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Mississippi River


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Principal river of the U.S., drains the great central basin between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains. Having its source in northern Minnesota, and flowing through the center of the Prairie and Southern states, the river has for its chief tributaries the Missouri and Ohio rivers. Dominating the economic life of the South and Middle West until the Civil War and the coming of the railroads, the Mississippi was the focus of a distinctive type of American culture during the glamorous period of steamboats and showboats (1811–61), whose most celebrated literary interpreter has been Mark Twain, especially in Huckleberry Finn and Life on the Mississippi, although other popular treatments, respectively in poetry, the novel, and nonfiction, include John Hay's “Jim Bludso,” Edna Ferber's Show Boat, and Ben Lucien Burman's Big River To Cross. Other writers include those associated with its principal cities, St. Louis and New Orleans. Its earlier history included discovery by De Soto, domination by the French following the explorations by Jolliet, Marquette, La Salle, and Iberville, control by Spain (1763–1800), settlement and exploitation of its valley by the U.S. after the Louisiana Purchase (1803), and the pre-steamboat period of keelboating whose typical folk hero was Mike Fink. By 1860 there were more than 1000 steamboats on the river, helping to tie the Middle West to the South. During the Civil War, the Northern attempts to gain control were finally successful through the siege of Vicksburg and the capture of New Orleans. The river is still of primary importance to U.S. agriculture and trade, as both a constructive and a destructive force; popular conceptions of its power have included the black's personification of “Ol' Man River” and the Indian's of the “Father of Waters.”

Subjects: Literature — History.


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