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bend. As nearly every bend, either at its upper end, or its lower, or in the middle, is so affected, and as the river is almost all bend, there being but few reaches, it is manifest that the displacement of what can only by courtesy be called terra firma must, in the course of five or six months of continuous low water, be something enormous. It is very clear, therefore, that levees placed within reasonable distances from the river are not structures of extraordinary permanence, and that the necessity of their occasional renewal immensely increases the difficulty of protecting the country.
As yet no adequate protection has been of avail against this great terror-which, indeed, seems invincible under the conditions of the levee system as heretofore developed in practice. The plan proposed by the Levee Commission appointed in 1874 under national auspices would greatly alleviate it, while the more fundamental scheme of Captain Eads for the rectification of the river channel as well as the reclamation of the swamp, if successful, would abolish not only the necessity of any levee system but the danger of caving banks. This phase of the subject, however, will be considered later. The magnitude and importance of the interests involved in the reclamation of this region will be apparent when it is stated that its total area is between 32,000 and 37,000 square miles, of which only narrow strips along the main stream and its principal tributaries have heretofore been cultivated. By protection against overflow and by proper drainage there would be rendered available not less than 2,500,000
acres of sugar land, about 7,000,000 acres of the best cotton land in the world, and 1,000,000 acres of corn land of unsurpassed fertility. On the eastern side of the river is the great swamp or alluvial plain of Mississippi, fifty miles wide, extending from the Chickasaw Bluffs, below Memphis, Tennessee, to the Walnut Hills at Vicksburg-a distance of one hundred and seventy miles in a direct line, or, following the meanderings of the river, of nearly four hundred miles. On this line the facilities for reclamation are exceptionally good. From its northern limit to its southern no tributary
debouches into the Mississippi except the Yazoo, the mouth of which is within a few miles of the Walnut Hills. An adequate line of levee, therefore, from the northern limit of the swamp to the mouth of the Yazoo, or as near it as possible, would effectually exclude all river-water from the plain, and all rain-fall and surface-water being conducted into the Yazoo by the Sunflower and Coldwater rivers, Deer Creek and other tributaries would pass into the Mississippi, thus affording drainage to the country.
On the western side of the river is a vast region, not less fertile, embracing the lower part of Missouri, all the alluvial front of Arkansas, and of Louisiana as far down as the mouth of Red River. Here the conditions for effectual and permanent reclamation are much less favorable. Within these limits the St. Francis, White, and Arkansas rivers, and other streams, flow into the Mississippi, and as any of them is liable to overflow its banks from its own floods, and all are subject to back-water from the Mississippi for many miles, it is evident that their existence, and the necessity of leveeing their banks above the reach of back-water, would furnish much employment to levee engineers and add greatly to the cost and com
plication of the system. Large bodies of very fine lands have, however, been reclaimed, although levee operations have been necessarily more fragmentary than on the opposite bank of the river. Below the mouth of Red River no tributaries add to the waters of the Mississippi; on the contrary, it is depleted by a number of bayous or outlets,-Atchafalaya, Bayou La Fourche, Bonnet Carré Crevasse, and others,-which, leaving the river, make their way through the delta to the Gulf of Mexico.
In Louisiana the levee system is of comparative antiquity, having had its beginning in the earlier years of the eighteenth century, and the embankments long ago came under the jurisdiction of local and State government and assumed the dignity of public works. In Mississippi and Arkansas, however, the reclamation of the swamp was an enterprise of much more modern date, having its origin almost within memory of persons now living, and at first-and, indeed, for a long time-it was exploited solely by individual effort.
The earlier settlements on the river between Memphis and Vicksburg-generally wood-yards with small appurtenant cornfields were made upon unusually high spots which, although really formed by anteced
ent inundation, obtained, absurdly enough, the reputation of being "above overflow," because, for a number of years, they had not been actually submerged. They were prized accordingly, and the corn-fields of the wood-choppers were gradually transformed into cotton plantations, at first, of course, of very limited dimensions. Similar elevated spots were sought out and subjected to culture, and, before any leveeing operations had been attempted, the river bank on both sides was dotted with settlements of pioneer planters, who sought to utilize the fertile soil by cultivation. A very few years, however, sufficed to demonstrate the fallacy of the "above-overflow" pretension; the planter's mind relinquished the delusion that land should be high,-it was sufficient that it should be dry, and the proprietors deemed it expedient to fortify against their common enemy. The water-marks left by the flood upon trees, stumps, and fences were as plain as paint; these indicated the level of the water and supplied the want of engineering science. A make-shift levee of primitive style was constructed, very near the river bank, because less land was thereby thrown out,
and because the ground is always highest upon the margin of the river, sloping thence inland. As the plantations increased in number and approximated each other, the principle of coöperation appeared; levees were built across unoccupied lands until there were disconnected strings ten, twelve, or fifteen miles long. The construction of these was far from satisfactory. The operatives were generally the plantation negroes. At that time the Irish ditchers and leveebuilders had scarcely made their appearance in the country. The colored people are not usually distinguished for their skill in the use of the spade, and cannot at all compete with the Hibernian. Some years there was high water, carrying dismay to the planter's heart; some years there was low water, inspiring confidence and security; occasionally there was no "water" at all-the river did not get out of its banks, and was therefore held in contempt. In 1844, however, the Mississippi, having apparently lost all patience with this persistent intrusion upon its domains, "spread itself," to use a vulgarism singularly descriptive of the operation, and treated its unbidden guests to a first-class "big overflow," the like of
which had not been seen since 1828. The river rose early and went down late; it overflowed the whole country, and filled up the entire swamp; ruined all the levees, great and small; remained at or near highwater mark week after week and month after month until late in July, and did not finally retire within its banks until nearly the middle of August.
