Known to Native Americans as "Messipi" ("Big River") or "Mee-zee-see-bee" ("Father of Waters"), the Mississippi River originates in Minnesota and terminates 2,348 miles later at the Gulf of Mexico.The river played an integral part in the establishment and growth of Cape Girardeau, whose port has welcomed skiffs, canoes, Keelboats, steamboats, and modern day passenger paddle wheelers. Barge traffic continues to utilize the river.
Risk has always been a part of life on the river. In the nineteenth century, countless vessels struck submerged snags and sunk. Boiler explosions were also commonplace. On February 4, 1849, residents of Cape Girardeau were shocked when 1500 barrels of gunpowder on the steamboat Sea Bird exploded. The blast damaged building on St. Vincent's College.
Flooding has also been a constant threat. Until the floodwall was completed in 1964, Cape Girardeau suffered regular inundations. The floodwall is designed to protect Cape agains a 54-foot flood stage with two feet of freeboard. The record flood stage occurred in 1993 when the river reached 48.5 feet.