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The Mississippi River is the second longest river in the United Statesmarker, with a length of from the source of its upper portion at Lake Itascamarker in Minnesotamarker to its mouth in the Gulf of Mexicomarker.

The Mississippi River is part of the Missourimarker-Mississippi river system, which is the largest river system in North America and among the largest in the world: By length— —it is the fourth longest, and by its average discharge of 572,000 cu ft/s (16,200 m³/s), it is the tenth largest.

The name Mississippi is derived from the Ojibwe word misi-ziibi ("Great River") or gichi-ziibi ("Big River").


From its origin at Lake Itascamarker to St. Louis, Missourimarker, the flow of the Mississippi River is moderated by 43 dams. Fourteen of these dams are located above Minneapolis, Minnesotamarker in the headwaters region and serve multiple purposes including power generation and recreation. The remaining 29 dams beginning in downtown Minneapolis all contain locks and were constructed to permit commercial navigation of the upper river. Taken as a whole these 43 dams significantly shape the geography and influence the ecology of the upper river. Beginning just below Saint Paul, Minnesotamarker and continuing throughout the upper and lower river, the Mississippi is further controlled by thousands of wing dikes that moderate the river's flow in order to maintain an open navigation channel and prevent the river from eroding its banks.

The Mississippi River runs through 10 states and was used to define portions of these states' borders. The middle of the riverbed at the time the borders were established was the line to define the borders between states. The river has since shifted, but the state borders of Wisconsinmarker, Iowamarker, Illinoismarker, Missourimarker, Kentuckymarker, Arkansasmarker, Tennesseemarker, and Mississippimarker have not changed; they still follow the former bed of the Mississippi River as of their establishment.

The widest point of the Mississippi River is Lake Winnibigoshishmarker, near Grand Rapids, Minnesotamarker, at over across. Also of note is Lake Onalaskamarker, near La Crosse, Wisconsinmarker, where the river is over wide (created by Lock and Dam No.marker 7marker) and Lake Pepinmarker at more than wide. However, the first two areas are lakes or reservoirs rather than free flowing water. In other areas where the Mississippi is a flowing river (other than Lake Pepin), it exceeds in width in several places in its lower course.

The Missouri Rivermarker flows from the confluence of the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin Rivers and is the longest river in the United States. Taken together, the Jefferson, the Missouri, and the Mississippi form the longest river system in North America. If measured from the source of the Jefferson at Brower's Springmarker, to the Gulf of Mexicomarker, the length of the Mississippi-Missouri-Jefferson combination is approximately , making the combination the 4th longest river in the world. The uppermost of this combined river are called the Jefferson, the lowest are part of the Mississippi, and the intervening are called the Missouri.

The Arkansas Rivermarker is the second-longest tributary of the Mississippi River. Measured by water volume, the largest of all Mississippi tributaries is the Ohio River.

The Mississippi River is divided into the upper Mississippi, from its source south to the Ohio River, and the lower Mississippi, from the Ohio to its mouth near New Orleansmarker.

Upper Mississippi River

The upper Mississippi River is divided into three sections: the headwaters, ; from the source to Saint Anthony Fallsmarker; a series of man-made lakes between Minneapolis and St. Louis, Missourimarker, ; and the middle Mississippi, , a relatively free-flowing river downstream of the confluence with the Missouri River at St. Louis.


The source of the Upper Mississippi River is Lake Itascamarker, above sea level in Itasca State Parkmarker located in Clearwater County, Minnesotamarker. The name "Itasca"is a combination of the last four letters of the Latin word for truth (veritas) and the first two letters of the Latin word for head (caput).

