The Script of The River

 

From as far East as New York,
Down from the turkey ridges of the Alleghenies
Down from Minnesota, twenty five hundred miles,
The Mississippi River runs to the Gulf.
Carrying every drop of water, that flows down
two-thirds the continent.
Carrying every brook and rill, rivulet and creek,
Carrying all the rivers that run down two-thirds
the continent,
The Mississippi runs to the Gulf of Mexico.

Down the Yellowstone, the Milk, the White and
Cheyenne;
The Cannonball, the Musselshell, the James and the
Sioux;
Down the Judith, the Grand, the Osage, and the
Platte,
The Skunk, the Salt, the Black and Minnesota;
Down the Rock, the Illinois, and the Kankakee
The Allegheny, the Monongahela, Kanawha, and
Muskingum;
Down the Miami, the Wabash, the Licking and
the Green
The Cumberland, the Kentucky, and the Tennessee;
Down the Ouachita, the Wichita, the Red, and Yazoo.

Down the Missouri three thousand miles from the
Rockies;
Down the Ohio a thousand miles from the
Alleghenies;
Down the Arkansas fifteen hundred miles from the
Great Divide;
Down the Red, a thousand miles from Texas;
Down the great Valley, twenty~five hundred miles
From Minnesota
Carrying every rivulet and brook, creek and rill,
Carrying all the rivers that run down two-thirds
the continent -
The Mississippi runs to the Gulf.

New Orleans to Baton Rouge,
Baton Rouge to Natchez,
Natchez to Vicksburg,
Vicksburg to Memphis,
Memphis to Cairo -
We built a dyke a thousand miles long,
Men and mules, mules and mud;
Mules and mud a thousand miles up the
Mississippi.
A century before we bought the great Western
River, the Spanish and the French built
dykes to keep the Mississippi out of New
Orleans at flood stage.

In forty years we continued the levee the entire
length of the great alluvial Delta,
That mud plain that extends from the Gulf of
Mexico clear to the mouth of the Ohio.

The ancient valley built up for centuries by the
old river spilling her floods across the bottom
of the continent -
A mud delta of forty thousand square miles.
Men and mules, mules and mud -
New Orleans to Baton Rouge,
Natchez to Vicksburg,
Memphis to Cairo -
A thousand miles up the river.

We rolled a million bales down the river for
Liverpool and Leeds ...

1860: we rolled four million bales down the river;

Rolled them off Alabama,

Rolled them off Mississippi,

Rolled them off Louisiana,

Rolled them down the river!

We fought a war.

We fought a war and kept the west bank
of the river free of slavery forever.

But we left the old South impoverished
and stricken.

Doubly stricken, because, beyond the tragedy of
war, already the frenzied cotton culti -
vation of a quarter of a century had taken
toll of the land.

We mined the soil for cotton until it would
yield no more, and then moved west.

We fought a war, but there was a
tragedy - the tragedy of land twice
impoverished.

Black spruce and Norway pine,
Douglas fir and Red cedar,
Scarlet oak and Shagbark hickory,
Hemlock and aspen -
There was lumber in the North.

The war impoverished the old South, the railroads
killed the steamboats.
But there was lumber in the North.
Heads up!
Lumber on the upper river.

Heads up!
Lumber enough to cover all Europe.
Down from Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Down to St. Paul;
Down to St. Louis and St. Joe -
Lumber for the new continent of the West.
Lumber for the new mills.

There was lumber in the North
and coal in the hills.
Iron and coal down the Monongahela.
Iron and coal down the Allegheny.
Iron and coal down the Ohio.
Down to Pittsburgh,
Down to Wheeling,
Iron and coal for the steel mills,
for the railroad driving
West and South, for the new cities
of the Great Valley

We built new machinery and cleared new
land in the West.

Ten million bales down to the Gulf -
Cotton for the spools of England and France.

Fifteen million bales down to the Gulf -

Cotton for the spools of Italy and Germany.

We built a hundred cities and a thousand towns;
St. Paul and Minneapolis,
Davenport and Keokuk,
Moline and Quincy,
Cincinnati and St. Louis,
Omaha and Kansas City
Across to the Rockies and down from Minnesota,
Twenty-five hundred miles to New Orleans,
We built a new continent.

Black spruce and Norway pine,
Douglas fir and Red cedar,
Scarlet oak and Shagbark hickory.
We built a hundred cities and a thousand towns -
But at what a cost!
We cut the top off Minnesota and sent it down the
river.
We cut the top off Wisconsin and sent it down the
river.
We left the mountains and the hills slashed and
burned,
And moved on.

The water comes downhill, spring and fall;
Down from the cut-over mountains,
Down from the plowed-off slopes,
Down every brook and rill, rivulet and creek,
Carrying every drop of water that flows down
two-thirds the continent
1903 and 1907,
1913 and 1922,
1927,
1936,
1937!

Down from Pennsylvania and Ohio,
Kentucky and West Virginia,
Missouri and Illinois,
Down from North Carolina and Tennessee -
Down the Judith, the Grand, the Osage, and the
Platte,
The Rock, the Salt, the Black and Minnesota,
Down the Monongahela, the Allegheny, Kanawha and
Muskingum,
The Miami, the Wabash, the Licking and the
Green,
Down the White, the Wolfe, and the Cache,
Down the Kaw and Kaskaskia, the Red and Yazoo,
Down the Cumberland, Kentucky and the
Tennessee -
Down to the Mississippi.
New Orleans to baton Rouge -
Baton Rouge to Natchez -
Natchez to Vicksburg -
Vicksburg to Memphis -
Memphis to Cairo -
A thousand miles down the levee the long vigil
Starts.
Thirty-eight feet at
Baton Rouge
River rising
Helena: river rising.
Memphis: river rising.
Cairo: river rising.
A thousand miles to go,
A thousand miles of levee to hold -

Coastguard patrol needed at Paducah!
Coastguard patrol needed at Paducah!

