Packets to Paradise Steamboating to Fort Benton




John G. Lepley
Soft Cove
r $19.95

The boats that plied the Upper Missouri and the men who piloted them were a breed unto themselves. Missouri River packets were especially built to survive the river’s innumerable hazards and to deliver their freight and passengers safely to the Montana Frontier. The Missouri swallowed many; around every bend was another sang or bar that could dispatch the fragile boats to a watery grave. The 2385 miles from St. Louis were a grueling two-months trip. Only the most fearless pilots were willing to attempt the journey, guiding the sidewheelers and sternwheelers containing travelers and thousands of dollars in cargo to the “World’s Innermost Port.” Montana’s steamboat era lasted only thirty hears, from 1860 to 1890, but it was one of the most exciting and romantic chapters in America’s Westward expansion. Heroes larger than life were scattered throughout those years. For nearly every family living in the Northwest, there is probably a page in their history describing a descendant who arrived at the Fort Benton levee aboard a Missouri River steamboat. Donald Jackson aptly characterized these boats as “an engine of Manifest Destiny that seemed always to be on the cutting edge of one frontier or another.”


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