 1843-44, and was Mark Twain’s boyhood home for most of the period between 1844 and mid-1853.

Full title: ‘Hannibal, A View From Mark Twain’s Boyhood Home in 1841’

John Stobart is a leading maritime artist, with an extraordinary ability to render realistic lighting, day or night. Prints are available in Limited Editions. Please contact Maritime Heritage Prints for further information about this print.

‘Independence, the Start of the Santa Fe Trail’ ~ 1842

The Wayne City Landing, also known as the Independence Landing, was located just downstream from present-day Kansas City, on the Missouri River. From 1831, steamboats arriving here from St. Louis unloaded commercial goods for freighting down the Santa Fe Trail, and thousands of emigrants left steamboats to embark on the Oregon and California Trails.

The legendary Santa Fe Trail was first established in about 1610 by Spanish settlers of Mexico exploring north-eastward into North America long before the French and English arrived. Americans exploring westward in the early 1800’s soon discovered that the Spanish of Santa Fe and the nearby Indians had many material needs (factory products, including the latest guns and ammunition, whiskey, cotton prints) that they could supply very profitably. On their return trips, traders brought back Mexican products like wool, buffalo hides and horses, mules, gold coins, gold dust and silver.The Spanish authorities declared this trade illegal. Early traders faced not only the dangers of the trail but also risked imprisonment when reaching Santa Fe. But after Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, and trader William Becknell returned along the trail in November of that year with news that Mexico now welcomed trade through Santa Fe, the trail soon became known as a key commercial link to the west.

Extending from Independence, Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico, the 1,255-km (780-mi) Santa Fe Trail was one of the longest routes in the United States. The first stop was Council Grove, Kansas, where the trail headed out across the Kansas Plains to the Arkansas River, following the river to Dodge City. The trail then took several routes, via the Mountain Route or the Cimarron Route, rejoining at Fort Union, New Mexico, and finally Santa Fe, where a lively frontier market existed. The wagon journey took about 40-60 days each way.

In 1846, when the Mexican-American War began, the Army of the West followed the Santa Fe Trail to invade New Mexico. When the Treaty of Guadalupe ended the war in 1848, the Santa Fe Trail became a national route connecting the United States to the new southwest territories. Commercial freighting along the trail continued, including considerable military freight hauling to supply the southwestern forts. The trail was also used by stage coach lines, thousands of gold seekers heading to the California and Colorado gold fields, adventurers, fur trappers, and some emigrants. The trail was used by about 5,000 wagons a year until 1880, when the railroad reached Santa Fe and trail use declined.

‘Raftsmen Playing Cards’ ~ 1847

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George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879) was one of the most important American painters of scenes of everyday life in the 19thCentury. Reared at the edge of the untamed West, the self-taught artist and his depictions of frontier life fascinated cultured people in the nation’s older cities and Bingham became nationally known during his lifetime as “the Missouri Painter”.

Born into a prosperous family in Virginia, he moved to central Missouri in 1819 when the family suffered a financial setback. According to family tradition, young George was encouraged to draw from an early age. He explored various vocations before settling on art as a profession and soon obtained many portrait commissions. He went on to become the preeminent portrait painter of Missouri’s upper crust.

Bingham and his first wife settled in Arrow Rock, Missouri, in 1837, then lived for several years in Washington, D.C. in the early 1840s. Although his bread and butter was always portraiture, in the mid-1840s Bingham turned also to painting genre pictures. His depictions of life on the frontier, which included images of settlers, Indians, hunters and boatmen became extremely popular and brought him critical praise. Widowed in 1848, Bingham settled in Kansas City with his second wife sometime before the Civil War and set up a studio above a dry goods store. The short, hot-tempered artist was also active in politics for many years and held elective and appointed offices in Arrow Rock and Kansas City. At the time of his death, his artistic stature had largely faded. Interest in Bingham began to revive in the 1930s, and later his reputation grew substantial when painter Thomas Hart Benton championed his work.

Credit: ~ David Conrads.

Raftsmen Playing Cards is typical of Bingham’s mature work, with its casually assembled characters, clean brushwork and clear light and color. The details are more often in the well-worn clothing than the faces, and the backgrounds, though diffused, revealled his sense of space and lighting, and his great love for nature.