200 boats - wanted at Hickman!
200 boats - wanted at Hickman!

Levee patrol: men to Blytheville!
Levee patrol: men to Blytheville!

2000 men wanted at Cairo!
2000 men wanted at Cairo!

A hundred thousand men to fight the old river.

We sent armies down the river to help the
engineers fight a battle on a two thousand
mile front:
The Army and the Navy,
The Coast Guard and the Marine Corp,
the CCC and the WPA
The Red Cross and the Health Service
They fought night and day to hold the old river
off the valley.
Food and water needed at Louisville: 500 dead,
5000 ill;
Food and water needed at Cincinnati;
Food and water and shelter and clothing
needed for 750,000 flood victims;

Food and medicine needed at Lawrenceburg;

35,000 homeless in Evansville;

Food and medicine needed in Aurora;

Food and medicine and shelter and clothing
for 750,000 down in the valley.

Last time we held the levees
But the old river claimed her valley.
She backed into Tennessee and Arkansas
And Missouri and Illinois.
She left stock drowned, houses torn loose,
Farms ruined.

1903 and 1907.
1913 and 1922.
1927.
1936.
1937!

We built a hundred cities and a
thousand towns -
But at what a cost!

Spring and fall the water comes down, and for
years the old river has taken a toll from the
Valley more terrible than ever she does in
flood times.
Year in, year out, the water comes down
From a thousand hillsides, washing the top off
the Valley.
For fifty years we dug for cotton and moved West
when the land gave out.
For fifty years we plowed for corn, and moved on
when the land gave out.
Corn and wheat; wheat and cotton-we planted and
plowed with no thought for the future -
And four hundred million tons of top soil,
Four hundred million tons of our most valuable
natural resource have been washed into the
Gulf of Mexico every year.

And poor land makes poor people.
Poor people make poor land.
For a quarter of a century we have been forcing
more and more farmers into tenancy.
Today forty percent of all the farmers in the great
Valley are tenants.

Ten percent are share croppers,
Down on their knees in the valley,
A share of the crop their only security,
No home, no land of their own,

Aimless, footloose, and impoverished,
Unable to eat even from the land because their
cash crop is their only livelihood.

Credit at the store is their only reserve.

And a generation growing up with no new
land in the West-

A generation whose people knew
King's Mountain and Shiloh;

A generation whose people knew
Fremont and Custer;

But a generation facing a life of dirt
and poverty,

Disease and drudgery;

Growing up without proper food,
medical care or schooling,

"Ill-clad, ill-housed, and ill-fed"-

And in the greatest river valley in the world.

EPILOGUE

There is no such thing as an ideal river in Nature,
but the Mississippi is out of joint.
Dust blowing in the West - floods raging in the East -
We have seen these problems growing to horrible extremes.

When first we found the great valley it was forty
percent forested.
Today, for every hundred acres of forests we found,
we have ten left.
Today five percent of the entire valley is ruined forever
by agricultural use!
Twenty-five percent of the topsoil has been shoved by
the old river into the Gulf of Mexico.
Today two out of five farmers in the valley are tenant
farmers - ten percent of them share croppers, living
in a state of squalor unknown to the poorest
peasant in Europe.
And we are forcing thirty-thousand more into tenancy
and cropping every year.
Flood control of the Mississippi means control in the great
Delta that must carry all the water brought down from
two-thirds the continent
And control of the Delta means control of the little rivers,
the great arms running down from the uplands. And
the old river can be controlled.
We had the power to take the valley apart - we have
the power to put it together again.

In 1933 we started, down on the Tennessee
River, when our Congress created the Tennessee
Valley Authority, commissioned to develop navi-
gation, flood control, agriculture, and industry
in the valley: a valley that carries more rain
fall than any other in the country; the valley
through which the Tennessee used to roar down to
Paducah in flood times with more water than any
other tributary of the Ohio.

Up on the Clinch, at the head of the river, we
built Norris Dam, a great barrier to hold water
in flood times and to release water down the river
for navigation in low water season.

Next came Wheeler, first in a series of great
barriers that will transform the old Tennessee
into a link of fresh water pools locked and
dammed, regulated and controlled, down six
hundred fifty miles to Paducah.

But you cannot plan for water unless you
plan for land: for the cut-over mountains -
the eroded hills - the gullied fields that
pour their waters unchecked down to the river.

The CCC, working with the forest service and
agricultural experts, have started to put the
worn fields and hillsides back together; black
walnut and pine for the worn out fields, and
the gullied hillsides; black walnut and pine
for new forest preserves, roots for the cut -
over and burned-over hillsides; roots to hold
the water in the ground.

Soil conservation men have worked out crop
systems with the farmers of the Valley -
crops to conserve and enrich the topsoil.

Today a million acres of land in the
Tennessee Valley are being tilled scientifically.

But you cannot plan for water and land unless
you plan for people. Down in the Valley, the
Farm Security Administration has built a model
agricultural community. Living in homes they
themselves built, paying for them on long term
rates the homesteaders will have a chance to
share in the wealth of the Valley.

More important, the Farm Security Administra -
tion has lent thousands of dollars to farmers
in the Valley, farmers who were caught by years
of depression and in need of only a stake to be
self sufficient.

But where there is water there is power.

Where there's water for flood control and
water for navigation, there's water for power -

Power for the farmers of the Valley.

Power for the villages and cities and
factories of the Valley.

West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee,
Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama.

Power to give a new Tennessee Valley to a
new generation.

Power enough to make the river work!