2:03 PM

Above-  CDV of the Steamboat Natchez. This was taken 1860 in Louisiana when Natchez (built in 1854 no. 2) was replaced and used to carry freight up the Mississippi River. Steamboats usually lasted 6 years according to Hunter and you can see the obvious wear on this steamboat in 5-6 years. Collection of Elizabeth Isenburg

Welcome Back-Today is July 5th 2010 and it is hard to believe more than ½ the year is over. 

In July Arabia’s consignee’s would be selling to emigrants headed west and beginning to make a list what they needed to buy for their fall & winter customers and that is what you’ll see at the Steamboat Arabia Museum. I honestly don’t know what the difference would be with Spring and Summer goods until another steamboat would be excavated, but I could guess there would be more freight for St Joseph since that is considered the gateway to the west (emigrant trail).

For years, Greg Hawley would tell me about another steamboat they were thinking about digging up and ask me if I wanted to be involved. One actually sank with a train on board and the last time I saw him he said with a glow in his eyes and a big smile, “Tomorrow we’re drilling a core sample for a steamboat, can you come?” I was leaving on a plane back to Connecticut the next morning and wiping a tear away from my eye, I wish I could have spent more time with my dear friend.

Season of Navigation

Arabia sank on September 5, 1856 and if the unlucky merchant who had all his purchases on the Arabia, he had little time to go back to St Louis and purchase more before the “season of navigation” closed. That’s when the water level in the rivers dropped too low to allow a steamboat ply the river and puts the wooden hulls closer to snags on the bottom of the river.

I have discussed low water before in my article about Ft Pierre. The US Military bragged about the, “May Rise” when the river was supposed to open. Even then, the  steamboats were heavily loaded with freight and troops and had to lighten the load by leaving some of their freight down river (probably at a commission merchant’s warehouse) and come back to pick it up. This added an additional cost for shipping- Arabia was one of the six steamboats and received $400 a day.

The water level was dropping in the Upper Missouri River when the Steamboat Arabia sank, closing the water transportation in that part of the country.Six days later on September 11,1856, , the steamboat Genoa sank near Nebraska City and steamboat freight insurance in St Louis was suspended.

Shopping in St Louis

With all that in mind, you can see what a task it was to come up with a list and what a pleasure it was to have the guide you see pictured, “The Merchant’s Memorandum by Luke Shortfield- 1853 (containing All the 
varieties of Goods usually kept my Country Merchants)

The Table of Contents Dry Goods takes up 74 pages of the book- which is a majority of Arabia's consignees- aka Country Merchants. Why? Because new towns start with a variety store (aka Dry Goods) selling everything- it is only when the town has enough settlers that speciality stores like jewelry, hardware and clothing can make a living. (certainly- I have to have this re-printed)

Luke Shortfield was the pen name for John Beauchamp Jones who opened a store in the late 1830s in Arrow Rock, Missouri (about 200 miles north of St Louis). This is one of my top ten favorite books and best for my research for a number of reasons.

Like my St Louis Salesman’s Journal, I bought this off eBay from a Canadian seller. I have never found another copy and wouldn’t it be a treasure to find one filled with orders! Google Books had a bound copy of the The Literary World Vol. IX July-Dec 1851with an advertisement for the book.

It was like shopping at Christmas for us- Our Consignees were overwhelmed by the variety and color and the busy streets, beer halls and brothels.Further, you might buy what you don’t need or can’t sell to your customers. Or be pushed into buying too much and don’t have any idea until you get your credit card bill what you paid and how much you’ll end up spending in interest.  

SIDE COMMENT- The Samuel Adams brand began with Samuel Adams Boston Lager. The original recipe was developed in 1860 [probably earlier] in St. Louis, Missouri by Louis Koch- 
Another German citizen famous for brewing liquor in St Louis  wrote a good fictional story about living in St Louis in the 1840s published in the German newspaper- There is an english translation- that's how I know abt the brothels and I will try to post abt him later....

Just read the preface

The book has columns for the purchases date, quantities, firms bough of, the prices paid and the amount of time given to pay off- ie. 60-90 days and most important the wholesalers initials, thereby avoiding later disputes about any terms of the agreement.

The book shows what variety was available and in some cases like medicine the named brand....
In closing, let me suggest another book- 

The shopping experience is overwhelming to any storekeeper. St. Louis is a big city and you could meet “nice wholesalers’ who might swindle you showing you a best quality of goods and then sending you off with a lesser grade item like Luke Shortfield’s first book, The Western MerchantIt’s on Google books and it is free- Thank you New York Public Library! After this book was posted on Google books, it was reprinted in 2008 because it is that good- but download the pdf – (I printed it out and carried a chapter in my car to read when I had a few extra minutes).

It is the closest fictional account of a country storekeeper’s life I have read. I couldn’t wait to find time to read the next chapter and it passes my “ring true” test except for his romantic love affair. (I think Mr. Shortfield has never been in love).It covers everything from steamboat travel, setting up a store and shopping in St Louis.

As a sample to the story- see below a steamboat race down the Mississippi that ends in death. 

From my reading in the National Archives, steamboat explosions most likely happened near the landing when the pressure in the [cracked] boiler was increased to blow out the cinders so the levee would be clean. Cracks were caused by poorer grades of iron and I read one engineer testify there was one day called "Crack day" when the boilers were allowed to cool to make repairs- otherwise, they'd pour cornmeal into the water tank surrounding the boiler and the cornmeal would fill up the cracks allowing them another week to make repairs. 
It sounds in this story, there wasn't enough water around the boiler's furnace  and that meant the doctors that drew up water from the river were blocked which is the second reason for a boiler explosion.