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LMRD Vol 9 No 2b

The Lower Mississippi River Dispatch

February is Sunflower River Month! Annual General Membership Meeting Sat Feb 16th. See below for the Mark River Blog.

This issue is dedicated in memory of our friend

Lige Robinson

1949 - 2013

Who gave his life to the Sunflower River

The Mississippi River

And all of his friends and family

Editor’s Note: Tragedy on a very cold Little Sunflower River. One man lost forever, another man's memories forever etched with the last sight of his friend's hands and head being swallowed by the muddy water as he loses his grip on a cypress tree and then gets washed away in the rising flood to disappear downstream...

Our thoughts and prayers go out to our friend, shuttle driver, and all around mechanical talent, Lige Robinson, and to his family and friends. And most importantly to Mighty Quapaw elder, Ellis Coleman, who valiantly fought the cold waters to save his friend's life against all odds, and was the last man to enjoy his company and then became the last man to “hold his hand.” Ellis barely made it back to shore, but his friend never made it back. Ellis suffered hypothermia and is still haunted by drowning dreams. Ellis’ heroic efforts will never be forgotten. Neither will Lige’s spontaneous foolhardy adventure. If there was ever any doubt that the Sunflower River has the blues, read on...

January 13, 2013. Ellis and Lige were enjoying a chilly overcast day on the edge of the Little Sunflower not far above downtown Clarksdale. There were stories and jokes mixed in with downhome blues on the radio and light-hearted carrying on amongst the friends. Lige was one of those prankster-characters who could tell a good story and even better a time-wizened joke. It had been raining all week and the waters had turned muddy and strong, and typical for winter they were running cold. The water temperature was probably in the high 30s. The friends watched the boiling muddy waters erupting in boils of the shiny silicate go sliding by their view and then twist and turn past a thick tangled of flooded cypress.

After a while Lige noticed a pink and green beach ball hung up in some reeds on opposite bank. Only there was no bank. The river had risen high and had submerged all low-lying land alongside. This was the highest water on the Sunflower for almost nine months. It was the end of a long drought period. In a flash of sweet innocent inspiration Lige fixed upon the brilliant beach ball and immediately thought of his grand-daughter. How she would enjoy that ball! The good-hearted grandfather jumped up and asked Ellis to help him paddle over and retrieve it. Ellis told him to go ahead. Neither man remembered the life jackets that were stowed nearby.

That was the start of a series of bad decisions that eventually led to both men fighting for their lives in the rampaging river, and only one of them returning. A single nearby neighbor witnessed the drama. Otherwise this story, like so many other Delta tragedies, flared for a moment and then was swept away in the cycles of life forever flowing -- and now lies deeply buried below many layers of Mississippi alluvium.

This river has the blues.


“Little Sunflower Memories”


Mark “River” Peoples

I'm perched above a man-made delta mound underneath a bridge as the radiant sun rays warm my skin on a winter day overlooking the Sunflower River. A family of squirrels leap from branch to branch while hawks canvass the sky awaiting the opportunity to strike. A great blue heron stealthily and systematically stalks the muddy banks as the river recedes into its original channel with big cypress trees and their roots that submerge and then suddenly reemerge like stalagmites combing the river bank.

Winter in the Delta is different. Even though the mornings are cold, it quickly warms in the afternoons, with the trees already holding buds for the new year. Cedar wax wings migrate up and down the channel. The winter wheat fields sprout looking like manicured grass. Hawks from the north migrate south to take advantage of the active rodent population. Turtles and water snakes go into semi-hibernation so they can benefit from the warm afternoons.

I jump in my canoe and head north on the Little Sunflower. It doesn't take long to meander through town, making my way upstream entering a beautiful cypress haven. The trees grow just inside the channel, towering high, creating a spectacular natural setting. Every turn the water around me erupts with turtles and other aquatic life entering and escaping to the water for safety. Being very quiet I noticed a red fox basking on a log ahead of me. Picking up my scent and hearing the canoe cut the water, it raises its head in the frustration of being disturbed from its nap. The tail is long and fluffy, with its mane shiny and silky. Nonchalantly it moves along upstream with an occasional look to keep me honest.

Any given morning I rise to the sound of the mourning doves perched along the tress overlooking the Little Sunflower River. Looking out my window if I'm lucky I can catch river otters heading upstream for breakfast. I don't know where they live or how long of a commute they have, but often you can catch them swimming along, not being as curious, just business as usual. I notice the river looks as though its flowing backwards. I smile knowing that today the winds are from the south, assuring me of a warm winter day.

