American History and Genealogy Project

Mississippi River

Mississippi, an immense river of the United States, derives importance from its great length; the vast and fertile regions which, with its tributaries, it drains, and the extent to which it is navigable. It rolls a mighty volume of water to the ocean, bearing to its destined market a vast amount of produce of one of the most fertile regions on the globe, and returning to these region the productions of other portions of the United States, and of foreign countries, which they need for their convenience and comfort. The most probable derivation of its name is Missi Sepe which, in the Algonquin Indian language which prevails in its upper parts, means Great River. Its extreme source, according to the explorations off Schoolcraft, July 13th, 1832, is Itasca Lake, 47°10' n. lat., and 95° 54' w. Ion., at an elevation of 1,500 feet, and the distance of 3,160 miles, above the Gulf of Mexico. Itasca Lake is a beautiful sheet of water, lying among hills surround by pines. The outlet of the lake is 10 or 12 fee broad, and from 12 to 18 inches deep. Its course is then northwardly and northeastwardly, and

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passes through lakes Irving and Travers, and it then passes eastwardly and southeastwardly, and through some small lakes, to Lake Cass. This lake is of considerable extent, and contains a large island, 182 ms. below its source, and 1,330 feet above the Gulf of Mexico. Its course is w. to Lake Winnipec, then s. w. through Little Winnipec Lake, until it receives Leech lake fork, the outlet of a considerable lake of the same name. The most northern point attained by the river is a few minutes short of 48°; it then pursues a winding course eastwardly, passing through some small lakes, until it attains a southwardly direction. The average descent of the Mississippi, from its source to its entrance into the Gulf of Mexico, is a fraction over 5 inches per mile. The whole country about the sources of the Mississippi appears to be considerably elevated table land, bounding in small lakes of pure water, and fed chiefly by springs. The first considerable falls n the river are those of Peckagama where it descends 20 feet in 300 yards. There is no perpendicular fall, but a rapid which entirely obstructs navigation. The river is compressed to the width of 80 feet, and is precipitated over a rugged bed of sandstone, the rocky channel being inclined at an angle of from 35° to 40°. The surrounding view is wild and picturesque. An island, covered with spruce and cedar, divides he channel nearly in the middle, at the commencement of the fall. The next considerable falls in the river are those of St. Anthony. The river here has a perpendicular descent of 17 feet and a formidable rapid above and below. An island, at the brow of the precipice, divides the current into 2 parts, the largest of which passes on the w. side of the island. The rapid below the chute is filled with large fragments of rock, in the interstices of which some alluvial soil has accumulated, which nourishes a stinted growth of cedars. The rapid above the falls has a decent of about 10 feet in the distance of 300 yards, the rapid below the falls extends half a mile, in which the river descends 15 feet. The entire fall, in three fourths of a mile, is 65 feet. Without the grandeur of Niagara, these falls are extremely picturesque and beautiful. But during the spring floods, they become grand as well as beautiful. The width of the Mississippi, for 12 miles above the falls, is half a mile; below, it is contracted to 200 yards. A little below the falls of St. Anthony enters the St. Peter's river, from the w., which is the largest, tributary of the Upper Mississippi. For 200 ms. above its entrance, it is 100 yards wide, with a great depth of water, about lat. 44° the St. Croix enters the Mississippi from the e., which is said to be navigable for boats 200 ms. About 15 ms. below the entrance of St. Croix r., the Mississippi expands into beautiful sheet of water, called Lake Pepin, 25 in length. At its termination, the Chippewa enters the Mississippi, after a course of about 300 ms. In 42° enters the Wisconsin from the e forming an easy communication with Lake Michigan. Near 40°, on the w. side, the Des Moines enters, 150 yards wide. A few ms. above the mouth of this river are rapids, 9 ms. in length, forming an impediment to navigation, when the river is low. In 39° the Illinois enters from the 400 yards wide, and navigable for boats more in 300 ms. A little below 39° enters the mastic Missouri from the w., which is longer, and charges more water, than the Mississippi; and had it been as early explored, it would probably have been regarded as the parent stream. Its waters are turbid, and