The first steamboat to ascend the Arkansas River, the Comet, arrived at Arkansas Post on March 31, 1820, and river travel was transformed.
Two years later people in the new town of Little Rock were jubilant over the arrival of the first steamboat in their area: the Eagle. The Eagle was en route to the Cherokee's Dwight Mission School, a few miles upstream.
Congress recognized that river transportation was important for settlement and commerce. Beginning in 1824, a string of legislation was passed to improve inland navigation. The 1899 Rivers and Harbors Act firmly placed authority for improvements to rivers and harbors in the hands of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
As river traffic increased, so did settlements and landings. Bt 1868 there were 23 steamboat landings between Petit Jean and the town of Roseville, including Patterson's Bluff, Spadra, Shoal Creek, Scotia, Norristown and Galla Rock.
A successful river captain required more of a man that simple bravery, or even good eyesight and judgement. Mark Twain said that "a pilot had to know the river with such absolute certainty that he could steer by reading the picture in his head rather than the one before his eyes."
Steamboat travel was fast,
and the boats could carry a large load, but the river could be dangerous. One newspaper called the Arkansas River the graveyard of steamboats. In 1872 the Arkansas Gazette published a list of 117 steamboats lost on the Arkansas.
River men did not expect their boat to have a long life. Moving sandbars, snags that could rip a boat apart, and boiler explosions led to a steamboat life expectancy of less than three years. Yet, profits were such that a steamboat could pay for itself in about 20 weeks.