The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
RBD Med/High Water Route — Back Channel
RBD = Right Bank Descending. During periods of Medium or High river levels paddlers can follow a back channel route behind several island. Leaving St. Jo stay Right Bank Descending against the Louisiana shore and follow current behind Bondurant Towhead and further downstream the Island at Brown’s Field Dikes. If there is water going in behind an island, there will be water coming out. Watch for snags and strainers, and be vigilant for upstream tows hugging the bank as you return to main channel.
LBD Med/High Water Route — Back Channel
Stay Left Bank Descending (LBD) against the Mississippi shore past Rodney Point and go behind Spithead Towhead (Island). Only possible during periods of Medium or High river levels (25-48 Natchez Gage). Be watchful and yield right of way to any tows as you return to main channel and make your crossing over to Waterproof for takeout.
392 RBD – Bondurant Towhead
Good picnicking and camping can be found on Bondurant Towhead, in general top end is best, but in high water choices will be limited. This island goes underwater before flood stage, which is 48 on the Natchez Gage. Primitive Location. No conveniences of any sort available.
389 LBD – Rodney Chute
Bluff of sand at entrance to Rodney Lake Chute. Good picnicking and camping can be found on Spithead Towhead. Primitive site, no conveniences of any sort.
384 LBD – Spithead Towhead
Spithead is a giant sand island hugging the inside of the Kempe Bend offering beautiful all weather and all river level camping, exercising the normal precautions for wind and storms. Wonderful place to go tracking, the sand tells the story of who walked by in the past 24 hours. You might see the tracks of coyote, deer and occasional river otters. The birds are most common tracks you’ll find. The interior least tern flocks here sometimes by the thousands during mating season (usually late spring/early summer), and white pelicans love its broad open bars during their migration. Otherwise look for killdeer, Canada goose, and of course the omnipresent egrets and herons.
In calm weather good picnicking and camping can be found around the entire perimeter of Spithead. But in high winds or oncoming storms you will want to get close to the trees, or if this is not possible, continue down to Waterproof where protected access is easier to locate. Primitive sandbar stretching to the horizon in low water, two clumps of willows accentuating the scrubby tops of the two remaining high points of the island. These two humps are reminders of the power of the flooding river. Previous to 2011 they were connected in one beautiful mile-long high ridge of willow forest. The flood of 2011 charged through the center of the forest and left the two ends as a poignant reminder of its radical height and violence.
During low/medium water paddle to bottom of island and then return upstream in the large open bay that forms behind the highest sand/clumps of willows in the center of the island. In high water you can paddle right up to the trees from above, but choices will be limited. Entire island goes underwater around 40 on the Natchez Gage.
Petit Gulf Hills — Mississippi Loess Bluff #3
After passing the mouth of Bayou Pierre paddlers will notice the third Mississippi Bluff rising over the treeline left bank descending. These are the fabled Petit Gouffre” or Petit Gulf Hills, but appear to be as tall and lengthy as the Big Black Bluff at Grand Gulf. Stopping on Bondurant island would give you the best view possible of these bluffs. As with all Mississippi River places, layers of mud cover the stories of life, death and the endless march of civilizations. Two ghost towns not visible from the river are reminders of the river’s ability to help people prosper, wage war, and then leave them bereft of economy. Such are the stories of the Petite Gulf towns Bruinsburg and Rodney, both thriving communities in their day.
394 LBD Bruinsburg Landing
Bruinsburg Landing was located directly on the Mississippi River, just south of the mouth of the Bayou Pierre. Bruinsburg (now a ghost town) was found three miles up Bayou Pierre. Once an important commercial and military location, nothing remains today of the town or its port. Although it would be a good name for all of the black bear found in these hills, Bruinsburg and Lake Bruin (across the river in Louisiana) is actually named for an Irish immigrant named Peter Bruin. The community was a lively Mississippi River port, even attracting the attention of future U.S. President Andrew Jackson who set up a trading post there for a time.
Union Army General Ulysses S. Grant was planning a massive assault on the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, Mississippi. After having failed to land his army at Grand Gulf, he arrived on April 29, 1863, at the Disharoon’s Plantation in Louisiana, about 5 mi north of Bruinsburg on the Mississippi River. There, Grant made a plan to land his troops at Rodney, about 12 mi downstream. In one of those amazing twists of fate that seem to indicate the workings of fate (or fortune), Late that night, an escaped slave told Grant about the much nearer port of Bruinsburg, which had an excellent steamboat landing, and a good road ascending the bluffs east of the river.
The following day, 17,000 Union soldiers began landing at Bruinsburg, marking the beginning of the Battle of Port Gibson, part of the larger Vicksburg Campaign. Because river traffic had diminished through the war, when the soldiers arrived at Bruinsburg the port was nearly deserted, and the sole witness to the invasion was a farmer who appeared too confused to flee. The port proved to have a good solid bank, and space for many boats. It was the largest amphibious operation in American military history until the Allied invasion of Normandy. This was Grant’s seventh attempt to sneak up on Vicksburg by water (one of the others was the amazing Yazoo Pass Expedition cited described elsewhere in the Rivergator). Step aside Job: General Grant is the pinnacle of patience. His remark was “When this was accomplished I felt a degree of relief scarcely ever equaled since. Vicksburg was not yet taken it is true… but, I was on dry ground on the same side of the river with the enemy…”
The soldiers moved east along the dusty wagon trails from Bruinsburg, and then rested under the trees of the nearby Windsor Plantation. That evening, they began their march north. By 1865 the town was extinct. The former town and its landing are now located on private property. A historic plaque commemorating Bruinsburg is located on Church Street in nearby Port Gibson.