The uppermost lock and dam on the Mississippi River is the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam in Minneapolismarker. Above the dam, the river's elevation is . Below the dam, the river's elevation is . This drop is the largest of all the Mississippi River locks and dams. The origin of the dramatic drop is a waterfall preserved adjacent to the lock under an apron of concrete. Saint Anthony Fallsmarker is the only true waterfall on the entire Mississippi River. The water elevation continues to drop steeply as it passes through the gorge carved by the waterfall. By the time the river reaches Saint Paul, Minnesotamarker, below Lock and Dam #1, it has dropped more than half its original elevation and is above sea level. From St. Paul to St. Louis Missouri the river elevation falls much more slowly and is controlled and managed as a series of pools created by 26 locks and dams. From St. Louis to the Ohio River confluence, the Mississippi free falls a total of over a distance of for an average rate of . At the Ohio River confluence the Mississippi is above sea level.


The Mississippi is joined by the Minnesota River south of the Twin Citiesmarker, the St. Croix River near Prescott, Wisconsinmarker, the Black River , La Crosse River, and Root River in La Crosse, Wisconsinmarker the Wisconsin River in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsinmarker, the Rock River in the Quad Citiesmarker, the Iowa River near Wapello, Iowamarker, the Skunk River south of Burlington, Iowamarker, the Des Moines River in Keokuk, Iowamarker, the Illinois River and the Missouri Rivermarker near St. Louis, and by the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinoismarker.

Lower Mississippi River

Major sub-tributaries include the Tennessee River (a tributary of the Ohio River) and the Platte River (a tributary of the Missouri River). The Arkansas Rivermarker joins the Mississippi in southeastern Arkansasmarker. The Yazoo River meets the Mississippi at Vicksburg. The Atchafalaya River in Louisianamarker is a major distributary of the Mississippi.

Communities along the river

Many of the communities along the Mississippi River are listed below. They have either historic significance or cultural lore connecting them to the river. They are ordered from the beginning of the river to its end.

Bridge crossings

The first bridge across the Mississippi River was built in 1855. It spanned the river in Minneapolis where the current Hennepin Avenue Bridgemarker is located.

The first railroad bridge across the Mississippi was built in 1856. It spanned the river between the Rock Island Arsenalmarker and Davenport, Iowamarker. Steamboat captains of the day, fearful of competition from the railroads, considered the new bridge "a hazard to navigation". Two weeks after the bridge opened, the steamboat Effie Afton rammed part of the bridge and started it on fire. Legal proceedings ensued, with Abraham Lincoln defending the railroad. The lawsuit went to the Supreme Court of the United Statesmarker and was eventually ruled in favor of the railroad.

Below is a general overview of bridges over the Mississippi which have notable engineering or landmark significance with its city. They are ordered from the source to the mouth.


Mississippi watershed (2005)

The Mississippi River has the third largest drainage basin or "catchment" in the world. The basin covers more than , including all or parts of 31 states and two Canadianmarker provinces. The drainage basin empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

Major tributaries of the Mississippi:

Drainage area and basin

The Mississippi River drains the majority of the area between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Mountainsmarker, except for the areas drained to the Hudson Baymarker via the Red River of the Northmarker, by the Saint Lawrence Rivermarker and the Great Lakesmarker, the Rio Grandemarker (and numerous other rivers in Texasmarker), the Alabama River-Tombigbee River, and the Chattahoochee River-Apalachicola Rivermarker.

The Mississippi River empties into the Gulf of Mexico about downstream from New Orleans. Measurements of the length of the Mississippi from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico vary somewhat, but the United States Geological Survey's number is . The retention time from Lake Itasca to the Gulf is about 90 days.


Fresh river water flowing from the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico does not mix into the salt water immediately. The images from NASA's MODIS to the right show a large plume of fresh water, which appears as a dark ribbon against the lighter-blue surrounding waters.

The images demonstrate that the plume did not mix with the surrounding sea water immediately. Instead, it stayed intact as it flowed through the Gulf of Mexico, into the Straits of Floridamarker, and entered the Gulf Stream. The Mississippi River water rounded the tip of Floridamarker and traveled up the southeast coast to the latitude of Georgiamarker before finally mixing in so thoroughly with the ocean that it could no longer be detected by MODIS.


