October 22, 2018

Across the Wide Missouri

The bridge across the Missouri River on US 212 near Charger's Camp.
Friday found me driving through western South Dakota's buttes county. There was the famous Bear Butte — state park and ceremonial site —hazy to the south, like one of the Black Hills that had wandered out from the herd. 

Mud Butte (also the site of a famous T-Rex skeleton, but not as complete as Sue's, was close to the highway. There must be stories about it that go way, way back.
"Hey, remember the time when there was that little herd of mammoths on the north side of the butte? Crazy Kid, Many Arrows, and White Dog were going to circle around on the west side, but they bumped into some of those really big wolves that had the same idea. They about shit themselves."

"Oh yeah, those big big wolves. Haven't seen any since I was a kid."

"Me neither. Not so many mammoths either."
"That's all right. I like the taste of bison better anyway."
The story of Charger's Camp. Click to enlarge and read.
The Missouri is wide here, but what you are seeing is Lake Oahe, backed up by a dam down by Pierre, the state capital. One of those big Corps of Engineers projects from the 1960s. Still, the river was big enough for 19th-century steamboats, at least during a window of high water from late spring into late summer.

If we followed the geographer's rule that a river is named from its longest piece, not for a tributary, then the Missouri (2,341 miles/3,767 km) is the main river, while the Mississippi (2,320 miles/3,734) is, by a riverine whisker, the tributary.

Huckleberry Finn and Jim would have rafted the Missouri River. The bluffs at Vicksburg and Natchez would look down on the Missouri. Some people like that Missouri Delta blues sound, while levees keep the Missouri from flooding New Orleans.

Most of all, instead of the Mississippi dividing the 48 states into East and West, the Missouri would divide the continental US on a sort of northwest-southeast line, and I wonder how differently that would make us think about ourselves — how it would line up with cultural patterns.

For instance, "East Dakota" and "West Dakota." West Dakota would have been scenic but economically struggling until the Bakken oil came in.

2 comments:

Unknown said...

"...across the wide Missouri,
across the mountains high,
oh the west moved west,
'til it came to rest
'neath the blue Pacific sky."


Rick

Chas Clifton said...

Me, I always associate that line with the song "Oh Shenandoah," where it appears in some versions.