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New Yorker Robert Fulton, inventor of a practical steamboat in 1807, had made possible the transformation of America’s great river system. With this new invention, men and women could travel upstream against a river’s current just as quickly and efficiently as they could travel downstream. Fulton’s Clermont had been built as a Hudson River steamer, but it took only a few short years for steamboats to make their way further into the frontier. After the successful run of an Ohio steamboat, built in 1811 by an inventor named Nicholas Roosevelt (an early relative of both Presidents Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt), to New Orleans and back again, the West witnessed the development © Milliken Publishing Company of the steamboat craze in American history.

One of those watching the Independence steam up the river was a ten-year-old boy named Kit Carson, who grew up to become a famous frontier guide and explorer. By 1860, a steamboat completed a trip of the Missouri River, landing at Fort Benton, Montana, a site 2,200 miles upriver. The arrival of the steamboat on the frontier changed the history of the Trans-Mississippi West. New Orleans soon became the most important port in America. In 1801, the value of the goods passing through New Orleans was about $4 million.

They captured a pelican. The men also saw a new creature on the plains—a burrowing animal which stood on its hind legs, yapping at the party—a prairie dog. Some of the men spent several hours trying to catch one of these elusive creatures. After great effort, they succeeded and sent the animal’s skin and skeleton back to President Jefferson. They made friends with the Mandan and Minnetaree Indians along the Knife River. Here Lewis and Clark agreed to make winter camp, knowing the Missouri River would soon begin freezing over, restricting their travel.

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