The River's Wildness
Prince Maximilian zu Wied entered the upper river in 1832 on the first side-wheeler on the Missouri, the Yellowstone. His trip was sponsored by the American Fur Co. to explore the culture of the Plains Indians. Karl Bodmer, the artist, was also aboard. Their travels took one full year, permitting Bodmer to sketch the untamed, but beautiful river and its unforgettable features—as well as the Indians. One day, the Maximilian-Bodmer party noticed the deep-draft steamer, Rubicon, piloted by Captain Horace Bixby, the famous Mississippi River boatman and mentor of Mark Twain, coming downriver. The Bixby boat, they learned, could not navigate the Missouri and had to turn around 350 miles below Fort Benton.
Another celebrated artist, Charles Wimar, took two trips up the Missouri—in 1858 and 1859—to sketch Indians and upper river topography. Aboard the Spread Eagle in 1859, he transferred at Fort Union to the Chippewa for a run to Fort Benton. His oil paintings, mostly from the sketches he made in and around Fort Benton in 1859, rank among America's greatest art treasures.
In earlier days, the Missouri was labeled "The Road of the Naturalists." In 1843, John James Audubon took the steamer Omega
upriver from St. Louis to find and paint mammals and birds. Earlier yet, the great English naturalist, Thomas Nuttall, took the Missouri to Independence, Missouri in 1834 then embarked on land for Oregon country. He returned the same way, bringing back "five hundred plants that were new to science," writes Harry Sinclair Drago in The Steamboaters.