The River We Have Wrought: A History of the Upper Mississippi

The River We Have Wrought: A History of the Upper Mississippi

The River We Have Wrought: A History of the Upper Mississippi

The River We Have Wrought: A History of the Upper Mississippi

Synopsis

The sweeping history of the upper Mississippi-and how it's been changed by human intervention. The River We Have Wrought is a landmark history of the upper Mississippi, from early European exploration through the completion of a navigable channel and a system of locks and dams in the mid-twentieth century.

Excerpt

Immediately following the Civil War, most farmers still produced for local or regional markets. Twenty years later, they cried for cheap access to international markets for a surplus vastly beyond regional and national needs. Farmers could not turn to the upper Mississippi River, however. The largely natural river was incapable of handling the grain offered to it. Railroads bridging the upper river and spreading throughout the plains beyond offered the best outlet but often charged unacceptable rates. Out of this milieu farmers and midwestern merchants began calling for a project that would radically change the upper Mississippi River's physical and ecological character.

To make the upper Mississippi River competitive, to provide a deep and permanent channel, would take millions and require resculpting the river like no force since the glaciers. A project so massive demanded a strong and sustained political movement. Such a movement began after the Civil War and blossomed during the 1870s. While not specifically a crusade for navigation improvement, it provided the momentum. The Midwest's soaring population and agricultural output gave birth to it, but the movement expanded well beyond the Midwest. Regionally and nationally, it responded as much to railroad monopolies as to the need for a navigable waterway.

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