The Floods Keep Coming: Guest Blogger Bonnie Stepenoff

Massive flooding hit eastern Missouri earlier this winter, around the Meramec and Mississippi Rivers, almost breaking 30-year records. Heavy rainfall, however, was not the only cause of the flooding according to Robert Criss, professor of earth and planetary sciences at Washington University. He contributes much of the flooding to over-development. “People want to blame the rain, but this is mostly us,” Criss said. “It’s a man-made disaster.” ( Whether man-made or not, flooding is a part of life near the Mississippi River.

Historian Bonnie Stepenoff, who lives on the banks of the Mississippi, has written extensively about the history of the people and environment around the Missouri rivers and here she gives a picture of floods of the past:

Stepenoff.fromMoSteamboat captain Buck Leyhe thought the quality that best defined river people was the patient way in which they coped with floods. Since the nineteenth century, the United States Army Corps of Engineers has made a mighty effort to tame the Mississippi River, but the floods keep coming.

January floods, like the one in 2016, are pretty uncommon and especially miserable. A January flood in 1937 had a terrible impact on sharecroppers in the Missouri Bootheel. Thad Snow wrote about it in his memoir From Missouri. He believed that the Corps had made everything worse with the stepenoff.thadsnowlevees they built after the terrible flood of 1927. When the next catastrophe happened, the Corps dynamited one of its own levees, fording sharecroppers to flee from their homes in freezing cold and sleet. Snow watched the sad exodus of men, women, children, and domestic animals from the flooded fields. Later he concluded that the flood of 1937 helped to inspire the famous Sharecroppers Roadside Demonstration in the Bootheel in 1939. You can read about this in his book. Or take a look at Thad Snow: A Life of Social Reform in the Missouri Bootheel for more insights into this ProductImageHandlerremarkable man.

For more about Captain Leyhe and other people who loved the Mississippi River, even when it complicated their lives, you might want to read Working the Mississippi: Two Centuries of Life on the River.
Bonnie Stepenoff

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