A Note on Sources

My first and largest debts are to three anthologies: A Treasury of Mississippi River Folklore: Ballads, Traditions and Folkways of the Mid-American River Country, edited by B. A. Botkin (Crown, 1955); The Mississippi River Reader, edited by Wright Morris (Anchor Books, 1962); and Before Mark Twain: A Sampler of Old, Old Times on the Mississippi, edited by John Francis McDermott (Southern Illinois University Press, 1968). Without these any further exploration of the river culture would have been impossible.


Chapter One: Gone on the River

For the geography, topography, and natural history of the river, I’ve primarily used The Navigator; Containing Directions for Navigating the Monongahela, Allegheny, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers, with an Ample Account of These Much Admired Waters, by Zadok Cramer (eighth edition; Cramer, Spear, and Eichbaum, 1814); and The History and Geography of the Mississippi Valley, by Timothy Flint (third edition; E. H. Flint, 1833). I’ve also made heavy use of the volumes of the Works Progress Administration’s American Guide Series devoted to the Mississippi river valley states. Descriptions of the “floating life” of the river derive from Recollections of the Last Ten Years, Passed in Occasional Residences and Journeyings in the Valley of the Mississippi, by Timothy Flint (Cummings, Hilliard, 1826); Letters from the West, Containing Sketches of Scenery, Manners, and Customs, by James Hall (Henry Colburn, 1828); Delineations of American Scenery and Manners, by John James Audubon (E. L. Carey and A. Hart, 1832); Fifty Years on the Mississippi, or Gould’s History of River Navigation, by Emerson Gould (Nixon-Jones, 1889); Old Times on the Upper Mississippi: The Recollections of a Steamboat Pilot from 1854 to 1863, by George Byron Merrick (Arthur H. Clark, 1909); and A Traffic History of the Mississippi River System, by Frank Haigh Dixon (National Waterways Commission Document No. 11; U.S. Government Printing Office, 1909).

Chapter Two: Old Devil River

For river meanders and helicoidal flow, see River Mechanics, by Pierre Y. Julien (Cambridge University Press, 2002). The flooding of the river is described in countless sources, perhaps most vividly in John Audubon’s Mississippi River Journal (reprinted in Writings and Drawings, Library of America, 1999). The 1805 tornado is described in The Pioneer History of Illinois, by John Reynolds (Fergus, 1887). Thomas Bangs Thorpe’s “A Storm Scene on the Mississippi” is collected in his book The Hive of “The Bee-Hunter”: A Repository of Sketches (Appleton, 1854).

Chapter Three: The Comet’s Tail

The story of the Crow’s Nest and the New Madrid earthquakes is based on the accounts in Timothy Flint’s Recollections and Emerson Gould’s Fifty Years (see chapter 1), as well as Natural and Statistical View, with an Appendix Containing Observations on the Late Earthquakes, by Daniel Drake (Looker and Wallace, 1815); Travels in the Interior of America, in the Years 1809, 1810, and 1811, by John Bradbury (Smith and Galway, 1817); View of the Valley of the Mississippi, or The Emigrant’s and Traveller’s Guide to the West, by Robert Baird (H. S. Tanner, 1834); The Rambler in North America, by Charles Joseph Latrobe (Seeley and Burnside, 1835); The New Madrid Earthquake, by Myron L. Fuller (U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 494; U.S. Government Printing Office, 1912); and The New Madrid Earthquakes, by James Lal Penick Jr. (revised edition; University of Missouri Press, 1981).

Chapter Four: Like Bubbles on a Sea

For Timothy Flint’s life, I’ve used Timothy Flint: Pioneer, Missionary, Author, Editor, 1780–1840, by John Ervin Kirkpatrick (Arthur H. Clark, 1911); and Timothy Flint, by James K. Folsom (Twayne, 1965). The account of the Natchez tornado is based on the newspaper reports reprinted in Early American Tornadoes, 1586–1870 (History of American Weather), edited by David M. Ludlum (American Meteorological Society, 1970).


