Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Spring 2013


Great Plains Research 23.1 (Spring 2013).


Copyright © 2013 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


The best way to fall in love with rivers is to have a relationship with them. Lisa Knopp does this by looking, experiencing, and contemplating what each river looked like in its wild state; how historical and contemporary travelers viewed them; how they were named; how First Americans lived near and depended upon them; how industry and agriculture have used them; what each river is like after two centuries of human tinkering and engineering; and how the culture, politics, and philosophy of people living along these rivers continue to be shaped by them.

Born and raised along the Mississippi near Burlington in southeastern Iowa, Knopp naturally engages as an insider to experience and learn the history of the First Americans and immigrants who settled along the river. In an age of expansion, 1,476 steamboats plied the Mississippi and docked at the st. Louis wharf in 1839, but by 1872 only 147 steamboats passed beneath the Burlington Railroad Bridge. Prior to 1890, mussel beds resembled cobblestones on the riverbed; overexploitation by the button industry decimated them by 1900.