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Books  >>  Travel

Paul Schneider

Old Man River

Paul Schneider Old Man River The Mississippi River In North American History
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Biographical note:

Paul Schneider is the acclaimed author of Bonnie and Clyde, Brutal Journey, The Enduring Shore, and The Adirondacks, a New York Times Book Review Notable Book. He and his family live in West Tisbury, Massachusetts.

Excerpt from book:

Prologue

The American Watershed

It doesn’t matter from what perspective you look at the river in the middle of the continent—geologically, ecologically, prehistorically, ethnographically, economically, industrially, socially, musically, literarily, culturally, or over the gunnels of your canoe midstream. It’s impossible to imagine America without the Mississippi. The river’s history is our history.

Similarly, just as a tree without branches and roots is merely lumber, it is pointless to separate the Mississippi from its tributaries. The upper Mississippi River, as the river above St. Louis is known, rises near the Canadian border at Lake Itasca in Minnesota. That stream has pride of name, of course, but the Missouri, which begins some nine thousand feet above sea level in the Rocky Mountains of Montana and joins the upper Mississippi at St. Louis, is a far longer river. The Arkansas River, which rises near Leadville, Colorado, and joins the Lower Mississippi halfway between Memphis and Vicksburg, is also longer than the Upper Mississippi. So is the Red River of the South, which rises in the Texas Panhandle. The relatively short Ohio, meanwhile, which rises in western Pennsylvania and Virginia and joins the Upper Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois, to form the Lower Mississippi, brings more water to the party than any two other tributaries combined. The truth is that any moving water south of the Great Lakes and between the Appalachians and the Rockies—with the exception of a few relative trickles—is going to Louisiana. The Mississippi, the Mississippi watershed, the Mississippi basin, the Mississippi catchment—41 percent of the continental United States—it’s all one river.

Parts of the river are older than the Atlantic Ocean. Parts of it were created yesterday. The Mississippi and its tributaries were the routes by which the first humans explored North America, and the earliest evidence (for the time being) of human habitation of the continent is in a rock shelter overlooking a small tributary of the Ohio in Pennsylvania. Agriculture developed independently in the Mississippi River basin, and with it, surplus food for artists, warmongers, shamans, and potentates. For millennia, cultures rose and fell in the watershed, often leaving behind elaborate earthworks and exquisite artifacts but just as often disappearing without leaving much behind. Eventually the greatest pre-Columbian city in North America was built beside the Mississippi River at Cahokia, in Illinois.

The corpse of the first European known to have explored the interior of North America—Hernando de Soto—was sunk in the Mississippi River nearly five hundred years ago. Two hundred years later George Washington got his first taste of battle during an engagement in the watershed over whether Britain or France would control the river. That skirmish started the Seven Years’ War, the first global war, which Americans know as the French and Indian War.

In many ways, the story of the Mississippi basin since the end of the French and Indian War is also the story of the federal government of the United States. The taxes that American tea-partiers revolted against were levied to pay for Britain’s wars in the watershed. King George’s attempts to control the pace of settlement across the Alleghenies was one of the intolerable acts of 1774 later cited in the Declaration of Independence.

After the American Revolution, the one tangible asset the national government owned was the land west of the Appalachians. The first war fought

Prologue
    The American Watershed 1

Book One: River of Giants
Continents Collide, Glaciers Recede, Mastodons Bellow, and Humans Arrive
    1. Ice on the Rocks         9
    2. The Missouri Leviathan         13
    3. Bones and Stones         20
    4. Broken Arrows         30
    5. Mammoth Season         35

Book Two: River of Mounds
The Rise and Fall, and Rise and Fall, and Rise of Native America
    6. Among the Effigies         43
    7. Poverty Point         54
    8. 60,000 Pearls         58
    9. The Mississippian Moment         64
    10. The Great Serpent         73

Book Three: River of Fortune
The Spanish Exit, the French Arrive, the Iroquois Take Action
    11. Bonjour Great Khan         81
    12. In the Iroquois Longhouse         88
    13. The American Bottom         98
    14. The Illinois Country         102
    15. Adrift         111
    16. The Incomparable La Salle         120
    17. Nous Sommes Tous Sauvages         129
    18. The Wrath         136
    19. If the River Don’t Rise         145

Book Four: River of Empires
The English Enter, the French Exit, the Iroquois Negotiate, and the Americans Take Over
    20. The Scramble for the Forks         153
    21. The Half King         159
    22. Adieu New France         171
    23. The American Watershed         180
    24. Allegheny Mornings         194

Book Five: Life on the Mississippi
Flatboats and Keelboats, Steamboats and Showboats, Songsters and Soul Drivers
    25. Down a Lazy River         205
    26. I Long to See You         223
    27. Up the Wicked River         236
    28. All Aboard         246
    29. Down Below         257

Book Six: River of blood
Lincoln and Davis, New Orleans and Vicksburg, Victory and Defeat
    30. Blood on the Tracks         267
    31. Anaconda         272
    32. Up in Flames         285

Book Seven: On the Lake of the Engineers
Floods Rise, Levees Rise, Dams Rise, while Mountains Fall and Grasses Sink
    33. The Mouth    


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