The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
Two Stack Islands?
Stack Island predates steamboats on the river, but was originally located on the East bank (left bank descending). As such it was considered Mississippi property when the state lines were drawn. It is said to have disappeared during the New Madrid Earthquakes 1811 – 1812. According to Marion Bragg, “Two or three years later, a sandbar appeared where the island had been. The sandbar became a towhead, and the towhead grew into a new island. By 1820, Stack Island 94 was back on the voyagers’ maps and John James Audubon spent a night there late in the winter of that year. He was entertained, he said, by some woodcutters who lived in the area. They had some tall tales to tell about the size and ferocity of the wildlife of the area. They claimed that alligators, wolves, and bears of enormous size were overabundant in the vicinity of Stack Island and swore that a huge brown tiger had recently frightened a 12-year-old boy literally to death.” (Historic Names & Places).
Over the years since then a portion of Stack Island has disappeared and reappeared or in a slow migration across the main channel of the river over to the Louisiana side (right bank descending). It has melded itself to the shoreline above Lake Providence so smoothly that unless you see it from the air you would swear that it’s not an island at all, but part of the bank. The Mississippi owners have maintained throughout the years that the island is the same Stack Island that used to be in Mississippi, and never disappeared, but slid across the river. But some land owners in Louisiana saw the emergence of the island on their side of the river as a fortuitous addition to their holdings. These Louisiana opportunists argue that the islands are not the same, and that the old Stack Island got submerged or washed away, and a new Stack Island has emerged. In 1995 The State of Louisiana took the dispute to the Supreme Court, where J. Kennedy delivered the opinion for the unanimous court. The case hinged on whether the island disappeared or not. Here is how J. Kennedy reported it: “we are unconvinced that Stack Island disappeared in 1883. Louisiana alleges other disappearances, including one as recently as 1948. We find no credible evidence of these disappearances, but instead find compelling evidence of Stack Island’s continued existence. We note first that the North portion of Stack Island has 70-year-old cottonwood trees growing on it and that longtime residents of the area report no disappearances of the island. The record, moreover, contains numerous maps of the region beginning with the 1881 patent survey and coming into the present era, and every one of them shows the existence of Stack Island. With the exception of a single exhibit, dated 1970, all the maps and mosaics show a land mass that the mapmaker identifies by name as Stack Island, even for the years since 1954 when that land mass has no longer been insular in form. These maps show Stack Island’s progression from the Mississippi side of the River to the Louisiana side. When the maps are superimposed one over the other in chronological order, the successive maps show a land mass covering a significant portion of Stack Island shown on the preceding map. The maps satisfy us that Stack Island did not wash away and is now the disputed area.”
(From 1995, LOUISIANA v. MISSISSIPPI, U.S. Supreme Court).
To further confuse the issue in our present day, not one but two Stack Islands appear on the most recent set of US Army Corps Maps, one at the top of Baleshead, that we’ve denoted “left bank” Stack Island, and the other above Lake Providence that we’ll denote