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~Lower Mississippi River Dispatch No. 826~
~~~~~~~ Monday, Mar 8, 2021 ~~~~~~~~

Clarksdale, MS ~ Helena, AR ~ Memphis, TN ~ Vicksburg, MS
~~~~~Utah meets Alaska~~~~~
~~~meets Mississippi River~~~

Recap: We have been exploring the 4th Chickasaw Bluff -- in our imaginations.

What did it look like before woman and man made footprints? Before we started shaping the earth to meet our needs? We can learn a lot about the 4th Bluff by looking at photos and paintings -- and descriptions -- of other bluffs, especially of the 2nd Chickasaw Bluff.

(PS: other notable "wild" loess bluffs on the Lower Miss are those found at Columbus, KY, Natchez, MS, and Fort Adams, MS.)



2nd Chickasaw Bluff

From the Rivergator:
Paddler's Guide to the Lower Miss


LBD 771-769
The Second Chickasaw Bluff
(Richardson Bluff)


As you paddle along the Hatchie Bar and then past the mouth of the Hatchie River you will be afforded your first vista of the second natural wonder along this section of river, the 2nd Chickasaw Bluff, sometimes known as Richardson Bluff. Gaze downstream over your vessel towards the towering loess cliffs. It’s a little deceptive because of the great distances and the scale of the river. But you will probably be impressed by how much of your vision they fill. Even at five miles away The 2nd Chickasaw Bluff covers 180 degrees of the horizon!


Snoop Takes a Break to Let Barge Pass -- photo by Tony Heck
(Note: the 2nd Chickasaw Bluff forms the 200' tall wall behind the river, overgrown with vegetation in places, the raw and colorful earth typical to the bluffs exposed in others). Wrote Tony: "Snoop and I waited-out an upstream-bound barge, who was creating a 10' roostertail in that narrow bend."


At first they are nothing more than a reddish brown line of convoluted earth strung across the river, rising slightly above the blue reflections on the muddy water and over the forested islands. But as you approach nearer they gain height and girth, with towering ridges that look like rock (but are actually mud) and deep fissures. For an unsuspecting paddler it’s something like driving across the Great Plains and seeing for the first time the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains rising heavenward. For a floodplain resident who has never witnessed the bluffs in their raw state you might experience vertigo. You will be filled with a strange feeling of not knowing where the heck you are, so foreign is the landscape. The bluffs keep growing and growing until you reach their base where they fill most of the southern sky in a roiling collision of colorful earth-tones, mostly yellows, oranges and reds, but some greens, greys and blues also, that collapse in chaotic sequences of horizontal layers and vertical precipices. With colors of the canyonlands and the texture of Iceland, it’s something like Utah meets Alaska, the topography reminiscent of a colorful calving glacier at the ocean’s terminus, replete with deep crevasses and deep dark earth cracks that seem to flow in a jumbled course from the distinct razor sharp line at the top of the bluff down through many layers of earth and spilling with gravity to the river’s edge. Adding to the thrill of this exotic atmosphere is a thick kudzu jungle that covers much of the cliffside wherever it has been able to gain a perch, but also where it has consumed whole trees, filled shallow valleys, and created a green kingdom that could have come right out of the Tolkein’s Middle Earth. A notable scene is kudzu eating the Randolph Light day marker at mile 770.1.


2nd Chickasaw Bluff (photo: John Ruskey)


Indeed this is the earth in motion, from the top of the two-mile long bluff to the shoreline below. The river has slowly but steadily been eating away the bottom of the bluff through the millennia and the bluff has been responding like some recoiling but ultimately helpless creature. It’s a land in flux, the feast grounds at the edge of the biggest river in North America, full of muddy leftovers that one day are seen and the next day are gone. As such you will need to be vigilant for slabs of falling mud, falling trees, quick mud, and mud slips, especially towards the downstream end of the bluff where the cliffs rise in a clean vertical leap several hundred feet high directly above the river’s edge. Almost no one save the bald eagle dares to make a landing here. If you do so your journey would be best protected by a safety rope, like a party of climbers on a Swiss Glacier, stay roped together as you walk anywhere along the base of the bluff or risk falling into one of the deep cracks or fissures. The responsible explorer would wear a climbing helmet and tote a 2nd safety rope and an emergency kit with food and water in case of the worst. Poisonous snakes, spiders and other creatures abound in the blanket of kudzu, which is sometimes chest deep, and sometimes over your head, and impedes any progress within its thick tangle. A machete could be useful, although it might make things worse when the loosened tangle falls on your head.



