Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Islands of the Mississippi River

While writing my latest novel, I discovered my story needed an island on the Mississippi River big enough for a group of river pirates to hide out.

Are there any islands on the Mississippi River large enough live on permanently? Turns out the answer is yes. (I’m guessing some of you already knew this, but color me clueless!) Some islands have a history of providing safety, security, and trading opportunities for travelers while others harbored danger to all who drew near. And like the pirates in my story and the mist along the river, over long periods of time, these land masses come and go at will … and sometimes with a little help from the Army Corp of Engineers.

Bloody Island appeared in 1798. Situated opposite St. Louis, MO, the densely wooded island became the preferred meeting spot for duelists since it was not under Missouri or Illinois jurisdiction. After a few years, the growth of the island threatened the harbor of St. Louis. In 1837, the U.S. Army Engineers established a system of dikes and dams to wash out the western channel and join the island to the Illinois shore.

Farmland on Grand Tower Island in Missouri
By Nyttend - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29413915

Davis Island, located 20 miles southwest of Vicksburg, MS consists of 30,000 acres. Formerly a peninsula bounded on three sides by the Mississippi River, a shift in the river cut it off from the mainland in 1867. Owned by Jefferson Davis’ brother, the Davis family built two sprawling plantations on the island. After the Civil War, former plantation overseer Ben Montgomery and other freedmen leased the island and continued to operate a successful farming operation on the island before losing the lease in 1876 when crops failed due to catastrophic floods. Today, Davis Island is owned by the Brierfield Hunting Club, with access only by water.

Rock Island, (Arsenal Island) comprises 946 acres and is located on the Mississippi River between the cities of Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island, Illinois. The Rock Island Arsenal is home of First Army headquarters. The island was originally established as a government site in 1816, with the building of Fort Armstrong. It is now the largest government-owned weapons manufacturing arsenal in the United States. 

The House-In-the-Woods, Campbell's Island, Illinois

At the turn-of-the last century, Campbell’s Island in Illinois was bought by a street-car company with the intentions of turning it into an amusement park. There were many summer cottages and The House-In-the-Woods, built in 1904, offered dining and concerts. Today, Campbell’s Island is home to a suburban community with many of the island homes built on stilts to withstand seasonal flooding.

Grand Tower Island is known for its prime farming land. Kaskaskia Island, with a population of 14 at the last census has seen its numbers swell to SEVEN THOUSAND in the past. Pike Island was an internment camp for more than 1600 Dakotas in 1862.

Kaskaskia Church, Kaskaskia, Illinois
By Charles Houchin - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3726290

And then there is Stack Island, located in north Mississippi, the island I based my fictional Cottonmouth Island on. Sometimes called the Crow’s Nest, Stack Island was notorious as a hideout for horse thieves, robbers, counterfeiters, and murderers. Samuel Mason and the Harpe brothers (Micaiah Jones from The Crossing at Cypress Creek is loosely modeled on the villainous Micajah Harpe) were among the vicious outlaws who frequented the Crow’s Nest.

Cave-In-Rock, Illinois
By Karl Bodmer - Maximilian, Prince of Wied’s Travels in the Interior of North America, during the years 1832–1834http://www.gallery.oldbookart.com/main.php?g2_itemId=30172, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26707096

This is just a sampling of the twenty-four or so land masses on the Mississippi River that qualify as islands. I find the idea of island life on the Mississippi River fascinating! So, have you ever visited an island on the river? Or, be still my heart, lived on one?

Don't miss The Crossing at Cypress Creek, the third and final book in Pam Hillman's
The Natchez Trace Novel Series

CBA Bestselling author PAM HILLMAN was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn't afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove an Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn't mind raking. Raking hay doesn't take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that's the kind of life every girl should dream of. www.pamhillman.com


  1. Wow! I never realized an island in a river could be big enough to live on!!! Thanks for looking into this!

    1. Me either, Connie! I was stunned at what I found out.

    2. My grandfather was born and lived till he was a teenager on Island #3. He said it was between Arkansas and Tennessee. He said neither state claimed it so that's what was on his birth certificate. I haven't been able to locate any more information.

  2. Thank you for your very interesting post!

    1. You're welcome! Thank you for stopping by, Melanie. :)

  3. Pam, I grew up by the Mississippi in Louisiana and never knew there were islands in it! Very interesting, and what a great source for a story!

  4. I know, right? At least not big enough to warrant permanent structures and towns and stuff. Amazing, isn't it?