Missouri River Corps of Rediscovery - A River Relieved


“At 8 ms. passed the mouth of a Creek Called Saline or Salt R on the L. Sd. this {Creek} River is about 30 yds. wide, and has So many Licks & Salt Springs on its banks that the Water of the Creek is Brackish, one Verry large Lick is 9 ms. up on the left Side    the water of the Spring in this Lick is Strong as one bushel of the water is said to make 7 lb. of good Salt.” - William Clark, June 6, 1804

Paddling the channelized Missouri River provided a leaf-by-leaf transition into fall colors, starting with isolated pockets of reds and yellows way back at Sioux City. The colors gradually increased downriver, then stalled and began rewinding towards summer greens as we raced southward. But the cold front that overtook us slowed our advance while accelerating the advance of changing colors. Our southern migration halted when the Missouri turned east at Kansas City, allowing fall colors to engulf us from the river banks. 

Fall colors here are not like the brilliant carpet of gold I know at home, where uniform forests of cottonwoods turn bright yellow along the rivers. Colors here are more diverse, reflecting the diversity of trees, but also more muted, like the daubed brush strokes of an impressionist painting. A thousand shades of yellow, orange, and red mingle with a background of lingering green, subdued by intermingled grays and browns. 

We were told the channelized river would be boring, “every curve the same” for 750 miles. But with the swift current and ever-changing leaves, we enjoyed front row seats to the best show on fall TV. The addition of limestone bluffs made this scrolling painting one of the most scenic parts of the Missouri River.

Downstream from Glasgow, we passed near Boone’s Lick State Historic Site, a mile northeast of the river.  The lower Missouri was already well known to settlers before William Clark noted the abundance of salt licks. Just one year later, Daniel Boone’s sons Nathan and Daniel Morgan Boone partnered with James and Jesse Morrison to commercialize the area’s largest salt spring.

Salt production was very labor-intensive prior to industrialization. At Boone’s Lick salt works, workers heated brine water in iron kettles to steam off the water, leaving crystallized salt behind. Cooking off 250 to 300 gallons of brine water produced one bushel of salt. The business grew to employ twenty men laboring over sixty kettles. They produced thirty bushels of salt per day, which was shipped downstream to St. Louis via keelboats and sold for $2.50 per bushel. 

Saline seeps and falling leaves are not all that enters the river. A small trail of litter peppers the Missouri all the way from Montana, growing visibly worse below population centers such as Kansas City. I plucked a floating water bottle from the river, imported from Fiji, nearly 7,000 miles away, the non-degradable container now littering this beautiful river. Flood waters exacerbated the trash problem, picking up random goods and trash from every private and public parcel along the way.

Continued paddling brought us to Wilson’s Serenity Point opposite Jefferson City, the capitol of Missouri. Here we connected with Missouri River Relief, the premier nonprofit organization working to benefit our nation’s longest river. MRR offers river ecology classes to students and teachers and hosts three or four major river clean-up days each year. Here they worked with 200 dedicated volunteers to spend the morning collecting trash from ten miles of riverbank on the east side of the river.

Rain was settling in when we arrived, dispersing most of the volunteers. We joined the remaining crew to sort recyclables from trash. The clean-up gathered 254 bags of trash, plus boatloads of beadboard insulation, 41 tires, a chemical tank, and a whole slew of propane tanks, hot water heaters, mini-refrigerators, chest freezers, and coolers. Crews found not just one message in a bottle, but ten of them over the ten-mile clean up. The waste more than filled the rented construction dumpster, the excess bags stacked until an additional dumpster arrived.

My impression from nearly five months of paddling is that far more trash enters the river than is readily visible along the banks. There is likely a steady stream of garbage tumbling along the river bottom to the Mississippi and down to the Gulf of Mexico. It is estimated that 40 percent of the trash in the Gulf comes down the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. 

We unintentionally contributed litter through 2,000 miles of paddling, leaving behind a small trail of missed hats, sunglasses, lids, silverware, and even a fishing pole that disappeared over the side of a canoe. However, we more than offset our footprint by picking up trash, occasionally finding useful gear along the way, such as sunglasses and a fishing net.

Solving the litter problem requires a complex, multi-faceted approach that addresses everything from disposable containers to new setbacks along flood-prone waterways. But that isn’t an excuse for individual apathy. There wouldn’t be a litter problem if each person simply picked up more garbage than they dropped. It is easy to blame the schmucks who litter. Yet, equally to blame are those who dismiss litter as someone else’s responsibility or beneath their dignity to clean up. The world’s problems are immense, yet readily manageable if each person contributes to the extent readily within their means to do so.

From Serenity Point I enjoyed a walk across the bridge to visit Lewis and Clark Trailhead Plaza near the capitol building. We camped overnight with the Relief crew, enjoying the warmth of good company and a hardwood fire to dry our damp clothes even during continued sprinkles. 

Thomas J. Elpel lives in Pony, Montana. The full story of the Missouri River expedition, along with hundreds of photos, will be published as “Five Months on the Missouri River: Paddling a Dugout Canoe,” available in March.

