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Monday, March 4, 2013

The "Shanty-Boater"

My father built this boat, himself.  I believe it was the first one he built.  This photo was taken around 1947, I  think.
My father is dying.  There.  I've said it.  I don't know how long it will take, but it's clear that his time here is limited.  So I've been going through his things, looking for evidence of his youth that I can share with others.  I found several essays he wrote when he was about 17 years old.  His personality shined even then.

The "Shanty-Boater"
By William Howard Pritchartt, Jr.
English I, C-3
18 September circa 1943
Theme No. 1
Instructor:  Mr. Read

Grade B-minus

There are many picturesque phases of American life, which basically have not been altered by the advance of progress during the last century.  Among these is the life of a "shanty-boater"along the banks of the mighty Mississippi River.  This broad, muddy, twisting stream has long been the theme for innumerable poems and songs, which still reflect the color and adventure of the antebellum steamboat days.

To me, the "Ol Man River" has always seemed a living thing, for among my first recollections are those of staring from the steep bluffs of Natchez out over the river and into the green haze of the Louisiana lowlands beyond.   Consequently, as a growing boy many of my summer days were spent rowing for miles along the willow-covered banks, stripped to the waist, reveling in the calm and peaceful freedom which the river seemed to express.

Living along the banks of the Mississippi, usually within several miles of a town, are the staunch and sturdy "Shanty-Boaters," a tribe unto themselves.  Their homes consist of shanties or small shacks built on small barges approximately fifteen by thirty feet, and are usually moored in some sheltered cove or eddy, safe from the wind and current.

Invariably, these humble dwellings are guarded by two or three hoarse-voiced mongrels, whose sole responsibility in life is to serenade any boat or stranger who approaches near enough to arouse canine suspicions.

The average male "Shanty-Boater" might well have stepped from the pages of a Stevenson pirate novel as far as appearances are concerned.  Tanned to the texture of leather, grizzled whiskers, squinting eyes, tobacco-stained teeth, and muscular physique, this child of nature presents a startling picture.  His sole means of support is matching his wits against those of the catfish, buffalo, garfish and turtles which infest the Mississippi, for every river man has a strong aversion to any type of confining work.

In the spring or other seasons when the fish are running plentiful and silver begins to jingle in the tattered pockets of the "Shanty-Boater," his greatest pleasure is to have a wild fling in some river saloon where soon the wine, women, and juke-box music have separated him from his hard-earned savings.

Then he returns to his boat, drunk, tired, a little rueful, (but happy in the knowledge that here on the river he is free from the bonds and responsibilities of modern civilization.)

Note from instructor:  You're talking me into this as a profession.

Personally, I cannot for the life of me understand why he only got a B-minus.


  1. Elodie, I'm sorry about your father. He and my father and Neville Marshall owned a boat together at one point. Mom and Dad have quite a few pictures ... and a lot of stories! Regarding the essay: This just proves that the Natchez school system ain't what it used to be! He only got a B minus! I think it's an A+ ! Love to you. Chesney

  2. This is indeed a wonderful story by your father....and it actually sounds just like what he would think...
    I'll look forward to more of the memories that are hiding in that house of Howard's!!

  3. I too cannot imagine a B, especially in light of the instructor's comments. Most teachers I know would die for a paper this good from a college senior. Only thing I can figure is a loving daughter edited out typoes and misspellings.

  4. Dear Elodie, We were saddened to read about Howard's death. Rawdon and I had many a fun adventure on the river with him. He built lots of boats, including an air boat, which always scared me! I have many old movies and pics of those days. Your Dad was blessed to have you there with him. R. joins me in sending love and sympathy to you and yours. Kathie

  5. Long time fan and this is my first time posting. As I said I don’t post often so I just wanted to say; that your blog is super insightful and im always looking forward to your new content.

  6. Hi Elodie, I was just speaking to Randy Laird who pointed me to this wonderful story. Your father was a gifted writer. His detailed descriptions are evocative of Ernest Hemingway. Thank you very much for posting this. I really enjoyed reading about the life of a Shanty-Boater.