River is the chief river of the second-largest
drainage system on the North American continent, second only to the
Hudson Bay drainage system. The stream is entirely within the
United States (although its drainage basin reaches into Canada), its
source is in northern
Minnesota and it flows generally south for 2,320
miles (3,730 km) to the
River Delta in the Gulf
of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed
drains all or parts of 31 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces
between the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains. The
Mississippi ranks as
the fourth-longest and fifteenth-largest river in the world by
discharge. The river either borders or passes through the states of
Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee,
Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
Americans long lived along the
River and its
tributaries. Most were hunter-gatherers, but some, such as the Mound
Builders, formed prolific agricultural societies. The arrival of
Europeans in the 16th century changed the native way of life as first
explorers, then settlers, ventured into the basin in increasing
numbers. The river served first as a barrier, forming borders for
New Spain, New France, and the early United States, and then as a
vital transportation artery and communications link. In the 19th
century, during the height of the ideology of manifest destiny, the
Mississippi and several western tributaries, most notably the
Missouri, formed pathways for the western expansion of the United
Formed from thick layers of the river's silt deposits, the Mississippi
embayment is one of the most fertile agricultural regions of the
country, which resulted in the river's storied steamboat era. During
the American Civil War, the Mississippi's capture by Union forces
marked a turning point towards victory due to the river's importance
as a route of trade and travel, not least to the Confederacy. Because
of substantial growth of cities and the larger ships and barges that
supplanted riverboats, the first decades of the 20th century saw the
construction of massive engineering works such as levees, locks and
dams, often built in combination.
Since modern development of the basin began, the
Mississippi has also
seen its share of pollution and environmental problems – most
notably large volumes of agricultural runoff, which has led to the
Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico dead zone off the Delta. In recent years, the river has
shown a steady shift towards the Atchafalaya
River channel in the
Delta; a course change would be an economic disaster for the port city
of New Orleans.
1 Name and significance
2 Physical geography
2.1.1 Upper Mississippi
2.1.2 Middle Mississippi
2.1.3 Lower Mississippi
2.4 Course changes
2.4.1 Prehistoric courses
2.4.2 Historic course changes
2.5 New Madrid Seismic Zone
4 Cultural geography
4.1 State boundaries
4.2 Communities along the river
4.3 Bridge crossings
5 Navigation and flood control
5.1 19th century
5.2 20th century
5.3 21st century
6.1 Native Americans
6.2 European exploration
6.5 Civil War
6.6 20th and 21st centuries
8.2 Other fauna
8.3 Introduced species
9 Cultural references
10 See also
12 Further reading
13 External links
Name and significance
Mississippi itself comes from Messipi, the French rendering
of the Anishinaabe (
Ojibwe or Algonquin) name for the river,
Misi-ziibi (Great River).
In the 18th century, the river was the primary western boundary of the
young United States, and since the country's expansion westward, the
River has been widely considered a convenient if
approximate dividing line between the Eastern, Southern, and
Midwestern United States, and the Western United States. This is
exemplified by the
Gateway Arch in
St. Louis and the phrase
"Trans-Mississippi" as used in the name of the Trans-Mississippi
It is common to qualify a regionally superlative landmark in relation
to it, such as "the highest peak east of the Mississippi" or "the
oldest city west of the Mississippi". The FCC also uses it as the
dividing line for broadcast callsigns, which begin with W to the east
and K to the west, mixing together in media markets along the river.
The geographical setting of the
considerations of the course of the river itself, its watershed, its
outflow, its prehistoric and historic course changes, and
possibilities of future course changes. The New Madrid Seismic Zone
along the river is also noteworthy. These various basic geographical
aspects of the river in turn underlie its human history and present
uses of the waterway and its adjacent lands.
River can be divided into three sections: the Upper
Mississippi, the river from its headwaters to the confluence with the
Missouri River; the Middle Mississippi, which is downriver from the
Missouri to the Ohio River; and the Lower Mississippi, which flows
from the Ohio to the Gulf of Mexico.
The beginning of the
Lake Itasca (2004)
Mississippi head of navigation, St. Anthony Falls
Confluence of the
Mississippi Rivers, viewed from
Wyalusing State Park
Wyalusing State Park in Wisconsin
Mississippi runs from its headwaters to its confluence with
River at St. Louis, Missouri. It is divided into two
The headwaters, 493 miles (793 km) from the source to Saint
Anthony Falls in Minneapolis, Minnesota; and
A navigable channel, formed by a series of man-made lakes between
Minneapolis and St. Louis, Missouri, some 664 miles (1,069 km).
The source of the Upper
Mississippi branch is traditionally accepted
as Lake Itasca, 1,475 feet (450 m) above sea level in Itasca
State Park in Clearwater County, Minnesota. The name "Itasca" was
chosen to designate the "true head" of the
River as 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). However, the lake is in turn fed by a number of smaller
From its origin at
Lake Itasca to St. Louis, Missouri, the waterway's
flow is moderated by 43 dams. Fourteen of these dams are located above
Minneapolis 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 improve 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, Minnesota, and continuing throughout the upper and lower river,
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 head of navigation on the
Mississippi is the Coon Rapids
Coon Rapids, Minnesota. Before it was built in 1913, steamboats could
occasionally go upstream as far as Saint Cloud, Minnesota, depending
on river conditions.
The uppermost lock and dam on the Upper
River is the Upper
St. Anthony Falls Lock and
Dam in Minneapolis. Above the dam, the
river's elevation is 799 feet (244 m). Below the dam, the river's
elevation is 750 feet (230 m). This 49-foot (15 m) drop is
the largest of all the
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 Falls
Saint Anthony Falls 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.
After the completion of the St. Anthony Falls Lock and
Dam in 1963,
the river's head of navigation moved upstream, to the Coon Rapids Dam.
However, the Locks were closed in 2015 to control the spread of
invasive Asian carp, making
Minneapolis once again the site of the
head of navigation of the river.
Mississippi has a number of natural and artificial lakes,
with its widest point being Lake Winnibigoshish, near Grand Rapids,
Minnesota, over 11 miles (18 km) across. Lake Onalaska, created
by Lock and
Dam No. 7, near La Crosse, Wisconsin, is more than 4 miles
(6.4 km) wide. Lake Pepin, a natural lake formed behind the delta
of the Chippewa
Wisconsin as it enters the Upper Mississippi,
is more than 2 miles (3.2 km) wide.
