Author Conversations

Steamboat Disasters of the Lower Missouri River

March 2, 2020

This week I speak with another husband and wife team, Vicki and James Erwin. 

During the nineteenth century, more than three hundred boats met their end in the steamboat graveyard that was the Lower Missouri River, from Omaha to its mouth. Although derided as little more than an “orderly pile of kindling,” steamboats were, in fact, technological marvels superbly adapted to the river’s conditions. Their light superstructure and long, wide, flat hulls powered by high-pressure engines drew so little water that they could cruise on “a heavy dew” even when fully loaded. But these same characteristics made them susceptible to fires, explosions and snags—tree trunks ripped from the banks, hiding under the water’s surface. Authors Vicki and James Erwin detail the perils that steamboats, their passengers and crews faced on every voyage.