Chapter Five: The Desire of an Ignorant Westerner

For the general account of the westward migration, I’ve used Notes on a Journey in America, from the Coast of Virginia to the Territory of Illinois, by Morris Birkbeck (Ridgway, 1818); A Woman’s Story of Pioneer Illinois, by Christiana Holmes Tillson (Lakeside Press, 1919); and the memoirs and travel books excerpted in The Opening of the West (Documentary History of the United States), edited by Jack M. Sosin (Harper and Row, 1969). The actions of the committees and the courts of Judge Lynch are described in detail in Frontier Law and Order: Ten Essays, by Philip D. Jordan (University of Nebraska Press, 1970). The story of James Ford derives from Chronicles of a Kentucky Settlement, by William Courtney Watts (Putnam, 1897); and The Outlaws of Cave-in-Rock, by Otto A. Rothert (A. H. Clark, 1924).

Chapter Six: Bloody Island

William Johnson’s diary has been published as William Johnson’s Natchez: The Antebellum Diary of a Free Negro, edited by William Ransom Hogan and Edwin Adams Davis (Louisiana State University Press, 1951). I’ve also consulted the biographical sketch by the diary’s editors, The Barber of Natchez (Louisiana State University Press, 1954); as well as The Unhurried Years: Memories of the Old Natchez Region, by Pierce Butler (Louisiana State University Press, 1948). For dueling in the lower valley, I’ve used The Field of Honor: Being a Complete and Comprehensive History of Duelling, by Ben C. Truman (Fords, Howard, and Hulbert, 1884). The Biddle-Pettis duel is described in many books and has accumulated a number of curious details in the retelling (according to Truman, for instance, the guns used were the actual ones from the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton). The version offered here is based mostly on the account in Personal Recollections of Many Prominent People Whom I Have Known, Especially of Those Relating to the History of St. Louis, by John F. Darby (G. I. Jones, 1880); A Centennial History of Missouri: The Center State, 1820–1921, by Walter B. Stevens (S. J. Clarke, 1921); and the detailed modern summary in Duels and the Roots of Violence in Missouri, by Dick Steward (University of Missouri Press, 2000). The stories of Alonzo Phelps and the Foote-Prentiss duels are in Henry Stuart Foote’s memoir, The Bench and Bar of the South and Southwest (Soule, Thomas, and Wentworth, 1876).

Chapter Seven: The Roar of Niagara

The Mike Fink stories are collected in Half Horse, Half Alligator: The Growth of the Mike Fink Legend, edited by Walter Blair and Franklin J. Meine (University of Chicago Press, 1956). For the Davy Crockett almanacs, I’ve used the facsimile reprints in The Tall Tales of Davy Crockett: The Second Nashville Series of Crockett Almanacs, 1839–1841, edited by Michael A. Lofaro (University of Tennessee Press, 1987); and Davy Crockett’s Riproarious Shemales and Sentimental Sisters: Women’s Tall Tales from the Crockett Almanacs, 1835–1856, edited by Michael A. Lofaro (Stackpole Books, 2001). Many of the Annie Christmas stories are summarized in The French Quarter: An Informal History of the New Orleans Underworld, by Herbert Asbury (Knopf, 1936), though it isn’t clear whether Asbury realizes, or cares, that Annie Christmas is a modern construct. (The story of the invention of Annie Christmas is told in Botkin’s Treasury; see headnote above.) The oddity of Lincoln’s conversation is noted in many memoirs; these examples are from David Porter (see chapter 14). Stories of prodigious drinking were universal on the frontier; the picnic is from William Johnson’s diary (see chapter 6). The description of the camp meetings derives from An Excursion Through the United States and Canada During the Years 1822–23, by William Newnham Blane (Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 1824); Autobiography of Peter Cartwright, the Backwoods Preacher (Philips and Hunt, 1856); Autobiography of Rev. James B. Finley, or Pioneer Life in the West (Methodist Book Concern, 1858); History of Cosmopolite, or The Writings of Rev. Lorenzo Dow, Containing His Experience and Travels in Europe and America, Up to Near His Fiftieth Year (Anderson, Gates, and Wright, 1859); A Short History of the Life of Barton W. Stone, Written by Himself, Designed Principally for His Children and Christian Friends, reprinted in The Cane Ridge Meeting-House, by James R. Rogers (Standard, 1910); and two modern histories, And They All Sang Hallelujah: Plain-Folk Camp-Meeting Religion, 1800–1845, by Dickson D. Bruce Jr. (University of Tennessee Press, 1974), and The Frontier Camp Meeting: Religion’s Harvest Time, by Charles A. Johnson (Southern Methodist University Press, 1955).