By the time the Upper
Mississippi reaches Saint Paul, Minnesota, below
Dam No. 1, it has dropped more than half its original
elevation and is 687 feet (209 m) 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
River is joined by the
River at Fort
Snelling in the Twin Cities; the St. Croix
River near Prescott,
Wisconsin; the Cannon
River near Red Wing, Minnesota; the Zumbro River
at Wabasha, Minnesota; the Black, La Crosse, and Root rivers in La
Crosse, Wisconsin; the
River at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin;
River at the Quad Cities; the
River near Wapello, Iowa;
River south of Burlington, Iowa; and the
Des Moines River
Des Moines River at
Keokuk, Iowa. Other major tributaries of the Upper
River in Minnesota, the Chippewa
River in Wisconsin, the
River and the Wapsipinicon
River in Iowa, and the Illinois
River in Illinois.
Mississippi is largely a multi-thread stream with many bars
and islands. From its confluence with the St. Croix
to Dubuque, Iowa, the river is entrenched, with high bedrock bluffs
lying on either side. The height of these bluffs decreases to the
south of Dubuque, though they are still significant through Savanna,
Illinois. This topography contrasts strongly with the Lower
Mississippi, which is a meandering river in a broad, flat area, only
rarely flowing alongside a bluff (as at Vicksburg, Mississippi).
The confluence of the
Mississippi (left) and Ohio (right) rivers at
Cairo, Illinois, the demarcation between the Middle and the Lower
River is known as the Middle
Mississippi from the
Mississippi River's confluence with the
River at St.
Louis, Missouri, for 190 miles (310 km) to its confluence with
Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois.
Mississippi is relatively free-flowing. From
St. Louis to
Ohio River confluence, the Middle
Mississippi falls 220 feet
(67 m) over 180 miles (290 km) for an average rate of 1.2
feet per mile (23 cm/km). At its confluence with the Ohio River,
Mississippi is 315 feet (96 m) above sea level. Apart
Missouri and Meramec rivers of
Missouri and the Kaskaskia
River of Illinois, no major tributaries enter the Middle Mississippi
River near New Orleans
River is called the Lower
River from its
confluence with the
Ohio River to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico, a
distance of about 1,000 miles (1,600 km). At the confluence of
the Ohio and the Middle Mississippi, the long-term mean discharge of
the Ohio at Cairo,
Illinois is 281,500 cubic feet per second (7,970
cubic metres per second), while the long-term mean discharge of
Mississippi at Thebes,
Illinois (just upriver from Cairo) is
208,200 cu ft/s (5,900 m3/s). Thus, by volume, the
main branch of the
River system at Cairo can be considered
to be the
Ohio River (and the Allegheny
River further upstream),
rather than the Middle Mississippi.
In addition to the Ohio River, the major tributaries of the Lower
River are the White River, flowing in at the White River
National Wildlife Refuge in east central Arkansas; the
Arkansas Post; the Big Black
Mississippi; and the Yazoo River, meeting the
Vicksburg, Mississippi. The widest point of the
in the Lower
Mississippi portion where it exceeds 1 mile (1.6 km)
in width in several places.
Deliberate water diversion at the Old
River Control Structure in
Louisiana allows the Atchafalaya
Louisiana to be a major
distributary of the
Mississippi River, with 30% of the Mississippi
flowing to the
Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico by this route, rather than continuing
down the Mississippi's current channel past
Baton Rouge and New
Orleans on a longer route to the Gulf. Although the Red
River is commonly thought to be a tributary, it is actually not,
because its water flows separately into the
Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico through the
Map of the
An animation of the flows along the rivers of the Mississippi
See also: List of drainage basins by area
River has the world's fourth-largest drainage basin
("watershed" or "catchment"). The basin covers more than 1,245,000
square miles (3,220,000 km2), including all or parts of 31
U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. The drainage basin empties
into the Gulf of Mexico, part of the Atlantic Ocean. The total
catchment of the
River covers nearly 40% of the landmass
of the continental United States. The highest point within the
watershed is also the highest point of the Rocky Mountains, Mount
Elbert at 14,440 feet (4,400 m).
NASA MODIS images showing the outflow of fresh water from
Mississippi (arrows) into the
Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico (2004)
In the United States, the
River drains the majority of the
area between the crest of the
Rocky Mountains and the crest of the
Appalachian Mountains, except for various regions drained to Hudson
Bay by the Red
River of the North; to the Atlantic Ocean by the Great
Lakes and the Saint Lawrence River; and to the
Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico by the
Rio Grande, the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers, the Chattahoochee and
Appalachicola rivers, and various smaller coastal waterways along the
River empties into the
Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico about 100 miles
(160 km) downstream from New Orleans. Measurements of the length
Lake Itasca to the
Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico vary
somewhat, but the
United States Geological Survey's number is 2,320
miles (3,730 km). The retention time from
Lake Itasca to the Gulf
is typically about 90 days.
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 fifth-largest river
in the world by volume, this flow is a small 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 8% the flow of the Amazon River.
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. These
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 Florida, and entered the Gulf
River water rounded the tip of Florida and
traveled up the southeast coast to the latitude of Georgia before
finally mixing in so thoroughly with the ocean that it could no longer
be detected by MODIS.
Before 1900, the
River transported an estimated
400 million metric tons of sediment per year from the interior of
United States to coastal
Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico. During
the last two decades, this number was only 145 million metric
tons per year. The reduction in sediment transported down the
River is the result of engineering modification of the
Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio rivers and their tributaries by dams,
meander cutoffs, river-training structures, and bank revetments and
soil erosion control programs in the areas drained by them.
Over geologic time, the
River has experienced numerous
large and small changes to its main course, as well as additions,
deletions, and other changes among its numerous tributaries, and the
River has used different pathways as its main
channel to the
Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico across the delta region.
Through a natural process known as avulsion or delta switching, the
River has shifted its final course to the mouth of
Gulf of Mexico
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
Louisiana to advance
toward the Gulf from 15 to 50 miles (24 to 80 km). The currently
active delta lobe is called the Birdfoot Delta, after its shape, or
the Balize Delta, after La Balize, Louisiana, the first French
settlement at the mouth of the Mississippi.
The current form of the
River basin was largely shaped by
Laurentide Ice Sheet
Laurentide Ice Sheet of the most recent Ice Age. The southernmost
extent of this enormous glaciation extended well into the present-day
United States and
Mississippi basin. When the ice sheet began to
recede, hundreds of feet of rich sediment were deposited, creating the
flat and fertile landscape of the
Mississippi Valley. During the melt,
giant glacial rivers found drainage paths into the Mississippi
watershed, creating such features as the
Minnesota River, James River,
River valleys. When the ice sheet completely retreated, many
of these "temporary" rivers found paths to
Hudson Bay or the Arctic
Ocean, leaving the
Mississippi Basin with many features "oversized"
for the existing rivers to have carved in the same time period.
