Mississippi River Basin
Bibliography for Platte River Expedition ’17

The Platte River in March fog, Lexington NB.  ·  Photo ©Alison M. Jones

These 23 resources were used for research before and after our 2017 Central Platte River Basin River Expedition. NWNL does not consider this a comprehensive list, and thus welcomes any further recommendations.

“Our untame-able past, the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution.” — Aldo Leopold on Sandhill Cranes


Michael Forsberg. Platte Basin TimeLapse: Seeing a Watershed in Motion. This photographer’s 50+ cameras, placed throughout the 90,000-square-mile Platte River Basin since 2011, have created an amazing visual experience of weather, wildlife and wild open spaces and a vast database for scientists, farmers and researchers.

Books in Print

Archibald, George. My Life with Cranes: A Collection of Stories. Baraboo WI: The International Crane Foundation, 2016. Since 1969 this author has been committed to saving cranes by working with local farmers, various cultures and religions across the U. S, China, Siberia and Africa.

Ashworth, William. Ogallala Blue: Water and Life on The High Plains. New York: W. W. Norton Co., 2006. The author defines “Ogallala Blue” as a “wide, dark blue that hides beneath the soil. Under the sand hills…, shortgrass prairie…, the rich harvest of corn and wheat and cotton, lurks an ocean: the Ogallala Aquifer…, a crucial dwindling resource.”

Bonneville, Captain L. E. The Adventures of Captain Bonneville: Digested from his Journals by Washington Irving. Santa Barbara CA: The Narrative Press, 2001. Chapters 2 and 3 in this mid-19th century bestseller convey an 1832 description by Bonneville, educated at West Point, of the braided Platte River, over a mile wide then with bees and turkeys and “soft-crumbling banks.” Bonneville was seeking the alleged “The Great River of the West” that would take him to the Pacific.

Bourne, Russell. Rivers of America: Birthplaces of Culture, Commerce and Community. Golden CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 1998. Chapter 16 describes the unique Platte River expedition in 1819-20 by Major Stephen H. Long, and his incorrect diagnosis of the Platte River Basin being “a desolate and disgusting tract of country.” Chapter 20 describes Capt. Bonneville’s second expedition two years later to find the Great River of the West connecting the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean, which Lewis and Clark also tried.

DeVoto, Bernard. Across the Wide Missouri. New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Co. 1998 (originally 1947). First published in 1931, this classic history of the U. S. Central Plains and “the coasts of Nebraska” is an influential and controversial work. It states that, “The Great Plains environment… constitutes a geographic unity [that] put a characteristic mark upon everything … within its borders,” thanks to the revolver, barbed wire, and windmills.

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived The Great American Dust Bowl. New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 2006. Claiming the Dustbowl as proof that “Americans had become a force of awful geology,” Egan tells intimate stories of those who survived this crisis, adding his thoughts, including, “Life without water did strange things to the land” ( 115); and “The earth is on the move.” (p 114).

Graves, Russell A. The Prairie Dog: Sentinel of the Plains. Lubbock TX: Texas Tech University Press, 2001. Photographs and text depict history, habits, biology and home range of the prairie dog. In Nebraska from 1870 to 1998 numbers of this burrower, called “wishtonwish” by Plains Indians, dropped from 6 million to 6 thousand. Yet previous records described the Platte River as full of prairie dogs swimming from bank to bank.

Greene, Bob. Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen. New York: Harper Collins, 2002. A World War II effort cherished by thousands of soldiers and sailors, has been memorialized in this charming and insightful book about a town then and now at the confluence community of the North and South Platte Rivers.

Helzer, Chris. The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2010. Written by a Program Director for The Nature Conservancy, this book details management and restoration of the now-fragmented remains of our short-grass, mixed-grass and tall-grass prairies.

Horn, Miriam. Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman: Conservation Heroes of the American Heartland.

_New York: W. W. Norton, 2016. Five conservation heroes within the vast Mississippi River Basin show that conservation is based on an alliance with nature and a moral responsibility to conserve that spans generations and geographies. Restoring overused and overwhelmed natural resources is critical if we are “to insure the safety and continuance of the nation,” per Teddy Roosevelt.

