Europeans Name the Land

In Douglass’ History of Southeast Missouri: A Narrative Account of its Historical Progress, its people and its Principal Interests tells of the basic water pattern and stream in Little River Valley before the quake. This account was written in 1893 by Godfrey LeSieur and published in the Weekly Record of New Madrid.

        St. James Bayou

“St. James Bayou has its source in Scott County near the southern limit of the Scott County ills and flowed south through Scott, Mississippi a part of New Madrid counties. It received its waters from cypress ponds and lakes, principally those in Mississippi County. It emptied into the Mississippi River about ten miles northeast of New Madrid.

        St. Jones Bayou

”St. Johns Bayou, which was from ten to fifteen miles west of S. James, flowed parallel to it. It received its waters from lakes and also from connection with Little River just south of the present town of Benton. This bayou was about forty miles long and emptied unto the river at the east side of the town of New Madrid.

        East Bayou

“Eight miles above its mount it received East Bayou. At the point where these two join, the Spaniards, during their occupation of the county, built a water mill, and on a prance of St. John’s called Little Bayou, which connected with the river, the branch built a mill in about 1790. This mill site and, indeed, the entire bayou have disappeared, having been carried away by the river. Both of these bayous, St. James and St. John’s were named by Francois and Joseph LeSieur.

        The next stream east of St. John’s Bayou was Little River, called by the French Riviere Petite. It was about seven miles east of New Madrid. About eight miles above New Madrid it flowed for a distance of a mile from a ledge strewn with boulders of bog ore.

“It received the following tributaries from the east: Otter Bayou, which drained the lakes in the north part of the district, the Decypri, a cypress swamp which leaves the Mississippi River at New Madrid and flows into cypress lakes and then into Little River. Two miles south of New Madrid, Bayou Fourche left the Mississippi River, entered Lakes St. Marie and St. Ann, then flowed past La Grande Cote or the Big Mound, and entered Little River. In the early days a ferry across this steam was maintained near this mound.

        Bayou Portage

“Four miles further south, Bayou Portage flowed out from the Mississippi River, running to the southwest and entering Little River one mile south of Weaverville. This bayou was frequently used for the purposes of transportation. Barges and keel-boats were accustomed to come to the St. Francois and little rivers to Weaverville and then pass up through Bayou Portage to the Mississippi.

“In time of low water it was necessary to make a carry across the ridge which separated a part of the bayou from the Mississippi. This carry was usually made to a point on the river where there was an Indian village; this place was afterward called Point Pleasant. This strip of high ground over which the carry was made came to be called the Portage also.

        Bayou Carondelet

Bayou Carondelet was a small stream in the center of New Madrid County. Jean Baptiste Peltier settled there in 1790. The name he gave the stream was probably in honor of Baron de Carondelet Governor Intendant of the Providences of Louisiana and Florida. Peltier established two flour mills on the streams of New Madrid County for the purpose of manufacturing flour for the King’s storehouses. The Earthquakes of 1811 and 1812 destroyed the bayou.

        Cushion Lake

“Four miles south of Point Pleasant a low place in the banks of the river allowed the water to flow into a lake which from its grassy banks, was called Cushion Lake. The outlet from Cushion Lake to Bayou Portage was called Portage Bay. It is upon the bank of this bay that the present town of Portageville is situated. Between Cushion Lake and the next large bayou there were a Number of small tributaries which flowed from cypress likes into Little River. Pemiscot Bayou drained the lakes and swamps of Pemiscot County and also received water in three different places for the Mississippi River, and finally flowed into Little River.

“The tributaries of Little River on the west were principally those that it received from the S. Francois River and will be mentioned in connection with the St. Francois. The St. Francois, for the most of its course within the low lands, made its way east of Crowley's Ridge; it entered the law lands from the hills of Upper Louisiana, coming into this section further west and south than Little River.

“It received many tributaries from the west, but sent out many outlets from its western side to Little River. The first of these western outlets was in the early times called Laque Terrible, it is now called Taylor’s slough. It left the St. Francois River four miles south of Chalk Bluff, then continued southeast and connected with Little River near the mouth of New Rover. From Taylor’s slough, or Laque Terrible, as it was formerly called, two branches made out on the west side, the first of these was called New River, and the second Old River.

        Varner  River

“Varner River”, which was formerly called Chilletecaux, makes out from the St. Francois, runs to the east, then south and then west, and joins with the St. Francois again. The island thus formed was the last refuge of the buffalo in this section of the country. This island was divided by a small stream which connected the S Francois with Varner River. It was on this stream that there was a located the Indian village of Chilletecaux. Five miles south of this village there was another permanent bayou known as Buffalo Creek, which finally emptied into Little River.”

European’s Name the Land

St. James Bayou

St. Johns Bayou

East Bayou

Bayou Portage

Bayou Carondelet

Cushion Lake

Varner River



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tells of the basic water pattern and stream in Little River Valley before the quake. This account was written in 1893 by Godfrey LeSieur and published in the Weekly Record of New Madrid.

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    Having grown up on Little River, I have been fascinated with it. Over the past several years, as a local historian, this area has been a special interest. 

     These areas have been treated much like step-children by Jefferson City and Little Rock. They seem to believe nothing has ever happened here.  Our history has been long and varied. Hope you enjoy my trip.  

    Near Puxico is the swampy Mingo Wildlife Refuge. One hundred and fifty year ago, most of the Little River Valley appeared that way. This valley covering two million acres was part of the largest wetland in America.

    Floods frequently intimated the Valley. Between 1815 and 2011, 15 major floods covered or threatened the area.

    Timber companies came in at the end of the 19th Century to clean cut the forest. Louis Houck, a Cape Girardeau lawyer and railroad builder, envisioned a rail network that covered the wetlands.

    Little River Drainage District (LRDD) Corporation was established in 1907 by an act of the Butler County (MO) Circuit Court. 

    Between 1909 and 1928 the LRDD dug nearly 1000 miles of ditches and constructed 30 miles of levees to drain 1.2 million acres of swamp and overflow land in Southeast Missouri. More dirt was moved than in building the Panama Canal.

    One surprise I had was the number of settlements in the area before 1811-1812. Another was the water connection between the Mississippi River and the St. Francis and I had no idea that Little River had enough current to run a grist mill.

    Norman Vickers


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    Little River's Geographic Past