2nd Chickasaw Bluff (photo: John Ruskey)

Camping or picnicking is unthinkable. For one thing there is no level place anywhere to make a camp, and for another nothing but gooey mud is found. There are flat looking places that when you make a step you discover they are actually pools of mud with seemingly no bottom (another good reason to rope up). What looks like rocks crumbles in your hand. What seems like sandstone is really sandy mud. What looks like slate is simply layers of gray loess which dissolves in the next rainstorm and falls in VW Beetle sized chunks from the heights above. Those needing a landing should do so above the sandy bluffs at Morgan Point (RBD 771-769) or continue downstream to Duvall’s Boat Ramp (LBD 768) or the sandbars around Reverie Landing/Cedar Point (LBD 766-763).

To be sure, the beauty of the Second Chickasaw Bluff is best enjoyed from the cockpit of your kayak or seat of your canoe (or even better standing on your paddleboard) as you slide along its base buoyed by the never tiring boils and eddies of the big river. In fact you will be enjoying a natural phenomena that no on on land can ever appreciate because there is no way to get there. The adage “you can’t get there from here” definitely applies! Stay on your vessel as you float along the base of the bluff. In places there are enormous boils and strong eddies that reach out a hundred yards, but you can easily skirt along all of these and enjoy the view.



Mark River and Wolfie paddling below 2nd Chickasaw Bluff (photo: John Ruskey)


If there are any upstream tows be ready for the big waves that pile up here, expounded by the wall of mud and turbulent waters. Paddler’s beware: deferring to large downstream tows, upstream tows sometimes hug the bank at bluff bottom (below the powerlines) and sometimes dive into the giant eddy a mile downstream (below Randolph Bluff Foot Light LBD 768.9). When they come upstream don’t get trapped against the jagged cliffs at bluff base bottom! Watch for tows and monitor VHF Channel 13 for any activity. Go to shore far above this location and let them pass, or paddle far RBD towards the Arkansas shore in advance of their passage and maintain a healthy 500 yards distance. You might miss close-ups scenic views along the base of the bluff, but you will gain the incomparable scenic view of the largest towboat/barge packages on earth dwarfed by the colossal mass of the Second Chickasaw Bluff!

The Second Chickasaw Bluff runs on a SE diagonal (opposite the angle of the First Chickasaw Bluff), hence it is best viewed (and photographed) in the morning light. For this reason, you can ideally experience the best light on both Chickasaw Bluffs leaving Sans Souci Landing or environs in the afternoon, passing by the 1st Bluff sometime late afternoon/evening and camping somewhere below, if it’s low water try the Hatchie Towhead, and arise the next day for the morning light on the 2nd Bluff. In particular, the winter time low angle sun occludes much of the bluff by noon. During cold spells ice can accumulate on the cliff seeps, icicles can form, and any rare snowfall will remain here longer than surrounding places where the sun reaches. Ice hastens the collapse of the muddy cliffs, so be especially careful of falling mud boulders and mud avalanches with any winter time visits.

