Sunday, August 10, 2008

Portage des Sioux

As the Missouri River approaches the Mississippi (that's the Missouri River on the bottom), there is a place where the distance between the rivers is just 2 miles wide. This place is known as “Portage des Sioux”, because the Indians would take their canoes out of the river and carry them across this narrow neck of land to the other river rather than paddle down to the “confluence” – where the Missouri dumps into the Mississippi. This saved them 25 miles of paddling.

Human history has been known here since as far back as the Mississippian culture – a mound building Native American culture that flourished in the Midwest and Southeastern United States from 800-1500 A.D. Cahokia-type mounds have been found in the area.

Portage des Sioux is also the place where the Native Americans lost much of their land. A peace treaty between the Native Americans and the United States was signed here in 1815. Tens of thousands of Native Americans from many different tribes arrived in canoes. The tribes were given $20,000 worth of presents to facilitate negotiations, in which the United States secured vast territories in the Midwest.

The treaty signings at Portage des Sioux occurred between July 18 and September 16, 1815.
The most notable chief to refuse the invitation was Black Hawk who was compelled to come and was the last sign the treaty. He was to resist its terms in the Black Hawk War.

Situated on the north side (the Mississippi River side) is the small town of Portage des Sioux, population 316. There is a trading post, a couple of interesting looking restaurants, St. Francis Church, and on the river there is a large statue of the Blessed Mother.

Flooding has always been a problem here. In 1951, when rising waters threatened the small community of Portage des Sioux, the local people prayed to the Blessed Mother, calling her “Our Lady of the Rivers”. The river crested and the town stayed dry.

In gratitude, the parish of St. Francis decided to erect a statue on the river. The 25 foot statue of Mary sits at the edge of the water of the Mississippi River, looking across to Alton, Illinois. Every year hundreds of boats gather here for a blessing that will protect them.
My sense is that she is there, holding a lot of things in her heart.


Barbara said...

When I lived in St. Louis, just as the Arch was being completed, I did not have a car and was a poor student. Reading your blog reminds me of the towns and geographical peculiarities of this land -- Alton, Cahokia, the bluffs. They were just names for me at the time. It is lovely to see them at last.

beth said...

I'm glad you're enjoying it, Barbara. I thought the only person following this blog was my son!

The land, itself, still feels very different to me. I find myself dreaming about it, the rivers, the fields, and all.

And the people - that's another story in itself. I'm not sure if I can trust my perceptions, but I'm picking up on a Midwestern strength and pride that is less influenced by ethnic differences that are more prevalent on the coasts. There are good sides to this, and then there's the other side to it. Unions are much stronger out here, and much whiter.