Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


Along the Bayous of Keosauqua

The word bayou can either be pronounced “BUY-ooh,” or “BUY-you.” It is a French word that refers to a small, slow-moving stream or creek, lake or pool that lies in an abandoned channel in some flat, low-lying area and the marsh created is often the result of slack water from mainstream backup.

The word has long been associated with the deep south, particularly the swamps along the Mississippi River in the Cajun country of Louisiana. I was therefore rather surprised to find the term used to describe back water from the Des Moines River at Keosauqua.

Just above the business district, a tiny stream runs through a small ravine and empties into the river. Below the business district, another small creek dumps water into the river. During times of high water, mostly in the spring of the year, these ravines have been known to overflow and form “bayous.”

The first known major flood of the Des Moines River happened in 1851. At that time the business district was primarily along First Street and the river front. Many small businesses were crammed along the river. Some faced the river while others closest to the stream had back doors opening onto the river bank. Behind the business district, between First and Second Streets, the ground was lower.

Until 1851, there was no inconvenience of the river backing up and forming the bayous, but the river kept rising that year until the upper and lower bayous became connected, leaving the business portion of town on an island. This was a monumental flood, and as the water kept rising, more and more of the “island” became submerged. Nearly all businesses in Keosauqua were interrupted for a period of five weeks.

The curious nature of the high water description is the use of the term bayou to describe the water backing up in Keosauqua’s creeks. The picturesque expression “living on the bayou” now conveys new meaning and adds to Keosauqua’s charming steamboat setting.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick