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This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

In the spring of 1816, troops of the Eighth United States Infantry landed on Rock Island and built a fort to protect Americans traders from British fur interests, and to facilitate trade with the peaceful Sauk and Mesquawki tribes.

That is how this limestone island in the Upper Mississippi River, midway between St. Louis and St. Paul became one of those frontier crossroads so familiar in the American landscape.

While many crossroads remained as they began—a river crossing, a mill, a tavern—others thrived, blessed by geography and timing. Rock Island was a thriver. The river brought steamboats and commerce. Twenty-seven communities eventually grew up along the banks near the island: port cities, industrial complexes, commercial centers, coal mining villages, company towns built on dreams and speculation by Yankees and Southerners, by Germans, Swedes, Belgians, Greeks, ex-slaves and migrant workers, Irish and displaced Jews—a mosaic, an encyclopedia, if you will, of American settlement patterns.

Letters from long-lost friends arrive every so often asking me where I am now. How do I begin?

One of the great rivers of the world runs through our lives. Should I say John Deere and his steel plow came here in 1848 and soon made us the farm equipment capitol of the world? Should I say that the railroad first bridged the Mississippi here in 1856, creating a transportation crossroads that carried hundreds of thousands of immigrants to Iowa and Minnesota farms? Should I say that our island witnessed the long rafts of Minnesota and Wisconsin white pine coming downriver to be milled into lumber?

Or should I talk small talk? Dairy Queen began here, as did the ABC grading system. We performed the first appendectomy and invented the automatic bread slicer.

Or should I wax metaphoric and say "We're in the heart of the heart of the tall grass prairie. We're the overture of an American symphony, a patchwork of chapters in a novel called We, the People. We’re two buttons above the bible belt."

To tell you where and who we Rock Islanders are will take far more than a single response. It’s a story to be continued.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.