Man River, that Ol' Man River
He must know somethin', But don't say nothin'
He just keeps rollin', He keeps on rollin' along."
- "Showboat" 1927, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II,
music by Jerome Kern
The Mississippi River flows south from Minnesota nearly 2,350 miles, drains 31 states from Montana to New York, and discharges 612,000 cubic feet of water every second into the Gulf of Mexico. But the mighty Mississippi is so much more than statistics.
Home to fish, mussels, amphibians, and mammals, the river system also serves as the main flyway for migratory birds. The floodplain supports thick forests, prairie grasslands, rich farmlands, and cypress swamps, yet also threatens life along its banks with floods, earthquakes, and pollution.
The river formed pathways to exploration, trade, settlement, industry, war, and freedom. This corridor was also the setting for a spectacular literary heritage as well as a rhythmic blues highway from Memphis to St. Louis to St. Paul. American genius arose from the riverbanks, artists such as Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Louis Armstrong, B.B. King, John James Audubon, Charles Schulz, and Elvis Presley.
From both the Upper and Lower Regions of the river, pirates, river roustabouts, voodoo priestesses, and even cartoon characters gained legendary stature from the area's rich history. The Mississippi River truly is the central heartbeat of our nation.
The Ojibwa and Chippewa tribes are credited with naming the Mississippi River. The Algonquian language terms for "big water" is "Messipi" and "Father of Waters" is "Misi sipi."
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