Ice sheets during the Illinoian Stage 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 Canal roughly follows the
ancient channel of the
Mississippi downstream from Rock Island to
Hennepin, Illinois. South of Hennepin, to Alton, Illinois, the current
River follows the ancient channel used by the Mississippi
River before the Illinoian Stage.
View along the former riverbed at the Tennessee/
Arkansas state line
Timeline of outflow course changes
c. 5000 BC: The last
Ice Age ended; world sea level became what it is
c. 2500 BC:
Bayou Teche became the main course of the Mississippi.
c. 800 BC: The
Mississippi diverted further east.
c. 200 AD:
Bayou Lafourche became the main course of the Mississippi.
c. 1000 AD: The Mississippi's present course took over.
Before c. 1400 AD: The Red
River of the South flowed parallel to the
Mississippi to the sea
Turnbull's Bend in the lower
Mississippi extended so far
west that it captured the Red
River of the South. The Red
the captured section became the Atchafalaya River.
Captain Henry M. Shreve
Captain Henry M. Shreve dug a new short course for the
Mississippi through the neck of Turnbull's Bend.
1833 to November 1873: The
Great Raft (a huge logjam in the
Atchafalaya River) was cleared. The Atchafalaya started to capture the
Mississippi and to become its new main lower course.
1963: The Old
River Control Structure was completed, controlling how
Mississippi water entered the Atchafalaya.
Cahokia's rise and fall linked to river flooding (article in Popular
Historic course changes
In March 1876, the
Mississippi suddenly changed course near the
settlement of Reverie, Tennessee, leaving a small part of Tipton
County, Tennessee, attached to
Arkansas and separated from the rest of
Tennessee by the new river channel. Since this event was an avulsion,
rather than the effect of incremental erosion and deposition, the
state line still follows the old channel.
The town of Kaskaskia,
Illinois once stood on a peninsula at the
confluence of the
Mississippi and Kaskaskia (Okaw) Rivers. Founded as
a French colonial community, it later became the capital of the
Illinois Territory and was the first state capital of
1819. Beginning in 1844, successive flooding caused the Mississippi
River to slowly encroach east. A major flood in 1881 caused it to
overtake the lower 10 miles of the Kaskaskia River, forming a new
Mississippi channel and cutting off the town from the rest of the
state. Later flooding destroyed most of the remaining town, including
the original State House. Today, the remaining 2,300 acre island and
community of 14 residents is known as an enclave of
Illinois and is
accessible only from the
New Madrid Seismic Zone
The New Madrid Seismic Zone, along the
River near New
Madrid, Missouri, between
Memphis and St. Louis, is related to an
aulacogen (failed rift) that formed at the same time as the Gulf of
Mexico. This area is still quite active seismically. Four great
earthquakes in 1811 and 1812, estimated at approximately 8 on the
Richter magnitude scale, had tremendous local effects in the then
sparsely settled area, and were felt in many other places in the
midwestern and eastern U.S. These earthquakes created
Reelfoot Lake in
Tennessee from the altered landscape near the river.
When measured from its traditional source at Lake Itasca, the
Mississippi has a length of 2,320 miles (3,730 km). When measured from
its longest stream source (most distant source from the sea), Brower's
Spring in Montana, the source of the
Missouri River. it has a length
of 3,710 miles, making it the fourth longest river in the world after
the Nile, Amazon, and Yangtze. When measured by the largest stream
source (by water volume), the Ohio River, by extension the Allegheny
River, would be the source, and the
Mississippi would begin in
River runs through or along 10 states, from Minnesota
to Louisiana, and is used to define portions of these states' borders,
with Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and
the east side of the river, and Iowa, Missouri, and
Arkansas along its
west side. Substantial parts of both
Louisiana are on
either side of the river, although the
Mississippi defines part of the
boundary of each of these states.
In all of these cases, the middle of the riverbed at the time the
borders were established was used as the line to define the borders
between adjacent states. In various areas, the river has since
shifted, but the state borders have not changed, still following the
former bed of the
River as of their establishment, leaving
several small isolated areas of one state across the new river
channel, contiguous with the adjacent state. Also, due to a meander in
the river, a small part of western
Kentucky is contiguous with
Tennessee, but isolated from the rest of its state.
Lake Pepin, the widest naturally occurring part of the Mississippi, is
part of the Minnesota–
River in downtown Baton Rouge
Communities along the river
Quad Cities, IA-IL
St. Cloud, MN
La Crosse, WI
Cape Girardeau–Jackson MO-IL
In Minnesota, the
River runs through the Twin Cities
Community of boathouses on the
River in Winona, MN (2006)
River at the Chain of Rocks just north of St. Louis
Many of the communities along the
River are listed below;
most have either historic significance or cultural lore connecting
them to the river. They are sequenced from the source of the river to
Grand Rapids, Minnesota
Fort Ripley, Minnesota
Little Falls, Minnesota
St. Cloud, Minnesota
Coon Rapids, Minnesota
Brooklyn Park, Minnesota
Brooklyn Center, Minnesota
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Prairie Island, Minnesota
Diamond Bluff, Wisconsin
Red Wing, Minnesota
Hager City, Wisconsin
Maiden Rock, Wisconsin
Lake City, Minnesota
Maple Springs, Minnesota
Camp Lacupolis, Minnesota
Reads Landing, Minnesota
Buffalo City, Wisconsin
Fountain City, Wisconsin
La Crescent, Minnesota
La Crosse, Wisconsin
De Soto, Wisconsin
Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin
Port Byron, Illinois
Rapids City, Illinois
East Moline, Illinois
Rock Island, Illinois
New Boston, Illinois
Dallas City, Illinois
Fort Madison, Iowa
Portage Des Sioux, Missouri
St. Louis, Missouri
Ste. Genevieve, Missouri
Grand Tower, Illinois
Cape Girardeau, Missouri
New Madrid, Missouri
West Memphis, Arkansas
Helena-West Helena, Arkansas
Arkansas City, Arkansas
St. Francisville, Louisiana
New Roads, Louisiana
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
New Orleans, Louisiana
See also: List of crossings of the Upper
River and List of
crossings of the Lower
The Stone Arch Bridge, the Third Avenue Bridge and the Hennepin Avenue
The road crossing highest on the Upper
Mississippi is a simple steel
culvert, through which the river (locally named "Nicolet Creek") flows
north from Lake Nicolet under "Wilderness Road" to the West Arm of
Lake Itasca, within Itasca State Park.
