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Steamboat Heroine


Evaluating Evidence: Travel Experience

This activity will help you to understand the differences between steamboat and overland travel using evidence from the diaries of people who lived in the nineteenth century. Read the excerpts from the diaries of Mrs. Luzena Wilson and William Fairfax Gray. Then, answer the questions below.

Excerpt from Mrs. Luzena Wilson, while on a wagon trail to California in 1849:

“The traveler who flies across the continent in palace cars, skirting occasionally the old emigrant road, may think that he realizes the trials of such a journey. Nothing but actual experience will give one an idea of the plodding, unvarying monotony, the vexations, the exhaustive energy, the throbs of hope, the depths of despair, through which we lived. Day after day, week after week, we went through the same weary routine of breaking camp at daybreak, yoking the oxen, cooking our meagre rations over a fire of sage-brush and scrub-oak; packing up again, coffeepot and camp-kettle; washing our scanty wardrobe in the little streams we crossed; striking camp again at sunset, or later if wood and water were scarce. Tired, dusty, tried in temper, worn out in patience, we had to go over the weary experience tomorrow. No excitement, but a broken-down wagon, or the extra preparation made to cross a river, marked our way for many miles.”

Excerpt from William Fairfax Gray on board the steamboat Heroine in 1836:

“The boat and passengers both begin to improve. The officers of the boat are very attentive. The steward, an old Black man, is the best steward I have seen on the western waters. He had been a waiter in a tavern in Alexandria, D. C. There is on-board a Mr. Mills, a Virginian that I cannot find out. He is a man of good conversation and good address. He says he is a cosmopolite but calls Virginia his home. There is also a Mr. Stone, who is quite civil, a Mr. Rundell and a Mr. Reynolds, and their wives, Mississippians, going to spend their summer at the North; also Mr. Slaughter of Kentucky, nephew of Phil and Sam Slaughter of Virginia, a respectable, gentlemanly man, and a Mr. January, who has the model of a press for pressing cotton, tobacco, etc.

At 2 o’clock we arrived at Memphis, went ashore to see the town, and was introduced by Mr. Stone to Niel McCoul, the son of old John McCoul, of Spotsylvania. He says he is doing well. We had a storm this afternoon, and a hard rain. Owing to the darkness and storm we laid by at night until daylight in the morning. Mosquitoes have been very bad.”

Thinking it Through:

How did Mrs. Wilson view her experience of wagon travel? Did she enjoy her experience? Based on Mrs. Wilson’s writing, what was wagon travel like?

What were some hardships for people traveling on wagon trains? Based on Mrs. Wilson’s tone, did wagon travel take a long time? How did Mr. Gray write about his experience? What was his tone? Was Mr. Gray comfortable on board the steamboat?

Based on Mr. Gray’s writing, what was steamboat travel like? Did he have access to entertainment and more interactions with people?

How does the experience of Mr. Gray compare to that of Mrs. Wilson? Did they both experience the same level of hardship?

Application: Labeling Parts of a Steamboat

Scan the code or copy and paste the link to use the coloring sheet below to label the various parts of a steamboat and their functions.

Steamboats had a lot of different parts that helped them travel down the river. You can create a steamboat, like Heroine, with all the necessary parts. Get ready to test your engineering and artistic design skills!

Engineering and Design: Steamboat Building Activity

Steamboat parts: 

  • Hull
  • Paddlewheel
  • Boiler
  • Hurricane deck
  • Smokestack
  • Steam exhaust pipe
  • Boiler deck, where passenger cabins were located


  • Tissue box, or another rectangular box you have around the house (the hull and main deck of your ship) wrapping paper
  • Clear tape
  • Aluminum foil
  • Straws
  • Two pipe cleaners
  • Cardboard toilet paper roll
  • Cardboard (you can use the wrapping paper roll)
  • Scissors
  • Hot glue gun and glue sticks
  • Cotton ball
  • Markers, crayons (to decorate your boat)
  • Glitter (optional)
  • Paint (optional)

Adapted from https://www.amylattacreations.com/2013/11/kleenex-saves-day-sniffles-steamboats.html#_a5y_p=1085169.


