Taming the Wild Muddy: A History of Change on the Missouri River

Published: March 14, 2012

Original Presentation- March 14, 2012 Big Muddy Speaker Series in Kansas City

Taming the Wild Muddy A History of Change on the Missouri River”- by author and historian Jim Denny

gary lucy painting

(painting by Gary Lucy of Washington, MO. Check out more of Gary’s historical river art at his gallery website: www.garylucy.com)

As America explored, settled and learned to live with the Missouri River, it also forever changed the nature of this wild, western river. In one of the Big Muddy Speaker Series’ most popular presentations, author Jim Denny used historical journals of early river travelers, including Lewis and Clark, to conjure up the essence of the natural Missouri River.

The Missouri River as the first American explorers encountered it was a fickle, floody and dangerous place. Moving sandbars, collapsing banks and minefields of snags and debris made navigation on the river incredibly difficult. It was also a haven for wildlife, an everchanging creater and destroyer of a rich tapestry of habitat.

Looking at today’s channelized river, it’s tough to visualize the character of that wild river. Jim did a great job of digging into past accounts of the river, especially journals from the Lewis and Clark Expeditions, to describe both its untamed power and its sublime beauty and bounty. His descriptions of how the Army Corps of Engineers tamed the Big Muddy make it clear just what an amazing feat it was to control the Missouri River.

Jim Denny is a former historian for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and the author of several books and articles about Missouri River and Lewis and Clark history. He has given numerous presentations on Missouri’s history, and has traveled the whole Lewis & Clark Trail in Missouri by boat and automobile. His premiere Missouri River accomplishment is the “Atlas of Lewis and Clark in Missouri”, co-authored with MU geographer Jim Harlan. His latest publication is “The Civil War’s First Blood: Missouri 1854 – 1861” published by Missouri Life. Jim, his wife Sue, his daughter Melanie and grandsons Alex and Ben currently live beside the Missouri River in Lupus, MO, waiting for their next chance to get on the river.


The Big Muddy Speakers Series in Kansas City

is hosted by these wonderful partners!

Thanks to all of our venue hosts for making this possible! Click here for a list of upcoming presentations» The Big Muddy Speaker Series is also held monthly in Rocheport and St. Charles.

Recordings of Presentations

Kansas City Digital Video has been recording Big Muddy Speaker Series presentations. These are available on their website at this link. Some contain synchronized powerpoint presentations. We will be posting these to the archived presentation pages on bigmuddyspeakers.org. Thanks Micheal Morgan and crew for putting this important archive online! The Big Muddy Speaker Series is partially funded by the Columbia Ecological Services Field Office (USFWS) and the Mo. Dept. of Conservation.


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