The Mississippi river discharges at an annual average rate of between 200 and 700 thousand cubic feet per second (7,000–20,000 m3/s). Although it is the 5th largest river in the world by volume, this flow is a mere fraction of the output of the Amazon, which moves nearly 7 million cubic feet per second (200,000 m3/s) during wet seasons. On average, the Mississippi has only 9% the flow of the Amazon River, but is nearly twice that of the Columbia River and almost 6 times the volume of the Colorado Rivermarker.


Course changes

The Illinoian Glacier, about 300,000 to 132,000 years before present, blocked the Mississippi near Rock Island, Illinois, diverting it to its present channel farther to the west, the current western border of Illinois.

The Hennepin Canalmarker roughly follows the ancient channel of the Mississippi downstream from Rock Island to Hennepin. South of Hennepin, Illinoismarker, the current Illinois River is actually following the ancient channel of the Mississippi River to Alton, Illinoismarker, before the Illinoian glaciation.

Other changes in the course of the river have occurred because of earthquakes along the New Madrid Seismic Zonemarker, which lies between Memphis and St. Louis. Three earthquakes in 1811 and 1812, estimated at approximately 8 on the Richter magnitude scale, were said to have temporarily reversed the course of the Mississippi. The settlement of Reverie, Tennesseemarker was cut off from Tipton County, Tennesseemarker, during the 1811 and 1812 earthquakes and placed on the western side of the Mississippi River, the Arkansas side. These earthquakes also created Reelfoot Lakemarker in Tennessee from the altered landscape near the river. The faulting is related to an aulacogen (geologic term for a failed rift) that formed at the same time as the Gulf of Mexico.

Through a natural process known as delta switching, the lower Mississippi River has shifted its final course to the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico every thousand years or so. This occurs because the deposits of silt and sediment begin to clog its channel, raising the river's level and causing it to eventually find a steeper, more direct route to the Gulf of Mexico. The abandoned distributaries diminish in volume and form what are known as bayous. This process has, over the past 5,000 years, caused the coastline of south Louisianamarker to advance toward the Gulf from 15 to 50 miles (25–80 km). The currently active delta lobe is called the Birdfoot Delta, after its shape, or the Balize Delta, after La Balize, Louisianamarker, the first French settlement at the mouth of the Mississippi.

Native Americans

The area of the Mississippi valley was first settled by Native American tribes, such as the Cheyenne, Sioux, Ojibwe, Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk, Fox, Kickapoo, Tamaroa, Moingwena, Quapaw and Chickasaw.

The Cheyenne, one of the earliest inhabitants of the upper Mississippi River, called it the Máˀxe-éˀometaaˀe (Big Greasy River) in the Cheyenne language. However, the word Mississippi comes from Messipi, the French rendering of the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe or Algonquin) name for the river, Misi-ziibi (Great River).

The Ojibwe called Lake Itascamarker Omashkoozo-zaaga'igan (Elk Lake) and the river flowing out of it Omashkoozo-ziibi (Elk River). After flowing into Lake Bemidjimarker, the Ojibwe called the river Bemijigamaag-ziibi (River from the Traversing Lake). After flowing into Cass Lakemarker, the name of the river changes to Gaa-miskwaawaakokaag-ziibi (Red Cedar River) and then out of Lake Winnibigoshishmarker as Wiinibiigoozhish-ziibi (Miserable Wretched Dirty Water River), Gichi-ziibi (Big River) after the confluence with the Leech Lake River, then finally as Misi-ziibi (Great River) after the confluence with the Crow Wing River. After the expeditions by Giacomo Beltrami and Henry Schoolcraft, the longest stream above the juncture of the Crow Wing River and Gichi-ziibi was named "Mississippi River". The Mississippi River Band of Chippewa Indians, known as the Gichi-ziibiwininiwag, are named after the stretch of the Mississippi River known as the Gichi-ziibi.

European exploration

On May 8, 1541, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto became the first recorded European to reach the Mississippi River, which he called Río del Espíritu Santo ("River of the Holy Spirit"), in the area of what is now Mississippi. In Spanish, the river is called Río Mississippi.

