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Marvelous Facts About the Mississippi River You May Not Know

Renuka Savant Sep 28, 2019
As one of the world's largest river systems in terms of size, habitat diversity, and biological productivity, the Mississippi River's history is incredible. Here are some interesting facts about this River, which are sure to renew your understanding about this wondrous natural marvel.
"Unquestionably the discovery of the Mississippi is a datable fact which considerably mellows and modifies the shiny newness of our country, and gives her a most respectable outside-aspect of rustiness and antiquity."
― Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

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The history of the Mississippi River is deeply entwined with that of America's―from the earliest Native settlers to the European explorers and colonists, this was the river they wanted to conquer and control.
Flowing along approx. 2,350 miles, the Mississippi River is the second longest river in the United States, following the Missouri River. It flows through or borders a whopping ten states, with its watershed area spreading over 31 states in mainland US along with 2 provinces in Canada. Some facts to take a look on the Mississippi River and its famous history.

Interesting Facts About the Mississippi River

❖ The headwaters of the Mississippi are in Lake Itasca, a small glacial lake in Clearwater County, Minnesota. It flows along approximately 2,350 miles southward into the Gulf of Mexico.
❖ Mississippi-Missouri River combine forms the longest river system in the USA and North America (3710 mi), and the fourth longest in the world, following the Nile (4160 mi), the Amazon (4000 mi), and the Yangtze (3964 mi).
❖ The 10 states which the Mississippi borders or flows through include Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana.
The Great River Road includes state and local roads built along the course of the Mississippi River covering the ten states.
❖ The narrowest stretch of the Mississippi is at its source in Lake Itasca, with a width of 20 - 30 feet. The widest part is at Lake Winnibigoshish near Bena, Minnesota, with a width of more than 11 miles.
❖ The Mississippi watershed extends from the Allegheny Mountains in the east to the Rockies in the west, and includes 31 American states and 2 Canadian Provinces. Measuring approximately 1.2 million square miles, the area covers about 40% of the US mainland.
❖ Divided into 3 parts―Upper, Middle, and Lower. From its origin in Lake Itasca to St. Louis, Missouri, there are 43 dams moderating the flow of the Mississippi. More than 170 bridges (automobile, foot and railroad) are built across the river.

❖ The average flow at the source is about 1.2 mph; towards the mouth, it increases slightly to flow at approx. 3 mph.
❖ Major tributaries of the Mississippi include the Minnesota, St. Croix, Cannon, Wisconsin, Iowa, Skunk, Des Moines, Crow, Chippewa, Maquoketa, Illinois, Ohio, Arkansas, Big Muddy, and the White and Red Rivers.

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The golden age of steamboats lasted from 1830 to 1850, facilitating trade and business transactions across the river.
❖ The name 'Mississippi' is derived from the Native American Ojibwe word, misi-ziibi, which means 'great river'. Evidence points towards Native American presence along the riverside since at least 4th millennium BC.
❖ It was on May 8, 1541, that the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto became the first documented European to arrive at the Mississippi River. He is known to have named it Río del Espíritu Santo or 'River of the Holy Spirit'.
❖ Over a hundred years later, French explorers, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, and Henri de Tonti conquered the entire Mississippi River Valley for France in 1682. They named it Colbert River, after Jean-Baptiste Colbert and the region La Louisiane, for King Louis XIV.
❖ In the aftermath of the Seven Year War, which was won by the British in 1763, the Mississippi acted as a boundary separating the British territory to the east, and the Spanish territory to the west.
❖ France handed over the land controlled by them on the west of the river to the United States, as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

❖ Thereafter, having defeated the British in the War of 1812, the highly coveted Mississippi River became a permanent part of the United States.
Plaquemine Lock State Historic Site, located in Plaquemine, Louisiana.
❖ Steamboats of Mississippi influenced the course of development in the 19th century, by facilitating large-scale and efficient transport of people and goods through the course of the river.

Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain is a memoir of his days as a steamboat pilot, chronicling the golden age of steamboats.
❖ During the Civil War, the Union soldiers as well as the Confederates were locked in a battle to control the Mississippi, with a view to gain strategic benefits. By 1862, the Union army had more or less taken control of the river, ensuring a final victory.

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The Gateway Arch on the banks of the Mississippi in St. Louis, Missouri.
❖ In 1997, two parts of the Mississippi were designated as American Heritage Rivers.

❖ The agricultural products and agribusiness industries developed in the river basin account for 92% of the nation's agricultural exports today.

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The Mississippi River is a primary provider of drinking water to millions of Americans. Alongside, it is also home to a wide array of fish and wildlife, and is a major migratory route for several bird species.
Today, the river faces severe threats owing to human negligence from oil spills to outdated flood management techniques. However, measured efforts are being taken towards raising awareness to preserve this national treasure, that is the Mississippi River, for future generations.