Freedom on the River | Course Description
Freedom on the River
Essential Question: How has the Mississippi River influenced the freedom of American literature,
history, society, economics, and art?
The Mississippi River… just the name may conjure up some images in your mind: muddy waters, shifting
courses, old-fashioned steamboats, and a steersman hollering, “Mark Twain!” across the wide waters. A
romantic image of idyllic childhood explorations may remind you of a reading of The Adventures of Tom
Sawyer or perhaps you’ve visited one of the many major cities that lie along the great river’s banks. This
incredible waterway extends from America’s northernmost border all the way to the Gulf of Mexico and
has served as a key element in the development and continuation of our nation.
The ECS will begin with a train ride to St. Louis, MO. The first stop on our river pursuit will be Mark
Twain’s hometown of Hannibal to explore the freedom of being a child on the Mississippi. Next, we will
discover what explorers Lewis and Clark saw on their famous expedition on the river as well as learn
about the early Natives who survived along the banks of the River at Cahokia Mounds. After St. Louis
and its environs, the ECS will continue south to Memphis, TN, where artists and musicians have found
the freedom to create. Also in Memphis is the home of the incredibly powerful National Civil Rights
Museum at the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated — where “freedom” was
lost in some ways and found in others.
No study of freedom on the river would be complete without a total immersion into life on the river. We
will embark on a five-day wilderness canoe expedition on the lower Mississippi. This adventure will
actually start on the Arkansas River, fed from the snow melt of Pikes Peak and our own local Fountain
Creek. the Arkansas forms the biggest and wildest confluence on the entire Lower Mississippi, and it is
an area full of wildlife, unique muddy landscapes, and a fascinating history. After paddling 40 miles on
the Arkansas, we will enter the Big River, and paddle another 50 miles down the lower Mississippi.
Highlights of this section of the trip will include camping on and exploring some of the Big River’s most
remarkable islands and remote bayous, including Big Island and Choctaw island, which is the historic
homeland of the Quapaw Indians, once the largest and most powerful native population in this section of
the Lower Mississippi.
Instructors: David Benson and Amy Johnson-Smith