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Danger on the River


A rival boat coming into view was a signal to a steamboat crew to fire up the boilers and race ahead. They were known to throw anything that would burn into the boiler – including hams from the kitchen – to try to get more steam and speed than their opponents. Little regard was given to the safety of the passengers or cargo. Steamboats racing on In a book published in 1841, A Summer Journey in the West, Eliza R. Steele describes one of these impromptu races. “Straining every rope and piece of machinery we soon shot ahead of the presumptuous Ione, ringing ourbell and shouting in our turn … We ladies all determined we would not go to bed, but would remain up, alarmed and uncomfortable; one went so far as to threaten to faint if the captain did not slacken his speed, but we were laughed at by gentlemen who enjoyed the sport.”