The place where streams converge and unite is their confluence. North America’s two great rivers, the Missouri and the Mississippi, meet on the northern edge of St. Louis. The confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers in Pittsburgh forms the Ohio River. Similarly, the Kansas River, formed by the confluence of the Republican and Smoky Hill Rivers, flows about 169 miles eastward to its confluence with the Missouri River at Kansas City. And a place called The Confluence, in Canyonlands National Park and named by John Wesley Powell, is where the Green and Colorado Rivers meet. Many of the early thriving communities in the American colonies began at a confluence, since rivers were necessary for trade and the transportation of goods. Such trade often required the construction of forts to protect traders from the real or perceived threats of local Native Americans or competing settlers and traders. Hence, Washington Irving notes in his book Astoria; or, Anecdotes of an Enterprise beyond the Rocky Mountains (a glorified history of John Jacob Astor’s fur trade empire): “At length it was found necessary to establish fortified posts at the confluence of the rivers and the lakes for the protection of the trade, and the restraint of these profligates of the wilderness.” Writing about confluence sites in the Great Plains, Ian Frazier notes: “The reason no city grew at the confluence of the Missouri and the Yellowstone is that in 1866 the Army built a post called Fort Buford a few miles east of Fort Union, and in 1868 created a thirty-milesquare military reservation with the post at the center. Since the reservation was closed to all settlement, the city which people eventually built was farther down the Missouri, at the junction of the Little Muddy River. Today this city is called Williston, North Dakota, and it gets much of its income from oil, and its long commercial highway strips wax and wane.”

Jeffery Renard Allen