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The Yazoo River was named by French explorer La Salle in 1682 as "Rivière des Yazous" in reference to the Yazoo tribe living near the river's mouth. The exact meaning of the term is unclear. One long held belief is that it means "river of death".
The river is 188 miles (303 km) long and is formed by the confluence of the Tallahatchie River and the Yalobusha River in Greenwood. The river parallels the Mississippi River in the latter's floodplain for some distance before joining it north of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Natural levees which flank the Mississippi prevent the Yazoo from joining it before Vicksburg. A "yazoo stream" is a hydrologic term which was coined to describe any river or major stream with similar characteristics.
The French (and later European Americans) historically called the surrounding area of Mississippi and Alabama the Yazoo lands, after the river. This became the basis for naming the Yazoo Land Scandal of the late 18th and early 19th century.
The river was of major importance during the American Civil War. The Confederates used the first electrically detonated underwater mine in the river in 1862 near Vicksburg to sink the Union ironclad USS Cairo. The last section of the Cairo was raised on December 12, 1964. It has been restored and is now on permanent display to the public at the Vicksburg National Military Park. There are 29 sunken ships from the Civil War beneath the waters of the river.
Variant names of the Yazoo River include Zasu River, Yazous River, Yahshoo River, Rivière des Yasoux, and Fiume del Yasous.
In 1876, the Mississippi River changed its course, shifting west several miles and leaving Vicksburg without a river front. In 1902, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers diverted the Yazoo River into the old river bed, forming the Yazoo Diversion Canal. The modern day port of Vicksburg is still located on this canal.
- Mississippi Delta
- Flood Control Act of 1937
- U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Yazoo River
- Yazoo Basin - Engineering Geology Mapping Program PDF files of publications about and maps of the geology of the Yazoo River region.