The Mighty Mississippi... Lore, Legend & History
So much of Mississippi's history and culture flows from the mighty Mississippi River
At water level, the Mississippi River is awesome, but it looks even more impressive from the basket of a hot-air balloon. Ask anyone in The Great Mississippi River Balloon Race, which happens at Natchez each October. The balloons rise from the bluff in Natchez and hang over the mighty Mississippi like giant, multicoloured ornaments. Below, traffic flows from one side of the river to the other on twin cantilever bridges, and huge barges riding low with cargo seem dwarfed by the expanse of water around them.
From its headwaters, the Mississippi River flows some 2,340 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. In the early 19th century, a rugged breed of men steered cargo-laden flatboats down the river, then travelled back home overland on the Natchez Trace. One of the most notorious river landings was Natchez Under-The-Hill, a lawless area where the decent citizens of Natchez, on the bluff above, dared not venture. By the end of the century, steamboats had all but replaced the flatboat, and the reputation of Natchez Under-The-Hill was becoming more legend than fact. Today, you can safely buy a drink and listen to music at Under-the Hill Saloon and spend the night upstairs at the Mark Twain Guest House.
Civil War history also flows along the Mississippi River. Memories haunt the antebellum mansions in Natchez, and the battlefields at Port Gibson and Vicksburg. Through the centuries, the river has been noth the lifeblood of the land and its nemesis. Fields of corn, cotton, rice and soybeans stretch for miles through the Mississippi Delta, flourishing in the fertile soil nourished by thousands of years of flooding. Those same floods devastated the lives of people. From the challenges of the land and river came one of Mississippi's greatest legacies, blues music. Powered by hardship and hope, it plays in casinos, clubs and juke joints up and down the river and across the state.
The Delta's blend of cultures shows in its cuisine, which ranges from catfish to the hot tamales served at restaurants and holes-in-the-wall throughout the region – at Doe's Eat Place in Greenville, Solly's Hot Tamales in Vicksburg, the White Front Cafe in Rosedale, Hicks Tamales & BBQ Shop in Clarksdale and Teal's Onward Store in Rolling Fork. You see it also in the festivals that celebrate the food along with the land and the music. Once experienced, it's never forgotten.
Tunica RiverPark and Museum
The RiverPark and Museum in Tunica tell the story of the Mississippi River. A path on the grounds winds nearly two miles through a wetland forest. Exhibits in the museum tell about the Native Americans who lived here, the first European explorers to stand on its banks and the reasons the Mississippi Delta is one of the most fertile agriculture areas in the world. One video exhibit recalls the devastating flood of 1927. Another describes the music known as the blues.
From the observation deck you can look out over the river. Or you can see it aboard the Tunica Queen, which offers an hour-and-a-half cruise. The elegant riverboat's open decks allow you to discover up close the awesome beauty of the "The Father of Waters".
Festivals along the Mississippi River
March – Italian Festival of Mississippi, Cleveland; Natchez Spring Pilgrimage, Natchez
April – Crosstie Arts & Jazz Festival, Cleveland; Rivergate Festival, Tunica; Riverfest, Vicksburg
June – Delta Jubilee, Clarksdale
August – Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival, Clarksdale
September – Natchez Fall Pilgrimage, Natchez; Highway 61 Blues Festival, Leland
October – Natchez Fall Pilgrimage, Natchez; Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival, Clarksdale; Pinetop Perkins Homecoming, Clarksdale; Delta Day Festival, Tunica
Mississippi River Views
Here are some vantage points for a spectacular view of the Mississippi River:
The gazebo, Bluff Park in Natchez
Obervation deck, Mississippi River Museum, RiverPark in Tunica
Overlook, Louisiana Circle, Vicksburg National Military Park
Road above the USS Cairo Museum, Vicksburg National Military Park
Observation tower, Great River Road State Park, Rosedale