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A Missouri River Bookshelf

The Missouri by Stanley Vestal

"The Missouri" by Stanley Vestal - a classic of Missouri River storytelling. 

Here's a collection of some of our favorite Missouri River books.

It's by no means complete and we'd love to hear your suggestions. If you have favorite Missouri River book or category of books you think belongs on our shelf, please email Steve with your ideas. 

When possible, we've linked to the author or publisher's listing of the book. When that is not available, we've linked to the Goodreads listing. When that is not available, we link to Amazon. 

Please check out your local booksellers to see if they can help you find whatever books you are looking for. We have to support what we want to survive. 

Here are the categories we have so far. Click on one to jump ahead to that section.

Native America  •  Stories  •  River Management  •  Steamboats  •  Ecology & Natural History  •  Environmental Issues  •  History  •  Recreation, Adventure & Memoirs  •  Tributaries

 

Native America - 

The Osages“The Osages – Children of the Middle Waters” by John Joseph Mathews (1961 – 826 pp)-  A poetic but careful and complete retelling of the Osage cosmology by an Osage who was a generation away from the Oklahoma Osage reservation, but returned to collect and publish oral histories. Also, check out "A History of the Osage People" by Louis Burns (2004 - 632pp)

“Black Elk Speaks” – by Black Elk, John G. Neihardt (1932 – 270 pp) – Memories of a Lakota leader retold by a midwestern poet. 

"The Sixth Grandfather" - by Black Elk, Raymond J. DeMallie (1984 - 452pp) - A translation of the transcripts from John Neihardt's interviews with Black Elk in 1931 and 1944. 

Dammed Indians Revisited“Dammed Indians Revisited: The Continuing History of the Pick-Sloan Plan and the Missouri River Sioux” – by Michael L. Lawson (1982, 2009 – 396 pp) – The most comprehensive history of how the Missouri River reservoir system was designed to displace native tribes and villages, and the inhumane way this policy was enacted. 

“Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People” – by Elizabeth A Fenn (2014 – 456 pp) – A fascinating look at these unique river people.  

Uses of Plants by the Indians of the Missouri River Region“Use of Plants by the Indians of the Missouri River Region” by Melvin R. Gilmore (1914 – 109 pp) – One of Americas first enthobotanies. The use of a multitude of plants give a unique window into the history of our river valley. You can download a PDF here. 

“The People of the River’s Mouth – In Search of the Missouria Indians” – by Michael Dickey (2011 – 168 pp) – One of very few the publications collecting prehistory, oral history and recorded history of this embattled tribe. 

Cahokia“Cahokia – Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi” - by Timothy R. Pauketat (2009 – 194 pp) – Recent discoveries about North America’s greatest city and its impact on the culture of a continent. 

 

Stories –

“The Missouri” by Stanley Vestal (1945 – 368 pp) – The best collection of Missouri River folklore outThe Missouri by Stanley Vestal there. Native stories, fur traders, floods, steamboats and river rats. 

“The Missouri River – The River Rat’s Guide to Missouri River History & Folklore” by Cecil R. Griffith (1974 - 96pp) – A fascinating collection of stories describing towns and landmarks on the Lower Missouri River.  

Growing Up with the River“Growing Up With The River: Nine Generations On The Missouri” – by Dan & Connie Burkhardt. Art by Bryan Haynes. (2016) – The story of the final 100 miles of the Missouri River is told through the eyes of children that lived with the river. 

“Missouri River Country - 100 Miles of Stories and Scenery from Hermann to the Confluence” edited by Dan Burkhardt. (2015 – 192 pp) - The Missouri River valley comes alive with the stories of the people that live, work and explore the region. 

 

 

River Management

Unruly River“Unruly River – Two Centuries of Change Along the Missouri River” – by Robert Kelley Schneiders (1999 – 315 pp) – An in-depth look at the political and social choices that drove the domination of the Missouri River.  

“Big Muddy Blues – True Tales and Twisted Politics along Lewis & Clark’s Missouri River” – by Bill Lambrecht (2005 – 324 pp) – A fun and eye-opening travelogue and political discourse on the many modern visions of how the Missouri River should be managed. 

Voices of Missouri's Rivers“River of Promise, River of Peril: The Politics of Managing the Missouri River” - by John E. Thorson (1994 – 284pp) 

“Voices of Missouri’s Rivers” – by William Turner (2014 – 358pp) – Deep history of Missouri’s most iconic rivers. Published by Missouri Department of Conservation.  

"Rising Tide - The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America" - by John M. Barry (1998 - 528pp) - Focused more on the Mississippi River, but this is an essential volume for understanding the history of river management in the U.S. so we can hopefully learn from the mistakes of the past. The book is much broader than just river management, really painting a portrait for how important this flood was in the overall history of the nation. 

