Elevations

A Personal Exploration of the Arkansas River

Max McCoy

Winner: National Outdoor Book Award

The upper Arkansas River courses through the heart of America from its headwaters near the Continental Divide above Leadville, Colorado, to Arkansas City, just above the Kansas-Oklahoma border. Max McCoy embarked on a trip of 742 miles in search of the rivers unique story. Part adventure and part reflection, steeped in the natural and cultural history of the Arkansas Valley, Elevations is McCoy’s account of that journey.

“An engaging work that details the often tragic stories of people who lived in the region watered and drained by the Arkansas River from Leadville, Colorado to Arkansas City, Kansas.

—Kansas History

“McCoy uses the natural eastward flow of the Arkansas River as the prime organizing principle for his narrative, but we soon begin to realize that, just biographies of complex individuals, the life story of this river contains a mix of tragedy, heroism, humor, and, in McCoy’s case, the opportunity to confront and wrestle with personal demons and failings.

—Great Plains Research
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Going by kayak when he can—by Jeep, on foot, or by other means when he has to—McCoy takes us with him, navigating the Arkansas River as it reveals its nature and tests his own. Along the way, and when he isn’t battling the current for his overturned kayak; braving a frigid Christmas Eve along the river; or joining the search for a drowning victim, he steps out to explore the world beyond the river’s banks. Here for instance is Camp Amache, where Japanese Americans were imprisoned during World War II. Here is Ludlow, where thirteen women and children died in a standoff between striking coal miners and the militia in 1914. Farther along we find Sand Creek, site of a massacre by US soldiers in 1864, and, uncomfortably close, Garden City, where white supremacists were charged with planning a terror attack on Somali refugees in 2016.

Whether traveling back in time, pausing in the present, or looking forward, Elevations captures the Arkansas River in its thrilling moments and placid stretches, in its natural splendor and degradation at human hands. The book shows us the river as a flowing repository of human history and, in the telling of this gifted writer, as a life-changing experience.

About the Author

Max McCoy is professor of journalism and director of the Center for Great Plains Studies at Emporia State University. He has written a mystery series and works of historical fiction, three of which have won Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America.