National Geographic : 1960 Nov
KODACHROMEBY NATIONALGEOGRAPHICPHOTOGRAPHER BATES LITTLEHALES © N.G.S. Natchez honors its own-Miss America of 1960. Twenty-year-old Lynda Lee Mead smiles her delight at a home-coming reception. Missis sippi National Guardsmen form her escort. and raising its head is a sawyer. Either can stave in a boat bottom, but the sawyer is the more dangerous. Its rhythm may be so slow that it is out of sight for minutes at a time. The steersman looks out upon perfectly smooth water, only to see a monster rear its head 10 feet above the surface when it is too late to avoid it. Chicots-the teeth of the river-the French pioneers used to call these hazards. It is the business of the snag boat, or the newer, 708 general-purpose work boat, to pluck them out of the channel. We boarded the big stern-wheeler snag boat West for the trip from Vicksburg to Green ville. Though it was a steamboat soon to be replaced by a diesel patrol boat, it provided good quarters for its men and the finest of food. Rivermen vie for jobs in the fleet of the Engineers. From a high A-frame on the bow of the vessel dangled a gigantic pair of tongs which could grip and haul out a log as easily as a dentist pulls a tooth. We made for what seemed to be a small stick projecting from the water. It was no thicker than my arm and rose but a few feet above the surface. Surely, I thought, this huge tooth puller would not bother with such a trifle. The West slowed up to the stick, and the tongs descended and bit in. Up came the stick, foot by foot. It grew thicker and heavier, and still it came-10 feet, 20 feet, 30, and still more. At length the top of it rose above the lofty pilothouse, and the roots rested on the deck. It was a cottonwood trunk no less than 100 feet tall! The men cut it into short lengths with power saws and dumped the logs overboard to float harmlessly away with the current. Concrete Slabs Pave Riverbanks One of the most extraordinary feats of the Engineers is the paving of much of the Lower Mississippi's riverbed. The pavement usually does not floor the central channel, but covers the banks where current and wave action would otherwise wash them away. This reinforcement once consisted of willow trees bound together with wire into mats, some a mile long. Most of today's mats are con crete slabs linked together with stainless-steel wire, the whole forming a flexible mattress (page 698). Old Al, who rules the Mississippi with a mighty will, can chew up even con crete in time, but such a mat may normally last 30 years or longer. Natchez is one of the musts of any Mis sissippi journey. Nowhere on the continent are the life and manners of ante bellum days better preserved.* In the era of the great cotton planters, Natchez was a millionaires' town. That was Natchez's golden age. Plantation owners built imposing mansions and filled * See "History Repeats in Old Natchez," by Wil liam H. Nicholas, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, February, 1949.