Monday, May 07, 2007


THIS NARROW SPIT OF LAND separates the Missouri River, in the foreground, and the Mississippi River, in the background, at the Confluence Point State Park, in Saint Charles County, Missouri.

In 1673, The Marquette and Joliet expedition marked the European discovery of the Missouri River. Francis Parkman wrote of this adventure in The Discovery of the Great West:
A torrent of yellow mud rushed furiously athwart the calm blue current of the Mississippi; boiling and surging, and sweeping in its course logs, branches, and uprooted trees. They had reached the mouth of the Missouri, where that savage river, descending from its mad career through a vast unknown of barbarism, poured its turbid floods into the bosom of its gentler sister. Their light canoes whirled on the miry vortex like dry leaves on an angry brook. "I never," writes Marquette, "saw any thing more terrific;" but they escaped with their fright, and held their way down the turbulent and swollen current of the now united rivers.
The river remains muddy and turbulent to this day; even though the Missouri was channelized starting in the late 19th century, it remains hazardous, and even changes the nature of the Mississippi from a placid stream to a torrent. In aerial photographs, the yellow mud of the Missouri is visible for more than ten miles downstream, for there is insignificant mixing of the waters up to downtown Saint Louis.

This confluence was the reason for the founding of Saint Louis; for before the advent of the railroads, boats were the only economical
means of transportation in the trackless wilderness. The native populations of Indians mainly settled by the rivers for the same reason. Near this point was the settlement of the Missouri tribe, from which the river gets its name. Upstream on the Missouri were the Osage, while on the eastern side of the Mississippi were the Illinois. The tribes used canoes for trade, and oftentimes their merchandise would travel a thousand miles over these rivers. Trade remains the most visible use of these rivers; they are more industrial than scenic in this area.

Major flooding is expected along this river in the coming week.

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