For more, keep reading on the Rivergator website:
https://www.rivergator.org/river-log/caruthersville-to-memphis/osceola-to-shelby-forest.cfm/pg/6/

Thanks to image research (and some very helpful and fantastic reader input) I have some interesting perspectives of the 4th Chickasaw Bluff I can share with everyone today:


Karl Bodmer, 1815, Fort Adams on the Mississippi


Harold Fisk, 1944, Ancient Courses, Mississippi River Meander Belt, Plate #22, Sheet #5

The Fisk Map (and Google Earth) was helpful in creating the below pencil sketch image, depicting how the river might have looked from the perspective of an eagle flying above the 4th Chickasaw Bluff several thousand years ago:


Eagle-Eye View: John Ruskey, 2021, 18x24 pencil, looking downstream from 4th Chickasaw Bluff into the Mississippi Delta -- over what is today McKellar Lake, President's Island, Nonconnah Creek, Chuckalissa, Dismal Point, Josie Harry, Horn Lake, the faint line of Crowley's Ridge seen in upper right

Orienting the 4th Chickasaw Bluff in relation to modern day Memphis:

Virginia McLean
, board member and powerhouse behind the Memphis-based Friends for our Waterfront, shared a very helpful description orienting the 4th Chickasaw Bluff in relation to modern day Memphis:

Wrote Virginia: "What a wonderful project! I have some historical maps that may help and will pull together and send. When I think about the 4th bluff, I see it running/ sort of bordered by 2 bodies of water - on the N. by the Wolf and on the s. by Nonconnah Creek, both which have since been altered and land dammed to create peninsulas and harbors, ie. Mud Island/Wolf River Harbor and to the south President’s Island/McKellar Lake. From the best I can tell, the Pyramid sits about at the point where the Wolf flowed into the River back in 1819 when Memphis was mapped. Later the Corps channelized Wolf River Harbor creating the straight section as it today enters the Mississippi. There were 2 cities, too; Memphis to the N. and South Memphis to the S. with the connecting point being Union.

Illuminating primary source passages, and thoughts, and geologic history:

Brad Lieb, phD, Archeologist for the Chickasaw Nation, shared some very helpful primary source descrioptions:

Dr. Lieb reported that the Chickasaws called the river there the Sakti Lhafa’ Okhina’, which is translates something like “Scored Bluff Bank River” referencing the erosional rills that marked the face of the Fourth Bluff which was/is essentially an erosional feature.

Samuel Cole Williams, included in his book, Beginnings of West Tennessee, a reference to a journal entry from 1791 in which Colonel John Pope of Virginia recorded one of the earliest descriptions of West Tennessee’s Chickasaw Bluff:



[From us modern day paddlers: This is not a far-fetched description! We've witnessed this rainbow of muddy colors from our canoes as we paddle below the 2nd Chickasaw Bluff near Randolph. The bluff here looks like Utah meets the Mississippi River! (On the other hand the 1st Chickasaw Bluff at Fort Pillow is more monotone, all greys and yellows.]

Brad shared some additional illuminating passages and thoughts:


In this French journal from 1739-40 there is a little description of it, but not much.

https://ia600500.us.archive.org/16/items/midamericahistor28unse/midamericahistor28unse.pdf


There were large patches of bare loess, subject to landslides and mass wasting events, and due to the special properties of loess, near vertical in places but generally the bluff was just slanted. There was a large talus slope deposit at its base, subject to reworking by high water of the river. There was some vegetation here and there on it, small trees and grasses. The French were able to ascend it by “7 cedar wood ramps” – some sort of stair or causeway. In the 1790s a wooden stair was described. Obviously this was not at the steepest or highest part of the bluff.

The colors of clay mentioned in the account below must relate to veins of clay within the loess deposit. There were geologic times when the ocean would rise back up and the MS valley deposition would change, such as during the Oligocene. There are veins of gravel and even shells in the Loess Bluffs at places, as well as marine blue and gray clays. The wind-blown Aeolian origin of the Loess Bluffs is generally correct, but it was a little more complicated than that. Some gray/white clay layers have been related to major volcanic eruptions in the west which settled here and ended up forming deposits known as “tufa” or “tuff” that later weathered to some extent back into clay.