French explorers, Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette, began exploring the Mississippi in the 17th century. Marquette traveled with a Sioux named Ne Tongo ("Big river" in Sioux language) in 1673. Marquette proposed calling it the River of the Immaculate Conception.

In 1682, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle and Henri de Tonti claimed the entire Mississippi River Valley for France, calling the river Colbert River after Jean-Baptiste Colbert and the region La Louisiane, for King Louis XIV. On March 2, 1699, Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville rediscovered the mouth of the Mississippi, following the death of La Salle. The French built the small fort of La Balisemarker there to control passage.

In 1718, about upriver, New Orleans was established along the river crescent by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, with construction patterned after the 1711 resettlement on Mobile Bay of Mobilemarker, the capital of French Louisiana at the time.

18th century

Following Britain's victory in the Seven Years War the Mississippi became the border between the British and Spanish Empires. The Treaty of Paris gave Great Britainmarker rights to all land east of the Mississippi and Spainmarker rights to land west of the Mississippi. Spain also ceded Florida to Britain to regain Cubamarker, which the British occupied during the war. Britain then divided the territory into East and West Florida.

Article 8 of the Treaty of Paris states, "The navigation of the river Mississippi, from its source to the ocean, shall forever remain free and open to the subjects of Great Britain and the citizens of the United States". With this treaty, which ended the American Revolutionary War, Britain also ceded West Florida back to Spain to regain The Bahamasmarker, which Spain had occupied during the war. Spain then had control over the river, south of 32°30' north latitude and in what is known as the Spanish Conspiracy, hoped to gain greater control of Louisiana and all of the west. These hopes ended when Spain was pressured into signing Pinckney's Treaty in 1795.

19th century

France reacquired 'Louisiana' from Spain in the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1800. The United States bought the territory from France in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. In 1815, the U.S. defeated Britain at the Battle of New Orleansmarker, part of the War of 1812, securing American control of the river.

So many settlers traveled westward through the Mississippi river basin, as well as settled in it, that Zadok Cramer wrote a guide book called The Navigator, detailing the features and dangers and navigable waterways of the area. It was so popular that he updated and expanded it through 12 editions over a period of 25 years.

Steamboat commerce

Mark Twain's book, Life on the Mississippi, covered the steamboat commerce which took place from 1830 to 1870 on the river before more modern ships replaced the steamer. The book was published first in serial form in Harper's Weekly in seven parts in 1875. The full version, including a passage from the unfinished Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and works from other authors, was published by James R. Osgood & Company in 1885.

The first steamboat to travel the full length of the Mississippi from the Ohio River to New Orleans was the New Orleans in December 1811. Its maiden voyage occurred during the series of New Madrid earthquake in 1811–12.

Steamboat transport remained a viable industry, both in terms of passengers and freight until the end of the first decade of the 20th century. Among the several Mississippi River system steamboat companies was the noted Anchor Line, which from 1859 to 1898 operated a luxurious fleet of steamers between St. Louis and New Orleans.

Civil War

Battle of Vicksburg (ca. 1888)

The river played a decisive role in the American Civil War. The Union's Vicksburg Campaignmarker called for Union control of the lower Mississippi River. The Union victory at the Battle of Vicksburgmarker in Warren County, Mississippimarker in 1863 was pivotal to the Union's final victory of the Civil War.

20th century

In the spring of 1927, the river broke out of its banks in 145 places, during the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and inundated to a depth of up to .

On October 20, 1976, the automobile ferry, MV George Princemarker, was struck by a ship traveling upstream as the ferry attempted to cross from Destrehan, Louisianamarker, to Luling, Louisianamarker. Seventy-eight passengers and crew died, only eighteen survived the accident.

In 1988, record low water levels provided an opportunity and obligation to examine the climax of the wooden-hulled age. The Mississippi fell to below zero on the Memphis gauge. Four and a half acres of water craft remains were exposed on the bottom of the Mississippi River at West Memphis, Arkansas. They dated to the late 19th to early 20th centuries. The State of Arkansas, the Arkansas Archeological Survey, and the Arkansas Archeological Society responded with a two-month data recovery effort. The fieldwork received national media attention as good news in the middle of a drought.

