Mississippi River History
The importance of the Mississippi River in the history of the United States, North America and the World is immense. Millions, perhaps billions, of words have been written on the subject. The facets of River history that can be explored are also numerous and diverse. From the geologic past, through America's westward expansion and up to modern day events; look for it all here!
- Glacial River Warren and Glacial Lake Agassi:
"In terms of geologic and hydrographic history, the Upper Mississippi is a portion of the now-extinct Glacial River Warren which carved the valley of the Minnesota River, permitting the immense Glacial Lake Agassiz to join the world's oceans at the Gulf of Mexico. The collapse of ice dams holding back Glacial Lake Duluth and Glacial Lake Grantsburg carved out the Dalles of the Saint Croix River. The Upper Mississippi River valley likely originated as an ice-marginal stream during what had been referred to as the 'Nebraskan' glaciation. Current terminology would place this as Pre-Illinoian Stage.
The Driftless Area is a portion of North America left unglaciated at that ice age's height, hence not smoothed out or covered over by previous geological processes.
Inasmuch as the Wisconsin glaciation formed lobes that met (and blocked) where the Mississippi now flows, and given that huge amounts of glacial meltwater were flowing into the Driftless Area, and that there is no lakebed, it is assumed that there were instances of ice dams bursting. Considering the history of Glacial Lake Missoula, something like this is believed to have happened."
( read more at Wikipedia )
- "Discovery" of the Mississippi:
"The Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto is credited with the European discovery of the Mississippi River in 1541. The French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet reached it through the Wisconsin River in 1673, and in 1682 La Salle traveled down the river to the Gulf of Mexico and claimed the entire territory for France. The French founded New Orleans in 1718 and effectively extended control over the upper river basin with settlements at Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Prairie du Chien, and St. Louis. France ceded the river to Spain in 1763 but regained it in 1800; the United States acquired the Mississippi River as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803."
( read more at infoplease.com )
- River Geology:
"The Mississippi River begins in northern Minnesota and travels about 2,350 miles before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico. Thirty percent of its length is in Minnesota. Measurements of the river's length vary depending upon when they were taken. Before the river was channelized for navigation, the Mississippi would regularly cut new paths and abandon old ones, so the length was always changing."
( read more at mississippirivertraveler.com )
- Description of the river from Wikipedia
"The Mississippi River is the chief river of the largest drainage system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States (though its drainage basin reaches into Canada), it rises in northern Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for 2,320 miles (3,730 km) to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains all or parts of 31 US states and two Canadian provinces between the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains. The Mississippi ranks as the fourth longest and tenth largest river in the world. The river either borders or cuts through the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana."
- From The History of Transportation on the Mississippi River by Richard Moore
The Mississippi River courses from the northwoods of Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, thousands of miles through America's heartland. We know the river today as a priceless natural resource, an important artery of commerce, and the cradle of some of some of the Midwest's largest metropolitan areas.
- From The History Of The Mississippi River by Tom Ashbrook
Centuries, millennia, pass and the Mississippi River keeps on rolling. But it changes. And has changed a lot in this continent's river-heavy history. From mastadons and mammoths on the riverbank, to giant burial mounds, to American riverboats and pirates, gamblers and slaves, hustlers and haulers of a river of grain.
Historian Paul Schneider has taken his study right onto river—kayak-level—where you can smell it, sweet and earthy. He's traveled it in space and time.
(read more -- with audio)
- Search for the Mississippi's Source from waymarking.com
Text of an Historical Marker is located by the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center along the path to the Headwaters of the Mississippi River viewing area.
Search for the Mississippi's Source
The romantic 19th century quest for the source of the Mississippi river brought many explorers -- among them Zebulon Pike, Lewis Cass, and Glacomb Belframi -- to northern Minnesota. The search ended when Ojibwe chief Ozawindib guided Henry Rowe Schoolcraft to Lake Itasca in 1832.
Sent by the United States government to help negotiate a treaty between the Dakota and Ojibwe, Schoolcraft used the opportunity to explore the Mississippi's headwaters area. The expedition, numbering 30, left Sault Ste. Marie in early June and travelled by way of the St. Louis River and Savanna Portage to Sandy Lake, then up the Mississippi to Cass Lake. From there Ozawindib guided them to Lake Bemidji and up the Schoolcraft River, and over a portage to the river's source.
Sorely tried by "voracious long-billed and dyspeptic musketoes" and portages knee-deep in mud, the little band caught their first glimpse of the lake on July 13. It was known to the Indians and traders as "Omushkos" or "Lac la Biche," both meaning Elk Lake, but Schoolcraft renamed it "Itasca" from a combination of the Latin words for "truth" and "head." veritas caput.