Life in the Mississippi swamp is unique, but perhaps never so much so as during that memorable summer. The shallowest water, for indefinite miles in any direction, was two feet deep, the nearest land, the "Hills of the Arkansaw," thirty miles away. The mules were quartered on the upper floor of the gin-house; the cattle had been all drowned long ago; planter, negroes, and overseer were confined in their respective
domiciles; the grist-mill was under water, and there was no means of preparing corn for culinary purposes except a wooden hominy-mortar. The hog-and-hominy diet (so highly extolled by some people who have never lived on it) was adopted of necessity, the former being represented by mess pork, salter than tongue can tell. There were no visitors, except now and then a sociable snake, which, no doubt bored by swimming around indefinitely in the overflow, and craving even human companionship, would glide up on the gallery of some of the houses. There was no means of locomotion except the skiff and the humble but ever serviceable dug-out-nowhere to go and nobody within a day's journey otherwise or more comfortably situated. The only sense of sympathy from without was
had from remote and infrequent glimpses of the gallant steamer J. M. White, which, leaping from point to point, made better time from New Orleans to St. Louis than was ever made before or for many years after. That year, nineteen plantations out of twenty failed to produce a single pound of cotton or a single bushel of corn, and when the flood was over and the swamp Noahs came out of their respective arks, they were, to say the least, malcontent. They were not ruined, of course, but they had lost a whole year's gross income. Moreover, the prestige of the swamp as a cotton country was wofully diminished. The planters in the "Hills," as the uplands are denominated, began to hold up their heads, no longer overcrowed by the extraordinary crops alleged to have been heretofore produced in the swamp.
The swamp-planters set to work to redeem the disaster, and to provide, as far as possible, against its recurrence. With the purpose of retrieving their financial fortunes they took some unique measures. There is a tradition that, at a public meeting held in Greenville, Miss., in October, 1844, among other more commonplace resolutions, one was gravely and unanimously adopted to the effect that a demand of payment within twelve months from that date of any debt, great or small, upon any planter who had been overflowed that year, should be considered distinctly "personal "—a clear case for pistols and coffee. The code was certainly a curious institution, but probably this is the only instance in which it was expected to do duty as a stay-law.
After 1844, it became evident to the meanest capacity that, if any use was to be made of the swamp country, the Mississippi River must be kept out of it. To effect this end the efforts of the people were systematized; funds were raised by local taxation of lands; levee boards and other official bodies were duly organized and installed; professional engineers made their appearance; the Irish multiplied and the work went bravely on, always in advance of the supply of money which, non passibus aequis, came toddling on behind. The proprietors in every bend wanted their levee built first, and to gratify this very natural and reasonable desire the officials, exhausting with the utmost ease their ready money, drew upon futurity after the manner of such bodies, issuing certificates and levee bonds bearing eight or ten per cent. interest, which were receivable in payment of levee taxes, and, if not so abVOL. XXII.-33.
sorbed, payable in money three, four, or five years after date. Of course such payment in cash, according to the tenor and effect of the instrument, was from the beginning regarded on all hands as a pleasant figure of speech; the bonds had a certain value simply because they were receivable in payment of levee taxes.
Besides the funds derived from the levee tax and the credit which it supported, the levee boards were endowed by State or national benefaction-it is not worth while to inquire or remember which-with certain lands that up to that time could not be sold at any price and were therefore given away. These were called "overflowed" lands, and the word in this connection was not only descriptive but intensative, indicating that, of all lands which habitually "went under," these went under the deepest and staid under the longest. To a limited extent they were purchased by prescient capitalists, and were found to be very good landsto keep, to pay taxes on, or, in default of that ceremony, to hold until the back taxes had so far accumulated as to exceed in amount the market value of the lands, which in most instances came to pass at an early day.
Notwithstanding their very limited resources in money and credit, the levee authorities pressed forward their work with great energy and remarkable success. It is wonderful how much was done to reclaim the swamp, and with what limited means, between the great overflow of water in 1844 and the great overflow of blood in 1861-especially within the last half-dozen years of that period. Among the manifold disadvantages under which this work was prosecuted, the greatest was the fact that much of it was necessarily temporary. That lawless habit of the river in undermining and carrying away huge slices of the levees rendered it necessary to renew these structures frequently, or else to place them at a considerable distance from the river, and, if possible, out of its reach. And hereupon arose a most perplexing dilemma. There was always a question, and often a violent controversy, between the levee board and the planter upon whose premises the new levee had become a necessity. To him it was a very serious misfortune; like Hotspur, he naturally objects to the river which
"comes me cranking in, And cuts me from the best of all my land, A huge half-moon, a monstrous cantle out"