How Did The First Settlers Crossed The Mississippi River

Origin of the Mississippi River

The Mississippi River is undoubtedly one of the most influential water bodies in the United States. A major source of life and transportation, it has long been a part of the country’s history and identity. Knowing how the first settlers crossed it, is key to understanding the nation’s past. To understand this, it’s best to start at the river’s origin and the journey it took before becoming what it is today.

The Mississippi River, at its most basic, begins as a series of tributaries and streams in northern Minnesota, feeding into the Lake Itasca, and then gradually growing in size as it flows southwards, gathering volume and speed from the many other rivers and tributaries, crossing ten states in total before flowing into the highly productive delta wetland of Louisiana, which discharges its freshwater into the Gulf of Mexico.

John Law’s Early Exploration

The first known explorers to cross the Mississippi, in the year 1714, were four French men led by the intrepid adventurer, John Law. This epic journey began in what is now North Dakota, and followed the Missouri River until it reached the mouth of the Mississippi River near modern-day Missouri’s town of St. Charles. After a few more days of travel, they finally reached the mouth of the Mississippi Delta, located under 200 miles from the Gulf of Mexico.

It wasn’t an easy journey. The adventurers faced many hardships, including hunger, illness, and even hostility from the local indigenous populations. The group was also handicapped by both a lack of supplies and an absence of modern navigational instruments. However, John Law and his group were able to reach their goal with the help of their love of exploration, which gave them strength and perseverance to overcome obstacles and dangerous landscapes.

Early Settlement of Louisiana

After John Law’s exploration, the French moved to explore and settle the Louisiana Territory, which was originally governed by the Spanish. The French moved quickly to establish trading posts and settlements, exploiting the abundance of fur offered by the area. By 1718, the French had established the city of New Orleans, and within a few years had numerous settlements up and down the Mississippi.

At this time, the most common way of crossing the mighty Mississippi was by using rudimentary boats, either in the form of pirogues, dugouts or canoes. People also built wooden barges to transport goods and people without having to face the difficulty of building a strong enough boat to resist the strong currents of the river. These water routes were also used to explore areas surrounding the river.

The Importance of Ferry Boats

Between the 1730s and the late 19th century, ferry boats were the most common method of crossing the Mississippi. This is due to ferry boats’ advantages of being easy to build, relatively cheap to operate, and able to transport goods and people quickly and with relative safety across the river.

However, by the late 1800s, ferry boats were increasingly being replaced by larger, steam-powered boats, or “steamers”. These steamer vessels had the advantage of being faster and able to transport larger cargoes, making them a more efficient and safer option than the earlier wooden barges. Steamers soon became the preferred mode of river transportation, and they remain so to this day.

Mississippi Bridges

The construction of bridges across the Mississippi River began in the early 19th century, prompted by the increasing needs of steamboat transportation to cross the river. The first wooden bridge across the Mississippi was completed in 1873, and the steel truss bridge in 1874. The success of these first two bridges encouraged the building of similar bridges all along the river, with the last bridge completed in 2017.

The bridges not only provide a source of convenience for travelers, but also open up the possibility for economic development in the region, since it is now much easier for goods to be transported between the two sides of the river. This access to trade and economic opportunity is key to unlocking the true potential of the Mississippi river.

Impact on the Nation

The Mississippi River has played a key role in the growth and development of the United States. Its significance to American culture and history is undeniable, and its importance will only increase over time. As needs and demands of the transportation industry evolve, so too will the ways people cross the Mississippi. From ferry boats to bridges and steamers, the evolving methods of crossing this great river demonstrate the progress of humanity.

Mississippi River Today

Today, the Mississippi River remains an integral part of American culture, while playing an important role in the U.S. transportation industry. The numerous bridges and steamer vessels that cross the river provide a link between the east and west, allowing goods to quickly and effectively be transported between the two sides. The importance of the Mississippi as a part of America’s history and identity can never be overstated, and its importance in economic development of the region is undisputed.

Environmental Impacts

While it serves as a hub of transportation and industry, the Mississippi also has a more sinister side. The pollution caused by steamers and other vessels, compounded by the effects of global warming, has had a devastating effect on the river’s ecosystem. This has had a negative impact on wildlife and the environment along the river.

The importance of protecting the Mississippi and its surroundings has grown to the point where the U.S. government is now actively investing in efforts to clean the river and restore it to its natural state. This includes both improved regulation of existing vessels, as well as new initiatives such as the Build a Better Mississippi project, which aims to reduce pollution from shipping and other sources.

Protection and Preservation

The protection and preservation of the Mississippi is something that all Americans have a responsibility to undertake. This means not only maintaining the river and its surroundings, but also engaging in positive actions to reduce our own consumption of resources and emissions. Although the effects of global warming on the Mississippi may take some time to undo, the current generation of Americans have an obligation to do their part in helping to save this invaluable natural resource.

The Mississippi River has been a central part of the American identity since its discovery by John Law in the early 18th century, and it has connected the east and west coast of the United States ever since. Through its bridges, ferry boats, and steamers, it has served as a source of life, transportation and opportunity for generations, and it continues to be one of the most important natural resources in the nation.

Raymond Strasser is a passion-driven writer and researcher, dedicated to educating readers on the topic of world rivers. With a background in Geography and Environmental Studies, Raymond provides insightful pieces which explore the impact and importance that rivers have around the world.

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