The Great Flood of 1993 was another significant flood, primarily affecting the Mississippi above its confluence with the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinoismarker.

Two portions of the Mississippi were designated as American Heritage Rivers in 1997: the lower portion around Louisiana and Tennessee, and the upper portion around Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Missouri.

Campsite at the river in Arkansas

21st century

In 2002, Slovenianmarker long-distance swimmer, Martin Strel, swam the entire length of the river, from Minnesota to Louisiana, over the course of 68 days.

In 2005, the Source to Sea Expedition [2928] paddled the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers to benefit the Audubon Society's Upper Mississippi River Campaign.

On August 1, 2007, the I-35W Mississippi River bridgemarker in Minneapolis collapsed during the evening rush hour.


Water skiing

The sport of water skiing was invented on the river in a wide region between Minnesota and Wisconsin known as Lake Pepinmarker. Ralph Samuelson of Lake City, Minnesotamarker, created and refined his skiing technique in late June and early July 1922. He later performed the first water ski jump in 1925 and was pulled along at by a Curtiss flying boat later that year.

National parks

There are seven National Park Service sites along the Mississippi River. The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area is the National Park Service site dedicated to protecting and interpreting the Mississippi River itself. The other six National Park Service sites along the river are (listed from north to south):

Navigation history

A clear channel is needed for the barges and other vessels that make the main stem Mississippi one of the great commercial waterways of the world.The task of maintaining a navigation channel is the responsibility of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, which was established in 1802. Earlier projects began as early as 1829 to remove snags, close off secondary channels and excavate rocks and sandbar.

Steamboats entered trade in the 1820s, so the period 1830 1850 became the golden age of steamboats. As there were few roads or rails in the lands of the Louisiana Purchase, river traffic was an ideal solution. Cotton, timber and food came down the river, as did Appalachia coal. The port of New Orleans boomed as it was the trans-shipment point to deep sea ocean vessels. As a result, the image of the twin stacked, wedding cake Mississippi steamer entered into American mythology. Steamers worked the entire route from the trickles of Montana, to the Ohio river; down the Missouri and Tennessee. To the main channel of the Mississippi. Only the arrival of the railroads in the 1880s did steamboat traffic diminish. Steamboats remained a feature until the 1920s. Most have been superseded by pusher tugs. A few survive as icons—the Delta Queenmarker and the River Queen for instance.

A series of 29 locks and dams on the upper Mississippi, most of which were built in the 1930s, is designed primarily to maintain a deep channel for commercial barge traffic. The lakes formed are also used for recreational boating and fishing. The dams make the river deeper and wider but do not stop it. No flood control is intended. During periods of high flow, the gates, some of which are submersible, are completely opened and the dams simply cease to function. Below St. Louis, the Mississippi is relatively free-flowing, although it is constrained by numerous levees and directed by numerous wing dams.

19th century

Obstacles – Des Moines, Iowa/Illinois

In 1829, there were surveys of the two major obstacles on the upper Mississippi, the Des Moines Rapids and the Rock Island Rapids, where the river was shallow and the riverbed was rock. The Des Moines Rapids were about 11 mi (18 km) long and just above the mouth of the Des Moines River at Keokuk, Iowamarker. The Rock Island Rapids were between Rock Islandmarker and Moline, Illinoismarker. Both rapids were considered virtually impassable.

In 1848, the Illinois and Michigan Canalmarker was built to connect the Mississippi River to Lake Michiganmarker via the Illinois River near Peru, Illinoismarker. In 1900, the canal was replaced by the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. The canal allowed Chicagomarker to address specific health issues (typhoid fever, cholera and other waterborne diseases) by sending its waste down the Illinois and Mississippi river systems rather than polluting its water source of Lake Michigan. The canal also provided a shipping route between the Great Lakesmarker and the Mississippi.