Watercolor Paintings:
Karl Bodmer


In 2002 :"Big Muddy" Mike Clark and I visited the Joslyn Museum in Omaha, as we descended the entire Missouri River in the duogut Water Ram and Turtle - River Bender Canoes. The glowing, effervescent watercolors of the Swiss painter Karl Bodmer, are collected and displayed there (at the Joslyn Museum). I am sharing below a few I found looking through my copy of Karl Bodmer's America, a selection of his amazing ouvre d'art. As far as I've been able to ascertain, Bodmer didn't make or leave behind any paintings specific to the Chickasaw Bluffs, but he did of other bluffs of similar geologic history along the river, such as this one at Natchez.


View over the Bluff at Natchez, MS


The Iron Bluffs at Columbus, KY


The bluffs at Fort Adams


Close up view of Fort Adams Bluffs

The Chickasaws' Place-World: The Mississippi River in Chickasaw History and Geography

Writer Boyce Upholt shared this account of the Chickasaw origin story, by Chickasaw elder Reverend Jesse Humes, which orients the known world in relation to the 4th Chickasaw Bluff, the Mississippi River and the Milky Way creating the boundaries above, and below:

Chickasaw elder Reverend Jesse Humes recited a fairly standard account of how his people came to reside in their northern Mississippi homelands. “This Chickasaw story of The Beginning goes like this,” he began. In the primordial past, Chickasaw ancestors “lived somewhere in the West.” Under duress “they sought guidance from Ubabeneli, The Creator of all things,” who “made sacred” a long pole to direct them to “a new home where they could find peace and happiness.” Each night when the proto-Chickasaws camped, their leaders placed the pole up- right in the ground. Invariably the next morning, “the long pole was closely inspected and found to be leaning toward the east,” indicating the direction the people should travel. This scene repeated itself many times until “one day, just as the sun was setting,” the people “came upon a scene beyond their imagination. It was a great river the likes of which they had never seen before, and the unexpected sight overwhelmed them.”8 They had come to the Mississippi River, or, as eighteenth-century Chickasaws called it, Sakti Lhafa’ Okhina’, in reference to the 9 serrated cliffs of the Chickasaw Bluffs. Humes continued his story, noting that the long pole still “leaned toward the east,” but the people “knew that ‘home’ was somewhere on the other side of the wide, wide river before them.” Soon afterward “the sacred long pole stood straight as an arrow,” signaling that “at last they had found their new homeland and that their long journey was at an end.”

The Chickasaws' Place-World: The Mississippi River in Chickasaw History and Geography, 2018, pp. 1-28 (Article) Published by University of Nebraska Press

Modern Day photos of the other Chickasaw Bluffs:

The other Chickasaw Bluffs are best seen from from a canoe, unspoiled and intact as surviving wild places along the Lower Miss:


2nd Chickasaw Bluff (photo: John Ruskey)


2nd Chickasaw Bluff (photo: John Ruskey)


2nd Chickasaw Bluff (photo: John Ruskey)


2nd Chickasaw Bluff (photo: John Ruskey)

Harold Fisk, 1944, Ancient Courses, Mississippi River Meander Belt, Plate #22, Sheet #5







This eye-catching map, drawn by Harold Fisk — a geologist and cartographer working for the US Army Corps of Engineers — is one of several which trace the ever-shifting banks of the Mississippi River from southern Illinois to southern Louisiana. Created to illustrate a rather dry government report on “the nature and origin of the Alluvial Valley of the Lower Mississippi River”, these cartographic marvels give even the untrained a very good sense of what the report calls the “stages in the development” and the present “behavior” of the river system. To put it in plainer English: Fisk dreamed up a captivating, colorful, visually succinct way of representing the Mississippi’s fluctuations through both space and time. (US Army Corps of Engineers)

Other Maps:



1818 John Melish map, Tennessee State Library and Archives


Henry M. Lusher, 1835, Lands in Mississippi

From Boston Rare Maps: "This very rare, detailed map is definitive for the original 1835 survey of the Chickasaw Cession, which included all of Mississippi north of a diagonal line that ran from the Mississippi River at Moon Lake southeast to the confluence of the Chuquatonchee and Tombigbee rivers. It is the definitive map for Northern Mississippi at the beginning of American settlement.

