Keelboats

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Time Frame: Early 1800's

In the early 1800s keelboats, or flatboats, were used to carry goods down and up the Mississippi River. The keelboat workers were faced with hard work traveling upstream.
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“From Here to There,” The Iowa Heritage: Program # 6, Iowa Public Television, 1978.

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Transcript

Rivers: living, moving roads. At first people traveled in canoes; light and fast, but they couldn’t carry much cargo. To move goods downstream and bring goods upstream required the use of flat boats, or keelboats. First when the Mississippi Valley and lead ore from Dubuque moved downstream to St. Louis or New Orleans it must had been almost relaxing to float down river with little to do other than to keep a sharp eye out for snags. Moving supplies back up the river, well that when keelboaters earned their money. They used poles, a sail—if by some miracle the wind was blowing in the right direction—even grabbed bushes and tree limbs to pull them up the river.

(song): Downward on a keelboat, going down that river feelin’ fine. Working on a keelboat, just another way to raise a dime. When we go back up that river, man, you know we be workin’ over time.

Even though steamboats now haul a lot of the cargo, keelboats are still used. A person can float his good’s downstream, sell his flatboat, then ride the streamer back upstream.

 


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