Monday, 15 March 2010

Kaskaskia, Illinois

Looking out over the bustling river, you think back to how things used to be when the Mississippi’s only traffic was flat-boats piled with hemp and cotton. There were no engines then, river traffic simply floated downstream. You picture yourself in 1823, amazed to see a boat travel against the current, envying the Virginia’s ten lucky passengers.

Now you wish they’d never come. The crews have cut too many trees from the riverbanks to power the steamboat engines. It’s not as if anyone owns those trees; but you think of how much land is barren now, of the bluffs eroding. When you complained in town, no one would listen. Thanks to the riverboats carrying wheat and corn to New Orleans, Kaskaskia had grown to a rich town of seven thousand. Why would anyone question that?

When the riverbanks start to collapse, you say nothing. Everyone puts it down to the rains, and the crews carry on felling trees.

It is only in 1881 that people realise, but it’s too late by then. The Mississippi shifts eastwards into a new channel, destroying most of Kaskaskia. People try to rebuild, but when the town floods again, it is abandoned. Today only nine people remain.