Although public interest focused on the long- sought source, the Schoolcraft expedition also collected valuable scientific information inspected fur posts, vaccinated 2,000 Ojibwe against small pox, and achieved an internal peace treaty.
- The New Madrid Earthquake
[read more from Wikipedia] "The 1811–12 New Madrid earthquakes were an intense intraplate earthquake series beginning with an initial earthquake of moment magnitude (7.5 -7.9) on December 16, 1811 followed by a moment magnitude 7.4 aftershock on the same day. They remain the most powerful earthquakes to hit the contiguous United States east of the Rocky Mountains in recorded history. They, as well as the seismic zone of their occurrence, were named for the Mississippi River town of New Madrid, then part of the Louisiana Territory, now within Missouri.
There are estimates that the earthquakes were felt strongly over roughly 130,000 square kilometers (50,000 sq mi), and moderately across nearly 3 million square kilometers (1 million square miles). The 1906 San Francisco earthquake, by comparison, was felt moderately over roughly 16,000 km2 (6,200 sq mi)."
[Excerpt from "101 Days on the Mississippi" by Guy Roger]
"The community of New Madrid, Missouri had only been part of the United States of America for about eight years when the events of 1811 and 1812 made its name a household word up and down the Mississippi River and beyond. New Madrid (pronounced with the accent on the first syllable) was part of Spanish Louisiana until 1800 when Spain traded all of her lands west of the Mississippi to France. France promptly sold them to the United States in 1803 in a transaction known as the Louisiana Purchase. Spain had been proactive during its governance of the area and had attracted some 2,000 U.S. settlers to the area (requiring that they become Spanish citizens in exchange for residency), but this still amounted to a pretty sparse population for the small river town. In addition to the population of the town itself, there were always some dozens of boats of all kinds: flatboats, keelboats, log rafts, barges, houseboats…moored offshore in the 'boat city.'
"But to get to the point, in the wee hours of the morning on December 16, 1811, the first of a series of extremely strong earthquakes hit the area around New Madrid. Since this was long before the Richter scale was devised and even longer before any seismic measuring devices existed, the magnitude of the quakes can only be guessed at based on eyewitness reports from inhabitants who survived to tell the tale, and modern-day scientists now estimate that all three of the strongest shocks registered well above 7.0 on the Richter Scale. With this in mind, the evidence suggests that the epicenters were all located in northeastern Arkansas and the Boot-heel of Missouri, and that the magnitude of the strongest of the quakes makes it, to this day, the most powerful earthquake to hit the United States in the area east of the Rocky Mountains in recorded history. The second massive quake struck about six hours later, approximately at dawn, and two more followed on January 23, 1812 and February 7, 1812. The last quake was apparently the strongest with its epicenter almost directly under New Madrid and the force leveled the town and devastated the surrounding area. Eyewitnesses describe trees being uprooted and tossed about like matchsticks. Newspaper reports across the eastern U.S. and Canada mention such things as pavement being cracked in Baltimore and church bells being rung in Montreal!
"Reports of the effects of the quakes on the river itself vary widely. A complete bible of folklore exists with the principal entry claiming that the river reversed course and flowed upstream for days. This of course is impossible, but the uplifting of the river bed is likely to have caused a sort of tsunami that would have sent a surge of water upstream that lasted for hours. And there are credible reports of two huge waterfalls that appeared, one a few miles upriver from New Madrid and the second a few miles downriver. These were transitory, however, and were quickly eroded away by the force of the river within a couple of weeks. Most of the reports describe a roaring or hissing sound and violent bubbling, boiling waves and currents. Huge sections of the river banks collapsed, toppling giant cottonwoods into the stream, and centuries of sunken logs and trees were shaken loose from the river bed. Coffins from disturbed cemeteries were seen floating downstream in the aftermath of the quakes.
"Because the population of New Madrid and the surrounding area at the time was low, the death toll was nearly zero and after the first quake most of the remaining inhabitants were quick to leave the area, so when the massive fourth quake hit, there were few people left to suffer the consequences. For the people living in the boat city, however, there’s a different story. The effects of the quakes on the river were so violent that more than 100 of the river people were killed by the four quakes combined – though that is still a pretty low toll when you consider what the damage and loss of life would be if a similar disaster were to happen today.
"So the sleepy river town of New Madrid, Missouri still claims its fame to this day, but at the time the devastated area was long deserted – the zone around New Madrid was felt, in a way, to be cursed, and it was literally decades before that reputation faded and people dared to settle there again. Who knows if any of the modern-day residents of the town can actually trace their lineage back to someone who experienced the 'Big Shock!'”
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