America's Great Rivers

Visit Them Via Travel Tours - Or Learn About Their History Through Books!

Historical River Cruises for the Adventurer in All of Us        

Vacation close to home this year! For history lovers, the United States is abundant with tales and trials of the American pioneers who founded the great country in which we live. You can travel to some of the most amazing destinations across the United States on one of America’s great rivers. 

There are river cruise lines that offer scenic cruises filled with history and adventure on the Mississippi River, the Ohio River, the Cumberland River and, going west, the Columbia and Snake rivers.  

The first recorded use of the Mississippi River for cargo transportation was in 1705, when a load of 15,000 bear and deer hides were shipped to the Nouvelle Orleans long before the Louisiana Purchase. This started the Mississippi River trading and wetland expansion. Barges would take logs and building supplies from the Upper Mississippi down to New Orleans, returning with cotton, imported dishes and silver. Along with expensive material, spices and perfumes from Europe were transported via these waterways.

Do you remember all the novels and books about notorious riverboat gamblers? Today, the Mississippi River is the most popular river for year-round passenger river cruises, and the river is still a working commercial goods transportation system. 

Each year, river cruise companies, such as American Cruise Lines, offer theme cruises that feature a piece of American history. 

On the Lower Mississippi River, you can delve deep into the history of the Civil War on a special theme cruise that explores the battlefields, monuments and museums which echo the stories of this defining time in American history. Led by expert historians, you’ll visit such sites as the Vicksburg Military Park, where you will gain insight into the circumstances that lead to the Civil War. The tour is tailored to emphasize the personalities and strategies of the Confederate and Union generals, as well as the incredible sacrifice made by millions of Americans.

The dramatic landscapes of the Upper Mississippi River have long inspired artists, writers and steamboat passengers. It was here that literary great Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) used the majestic river as settings for his most popular characters—including Huck Fin, Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher—to come alive in his Mississippi River-inspired novels. A port call in Hannibal, Missouri, will give you the opportunity to visit this quintessential American author’s boyhood home and the Mark Twain State Park.   

Heading to the Pacific North West to explore the Columbia and Snake rivers, you can follow the route of Lewis and Clark on a theme cruise that follows their unforgettable pioneering journey into the West over 200 years ago. In October of 1805, after the boats and canoes finished the “last bad rapid,” Lewis and Clark made camp at the point between the Columbia and Snake rivers, where they held a final council before beginning their voyage down the Columbia. They were not prepared for the approaching cold winter. The frigid weather and temperatures at the Fort Clatsop encampments nearly froze them all out.

A river cruise on the Columbia River will have a riverlorian (the name of a river lecturer; the terms derives from three other words: river, lore and historian) on board to bring this river to life with tales of the patriots such as Lewis and Clark, the fur traders, Native Americans and other explorers who helped shape the history of our country.

The mysteries and moods of the rivers as they change with the seasons are what make an American River Cruise an adventure at every bend.

We encourage you check out and read the novels on these pages recommended by Christian Potts, marketing and communications officer with the Pioneer Library System, to learn more about the history and epic characters of the great American rivers.   

The Travel Advisors at Travel Leaders/Bentley Hedges Travel can help you arrange to explore the rivers on a historic paddle wheel river cruise or on the new Viking River Cruise’s Mississippi Viking. It’s a trip that promises to breathe history back into life at every port of call.

Contributed by Bonnie J. Hedges CTC/CTS, VP of Sales and Marketing, Bentley Hedges Travel Service, 237.3333.

For Your Reading Pleasure

Old Man River, by Paul Schneider, published in 1999 by Macmillan Publishers

Paul Schneider's exploration of America's great waterway taking the reader from the Mississippi River’s origins to its polluted present and tracing its prehistory, geology, and cultural and literary histories is as vast as its subject. The fascinating cast of characters includes the French and Spanish explorers de Soto, Marquette and Joliet, and the incomparable La Salle; George Washington fighting his first battle in an effort to secure the watershed; the birth of jazz and blues; and literary greats like Melville, Dickens, Trollope, and, of course, Mark Twain.

(Multiple physical copies of this book are available through the Pioneer Library System.)

The Captain’s Dog: My Journey With the Lewis and Clark Tribe, by Roland Smith, published in 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Born the runt of his litter and gambled away to a rusty old riverman, the Newfoundland pup Seaman doesn't imagine his life will be marked by any kind of glory beyond chasing down rats. But when he meets Captain Meriwether Lewis, Seaman finds himself on a path that will make history. Lewis is just setting off on his landmark search for the Northwest Passage, and he takes Seaman along. Sharing the curiosity and strength of spirit of his new master, Seaman proves himself a valuable companion at every turn. Part history, part science and adventure through and through, The Captain's Dog is a carefully researched, thrilling tale of America's greatest journey of discovery.

(This is a three-part series offered via Hoopla eBook downloads for Pioneer Library System cardholders.)

Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads, by Paul Theroux, published in 2015 by Hamish Hamilton

Acclaimed travel writer Paul Theroux has spent 50 years crossing the globe, adventuring in the exotic, seeking the rich history and folklore of the far away. Now, for the first time, in his 10th travel book, Theroux explores a piece of America—the Deep South. He finds there a paradoxical place, full of incomparable music, unparalleled cuisine, and yet also some of the nation's worst schools, housing, and unemployment rates. It's these parts of the South, so often ignored, that have caught Theroux's keen traveler's eye. On road trips spanning four seasons, wending along rural highways, Theroux visits gun shows and small-town churches, laborers in Arkansas, and parts of Mississippi where they still call the farm up the road 'the plantation.' He talks to mayors and social workers, writers and reverends, the working poor and farming families—the unsung heroes of the south, the people who, despite it all, never left, and also those who returned home to rebuild a place they could never live without.

(This title is available in physical form or downloadable eBook through the Pioneer Library System.)

Contributed by Christian Potts, marketing and communications officer with the Pioneer Library System.

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