The Mighty Mississippi

“The Mississippi River towns are comely, clean, well built, and pleasing to the eye, and cheering to the spirit. The Mississippi Valley is as reposeful as a dreamland, nothing worldly about it…nothing to hang a fret or a worry upon.”

Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

Water

An “Admiral’s Map” in the Royal Library at Madrid, Spain, thought to have been engraved in 1507,  names a mouth of a river “The River of Palms.”   This seemingly immaterial detail implies that Christopher Columbus may have been the first European to see the mighty Mississippi. Since this remains unconfirmed, the acclaim goes to a Spanish conquistador, Hernando de Soto, who documented his first view of the Mississippi from the vantage point just below present-day Memphis, Tennessee.

Hernando de Soto, was incredibly rich, having shared in the Inca treasure along with others who joined Francisco Pizarro in the 1530’s.  He was convinced, however, that there was more gold, glory and the discovery of the fabled sea passage to China waiting for him in the unexplored territories. He organised the biggest of the early Spanish exploratory expeditions that ranged across the south-eastern quadrant of the United States.   The journey was fraught with danger and extreme hardship.  In 1541, the expedition reached the Mississippi River.  Hernando de Soto’s elation was short-lived for in May 1542, he died of fever.   The name he had given his beloved river was Río del Espíritu Santo (River of the Holy Spirit).

The name “Mississippi” came from the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe or Algonquin) Misi-ziibi name for Great River. And it lives up to its name. The Mississippi River, divided into Upper, Middle and Lower, is the largest river system in all of North America traveling more that 3,734 kilometres, beginning at its source at Lake Itasca, Minnesota to its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico. Its river basin is 2,981,076 square kilometres; its watershed drains all or parts of 31 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces that lay between the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains.

Over the years, the Mississippi has been transferred between nations through various treaties and purchases.  Even so, it flows as it did for the First Nation peoples that lived along its banks long before the arrival of Europeans.

“The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise…”
Mark Twain, In Eruption

26 thoughts on “The Mighty Mississippi

  1. Thanks, Rebecca, for another interesting and educational post on the history of the Mississippi . I am interested in knowing a bit more about the cultural influence of native Indians on the ” River culture”. I Just found a site named Mississippi 1. This great America River has inspired lots of writers, poets, musicians …and more. And Mark Twain, of course is our number # 1 …thanks for the quote. Your posts have also inspired us to explore, to dream, to build upon the dream…and more!

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    • I have enjoyed exploring our rivers – there are so many that continue to inspire our imagination. I’m learning as I go along!!! BTW, there is a new “Tom Sawyer” movie coming out! Just found about about it when I went looking for your site.

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  2. The first time I ever read about the Mississippi was when, as a child I read ‘Tom Sawyer’. The story really fascinated me, and it sounded like such a wonderful river for a young boy to live near.

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    • I loved Tom Sawyer!!! Especially the part about painting the fence. And the story continues to engage new generations. There is a freedom and gentleness that comes from being by a river….

      “Who knows, he may grow up to be President someday, unless they hang him first!”
      Aunt Polly about Tom Sawyer”
      ― Samuel L. Clemens, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

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  3. Early in our marriage, my husband and I visited the source of the Mississippi at Lake Itasca. In those days the area as very much untouched. How glad I am that there are those who are trying to keep this great river clean. Thank you for the short video . I also enjoy “the Amazing Starling Murmuration” video. Yes, truly amazing!

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    • There is so much history tied to this amazing river…

      And to think that you were at the very source! What a wonderful memory – thank you so much for sharing this moment.🙂

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  4. And the beat goes on! This is terrific, who could forget the great and mighty Mississippi, lest we forget it’s memorable role in American history in all that has been written, and it’s contribution to the world of song and music, at times sad and at times joyful.

    Thank you Rebecca this is just great and what a way to start the day, with Paul Robeson’s Ol’ Man River.

    Beautiful, and all in honour of saving the rivers that man has not tampered with, and sadly remembering the ones his greed got the better of him, which he has misused or destroyed, like for example in my part of the world, which happens to be Quebec, Canada. JJ

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    • Greed is insidious, because it is easy to hide behind “good.” I have always liked G.K. Chesterton’s take on it!!

      “Among the rich you will never find a really generous man even by accident. They may give their money away, but they will never give themselves away; they are egotistic, secretive, dry as old bones. To be smart enough to get all that money you must be dull enough to want it.”
      ― G.K. Chesterton

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