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Historic Waterways—Six Hundred Miles of Canoeing Down the Rock, Fox, and Wisconsin Rivers
written by "Thwaites, Reuben Gold, 1853-1913"
...en long reports upon its condition, but they have not bettered Marquette's comprehensive phrase. The general government has spent enormous sums in an endeavor to make the Fox-Wisconsin water highway practicable for the passage of large steam-vessels between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. It was of great service, in its natural state, for 240 the passage into the heart of the continent of that motley procession of priests, explorers, cavaliers, soldiers, trappers, and traders who paddled their canoes through here for nearly two hundred years, the pioneers of French, English, and American civilization in turn. It is still a tempting scheme, to tap the main artery of America, and allow modern vessels of burden to make the circuit between the lakes and the gulf. The Fox River is reasonably tractable, although this season the stage of water above Berlin has been hardly high enough to float a flat-boat. But the Wisconsin remains, despite the hundreds of wing-dams which line her shores, a fickle jade upon whom no reliance whatever can be placed. The current and the sand-banks shift about at their sweet will over a broad valley, and the pilot of one season would scarcely recognize the stream another. Navigation for crafts drawing over a foot of water is practically impossible in seasons of drought, and uncertain in all. A noted engineer has playfully said that the Wisconsin can never be regulated, "until the bottom is lathed and plastered;" and another officially reported, over fifteen years ago, that nothing short of a continuous canal along the bank, from Portage to Prairie du Chien, will suffice to 241 meet the expectations of those who favor the government improvement of this impossible highway. In the neighborhood of Portage, the wing-dams,—composed of mattresses of willow boughs, weighted with stone,—are in a reasonable degree of preservation and in places appear to be of some avail in contract...

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