Stream Crossings: Where the Relentless Rationality of an Applied Physical System Intersects with Our Meandering Prairie Watercourses

Forty degrees north latitude, Kansas—Nebraska Territories boundary marker, 1855. (Michael Farrell)

By Michael Farrell

On May 8,1855, in the days before there were any bridges across the wide Missouri, a surveyor named Charles Manners and two teams of eight surveyors under contract to the US government crossed the already fabled and still untamed river in a canoe piloted by a local Native American tribal member. It took them several trips back and forth across the river to move the entire team and all their gear. On the last trip the canoe almost swamped and sank because it was overloaded down to the gunnels with a cast iron monument that weighed between five hundred and six hundred pounds. The surveyors noted in their records that only the considerable paddling skills of their Indian canoeist kept them from sinking.

Once the survey team and their gear were safely on the west side of the Missouri, they hauled the iron marker to a high bluff overlooking the river valley. After some searching they found a wooden post overgrown with weeds that had been erected the previous year to mark the place where the fortieth parallel of latitude intersects the Missouri.

Seeds of Wisdom: The Perman Prescription: Diversified Agriculture Reverses Rural Depopulation and Is Better for the Land

North Creek on Rock Hills Ranch. (Peter Carrels)

By Peter Carrels

We’ve been raising cattle in the Swan Creek Valley for a long time,” said Lyle Perman when asked via telephone how long he’d been involved in agriculture. He stretched out the word “long” and articulated “the Swan Creek Valley” like someone who has for a lifetime emphasized a deeply felt “place” as a means to orient his life.

Perman’s Rock Hills Ranch straddles Swan Creek in south-central Walworth County, South Dakota, about forty-five miles south of the North Dakota border. The Missouri River’s artificial impoundment named Oahe is a dozen miles west, and through all that distance is a rolling, rangy landscape. East of the ranch the topography flattens out and opens up for fifty miles until it gets turbulent again, dropping like a gentle rapids built of bluffs and small hills before spilling into the James River lowlands. Some of Perman’s ranch land sits at two thousand feet above sea level. The floor of the James River valley is 1,290 or so.

Immigration in Nebraska

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