Background
In 1830 the group of Native Americans collectively referred to as the Five Civilized Tribes (the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee, and Seminole) were living as autonomous nations in the American Deep South. The Chickasaw were the smallest and the fiercest of the five tribes, occupying northern Mississippi and small portions of the adjoining states of Alabama and Tennessee. For much of their history they were at war with the neighboring Choctaws to the South.

The Removal Act of 1830 authorized the United States government to extinguish all Native American titles in the Southern states. In 1831, the Choctaws became the first of the Five Nations to cede their lands and immediately began the journey to the Indian Territory known as the “Trail of Tears.” By an agreement signed at Pontotoc in 1832, the Chickasaws ceded their lands to the United States government, but they remained in Mississippi until 1837, when they too departed for the West. Under the Pontotoc agreement John Bell was appointed Surveyor General for the Chickasaw lands, and a land office was established at Pontotoc. The surveys were conducted in 1833-34, and this map was produced by Henry Lusher in the following year under Bell’s direction.

Much of the land ceded by the Chickasaws was purchased by Bell himself working in partnership with southern investors, as well as by the Boston and Mississippi Cotton Land Company and other joint-stock companies based in New England and New York. This New England connection provides a likely explanation for the otherwise puzzling fact of the map’s production by Pendleton’s Lithography of Boston. The map was likely published with the intention of marketing the Chickasaw lands to these northern syndicates.

Description:
The map depicts the northern half of Mississippi and immediately adjacent portions of Alabama, Tennessee and Arkansas. Superimposed on the topography is the familiar grid of 6-mile townships and 1-mile sections imposed by the General Land Office, the agency responsible for surveying Federal lands in preparation for sale and eventual settlement. The Chickasaw-Choctaw boundary, established in 1830 by an unratified treaty between the Chickasaw and the United States, is shown running from the Mississippi River southeast to Noosacheah Creek. Below the title are the printed signatures of John Bell, the GLO surveyor in charge of the ceded lands, and Chickasaw agent Benjamin Reynolds.

The Chickasaw Cession is shown divided into the recently surveyed townships and sections. The topographical detail is remarkable. Numerous creeks and rivers are located and named, many with their old Indian names. Just to the west of the Tombigbee an extensive region of “Prairie” is colored light green. The alluvial bottomlands along the Mississippi in the Delta are colored dark green, evidently to point out to prospective settlers their particular richness and desirability. A network of Indian trails runs across the region. Of these, the most significant was the “long trail,” which extended from modern-day Mobile north through Pontotoc and the Chickasaw Council House and on to Chickasaw Bluffs near present-day Memphis (The Council House itself appears to be shown on the map, just west of the word “Pontotoc.”) The famed “Natchez Trace” is not named but is shown extending from northwest Alabama and across Mississippi as far as the Yazoo.

There are also early signs of American settlement, including three ferries located on the Tallahatchie River. Pontotoc, the site of the Land Office, is identified, as is a neighboring settlement called “Pearson’s.” A number of early counties in the neighboring Choctaw Cession are named, as well as a few scattered towns, including Grenada. The region to the east of the Tombigbee (Monroe and Lowndes counties), which had been ceded to the US Government in 1816, already shows signs of considerable development, including ferries, a cotton gin, and the towns of Columbus, Athens and Hamilton.

The map is very rare. I have located eight impressions at American institutions and know of only one other to have appeared on the market, sold by this firm to the Library of Congress some years ago.

Sources:
Anne Kelley Hoyt, Bibliography of the Chickasaw, #673. OCLC #11325021, giving examples at the Arkansas History Commission, the Newberry Library and the Boston Public Library. Another resides at the Library of Congress, The Mississippi Department of Archives and History holds two impressions, the University of Alabama another, and a tattered copy is held in the Robert Whyte Papers at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Not in Rumsey.