When the upper Delta is saturated with rainfall, the Little Sunflower River swells its banks and becomes a "big" river, perfect for recreation and exploring. The cypress forest seem to migrate to the middle of the channel with other small trees making the shallows look like a mango forest. The river narrows in places only to widen as if entering a reservoir. Wood ducks hide in the tangles, while herons perch on the cypress knees. It's great to see nature recharge right before your eyes.

The little Sunflower River is a wonderful river that the Mighty Quapaws use as a training center for developing the skills necessary to navigate and explore the mighty Mississippi River. It gives us the medium needed to relieve or paddle wings keeping them fresh for the upcoming season. It also brings character to the beautiful town of Clarksdale with numerous bridges crossing its meanders and the rich history of the blues. It's not uncommon to wake to the sounds of musicians playing on the park deck along the river.

The little Sunflower River is an oasis which gives you a vision of what the Delta looked like before they cleared the nostalgic cypress forest.

You’ve heard about the river I live on. What about yours? Send me a story or comment about it. And get out and enjoy YOUR river!

Mark River

Mark “River” Peoples is a Mighty Quapaw Apprenticeship Program leader and also a guide with Quapaw Canoe Company. He is also the 1 Mississippi Intern for the entire Southern Region Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Go visit the newly rejuvenated website at

February is Sunflower River Month!

Sat, Feb 16th @ 2pm -- Meeting for Friends of the Sunflower River

at Quapaw Canoe Company -- 3rd & Sunflower Avenue

In downtown Clarksdale, Mississippi

This is the second week of February, which means Mardis Gras, Black History Month -- AND its our annual month in celebration of our beloved Sunflower River!

Get out and walk the banks of the river. Its fairly high, the banks are full from the last rain, but now starting to fall and leaving the tell-tale muddy bathtub ring around the edges. Its a very cold day today, but the skies are beautiful, even more beautiful in their reflections in the brown water. It will only get more beautiful towards sundown…

Its also of course Black History Month. You could mix the two with a "Backdoor" tour of downtown Clarksdale: paddle behind Red's Juke Joint, underneath the Martin Luther King Street Bridge, and the new KABOOM! playground in the same-named park, past the Riverside Hotel (Bessie Smith 1937), the old location of the Rivermont Lounge, over the weir, and then on downstream to Hopson Commissary Plantation where the mechanized cotton-picker led to the "largest peace time exodus in the history of man."

The best way to enjoy this back-door Blues & Civil Rights tour is from river-view by canoe or kayak. Stand-Up Paddleboards are great fun on the Sunflower. Don’t forget the lifejacket, and save the libations for after you get off the river. No drinking & paddling. Especially not during this time of year when you might have 15 minutes maximum survival time in the water.

Remember, you will receive a 20% discount on rentals with Quapaw Canoe Company if you want to get out on the river and paddle some. And its pretty reasonable to begin with: $35/canoe/day. That’s a lot of fun for 2 people, and of course includes your paddles and life jackets.

Are you a Friend of the Sunflower River? See below if not.

And have a good month in celebration of our river.

Why is February is Sunflower River Month?

Its that time of year: If you’ve never before participated in Sunflower River Month this year you can catch up and join in the fun.

What is Sunflower River Month? Its a month-long celebration for the sad & neglected & lonely little bluesy river we call our own.

Why February? Its that time of year that things slow down enough we can take a little extra time to look over the 2nd Street Bridge and gaze at that interesting dark muddy ribbon of fluid magic flowing through downtown Clarksdale. Or maybe a noon-time walk during lunch break? The riverwalk has been closed off to vehicular traffic. Walk across the bridge, or park your car at Soldier’s Field and enjoy a peaceful stroll down the only street in the Mississippi Delta that is reserved for pedestrians only (or bicycles, skate boards, and other self-powered means).

Why Walk? Its peaceful. Its rejuvenating. Its good for you. You notice things you’ll never see from your car. At dusk you might notice waves emanating in a v-line as a Beaver noses his way upstream in search of supper. Or you might see a River Otter playfully diving & re-surfacing. You will hear Snow Geese overhead and Blackbirds in the trees. If you’re quiet & keen-eyed you might spy Mr. Red Fox darting into the shadows as his nightly hunt begins. Or maybe catch Mr. Big Horned Owl as he swoops onto the high branches of a bald cypress to stare with those killer eyes at all things that make motions below.

Why the Sunflower? Because its our river.

