Great River

The state of Mississippi takes its name from the fourth longest river in the world of which its western boundary is largely defined by. The Mississippi river, sometimes called “Old Man River” or “Father of Waters” takes its name from the Ojibwa word misi-ziibe which would be translated to “Great River” in English. It is the second largest drainage system on the continent of North America, with its source being Lake Itasca in Minnesota; it then runs south for 2,320 miles all the way to the Mississippi River Delta in the Gulf of Mexico. From its start to its end the river either passes through or borders a total of 10 states, so it should come as no surprise that it’s become an important part of American history.

The Mississippi River basin was first inhabited by the hunting and gathering Native American peoples, in fact it is considered to have had one of the earliest examples of independent centres for plant domestication in human history, with evidence dating back to the 4th millennium BCE. As time progressed the river became ever more important and eventually a series of trade routes amongst the Native Americans were established as part of what is now referred to as the ‘Hopewell interaction sphere’, spreading cultural practises and of course goods between different tribes that lived along the river.

Being near the river gave many benefits to the people and eventually around the year 800 CE an advanced agricultural society formed thanks to this, it’s what is now referred to as Mississippian culture. Here chiefdoms and populations flourished, the finest example being Cahokia, a settlement occupied between 600 and 1400 CE which at its height had an impressive population of roughly 40,000 people, a larger number than London at that time.

Eventually the Europeans arrived, Hernando De Soto was the first recorded European to reach it, though it was be the French explorers Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette who would be the first to realise its potential. The natives taught them routes along the river, a way to travel all the way to French Canada; this made the river an invaluable pathway connecting France’s land in the North to its islands in the Caribbean.

Long after the War of Independence, when the United States of America began to solidify as a nation the river was once again used for both trade and travel. At no time was this perhaps more true than during the 19th Century when the arrival of steamboats made the river one of the best ways to ship goods and travel up and down the country causing a boom in tourism.

The Mississippi river has been a key factor in so much of Americas recorded History, from its early agricultural importance to its travel and trade benefits there is no doubt that has been a key player in the countries civilisation expansion. It has generated life and wealth and even inspired countless works of art, from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn books to the song Ol’ Man River, the ‘Great River’ is undoubtedly an integral part of life in America and I’m sure it will be for years to come.