The earliest bridge across the
River was built in 1855. It
spanned the river in Minneapolis,
Minnesota where the current Hennepin
Avenue Bridge is located. No highway or railroad tunnels cross
The first railroad bridge across the
Mississippi was built in 1856. It
spanned the river between the
Rock Island Arsenal
Rock Island Arsenal in
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, setting it on fire. Legal proceedings ensued, with
Abraham Lincoln defending the railroad. The lawsuit went to the
Supreme Court of the United States, which ruled in favor of the
Below is a general overview of selected
Mississippi bridges which have
notable engineering or landmark significance, with their cities or
locations. They are sequenced from the Upper Mississippi's source to
the Lower Mississippi's mouth.
Stone Arch Bridge – Former Great Northern Railway (now
pedestrian) bridge at
Saint Anthony Falls
Saint Anthony Falls connecting downtown
Minneapolis with the historic Marcy-Holmes neighborhood.
Saint Anthony Falls
Saint Anthony Falls Bridge – In Minneapolis, opened in
September 2008, replacing the I-35W
River bridge which had
collapsed catastrophically on August 1, 2007, killing 13 and injuring
Eisenhower Bridge (
Mississippi River) – In Red Wing, Minnesota,
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower in November 1960.
River Bridge – Connects La Crosse, Wisconsin,
and Winona County, Minnesota, located just south of Lock and
Black Hawk Bridge – Connects Lansing in Allamakee County, Iowa
and rural Crawford County, Wisconsin; locally referred to as the
Lansing Bridge and documented in the Historic American Engineering
Wisconsin Bridge (2004)
Wisconsin Bridge – Connects Dubuque, Iowa, and Grant
Julien Dubuque Bridge – Joins the cities of Dubuque, Iowa, and
East Dubuque, Illinois; listed in the National Register of Historic
Savanna-Sabula Bridge – A truss bridge and causeway connecting
the city of Savanna, Illinois, and the island city of Sabula, Iowa.
The bridge carries
U.S. Highway 52
U.S. Highway 52 over the river, and is the terminus
Iowa Highway 64 and
Illinois Route 64. Added to the National
Register of Historic Places in 1999.
Fred Schwengel Memorial Bridge – A 4-lane steel girder bridge
Interstate 80 and connects LeClaire, Iowa, and Rapids
City, Illinois. Completed in 1966.
I-74 Bridge – Connects Bettendorf, Iowa, and Moline, Illinois;
originally known as the Iowa-
Illinois Memorial Bridge.
Government Bridge – Connects Rock Island,
Davenport, Iowa, adjacent to Lock and
Dam No. 15; the fourth crossing
in this vicinity, built in 1896.
Rock Island Centennial Bridge – Connects Rock Island, Illinois,
and Davenport, Iowa; opened in 1940.
Sergeant John F. Baker, Jr. Bridge – Connects Rock Island,
Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa; opened in 1973.
Norbert F. Beckey bridge at Muscatine, Iowa, with
Norbert F. Beckey Bridge – Connects Muscatine, Iowa, and Rock
Island County, Illinois; became first U.S. bridge to be illuminated
with light-emitting diode (LED) lights decoratively illuminating the
facade of the bridge.
River Bridge – A cable-stayed bridge connecting
Burlington, Iowa, to Gulf Port, Illinois.
Fort Madison Toll Bridge – Connects Fort Madison, Iowa, and
unincorporated Niota, Illinois; also known as the Santa Fe Swing Span
Bridge; at the time of its construction the longest and heaviest
electrified swing span on the
Mississippi River. Listed in the
National Register of Historic Places
National Register of Historic Places since 1999.
Keokuk–Hamilton Bridge – Connects Keokuk,
Iowa and Hamilton,
Illinois; opened in 1985 replacing an older bridge which is still in
use as a railroad bridge.
Bayview Bridge – A cable-stayed bridge bringing westbound U.S.
Highway 24 over the river, connecting the cities of West Quincy,
Missouri, and Quincy, Illinois.
Quincy Memorial Bridge – Connects the cities of West Quincy,
Missouri, and Quincy, Illinois, carrying eastbound U.S. 24, the older
of these two U.S. 24 bridges.
Clark Bridge – A cable-stayed bridge connecting West Alton,
Missouri, and Alton, Illinois, also known as the Super Bridge as the
result of an appearance on the PBS program, Nova; built in 1994,
U.S. Route 67
U.S. Route 67 across the river. This is the northernmost
river crossing in the
St. Louis metropolitan area, replacing the Old
Clark Bridge, a truss bridge built in 1928, named after explorer
Chain of Rocks Bridge
Chain of Rocks Bridge at St. Louis, Missouri
Chain of Rocks Bridge – Located on the northern edge of St.
Louis, notable for a 22-degree bend occurring at the middle of the
crossing, necessary for navigation on the river; formerly used by U.S.
Route 66 to cross the Mississippi. Replaced for road traffic in 1966
by a nearby pair of new bridges; now a pedestrian bridge.
Eads Bridge – A combined road and railway bridge, connecting
St. Louis and East St. Louis, Illinois. When completed in 1874, it was
the longest arch bridge in the world, with an overall length of 6,442
feet (1,964 m). The three ribbed steel arch spans were considered
daring, as was the use of steel as a primary structural material; it
was the first such use of true steel in a major bridge project.
Chester Bridge – A truss bridge connecting Route 51 in Missouri
Illinois Route 150, between Perryville, Missouri, and Chester,
Illinois. The bridge can be seen in the beginning of the 1967 film In
the Heat of the Night. In the 1940s, the main span was destroyed by a
Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge—Connecting Cape Girardeau,
East Cape Girardeau, Illinois, completed in 2003 and illuminated by
Caruthersville Bridge – A single tower cantilever bridge
carrying Interstate 155 and
U.S. Route 412
U.S. Route 412 across the Mississippi
River between Caruthersville,
Missouri and Dyersburg, Tennessee.
Hernando de Soto Bridge
Hernando de Soto Bridge in Memphis,
Hernando de Soto
Hernando de Soto Bridge – A through arch bridge carrying
Interstate 40 across the
Mississippi between West Memphis, Arkansas,
and Memphis, Tennessee.
