These boats were constructed with a keel running from bow to stern and could travel both up and downstream . Usually they had a long cabin to hold freight, or passengers. Keelboats were powered by oars and setting poles, although some had sails. They were fairly expensive for the time, one being priced at $300 in 1815.
A rope (cordelle) was fastened to the bow of the boat and crew members would throw the rope over their shoulders and walk along gravel bars and river banks, dragging the boat. The setting poles were 10 to 12 feet long with a knob on the upper end to put against the boatmen's shoulders. Six to ten crew members walked in single file on each side of the cargo box, starting at the bow. They placed the poles on the river bottom, walking and pushing the boat ahead. When a man reached the stern, he would pass the others by going to the head of the line again.
The boat captain or pilot guided the boat with a long, heavy, wide-bladed oar placed at the stern. The handle extended over the cabin and the captain often steered it from cabin-top. ("Early upper White River Keelboating" by Duane Huddleston)
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