How about its tributaries? This Year we will be making an expedition down the strange and important Sunflower River tributary: The Hushpuckena.

Where can I find out more about the Friends?

Go to our blogsite Please contact me about adding photos, stories & details. Become a friend on the Facebook Page

Isn’t the Sunflower a dirty river? Walk along or canoe down the river and decide yourself what’s dirty and what’s not. Your opinion does not count if you have only seen the river from the bridge out of your car window.

Isn’t this Black History Month? Yes. In respect to Black History Month, let me share a few details of note concerning the Sunflower River. In its journey through the Delta, the Sunflower winds through the layers of mud and history that gave the world its first great blues singer (Charlie Patton, Dockery Plantation), the first mechanized cotton picker (Hopson Plantation), its oldest African-American founded community (Mound Bayou), rural Civil Rights era leaders (Fanny Lou Hamer, Sunflower County; Aaron Henry, Clarksdale), the Teddy Bear (Delta National Forest), King of the Chicago Blues (Muddy Waters, born in Rolling Fork, lived 25 years at Stovall) and the renowned ambassador of the blues (B.B. King, Indianola). The Rev. C.L. Franklin (Aretha’s Father) is just one of many who were baptized in her muddy waters. Bessie Smith died at the G.T. Thomas Hospital which sits on her banks in Clarksdale (now the Riverside Hotel). Today you can hear live blues along the river at juke joints Red’s and Sarah’s Kitchen. Legendary woodsman, Holt Collier (1846-1936), who cornered the Teddy Bear, reported its waters to run clear & clean, and Roosevelt started each day of the hunt with a cold-water swim. One of our long-term objectives is to make the waters safe once again for fishing and swimming.

Is it safe to paddle on the Sunflower River? Ask my 5-year old daughter Emma-Lou: She says its okay, but wear a life-jacket! Recent paddlers on the Sunflower River came from Washington State and Memphis. The wildlife on the Eagle’s Nest to Clarksdale run has been spectacular!

Big Island Update:

Its not too late to join in and help out!

The 2013 Big Island Circumnavigation will not be possible without the help of many hands committed to to bringing kids to the river and the river to the kids. Leave No Child On Shore! See below for how you can help “paddle the canoe.”

Thanks to advance commitments of support from individuals & families: Earl Peoples and Charlotte Miller, Dale and Evelyn Ljunggren, Dr. Patricia Johnson - Delta Chiropractic, Abby Ruskey, Cliff & Lucille Ochs, Bill Gregg & Rosemary Post, Emily Cooper, Charles & Sandra West, Jerry Laurain, Barbara Boss & Linda Brewer, Russell Reynolds, Frank & Sue Ruskey, and Bayard & Jane Hart Morgan.

Thanks to Kim & Joe Townsend for joining in by engaging the homeschool option for their children.

Thanks to the Delta Cultural Center of Helena for committing their fantastic facilities and staff.

Thanks to the US Army Corps of Engineers, in particular Angela Smith, the “Our Mississippi” Curriculum Coordinator. Check out their website

Thanks to the teachers and administrators of the KIPP Delta Public Schools for jumping on board this year with characteristic bravado.

Thanks to the teachers and administrators of St. Ann of Normandy for continuing this annual event for 10 years and counting.

Thanks to business sponsors Quapaw Canoe Company and Big Muddy Adventures, without whom this would never happen.

Thanks to founder Big Muddy Mike Clark who initiated these learning adventures when he dedicated himself to connecting kids and rivers in 2001 on a 3-month expedition down the Mississippi River.

We are well on our way to raising the $10,000 necessary to make this exciting and educational circumnavigation happen. See below how you can help:

Circumnavigation of Big Island

A Learning Adventure February 18-28, 2013

Presented by: Lower Mississippi River Foundation

You can help make this learning adventure come to life with a donation to the Lower Mississippi River Foundation, which is presenting this expedition. All donations are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

Participation level:

____Corporate Sponsorship $2500

____School Sponsorship $1000 (Sponsor one of the schools involved)

____Individual Sponsorship $500 (Sponsor one of the classrooms involved)

____Business Sponsorship $250

____Family Homeschool Option $100

____Private Individual $100

____ Other: $__________

Thank you! Any donation will help bring our kids to the river -- and the river to our kids. Leave no child on shore!

Please make out check and send to:

The Lower Mississippi River Foundation

291 Sunflower Avenue

Clarksdale, MS 38614

Please contact John Ruskey for more information or call 662-902-7841.

