The river is named for the Missouri tribe, which is also true for the state of Missouri. The Missouri River is sometimes called the Big Muddy river or the “Muddy Mo”, short for “Muddy Missouri”.
Geography of the Missouri River
The Missouri River starts at Gallatin, Madison and the Jefferson River in Montana. It ends where it meets the Mississippi River in St. Louis.
The Missouri River flows through several major cities, such as St. Louis, Missouri, Kansas City, Missouri, Omaha, Nebraska, Pierre, South Dakota and Bismarck, North Dakota. Other significant cities in the region sit on tributaries of the Missouri River. Denver is on the South Platte River, a tributary, while Topeka is on the Kansas River, another tributary.
The Missouri drainage area covers ten states, half a million square miles, 5% of all of North America and one sixth of the United States and part of two Canadian provinces. Smaller tributaries of the Missouri River include the Big Sioux, Milk River, Marias River, South Platte River, North Platte River (joining to form the Platte River), the Bighorn River and the Osage River. There are many lakes along the river, either man made reservoirs or natural feeders into the river like Lake Sakakawea, Lake Oahe, Lake Sharpe, Lake of the Ozarks and Yellowstone Lake.
The Missouri River is 2,341 miles long. Its official starting point is where the Madison and Jefferson rivers meet at the Missouri Headwaters State Park. The Gallatin river joins a mile downstream.
It is the 15th longest river in the world. The Missouri River has had a number of straight channels cut to facilitate navigation, reducing its length by 200 miles from historical times. Despite this, the Missouri River is the longest river in North America.
Combine the Mississippi River and the Missouri River into one, and you have the fourth longest river system in the world. When the Mississippi, Missouri and Jefferson rivers are combined into one “system”, they are the fourth longest river system with a drainage area of almost three million square kilometers and a discharge of 16,200 cubic meters per second into the Gulf of Mexico.
Approximately one fourth of all agricultural land in the U.S. is in the Missouri River basin.
History of the Missouri River
The Missouri River was a major highway for Native American tribes who moved into the area at least twelve thousand years ago. It was first seen by Europeans when Father Marquette and Louis Joliet arrived in 1673. Later, the Lewis and Clark expedition travelled on it west on their voyage to the Pacific. Shortly thereafter, fur trappers started to use it, followed by steamboats.
Flood control efforts began by the early 1900s. The Missouri River has had dozens of dams, causeways, spillways and other structures built along it to control its flooding. The Corps of Army Engineers maintains many of them.
Because its rainfall is unpredictable and water levels vary based on snow melt, irrigation and rain, the National Weather Service monitors the water levels of the Missouri river and predicts when it may flood.
The Missouri River is twice the length of the Mississippi River and a drainage basin three times as large.