Top photo - Fall colors are rich and varied, dabued onto the landscape like an impressionist painting.



Missouri River Corps of Rediscovery - Taste of Freedom

“Set out after a heavy Shower of rain and proceeded on the Same Course of last night    passed a large butifull Prarie on the S. S. opposit a large Island, Calld Saukee Prarie, a gentle breese from the S. W. Some butiful high lands on the L. S.    passed... [More]


Missouri River Corps of Rediscovery - Sawyers

“Set out from the Kansas river ½ past 4 oClock, proceeded on passed a Small run on the L. S. at ½ Mile a Island on the S. S. at 1½ me.    Hills above the upr. pt of Isd. L. S.    a large Sand bar in the middle. Passed a verry bad... [More]


Missouri River Corps of Rediscovery - Cold Front

“A verry warm day (worthy of remark that the water of this river or Some other Cause, I think that the most Probable throws out a greater preposn. of Swet than I could Suppose Could pass thro: the humane body    Those men that do not work at all will wet a Shirt... [More]


Missouri River Corps of Rediscovery - Water World

“The Situation of our last Camp Councill Bluff or Handssom Prarie appears to be a verry proper place for a Tradeing establishment & fortification    The Soil of the Bluff well adapted for Brick, Great deel of timbers above in the two Points.    many... [More]


Missouri River Corps of Rediscovery - Fish Stories

“I went with ten men to a Creek Damed by the Beavers about half way to the Village, with Some Small willow & Bark we mad a Drag and haulted up the Creek, and Cought 318 fish of different kind i’e’ Peke, Bass, Salmon, perch, red horse, Small Cat, and a kind... [More]


Missouri River Corps of Rediscovery - Channeling Floyd

“We Came to [to] make a warm bath for Sergt. Floyd hopeing it would brace him a little, before we could get him in to this bath he expired, with a great deel of composure, haveing Said to me before his death that he was going away and wished me to write a letter— ... [More]


Missouri River Corps of Rediscovery - Throwing Sand

“Passed the mouth of the River Que Courre (rapid R[)] on the L. S. and Came to a Short distance above, this River is 152 yards wide at the mouth & 4 feet Deep Throwing out Sands like the Platt (only Corser) forming bars in its mouth, I went up this river three miles... [More]


Missouri River Corps of Rediscovery - Sour Grapes

“George Shannon who had been absent with the horse es 16 days joined the boat about one oclock.  he informed us that the reason of his keeping on so long was that he see some tracks which must have been Indians.    he to[ok] it to [be] us and kept on, his... [More]

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Traffic Court September-December

Forman, David Scott, Miami Fla, driving 78 mph in a 50 mph zone. Fines $177 Court Cost $108. Hagan, Audrey Ann, Columbia Mo, driving 78 mph in a 65 mph zone. Deferred. Court Cost $108. Pfeffer, Samuel Tyler, Sharon Springs, Reckless Driving.  Bench Trial – Not... [More]

Traffic Court up to September 2019

Turner, Philip Russell II, driving 85 mph in a 65 mph zone, deferred adjudication, court costs $108. Patton, Amanda, driving 93 mph in a 65 mph zone, deferred adjudication, court costs $108. Ramey, Tyler Ray, failure to stop or obey railroad crossing signal, fines $195, court... [More]

Wallace County District Court Sentencings

On May 15th, Vance Diamond Halsey appeared in the Wallace County District Court with court appointed attorney, Christopher Rohr, Colby for sentencing in the matter of case 2019-CR-03.  Halsey was charged with Fleeing or Attempting to Elude a Police Officer on March 12, 2019, ... [More]

Traffic Court for May-June 2019

May Traffic Report Thomas, Dyami R, Bellingham, Wash, driving 85 mph in a 65 mph zone, fines $105, court cost $108. Araujo Pompa, Almedio, Coral Gables, Fla, driving 85 mph in a 65 mph zone, fines $105, court cost $108. Lennon, Jake Owen, Pittsburg, Penn, driving 93 mph... [More]

Traffic Court for April 2019

James Manuel Phillips, Gardner, Colo, driving 77 mph in a 65 mph zone, fines $57 and court costs $108. Kenzie Marie Spreier, Colby, Kans, diving 80 in a 65 mph zone, fines $75 and court costs $108. Erick Edward Jarosz, Canon City, Colo, driving 84 mph in a 65 mph zone,... [More]

Brandon and Fugate Sentenced

Jonathan Brandon appeared in Wallace County District Court on April 10th, 2019, with his court appointed attorney, Steve Cott, Garden City, for sentencing in cases 17 CR 51 and 17 CR 58. Each case charged Brandon with Distribution of Methamphetamine within 1000 feet of a school,... [More]

Traffic Court reports Apr 11, 2019

Chandler, Garrett Scott, Pueblo, Colo, driving 75 mph in a 65 mph zone, fines $69, court costs $108. Palmier, Joshua Quayshun, Birmingham, Ala, driving 84 mph in a 65 mph zone, fines $99, court costs $108. Chavez, Brenda Icilice, Denver, Colo, driving 85 mph in a 65 mph zone,... [More]