Chapter Eight: The Cosmopolitan Tide

The description of the steamboats is based primarily on Emerson Gould (see chapter 1) and Robert Baird (see chapter 3), as well as Domestic Manners of the Americans, by Frances Trollope (Whittaker, 1832); Narrative of a Tour in North America, by Henry Tudor (Duncan, 1834); Men and Manners in America, by Thomas Hamilton (Blackwood, 1843); Excursion Through the Slave States, from Washington on the Potomac to the Frontier of Mexico, by George Featherstonhaugh (Harper and Brothers, 1844); and The New World, by Marie de Grandfort, translated by Edward C. Wharton (Sherman, Wharton, 1855). The life of the sharpers (and their question, “Do you live on the river?”) is from Forty Years a Gambler on the Mississippi, by George H. Devol (Devol and Haines, 1887). For information about Thompsonian medicine and on other assorted quackeries and frauds, I’m indebted to American Medicine in Transition, 1840–1910, by John S. Haller (University of Illinois Press, 1981). The maneuverings with paper money and counterfeit detectors described here can be found in William Johnson’s diary (see chapter 6) and in E. F. Ware’s memoir and regimental history, The Lyon Campaign in Missouri, Being a History of the First Iowa Infantry (Crane, 1907), and in Philip D. Jordan’s Frontier Law and Order (see chapter 5—and for green thumbs and black thumbs as well).

Chapter Nine: A Pile of Shavings

The description of conditions of urban life along the Mississippi derives from Frances Trollope (see chapter 8); A Diary in America, with Remarks on Its Institutions, by Frederick Marryat (Baudry’s European Library, 1839); the excerpted texts and the topographical plates collected in Cities of the Mississippi: Nineteenth-Century Images of Urban Development, by John W. Reps (University of Missouri, 1994); and the modern history The Urban Frontier: The Rise of Western Cities, 1790–1830, by Richard C. Wade (Harvard University Press, 1959). The account of the St. Louis fire is from The Makers of St. Louis: A Brief Sketch of the Growth of a Great City, edited by William Marion Reedy (Mirror, 1906). The epidemics of the river valley are described in Autobiographical Sketches and Recollections During a Thirty-five Years’ Residence in New Orleans, by Theodore Clapp (Tompkins, 1863). There is more on the cholera outbreak during the Black Hawk War in Memoirs of Lieut.-General Scott, LL.D., Written by Himself (Sheldon, 1864).

Chapter Ten: The Coasts of Dark Destruction

The description of New Orleans is based on The Journal of Latrobe, by Benjamin Latrobe (Appleton, 1905); The Homes of the New World: Impressions of America, by Fredrika Bremer (Harper, 1858); A Journey Through the United States and Part of Canada, by Robert Everest (Woodfall and Kinder, 1855); Rambles and Scrambles in North and South America, by Edward Sullivan (Bentley, 1852); Scenes in the South and Other Miscellaneous Pieces, by James Creecy (Lippincott, 1860); Life and Liberty in America, or Sketches of a Tour in the United States and Canada in 1857–8, by Charles Mackay (Harper, 1859); and America Revisited, from the Bay of New York to the Gulf of Mexico, by George Augustus Sala (Vizetelly, 1886). Stories of the voodoo ceremonies are from New Orleans as It Was: Episodes of Louisiana Life, by Henry C. Castellanos (L. Graham, 1905); and New Orleans: The Place and the People, by Grace Elizabeth King (Macmillan, 1917). I’ve also relied on a series of modern books on New Orleans reprinted by Pelican Press in Baton Rouge, particularly Fabulous New Orleans, by Lyle Saxon; Voodoo in New Orleans, The Voodoo Queen, and Mardi Gras as It Was, by Robert Tallant; and End of an Era: New Orleans, 1850–1860, by Robert C. Reinders. The remark about the Jabberwock is in the Works Progress Administration’s guide to New Orleans.


