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ITASCA  - Mary Gibbs

Mary GibbsIn 1903, at age 24, Mary Gibbs was appointed park commissioner (manager) at Itasca following the death of her father who was manager at the time.  To keep a logging company's dam from flooding the lakeshore and killing the magnificent pine forest, Mary stared down the company foreman who threatened her at gunpoint. Mary eventually got her way. The logging company gave in, opened the dam, and lowered the water level.Thanks to her actions, the tall pines and lakeshore were saved. After she left Itasca, she spent the next 80 years of her life in Canada. Although Mary never saw the park again, she never forgot it.





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TWIN CITIES - Henry Bosse

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Bosse photo

Henry Bosse was a German born draftsman who came to America in 1865. After a stint as a stationer in Chicago, Bosse came to work for the Chicago office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, transferring to St. Paul, MN and finally Rock Island, IL.

Congress had authorized a 4.5 foot channel from St. Paul to St. Louis. The Corps of Engineers was reshaping the 700 mile stretch of the river with wing dams, walls of rock on either side of the river that pushed the river to the center, quickening the current and allowing the main flow to scour its own channel.

Throughout the 1880's and 1890's, Bosse captured this dramatic transformation of the river on glass plate negatives, printing his pictures as blue cyanotypes in oversized albums. These photographs, numbering over 300, showed the islands and banks, wing dam construction, knobs and bluffs, vegetation, fields, and bridges along the Upper Mississippi.

Bosse also produced bridge drawings, worksite sketches, riverboat plans, and maps, including the "Map of the Mississippi River from the falls of St. Anthony to the junction of the Illinois River." But Bosse's historic photographs of the transformation of the Upper Mississippi are certainly his most lasting contribution. Henry Bosse was a virtual unknown before the 1990 auction of an album of blue cyanotype prints of historic river views. But after the sale, Sotheby's of New York noted that the "sumptuous blue studies awed everyone...(and) sparked a wave of Bosse interest, not only among the bidders at the auction, but across the United States."


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QUAD CITIES -  Chad Pregracke

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Chad PregrackeChad Pregracke grew up in the Illinois Quad cities area on the banks of the Mississippi River, as his home was only a few feet from the shoreline.  The son of educators and river enthusiasts, KeeKee and Gary Pregracke, he spent the majority of his time on, in and around the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. 

While attending high school and college he worked as a commercial shell diver, a commercial fisherman, and barge hand during the summers. He sometimes lived on the islands of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers during that time. While there, he noticed that the rivers environmental condition was getting worse due to the accumulation of trash on the shorelines. Based on his concern, while still in college, he set out in the spring of 1997 to make a difference… one river at a time… one piece of garbage at a time.

In 1998, he founded Living Lands and Waters, the not-for-profit environmental organization based in East Moline, Illinois. Today, there are ten paid staff members and a fleet of several barges and workboats. Thousands of volunteers have cooperated to help with the community cleanups, Riverbottom Forest Restoration and Adapt-a-Mississippi river Mile programs. Chad’s project has been filed by many of the major networks and featured in numerous national and international magazines.

In June of 2002, Chad accepted the Jefferson Award for Public Service in the United States Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.  Chad received an honorary doctorate for his work in education and the environment in May of 2003 from St. Ambrose University in Davenport Iowa. In October the Manhattan Institute of Public Policy awarded Chad the 2003 social Entrepreneurship Award for his efforts in bringing together thousands of volunteers that helped clean up America’s rivers.

From Chad’s website

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ST. LOUIS – Mark Twain

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Mrk Twain

No engineer, author, pilot, poet, inventor or artist can claim a greater role than Mark Twain in making the Mississippi River known and loved throughout the world. Twain brought America's greatest writing genius to America's most picturesque era - steamboating on the river.

Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens at Florida, Missouri in 1835, grew up along the banks of the Mississippi at Hannibal. His formal schooling ended with the death of his father; at age 12 he apprenticed to a printer for board and clothing.

At 21 Twain took passage aboard the Paul Jones from Cincinnati to New Orleans, enacting his boyhood dream. "When I was a boy, there was but one permanent ambition among my comrades on the west bank of the Mississippi River. That was, to be a steamboat man." Twain persuaded Horace Bixby to teach him piloting, a 17 month apprenticeship. During this time, he saw his brother Henry die from the boiler explosion on the Pennsylvania, a boat he had piloted the previous trip. Twain continued his apprenticeship and piloted cargo boats on the Missouri as well. He received his license in 1859 and served as a respected pilot for the next two years.

