I noticed today that a lot of people are reading my blog about the Mississippi River called “Misi-ziibi”. I learned fairly recently that this is just one Native American name for The Mighty Mississippi. Misi-ziibi is what the Ojibway tribe called it and their name stuck. Today everyone knows this name for the river. I am currently reading a book about Mountain Men like Jedediah Smith. These are the men who hunted for beavers in The West. They are now thought to be more important as explorers than beaver trappers. Much of our knowledge of what is west of the Mississippi we have learned from them.
I got to thinking about rivers and found myself trying to research only the rivers in the US. The complete list of them that I found was in alphabetical order and amazing. There were hundreds of rivers with unrecognizable names, so I began looking at the rivers beginning with the letter A and discovered that I didn’t recognize most of them. Many were extremely short streams. A couple of them were only 9 miles long or shorter. They were also clearly local, and many were important working rivers carrying local goods to markets.
I thought about the important rivers of my youth, the Meramec, the Gasconade, and the Cuivre. It suddenly occurred to me that probably no one outside of Missouri knows these names. The Meramec was the most important of the 3 because it flowed through St. Louis to the Mississippi. Today the Meramec is one of the longest free-flowing waterways in the United States. Ever heard of it? I thought about the number of times I fell or dove into it, and was appalled to learn that it was once very polluted. The Meramec, a large working river that used to flood annually, is 218 miles long and all in Missouri. It has had 8 names, one of them Mirameg, over time; and some of the names would translate to “river of ugly fishes”. Now there are 11 species of fish in the Meramec, and they are prized by fishing sports. Meramec Spring is near the Missouri town of St James.
The Gasconade was farther for me to explore, but I still knew about it. The Gasconade is 280 miles long, all in Missouri, and you probably never heard of it. The Cuivre is my favorite. It celebrates the French heritage of St. Louis and its environs since cuivre is the French word for copper, but this river was named for a French baron, Georges Leopold Cuvier. One of its 11 historical names is Riviere au Boeuf. This name honored the fact that many floaters saw buffalo herds chomping on grass on its banks. We used to call it the Quiver River ever time we passed over its almost 42 mile length. This is the shortest of these 3 rivers well known to most Missourians. According to Guinness, the shortest river in the world is the Roe. It’s in the US and flows only 200 feet between Giant Springs and the Mighty Missouri River near Great Falls, MT.
Most mountain men were probably not aware of The Roe, but they all knew the Missouri. All of the rivers between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains were well known, named, mapped, and settled along by their time, but the rivers west of the Rockies were still being explored and misunderstood. A map in the book I am reading was an important one published in 1826. It reminded me of a map I once saw in a museum. It was the one that most western settlers carried with them, and it had almost no details about the country. The 1826 map showed only 2 lakes west of the Rockies, Lake Timpanogos and Lake Salado. The Rio Buenaventura, which does not exist, is shown flowing from Lake Salado to the Pacific Ocean.