In November of 1915, journalist Elwood Lloyd, his wife (referred to only as “Little Partner”), and their small dog Patsy May, put their birch-bark canoe the “Vagabond” in the water at Chautauqua Lake, New York, and started a 3,976-mile, eight-month canoe journey to New Orleans.
The trip was to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the journey of French explorer Etienne Brule, the first European to make the trip from Lake Erie down to the Mississippi River. Connecting through smaller waterways to the Alleghany and Ohio Rivers, the Lloyds would make the Mississippi River the last leg of their journey.
From snowstorms to drenching summer rains and intense Southern sun, they faced all types of weather in their 18-foot-long canoe, with no roof to shield them. Elwood spoke of the intense heat in areas where the high levees along the Mississippi River blocked cooling breezes. Their small open boat also served as their bed when they weren’t on land.
They made frequent stops along the way, giving small lectures to riverside communities and settlements about their journey. They spoke of the “unusual characters” and “hard looking customers” they encountered but made clear that all the people they met were hospitable and welcoming as the Lloyds traded stories for food, lodging and new friendships.
While in New Orleans, they met with Mayor Behrman at City Hall to extend greetings from the mayor of Mayville, New York (their starting location). They also gave illustrated talks about their journey, the people and places they encountered, and the story of Brule to the Louisiana Historical Association at the Cabildo and to the American Boys’ Commonwealth at the YMCA.
Though Lloyd would write of his adventures, their goal wasn’t financial gain, but to spread cheer and friendship on what they called the Voyage of Friendliness, and claim those they met as “subjects for our Kingdom of Happiness and his throne mate, the gentle Queen Contentment.”
Upon their arrival in New Orleans on July 28, 1916, the travelers were met on the river by the Young Men’s Department of the Association of Commerce in a rented boat (called the “Destrehan”) near Carrollton Avenue. The “Destrehan” escorted the canoe and its riders to the foot of Canal Street, where the Lloyds and Patsy May were welcomed by a large and enthusiastic crowd.