The Corps of Engineers recommended the excavation of a 5 ft (1.5 m) deep channel at the Des Moines Rapidsmarker, but work did not begin until after Lieutenant Robert E. Lee endorsed the project in 1837. The Corps later also began excavating the Rock Island Rapids. By 1866, it had become evident that excavation was impractical, and it was decided to build a canal around the Des Moines Rapids. The canal opened in 1877, but the Rock Island Rapids remained an obstacle.

In 1878, Congress authorized the Corps to establish a deep channel to be obtained by building wing dams which direct the river to a narrow channel causing it to cut a deeper channel, by closing secondary channels and by dredging. The channel project was complete when the Moline Lock, which bypassed the Rock Island Rapids, opened in 1907.

Canal – St. Paul, Minnesota

To improve navigation between St. Paul, Minnesota, and Prairie du Chien, Wisconsinmarker, the Corps constructed several dams on lakes in the headwaters area, including Lake Winnibigoshishmarker and Lake Pokegama. The dams, which were built beginning in the 1880s, stored spring run-off which was released during low water to help maintain channel depth.

In 1907, Congress authorized a deep channel project on the Mississippi, which was not complete when it was abandoned in the late 1920s in favor of the deep channel project.

20th century

Dam –Keokuk, Iowa

In 1913, construction was complete on a dam at Keokuk, Iowamarker, the first dam below St. Anthony Falls. Built by a private power company to generate electricity, the Keokuk dam was one of the largest hydro-electric plants in the world at the time. The dam also eliminated the Des Moines Rapids.

Lock and Dam Nos. 1 & 2

Lock and Dam No.marker 1marker was completed in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1917. Lock and Dam No.marker 2marker, near Hastings, Minnesotamarker was completed in 1930.

1927 flood

Prior to the 1927 flood, the Corps' primary strategy was to close off as many side channels as possible to increase the flow in the main river. It was thought that the river's velocity would scour off bottom sediments, deepening the river and decreasing the possibility of flooding.

The 1927 flood proved this to be so wrong that communities threatened by the flood began to create their own levee breaks to relieve the force of the rising river.

Rivers and Harbors Act – 1930

The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1930 authorized the channel project, which called for a navigation channel 9 ft (2.7 m) deep and 400 ft (120 m) wide to accommodate multiple-barge tows.

This was achieved by a series of locks and dams, and by dredging. Twenty-three new locks and dams were built on the upper Mississippi in the 1930s in addition to the three already in existence.

Late 20th century

Until the 1950s, there was no dam below Lock and Dam 26 at Alton, Illinoismarker. Chain of Rocks Lockmarker (Lock and Dam No. 27), which consists of a low-water dam and an long canal, was added in 1953, just below the confluence with the Missouri River, primarily to bypass a series of rock ledges at St. Louis. It also serves to protect the St. Louis city water intakes during times of low water.

U.S. government scientists determined in the 1950s that the Mississippi River was starting to switch to the Atchafalaya River channel because of its much steeper path to the Gulf of Mexico. Eventually the Atchafalaya River would capture the Mississippi River and become its main channel to the Gulf of Mexico, leaving New Orleans on a side channel. As a result, the U.S. Congress authorized a project called the Old River Control Structuremarker, which has prevented the Mississippi River from leaving its current channel that drains into the Gulf via New Orleans.

Because the large scale of high-energy water flow threatened to damage the structure, an auxiliary flow control station was built adjacent to the standing control station. This US$ 300 million project was completed in 1986 by the U.S. Army Corps Of Engineers.

Beginning in the 1970s, the Corps applied hydrological transport models to analyze flood flow and water quality of the Mississippi.

Dam 26 at Alton, Illinoismarker, which had structural problems, was replaced by the Mel Price Lock and Dam in 1990. The original Lock and Dam 26 was demolished.

21st century

Main floodways

The Corps now actively creates floodways to divert periodic water surges into backwater channels and lakes. The main floodways are the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway, the Morganza Spillway, which directs floodwaters down the Atchafalaya River and the Bonnet Carré Spillwaymarker which directs water to Lake Pontchartrainmarker.