Chapter Eleven: The Mound Builders

The best survey of nineteenth-century theories and fantasies about the Mound Builder civilization is Mound Builders of Ancient America: The Archaeology of a Myth, by Robert Silverberg (New York Graphic Society, 1968). I’ve also used Behemoth: A Legend of the Mound-Builders, by Cornelius Mathews (Langley, 1839); Traditions of De-Coo-Dah and Antiquarian Researches: Comprising Extensive Explorations, Surveys, and Excavations of the Wonderful and Mysterious Earthen Remains of the Mound-Builders in America, by William Pidgeon (Horace Thayer, 1858); The Prehistoric World, or Vanished Races, by E. A. Allen (Ferguson, Allen, and Rader, 1885); and The Ancient Earthworks and Temples of the American Indians, by Lindesey Brine (Farmer and Sons, 1894). For Cole’s Course of Empire, I’ve used The Life and Works of Thomas Cole, by Louis L. Noble (Sheldon, Blakeman, 1856).

Chapter Twelve: A Young Man of Splendid Abilities

The story of John Murrell was told and retold throughout the nineteenth century, never the same way twice. This version is based mostly on A History of the Detection, Conviction, Life and Designs of John A. Murel, the Great Western Land Pirate (undated pamphlet); The History of Virgil A. Stewart, and His Adventure in Capturing and Exposing the Great “Western Land Pirate” and His Gang (Harper and Brothers, 1836); Proceedings of the Citizens of Madison County, in the State of Mississippi at Livingston, in July 1835, in Relation to the Trial and Punishment of Several Individuals Implicated in a Contemplated Insurrection of the Slaves in That State (undated pamphlet); A Casket of Reminiscences, by Henry Stuart Foote (Chronicle, 1874); A Stray Yankee in Texas, by Philip Paxton (Redfield, 1853); and The Great Western Land Pirate: John A. Murrell in Legend and History, by James Lal Penick Jr. (University of Missouri Press, 1981). The fullest account of the later outbreaks of the Murrell excitement is in American Negro Slave Revolts, by Herbert Aptheker (International Publishers, 1983). I’ve also used American Slavery as It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses (American Anti-Slavery Society, 1839); Slavery in the South: First-Hand Accounts of the Antebellum American Southland from Northern and Southern Whites, Negroes, and Foreign Observers, edited by Harvey Wish (Farrar, Straus, 1964); and Slave Testimony: Two Centuries of Letters, Speeches, Interviews, and Autobiographies, edited by John W. Blassingame (Louisiana State University Press, 1977).

Chapter Thirteen: The Oracles

The visions troubling Calvin Stowe are recorded in Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Compiled from Her Letters and Journals, by Charles Edward Stowe (Houghton, Mifflin, 1891). The story of Herschel’s telescope and the moon creatures is told in detail in The Moon Hoax, or A Discovery That the Moon Has a Vast Population of Human Beings, by Richard Adams Locke (William Gowans, 1859). The hysteria about Millerism on the Mississippi is described in Streaks of Squatter Life, and Far-West Scenes, by John S. Robb (Carey and Hart, 1847); for general information on Miller, I’ve used God’s Strange Work: William Miller and the End of the World, by David L. Rowe (Eerdmans, 2008). For showboats and theatrical boats, I’ve used Struggles and Triumphs, or Forty Years’ Recollections of P. T. Barnum, Written by Himself (Warren, Johnson, 1873); Dramatic Life as I Found It: A Record of Personal Experience, with an Account of the Rise and Progress of the Drama in the West and South, by Noah Miller Ludlow (G. I. Jones, 1880); Children of Ol’ Man River: The Life and Times of a Show-Boat Trouper, by Billy Bryant (Furman, 1936); and Showboats: The History of an American Institution, by Philip Graham (University of Texas Press, 1951). For minstrel shows, I’ve relied on “Three Years as a Negro Minstrel,” by Ralph Keeler (Atlantic Monthly, July 1869); Talks, by George Thatcher, the Celebrated Minstrel (Penn Publishing, 1898); Negro Minstrels: A Complete Guide to Negro Minstrelsy, Containing Recitations, Jokes, Crossfires, Conundrums, Riddles, Stump Speeches, Ragtime and Sentimental Songs, by Jack Haverly (Frederick J. Drake, 1902); and the modern history Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-Century America, by Robert C. Toll (Oxford University Press, 1974). James Eads’s salvage operations are described in Road to the Sea: The Story of James B. Eads and the Mississippi River, by Florence Dorsey (Rinehart, 1947). The wreck of the St. Louis levee is described by George Byron Merrick (see chapter 1).


