Tour the River
River of Pioneer Adventure
The Ohio River valley has some of the most fertile soil in the world. People said that the dirt was so rich that you could plant a bare stick and it would break out in leaves. Many pioneers moved out west because owning such land meant a better life. Today, this area is a part of the breadbasket of the world.
The Dewees family traveled from Philadelphia to Kentucky in 1787 to 1788. The first leg of their adventure was by wagon to Pittsburgh where they obtained a flatboat and continued down the Ohio River. In Mary Dewees' writing, she described some of their traveling adventures.
Often, children helped with chores. Such as cooking and cleaning up after meals and feeding and cleaning up after the animals. Other chores were new, such as acting as lookouts for snags and sandbars in the river and fishing off the boat. Even cats and dogs had important jobs to do. Cats caught rats, and a good watchdog could help hunt. Many children also found time to play along the banks.
By the Numbers: Traveling by Flatboat
Imagine yourself on a flatboat 200 years ago. Everything you need for a new life is aboard. You might have some livestock, such as a cow, a horse, a mule, a pig, and chickens. You will need your equipment for farming, tools, pots and pans, candles, food for people and your animals, blankets, clothing, weapons for hunting and protection, and a host of other things. You will need a place to sleep and to cook your meals. You must pack all of this onboard a single boat.
Estimate the square footage of a flatboat that is 40 feet by 12 feet (40' x 12'). Pace it off in the area around you, one adult pace is equal to about three feet.
Now imagine everything from your house fitting in the same space. Remember a space for your car.
River of Freedom
A river journey meant different things to different people. To some it meant freedom. The Ohio River was the boundary line between Slave States and Free States. Although helping the slaves was illegal, many people wanted to do it. One problem they had was how to get information about escape routes to those held in slavery in the South.
Slaves were not allowed to read or write. However, they knew about their environment. Parents taught their children how to find the North Star in the night sky. The North Star is a part of a constellation that looks like a little dipper or a drinking gourd.
The song "Follow the Drinking Gourd" is attributed to a man named Peg Leg Joe who worked as a traveling carpenter in the South. This song contains hidden information. It tells escaping slaves when to leave for their journey to freedom and what route they should take.
Joe taught this song to slaves on the plantations in Alabama and Mississippi where he worked. Even though many escape routes existed, this is the only surviving example of such a song. We will never know if songs like this assisted anyone in escaping slavery or if they are just folklore. What we do know is that many people crossed the Ohio River in their quest for freedom.
Follow the Drinking Gourd
"Follow the Drinking Gourd"
When the sun comes back and the first quail calls, Follow the drinking gourd. For the old man is awaiting for to carry you to freedom, If you follow the drinking gourd.
The riverbank makes a very good road, The dead trees show you the way, Left foot, peg foot, traveling on Follow the drinking gourd.
The river ends between two hills,Follow the drinking gourd. There's another river on the other side, Follow the drinking gourd.
Where the great big river meets the little river, Follow the drinking gourd. For the old man is awaiting for to carry you to freedom, If you follow the drinking gourd.
Listen to a version of "Follow the Drinking Gourd".
Based on a work at http://www.ibiblio.org/jimmy/folkden-wp/
The decoded song directs the escapee to leave in the early spring and to follow the banks of the Tombigbee River. The "other river" is just north of the Tombigbee. Can you find this river? See if you can trace the escape route on the map.
Follow Your Own Clues Game
Look around you and pick a destination. Do not tell anyone what it is. Map a route using words with only references from nature, e.g., turn at the tree with the crooked trunk. What other clues would be appropriate to give people following the directions, so they would know if they are on the right path? How could the route be followed at night, with limited sight or visual clues?
Trade clues with your friends, can you find your way to the destination?
Imagine you were writing your clues in secret code contained within a poem or a song. Set the poem/song to music. Use a tune from a simple song everyone knows.
River of Change
Humans have attempted to tame rivers by preventing flooding along their banks and to assure that the river is navigable for boats and barges.
These are earthen embankments whose purpose is to furnish flood protection. Levees help make rivers deeper by concentrating the flow of the water into a main channel.
Wing dams help direct water to the middle of the river channel making the water swifter and deeper for barge traffic.
One of the most common obstacles to navigation on our rivers are snags. Snags are trees or branches that become embedded in rivers, lakes or streams. In 1824, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began the removal of snags and other obstructions on the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers. Snag boats are still at work today.
Rivers carry sediment such as gravel, sand, and silt. The faster the water moves, the more sediment it can carry. The flow of the rivers constantly changes. As the river slows, the larger and heavier pieces of sediment fall to the bottom of the stream. When sediment accumulates, it makes areas of the channel too shallow. Large boats called dredges are used. Dredges vacuum up water from the bottom of the river, strain out the gravel and sand, and return the water to the channel.
Locks & Dams
Traveling on the Ohio River could be a hazardous journey. The Falls of the Ohio at Louisville, Kentucky, were particularly treacherous even in high water, smashing many boats against the huge rocks.
A natural river has an uneven sloping bottom, with areas too shallow for navigation and areas of deeper pools. Dams are wall-like structures that span the entire width of the river. Dams hold back enough water to keep the main channel of the river at an appropriate depth for barge travel. The dam system maintains a "stairway" of these pools.
Locks are enormous chambers built beside the dam that act like elevators by lifting or lowering boats to allow navigation of the river. The water level in the locks is raised or lowered by gravity so boats and barges can travel up and down the river using this "stairway."
Navigating on the River
Towboat captains must spend several years learning about river navigation. They must be able to keep their tow safe in the main channel of the river. To do so, they must memorize every twist and turn, every lock and dam, bridge, and buoy on the river. They must also be on constant watch for snags and other obstacles in the river.
To the right are examples of the buoys that mark the navigational channel. As you look down-stream, the red nuns will be on your left. The green cans will be on your right. The main channel is between them.
Port means Left | Starboard means Right
Restoring the Rivers
Water is the most critical resource issue of our lifetime and our children's lifetime. The health of our waters is the principal measure of how we live on the land.
At the turn of the 20th century, many navigational improvements had been made on the Ohio River. Intensive use of the river and waterway system over the years resulted in serious pollution problems.
Clean Water Act
In 1972, Congress passed the Clean Water Act. Its purpose was to repair the damage to America's waterways and restore them to their natural state as nearly as possible. Today, many groups of concerned citizens are working toward those goals on the rivers. The American barge industry is one of those groups.
The Barge Industry's Commitment to the Environment
Barge companies are playing a vital role in keeping America's rivers safe and clean. The American Waterways Operators, an association of the tugboat, towboat, and barge industry, and the United States Coast Guard have established a Responsible Carrier Program to promote "safe, efficient, and environmentally responsible transportation."
We invite you to do all you can to keep our rivers safe and clean. You may start by downloading, printing and signing a Kids For Clean Rivers Pledge Card.
The Barge Industry & the Environment
One gallon of fuel can move one ton of cargo 576 miles by barge. That same gallon of fuel would move that same ton of cargo 413 miles by rail, and only 155 miles by truck. Shipping by barge creates less pollution, because it requires less fuel to move the cargo.
Over 230 million tons of cargo is transported on the Ohio River each year. Seventy percent of that cargo is coal and other energy products. Barge transportation of goods is the single most efficient, economical, and environmental choice for transporting freight.