change the appearance of the Mississippi. In 38° the Kaskaskia enters from the e. and is navigable for more than 100 ms., passing through a beautiful country. Between 37° and 36°, 1,005 ms. above New Orleans, the "Belle Riviere," or the beautiful Ohio, enters from the e. and is much the largest eastern branch; and, from the densely populated and flourishing country on its borders, must be considered, at present, as the most important tributary of the Mississippi. Between 35° and 34° enters the St. Francis from the w., 200 yards wide, and supposed to be navigable 300 miles. White r. enters on the same side, in about 34°, probably about 1,200 ms. long. The Arkansas, from the w., enters between 34° and 33°, 618 ms. above New Orleans, and is 500 yards wide, and supposed to be 2,500 ms. long. The Yazoo enters on the e. side, between 33° and 32°, and is from 200 to 300 yards wide. At 31° the Red river comes in from the w. It is as large, and discharges as much water as the Arkansas, and is navigable for steamboats. Here the Mississippi carries its greatest volume of water, as immediately below this, and at intervals, it divides into several large outlets. From an old bed of the river, which communicates with both the Mississippi and Red rivers, the Atchafalaya discharges a great amount of water into the Gulf of Mexico. A little below Baton Rouge, on the e. side, the Ibberville goes off, and passing through lakes Maurepas, Pontchartrain, and Borgne, enters the Gulf of Mexico. Between Atchafalaya and N. Orleans, pass off Plaquemine and Bayou Lafourche, on the av. side, the former joining the Atchafalaya, and the latter entering the Gulf of Mexico. The average width of the Mississippi, below the Missouri, is about a mile; but the large rivers which enter it greatly increase its depth. Its medial current is about 4 ms. an hour. At the head of the Delta, the depth is from 75 to 80 feet; at New Orleans it is 100. At the distance of 105 ms. below New Orleans, by the course of the river, but 90 in a direct course, this majestic river enters the Gulf of Mexico, by several mouths, the principal of which are called the Balize, or Northeast Pass, in 29° 7' n. lat., and 89° 10' w. Ion., and the Southwest Pass, in 29° n. lat., and 89° 25' w. Ion. Draining a country of over 1,000,000 square miles in extent, it would naturally be expected that its spring floods would be vast; and in consequence of them, it overflows its banks at that season to a great extent. From the sources to the mouth of the Missouri, the flood commences in March, and does not subside before the last of May, at an average height of 15 feet. From the Missouri to the Ohio, it rises 25 feet; and below the Ohio, for a great distance, 50 feet. At every flood it overspreads a country, chiefly on its western side, from 10 to 30 ms. wide, 500 ms. from its mouth. This river is extremely winding in its course, and sometimes a bend will occur of 30 miles in extent, in which the distance across the neck will not exceed a mile. This circumstance undoubtedly impedes the current, and thus favors navigation. The mighty volume of water often carries away a large mass of earth, with its trees, from a projecting point, and frequently endanger vessels. Trees also are often bedded in the mud, projecting their tops, producing snags and sawyers, as they are called, dangerous to navigators. The whirls, or eddies, which are produced by the tortuous course of the river and its projecting points, render the navigation to a degree difficult and dangerous. Vessels are often from 5 to 30 days in ascending from the mouth of the river to New Orleans, though with a favorable wind, they will often descend in 12 hours. Before the introduction of steamboats, it required 8 or 10 weeks to go from New Orleans to the Illinois. Boats of 40 tons ascend the river to the falls of St. Anthony, more than 2,000 miles from its mouth. The use of steamboats has entirely changed the navigation of the Mississippi; and they have nearly superseded all other vessels for ascending the river. Large flat bottomed boats, denominated arks, which are not designed to return, are extensively used for transportation down the river. The first steamboat on the western waters was built at Pittsburgh, in 1811: there are now more than 300 on the Mississippi and its tributaries, many of them of great burden. The passage from Cincinnati to New Orleans and back has been made in 19 days. Large ships seldom ascend above Natchez. There are no tides in the Mississippi.

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Source: A Complete Descriptive And Statistical Gazetteer Of The United States Of America, By Daniel Haskel, A. M and J. Calvin Smith, Published By Sherman & Smith, 1843

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