Bluffing His Way to Fame

Monday, October 17, 2011 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Boxing in the Heartland, Day 3

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Missouri — In the 1730s, an adventurous young Frenchman named Jean Baptiste Girardot established a trading post at the site of a rocky bluff on the west bank of the Mississippi River.  This bluff, which projected into the river, was known as "the cape," and soon people began calling the area Cape Girardeau.  Even though Girardot and his trading post remained only a few years, the name stuck.

Common Pleas Courthouse (completed 1854)

By the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1803, the community which had begun around the post numbered more than 1,000.  The growth of steamboats on the river spurred further expansion, and the Cape, as it is still called today, moved from village to city.  It continued to grow with the arrival of the railroad.

Missouri Wall of Fame on Cape Girardeau flood wall

A treacherous ally, the Mississippi River gave with one hand and took away with the other. Periodic floods destroyed the city the river had helped to build until the Cape took action to keep the river in its channel.  In 1964, the city completed the construction of a 20-foot flood wall to protect the historic downtown from the ravages of the Mississippi's historic floods.  To make these functional structures more attractive, Cape Girardeau has included the floodwalls in its extensive collection of downtown murals depicting historical events.

Cape Girardeau riverfront

The Cape's lovehate relationship with the river is commemorated in interpretive signs along the riverfront.  It was there that we learned the massive reach of the Mississippi River system.  Areas from Asheville, NC to Chatauqua, NY, from Cimmaron, NM, to Yellowstone National Park in WY, all lie in the drainage basin of the Mississippi River.  This basin includes all or parts of 32 states and two Canadian provines, covering 41% of the landmass of the continental United States.

From the head of the river in Minnesota to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River flows more than 2,340 miles.  That's the river itself, not including any of its major tributaries.  At Cape Girardeau, the river flows one million gallons of water per second.  Though that seems a huge amount, the flow of the Amazon River in South America is ten times greater than the entire Mississippi River system combined.


The nearby Trail of Tears State Park afforded an elevated perspective on the river.  The park is located where nine of the 13 Cherokee Indian groups being relocated to Oklahoma crossed the Mississippi River during harsh winter conditions in 1838-39.  Thousands lost their lives on the trail, including dozens on or near the park's grounds. The park visitor center tells the tale of the thousands who died on the forced march, and a memorial in the park pays tribute to all the Cherokee who died on the trail.

Whenever we catch a glimpse of the river, we usually observe barge traffic.  Though an important form of transportation for people in the early days of the United States, river travel has largely been replaced by cars and air lines.  For cargo, river transportation is still a very viable, relatively inexpensive method of moving goods.

Moving goods on the Mississippi

A single barge usually carries about 1500 tons of cargo, 15 times what a rail car can move and 60 times greater than one trailer truck.  The average tow on the Mississippi has 15 barges, but flotillas can go up to 40 barges, depending on the type of cargo, the river segments being navigated, and the size of the towboat.  The tow pictured here is a little smaller than average with only 11 barges.  Yet it has the capacity to carry as much cargo as a train over two miles long or a line of 660 trucks.

The largest single bulk items moved on the Mississippi are petroleum products—gasoline, kerosene, fuel oil and lubricating oil, which are shipped upstream from the oil fields of Texas and Louisiana. Coal is shipped upstream from Illinois and western Kentucky.  Downstream barges often carry grains, such as corn, wheat, oats, barley and rye, conveyed to New Orleans and transferred to ocean vessels for shipment around the world.

ROAD NOISE:
  • More and more often we are seeing audio tours by cell phone. The Chickamauga military park employed this clever device, as did the city of Cape Girardeau.  We find it to be a brilliant solution— an interactive audio tour that the host museum or cultural institution can change and update easily, it's available 24/7, and  no special equipment is needed.
  • In Trail of Tears State Park today, we came across a fortyish couple who had run their motorcycle into a ditch rounding a small curve.  They appeared to be trying to figure out how to get the bike back on the road when we arrived on the scene.  Our offer to notify park rangers so they could come help was rejected.  They preferred to leave the rangers out of it and instead wanted us to help wrestle the motorcycle out of the ditch.  Uh, no.  What exactly have you been smoking?
  • Parked by the side of the road:  an ancient beat-up 10-ft truck painted poorly with camo paint sporting a sign:  "For Sale—Portable Deer Camp."
DAILY STATS:
  • Started in Cape Girardeau, MO; ended in St. Charles, MO
  • Miles driven:  207 
  • States:  1 (MO)
  • Letterboxes:  9 found, 2 attempted
  • Parks visited:  7
  • Yellow jackets in state park:  23,498
  • Fall leaf color:  27%
  • Students walking around Southeast Missouri State University campus early Sunday morning:  1
  • Students enrolled at SMSU:  11,513
  • Ditched motorcycles:  1
  • Couples taking engagement photos in parks:  3
  • Cows:  962
  • Gas:  $3.199 (Cape Girardeau)
More Photos from Today
Amateur murals on Cape Girardeau flood wall
High water marks from floods
Cape Girardeau flood wall
Growing on a stump in state park
Southeastern Missouri State University
Stamping in
Sunset in St. Charles