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Critical Analysis of “When the Mississippi Ran Backwards”: Representation of Westward Expansion

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“When the Mississippi Ran Backwards” refers to a fascinating historical work, meticulously researched and produced by Jay Feldman. The book explores the series of the most powerful earthquake in the history of America, which resulted in the reverse flow of River Mississippi. In the last desperate rebellion, the earthquake united the Indians. The book uncovers a seamy murder that changed the course of the 1812 War. The book revolves around three stories that culminate in the ground shaking, changing the river’s direction and affecting the locals. The three events occurred from December 1811 to February 1812. An evaluation of the first five chapters covers the part I of the book, which incorporates the portents running through to chapter five, which incorporates part of Part II of the book on Rumbling.

Chapter I of the book starts with the description of Tecumseh’s features and his entourage arrival (Feldman, 2007). The great Shawnee leader was finalizing the mission that had taken him 3,000 miles in six months from the start of the 1811 summer. The chapter opens up the events of 16th December of a catastrophic prophecy made by Tecumseh of the pending series of the earthquake that shook the Mississippi valley. Tecumseh travels from Indiana to spread the message of intertribal unity to help secure a collective war against the White to defend the tribal lands. The concern arose from the alarming rate at which Indians were losing their tribal land with the push of the young republic westward. A decade and a half after the United States attained independence from Great Britain, the new nation conducted rapid westward expansion. Feldman (2007) concentrates on the events of westward expansion and its implications as an aspect deeply embedded in the principle of the nation. The years 1790-1795 experienced significant confrontation where the indigenous tribes started resisting the escalating frontier making much of the territory around Mississippi and Ohio unstable.

Chapter II explores the “General Directions” after the establishment of the city slightly underneath Ohio, which was first settled by White men in 1783 (Feldman, 2007). Morgan’s “General Directions” emphasized the need for safeguarding as many trees as possible. In his plans, Morgan designed a plan that would not interfere with Indian settlement as outlined in April 14 letters. The chapter explores the relationship Morgan built with the Native Americans as their agent in the late 1770s at Fort Pritt. The Spaniards were in fear that Americans would soon cross Mississippi and invade Lousiana. Gardoqui foments the alienation of West Americans from the government by encouraging American citizens to colonize the West side of the river. The colonization was fueled by offering Western Americans free land and free trade. The establishment of a liberal immigration policy attracted dozens of proposals as ambitious Americans seeking to take advantage of New York, Louisiana, and New Orleans. Gardoqui contacts Morgan through intermediaries about the possible application of a colony grant in Louisiana. During the time, the United States government was full of crises after seven years of formation under the Articles of Confederation. The government’s only Branch was Congress with no real powers of implementing established recommendations. In his desire to grab a chunk of properly developed land, Morgan writes Gardoqui a letter indicating interest in the land he had seen 20 years earlier in 1767.

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In chapter III, Feldman (2007) covers the disappointments and sufferings that resulted from the wild and instable American Revolution. The frontiers stretched endlessly westwards as White Americans depicted no limits. The pursuit of land expansion was inexhaustible. The last decade of the 18th century prompted the secession of Kentucky from the Union. When George Morgan moved to New Madrid, Kentucky was under Virginia until 1792 with the statehood grant. Kentuckians were dissatisfied with the failure of Virginia and the federal government to protect the isolated settlers from increasing Indian attacks. Secondly, the Kentuckians continued to struggle with Spain to secure the Mississippi River with little support from the government. The Kentuckian's disappointment increased because its economy depended on the river as a source of transport for receiving and shipment of its produces. Great Britain and Spain fanned the frustrations of the Kentuckians by helping them, an act that undermined the power of the Union. James Wilkinson fueled the February 24th, 1778 contest by disclosure of the 1777 Conway Cabal conspiracy to overthrow George Washington and replace him with Gates. In 1776, Kentucky County was annexed by Virginia. In 1784 and 1792 Kentucky made 10 constitutional conventions in an effort to break from Virginia and become an independent state.

In chapter IV, Feldman (2007) explores the changes in political and military forces. The conspiracy throughout the last chapters revolves around Wilkinson and Governor Miro over Kentucky. However, Native Americans throughout Ohio continued to advocate for survival despite their failing numbers. White settler life on the Frontier was challenging based on the constant threat of the Indian’s surprise attacks. On the other hand, settlers demanded more land by the removal of all Indians, a situation that increased hostility. Tecumseh continued to tirelessly rally the tribes with the view that they need unity to protect their land among the pan-tribalism communities. The unity of political-military confederation remains central in the unity so long as the American government refrains from taking advantage.

In Chapter V, Feldman (2007) write about the impending destruction resulting from Tecumseh’s preparation for the worst after the Vincennes Council. Tecumseh’s met British officials to try and enlist their aid in the impending war with the United States. Tecumseh hoped that the British official would help in resources because he never expected their active participation. The Indian people depicted hostility that threatened Harrison’s surveyors. In 1807, St. Louis appointed an Indian agent, who threatened Indians to support in the attack of the White men, failure to which they will die with the Whites. In a letter to John Johnston, Harrison tells the tribes that the war waged by the tribes shall be the last one as it incorporates the positive determination of the government


In conclusion, chapters one to five incorporate the events that took place after Tecumseh’s prophecy concerning River Mississippi in New Madrid’s town. The first five chapters explore the history of America that gave rise to the strongest earthquakes, which caused significant deaths in the lightly populated areas. Tecumseh cautioned against altercations with the South until he returned from South Washington. The author provides an account of the lucid geology rundown that resembles earthquake titanic, which ended up terrifying onlookers. The events culminate into the 27th July 1811’s attack, which incorporates Harrison mobilization of support from Kentucky troops. Despite pleas to preserve, the Indians were frustrated by the increased invasion and expansion westward, which was a call from the president’s office.

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Critical Analysis of “When the Mississippi Ran Backwards”: Representation of Westward Expansion. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 2, 2023, from
“Critical Analysis of “When the Mississippi Ran Backwards”: Representation of Westward Expansion.” Edubirdie, 12 Aug. 2022,
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