Native American settlements, European exploration and the Civil War are just a few areas of history touched by the Mississippi River. Each one of these topics has books written about it with volumes of information. 1 Mississippi’s goal is not to be one more site telling the history of the River, but as a jumping off place for River Citizens to start thinking about how the River has shaped our history and therefore our present.
Before airplanes, cars and trains made moving around quick and easy, rivers were the main method of transportation. When President Jefferson commissioned the Lewis and Clark Expedition, also known as the Corps of Discovery, the primary goal was to find a water route from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. You can see a replica of the boat the Corps of Discovery designed and used at Camp River Dubois State Historic Site in Illinois on the location of the base used to launch the expedition.
The ability to move goods on rivers lead to the growth of cities along waterways. St. Louis is a prime example of the importance of rivers in the 18th and 19th centuries. It became the territorial capital of the Louisiana Purchase because of its strategic location at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. The completion of the Illinois and Michigan canal in 1848 connected the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean, helping to establish Chicago as a major transportation hub. The mighty Mississippi was the interstate highway of its day.
As much as we have managed the River for our benefit, we are still vulnerable to the seasonal flooding and drought that has always plagued River communities. The importance of flood plains today and 100 years ago are eerily similar.
There are several good general histories of the Mississippi River. Try the Great River Road for links to various Indian mounds websites, national parks and other historically significant attractions. You may want to investigate your local resources or branch out and find ways the River influenced other parts of the country. Here are a few resources to get you started.
- Memphis Civil War history and walking tour is a great activity for the whole family.
- The battle for Vicksburg was one of the most important of the entire war. This short video gives a great overview of the importance of the River to the war.
- The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area produced an excellent video on the historical importance of the River.
- The growth of the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and companies like Pillsbury, Betty Crocker and Gold Metal Flour that are still around today were founded due to the River. Find pictures, links to original newspaper stories and more on our blog.
- The encyclopedia of Arkansas history and culture provides an Arkansasan perspective on the history of the River.
- Heritage Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi has information about the River and the people of the region.
- Louisiana River Road runs along plantations, churches and jails that encapsulate the history of the area.
We are constantly striving to connect River Citizens (like you!) to the River. If you find resources, events, websites to share with fellow River Citizens, Contact Us and let us know!