 

 

Steamboats

Navigating the Missouri“Navigating the Missouri: Steamboating on Nature’s Highway, 1819-1935” – by William E. Lass (2008 – 464 pp) – The absolute gold standard of Missouri River steamboat research. Many unique stories and new insights. 

 “The Conquest of the Missouri – The Story of the Life and Exploits of Captain Grant Marsh” – by Joseph Mills Hanson (1909 – 457 pp) – A classic of western exploration about a singular figure in Missouri River history.   Read on Google Books 

“Steamboating – Sixty-five Years on Missouri’s Rivers” – by Captain William L. Heckman (1950 – pp 284) – This talented Hermann steamboat pilot from a family of river people, wrote clever and accurate stories of Missouri River boat culture for the Waterways Journal. 

Black Life on the Mississippi“Black Life on the Mississippi: Slaves, Free Blacks, and the Western Steamboat World” By Thomas C. Buchanan (2006 - 272pp). African-Americans have been both crucial creators and oppressed minority in Great Rivers culture. This book explores the hidden history of how the southern and Midwestern river economies depended on black lives. 

“Treasure in a Cornfield – The Discovery and Excavation of the Steamboat Arabia” – by Greg Hawley (1998 – 224 pp) – An amazing story of a family obsessed and dedicated enough to excavate and preserve the contents of a steamboat buried 40 feet below a cornfield. 

Treasure in a Cornfield“Steamboat Navigation on the Missouri River – Life and Adventures of Joseph LaBarge” –by Hiram Martin Chittenden (1903 – 277pp) – A wide ranging and detailed history of steamboating through the lens of the famous Missouri River steamboat pilot.  OR view the archive of Vol. 1 here. 

 

 

Ecology & Natural History

Big Sky Rivers“Big Sky Rivers – The Yellowstone & Missouri River” – by Robert Kelley Schneiders (2003 – 374 pp) – How bison formed the spiritual and ecological heart of the Upper Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers, and what that missing heart means today. 

“Locust: The Devastating Rise and Mysterious Disappearance of the Insect that Shaped the American Frontier” – by Jeffrey Lockwood (2000 – 320pp) – The Missouri River watershed was the stage for this epic natural drama that had a sudden curtain. How we accidently caused the extinction of the this pioneer nemesis.  

Prairie“Prairie: Revised Edition - A Natural History of the Heart of North America” By Candace Savage (2004 - 336pp) - A guide to the ecology of this endangered ecosystem which forms the heart of the Missouri River watershed.  

"Passage of Discovery - The American Rivers Guide to the Missouri River of Lewis and Clark" by Daniel Botkin (1999 - 247pp) - A review of the many ecoregions that the Missouri River stiches together in its path from the Rockies to the Mississippi. The author has several books tying together Missouri River history, ecology and Lewis and Clark, including "Our Natural History - The Lessons of Lewis and Clark" and "Beyond the Stony Mountains - Nature in the American West from Lewis and Clark to Today"

"Katy Trail Nature Guide" - by Brett Dufur, Brian Beatty and Maggie Riesenmy (2008 - 192 pages) - Know the nature around you. The Katy Trail follows the Missouri River valley from Boonville to St. Charles. 

 

From the Bottom Up

Environmental Issues

"From the Bottom Up" by Chad Pregracke and Jeff Barrow (2007 - 301pp) - The story of Chad Pregracke, founder of Living Lands & Waters, and his adventures cleaning up the Mississippi River and beyond.  Includes the story of Missouri River Relief's founding. 

“At the Confluence: Rivers, Floods and Water Quality in the St. Louis Region” – edited by Robert E. Criss and David Wilson (2003 – 278pp) – St. Louis area A River in the City of Fountains writers visit the many issues facing our big rivers 10 years after the massive 93 floods.  

“A River in the City of Fountains - An Environmental History of Kansas City and the Missouri River” by Amahia K. Mallea (2018 – 358pp) – Kansas City’s ambivalent history with the river that created the city. 

"Overrun" by Andrew Reeves - (2019 - 384pp) - The first complete history of the lastest invasion of carp in North America, and what is being done to mitigate the damage and stop their movement. 

Water 4.0“Water 4.0 – The Past, Present, and Future of the World’s Most Vital Resource” by David Sedlak (2014 – 332pp) – The little-known story of the systems that bring us our drinking water, how they were developed, the problems they are facing, and how they will be reinvented in the near future. Not about the Missouri River but essential reading. 

 

 

History

This is a huge category we have barely scratched the surface of. There are so many local, regional and riverwide histories out there. Here's a beginning. If you have suggestions, email Steve. 