Analysis was facilitated by a discussion of Lusher’s map in James Henry Malone, The Chickasaw Nation: A Short Sketch of a Noble People: Souvenir of Memphis, pp. 125-127. General background on Chickasaw history was borrowed from Greg O’Brien, “Chickasaws: The Unconquerable People,” at Mississippi History Now, an on-line publication of the Mississippi Historical Society. Very helpful background on the cession and subsequent land sales was obtained from “General History of Hernando and Desoto County,” on the web site of the Friends of Springhill, based in Hernando, Desoto County, Mississippi (www.springhillfriends.org).

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I have been working with some friends on a super cool project

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
PS: that you could help us with! Do you know of any primary sources
regarding the following? K
eep reading -- and imagining -- below!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


(Ancient Mouth of the Wolf River)

we are visualizing the the 4th Chickasaw Bluff before the arrival of homo sapiens



who might have first arrived (and then thrived) in giant dugout canoes



But let's leave behind all humans, in all our many eras, and retreat back



to the days when there was nothing by blowing dust below the stars



collecting in piles along the eastern edge of the Mississippi River
in a 1,000 mile long swath from the Pawnee Hills (today's southern Illinois)
to the edge the pleistocene shield (today's Baton Rouge)
dust scoured by the laurentide ice cap that covered North America
the largest dust field outside of China's Yellow Plateau
(A similar process along the Yangtze River)



great waters pouring out of the melting glaciers, the mile thick ice cap



the heavens glowed magnificently above the muddy waters
the entire earth could have been considered a deep, vast "dark sky"
because no one was lighting their lamps, burning forests, or refining oil



grasses, shrubs and trees followed the piles of dust



and the amphibians followed the plants



the birds arrived



the fish also



the mammals



the megafauna



this project will culminate in a triptych



imagining the 4th Chickasaw Bluff



centered around the ancient mouth of the Wolf River



near the depression where Beale Street now descends to the harbor



and the bluffs rise to either side, but most prominently to the south



the high ground of the Looshatchie rising (faintly seen)
beyond the Wolf River floodplain



And the 3rd Chickasaw Bluff even more faintly beyond
(today's Meeman Shelby State Park)



where downtown Memphis now rises in straight steel
and concrete lines with glass windows and steel bridges



The same bluff "ridge" that Chuck Berry sings about:

"her home is on the southside

high upon a ridge
just a hlaf a mile
from the Mississippi Bridge"



One view of the triptych will view the river flowing downstream
into the Mississippi Delta over President's Island and past Chuckalissa



One view will look upstream over Loosahatchie Bar, the Hen & Chicks,
and the 3rd Chickasaw Bluff the last line of trees over the Wolf River bottoms



The centerpiece will be the ancient mouth
of the Wolf River meandering around the 4th Chickasaw Bluff
(This could be the Yazoo River at Vicksburg!)



Only the reflective patterns and motions of the muddy river will be the same



The flowing forever flowing



forever flowing through it all...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
All writing, sketches and watercolor paintings (c) 2021 John Ruskey
Please share, but please give credit.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Special thanks to Jim & Sharon Bailey
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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Can you help us?
Do you know of any primary sources
describing -- or depicting -- the ancient bluffs?
Please reply to this email! Thank you!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~

The Lower Mississippi River Dispatch "Voice of the Lower Mississippi River" is published by the Quapaw Canoe Company, 22 years of high quality access to the wild wonder of the big river in human powered vessels. Photos and writing by John Ruskey, Mark River and others. Please write info@island63.com for re-publishing. Feel free to share with friends or family, but also credit appropriately. Go to www.island63.com and click on "Quapaw Dispatch" for viewing back issues of the LMRD.

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