Grandmother of Rivers, The Mississippi
March 26, 2010

From Allan W. Eckert’s Twilight of Empire, footnote 12:
Indian peoples from as far east as the Hudson Valley and as far west as the Rocky Mountains referred to the Mississippi River as “the Grandmother of Rivers,” but no evidence has been discovered to indicate that they ever called it “the Father of Rivers,” which appears to be an appellation originated by the whites, probably the British. More frequently Indian people referred to it as the Mississippi, meaning “Big River.”

Derivation of Mississippi is traced most specifically to the Ottawa tongue, in which it is Misses Sepe. Variations of this in other dialects are Metha Sepe (Shawnee), Meche Sepe (Kickapoo), Mecha Sapo (Sac), Mecha Sapua (Menominee) and Meze-Zebe (Chippewa).

In these variations, the first word means big or large, the second means river. Oddly enough, the Winnebagoes referred to it as Nekoonts Haktakah—again, the two words meaning Large and River. The Sioux, on the other hand, called it Wapta-Tonga, with the two words once more signifying Big and River.

From Paul Durand’s Where the Waters Gather and the Rivers Meet:
Misi Zibi [Ojibwe, a.k.a Chippewa, Anishinabeg] “River-Everywhere-Or-All-Over, the Mississippi becomes so below the junction of Leech Lake River, not Itasca, as so designated by the whites. This is the archaic designation, as in later times it was more commonly called KITCHI [great] ZIBI [river]. (p. 131)

“Rivers follow the general rule of taking the name of their immediate source lake. When reaching Lake Bemidji, Cass, and Winnibigoshish, this stream changed its name three more times and not until the outlet of Leech Lake is reached does it become the Mississippi.”—Jos. A. Gilfillan (p. 15)

Following this rule the source of the Mississippi, with its wealth of tourism, would be within Leech Lake Indian Reservation two counties east of Lake Itasca. (S.J.).

From Wikipedia:
In 1832 Henry Schoolcraft identified Elk Lake (Ojibwe: Omashkoozo-zaaga’igan) as the source of the Mississippi River and renamed it Lake Itasca from the Latin veritas (“truth”) and caput (“head”). Schoolcraft also coined other pseudo-Indian place names.

From William Watts Folwell’s A History of Minnesota, Vol. 1, 1924, p. 128, and other sources:
French mathematician and geographer, Joseph Nicollet, mapped the upper Mississippi basin in 1836-7 and noted that the Mississippi flows into as well as out of Lake Itasca. A series of lakelets and marshes as much as 300-feet higher than Itasca feed downhill into Elk Lake and then into Itasca.

acob V. Brower, a land surveyor and president of the Minnesota Historical Society, settled the (political) dispute about the source of the Mississippi. In 1888, after exploring the area for five months he ruled that the lakes and streams further south of (but uphill from) Lake Itasca were not the true source of the Mississippi. Brower campaigned aggressively to save Lake Itasca from logging by Weyerhauser companies. On April 21, 1891, the Minnesota Legislature officially made Itasca a state park.

The channel of the Mississippi as it emerges from Lake Itasca was moved in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, to create a “pleasant” experience for visitors. The project included draining surrounding swamp, digging a new channel, and installing a manmade rock rapids to allow tourists to “wade across the Mississippi.”

The Mississippi is 2,350 miles long. She is fed by more than 40 tributary rivers emptying waters from Minnesota to Louisiana (north to south) and from New York state to Idaho (east to west). The Ohio River is her greatest tributary in water volume but the Missouri, out of the Rocky Mountains, is 217 miles longer than the Grandmother of Rivers.

top^ <back
<< back









Highway 55


Contact Us


Friends of Coldwater is a Minnesota Nonprofit Corporation