View Full Version : Some thoughts from Mark Twain on the subject

02-27-2010, 04:25 PM
Pray observe some of the effects of this ditching business.
Once there was a neck opposite Port Hudson, Louisiana, which was only
half a mile across, in its narrowest place. You could walk across
there in fifteen minutes; but if you made the journey around the cape
on a raft, you traveled thirty-five miles to accomplish the same thing.
In 1722 the river darted through that neck, deserted its old bed,
and thus shortened itself thirty-five miles. In the same way it
shortened itself twenty-five miles at Black Hawk Point in 1699.
Below Red River Landing, Raccourci cut-off was made (forty or fifty
years ago, I think). This shortened the river twenty-eight miles.
In our day, if you travel by river from the southernmost of these
three cut-offs to the northernmost, you go only seventy miles.
To do the same thing a hundred and seventy-six years ago, one had
to go a hundred and fifty-eight miles!--shortening of eighty-eight
miles in that trifling distance. At some forgotten time in the past,
cut-offs were made above Vidalia, Louisiana; at island 92; at island 84;
and at Hale's Point. These shortened the river, in the aggregate,
seventy-seven miles.

Since my own day on the Mississippi, cut-offs have been made at
Hurricane Island; at island 100; at Napoleon, Arkansas; at Walnut Bend;
and at Council Bend. These shortened the river, in the aggregate,
sixty-seven miles. In my own time a cut-off was made at American Bend,
which shortened the river ten miles or more.

Therefore, the Mississippi between Cairo and New Orleans was twelve
hundred and fifteen miles long one hundred and seventy-six years ago.
It was eleven hundred and eighty after the cut-off of 1722.
It was one thousand and forty after the American Bend cut-off. It has
lost sixty-seven miles since. Consequently its length is only nine
hundred and seventy-three miles at present.

Now, if I wanted to be one of those ponderous scientific people, and 'let on'
to prove what had occurred in the remote past by what had occurred
in a given time in the recent past, or what will occur in the far future
by what has occurred in late years, what an opportunity is here!
Geology never had such a chance, nor such exact data to argue from!
Nor 'development of species,' either! Glacial epochs are great things,
but they are vague--vague. Please observe:--

In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower
Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles.
That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year.
Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic,
can see that in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period,' just a million
years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upwards
of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out
over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod. And by the same token
any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now
the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long,
and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together,
and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual
board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science.
One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling
investment of fact.

From Chapter 17 of Life on the Mississippi. Emphasis added is mine.

02-27-2010, 09:58 PM
A river without islands is like a woman without hair. She may be good and pure, but one doesn't fall in love with her very often.
- interview published in Chicago Tribune, July 9, 1886

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