The Old River Control Structuremarker also serve as a major floodgates that can be opened to prevent flooding. Some of the pre-1927 strategy is still in use today, the Corps actively cuts the necks of horseshoe bends, allowing the water to move faster and reducing flood heights.

In popular culture


  • William Faulkner uses the Mississippi River and Delta as the setting for many hunts throughout his novels. It has been proposed that in Faulkner's famous story, The Bear, young Ike first begins his transformation into a man, thus relinquishing his birthright to land in Yoknapatawpha County through his realizations found within the woods surrounding the Mississippi River.
  • Many of the works of Mark Twain deal with or take place near the Mississippi River. One of his first major works, Life on the Mississippi, is in part a history of the river, in part a memoir of Twain's experiences on the river, and a collection of tales that either take place on or are associated with the river. The river was noted for the number of bandits which called its islands and shores home, including John Murrell who was a well-known murderer, horse stealer and slave "re-trader". His notoriety was such that author Twain devoted an entire chapter to him in Life on the Mississippi, and Murrell was rumored to have an island headquarters on the river at Island 37. Twain's most famous work, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is largely a journey down the river. The novel works as an episodic meditation on American culture with the river having multiple different meanings including independence, escape, freedom, and adventure.
  • Herman Melville's novel The Confidence-Man portrayed a Canterbury Tales-style group of steamboat passengers whose interlocking stories are told as they travel down the Mississippi River. The novel is written both as cultural satire and a metaphysical treatise. Like Huckleberry Finn, it uses the Mississippi River as a metaphor for the larger aspects of American and human identity that unify the otherwise disparate characters. The river's fluidity is reflected by the often shifting personalities and identities of Melville's "confidence man".


On The Mississippi, music sheet cover for a 1912 song
  • The stage and movie musical Show Boat's central musical piece is the spiritual-influenced ballad "Ol' Man River".
  • The musical Big River is based on the travels of Huckelberry Finn down the river.
  • Ferde Grofé composed a set of movements for symphony orchestra based on the lands the river travels through in his "Mississippi Suite".
  • The Johnny Cash song "Big River" is about the Mississippi River, and about drifting the length of the river to pursue a relationship that fails.
  • "Mississippi Queen" by the rock group Mountain makes reference to the river.
  • The song "When the Levee Breaks", made famous in the version performed by Led Zeppelin on the album Led Zeppelin IV, was composed by Memphis Minnie McCoy in 1929 after the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Another song about the flood was "Louisiana 1927" by Randy Newman for the album Good Old Boys.
  • "Roll On Mississippi" and "Mississippi Cotton Picking Delta Town" are two classics from Charlie Pride that refer to the Mississippi River.
  • In one of his books, DuBose Heyward claims that jazz got its name from a black itinerant musician called Jazbo Brown. Around the turn of the 19th century the semi-legendary Brown is said to have played on boats along the Mississippi River, as suggested in "Jazzbo Brown from Memphis Town", performed by Bessie Smith.

See also



  1. United States Geological Survey Hydrological Unit Code: 08-09-01-00- Lower Mississippi-New Orleans Watershed
  2. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers navigation charts. 2300 miles from Lake Itasca to Head of Passes -- Southwest Pass is 20 miles.
  4. "Treaty of Friendship, Limits, and Navigation" , Avalon project at the Yale Law School
  5. Mississippi River Facts
  6. 2001 US Army Corps of Engineers Upper Mississippi River Navigation Chart
  7. Americas Wetland: Resource Center
  8. Gilfillan, Joseph A. "Minnesota Geographical Names Derived from the Chippewa Language" in The Geological and Natural History Survey of Minnesota: The Fifteenth Annual Report for the Year 1886 (St. Paul: Pioneer Press Company, 1887)
  10. "Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d'Iberville" (bio), webpage from The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VII, 1910, New York: CathEn-07614b.


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