‘Chattanooga, Ross’s Landing’ ~ 1848

Indian life was tied strongly to the Tennessee River. The Cherokee, Creek, and Chickasaw Tribes, had most all of their settlements along the river and its tributaries, and on river islands, using the rivers as their primary means of transportation through this area of great natural beauty and varying topography.

In 1540, Hernando DeSoto’s Spanish expedition travelled the Tennessee River from the present location of Chattanooga to the present location of Guntersville. During the late 1600s the Tennessee River was part of the French trade route between the Mississippi Valley and Charleston, South Carolina. By the early 1700s the French had established several trading posts along the river.The settlement of Ross’s Landing was established about 1816 by John Ross, a Chief of the Cherokee Indians, and consisted of a ferry, warehouse, and landing. With the organization of Hamilton County in 1819 north of the river, it served not only the Cherokee trade but also as a convenient business center for the county. Cherokee parties left from the landing for the West in 1838 on what would become known as the “Trail of Tears.” That year, the growing community took the name Chattanooga, a Creek Indian word for “rock coming to a point,” which refers to Lookout Mountain beginning in Chattanooga and stretching 88 miles through Alabama and Georgia.

Flatboats were built on the riverbanks of East Tennessee and loaded with produce such as corn, wheat, potatoes, preserved meat in barrels, whiskey and sometimes coal. During high water, flatboats could navigate over river hazards all the way to New Orleans.

Navigating the Tennessee River was especially challenging for steamboats. Some ten miles below Chattanooga there was a narrow gorge called The Suck, also known as the Valley of the Whirlpool Rapids, and there were the Muscle Shoals in Northern Alabama. To overcome these challenges, steamboats developed the practice of “warping” or pulling boats upstream against the swift currents with lines attached to windlasses on the riverbank.

It appears that the first steamboat to navigate up the Tennessee as far as the Muscle Shoals reached Florence, below the Shoals, in 1821. In February of 1822 the Rocket arrived at Florence, beginning regular trips to Trinity near the mouth of the Ohio. The first steamboat to pass over the Muscle Shoals to Knoxville, was the Atlas in 1828.  By 1835 steamboats travelled regularly from Knoxville, Tennessee to Decatur, Alabama when the water was high.

With the formation of the Tennessee Valley Authority, dams and locks were constructed both above and below Chattanooga to improve navigation. Sadly, much of the spectacular “old river” landscape is now under water.

The full title of this painting is: ‘Chattanooga – Ross’s Landing. Unloading Flatboats On The Banks Of The Tennessee River In 1848’

John Stobart is a leading maritime artist, with an extraordinary ability to render realistic lighting, day or night. Prints are available in Limited Editions. Please contact Maritime Heritage Prints for further information about this print.

‘Cairo Riverfront Scene’  circa 1850

The history of Cairo, promisingly located at the confluence of the busy Ohio and the mighty Mississippi, is complex and fascinating, rife with schemes, skirmishes, phenomenal growth and almost equally phenomenal decline. From the first, explorers and settlers believed it would become a major thoroughfare of western trade. The prohibitive cost of levees, however, caused economic problems, political intrigue and frustrating delays to surround Cairo’s founding.

Though steamboats plied the Mississippi with greater frequency in the antebellum era, Cairo lagged behind St. Louis, Memphis and the other great river ports. Frequent floods overwhelmed the city’s levees and devastated businesses and homes. But the opening of the Illinois Central Railroad in 1855 again placed Cairo on the map, making Cairo a prominent center connecting rail and river traffic.

Cairo’s strategic position quickly made it vital to the Union cause in the Civil War,
serving as the western armies’ base of operations, ferrying rations, ammunition and other supplies downstream to troops.

After the war, Cairo seemed poised to become the great river city its founders had envisioned. In 1867 more than 3,700 steamboats docked at the levee. Steamboatmen patronized the saloons and gambling casinos along Cairo’s wharf, while prosperous merchants built mansions nearby. Ornate churches, opera houses, hotels and a huge government custom house, devoted to collecting tariffs on goods imported via the river, attested to Cairo’s growing wealth and importance. But by the late 1870s steamboat numbers had begun to decline as the railroads, using new bridges across the Mississippi, began to bi-pass Cairo.