Circumnavigation of Big Island

A Learning Adventure February 18-28, 2013

Presented by: Lower Mississippi River Foundation

On Monday, February 18, 2013 Mike Clark & John Ruskey and a team of Mighty Quapaws and KIPP students will embark on a 10-day circumnavigation of Big Island by canoe as a learning adventure for the benefit of sponsoring schools and classrooms throughout the region.

Starting at Rosedale Mississippi the explorers will paddle downstream the Mighty Mississippi to the Arkansas River Confluence, and make base camp #1 for several days of natural science research and documentation. The Arkansas is the biggest and wildest confluence on the entire Lower Mississippi, full of bear, wild boar, birds and strange muddy landscapes. During the Great Flood of 2011 the Arkansas began carving a new outlet to the Mississippi in a violent explosion of water coursing behind Cat Island.

The explorers will next paddle up the great Arkansas River 43 miles, around several dozen giant river meanders in the fashion of Lewis & Clark. This portion will involve very difficult upstream paddling, poling and cordelling (the French word for pulling a boat with a long rope). At Base Camp #2 the adventure duo will continue research and documentation in the dark heart of the deepest woods of Big Island. Finding sign of the reclusive Louisiana Black Bear will be one of the tasks at hand, as well as conducting a bird and amphibian count. The team will be collecting pallid sturgeon data for US Fish & Wildlife as well as participating in the annual bird count for the National Audubon Society. The next challenge will be to locate a suitable back channel oxbow or wetlands to cross over and reach the White River. A route will have to be scouted through the briars, snake-infested woods and alligator swamps. The explorers will then manually portage all of their gear and canoes from the Arkansas River to the White River, a process that might require one long dirty day.

Now begins the downstream portion of the adventure. The explorers will paddle approximately twenty miles of the White River, a very remote and wild river which is here surrounded by the White River National Wildlife Refuge. Base Camp #3 will be established for the exploration of some of the most remote bayous around which are found the giant Bald Cypress, a favorite haunt for bears, raccoons, prothonotary warblers and bald eagles. The mouth of the Mississippi is now fenced at the White by its newest lock and dam, through which the adventurers will have to negotiate by being flushed through a 1200 foot lock chamber controlled by 120-ton steel gates. The last segment of the journey is a 25 mile run down the Mighty Mississippi, along the way the explorers will visit a steamboat wreck (the Victor) which was exposed in the 2011 Flood, as well as the old channel of the White behind Montgomery Island.

Big Island is a truly spectacular natural phenomena, a landscape cut by, flooded by and defined by three biggest and most important rivers of deep south, the Mississippi, the Arkansas and the White. This will be the first documented circumnavigation of Big Island in the history of its existence.

Sponsored by St. Ann of Normandy and KIPP Delta Public Schools. Special thanks to partners Delta Cultural Center of Helena and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

What is the

Lower Mississippi River Foundation?

Description: The Lower Mississippi River Foundation was created in 2011 for the betterment of public outdoor recreation on the Lower Mississippi River with projects and programming oriented towards education, access, and enhanced environmental quality of the Lower Mississippi River & its tributaries & distributaries & drainages. The LMRF oversees the Mighty Quapaw Apprenticeship Program and the KIPP Delta Public Schools Canoeing Program. The LMRF will now be in charge of Lower Mississippi River Water Trail ( The LMRF will also be responsible for the Friends of the Sunflower River, for the WILD MILES ( and for the stewardship of Buck Island.

Purpose: to recognize, protect and promote the Lower Mississippi River as a viable wilderness for its overall ecological betterment and for increased enjoyment of future generations of American citizens.

Goals: Outdoor Education for Regional Youth, Outdoor Survival Training for Disadvantaged Youth, Access for Recreational Paddlers, Ethical Water Use & Stewardship, Ethical Outdoor Recreation, Sustainable Eco-tourism, and Holistic approach to Eco and Cultural Tourism.

Objectives: Specific projects & programming oriented towards education, access, and enhanced environmental quality of the Lower Mississippi River & its tributaries & distributaries & drainages, including but not limited to the following activities:

Specific Programs:

Mighty Quapaw Apprenticeship Program

Lower Mississippi River Water Trail (

Save Buck Island Campaign (completed)

Buck Island Stewardship -- Friends of Buck Island

Muddy Waters Wilderness

KIPP Delta College Prep Canoeing Program

Friends of the Sunflower River (


For more information, please contact:

Lower Mississippi River Foundation Inc

291 Sunflower Avenue|Clarksdale|Mississippi|38614|