Keel Boats, a species of craft much used by the Indian traders, were usually from 40 to 75 feet long, with a 15 to 20 foot beam. They were "cigar-shaped," i. e. pointed at each end after the manner of the pirogue of the French or Canadian voyageur, and were propelled by a square sail and oars, and in cases of necessity, by setting poles and a tow line. Such boats had a carrying capacity of 10 to 20 tons, a draft of about 30 inches, and cost from $2,000 to $3,000 each. Frederick Chouteau, one of the early traders on the Kansas river, mentions one of these boats which was used on this stream, as follows: "The keel boat which my brothers had in 1828, I think, was the first which navigated the Kansas river. After I came the keel boat was used altogether on the Kaw river. We would take a load of goods up in August and keep it there until the following spring, when we would bring it down loaded with peltries. At the mouth of the Kaw we shipped on steamboat to St. Louis. The keel-boats were made in St. Louis. They were rib-made boats, shaped like the hull of a steamboat and decked over. They were about 8 or 10 feet across the deck and 5 or 6 feet below deck. They were rigged with one mast and had a rudder, though we generally took the rudder off and used a long oar for steering. There were four row locks on each side. Going up the Kaw river we pulled all the way; about 15 miles a day. Going down it sometimes took a good many days, as it did going up, on account of the low water. I have taken a month to go down from my trading house at American Chief (or Mission) creek, many times lightening the boat with skiffs; other times going down in a day. I never went with the boat above my trading house at the American Chief village. No other traders except myself and brothers ran keel boats on the Kaw. We pulled up sometimes by the willows which lined the banks of the river."
The crew of a keel boat engaged in the fur trade frequently consisted of as many as 100 men and was called a "brigade," this number including many hunters and trappers who were not regular boatmen. Every boat carried a swivel (small cannon) and the crew went armed. Among the appliances used for ascending rivers were the cordelle, pole, oar and sail. The cordelle was a strong line, frequently 300 yards long, fastened to the mast by which the boat was pulled up stream by a force of 20 to 30 men. The poles were used where the water was shallow, and the oars where it became necessary to cross from one side of the river to the other. The sail was seldom used. A distance of about 15 miles a day was considered a good day's work, requiring the most arduous labor from all hands from daylight to dark to accomplish.Pages 65-66 from volume II of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed July 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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