Chapter Fourteen: The Sky Parlor

The siege of Vicksburg, like every other event in the Civil War, has been exhaustively documented and analyzed. For the general course of the military campaign, I’ve used Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant and Memoirs of William Tecumseh Sherman (both in the recent Library of America editions) and, in particular, Incidents and Anecdotes of the Civil War, by David Porter (Appleton, 1886). For modern tactical and strategic analysis, I’ve used Triumph and Defeat: The Vicksburg Campaign, by Terrence J. Winschel (Savas, 1999); and Vicksburg Is the Key: The Struggle for the Mississippi River, by William L. Shea and Terrence J. Winschel (University of Nebraska Press, 2003). The account of the town during the siege is based on My Cave Life in Vicksburg, by Mary Ann Webster Loughborough (Appleton, 1864); A Southern Record: The History of the Third Regiment, Louisiana Infantry, by W. H. Tunnard (privately printed, 1866); “A Child at the Siege of Vicksburg,” by William W. Lord Jr. (Harper’s magazine, 1909); Brokenburn: The Journal of Kate Stone, 1861–1868, edited by John Q. Anderson (Louisiana State University Press, 1955); Vicksburg, Southern City Under Siege: William Lovelace Foster’s Letter Describing the Defense and Surrender of the Confederate Fortress on the Mississippi, edited by Kenneth Trist Urquhart (Historic New Orleans Collection, 1980); the memoirs and other testimony collected in the modern anthologies Vicksburg: 47 Days of Siege, edited by A. A. Hoehling (Prentice Hall, 1969), and The Siege of Vicksburg, edited by Richard Wheeler (Crowell, 1978); and the modern history Vicksburg: A People at War, 1860–1865, by Peter F. Walker (University of North Carolina Press, 1960).

Chapter Fifteen: The Alligator

The account of the Sultana disaster derives primarily from Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors, by Chester D. Berry (D. D. Thorp, 1892). I’ve also made very heavy use of Disaster on the Mississippi: The Sultana Explosion, April 27, 1865, by Gene Eric Salecker (Naval Institute Press, 1996). I also consulted Cahaba Prison and the Sultana Disaster, by William O. Bryant (University of Alabama Press, 1990); and Andersonville: The Last Depot, by William Marvel (University of North Carolina Press, 1994).


Chapter Sixteen: The Last of the Floating Life

For Twain, I’ve used the Penguin American Library edition of Life on the Mississippi, edited by James M. Cox, which has substantial passages from the manuscript omitted in earlier editions. For James Eads, I’ve used Addresses and Papers of James B. Eads(Slawson, 1884); and Notes Taken in Sixty Years, by Richard Smith Elliott (Studley, 1883). The work of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is described in The River We Have Wrought: A History of the Upper Mississippi, by John O. Anfinson (University of Minnesota Press, 2003); and Structures in the Stream: Water, Science, and the Rise of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, by Todd Shallat (University of Texas Press, 1994).


The description and history of the panoramas derive from The Lost Panoramas of the Mississippi, by John Francis McDermott (University of Chicago Press, 1958). John Banvard’s descriptive pamphlet for his panorama is reprinted in Before Mark Twain (see headnote above). Some details of Banvard’s later career are drawn from Pioneer Photographers from the Mississippi to the Continental Divide: A Biographical Dictionary, 1839–1865, by Peter E. Palmquist and Thomas R. Kailbourn (Stanford University Press, 2005).

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