Settings #11 – Trader’s Island: Canoes to towboats

Trader’s Island is a nearly 600-acre island (about a mile-and-a-half long and a half-mile wide) in the Mississippi River near the Iowa shore, several miles west of Lee’s Landing.

It got its name because it was where white traders in the late 1700s and early 1800s put their canoes ashore to meet with local Native Americans to trade goods like cooking pots, axes, blankets, steel knives, traps, rifles, tobacco and whiskey for fur pelts. It was once heavily wooded, with open meadows where the Native Americans would set-up their camps for trading.

However, because the main channel of the Mississippi River in the area favors the Iowa side, it became a spot where steamboats and later towboats and barges would tie-up and load and unload. In fact, today’s island is cluttered with dozens of buildings and warehouses − some as big as half a football field, others like the large pole buildings you see on farms − parking areas, docks and storage and loading yards. There is a maze of roadways that often dead -end at buildings or rails spurs, or jog right or left around fenced storage yards.

Entrance to the island is at either end from River Road via combined railroad and roadway bridges.

The island is officially owned by the U.S. Government through the Army Corps of Engineers, with the occupants all paying long-term lease fees. However, because the Corps has only a very small police force, whose main job is to check campers in corps developed campgrounds up and down the river, they have contracted with the Fort Armstrong County Sheriff’s Department to provide law enforcement on Trader’s Island.

In effect, the government contract reimburses the county for a part-time deputy who is supposed to patrol the area occasionally and respond to calls when necessary.

In the early Ro Delahanty novels the island is part of Ro’s regular assigned patrol area, the western third of the county.

But I have the kernel of an idea for a future Ro novel in which Trader’s Island would play a significant role. Stay tuned…

Next: We’re taking a holiday break; the next Settings post will be January 2nd

© 2018 Dave Lager