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In 1541 Hernando de Soto discovered the Mississippi.
French lands in North America grew hugely in the later half of the 17th century. In 1673 Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet explored the northern reaches of the Mississippi River. In 1682 La Salle claimed the entire Mississippi Valley for France. He called the territory 'Louisiana' in honour of the then French king, Louis XIV. After the civil war, the land west of the Mississippi River was steadily settled by white Americans.
The Mississippi flows 3,780 km from north-west Minnesota to its delta in the Gulf of Mexico. At St Louis it is joined by the Missouri, and the 6,020 km Mississippi-Missouri is the world's fourth longest river system. It is one of the world's biggest waterways today. By the 18th century steamships were used to carry goods along the Mississippi River; the first steamboat appeared there in 1811. Although one crossed the Atlantic in 1819, long sea journeys were not economic for this type of ship. Nowadays ships can travel for nearly 2,900 km from Minneapolis to New Orleans, and the muddy waters of 'Old Man River' carry vast amounts of freight. A system of levees and side channels usually helps to prevent flooding but in 1993 two months of heavy rain brought devastating floods to two-thirds of the flood plain, an area bigger than Scotland. This was an event estimated as likely to occur once every 500 years. The river rose 10 metres, overtopping the levees. The cost of the resulting damage was estimated at some $10 billion.
Mississippi entered into the Union on 10 December, 1817. Today the state of Mississippi covers an area of 123,515 sq km with a population of 2,621,000. Its capital is Jackson. The state flower is the magnolia.
Mark Twain set his novels 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer' and 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' around the Mississippi.
In 1962 riots broke out when a black student was admitted to Mississippi University.
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