Nature never intended the Brazos River for navigation, but before the coming of the railroads Brazos steamboats were a necessary, if always erratic, form of transport. And there were men to meet the challenge. One captain, heedless of shallows, shoals, snags, and falls, boasted that he could tap a keg and run a boat four miles on the suds. Based on rich archival sources, this authoritative and entertaining book tells of the men and boats that braved the river from the earliest days to the late 1890s.
Steamboat captains and plantation aristocrats, business tycoons and empire builders, mud clerks and river rats, all were obsessed with a single idea: to open the Brazos for steamboats from its headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico. The river was dredged and snags were removed, boats were designed with shallow draft, and boat owner, captain, and pilot (often one and the same) pitted their skills against the river. But the Brazos was recalcitrant. Seasonal rises silted in manmade channels and left behind new snags to catch the unwary. And as railroads inched their way across the state, the need for river transport dwindled. Railroad bridges across the Brazos finally created barriers that even a steamboat riding a red rise” could not negotiate. By the turn of the century, the dauntless Brazos paddlewheelers were only a memory, but, even today, the dream dies hard along the river.