Environmental Studies and Southwest

$40.00 hardcover

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Unruly Waters: A Social and Environmental History of the Brazos River

Kenna Lang Archer

Winner of the 2015 Guittard Book Award for Historical Scholarship

Running more than 1,200 miles from headwaters in eastern New Mexico through the middle of Texas to the Gulf of Mexico, the Brazos River has frustrated developers for nearly two centuries. This environmental history of the Brazos traces the techniques that engineers and politicians have repeatedly used to try to manage its flow. The vast majority of projects proposed or constructed in this watershed were failures, undone by the geology of the river as much as the cost of improvement. When developers erected locks, the river changed course. When they built large-scale dams, floodwaters overflowed the concrete rims. When they constructed levees, the soils collapsed. Yet lawmakers and laypeople, boosters and engineers continued to work toward improving the river and harnessing it for various uses. Through the plight of the Brazos River Archer illuminates the broader commentary on the efforts to tame this nation’s rivers as well as its historical perspectives on development and technology. The struggle to overcome nature, Archer notes, reflects a quintessentially American faith in technology.


Kenna Lang Archer is an instructor in the Department of History at Angelo State University.


“Archer uses detailed scholarship to trace the people, ecology, and cultural influences of this ‘river of many faces, one that enjoys a gluttonous feast of water or no water at all.’”


True West

“The research by Archer is outstanding, and she brings forth history and ideas that have not been published. It will teach much about the Brazos River.”


Mexia Daily News

“Archer’s book is a balanced, comprehensive environmental history of the Brazos River. . . . A nuanced, compassionate, and intelligent analysis of one of the most important waterways in Texas history. . . . Highly recommended.”



“An engaging and much needed tale of this deep and pervasive frustration along a Texas river.”


Southwestern Historical Quarterly

“The primary strength of Unruly Waters is its comprehensive accounting of a multitude of riparian development plans, both successful and failed. . . . This approach lays bare the remarkable number of development projects and proposals that were attempted to control a single river.”


Journal of American History

“One of the real strengths and most fascinating aspects of Unruly Waters is the wide variety of sources used to trace out not only the construction of improvements but also the various ways people conceived of the river, their relationship to it, and their hopes for a future built on controlling it.”


Journal of Southern History

6 x 9 in. 288 pages 23 halftones, 2 maps, 2 tables