Illustrated History of Missouri, 1879
The pre-historic people of Missouri were not only great in populous towns, in their agriculture, in their huge piles of earth and embankments and buildings of stone, but they, too, were canal-builders. With surprising skill they developed a system of internal navigation, so connecting the lakes and bayous of the southern interior of the State, that the products of the soil found a ready outlet to the great river. The remains of these artificial water-courses have been frequently alluded to by travelers who have seen them, but never thoroughly explored. Dr. G. C. Swallow, while at the head of the Geological Survey, called attention to them, and described one which was " fifty feet wide and twelve feet deep." For the fullest description of this class of works, I am indebted to Geo. W. Carleton, Esq., of Gayoso ; who, in response to a note of enquiry, — in addition to many interesting facts concerning a great number of ancient structures in Pemiscot County, — kindly furnished the following account, which I give in his own words : "Besides our Mounds, we can boast of ancient canals. Col. John H. Walker informed me that before the earthquakes, these canals — we call them bayous now — showed very plainly their artificial origin. Since the country has become settled, the land cleared up, the embankments along those water courses have been considerably leveled down. One of these canals is just east of the town of Gayoso. It now connects the flats of Big Lake with the Mississippi river. Before the bank crumbled off, taking in Pemiscot bayou, it connected this bayou with the waters of Big Lake. Another stream, that Col. Walker contended was artificial, is what we now call Cypress Bend Bayou. He said that it was cut so as to connect the waters of Cushion Lake with a bayou running into Big Lake. Cushion Lake lies in the northern part of Pemiscot county. The canal was cut from the flats of the lake on the south side, about three miles into Big Lake bayou. By this chain of canals, lakes and bayous, these ancient mound-builders and canal-diggers could have an inland navigation from the Mississippi river at Gayoso, into and through Big Lake bayou and the canal into Cushion Lake, through Cushion Lake and a bayou into Collins Lake or the open bay, thence north through a lake and bayou some eight miles, where another canal tapped this water course and run east into the Mississippi river again, some five miles below the town of New Madrid. Col. Walker, in referring to these water-courses, spoke of them only as canals. They show even now a huge bank of earth, such as would be made by an excavation, on the side opposite to the river, so that in case of overflow the water from the river would not wash the excavated dirt back into the canal." Although in the foregoing account the present depth and width are not given, from it and from the reports of others, there can be no doubt that the ancient inhabitants had constructed with a skill which would do no discredit to our own engineers, a system of connecting canals which must have been necessitated by an extended internal trade, and which required boats of respectable dimensions. The evidences of work of such magnitude as canals, widen the "broad chasm" which is to be spanned before we can link the Mound-builders to the North American Indians, until it becomes an impassable gulf.
1 In reply to a subsequent note of inquiry as to the length of this water-course, including canal and bayou, Mr. Carlton estimates it to be about seventy miles.