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Text Illustrations
June 30 to July 4, 1870 Natchez vs Robert E. Lee Steamboat Race

Two different captains raced from Natchez, Mississippi to St. Louis, MO. On the boat called the Natchez they carried cargo and passengers. It was actually the faster of the two steamboats. On the other boat, called the Robert E. Lee everything was stripped away. The furnishings were removed and no cargo or passengers were accepted. They fired the boilers with bacon slabs and hog fat to make the fires burn hotter and to build up the steam pressure to push the boat through the muddy water even faster.

The Robert E. Lee was ahead most of the race until it ran aground on the last day. It shook itself loose just as the Natchez came into sight and the traveled together for some distance with people cheering on the banks of the mighty Mississippi river.

Then in the early morning of the last night both boats were covered with a dense river fog. The Robert E. Lee plowed ahead without regarding the danger and arrive in St. Louis 6 hours ahead of the Nachez. Not only had the Natchez stopped several times along the way to disembark and to accept passengers, the captain had also tied up for five hours during the fog. His actual travel time was shorter but the other captain won the race – or did he? This was the great debate among the whole of the American nation. Even in Europe it was argued.

For you see one boat captain forgot the purpose of his trip. He thought it was about winning the race whatever the cost while the other captain understood that it was to carry cargo and passengers safely to their destinations. One captain confused his own dreams of glory with the purposes of those who owned the boat. The other boat captain kept faith with his trust.