Book Reviews

REVIEWS of Wild River, Wooden Boats
by Michael Gillespie

By Larry Johnson

The Gazette
Cedar Rapids, Iowa

REVIEW by James Swift, Waterway Journal


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Wild River, Wooden Boats
by Michael Gillespie

REVIEW By Larry Johnson, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

    Maybe not many people possessing their critical faculties would be interested in a 700-page book about steamboats on the Missouri River. And that's one of the nice features of ``Wild River, Wooden Boats,'' a new paperback by Michael Gillespie from Heritage Press ($15.95). At only 160 pages, it's short.

    Not that I would have minded more. But I'm excessively interested in Gillespie's topic. What's nice about this little book is, you wouldn't necessarily have to have a major passion for steamboating to enjoy it. All you need is a passing interest in American history, and the history of her rivers.

The Missouri, which creates Iowa's western border, hasn't gotten the attention that the Mississippi River has won. Gillespie, however, argues that the Mississippi was a navigational piece of cake compared to her shallower, swifter, wilder and longer sister. He makes a good case, describing the river's ``perpetual dissatisfaction'' with its bed that made navigation especially hazardous. The narrow, crooked channel was ... and is ... often littered with trees, rocks, and underwater hazards. The Missouri was hard to ``read.'' The wooden-hulled steamers often ran aground and were vulnerable both to running aground and sinking.

Great quantities of wood had to be gathered at woodlots on shore. Boilers sometimes exploded, literally boiling unfortunate crew and passengers alive. Pilots were skilled oddballs, and low-fare passengers were often crammed several hundred immigrants to a lower deck. When diseases like scarlet fever came, and they often did, they swept through those steerage passengers in mini-epidemics.

Gillespie covers all of these trials thoroughly and briefly, making this book worthwhile for anyone interested in the history of either the Midwest or of steamboating.


Wild River, Wooden Boats
by Michael Gillespie

REVIEW By James Swift, Waterways Journal, St. Louis, Missouri