Across the Wide Missouri

“Undaunted Courage” – by Stephen Ambrose (1997 – 592 pp) – A historical retelling of the Corps of Discovery expedition led by Lewis and Clark. 

“Journal of a Voyage up the Missouri River in 1811” By Henry Marie Brackenridge – Complete journals available online.  

“Across the Wide Missouri” – by Bernard Devoto (1947 – 480 pp) – A classic rendering of the western fur trade of the 1830’s. 

"The Lewis and Clark Expedition Day by Day" - by Gary Moulton (2018 - 774pp) - Transcriptions of the explorer journals arranged by date and location. 

"Travels in North America, 1832-1834: A Concise Edition of the Journals of Prince Maximilian of Wied" - by Prince Alexander Philipp Maximilian of Wied, Marsha V. Gallagher (Editor) (2018 - 624pp) - This German prince took one of the first steamboats to travel to the Upper Missouri River in 1832-34, accompanied by artist Karl Bodmer. 

"Karl Bodmer's America" - by Karl Bodmer & Marsha V. Gallagher. (1984 - 376pp) - Color and black and white prints of Karl Bodmer's art collected during his voyage up the Missouri River in 1832-34 with Prince Maximilian of Wied. 

"Rising Tide - The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America" - by John M. Barry (1998 - 528pp) - Focused more on the Mississippi River, but this is an essential volume for understanding the history of river management in the U.S. so we can hopefully learn from the mistakes of the past. The book is much broader than just river management, really painting a portrait for how important this flood was in the overall history of the nation. 

"Missouri's Great Flood of '93" - by Kenneth L Kieser (2013 - 160 pp.) - A view of the flood from an outdoor journalist living just north of Kansas City. Order by emailing Kenneth ($25 softcover/$35 hardcover). 

 

Recreation, Adventure and Memoir

The River and I“The River and I” - John G. Neihardt (1910 – 325pp) - The author retells the story of his boating adventure on the pre-dammed Missouri River. 

"Exploring Lewis & Clark's Missouri River" - by Brett Dufur (2004 - 256pp) - A travel guide to the history, natural features, culture of the Lower Missouri River valley. 

“The Complete Paddler - A Guidebook for Paddling the Missouri River from the Headwaters to St. Louis, Missouri” – by David L. Miller (2005 – 380 pp.) – Mile by Mile paddler’s guide to the Missouri River from Three Forks, MT, to St. Louis, MO. 

"Fighting the Current There and Back" - by Jared Jellison (2007) - An epic 8,000 canoe journey exploring the western states. 

The Complete Paddler

“Missouri River 340 - First Time Finisher” – By Stephen, Linda, Robert, Christine and Claire Jackson. (2013 – 190 pp) – A deep dive into preparing logistically, physically and mentally to complete the world’s longest non-stop river race. Proceeds benefit Missouri River Relief. 

“Canoeing the Great Plains - A Missouri River Summer" By Patrick Dobson (2015 - 208pp) – A memoir of an adventure walking to the headwaters of the Missouri River then floating back down. 

“Floating the Missouri” by James Willard Schultz (Apikuni) – (1902 – 138pp) – A couple takes a rugged and peaceful boat trip through the Missouri River Breaks and Fort Peck country. 

 "Deep River: A Memoir of a Missouri Farm" by David Hamilton - (2001 - 184pp) - Wandering through the history and natural world of a Saline County Missouri River bottom farm. 

"Five Months on the Missouri River Paddling a Dugout Canoe" by Tom Elpel - (2020 - 270pp) - A Missouri River journey with the Montana author, naturalist, wildcrafter and guide. 

 

Tributaries 

We really need your help here! What excellent books are out there that document the many outstanding tributaries of the Missouri River? 

Damming the Osage“Damming the Osage: The Conflicted Story of Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Reservoir” by Leland and Crystal Payton (2012 – 304 pp) – A deeply researched historical look at the wild political, social and economic forces that completely changed the Osage River.  

“The Niobrara – A River Running through Time” – by Paul A. Johnsgard (2007 – 375) - A natural history and species catalog of this ancient but always changing Nebraska river. 

 

Local River Books

Some of the most revealing river history is in relatively unknown works done by local authors studying their own local history. 

"Arrow Rock: Crossroads of the Missouri Frontier" - by Michael Dickey (2004 - 299pp) - The story of this crossroads of America, where the Boonslick trail met the Santa Fe trail and the steamboat highway upstream. 

"New Haven: Its Past & People" - by David Menke (2002 - 210pp) - David Menke has several books about New Haven, MO history including "From Ravensburg County to Miller's Landing" and "New Haven The Early Years" available through the New Haven Preservation Society

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