Western Steamboat

Western Portraiture and Emigrant's Guide:
A Description of Wisconsin, Illinois, & Iowa, 1852
by Reverend J. P. Thompson

A western steamboat is at first sight a novelty to one familiar only with eastern models. The boats on the western waters are very slightly built - mere shells of pine, shallow, long, narrow, flat-bottomed, open and flaring on all sides. There is no cabin either below the deck or upon it.

The engines are placed immediately on the lower deck, two huge furnaces flaming upon you as you enter the boat, and giving you rather uncomfortable hints of a choice between fire and water in making your exit from the world.

Huge flaming brands and coals are dropping continually upon the thinnest possible sheeting of sheet-iron, in many places worn through to the plank; heated pipes on which you cannot bear your hand are in immediate contact with boards as dry as tinder, and perhaps already charred; goods, you know not how inflammable, are strown promiscuously around the boilers, while huge piles of dry pine wood, waiting to be consumed, are crowded in the vicinity of the fires. But not every traveler has the habit that I confess to of prying into every thing about him, and therefore few probably enjoy the peculiar sensation of sailing on the rim of a volcano. However, there is nothing like getting used to it, and I learned to sleep quite soundly.


Prairie State, Compiled and Edited by Paul M. Angle
University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1968