March District Court

On March 13th, 2019 Charlene Valdez appeared in Wallace County District Court with court appointed attorney Leslie Beims, Goodland in the matter of case number 2017 CR 42. Valdez had been charged with Conspiracy to Distribute Methamphetamine, within 1,000’ of a school,... [More]

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Sharon Springs Wildcats Take On Weskan Coyotes

Jace Mackley shoots a basket for Weskan in the game between Wallace County High School and Weskan High School last Friday.  Weskan Boys won 71 - 51. JC Allen (WHS) shoots over Brookley Dinkel   (WCHS) during last week’s game.  The Lady Wildcats won... [More]


FHSU Students Earn Fall Semester Honors

Grady Hammer and  Dalen See are among the 1,596 students named to the Deans Honor Roll for the fall 2019 semester by deans at Fort Hays State University. The Deans Honor Roll includes undergraduate students only. To be eligible, students must have completed 12 or more... [More]


KSU Students Earn Fall Semester Honors

More than 4,220 Kansas State University students have earned semester honors for their academic performance in the fall 2019 semester. Students earning a grade point average for the semester of 3.75 or above on at least 12 graded credit hours receive semester honors along with... [More]


Sexson Returns From Retreat For Rural Leaders

Lissa Sexson of the Wallace County Visitors Bureau attended the 27th Retreat for Rural Leaders facilitated by the Kansas Sampler Foundation and held at The Barn Bed and Breakfast Inn near Valley Falls. Lissa was one of 34 people from across the state to attend. The group was... [More]

My Favorite Hiding Spot

Sandi Kerr-Jordan’s 8th graders discus hiding spots as they learn about interactions between the Jews and the Nazis during World War II. Here are some of her student’s personal hiding spots - My hiding place is my room. It is really the only place in my house... [More]


Acoustic Eidolon to Perform

Back for a third time in recent years, Acoustic Eidolon will perform for the Western Plains Arts Association, Sunday, Jan. 26 at the Wallace County High School Auditorium, 521 North Main, Sharon Springs. The program begins at 2 p.m. Mountain (3 p.m. Central).  Admission... [More]


PBR’s Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour Returns to Wichita on April 25

For the seventh time in as many years, the Professional Bull Riders Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour (PWVT) will travel to Wichita, Kansas, with the Wichita Classic, set to buck into INTRUST Bank Arena on April 25. For one night only, some of the best bull riders in the world... [More]


Happy Birthday Barbara Engel!

Happy Birthday Barbara Engel!

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Bugle Notes - Jan 16, 2020

This Sunday, the Fort Wallace Museum is looking forward to hosting Greg and Cee Heller from Kannapolis for the screening of the new documentary film “Fort Harker: Gateway Post to the Frontier.” Please join us at 2:00 pm MT for the 45-minute film, followed by discussion... [More]


Bugle Notes - Jan 9, 2020

Happy New Year! The Fort Wallace Memorial Association is looking forward to a fun and full 2020; we invite everyone to join in and help make it our most successful year ever!  There are two ways to join our organization. “The Fort Wallace Memorial Association”... [More]


Bugle Notes - Dec 12, 2019

Christmas arrived at the Fort Wallace Museum this past Sunday, with the annual “Candlelight Christmas” service, followed by a festive gathering inside the main building. The 1888 Bethany Lutheran Church was filled to capacity for the traditional service. Worship was... [More]


Bugle Notes - Dec 5, 2019

In 1865, David Butterfield raised money from New York investors to create Butterfield’s Overland Despatch Stage Line along the Smoky Hill Trail - the shortest route from commerce centers near Atchison, Kansas to the gold fields near Denver Colorado. In 2019, Butterfield’s... [More]


Bugle Notes - Nov 7, 2019

On Saturday, the Fort Wallace Museum welcomed author Chuck Warner and his wife Karen to the Museum to discuss his new book “Birds, Bones and Beetles,” about his grandfather Charles “Bunk” Bunker, who was a KU Naturalist that explored Wallace County and... [More]


Bugle Notes - Oct 31, 2019

The 2019 Smoky Hill Trail Conference held at the Fort Wallace Museum is now in the rearview mirror! The event hosted 75 folks, including several national names in Western History research, as the role of Fort Wallace in Trail history was explored. Tours, lectures, networking,... [More]


Bugle Notes - Oct 17, 2019

The Smoky Hill Trail Conference weekend is here, and we are excited to host folks from all over Kansas, Colorado and beyond! The theme of the weekend is “Fort Wallace - the Fightin’est Fort on the Smoky Hill Trail,” and presentations will explore the events,... [More]


Bugle Notes - Oct 10, 2019

This Saturday night, we are delighted to welcome Rachel Garcia and Thu Tran “The Singer and the Songwriter” to the Fort Wallace Museum for an evening of live music at 7pm as part of the High Plains Public Radio Artists Series! The Singer and The Songwriter is the... [More]

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