Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Life on the Mississippi: An Epic American Adventure (Rinker Buck)

In the 1780s, Jacob Yoder faced a dilemma. His traditional market for selling his harvest was England, which was in the midst of peace negotiations to settle the American War for Independence with the former 13 colonies. Yoder decided to improvise on a solution to take goods to market by hauling them to Western Pennsylvania and sailing down to New Orleans by boat. Yoder’s journey was the impetus of revolution in transportation that helped fuel the growth of the new American republic. The flatboat, a small wooden structure with a flat top and square ends, hauled millions of tons of food and countless slaves and helped fuel expansion of America through the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys. 

Several years ago, author Rinker Buck reenacted Yoder’s flatboat journey. He constructed his own wooden flatboat, with some modern conveniences such as radio, a boat motor, and an updated American flag, and followed the course Yoder took to New Orleans from Western Pennsylvania. He details his journey and our nation’s history with flatboats through his book Life on the Mississippi. In it, Buck discusses the reasons for his journey, his family, but also the hidden messages that were mixed in the book. First, that you can slow reality down. A two month journey in a wooden boat will certainly do that. Second, that the history of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, like that of our country, is complex and there is a lot hidden just beneath the surface or just out of sight. Third, there is a lot of misinformation out there. From a rogue cop giving their definition of “facts” to a plethora of people warning about the certain death of a river journey, Buck deals with misinformation in numerous forms and shows how to get through it. 

Buck’s journey through our nation and our history is rich and detailed. Life on the Mississippi is a great story of separating fact from myth and learning to adapt.