by Mr. Clark, aka Big Muddy Mike
The recently exposed wreck of what is believed to be the Victor, a late 19th century steamboat, beckoned us to investigate. We did so after a frigid morning packing camp. We were situated on a sand bar at the bottom end of Big Island, directly across from Montgomery Island, and on the Mississippi River chute known today as the Old White River Channel, but at the time of the Victor’s demise, it was Sibley Chute. The massive and powerful flooding of the Mississippi River in 2011 carved away the muddy bank along Big Island in a way to expose the decaying hull of the Victor. The Victor was a turn of the century steam powered tow boat, and like countless other 1800’s river boats, became a wreck and was silted over in the many years since. It was said to have been wrecked while trying to unleash a set of lumber barges that had run aground or were fleeted just above the chute. It has been there since 1907 and investigating its remains was, for canoe builders, a fascinating study in boat archaeology. The oak planking of the hull is held together with forged nails, old timey nails, thick, as big or bigger than my fingers, and without the exact uniformity of modern nails. We collected a few to send to the Arkansas Archaeological Society for their archives and study.
We pushed off heading down to the mouth of the chute and the Mississippi River. Along the way we continued to see the amazing bird life of this area. A large eagle’s nest with a mature American Bald Eagle perched inside appeared at the mouth of the chute and the Great River. Our lunch stop gave us one last chance to explore the forest and we found another river otter fishing and a flock of small songbirds busy hunting, again demonstrating that Big Island is teaming with avian life, even at its bottom end where there are many more signs of human impact.
Entering the Mississippi River brought us out of the wilderness and back to the reality of humanity. Tow boats pushing up to 15 barges were at work, moving upstream and down with their variations of cargo. The Mississippi River is very wide here, almost three times as wide as it is around St. Louis. We used the gift of a swift current and a tail wind, one of the only winds in our favor this entire trip, to help propel us towards the mouth of the Rosedale Harbor, where this expedition began. John composed and sang a verse to commemorate the journey, sung to the tune of a song, “May the Circle be unbroken….” We took three water quality tests along the way, at the mouth of the Old White River Chute, in the middle of the Mississippi Channel just above the harbor, and finally, in the harbor itself, just before landing at the ramp where this journey began. We hurriedly packed the canoes onto the canoe trailer, and began what is always for us, the most dangerous part of any river trip, the drive home. And we made it in time to get our great KIPP student explorers connected to their ride back to Helena and preparations for a school day tomorrow. A school day that will be a most interesting one I am sure as they try to understand what they have learned in the best classroom of all, Nature.
Tonight, we are all preparing for our first showers in two weeks, and a well deserved sleep indoors, on beds, with furnace heat to keep us warm. Reentry to life as we normally know it is bitter sweet. The routine of expedition becomes so ingrained that it is very hard to concentrate when the abrupt change over is taking place. And so, this is a salutation to Big Island from our team. Big Island you have blessed us with many gifts, gifts of life, natural beauty and you have challenged us too. We return to our homes and schools and work with a great perspective, a renewed sense of hope based upon the evidence that wild places are still here in America and are worthy of protection, and yes, a great archive of information. We hope to do you proud by sharing it well.
We will be working for the next two weeks to tie this whole thing together with our virtual explorers by adding their research projects to the site, and we will be editing the updates from the expedition by adding links as references, many photos to help express the details missing in the text, and to correct any factual errors that we find. And each team member will have the chance to reflect and write about the journey from a perspective that is based upon the memories of a most excellent adventure learning project.