When the Civil War interrupted commercial traffic along the Mississippi, Twain served a two week stint as a confederate soldier, then went west where he worked for the Virginia City, Nevada Enterprise. Here Clemens adopted the pseudonym Mark Twain, the sounding call for two fathoms or 12 feet of depth. Twain falsely asserted that Captain Isaiah Sellers had first used the name, which the public already believed, proving his lament that nothing he had written in truth was believed and nothing had written in jest was doubted.

Twain's experiences in Hannibal and on the Mississippi were used in his writings: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Life on the Mississippi (1883), and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). Twain once recalled,"[I] got to telling...about the old Mississippi days of steamboating glory and grandeur as I saw them from the pilot house." This became "Old Times on the Mississippi," running from January through August, 1876 in the Atlantic magazine and later became the basis for Life on the Mississippi. He observed, "Mississippi steamboating was born about 1812. At the end of 30 years, it had grown to mighty proportions, then in less than another 30 years it was dead."

Twain's writing also include The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, The Tragedy of Pudd'n Head Wilson, and The Gilded Age, among others, and he was one of the most popular lecturers of his day as well. He was a master of regional dialect and humor. Ernest Hemingway called The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn the greatest American novel. William Dean Howells called Twain "the Lincoln of our literature," a title he deserves for his outstanding contribution not only to American literature but to American life. Twain left this world as he came in, with Haley's comet in 1910.

Mark Twain was an author, steamboat pilot, newspaper reporter, publisher, humorist, philosopher and lecturer, and is best known for his association with steamboating on the Mississippi. No other man in the world is so universally identified with riverboating; Twain made the Mississippi known to the world and his inspired genius put the Father of Waters in the center of American lore. Because of him, the Mississippi is recognized as the symbol of America's vigorous spirit and individualism. Mark Twain did more to make America's rivers famous than any other individual, and he richly deserves the fame he holds as America's greatest riverman.



Memphis – Tom Lee

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Tom LeeTom Lee became a hero when he saved 32 people from a sinking steamboat in 1925. Even though he could not swim, he rowed a small boat into the strong currents of the Mississippi River to rescue the victims. A park which stretches for a mile and half along the banks of the river is dedicated to him.










New Orleans - Louis Armstrong

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Louis ArmstrongLouis Armstrong, nicknamed "Satchmo" (short for satchelmouth), was one of the most influential 20th Century jazz musicians. Along with his many musical accomplishments, he is also credited with spreading and popularizing riverboat jazz throughout the world.

Armstrong was born in New Orleans around 1898. He grew up in extreme poverty, but prevailed despite his difficult circumstances. His musical career started at a young age when he was given a cornet during a stay at the Home for Colored Waifs. Over the next few years, he developed a local reputation as the hottest young trumpeter in the Crescent City. In 1918, Fate Marable, a bandleader for the Streckfus Steamboat Line, hired Armstrong. Marable had a reputation of being a stern taskmaster, and took a challenge with the rough, untutored Armstrong. Though he spent only five years on the boats, this was a pivotal period for Armstrong's musical development and accordingly, for all of jazz.

Under Marable's direction, Armstrong developed tremendously as a musician. He learned to read music and started to be featured as a solo performer. His popularity on the Streckfus Line helped him mature from a talented but raw musician into a focused and versatile professional. He left the boats in 1922 to pursue his aspirations of international fame.

Armstrong's significance to jazz is incalculable. His role in spreading the regional jazz music of the river community to the entire world was only one of many achievements. Armstrong died in 1971, but will forever be remembered as introducing this uniquely American art form to America and the world.


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Plaquemines Parish – Wilma Subra

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Wilma Subra

Wilma Subra is a chemist from New Iberia, Louisiana, who has helped more than 800 communities all over the United States challenge industrial polluters. Much of Wilma's work has focused on towns along the Mississippi River in Louisiana's Cancer Alley.

One of these communities is Diamond, a predominantly African-American community situated along the fence line of a chemical company facility in Norco, La. Residents of this community had been plagued for years by respiratory ailments and high rates of cancer. These health hazards were directly traced to the host of toxic emissions from the nearby chemical plant – carcinogenic chemicals including benzene and epichlorohydrine.

Wilma, who earns her living by testing hot sauce at the Tabasco plant in Avery Island, La., worked with the community in a volunteer capacity, helping them learn more about what these dangerous emissions were doing to their bodies. She also worked hand-in-hand with community residents to take action to preserve their health and the health of their children.

During 2003, she negotiated a relocation plan on behalf of the residents. The company paid 300 households above-market prices for their homes and also paid all relocation and moving costs to a location of the family’s choice. In many cases, families not only removed themselves from a hazardous environment, they also moved to better living conditions.

In 1999, Wilma was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, commonly known as the "genius award."

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To find out about more people who contributed to the history of the Mississippi River check out the Mississippi River Museum’s Hall of Fame at:


One River Mississippi

















Seven Heroes of the Mississippi
June 24