Louisiana and the Mississippi

The Mississippi

The Mississippi is the largest river in North America, with two thirds of the continent's water flowing through it. Home of Huckleberry Finn and 18th century paddle steamers the Mississippi has fired the imagination of writers, artists and composers for centuries. Up to 180 million tons of freight is transported every year and around 260 species of fish live beneath its surface. From its source in Lake Itasca MN, it runs through eight cities in ten states over a distance of some 2,340 miles. It flows through or past 145 towns and over fifty cities rely on it for their water supply. The Mississippi's watershed (or drainage basin) is the fourth largest in the world, covering well over a million square miles in thirty two states and parts of Canada. The river sustained the livelihood of the indigenous wildlife and native tribes for thousands of years, long before the arrival of the first European explorers during the 16th century. The river served as an easy transportation route and most of the first settlements were close to its banks. Throughout the Antebellum years, it was the primary transportation route for the thousands of plantations lining its banks. During the Civil War the Union navy controlled the river with their river ironclads and gunboats, effectively choking supplies to the South and the export of cotton, which would bring in much needed revenue. The romantic vision of paddle steamers, live music, gambling and other forms of entertainment on and along the banks of the river are hard to dispel. Today, the river is a vital commercial highway and tourist attraction flowing through the cities of Minneapolis, St. Louis, Memphis, Baton Rouge and New Orleans contributing to the existence and livelihood of millions of Americans.