Muskingum River

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Muskingum River
Muskingum River Marietta.jpg
The Muskingum River near its mouth in Marietta, Ohio
CountryUnited States
Physical characteristics
 - locationConfluence of the Tuscarawas and Walhonding Rivers
 - location
Ohio River at Marietta, Ohio
 - elevation
582 ft (177 m)[1]
Length111 mi (179 km)
Basin size8,051 sq mi (20,850 km2)[2]
Map of the Muskingum River watershed.
Aerial View of the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers at Marietta, Ohio.

The Muskingum River (Shawnee: Wakatamothiipi [3]) is a tributary of the Ohio River, approximately 111 miles (179 km) long, in southeastern Ohio in the United States. An important commercial route in the 19th century, it flows generally southward through the eastern hill country of Ohio. Via the Ohio, it is part of the Mississippi River watershed. The river is navigable for much of its length through a series of locks and dams.


The Muskingum is formed at Coshocton in east-central Ohio by the confluence of the Walhonding and Tuscarawas rivers. It flows in a meandering course southward past Conesville and Dresden to Zanesville, and then southeastward past South Zanesville, Philo, Gaysport, Malta, McConnelsville, Beverly, Lowell, Stockport and Devola. It joins the Ohio at Marietta.

Along its course the Muskingum collects Wills Creek near Conesville; Wakatomika Creek at Dresden; the Licking River at Zanesville; Moxahala Creek at South Zanesville; and Wolf Creek near Beverly.[4]


The name Muskingum derives from the Shawnee word mshkikwam 'swampy ground',[5] taken to mean 'elk's eye' (mus wəshkinkw) in Lenape by folk etymology, as if < mus 'elk'[6] + wəshkinkw 'its eye'.[7] Historically, it was also the name of a large Wyandot town along the river.

As part of an expedition to assert French dominance throughout the entire Ohio valley, on August 15, 1749, a leaden plate claiming the region for France was buried at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio rivers by Pierre Joseph Céloron

Noted frontier explorer, Christopher Gist, reached the Big Sandy Creek tributary of the river on December 4, 1751. Traveling downriver, he recorded arriving on December 14 at the western Wyandot town of Muskingum, at present-day Coshocton. There he remained for the following month.[8]

Marietta was founded in 1788 as the first permanent American settlement in the Northwest Territory, at the mouth of the Muskingum River on the Ohio River. The Big Bottom Massacre occurred along its banks in 1791.

Zanesville was settled by European Americans in 1799 at the site where Zane's Trace crossed the Muskingum at the mouth of the Licking River. In the mid-19th century the Muskingum was an important commercial shipping route, with dams and locks controlling the water level to allow boats to travel up and down the river. With the decrease in use of water-based transportation in Ohio by the 1920s, the locks fell into disrepair.

Since the 1960s, the locks have been repaired to enable pleasure craft to travel the entire navigable length of the river. The Muskingum waterway is one of the few remaining systems in the US to use hand-operated river locks. The navigation system has been designated a national Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. In 2006, it was designated "An Ohio Water Trail;" this designation provides for increased canoe access on the river.

Located north of the Mason–Dixon line, from around 1812 to 1861 the Muskingum River was a major Underground Railroad route used by fugitive slaves escaping from the South on their journey north to Lake Erie and Canada.

Nonprofit organizations[edit]

The [1] Friends of the Lower Muskingum River is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit land trust based in Marietta, Ohio, concerned with protection of the Muskingum River and adjacent lands. In addition, the [2] Muskingum River Conservation District is a quasi-governmental entity concerned with flood control on the river.

Variant names[edit]

According to the Geographic Names Information System, the Muskingum River has also been known as:

  • Big Muskingum River
  • Elk River
  • Mouskindom River
  • Mushkingum River
  • Muskingham River
  • Riviere Chiagnez

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

  • [3] A history-travel guide on the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers


  1. ^ U.S. Geological Survey. Marietta quadrangle, Ohio. 1:24,000. 7.5 Minute Series. Washington D.C.: USGS, 1994.
  2. ^ "Map of Ohio watersheds". Archived from the original on 2007-03-11.
  3. ^ "Shawnees Webpage". Shawnee's Reservation. 1997. Retrieved 2013-04-26.
  4. ^ DeLorme (1991). Ohio Atlas & Gazetteer. Yarmouth, Maine: DeLorme. ISBN 0-89933-233-1
  5. ^ Mahr, August C. (1957). "Indian River and Place Names in Ohio". Ohio History. Ohio Historical Society. 66 (2): 137–158. Retrieved 2012-05-22. "The Muskingum River was the channel by which eastern Ohio was penetrated, mainly by the Delawares during the first half of the eighteenth century, and to a much lesser extent by bands of Shawnees preceding the Delawares by a few decades. In its present form Muskingum, this river name has been in use among both Indians and whites for more than two centuries as another one of those terms of Indian-white travel-and-trade lingo, such as Ohio, Scioto, and others. Whatever its aboriginal form may have been, Muskingum as a river name was fragmentary, requiring in any Indian language the addition of a term signifying 'river.' Zeisberger and other Moravian missioners spelled it Muskingum, as we do today, as well as Mushkingum (transliterated from German-based Muschkingum). Most likely, both of these spellings represented two different pronunciations current among the Delawares. Zeisberger's definition of the name, based on a combination of moos, 'an elk,' and wuschking, 'eye' (in his own spelling), meaning 'elk's eye,' looks like a folk etymology resting on the similarity in sound between Muschkingum and wuschgingunk (Zeisberger's spelling), defined as 'on or in the eye.' John Johnston states that 'Muskingum is a Delaware word, and means a town on the river side.' This is partly correct and partly wrong. Muskingum (or Mushkingum, for that matter) indeed is a Delaware word, but by no stretch of the imagination does it mean 'a town on the river side.' It is certain though that it named a town on the river side. Possibly this town was an old Shawnee settlement whose name the nearby Delawares adapted to their own tongue in the form of *M'shkiink'm (Mushkinkum), and by force of folk etymology understood it to mean 'elk's eye.' It appears quite probable that the original Shawnee place name as assimilated by the Delawares, may have been *m'shkeenkw/aam(-), a Shawnee term combining *m'shkeenkw-, 'swampy,' with -aam, a stem approximately denoting '(land, soil, etc.) being as indicated,' and invariably followed by -'chki or some other adverbial determinant, with the composite meaning, 'where the land is swampy, soggy.' Where this place was located, it is impossible to ascertain. Evidently, in their assimilation of this Shawnee place name, the Delawares, disregarding as unessential the final locative affix, were solely concerned with *M'shkeenkwaam, from which it was but a small step, over intermediary *M'shkeenk'm, to folk-etymologically conditioned *Muushkiink'm ( Mushkinkum; Muskingum).
  6. ^ "mus". Lenape Talking Dictionary. Archived from the original on 2012-03-15. Retrieved 2012-05-22.
  7. ^ "wëshkinkw". Lenape Talking Dictionary. Archived from the original on 1 February 2016. Retrieved 2012-05-22.
  8. ^ Darlington, Journal of Christopher Gist

Coordinates: 39°24′33″N 81°27′22″W / 39.40917°N 81.45611°W / 39.40917; -81.45611