The Quapaws in Clarksdale Part III: Getting Used to River-Time

June 12th, 2014

By Nic Stoltzfus

Tuesday, March 11th : I woke up this morning and Joey and I prepped to go back on the river again today—except today we started at 7, an hour later than yesterday. That extra hour of sleep was mighty nice! The Clarksdale crew (John, River, Braxton, Ellis, Lil Mike, Dinky, Valencia) assembled all the gear and we drove to Helena for another upriver paddle, this time with a group of students from Mississippi State University participating in the Mississippi Delta Alternative Break program. During their spring break these students traveled all over Mississippi Delta region doing volunteer work. Their plan for today was to clean up trash on Buck Island. We paddled up to the island and most of the students dispersed upon landing to begin picking up trash. A few stayed behind to help make lunch.

John Ruskey with a group of students from Mississippi State University.

John Ruskey with a group of students from Mississippi State University.

During this time, Joey and I filmed separately for a bit—he was doing timelapses, and I was shooting b-roll. Afterwards we came back together to conduct interviews. When we did interviews with the Mighty Quapaws it was evident that this was more than just an apprenticeship program by what they had to say to us.


I have an older cousin, and he was actually working with John before me so he would come out and tell me about the trips and stuff like that and I came down one day and from that day on I been here ever since. And then they put me in a boat; I wasn’t scared the first time they put me out—I enjoyed it.


I can say meeting John changed my life, because, like I said, he taught to me a lot of stuff that I didn’t know…John is a good guy and giving guy, a caring guy; I guess I see him as a father figure, a good father figure.


–Markevius “Dinky” Jones


Markevius "Dinky" Jones

Markevius “Dinky” Jones



I was surfing the web, I came across it on the web, and I had a friend in it and I didn’t even realize, you know Dinky, yeah he kinda introduced me and got me in with the whole situation.


John Ruskey, he’s amazing, he’s an amazing nature guy, the River King…the Mississippi River King, John Ruskey.


–Michael “Lil Mike” Wortham


Michael "Lil Mike" Wortham

Michael “Lil Mike” Wortham



(On Mark River) He cool, he funny, and good at giving me advice when I’m canoeing.


I’ve learned patience, and how to canoe and how to paddle and like…Do it right.


–Valencia Metcall


Valencia Metcall

Valencia Metcall


Soon, lunch was ready. The cook crew smoked ribs in a cast-iron kettle placed over a woodfire that Braxton had prepared; boiled hominy with rosemary in a separate cast-iron cauldron, and cooked sweet potatoes and sweet onions in a final covered pot. Needless to say, lunch was divine.

I spent lunch sitting on the banks of Buck Island talking with Nick Timmerman, a Phd Candidate from MSU whose thesis is on race relations in the Mississippi Delta. We didn’t get a chance to chat for long, but he recommended that I read James C. Cobb’s “The Most Southern Place On Earth: The Mississippi Delta and the Roots of Regional Identity” for a more detailed look at race relations in the state. The folks at Quapaw also recommended this book to us, and River gave Joey the book upon arrival in Clarksdale. I read through the book when I got back, and it really does a good job of giving a great overview of the Delta region and how it came to be the way it is today. I also highly recommend any Delta blues enthusiast to buy the book if only to read the chapter detailing the birth of the Delta blues (“The Blues is a Lowdown Shakin’ Chill”).

After lunch we headed back to the Helena Outpost, cleaned up, chilled a bit, and Joey and I reheated some lunch leftovers for supper. After supper Joey, Mark, and Braxton headed to Hambone Art Gallery for some more blues, but I stayed in to catch up on some much-needed sleep.

Tomorrow’s blog: The Quapaws of Clarksdale Part IV: Deeper Thoughts on a Deep River

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