The Mississippi River


The Mississippi River is about 2348 miles long, it is the second longest River after the Missouri, in the United States.  Its triangular drainage area ( which covers about 40% of the country and includes all or part of 31 states) is the third largest in the world.

The Mississippi rises in Minnesota and then flows south, following the boundaries between the states of Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana on the west, and Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi on the east.  The river, whose name means “father of waters” in the Algonquian language, has long been an important transportation artery of North America.

Mississippi Tribs

Exploration and Development

The first Europeans to see the river inland were Hernando DeSoto and his party in 1541.  In the late 17th century, the first Frenchmen Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet (1673) and the sieur de LaSalle explored the river from the north; LaSalle who reached the mouth of the Mississippi in 1682, claimed the whole valley for France.

The western part of the basin was purchased from France by the United States in 1803 (The Louisiana Purchase) and was explored by the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

The river system formed the pathways for much of the settlement of the central United States.

The advent of the steamboat n 1812 brought dependable transportation, and river traffic increased rapidly.  During the Civil War control of the river was a major strategic objective; the Vicksburg Campaign (1863) achieved that goal for the Union armies.  Traffic resumed after the war, and the primacy of the steamboat followed.  The steamboats were replaced by diesel, screw-driven towboats pushing barges.  The rivalry between rail and river transport, which started in the late 19th century, persists to this day.

Course of the River

Rising at an elevation of 1,463 ft in Lake Itasca, Minn, the Mississippi flows through several glacial lakes to Minneapolis-Saint Paul, where it passes over a series of rapids and is joined by the Minnesota River.  After this confluence, the Mississippi is fringed by 200-300 ft bluffs on both sides.

The Missouri River, draining the Great Plains to the west, joins the Mississippi at Saint Louis.  It is the longest tributary, and constitutes more than 40% of the Mississippi system drainage area, while furnishing about 20% of the total discharge.

The Ohio River joins the Mississippi river from the east at Cairo, Ill.

South of Cairo the Mississippi enters a wide, low valley that was once an embayment of the Gulf of Mexico.  Sediment has filled this area, and through the centuries the river has extended its mouth to the present location 600 miles downstream.

This lower part of the Mississippi’s course, is contained within natural levees formed by flood deposited sediments.  Beyond the levees lie low floodplains often at a lower elevation than the river itself.  Another feature of the river is its meandering – the channel route from Cairo to New Orleans is nearly three times as long as the valley.

Major tributaries in the lower section are the Arkansas, Red, and white rivers – all flowing from the west.

More pictures of the Mississippi River at

The Mississippi enters the Gulf of Mexico about 100 miles downstream from New Orleans through a 10,000 sq mile delta. Because almost 500 million tons of sediment are deposited annually, the delta extends about 300 ft each year.

Flood Control

In its lower section the Mississippi is subject to disastrous flooding.  Efforts at containing the river have been especially vigorous since a catastrophic flood in 1927, when about 26,000 sq mi of land were inundated and the river rose 57 ft at Cairo.  The federal government has built artificial levees 15-24 ft high and dredged waterways that release the floodwater laterally to the Gulf of Mexico.

Navigation and Economic Use

The lower river, which has a relatively narrow but deep channel, is navigable for oceangoing ships upstream to Baton Rouge, La. From there to Cairo a 12-ft channel is maintained.  From Cairo to Minneapolis and on the other navigable streams a 9-ft channel is maintained in most places.  River traffic has experienced significant growth in recent years.  The cargoes transported on more than 8,000 towboats consist mainly of petrochemicals from the Gulf of Mexico and grain from the Midwest’

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Note: This ‘blog

From the first moment I stared into the Mississippi’s current until the opportunity arose for me to ride that mass of moving water took thirty-five years – at which point I took an old pontoon to Minnesota (‘banged’ a wooden shed on it) and then rode the 1800 river miles to New Orleans like a kid.  The trip took 32 days.

The Mississippi river today is an ‘interstate’ of commercial towboat traffic, yet within those banks remain the same perpetual flow that has rolled across this continent for thousands of years.

For me, the documentation within several of Mark Twain’s books helped to understand and orientate to the river’s meandering course while adding character to the places along the route.  The river’s physical impact is impressive in how the waters constantly lean its silent will on the surrounding landscape – all the while folks along her banks adapt to those fluctuating moods.

As for our simple adventure; we were told “the wakes from the towboats will sink you!” or “there will be no fuel for 400 miles!” and “the mosquito’s will carry you off!”  Those words did little to deter.  Don’t get me wrong, the setting is conducive to the possibilities – but with some good sense and humble determination it is possible to safely overcome and navigate today’s Mississippi River.

It is an ancient river – providing an incredible respect of the obstacle that it once presented to the migration of our country’s early settlers.

Questions about such a trip

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Austin Americana Photography
    May 12, 2011 @ 11:08:58

    Cool blog about the Mississippi River! Thanks for the info.

  2. Tom Haynie
    May 12, 2011 @ 18:08:03

    Thanks for checking it out…

  3. maycie
    Sep 01, 2011 @ 00:07:22

    that is cool

  4. Anonymous
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 19:47:17

    i see where reality tv star maci from mtv lives!

  5. Horace Gremler
    Jan 02, 2012 @ 15:50:58

    Great wordpress blog here.. It’s hard to find quality writing like yours these days. I really appreciate people like you! take care

  6. Cat
    Apr 14, 2012 @ 17:26:40

    Rebuilding a houseboat and voyaging south on the Father of the Waters, your blog is a wonderful way to prepare for my adventure

  7. Stephen
    May 30, 2013 @ 08:54:33

    Great blog post! Lots of good infomation and well writen. Thanks for doing my home work for me.

  8. Tom Haynie (bacshortly)
    May 30, 2013 @ 12:56:10

    Thanks Steve, hope that you put your ‘feet-up’ and head down that current one day…

  9. charlielamberthauthor
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 17:53:23

    Wow! I am soon to publish a novel about two brothers who are traveling down the Mississippi in a miniature riverboat. I researched it well but I’m sure I’ll have to make a few changes after I finish reading all of your posts.

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