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Up on the River

People and Wildlife of the Upper Mississippi

Madson, John

Publication Year: 2011

Up on the River is John Madson’s loving and often hilarious tribute to the people, animal life, and places of the Upper Mississippi. Madson’s Upper Mississippi is the part “between the saints,” from St. Louis to St. Paul, and where for thirty years he explored the bright waters of the upper reaches of the mighty river itself as well as the tangled multitude of sloughs, cuts, and side channels that wander through its wooded islands and floodplain forests.
 “Some of my best time on the River has been in the company of game wardens, biologists, commercial fishermen, clammers, trappers, hunters, and a smelly, mud-smeared coterie of river rats in general, and my views of the River are far more likely to reflect theirs than those of the transportation industry,” Madson writes of his thirty-year acquaintance with the Mississippi. Traveling mainly by canoe and johnboat, he tells of encounters between archetypal commercial fishermen and archetypal game wardens over hot fish chowder, fishing for crappies in the tops of submerged trees and for walleyes amid gale force winds, nesting and migrating herons and ducks and eagles, the histories of river logging and pearling and button making, and towboats and barges and the lives of the “ramstugenous” people who move freight on the river.
Learning about the Upper Mississippi via the wry tutelage of John Madson, who discovered that “whenever I am out on a river some of its freeness rubs off on me,” readers of this classic book will also come under the spell of this freeness.


Published by: University of Iowa Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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p. v

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Prologue: Between the Saints

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pp. 3-25

From the mouth of Titus Hollow where we had put in I poled the freight canoe for a mile across the backwaters of the Batchtown flats, along channels twisting through beds of smartweed. We picked our way down the marsh trails in the open sun and morning wind, looking for passage to the River and finally...

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1. The Old River

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pp. 27-55

In terra incognita, if the opportunity presents itself at all, the only way to go is by river-always assuming, of course, that you and the river happen to have the same general route in mind and that the river doesn't object violently to having passengers. At the same time, there is a certain comfort in knowing where the thing ends and where it begins....

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2. Shell Game

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pp. 57-100

Joe and I were in Katie Quillan's cafe eating pork chops and I had offered to pop for supper, which I didn't mind doing but was just as happy that it didn't happen every night. For no bigger than he was, Joe Martelle was a great feeder. He never encumbered himself with much breakfast or dinner, didn't dull his appetite with...

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3. John L. Grindle and Associates

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pp. 101-152

False dawn, the gray quarter-hour that comes just before the crow and after the owl, was as cool as the early September day was going to get. I was trying to get deeper into the light sleeping bag but some sort of obstruction was giving me trouble. I raised my head to see a black Labrador retriever lying on the foot of the...

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4. River Year

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pp. 153-209

I had pulled out of Clinton, Iowa, with a headful of plans, the pickup truck full of walleye-fishing gear, a Willie Nelson tape in the deck, and the new john boat trailering smoothly behind. It had been windy in town with overhead traffic signals swinging crazily and streetlight standards swaying; I noted all this in passing, but

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5. A Gathering of River Rats

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pp. 211-257

The true quality of a dish can be entirely obscured by a keen appetite, of course, and I had a powerful case of hungries at the time, but even with that qualification I believe one of the best meals I've ever eaten was a fish chowder created on an autum

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6. Deus ex Machina

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pp. 259-276

There were some doings along the riverbank, to be sure, where many towns and cities blithely ignored Prohibition and the immortal Bix Beiderbecke was emerging from the river town of Davenport to herald the Jazz Age with his clarion cornet. But the River itself was occupied by only a few pleasure boaters and commercial fishermen...

Other Bur Oak Books of Interest

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pp. 277-278

E-ISBN-13: 9781587299766
Print-ISBN-13: 9781587299759

Illustrations: 35 drawings
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 733806121
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Up on the River

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Natural history -- Mississippi River.
  • Stream ecology -- Mississippi River.
  • Mississippi River -- Description and travel.
  • River life -- Mississippi River.
  • Mississippi River -- Environmental conditions.
  • Canoes and canoeing -- Mississippi River.
  • Madson, John -- Travel -- Mississippi River.
  • Mississippi River Region -- History, Local.
  • Johnboats -- Mississippi River.
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