Harahan Bridge – A cantilevered through truss bridge, carrying
two rail lines of the
Union Pacific Railroad
Union Pacific Railroad across the river between
West Memphis, Arkansas, and Memphis, Tennessee.
Frisco Bridge – A cantilevered through truss bridge, carrying a
rail line across the river between West Memphis, Arkansas, and
Memphis, Tennessee, previously known as the
Memphis Bridge. When it
opened on May 12, 1892, it was the first crossing of the Lower
Mississippi and the longest span in the U.S. Listed as a Historic
Civil Engineering Landmark.
Arkansas Bridge – A cantilevered through truss
Interstate 55 between
Memphis and West Memphis;
listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Old Vicksburg Bridge
John James Audubon Bridge – The second-longest cable-stayed
bridge in the Western Hemisphere; connects Pointe Coupee and West
Feliciana Parishes in Louisiana. It is the only crossing between Baton
Rouge and Natchez. This bridge was opened a month ahead of schedule in
May 2011, due to the 2011 floods.
Huey P. Long Bridge – A truss cantilever bridge carrying US 190
(Airline Highway) and one rail line between East
Baton Rouge and West
Baton Rouge Parishes in Louisiana.
Horace Wilkinson Bridge – A cantilevered through truss bridge,
carrying six lanes of
Interstate 10 between
Baton Rouge and Port Allen
in Louisiana. It is the highest bridge over the
Hale Boggs Memorial Bridge
Huey P. Long Bridge – In Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, the first
River span built in Louisiana.
Crescent City Connection – Connects the east and west banks of
New Orleans, Louisiana; the fifth-longest cantilever bridge in the
Navigation and flood control
Main article: List of locks and dams of the Upper
Towboat and barges at Memphis, Tennessee
Ships on the lower part of the Mississippi
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
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
Appalachian 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 with 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 Queen and the River
Queen for instance.
Oil tanker on the Lower
Mississippi near the Port of New Orleans
Barge on the Lower
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
9-foot-deep (2.7 m) 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.
On the lower Mississippi, from
Baton Rouge to the mouth of the
Mississippi, the navigation depth is 45 feet (14 m), allowing
container ships and cruise ships to dock at the Port of New Orleans
and bulk cargo ships shorter than 150-foot (46 m) air draft that
fit under the Huey P. Long Bridge to traverse the
Mississippi to Baton
Rouge. There is a feasibility study to dredge this portion of the
river to 50 feet (15 m) to allow
New Panamax ship depths.
Dam No. 11, north of Dubuque,
In 1829, there were surveys of the two major obstacles on the upper
Des Moines Rapids
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 miles (18 km) long and just above the mouth of the
Des Moines River
Des Moines River at Keokuk, Iowa. The Rock Island Rapids were between
Rock Island and Moline, Illinois. Both rapids were considered
In 1848, the
Illinois and Michigan Canal was built to connect the
Lake Michigan via the
River near Peru,
Illinois. The canal allowed shipping between these important
waterways. In 1900, the canal was replaced by the Chicago Sanitary and
Ship Canal. The second canal, in addition to shipping, also allowed
Chicago to address specific health issues (typhoid fever, cholera and
other waterborne diseases) by sending its waste down the
Mississippi river systems rather than polluting its water source of
The Corps of Engineers recommended the excavation of a 5-foot-deep
(1.5 m) channel at the Des Moines Rapids, but work did not begin
until after Lieutenant
Robert E. Lee
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 4.5-foot-deep
(1.4 m) 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.
To improve navigation between St. Paul, Minnesota, and Prairie du
Chien, Wisconsin, the Corps constructed several dams on lakes in the
headwaters area, including
Lake Winnibigoshish 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.
Dam No. 2, near Hastings,
Dam No. 15, is the largest roller dam in the world Davenport,
Iowa; Rock Island, Illinois. (1990)
In 1907, Congress authorized a 6-foot-deep (1.8 m) channel
project on the Mississippi, which was not complete when it was
abandoned in the late 1920s in favor of the 9-foot-deep (2.7 m)
In 1913, construction was complete on Lock and
Dam No. 19 at Keokuk,
Iowa, the first dam below St. Anthony Falls. Built by a private power
Union Electric Company
Union Electric Company of St. Louis) to generate electricity
(originally for streetcars in St. Louis), 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 No. 1 was
completed in Minneapolis,
Minnesota in 1917. Lock and
Dam No. 2, near
Hastings, Minnesota, was completed in 1930.
Before the Great
Mississippi Flood of 1927, the Corps's 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.
The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1930 authorized the 9-foot (2.7 m)
channel project, which called for a navigation channel 9 feet
(2.7 m) feet deep and 400 feet (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
Formation of the Atchafalaya
River and construction of the Old River
Project design flood
Project design flood flow capacity for the
Mississippi river in
thousands of cubic feet per second.
Until the 1950s, there was no dam below Lock and
Dam 26 at Alton,
Chain of Rocks Lock
Chain of Rocks Lock (Lock and
Dam No. 27), which consists of
a low-water dam and an 8.4-mile-long (13.5 km) 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
St. Louis city water intakes during times of low water.
U.S. government scientists determined in the 1950s that the
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
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 Structure, which has prevented the
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 $300 million project was
completed in 1986 by the 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, Illinois, which
had structural problems, was replaced by the Mel Price Lock and
1990. The original Lock and
Dam 26 was demolished.
A low-water dam deepens the pool above the
Chain of Rocks Lock
Chain of Rocks Lock near
St. Louis (2006)
Soldiers of the
Missouri Army National Guard sandbag the
Clarksville, Missouri, June 2008, following flooding.
The Corps now actively creates and maintains spillways and floodways
to divert periodic water surges into backwater channels and lakes, as
well as route part of the Mississippi's flow into the Atchafalaya
Basin and from there to the Gulf of Mexico, bypassing
Baton Rouge and
New Orleans. The main structures are the Birds Point-New Madrid
Floodway in Missouri; the Old
River Control Structure and the Morganza
Spillway in Louisiana, which direct excess water down the west and
east sides (respectively) of the Atchafalaya River; and the Bonnet
Carré Spillway, also in Louisiana, which directs floodwaters to Lake
Pontchartrain (see diagram). Some experts blame urban sprawl for
increases in both the risk and frequency of flooding on the
Some of the pre-1927 strategy is still in use today, with the Corps
actively cutting the necks of horseshoe bends, allowing the water to
move faster and reducing flood heights.
