The Cumberland River is a waterway
A waterway is any navigable body of water. Waterways can include rivers, lakes, seas, oceans, and canals. In order for a waterway to be navigable, it must meet several criteria:...
in the Southern United States
Southern United States
The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South, Dixie, or simply the South—constitutes a large distinctive area in the southeastern and south-central United States...
. It is 688 miles (1,107.2 km) long. It starts in Harlan County
Harlan County, Kentucky
Harlan County is a county located in the U.S. state of Kentucky. It was formed in 1819. As of 2000, the population was 33,200. Its county seat is Harlan...
in far southeastern Kentucky
The Commonwealth of Kentucky is a state located in the East Central United States of America. As classified by the United States Census Bureau, Kentucky is a Southern state, more specifically in the East South Central region. Kentucky is one of four U.S. states constituted as a commonwealth...
between Pine and Cumberland
The Cumberland Mountains are a mountain range in the southeastern section of the Appalachian Mountains. They are located in southern West Virginia, western Virginia, eastern edges of Kentucky, and eastern middle Tennessee, including the Crab Orchard Mountains...
mountains, flows through southern Kentucky, crosses into northern Tennessee
Tennessee is a U.S. state located in the Southeastern United States. It has a population of 6,346,105, making it the nation's 17th-largest state by population, and covers , making it the 36th-largest by total land area...
, and then curves back up into western Kentucky before draining into the Ohio River
The Ohio River is the largest tributary, by volume, of the Mississippi River. At the confluence, the Ohio is even bigger than the Mississippi and, thus, is hydrologically the main stream of the whole river system, including the Allegheny River further upstream...
at Smithland, Kentucky
Smithland is a city in Livingston County, Kentucky, United States, at the confluence of the Ohio and Cumberland Rivers. The population was 401 at the 2000 census...
. The city of Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville is the capital of the U.S. state of Tennessee and the county seat of Davidson County. It is located on the Cumberland River in Davidson County, in the north-central part of the state. The city is a center for the health care, publishing, banking and transportation industries, and is home...
sits along the banks of the Cumberland River.
HydrographyThe Cumberland River is a wild river above the headwaters of Lake Cumberland. Cumberland Falls
Cumberland Falls, sometimes called the Little Niagara, the Niagara of the South, or the Great Falls, is a large waterfall on the Cumberland River in southeastern Kentucky...
, 68 feet (20.7 m) high, is one of the largest waterfalls in the eastern United States and is one of the few places in the Western Hemisphere where a moonbow
A moonbow is a rainbow produced by light reflected off the surface of the moon rather than from direct sunlight. Moonbows are relatively faint, due to the smaller amount of light reflected from the surface of the moon...
can be seen.
HistoryDuring the early colonial period, the river was known as "Warioto" to the local Native Americans and as "Shauvanon" by French traders. It was also known as the "Shawnee" or "Shawonoe" before being known by its current name.
Important first as a passage for hunters and settlers, the Cumberland River also supported later riverboat trade which reached to the Ohio and Mississippi
The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, this river rises in western Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains...
rivers. Villages, towns and cities were located at landing points along its banks. Through the middle of the 19th century, settlers depended on rivers for trading and travel.
In 1748, Dr. Thomas Walker
Thomas Walker (explorer)
Dr. Thomas Walker was a physician and explorer from Virginia who led an expedition to what is now the region beyond the Allegheny Mountains area of British North America in the mid-18th century...
led a party of hunters across the Appalachian Mountains
The Appalachian Mountains #Whether the stressed vowel is or ,#Whether the "ch" is pronounced as a fricative or an affricate , and#Whether the final vowel is the monophthong or the diphthong .), often called the Appalachians, are a system of mountains in eastern North America. The Appalachians...
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...
, mapped and named the river.
Previous to Walker's trip, the Cumberland River had been called Wasioto by Native Americans
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...
and Rivere des Chaouanons, or "river of the Shawnee," by French traders. The river was also known as the Shawnee
The Shawnee, Shaawanwaki, Shaawanooki and Shaawanowi lenaweeki, are an Algonquian-speaking people native to North America. Historically they inhabited the areas of Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, Western Maryland, Kentucky, Indiana, and Pennsylvania...
River (or Shawanoe River) for years after Walker's trip.