Dorris Turner shares stories about her father, who was a steamboat pilot, in the Secret History of American River People exhibit. Photo by Wes Modes


History Museum to debut Secret History exhibit

The Sacramento History Museum presents a compelling new exhibit — A Secret History of American River People — opening on Saturday, July 1.

The special art and history project is part of a larger effort that spans many years, covers multiple rivers and is designed to encourage an awareness of issues facing current river communities, detail the long history of people who have lived and worked on and adjacent to the river and highlight basic river ecology. Guests to the history museum will have the opportunity to see photos, view artifacts and read narratives that showcase the past river travels of Santa Cruz artist Wes Modes on his homemade houseboat or “rustic recreated 1940s shantyboat” as he meticulously documented the people he met along the way. In addition to the visual and narrative components of the exhibit, museum guests will be able to interact with the exhibit by sharing personal river stories on special cards provided.

The project has been exhibited nationwide in the American Midwest and South in conjunction with expeditions on the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers. Now in the fourth year of the project, the artist has already traveled more than 1,000 river miles on the shantyboat and talked with thousands of people about the river before beginning his next journey on the Sacramento River. Launching in Red Bluff on July 1, Modes plans to float down the Sacramento River and reach the San Francisco Bay by the end of the month. For a limited time, the small shantyboat will be on display at the river’s edge in Old Sacramento – very near the history museum – July 19-22, and admission is free to step aboard.

The A Secret History of American River People exhibit will be on display at the museum through July 30. Museum admission costs $8 for adults, $5 for youth (ages 6 to 17) and children 5 and younger are free (along with museum members). For more information photos and/or blog posts about the Secret History project visit For more information about the Sacramento History Museum call (916) 808-7059 or visit

Traci Rockefeller Cusack


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