Synopses & Reviews
Looking over the vast open plains of eastern Colorado, western Kansas, and southwestern Nebraska, where one can travel miles without seeing a town or even a house, it is hard to imagine the crowded landscape of the last decades of the nineteenth century. In those days farmers, speculators, and town builders flooded the region, believing that rain would follow the plow and that the and#8220;Rainbeltand#8221; would become their agricultural Eden. It took a mere decade for drought and economic turmoil to drive these dreaming thousands from the land, turning farmland back to rangeland and reducing settlements to ghost towns.
David J. Wishartand#8217;s The Last Days of the Rainbelt is the sobering tale of the rapid rise and decline of the settlement of the western Great Plains. History finds its voice in interviews with elderly residents of the region by Civil Works Administration employees in 1933 and 1934. Evidence similarly emerges from land records, climate reports, census records, and diaries, as Wishart deftly tracks the expansion of westward settlement across the central plains and into the Rainbelt. Through an examination of migration patterns, land laws,and#160;town-building, and agricultural practices, Wishart re-creates the often-difficult life of settlers in a semiarid region who undertook the daunting task of adapting to a new environment. His book brings this era of American settlement and failure on the western Great Plains fully into the scope of historical memory.
"In this love song to the Mississippi river, Chicago journalist Sandlin winds through mythology and history, from the early 19th century, when the Chippewa peopled its banks, to the metamorphosed post-Civil War river culture. In first-time author Sandlin's hands, the Mississippi, splitting two expanses of land, is itself a split entity: a terrible destroyer that sent boats into 'wild convulsions as the men clung on desperately'; a road to wealth; a holy ground; a hotspot for gamblers and prostitutes; a place loaded with violence and art. Sandlin also covers the river's legendary presence in American literature, specifically in the fiction of Mark Twain. Rather than seeing the Mississippi as merely a geographical feature, the author focuses on the river as a muse, a myth, and as a catalyst of culture. Sandlin's enthusiasm is infectious and his story is as vivid as that of any river-dweller tall tale; social historians and fans of Americana alike will traverse the book with the same sense of adventure as Huckleberry Finn rafting the river. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
and#8220;David Wishart has discovered a rich lode of pioneer settler interviews from eastern Colorado, which form the heart of the book. . . . [He] skillfully retells the story of environmental misunderstanding through the eyes of the settlers who lived it.and#8221;and#8212;John C. Hudson, professor of geography at Northwestern University and author of Across this Land: A Regional Geography of the United Statesand#160; and Canadaand#160;
andquot;The Last Days of the Rainbelt
offers countless insights into frontier settlement.andquot;andmdash;Environmental History
"By combining previously overlooked archival material with an informed understanding of the region, Wishart makes an important time and place come alive."and#8212;James R. Shortridge, Kansas History
andquot;Wishart has constructed an account that, page for page, may provide as good a portrait of the region as those produced by authors such as Walter Webb, Donald Worster, or Mari Sandoz. Thanks to scholars such as David Wishart, this volume also shows that the New Deal is the gift that keeps on giving.andquot;andmdash;Richard D. Loosbrock, Nebraska History
Beginning in the early 1800s and climaxing with the siege of Vicksburg in 1863, "Wicked River" takes readers back to a time before the Mississippi was dredged into a shipping channel, and before Mark Twain romanticized it into myth.
From award-winning journalist Lee Sandlin comes a riveting look at one of the most colorful, dangerous, and peculiar places in America’s historical landscape: the strange, wonderful, and mysterious Mississippi River of the nineteenth century.
Beginning in the early 1800s and climaxing with the siege of Vicksburg in 1863, Wicked River takes us back to a time before the Mississippi was dredged into a shipping channel, and before Mark Twain romanticized it into myth. Drawing on an array of suspenseful and bizarre firsthand accounts, Sandlin brings to life a place where river pirates brushed elbows with future presidents and religious visionaries shared passage with thieves—a world unto itself where, every night, near the levees of the big river towns, hundreds of boats gathered to form dusk-to-dawn cities dedicated to music, drinking, and gambling. Here is a minute-by-minute account of Natchez being flattened by a tornado; the St. Louis harbor being crushed by a massive ice floe; hidden, nefarious celebrations of Mardi Gras; and the sinking of the Sultana, the worst naval disaster in American history. Here, too, is the Mississippi itself: gorgeous, perilous, and unpredictable, lifeblood to the communities that rose and fell along its banks.
An exuberant work of Americana—at once history, culture, and geography—Wicked River is a grand epic that portrays a forgotten society on the edge of revolutionary change.
About the Author
LEE SANDLIN’s essays, most of which were published in the Chicago Reader, received the Peter Lisagor Award for Exemplary Journalism and an award for Best Arts Criticism from the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. His essay “Losing the War” was included in the anthology The New Kings of Nonfiction. He lives in Chicago.