The Platte River

“The Platte, in trail days, was tremendously wide and shallow. It was of a temperament entirely different from the tossing flood of the Missouri, the deep and steady Kansas, of the beautiful, benevolent Blue. The Platte itself made excellent going but, beyond the unalterable fact that it was wet, seldom helped anyone else on his way. It furnished no shade. Its water was poor to taste and too dirty to wash in. Its bed was quicksand—not violent in action, but of an insidious sucking variety that tugged at the boots of those who dared to wade, pulled at the lunging horses and slowly dragged down any wagon unfortunate enough to stall in midcurrent. Its silvery, shallow waters flowed with deceptive swiftness along the hardly noticeable declivity of its course, spreading over an incredible breadth of territory. Some of the emigrants credited it with a width of two miles as it neared the Missouri. One, who saw it in extreme flood, believed it to be three. It existed for and with itself. That stage drivers said that it didn’t even overflow, to enrich the valley, but merely saturated its quicksand banks so that they rose with the current and retained the flood waters within its channel. Emigrants who saw its ‘mad, majestic course’ in flood said it looked higher than the road.

It could not be ferried for lack of depth. It was difficult to bridge beyond any means available to the emigrants, and it was dangerous to ford. Its shining waters carried such a burden of suspended earth that the disgusted travelers accused it of flowing bottom-side up, and a child, once swallowed in its swift and turgid flood, was lost to sight even though the water might be shallow enough for rescue.”