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Steamboats on Louisiana's Bayous

A History and Directory

by Carl A. Brasseaux

304 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / 14 Halftones

Southern History

  Hardcover / 9780807129753 / November 2004

In an extraordinary feat of research and intrepid historical navigation, Carl A. Brasseaux and Keith P. Fontenot serve as guides through the labyrinthian and often harrowing world of Louisiana bayou steamboat journeys of the mid to late nineteenth century. The bayou country’s steamboat saga mirrors in microcosm the tale of America’s most colorful—and most highly romanticized—transportation era. But Brasseaux and Fontenot brace readers with a boldly revisionist picture of the opulent Mississippi River floating palaces: stripped-down, utilitarian freight-haulers belching smoke from twin stacks, churning through shallow swamps and narrow tributary streams, and encountering such hazards as shoals, sawyers, stumps, highwater and dry-bed seasons, and the remains of vessels claimed by those treacheries.

For decades, steamboats transported goods, passengers, and mail between New Orleans and south Louisiana’s vibrant interior agricultural region, bearing testimony to the resourcefulness, ingenuity, and tenacity of crews in conquering the challenges posed by a forbidding environment. Brasseaux and Fontenot marshaled a monumental array of information, including sources long-buried in courthouses, private collections, and the records of the Army Corps of Engineers. They offer data on some five hundred steamboats, keelboats, and barges known to have operated in the bayou country.
 
This book is the first major study of a fascinating slice of the steamboat industry, showcasing a trade critically important to New Orleans’s prosperity but largely forgotten in southern historiography until now. Encompassing economic, social, transportation, and environmental history, it captures the period just before the iron horse emerged as America’s undisputed master of inland conveyance.

A native of Acadiana, Carl A. Brasseaux is the author of more than thirty books on French North America. In June 2010, he retired as director of the Center for Louisiana Studies, director of the Center for Cultural and Eco-Tourism, director of the Press, professor of history, and managing editor of Louisiana History—all at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

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