Unruly Waters:  A Social and Environmental History of the Brazos River, finalist for a Spur Award - Contemporary Nonfiction from the Western Writers of America

 

The Brazos is a river of many faces.  Refusing to bend to any single interpretation of itself, the river becomes swollen then waterless, hostile then motionless, docile then boundless.  Such inconstancy has proven to be a fairly constant annoyance for the people who have lived along this river and envisioned its ideal form.  Indeed, residents of the watershed during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries regularly voiced their frustration with the reality of frequent outbursts, and the sheer volume of complaints suggested that these were not mere overreactions.




Frustrated with the waywardness of their river, the individuals who lived along the Brazos between 1821 and 1980 turned to technological solutions for their riparian problems.  These advocates for greater control rarely agreed on the purpose of development – navigation, flood control, agricultural use, reclamation – and so they envisioned canals, levees, and ports but also locks, dams, and even transnational diversion channels.  The vast majority of projects proposed or constructed in this watershed were cast aside as unequivocal failures, undone by the geology of the river as much as the cost of improvement, yet lawmakers and laypeople, boosters and engineers continued to work towards improving the river and harnessing it for their various uses.  In that persistence lies the significance of this river. 


Despite long-standing efforts to tame, bind, or otherwise rein in the waters of the Brazos River, it has not been transformed into an organic machine, and there is no hydraulic empire.  Control over its waters has been elusive, projects have proven ineffective; and; the best-laid plans of engineers and politicians have not overcome the geological realities of a defiant river. Put simply, Unruly Waters examines a river that continually resisted the introduction of improvement projects and explores a people that steadily persisted in their attempts to rein in the river’s riotous waters.  

 

For an hourlong interview that analyzes Unruly Waters, check out this podcast.

For a blog post about Brazos River development in Waco, check out this link to Baylor University's Texas Collection.

For a brief interview regarding my research at the Texas Collection, check out this YouTube video.


Unruly Waters 
is available for purchase online through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.