Life by the Mississippi

By Mueller, William; Burton, Marda | The Saturday Evening Post, April 1989 | Go to article overview

Life by the Mississippi

Mueller, William, Burton, Marda, The Saturday Evening Post

On Mud Island at Memphis there is a model of the Mississippi River. Not a tabletop thing, but five city blocks of concrete that scale every curve and contour, width and depth of the lower thousand miles in bold relief. More than 1.5 million gallons of water fuel the model. Slate slabs with streets of steel ribbons represent towns and cities. More than 300 bits of information along the model describe how man, nature, or both conspired to create history.

The notes and the flowing waters help explain how pirates once used a treacherous narrows to prey on passing boats, or how pilots inched their boats and barges past sand bars and other dangers. The role of the levees is dramatized when the model undergoes its daily "flood stage." The visitor even hear the river, though the gurgles are but faint echoes of the real thing.

The Mississippi, even combined with its major tributary, the Missouri, is still only the world's third longest river, behind the Nile, lifegiver to desert and birthplace of civilization, and the Amazon, in the center of the rain forest, largest supplier of oxygen. Neither this model, nor the neighboring museum at Mud Island, nor any statistics, explains the true role of Old Man River in our lives and our imagination.

How important has the river been to our development? Our settlers had in the Mississippi and its tributaries an ideal blue highway, linking 31 states to the Gulf. The Ohio River would give important areas in several states an avenue large enough to accommodate big steamboats. The Missouri would be even more important, slashing a thousand miles through forbidding northwestern prarie to the mountains. Access to markets permitted Americans to develop as fast as their audacity and ingenuity would allow. That effect on the economy still exists here in the heartland. Farmers this past summer were affected (and still are) by low water levels on the river. As the drought worsened, many argued for tapping the Great Lakes to raise levels to the necessary 9 feet in parts of the upper channel and 12 feet below Cairo, Ilinois. So much tonnage passes along the river that the port of New Orleans surpasses new York's in shipping. A single tank barge can be more than 1,000 feet in length, and its 9 million-gallon capacity exceeds that of 1,000 railroad tank cars; a single coal barge can hold up to 60 railroad car loads, and ten barges can be joined together in one tow.

The Mississippi for travelers has one further distinction from the Nile or the Amazon. Few adventurers have ever seen the birthplace of those two rivers, but anyone can drive the entire length of the Mississippi on the Great River Road and see for himself the interplay of history, culture, and environment. He sees less of the river itself, less of Mark Twain's steamboat highway, and more of how the great river has shaped its environs. The traveler must press on, seeking to know more.

* * *

The journey begins in the Iron Range of northern Minnesota. One finds the Mississippi leaking out of Lake Itasca. Then the Mississippi is off, meandering southeasterly and gathering volume through a rich watershed, until by St. Cloud it is a true river; and by Minneapolis-St. Paul it is broad enough, a nine-foot channel gouged into its bottom, to accommodate the millions of tons of ore, coal, and grain barged toward the ocean more than 2,000 miles away.

At the St. Croix there is a confluence of rivers, and then the Mississippi turns sharply southward to form Minnesota's eastern boundary. Here it takes on its classic upperriver characteristics. Wooded hills and bluffs gently press in, seeming to keep the channel true to south, while broad valleys let the river sprawl into shallow moving lakes half a mile acros with marshes and wetlands that make this still the world's premier migratory flyway.

The river roads here--in the states of Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Missouri--run near the actual river. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Life by the Mississippi


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.