Jackson, Dana L and Laura L. The Farm as Natural Habitat: Reconnecting Food Systems with Ecosystems. Washington DC: Island Press, 2002. Addressing the need to intertwine the needs of wild and domestic species and for environmentalists to “get on the same side of the table” as farmers, this book offers ideas for innovation and the need for serious commitment to change on farms, in landscapes and outlooks of all citizens.

Jackson, Wes. New Roots for Agriculture. Lincoln NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1980. This book documents the effects of industrial agriculture and practical remedies by the Director of the Land Institute.

Jones, Stephen R. The Last Prairie: A Sandhills Journal. Lincoln NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2000. This historical perspective on vast expanse of the Nebraska Sandhills describes its wildlife, birdlife, homesteaders, range wars and crazy weather – as well as current threats from dams and developers.

Knopp, Lisa. What the River Carries: Encounters with the Mississippi, Missouri, and Platte. Columbia MO: University of Missouri Press, 2012. In the last third of this book, the author ponders the Platte’s tallgrass prairie, huge crane migrations, heritage Pawnee corn crops, and impacts of irrigation diversions.

Mattes, Merrill J. The Great Platte River Road: The Covered Wagon Mainline via Fort Kearny to Fort Laramie. Lincoln NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1969. This thorough study of westward pioneer using Nebraska’s river-valley corridor during America’s westward expansion includes every imaginable detail of the great US migration to and through the Plains, based on 700 mid-19th century journals.

Montgomery, David R. Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2007. The hooks between humanity and agriculture, and between agriculture and soil, prompts the author’s concern that we are running out of dirt and that abuse will wreck our civilization as it has others from Rome to China and Mesopotamia.

Nassauer, Joan Iverson, Mary V. Santelmann, Donald Scavia. From the Corn Belt to the Gulf: Societal and Environmental Implications of Alternative Agricultural Futures. Washington DC: Resources for the Future Press, 2007. This read, recommended by Laura Jackson, describes management linkages between agricultural landscapes, downstream water-based ecosystems and healthy rural communities.

Ohlson, Kristin. The Soil Will Save Us: How scientists, farmers, and foodies are healing the soil to save the planet. NY: Rodale Inc., 2013. Comparing dirt to a coral reef full of fish, or a “massive biological machine” that keeps us healthy and alive, the author writes how a healthy earth can help solve climate change threats and air and water pollution.

Owen, David A. Like No Other Place: The Sandhills of Nebraska. Lincoln NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2010. The wide-open beauty and timeless qualities of Western Nebraska, The Great Plains and the threshold of the American West is well captured by the author’s words and black-and-white photographs.

Plain, Nancy. Light on the Prairie: Solomon D. Butcher, Photographer of Nebraska’s Pioneer Days. Lincoln NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2012. Each photograph by Butcher (1856-1927) is worth at least a thousand words. The author’s text explaining prairie schooners, “soddies,” Homesteaders, and their farm grit enhances Butcher’s historic images of Custer County settlers showing off their most important belongings.

Schwartz, Judith D. Cows Save the Planet and Other Improbably Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth: Unmaking the deserts, rethinking climate change, bringing back biodiversity, and restoring nutrients to our food. White River Junction VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2013. j As this title suggests, the book is about soil rehabilitation, as a possible means to reversing climate change.

Showalter, Dave. Sage Spirit: The American West at a Crossroads. Seattle: Braided River, 2015.

_The text and spectacular photographs depicting the “Sagebrush Sea” [Montana, Wyoming Colorado, New Mexico and all states to the west] argue eloquently for sustainable management so future generations can also enjoy pristine vistas of vast space filled with spectacularly diverse wildlife; migratory and resident birds; and, of course, sage!

Treuer, Anton. The Atlas of Indian Nations. Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2013. Chapter focuses on the Central Plains Pawnee and Otoe Tribes in Nebraska.