MISSISSIPPI VALLEY occupies the center of the United States. It stretches 2,348 miles from Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota to the mouth of the Mississippi River in the Gulf of Mexico. Originally the river meandered significantly through its broad valley, but flood control and improving the river for transportation have resulted in significant straightening by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. These and other changes to the river have combined with agricultural, industrial, and urban run off to significantly impair the ecological health of the river and its valley.
The river valley was originally home to numerous Native American groups. By a.d. 1000 many of these groups were engaged in agricultural production in the rich bottomland. Hernando De Soto was the first European to document seeing the Mississippi Valley in 1541. He was followed by Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet in 1673, Louis Hennepin in 1679, and Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle in 1682. France, Spain, and England claimed portions of the valley, and it served as the western boundary of the United States after 1783. The entire valley was acquired by the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.
The river valley's bottomlands have been used extensively for agriculture. The river has also served a key role in transportation and commerce throughout the center of the United States.
Scarpino, Philip. Great River: An Environmental History of the Upper Mississippi, 1890–1950. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1985.