Main articles: Woodland period, Hopewell tradition, and Mississippian
Monks Mound, a platform mound at the site of the Mississippian city of
The area of the
River basin was first settled by hunting
and gathering Native American peoples and is considered one of the few
independent centers of plant domestication in human history.
Evidence of early cultivation of sunflower, a goosefoot, a marsh elder
and an indigenous squash dates to the 4th millennium BCE. The
lifestyle gradually became more settled after around 1000 BCE during
what is now called the Woodland period, with increasing evidence of
shelter construction, pottery, weaving and other practices. A network
of trade routes referred to as the Hopewell interaction sphere was
active along the waterways between about 200 and 500 CE, spreading
common cultural practices over the entire area between the Gulf of
Mexico and the Great Lakes. A period of more isolated communities
followed, and agriculture introduced from
Mesoamerica based on the
Three Sisters (maize, beans and squash) gradually came to dominate.
After around 800 CE there arose an advanced agricultural society today
referred to as the Mississippian culture, with evidence of highly
stratified complex chiefdoms and large population centers. The most
prominent of these, now called Cahokia, was occupied between about 600
and 1400 CE and at its peak numbered between 8,000 and 40,000
inhabitants, larger than London, England of that time. At the time of
first contact with Europeans,
Cahokia and many other Mississippian
cities had dispersed, and archaeological finds attest to increased
Modern American Indian nations inhabiting the
include Cheyenne, Sioux, Ojibwe, Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk, Fox, Kickapoo,
Quapaw and Chickasaw.
Mississippi itself comes from Messipi, the French rendering
of the Anishinaabe (
Ojibwe or Algonquin) name for the river,
Misi-ziibi (Great River). The
Ojibwe called Lake Itasca
Omashkoozo-zaaga'igan (Elk Lake) and the river flowing out of it
Omashkoozo-ziibi (Elk River). After flowing into Lake Bemidji, the
Ojibwe called the river Bemijigamaag-ziibi (
River from the Traversing
Lake). After flowing into Cass Lake, the name of the river changes to
Gaa-miskwaawaakokaag-ziibi (Red Cedar River) and then out of Lake
Winnibigoshish as Wiinibiigoonzhish-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 Band of Chippewa Indians, known as the
Gichi-ziibiwininiwag, are named after the stretch of the Mississippi
River known as the Gichi-ziibi. The Cheyenne, one of the earliest
inhabitants of the upper
Mississippi River, called it the
Máʼxe-éʼometaaʼe (Big Greasy River) in the
Cheyenne language. The
Arapaho name for the river is Beesniicíe. The Pawnee name is
Mississippi was spelled Mississipi or Missisipi during French
Louisiana and was also known as the Rivière Saint-Louis.
Discovery of the
Mississippi by De Soto A.D. 1541 by William Henry
Powell depicts Hernando De Soto and Spanish
Conquistadores seeing the
River for the first time.
Ca. 1681 map of Marquette and Jolliet's 1673 expedition.
Route of the Marquette-Jolliete Expedition of 1673
On May 8, 1541, Spanish explorer
Hernando de Soto
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
Louis Jolliet and
Jacques Marquette began exploring
Mississippi in the 17th century. Marquette traveled with a Sioux
Indian who named it Ne Tongo ("Big river" in
Sioux language) in 1673.
Marquette proposed calling it the
River of the Immaculate Conception.
Louis Jolliet explored the
Mississippi Valley in the 17th
century, natives guided him to a quicker way to return to French
Canada via the
Illinois River. When he found the Chicago Portage, he
remarked that a canal of "only half a league" (less than 2 miles
(3.2 km), 3 km) would join the
Mississippi and the Great
Lakes. In 1848, the continental divide separating the waters of
Great Lakes and the
Mississippi Valley was breached by the
Illinois and Michigan canal via the Chicago River. This both
accelerated the development, and forever changed the ecology of the
Mississippi Valley and the Great Lakes.
René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle
René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle and Henri de Tonti
claimed the entire
River Valley for France, calling the
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 Balise
there to control passage.
In 1718, about 100 miles (160 km) 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 Mobile, the capital of French
Louisiana at the time.
See also: Flood of 1851
A Home on the
Following Britain's victory in the Seven Years War the Mississippi
became the border between the British and Spanish Empires. The Treaty
of Paris (1763) gave Great Britain rights to all land east of the
Mississippi and Spain rights to land west of the Mississippi. Spain
also ceded Florida to Britain to regain Cuba, which the British
occupied during the war. Britain then divided the territory into East
and West Florida.
Article 8 of the
Treaty of Paris (1783)
Treaty of Paris (1783) 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 Bahamas, which Spain had occupied during the war. In 1800,
under duress from Napoleon of France, Spain ceded an undefined portion
West Florida to France. When France then sold the Louisiana
Territory to the U.S. in 1803, a dispute arose again between Spain and
the U.S. on which parts of
West Florida exactly had Spain ceded to
France, which would in turn decide which parts of
West Florida were
now U.S. property versus Spanish property. These aspirations ended
when Spain was pressured into signing
Pinckney's Treaty in 1795.
France reacquired 'Louisiana' from Spain in the secret Treaty of San
Ildefonso in 1800. The
United States then secured effective control of
the river when it bought the
Louisiana Territory from France in the
Louisiana Purchase of 1803. The last serious European challenge to
U.S. control of the river came at the conclusion of
War of 1812
War of 1812 when
British forces mounted an attack on
New Orleans – the attack was
repulsed by an American army under the command of General Andrew
In the Treaty of 1818, the U.S. and Great Britain agreed to fix the
border running from the
Lake of the Woods
Lake of the Woods to the
Rocky Mountains along
the 49th parallel north. In effect, the U.S. ceded the northwestern
extremity of the
Mississippi basin to the British in exchange for the
southern portion of the Red
So many settlers traveled westward through the
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.
Shifting sand bars made early navigation difficult.
The colonization of the area was barely slowed by the three
earthquakes in 1811 and 1812, estimated at approximately 8 on the
Richter magnitude scale, that were centered near New Madrid, Missouri.
Main article: Steamboats of the Mississippi
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 then 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 Lower Mississippi
Ohio River to
New Orleans was the
New Orleans in December
1811. Its maiden voyage occurred during the series of New Madrid
earthquakes in 1811–12. The Upper
Mississippi was treacherous,
unpredictable and to make traveling worse, the area was not properly
mapped out or surveyed. Until the 1840s only two trips a year to the
Twin Cities landings were made by steamboats which suggests it was not
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
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
Italian explorer Giacomo Beltrami, wrote about his journey on the
Virginia, which was the first steam boat to make it to Fort St.
