The Yellowstone River is one of the least-engineered big rivers in the contiguous United States. It flows unfettered from its headwaters at Younts Peak in northwestern Wyoming to its juncture with Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park. From there it dashes through a series of dramatic canyons until flattening out and slowing down in the scenic Paradise Valley near Livingston, Montana. Although a number of low irrigation dams cross the Yellowstone along its middle and lower reaches, none of those structures dramatically alter the flow regime of the picturesque river. In contrast, the Missouri River has been dammed and channelized into a shell of its former self. The once wide and sandy river that flowed through eastern Montana and the Dakotas is now a stairstepping series of deep blue reservoirs. Below Ponca, Nebraska, the Missouri enters the riprapped and narrowed navigation channel, which straightjackets the river until it empties into the Mississippi near St. Louis.
This book explains how the Yellowstone escaped the dam-building frenzy of the mid-20th century and why the Missouri did not. In addition, Big Sky Rivers examines these two rivers during the era of Native American political and military dominance of the northern Great Plains region. More specifically, it addresses how Native American perceptions and use of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers differed markedly from those of European-Americans. Big Sky Rivers concludes with a call to action. If the flora and fauna of the northern Great Plains region is to be preserved long into the future, the United States and its citizens must relate to the Missouri and Yellowstone in fundamentally different ways.
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