This Delta, This Land: An Environmental History of the Yazoo-Mississippi Floodplain

This Delta, This Land: An Environmental History of the Yazoo-Mississippi Floodplain

Mikko Saikku

Language: English

Pages: 400

ISBN: 0820326739

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


This Delta, This Land is a comprehensive environmental history of the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta―the first one to place the Delta's economic and cultural history in an environmental context. The Delta, the floodplain between two great rivers in the northwestern corner of Mississippi, has changed enormously since the Civil War. Agriculture, lumbering, and flood-management schemes have transformed it beyond recognition―and beyond any prospects for a full recovery.

However, says Mikko Saikku, the 150 years following the Civil War brought greater environmental change than we generally realize. Indeed, the long-term environmental history of the Delta is much more complex than our current view of it, which privileges recent periods rather than presenting the entire continuum. Looking across thousands of years, Saikku examines successive human societies in the Delta, drawing connections between environmental and social problems and noting differences between Native Americans and Euro-Americans in their economies, modes of production, and land-use patterns.

Saikku's range of sources is astonishing: travel literature, naturalists' writings, government records, company archives, archaeological data, private correspondence, and more. As he documents how such factors as climate and water levels shaped the Delta, he also reveals the human aspects of the region's natural history, including land reclamation, slave and sharecropper economies, ethnic and racial perceptions of land ownership and stewardship, and even blues music.

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applicable in describing changes taking place in the natural environment or human societies of the Delta. Utilizing an interdisciplinary approach within the general framework of environmental history, this study examines the human exploitation of the bottomland hardwood forest habitat in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta through time, aiming to identify the most significant patterns of envi- Environmental History 3 ronmental change on the floodplain since the arrival of the first humans. Although the

near present-day East St. Louis, Illinois, was occupied from at least 1100 to 1350 and had probably over thirty thousand inhabitants during its heyday around 1250. It remained the largest settlement in the history of what is today the United States until Philadelphia surpassed it only in 1800. After the year 1200, there is strong evidence of direct contact between Cahokia and the YazooMississippi Delta, and a settlement by northern migrants seems to have been established along the upper Yazoo. 17

Southeast by natives increasingly eager to obtain European goods. Writing in 1805, Enter Homo sapiens 81 Rushworth Nutt captured the essence of the change in Native American subsistence culture along the Mississippi: “The Indian game never grew scarce before the europians introduced a trade with them & encouraged a peltry & fur trade. They now made havock among the innocent animals of the earth merely for the skins, & the flesh wasted. From this time the game has been on the decline & now they

country had produced some nine million bales of cotton while the second-largest grower, India, amounted to less than two million bales. Although the The Creation of a Cotton Kingdom 133 cotton crop of 1866 had amounted to less than two million bales, which was less than half the 1859 crop and only a little greater than the production in 1839, the subsequent recovery of the cotton economy was rapid, and production exceeded five million bales for the first time in 1875. With new acreage under

situation [on a natural levee] made it, (at that time) secure from the annual floods.” The plantation had Taming the Rivers 153 survived the ravages of the Civil War but faced problems after 1890 as a result of the readjustment of the levee line: [T]he great “bends” were thrown out, and an effort made to shorten and straighten the line of levees. Consequently, for the first time, Woodstock was subjected to inundation. Captain W. F. Randolph, then in charge of the estate, tried to protect it by

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