On average, most Missouri River steamboats were assembled from around 33,000 board feet of wood; nearly 50 full trees. For fuel, a typical riverboat consumed as many as 40 trees a day, says Lepley—nearly 4,000 trees in a sailing season. This thirst for wood required that steamboats stop several times daily so crew members could step ashore to chop down cottonwood, sycamores, or silver maples or possibly pick up driftwood. "The moment the boat touched the bank, the mate would call out 'woodpile' and every available man leaped ashore, loaded himself with wood, and hastened back on the boat," wrote Hiram M. Chittenden in History of Missouri River Steamboat Navigation in 1903. Local Indians occasionally ambushed "wooding parties," as they were dubbed, so the chopping assignment could be very disquieting for the crew. Some Indians labeled steamboats "fire canoes," since "they embodied all the fears and frustrations linked to the white man's presence," Paul O'Neil wrote in The Rivermen. Eventually, boat owners and others established wood yards and offered passing steamers cut wood for sale, Chittenden adds. "Later, the Indians themselves found the business a profitable one and finally refused to let the whites cut wood at all."
Classic Missouri River steamers were categorized as "western steamboats,"—possessed of double engines, sidewheels, better steering, more speed, buoyancy, and maneuverability, especially over peevish sand bars and around perilous bends. It was common for river pilots to describe the full day or two it often took just to get by one nasty sand bar. Sidewheelers were considered more passenger-friendly than stern wheelers; thus, packet lines on both the Mississippi and Missouri rivers mostly employed sidewheelers for their fleets of from two to ten passenger boats. The Twilight operated singly; it wasn't part of a packet line.
Sidewheelers were built to glide across the water rather than through it, as did the heavier sternwheelers, noted The Old West. Pine, less heavy than oak and other hardwoods, was used for floors, decks, and most of the often-gingerbready superstructure such as the main and boiler decks, officers' quarters, and pilot house. Cylindrical cast-iron boilers generated engine steam; usually a pair of 75 to 100 foot iron chimneys reached through to the upper deck; these were the most prominent features of the vessel besides the paddlewheel, normally located two-thirds of the way abaft.
River historians point out that steamers weren't always passenger ships for fur traders, gold miners, immigrants and settlers, buffalo hunters, or ranchers. At times they were troop transports; hospital ships; reconnaissance craft; fast dispatch boats, or well-armed gunboats. They were also supply ships for the string of military forts and often remote trading posts that were erected along the upper river from the 1850s through the 1870s.