Rivers as Givers

Rivers as Givers


With this activity, you will continue your study of great rivers by learning about some of the other goods and services provided to humans by rivers, notably food, transportation, and energy.


To begin, go to Spear Fishing, where you should read about one of the earlier approaches of fishing used by native Americans.

Artisanal fishing came next. Artisanal fishers build their own boats and gear, and they sell or trade in local markets. Now go to Fishing Technologies, which describes various artisanal fishing technologies. Some of these were depicted in art. You can go to

Etruscan boat-based line fishing to view an ancient depiction of this type of fishing.

To understand how important fishing can be to a society, go to the American Bottom Landing site of the Illinois State Museum's RiverWeb. This site examines the Mississippian culture of Native Americans living in the American Bottom, a large floodplain located near modern-day St. Louis, Missouri.

After you study this resource, you should be able to discuss these questions as a class:

  • How important was fishing to this culture?
  • What other products of the river and floodplain were important to their everyday existence?
  • Compare your daily lives to the daily lives of Mississippian children.  What do you suppose they did instead of going to school? Instead of watching TV or playing video games? Where did their food come from, and what part might they have played in collecting, catching, or preparing it?

Now go to the Illinois State Museum Harvesting the River website. You will find a discussion of early commercial fishing on the Illinois River, including a narrative, images of fishers and their tools, and essentials of the ecology and fish of the river.

As a class, discuss these questions:

  • Are any of the kinds of fish mentioned in the site found in your local grocery stores?
  • Between the 1880s and 1930s, what were the four main products harvested from the river?
  • The Illinois River is known as having a slow fall, which means that it is a slow-moving river. How did this slow fall affect the habitat and the kinds of fish found in the river?
  • How did the changes along the river in the 20th century affect the supply of these products and the people who lived along the river?

To continue your study of the food provided by rivers, go to and read Why try to save wild salmon?, on page 4 of the Snapshot of Salmon in Oregon publication, for different views on saving the salmon.

Once you have read the article, discuss these questions with your class:

  • Where is the balance between human needs and environmental protection now?
  • How does this compare with where the balance was 50 or 100 years ago?

Finally, view a picture of the blue catfish. Found worldwide, in the Mississippi River the catfish can get up to 200 lbs. You also can observe a picture of a flathead catfish, which is an ambush predator. Then, observe the alligator gar, one of the most fearsome river predators and a fish that can reach 10 feet in length and has a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth.

This esheet is a part of the Great Rivers 3: Great Rivers, Great Givers lesson.

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Grades State Standards