  1. Find the hull and main deck of your ship; this will be the Kleenex box. Choose your wrapping paper, it can be any style you like!
  2. Wrap your Kleenex box like a present.
  3. Build your boiler deck, where your passenger cabins are. Cut shapes from the foil and glue them on the sides as windows.
  4. Create the smokestack by cutting a small section and wrapping it in foil. Try to shape it into a rectangle if you can, then glue it on top.
  5. Build your paddle wheel! Cut eight rectangles out of your cardboard and glue them together with the hot glue gun.
  6. Attach your wheel to the boat. Glue two pipe cleaners along the length of the Kleenex box, then bend them down and over. Then, glue the pipe cleaners to the paddle wheel to hold it in place.
  7. Add your steam exhaust pipe to power your boat! Cut and glue a piece of straw to the top of your boat. Then, glue some cotton to the straw.
  8. Finally, add some of your own style to your boat! Decorate it with anything you like.

Explore Further:

Evaluating Evidence: Creative Writing

Imagine that you must travel to visit your relatives in 1838. Where are you going? What season is it? Remember that the seasons impact travel. Do you want to travel by stagecoach, wagon, or steamboat? What do you want to take with you? If you choose to travel by steamboat, will you purchase deck or cabin passage? Write a brief paragraph explaining how you would choose to travel and what you would take with you. Be sure to review the Overland Travel vs. Steamboat Travel section to help you choose which travel method is best.

Counting and Addition: How Much Money Do I Need?

Imagine that you are a steamboat operator and need to fill your boat with supplies to prepare to travel down the river. As you read, steamboat operation could be very expensive. Below is a list of items that would be common on western steamboats. What do you think you need the most? Review the Challenges of Steamboat Operation section if you need help deciding what you need. Your task is to fill your boat with the supplies without spending over $100.


  • Cotton $20 per bale
  • Wood (for fuel) $5 per cord
  • Tools (for repairs) $10
  • Pork Barrel $25
  • Cotton Dolly $15
  • Hand truck $5
  • Shoes $12
  • Flour $2 per sack

Thinking it Through:

  • What did you decide were the most important supplies to buy, and why?
  • Was it difficult to only spend $100?
  • Do you think steamboat operators had to make tough decisions about what supplies to buy?

Archaeology: Artifact Activity

Adapted from: Samford, Patricia and David L. Ribblett. Archaeology for Young Explores: Uncovering History at Colonial Williamsburg. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. 2001.

Archaeologists study artifacts, objects made or used by people. Artifacts are all around and they are objects that are used in everyday life. For example, the toothbrush that you used this morning is an artifact. The trash that you throw away is also an artifact. The school that you are in right now is also an artifact, called a feature. This activity will help you to understand how archaeologists use artifacts to understand the people of the past.


  1. Look at the picture of the trash
  2. What does it tell you about the people that lived there?
  3. Pretend that you have been looking at the trash of a family for a year and there has been an average of 12 soda cans in the trash each week. Suddenly, there are no soda cans in the trash. What reasons can you think of to explain this change?
  4. How many of the artifacts shown would survive if they were buried in the ground for 300 years? What would disappear?
  5. If you only looked at the trash that remained after 300 years, would you change your conclusion about the family?

Trash Picture

Artifact Analysis: What Is It?

Steamboats during the 1830s were filled will all kinds of interesting objects. In this activity, students will use pictures of objects recovered from the steamboat Heroine to think critically about the people and things of the past.


  • “What Is It?” activity sheet (one per group if doing this in a classroom)
  • Pictures of objects (can be printed or put up on computer screen or smart board)
  • Writing utensil


Break students into groups of three or four. Give each group time to work on completing the activity sheet. If you are doing this at home give the child time to complete the sheet on their own.

After groups have finished exploring their object, have one person from each group share the findings of the group. Allow for input from other groups/students.

Tin box from Heroine (image courtesy of The Oklahoman).

Part of pork barrel excavated from Heroine (image courtesy of Rebecca Sager, INA/TAMU).

Boot excavated from Heroine (Steamboat Heroine Collection, Oklahoma Historical Society).

Download the worksheet (PDF)