The Mississippi was named by the Ojibwe people and it has been translated as “the father of waters”, “the great river”, and every variation in between. Before 1803, the Mississippi River served as the border between the United States and the French territory of Louisiana. Since the United States’ massive land purchase from Napoleon, the great river has served as the symbolic dividing line between the eastern and western parts of the United States.
From it’s headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minnesota, the Mississippi flows and meanders through 10 states on its 2,552 mile jouney to the Gulf of Mexico. Along this journey, it drains 41% of the contiguous states, as well as parts of Canada. Although the Mississippi is often touted as the longest river in the United States, that honor belongs to the Missouri River. The magnificence of the Mississippi lies in its shear mass. By volume, the Mississippi is the fifth-largest in the world. In terms of the area of its drainage basin, the Mississippi is the third-largest in the world.
The Mississippi River was largely formed by the melt off of the Laurentide Ice Sheet after our most recent ice age. Over time, the river has changed its flow in order to find the most efficient course to the ocean. In 1856, an avulsion occurred which left a part of Tipton County, Tennessee, on the Arkansas side of the river. The state line continues to reside in the pre-1856 channel. There are numerous geographical peculiarities like this due to the ever changing nature of the river. Perhaps the most interesting of these is found in the southwestern most corner of Kentucky, appropriately named the Kentucky Bend.
Geologists speculate that within a few hundred years the lower part of the river will move westward and bypass Baton Rouge and New Orleans altogether. The Mississippi has been changing since it’s inception, and we can expect it to continue to do so long after we’re gone.