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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/856

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836
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

CORRESPONDENCE.
 

OLD STUMP-WELLS IN THE MISSISSIPPI "BOTTOM."

Messrs. Editors:

IT is a fact well known to all who have made any study of the "Bottom," or alluvial plain, formed during the lapse of ages by the great Mississippi River, that the river channel, or bed, is forever shifting, and in its mighty contortions it has moved laterally eastward and westward over vast spaces. Many of the abandoned channels are now curved lakes, with no connection with the river; others, connected with it more or less during floods, are called "old rivers." So thoroughly the river does its work in forming the land that, besides these crescent-shaped lakes and old rivers, there is little in view to indicate where the bed of the river lay one hundred or one thousand years ago. When the river changes its channel, by suddenly or gradually cutting through a point of land, or when one chute of an island is closed by a bar, a lake or an old river is formed; but, when the river shifts its position, by continued abrasion on one side, and by corresponding deposit of sediment on the other, the latter slowly but steadily rises to the average height of the neighboring land, and in a few years is covered by a heavy forest-growth, and there is no visible sign left to show that it has not been thus since the creation, or at least since the Gulf of Mexico deserted that particular point on its ever-lasting retreat southward.

The tract of land on which I reside, and which I have owned for more than forty years, was washed, up to about the year 1855, by the main body of the Mississippi River, swinging around the western side of a plano-convex-shaped island; at that period three fourths of all the water of the river passed my door, but about that time, the exact year I do not remember, the channel began to change, and in a very few years the main body of water was, and has since then been, running down the piano and eastward side of the island, and the head of the western chute is largely obstructed by bars. Whether the bars formed first, and forced the channel eastward, or whether the change of the channel caused the bars to form, has not, so far as I know, been satisfactorily answered. At all events, my land now lies on an "old river," which is never entirely dry, although often very nearly so, and the growing obstructions threaten to cut me off, at no distant day, from outside communication, at least by water, except at very high stages. I will add, in passing, that it is in contemplation by the National River Improvement Commission (which is spending millions in the interest of navigation, with no especial thought as to riparian interests) to hurry up this consummation by piling, willow-mattressing, etc., so as to force the entire body of water, even in its highest stages, through the eastern or shorter chute.

In addition to being located on an "old river," my land lies, as I believe, just where a river-formed lake existed at a remote period, but which has in process of time, long before memory goes, been filled up by deposits from overflows, until now it is some-what higher than the general level of the neighboring sections, and I will give my reasons for so thinking as briefly as I can. At certain periods of the year, as there are no small running streams in this section, cattle suffer from thirst, although the great river runs by our doors, for then the stream is low, and the banks are either precipitous, or, when sloping, terminate in a quicksand, in which many uncared-for cattle are lost every year; hence the necessity for abundant wells and cisterns.

Seeing some water standing in an old, hollow cypress-stump, about four fee tin diameter, the surface of which water was at least fifteen feet above the surface of the river at the time, I was curious enough to investigate the matter. An outside rim of the stump, about four inches in thickness, remained sound, but the interior portion (all except a hollow of about a foot in diameter, down which I had observed the water) was composed of dry-rotted wood, still clinging closely in place. I had the rotted portion taken out down to the surface of the water, and the water pumped out, finding the reservoir to extend down sixteen feet. In about six hours the water had returned to its former level. Pumping it out again, I had the rotten wood removed; this was done with very little trouble. With a little more digging, and removing the old wood, which had previously fallen to the bottom, I discovered where the main roots of the tree started at a distance of about seventeen feet below the surface of the ground, plainly showing that, when the tree first sprang from the seed, the surface of the ground was many feet lower than at present. After thoroughly cleaning out the well, I permitted the water again to rise, and found it cool and wholesome, with a slightly brackish taste, but not at all offensive.

Subsequent investigation showed me that every hollow cypress-stump (and there are a