Life on the River in Frontier Days


Here is a selection of books and articles on this website about life on the river and the importance of water transportation during the early days in the Great Lakes States. The last selection is an imaginary modern employee performance review for Mike Fink, the legendary keel-boat man.



Click on the page name to open it in a new tab, and you’ll find the recommended works there. They are listed alphabetically, by author.
For tips on reading online and downloading, see the note at the bottom of this page.


Navigation on Great Lakes & Rivers page

Baldwin, Leland D., The Keelboat Age on Western Waters (1941)

Berry, Rev. Chester D. , Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors (1892)

Blair, Walter A., A Raft Pilot’s Log. A History of the Great Rafting Industry on the Upper Mississippi 1840-1915 (1930)

Cochran, William C., “Perils of River Navigation in the Sixties” (1918)

Coleman, Christopher B., “Transportation and Traffic on the Ohio and the Mississippi before the Steamboat” (1920)

Hall, James, The West: Its Commerce and Navigation (1848)

Hodge, William ed., Papers Concerning Early Navigation on the Great Lakes. 1 Recollections of Capt. David Wilkeson. 2. The Pioneer Lake Erie Steamboats, “Walk-in-the-water” and “Superior” (1883)

King, I. F., “Flat Boating on the Ohio River” (1917)

Merrick, George Byron, Old Times on the Upper Mississippi; the Recollections of a Steamboat Pilot from 1854 to 1863 (1909)

Newbert, Millard, “History of Steam Boats of Fox River Valley” (1930)

Palmer, Mary A. Witherell, “The Steamer Walk-in-the-Water” (1881)

Twain, Mark, Life on the Mississippi (1883)


Indiana Economic History page

Covington, Samuel T. , “Pioneer Transportation on the Ohio River” (1908)

Daniels, Wylie J., The Village at the End of the Road, a Chapter in Early Indiana Railroad History (1938) (This is not about waterways. It is a collection of newspaper articles from Indiana’s early days about the difficulties of traveling on land.)

Harlow, Alvin F. Indiana’s Canal Heritage (1926)

Indiana Historical Bureau, “Canal Mania in Indiana” (1997)


Great Lakes Explorers & Travelers page

Bishop, Nathaniel H., Four Months in a Sneak-Box: A Boat Voyage of 2600 Miles Down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and Along the Gulf of Mexico (1879)


Great Lakes Social History page

Thorpe, Thomas Bangs, The Hive of “The Bee Hunter”, a Repository of Sketches, including peculiar American Character, Scenery, and Rural Sports (1854) (See the chapters on the Mississippi River and the one on Mike Fink, the Keel-Boatman.)


Website: Performance Review for Mike Fink

Tips for Reading Online and Downloading

More than half the books on our website at History of the Great Lakes States are hosted by Internet Archive or Open Library. They are sister organizations and use the same online viewer application. In most cases this viewer will give you nearly perfect text if you;

1. switch from the double-page to the single-page view by using the icons in the bottom right corner, and;

2. Keep zooming in until the text snaps into a clear focus.

Using the single-page view allows you to scroll pages down with your mouse wheel.

You can download books from these two sites by clicking on the book name at the top-left corner of the page (in the viewer) to get to the download menu.