Anticipating the Fourth of July U.S. holiday, we think of “independence,” which makes me think of Independence, Missouri. Now a suburb of Kansas City, this city was originally the point of departure of our California, Oregon and Santa Fe Trails.
At the crossroads of the Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, Independence was the hometown of our President Harry S. Truman; and like Truman, Missouri is pretty much the center of the continental US and. So it truly is an American heartland and gatherer of rivers.
This Great Rivers State has been home to the pre-Columbian Mississippian Culture, now known only by their UNESCO World Heritage Site mounds (c 700-1400 A.D.) that kept them the flood plains of the Mississippi River that fertilized the crops at Cahokia. As a St. Louis road sign explains “ It’s called a floodplain because it’s plain that it floods.”
The first permanent “European” settlement was by Creole fur traders who settled right on the banks of the Mississippi River south of St. Louis in Ste. Genevieve in the mid-1730’s. After the fur trade, its residents turned keeping livestock in its communal “Grand Champ” (Big Field) to growing wheat, corn and tobacco.
This charming town was first moved back from its original waterfront location following the Great Flood of 1785. Even so, Ste. Genevieve still faces flood threats that explain its high concrete levees and gates pic built after the Great Flood of 1993 that turned this region into an interior ocean.
Once my mind focuses on Missouri River’s history, it quickly jumps to Mark Twain, who wrote endlessly about the flow and the cultures along the Mississippi River. Thus, in honor of July 4 and Missouri and Mark Twain, here are some favorite quotes – both fun and serious – from that region’s great bard.
The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book… which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it had uttered them with a voice. And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day. Life on the Mississippi, 1874
It is good for steamboating, and good to drink; but it is worthless for all other purposes, except baptizing. Life on the Mississippi, 1874
The man they called Ed said the muddy Mississippi water was wholesomer to drink than the clear water of the Ohio; he said if you let a pint of this yaller Mississippi water settle, you would have about a half to three- quarters of an inch of mud in the bottom, according to the stage of the river, and then it warn’t no better than Ohio water – what you wanted to do was to keep it stirred up – and when the river was low, keep mud on hand to put in and thicken the water up the way it ought to be. Life on the Mississippi, 1874
“The military engineers of the Commission have taken upon their shoulders the job of making the Mississippi over again – a job transcended in size by only the original job of creating it.” Life on the Mississippi, 1874
“One who knows the Mississippi will promptly aver – not aloud but to himself – that ten thousand River Commissions, with the mines of the world at their back, cannot tame that lawless stream, cannot curb it or confine it, cannot say to it, “go here,” or ‘Go there,” and make it obey; cannot save a shore which it has sentenced; cannot bar its path with an obstruction which it will not tear down, dance over, and laugh at. But a discreet man will not put these things into spoken words; for the West Point engineers have not their superiors anywhere; they know all that can be known of their abstruse science; and so, since they conceive that they can fetter and handcuff that river and boss him, it is but wisdom for the unscientific man to keep still, lie low, and wait till they do it.” Life on the Mississippi, 1874
The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise…. Eruption
In response to the previous quote, the following is the grand finale of this fireworks of Mark Twain quotes. If all of us – in the U. S. and everywhere on this planet – were to be inspired by his call to explore, dream and discover, I think we could reduce climate change, pollution, and other threats to our fresh water resources.
“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Enjoy the Fireworks! Alison Jones, Director NWNL