The Native Americans

“Mississippi,” derived from the French rendering of the Ojibwe name for the river, means “great river” or “gathering of waters." For thousands of years, Native Americans used the Mississippi and its tributaries for transportation and fishing. Native villages dotted the shores of the River’s entire 2,348-mile length, according to seventeenth-century accounts by European explorers.

Long before Europeans encountered the Mississippi, the city of Cahokia, near present-day St. Louis, was a thriving metropolis along the River between A.D. 800-1300. Cahokians built huge mounds as platforms for ceremonial buildings and residences, and they used dugout canoes to transport large quantities of goods as far north as Wisconsin.

European explorers, lacking geographical knowledge of the region, depended on Native American guides to find their way.

The images on this page depict three native peoples (the Ottigaumie, Naudowessie, and Natchez) who inhabited the Mississippi River Valley in the present-day states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Mississippi.

1838 Ca

“A Man and Woman of the Ottigaumies”
In: Carver, Carver’s Travels in Wisconsin.
(New York, 1838)
Bell 1838 Ca

1781 Ca B&W

“A Man and Woman of the Naudowessie”
In: Carver, Travels through the interior parts of North America, in the years 1766, 1767, and 1768.
(London, 1781)
Bell 1781 Ca

1758 Le

"Natchez Indian warriors carry the chief to the Great Corn Feast."
In: Le Page du Pratz, Histoire de la Louisiane…
(Paris, 1758)
Bell 1758 Le

The Native Americans