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Simple rafts with cabins built on them, flatboats ranged from 20 to 60 feet long, and 10 to 20 feet wide. When fully loaded they could float on water just two feet deep. A man steered the flatboat with a long sweep paddle. In 1842 from the Missouri border down the length of the White River 50 flatboats carried products for sale. These boats were then broken apart and the lumber sold at their destination.

Judge James Hall described a flatboat he saw:

"Several families were transporting themselves and their property on a raft eighty feet long with a house erected upon it. On each house was a stack of hay around which horses and cows were feeding. Paraphernalia of a farm yard, including ploughs, pigs, wagons, children and poultry were carried on it. The expense of such a trip is slight. These people bring their provisions with them and the boat floats with the current. On arrival, they step ashore, build a hut from the timber of the boat and commence business. " (A History of River Transportation in Arkansas from 1819-1880 by Mattie Brown.)

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