11. Mississippi River Above Cairo, Illinois

Mississippi River

View west, upstream

Aerial view of Tywappity Bottom along the wide Mississippi River

© 2000 Airphoto—Jim Wark

"Tywappity Bottom"

Arrived oposite three new habitation of some Americans who had settled under the spanish government," wrote Lewis on 22 November 1803. "This settlement is on a bottom called, Tywappety."

France had ceded Louisiana to Spain in 1762. Napoleon regained nominal ownership in 1800, but under the secret Third Treaty of San Ildefonso, Spain retained legal control of the huge and mostly unmapped territory. In 1790 some Spanish families established a village called Zewapeta—a name of uncertain meaning—on the west bank of the Mississippi above the mouth of the Ohio. Seven years later, enticed by generous Spanish land grants, American farmers from east of the Mississippi moved in, quickly anglicizing the Spanish name into the lilting Tywappity, which has since disappeared.

The social complexion of this eastern fringe of Louisianna Territory was richly varied in 1803. Up the Mississippi at Cape Girardeau, Missouri, the next day, the captains found what they perceived as unsavory characters, a population "almost entirely emegrant from the frontiers of Kentuckey & Tennessee . . . [who] are the most dessolute and abandoned even among these people; they are men of desperate fortunes, [with] but little to lose, either character or property." In contrast, a nearby settlement of German-Swiss immigrants from North Carolina struck Lewis as "temperate, laborious and honest people."

Major Amos Stoddard described the area:

Tiwappaty bottom . . . is equal in fertility to any part of the western country. It produces a thick growth of timber, and many of the trees are of an extraordinary size. Part of this bottom, which is about twenty miles long, and from three to six miles broad, produces an immense quantity of rushes. These grow to the height of about eight feet; they are large, and stand so thick, that it is difficult for a man to make his way among them. Large droves of cattle resort to them in winter, and fatten on them.1

The Mississippi River's flood plain, revised and renewed annually by the silt-laden spring rise, and defined by groves of Cottonwood trees between a road-topped dike and the summertime riverbank, is too rich for some farmers to resist, even today. In Jim's photograph, its intricate history of the Big River's slow-motion rises and falls can be read in the clearer waters.

On that late-November day Lewis and his party "overtook two keels from Lousville bound to Kaskaskias loaded with dry goods and whiskey," and "met two Keeled boats loaded with firs for New-Orleans." Comparatively speaking, the Mississippi was probably as busy in 1803 as it is today, but any one of the dozens of flat-bottom barges being nudged up and down the river in this springtime photo-moment holds more tonnage than whose little "keelboats." A barge "tow" is often a quarter of a mile long. Fifty-five percent of the cargo is coal; eighteen percent is stone for various purposes; the remainder consists of ores and steel, grains, and chemicals. An average tow of 15 barges has a capacity equal to 225 railroad cars or 870 trucks. The one at left, above, consists of 24 barges.


From Discovering Lewis & Clark from the Air
Photography by Jim Wark

Text by Joseph Mussulman
Reproduced by permission of Mountain Press

1. Major Amos Stoddard (1772-1813), Sketches, Historical and Descriptive of Louisiana (Philadelphia: Mathew Carey, 1812), 208-09. Born in Connecticut, Stoddard served in the American Revolution, then studied law and was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar. He rejoined the army as a captain of artillery, and upon consummation of the Louisiana Purchase he was named civil and military commander of Upper Louisiana, pending the establishment of civil government. In the official transfer of authority over the territory, he accepted it from Spain in behalf of France on March 9, 1804, and from France in behalf of the U.S. on March 10. Stoddard provided assistance to Lewis and Clark in their final preparations for the expedition, and assigned four men from his company to the Corps of Volunteers: John Dame, John Robinson, Ebenezer Tuttle, and Alexander Willard. Stoddard was promoted to the rank of major in 1807. He was wounded during the British siege of Fort Meigs, Ohio, and died of tetanus a few days later, on May 11, 1813.