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Samuel L. Clemens and Richard Burton both took a steamboat from St. Louis to St. Joseph and neither had much to say about the trip. Burton does address the physical characteristics of the Mississippi River drainage basin and presents arguments as to why the Missouri River should not be considered as the Mississippi's headwaters.

July 18, 1861 Thursday - Orion and Sam left St. Louis on the Sioux City for St. Joseph, Missouri: "We were six days going from St. Louis to “St. Jo.”—a trip that was so dull, and sleepy, and eventless that it has left no more impression on my memory than if its duration had been six minutes instead of that many days. No record is left in my mind, now, concerning it, but a confused jumble of savage-looking snags, which we deliberately walked over with one wheel or the other; and of reefs which we butted and butted, and then retired from and climbed over in some softer place; and of sand-bars which we roosted on occasionally, and rested, and then got out our crutches and sparred over. In fact, the boat might almost as well have gone to St. Jo. by land, for she was walking most of the time, anyhow—climbing over reefs and clambering over snags patiently and laboriously all day long. The captain said she was a “bully” boat, and all she wanted was more “shear” and a bigger wheel. I thought she wanted a pair of stilts, but I had the deep sagacity not to say so."

(Roughing It)

From Burton:

According to Lieutenant Warren, who endorses the careful examinations of the parties under Governor Stevens in 1853, the Missouri is a superior river for navigation to any in the country, except the Mississippi below their junction. It has, however, serious obstacles in wind and frost.

From the Yellow Stone to its mouth the breadth when full varies from one-third to half a mile: in low water the width shrinks, and bars appear. Where timber does not break the force of the winds, which are most violent in October, clouds of sand are seen for miles, forming banks, which, generally situated at the edges of trees on the islands and points, often so much resemble the Indian mounds in the Mississippi Valley, that some of them - for instance, those described by Lewis and Clarke at Bonhomme Island - have been figured as the works of the ancient Toltecs.

It would hardly be feasible to correct the windage by foresting the land. The bluffs of the Missouri are often clothed with vegetation as far as the debouchure of the Platte River. Above that point the timber, which is chiefly cotton wood, is confined to ravines and bottom lands, varying in width from ten to fifteen miles above Council Bluffs, which is almost continuous to the mouth of the James River. Every where, except between the mouth of the Little Cheyenne and the Cannon Ball rivers, there is a sufficiency of fuel for navigation; but, ascending above Council Bluffs, the protection afforded by forest growth on the banks is constantly diminishing. The trees also are injurious; imbedded in the channel by the "caving-in" of the banks, they form the well-known sawyers, or floating timbers, and snags, trunks standing like chevaux de rise at various inclinations, pointing down the stream.

From the mouth of the James River down to the Mississippi, it is a wonder how a steamer can run; she must lose half her time by laying to at night, and is often delayed for days, as the wind prevents her passing by bends filled with obstructions. The navigation is generally closed by ice at Sioux City on the 10th of November, and at Fort Leavenworth by the 1st of December.

The rainy season of the spring and summer commences in the latitude of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, and Southern Nebraska, between the 15th of May and the 30th of June, and continues about two months. The floods produced by the melting snows in the mountains come from the Platte, the Big Cheyenne, the Yellow Stone, and the Upper Missouri, reaching the lower river about the 1st of July, and lasting a month.

Rivers like this, whose navigation depends upon temporary floods, are greatly inferior for ascent than for descent. The length of the inundation much depends upon the snow on the mountains: a steamer starting from St Louis on the first indication of the rise would not generally reach the Yellow Stone before low water at the latter point, and if a miscalculation is made by taking the temporary rise for the real inundation, the boat must lay by in the middle of the river till the water deepens.

Some geographers have proposed to transfer to the Missouri, on account of its superior length, the honor of being the real head of the Mississippi; they neglect, however, to consider the direction and the course of the stream, an element which must enter largely in determining the channels of great rivers. It will, I hope, be long before this great ditch wins the day from the glorious Father of Waters.

(The City of the Saints)

Horace Greeley wrote from Atchison, Kansas May 15, 1859:

I took passage from St. Joseph for this place at eight this morning on the good steamer Platte Valley, Captain Coursey, and defied the chill east wind, and damp, cold atmosphere, to take my first lesson in Missouri navigation. The distance by water is some forty miles; by land considerably less; the river being here, as everywhere, crooked and capricious. I regretted to note that it tends, if unchecked, to grow worse and worse; the swift current rapidly forming a bank below every projecting point, and thus setting the stream with ever-increasing force against the yielding, crumbling mold or silt of the intervale which forms the opposite shore, which is thus rapidly undermined and falls in, to be mingled with and borne away by the resistless flood. The banks are almost always nearly perpendicular, and are seldom more than two or three feet above the surface of the water at its present high stage, so that the work of devastation is constantly going on. The river is at once deep, swift, and generally narrow—hardly so wide in the average as the Hudson below Albany, though carrying the water of thirty Hudsons. It cannot be half a mile wide opposite this city. Its muddiness is beyond all description; its color and consistency are those of thick milk porridge; you could not discern an egg in a glass of it. A fly floating in a teacup of this dubious fluid an eighth of an inch below the surface would be quite invisible. With its usually bold bluffs, two or three hundred feet high, now opposing a rocky barrier to its sweep, now receding to a distance of two or three miles, giving place to an intervale, many feet deep, of the richest mold, usually covered by a thrifty growth of elm, cotton-wood, etc., its deep, rapid, boiling, eddying current, its drifting logs and trees, often torn from its banks by its floods, and sometimes planted afresh in its bed, so that the tops rise angularly to a point just below or just above the surface of the water, forming the sawyer or snag so justly dreaded by steamboats, the Missouri stands alone among the rivers of the earth, unless China can show its fellow.

I have not yet learned to like it.