Anthony in Minnesota. He referred to his voyage as a promenade that
was once a journey on the Mississippi. The steamboat era changed the
economic and political life of the Mississippi, as well as the nature
of travel itself. The
Mississippi was completely changed by the
steamboat era as it transformed into a flourishing tourists trade.
Battle of Vicksburg (ca. 1888)
River from Eunice, Arkansas, a ghost town. Eunice was
destroyed by gunboats during the Civil War.
Control of the river was a strategic objective of both sides in the
American Civil War. In 1862 Union forces coming down the river
successfully cleared Confederate defenses at Island Number 10 and
Memphis, Tennessee, while Naval forces coming upriver from the Gulf of
Mexico captured New Orleans, Louisiana. The remaining major
Confederate stronghold was on the heights overlooking the river at
Vicksburg, Mississippi, and the Union's
Vicksburg Campaign (December
1862 to July 1863), and the fall of Port Hudson, completed control of
Mississippi River. The Union victory ending the Siege of
Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, was pivotal to the Union's final victory of
the Civil War.
20th and 21st centuries
See also: Great
Mississippi Flood of 1927, Great Flood of 1951, and
Missouri Rivers Flood of 1993
The "Big Freeze" of 1918–19 blocked river traffic north of Memphis,
Tennessee, preventing transportation of coal from southern Illinois.
This resulted in widespread shortages, high prices, and rationing of
coal in January and February.
In the spring of 1927, the river broke out of its banks in 145 places,
during the Great
Mississippi Flood of 1927 and inundated
27,000 sq mi (70,000 km2) to a depth of up to 30 feet
In 1962 and 1963, industrial accidents spilled 3.5 million US
gallons (13,000,000 L) of soybean oil into the
Minnesota rivers. The oil covered the
River from St. Paul
to Lake Pepin, creating an ecological disaster and a demand to control
On October 20, 1976, the automobile ferry, MV George Prince, was
struck by a ship traveling upstream as the ferry attempted to cross
from Destrehan, Louisiana, to Luling, Louisiana. Seventy-eight
passengers and crew died; only eighteen survived the accident.
In 1988, the water level of the
Mississippi fell to 10 feet
(3.0 m) below zero on the
Memphis gauge. The remains of
wooden-hulled water craft were exposed in an area of 4.5 acres
(18,000 m2) on the bottom of the
River at West
Memphis, Arkansas. They dated to the late 19th to early 20th
centuries. The State of Arkansas, the
Arkansas Archeological Survey,
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
Mississippi above its confluence with the
Ohio River at
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. The
Nature Conservancy's project called "America's Rivershed Initiative"
announced a 'report card' assessment of the entire basin in October
2015 and gave the grade of D+. The assessment noted the aging
navigation and flood control infrastructure along with multiple
Campsite at the river in Arkansas
In 2002, Slovenian 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 paddled the
Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers to benefit the Audubon Society's
Geologists believe that the lower
Mississippi could take a new course
to the Gulf. Either of two new routes—through the Atchafalaya Basin
or through Lake Pontchartrain—might become the Mississippi's main
channel if flood-control structures are overtopped or heavily damaged
during a severe flood.
Failure of the Old
River Control Structure, the Morganza Spillway, or
nearby levees would likely re-route the main channel of the
Mississippi through Louisiana's
Atchafalaya Basin and down the
River to reach the
Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico south of Morgan City in
southern Louisiana. This route provides a more direct path to the Gulf
of Mexico than the present
River channel through Baton
Rouge and New Orleans. While the risk of such a diversion is
present during any major flood event, such a change has so far been
prevented by active human intervention involving the construction,
maintenance, and operation of various levees, spillways, and other
control structures by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
River Control Structure complex. View is to the
east-southeast, looking downriver on the Mississippi, with the three
dams across channels of the Atchafalaya
River to the right of the
Mississippi. Concordia Parish,
Louisiana is in the foreground, on the
right, and Wilkinson County, Mississippi, is in the background, across
Mississippi on the left.
River Control Structure, between the present
channel and the Atchafalaya Basin, sits at the normal water elevation
and is ordinarily used to divert 30% of the Mississippi's flow to the
Atchafalaya River. There is a steep drop here away from the
Mississippi's main channel into the Atchafalaya Basin. If this
facility were to fail during a major flood, there is a strong concern
the water would scour and erode the river bottom enough to capture the
Mississippi's main channel. The structure was nearly lost during the
1973 flood, but repairs and improvements were made after engineers
studied the forces at play. In particular, the Corps of Engineers made
many improvements and constructed additional facilities for routing
water through the vicinity. These additional facilities give the Corps
much more flexibility and potential flow capacity than they had in
1973, which further reduces the risk of a catastrophic failure in this
area during other major floods, such as that of 2011.
Morganza Spillway is slightly higher and well back from
the river, it is normally dry on both sides. Even if it failed at
the crest during a severe flood, the flood waters would have to erode
to normal water levels before the
Mississippi could permanently jump
channel at this location. During the 2011 floods, the
Corps of Engineers opened the
Morganza Spillway to 1/4 of its capacity
to allow 150,000 ft3/sec of water to flood the Morganza and
Atchafalaya floodways and continue directly to the Gulf of Mexico,
Baton Rouge and New Orleans. In addition to reducing the
River crest downstream, this diversion reduced the chances
of a channel change by reducing stress on the other elements of the
Some geologists have noted that the possibility for course change into
the Atchafalaya also exists in the area immediately north of the Old
River Control Structure. Army Corps of Engineers geologist Fred Smith
once stated, "The
Mississippi wants to go west. 1973 was a forty-year
flood. The big one lies out there somewhere—when the structures
can't release all the floodwaters and the levee is going to have to
give way. That is when the river's going to jump its banks and try to
Another possible course change for the
River is a
Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans. This route is
controlled by the Bonnet Carré Spillway, built to reduce flooding in
New Orleans. This spillway and an imperfect natural levee about 4–6
meters (12 to 20 feet) high are all that prevents the
taking a new, shorter course through
Lake Pontchartrain to the Gulf of
Mexico. Diversion of the Mississippi's main channel through Lake
Pontchartrain would have consequences similar to an Atchafalaya
diversion, but to a lesser extent, since the present river channel
would remain in use past
Baton Rouge and into the
New Orleans area.
