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Driftless River Initiative

A page within Murphy Library

The Driftless River Initiative is both a concept and a tangible product of collaboration among entities interconnected with the Upper Mississippi River (UMR) and/or the Driftless Area of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. The purpose of the Initiative is to bring together the collections and collectors of intellectual materials related to the scientific, environmental, cultural, historical, and economic aspects of the UMR and Driftless Area, and to give the collection a presence both online and in person.

Future collections:

  • Stafford Happ Papers (pending digitization)
  • Stanley Trimble Papers (pending digitization)
  • Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge Collection (partially digitized)
  • Dave Thomson Steamboat Collection (pending digitization)
  • Richard Eagan Steamboat Collection (pending digitization)
  • UWL OHP Collection (partially digitized)



First donation

Ellis B. Usher, publisher of the La Crosse Morning Chronicle and nephew of the early Wisconsin pioneer and businessman Cyrus Woodman, donated his private library to the La Crosse State Normal School, consisting of “reference and historical works pertaining to the development of the upper Mississippi valley and Wisconsin” (La Crosse Tribune and Leader Press, Dec. 5, 1920).


Steamboat photographs

The 1970s and 1980s were pivotal in producing one of the most well-known historical steamboat photograph collections in the country. Through the efforts of Ralph DuPae and archivist Edwin Hill, nearly 40,000 historical images were collected, organized, and housed in Murphy Library, nearly 30,000 of which are now available online.


UWL River Studies Center

This time also saw the founding of the UWL River Studies Center in 1972, further solidifying UWL’s connection to not only collecting but also actively producing academic materials related to the UMR.


Additional donations

Starting in 2012, the donations streamed in:

  • Dr. Stanley Trimble’s materials related to the geomorphology and soil erosion of the Driftless Area (2012);
  • 13 volumes of the late Fred Lesher’s birding field journals (2016);
  • Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee’s (UMRCC) entire library (2018);
  • Museum property and historical materials from the Winona District Office of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge (2020);
  • Dave Thomson’s entire collection of materials and artifacts (2022);
  • Richard Egan’s curated collection (2022); 
  • Dr. Stafford Happ’s papers related to his work on soil erosion and sedimentation (2023);
  • Numerous smaller donations of related items continue to be added.