Page images
PDF
EPUB

kegs of powder, dishes, furniture, boxes of provisions and farm implements were all loaded and jumbled together, to float down the rivers to somewhere. They resembled — those unwieldy vessels of such a short time ago - a mixture of log cabin, fort, floating barnyard and country grocery. At night, as they drifted on the dark waters, their loopholes often spurted jets of rifle fire, while women loaded the hot rifles of the men in the flickering light of pine knots held by silent children, and watched for the answering shots of red enemies through the mist that hid them. By day, on a more kindly voyage, some backwoods genius on the cabin roof would touch the resin to his fiddle-bow and send the wild strains of a hoe-down to the wooded shores and back again, while the family mule gave vent to his emotions in a loud heehaw, the pigs squealed, the children shouted and danced to the melody of the combined orchestra, and the women rolled up the bedding, milked the cow, hung out the wash and killed a few chickens for dinner. Perhaps no other craft that ever moved on land or sea provided such episodes and contrasts, such diverse pictures of tragedy and revel, as did the flatboats in which the vast host of floating pilgrims travelled the interior rivers of America from about 1788 until as late a date as 1840.2

It is desirable at this point to refer to a certain feature of the narrative mentioned at its beginning — the chronological and geographical overlapping of periods of travel movement, and the duplication of vehicle epochs as new territory toward the west came under the sway of the

1 A couple of the older boys would very likely be catching fish at the same time.

? Although a noticeable part of the westward migration to the Ohio and Mississippi valleys was carried on by means of flatboats until the last named date, that sort of travel. ling began to decline swiftly soon after the year 1830. The rapid multiplication of steamboats caused the change. Flatboats would have disappeared still earlier had not the Aimsy character of western steamboats during the first twenty years of their history made the use of them so dangerous.

[graphic]

75.-A helmsman on a flatboat, shouting a warning to some one at the other end of the vessel, or to a near-by boat. Sketch by

Joshua Shaw.

white race. In the conquest of a continent so large, requiring a period of nearly two and a half centuries for its completion, it was inevitable that the earlier stages of the process should be repeated in regions successively invaded. This was most noticeable during the generations before inventive genius and mechanical appliances made their appearance as predominant elements in the problem, and was to some extent true with regard to the use of large timber boats.

But every method of conveyance arose to its ascendency at one time or another, and each one-even if it played a minor part either before or after the period of its especial importance - must be chiefly considered with relation to the time and events of its greatest prominence. The long historical sequence of human endeavors that were consciously aimed toward better methods of progress over the land, and were unconsciously directed toward wider territorial dominion, new social conditions and national unity, resembled the march of an army. The temporary use of some means of locomotion outside of its normal place in the column of events was but the work of a scouting party, not to be unduly exalted in a chronicle of the main campaign. Previous generations could not see the whole process as we may, nor observe the relationships and effects of its various stages, for they were too close to it; they were themselves engaged in a work now completed.

Still another phase of the development of travel facilities that attracts attention in any consideration of their influence is the unusual manner by which, as a rule, they have advanced toward greater efficiency. Successive early improvements in transportation are not only classifiable by groups, but are perhaps unlike the corresponding steps of any other economic process because, in a sense, they have nearly always progressed backward. Broadly speaking, there have thus far been four general phases of travel history in America, to be roughly defined as follows:

First Period: During which all travel was performed,

[graphic]

76.—Travellers on top of a flatboat. During a long voyage, lasting for weeks

or months, the principal diversions of the emigrants were story telling, singing, and dancing on the upper deck to the accompaniment of the universal fiddle. A ladder or Alight of steps led down into the interior.

when possible, through the utilization of natural waterways and in the most primitive craft.

Second Period: Distinguished by the extensive use of prior overland routes—the Indian trails—and the creation of other land roads by white men.

Third Period: Characterized by the elaboration of earlier vehicles for both land and water travel; such conveyances being moved either by manual labor, animals, the wind, or natural water currents.

Fourth Period: In which both boats and land vehicles, of types already existing, were for the first time propelled by mechanical power generated within the conveyances themselves. During this cycle, which still prevails, the boats and land carriages have gradually been increased in size and altered in formi.

No sharply defined lines emphasized these epochs, for there have been times when all of them have prevailed at once, though in widely separated parts of the land. Until very recent days it has almost always been the case that at least two of the periods existed simultaneously somewhere within the limits of the country, either in the same locality while earlier conditions were giving way to later ones, or in adjacent regions. But every section of the continent has witnessed the arrival and progress of all four eras in some degree at least, always in the procession here indicated and in orderly advancement from the East toward the West.

The conditions that have so often resulted in the betterment of travel facilities by means of a retrogressive method are due to a relation which has necessarily prevailed between vehicles themselves and the roadways on which they move. No means of travel can attain its utmost value unless the conveyance and its highway, of whatever sort, are mutually fitted for one another to the greatest possible degree. But since mankind cannot devise or perfect a path for what does not exist, or else has no inducement to do so, it has generally happened that a new transportation conveyance has appeared before there was a fit road for it. A visible improvement has often waited, either in

« PreviousContinue »