River Road in
Lake Pepin (2005)
The sport of water skiing was invented on the river in a wide region
Wisconsin known as Lake Pepin. Ralph
Samuelson of Lake City, Minnesota, 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 80 mph
(130 km/h) by a Curtiss flying boat later that year.
There are seven
National Park Service
National Park Service sites along the Mississippi
River and Recreation Area is the
National Park Service
National Park Service site dedicated to protecting and interpreting
River itself. The other six National Park Service
sites along the river are (listed from north to south):
Effigy Mounds National Monument
Gateway Arch National Park (includes Gateway Arch)
Vicksburg National Military Park
Natchez National Historical Park
New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve
American paddlefish is an ancient relict from the Mississippi
Mississippi basin is home to a highly diverse aquatic fauna and
has been called the "mother fauna" of North American fresh water.
About 375 fish species are known from the
Mississippi basin, far
exceeding other North Hemisphere river basin exclusively within
temperate/subtropical regions, except the Yangtze. Within the
Mississippi basin, streams that have their source in the Appalachian
Ozark highlands contain especially many species. Among the fish
species in the basin are numerous endemics, as well as relicts such as
paddlefish, sturgeon, gar and bowfin.
Because of its size and high species diversity, the
is often divided into subregions. The Upper
River alone is
home to about 120 fish species, including walleye, sauger, large mouth
bass, small mouth bass, white bass, northern pike, bluegill, crappie,
channel catfish, flathead catfish, common shiner, freshwater drum and
In addition to fish, several species of turtles (such as snapping,
musk, mud, map, cooter, painted and softshell turtles), American
alligator, aquatic amphibians (such as hellbender, mudpuppy,
three-toed amphiuma and lesser siren), and cambarid crayfish
(such as the red swamp crayfish) are native to the Mississippi
Numerous introduced species are found in the
Mississippi and some of
these are invasive. Among the introductions are fish such as Asian
carp, including the silver carp that have become infamous for
outcompeting native fish and their potentially dangerous jumping
behavior. They have spread throughout much of the basin, even
approaching (but not yet invading) the Great Lakes. The Minnesota
Department of Natural Resources has designated much of the Mississippi
River in the state as infested waters by the exotic species zebra
mussels and Eurasian watermilfoil.
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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.
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. 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.
William Faulkner uses the
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
Yoknapatawpha County through his realizations found within the
woods surrounding the
Much of Edna Ferber's 1926 novel
Show Boat takes place on the
Mississippi River. The novel is the basis for the 1927 musical play of
the same title by
Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II.
Jonathan Raban's Old Glory: An American Voyage, a 1981 travel book
describing the author's single-handed journey by boat down the river,
was the winner of The Royal Society of Literature's Heinemann Award
and the Thomas Cook Travel
On The Mississippi, music sheet cover for a 1912 song
The song "When the
Levee Breaks", made famous in the version performed
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.
Ferde Grofé composed a set of movements for symphony orchestra
Mississippi Suite", based on the lands the river travels
The stage and movie musical Show Boat's central musical piece is the
spiritual-influenced ballad "Ol' Man River". Its composer, Jerome
Kern, also composed an orchestral piece entitled "
Mark Twain Suite".
The musical Big
River is based on the travels of Huckleberry Finn down
Johnny Cash song "Big River" is about the
Mississippi River, and
about drifting the length of the river to pursue a relationship that
fails. The places mentioned in the song are Saint Paul, Davenport, St.
Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Louisiana 1927" is a 1974 song written and recorded by Randy Newman
on the album Good Old Boys. It tells the story of the Great
River Flood of 1927 which left 700,000 people homeless in
Louisiana and Mississippi.
Lissie has a song called Oh
to the river.
"Roll On Mississippi" and "
Mississippi Cotton Picking Delta Town" are
two classics from
Charley Pride that refer to the
Conway Twitty and
Loretta Lynn collaborated on the song
Paul Simon mentions the river and the
Mississippi Delta in his song
Capes on the
List of crossings of the Lower
List of locks and dams of the Upper
List of longest rivers of the
United States (by main stem)
Lists of crossings of the
The Waterways Journal Weekly
River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge
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Louisiana Purchase to Today (National Geographical Society, 2002)
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River (PhD Diss.
Iowa State College, 1954) online (PDF)
Daniel, Pete. Deep'n as it come: The 1927
Arkansas Press, 1977)
Fremling, Calvin R. Immortal river: the Upper
Mississippi in ancient
and modern times (U. of
Wisconsin Press, 2005), popular history
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fragmentation." Journal of World Prehistory (1990) 4#1 pp: 1–43.
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Mississippi and Its Peoples From
Hernando de Soto
Hernando de Soto to Hurricane Katrina
(Oxford University Press; 2012) 300 pages; links drought, disease, and
flooding to the impact of centuries of increasingly intense human
manipulation of the river.
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and environmental sourcebook. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO.
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River of dreams: imagining the Mississippi
before Mark Twain. Baton Rouge:
Louisiana State University Press.
ISBN 978-0-8071-3233-3. OCLC 182615621.
Scott, Quinta (2010). The Mississippi: A Visual Biography. Columbia,
Missouri: University of
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Pasquier, Michael (2013). Gods of the Mississippi. Bloomington:
Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-2530-0806-0.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article
Mississippi River, project of the American Land Conservancy
Flood management in the
Friends of the
River Challenge – annual canoe & kayak event on
the Twin Cities stretch
River Field Guide
River and Recreation Area (MN) from the NPS
River Facts from the NPS
"Mark Twain's Mississippi", from the digital library of Northern
Interactive detailed satellite photos and zoomable USGS topographic
quad maps of the lower Mississippi, the alternative course for the
river, and the various control structures and floodways
Mississippi Valley – Engineering Geology Mapping Program –
PDF files of publications about and maps of the geology of the
River Valley and its tributaries.
Ecoregions of the
Mississippi Alluvial Plain Map
River Loses His Kinks" , April 1942, Popular Science article
on 1930-40s project to improve barge navigation between Helena and
The short film "The
River (1938)" is available for free download at
the Internet Archive
The short film "The
River (Part II) (1937)" is available for free
download at the Internet Archive
The short film "The Valley of the Giant:
River story" is
available for free download at the Internet Archive
Geographic data related to
River at OpenStreetMap
Roundtable discussion on Imagining the River, University of Minnesota,
River Traffic Information System
American Heritage Rivers
Blackstone & Woonasquatucket
Upper Susquehanna & Lackawanna
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