Named after the Yazoo River, which flows along the eastern bank of the Mississippi River for miles before joining it above Vicksburg, a yazoo is a tributary that, deferred from joining the mainstream by a natural levee formation, parallels the larger channel for some significant distance, until at last an opening in the bank or levee allows it to empty into the trunk stream. Alternative terms are yazoo stream and deferred tributary. The word yazoo itself was originally the name of a small, now vanished Native American tribe that once inhabited central Mississippi. Historians still debate the meaning of the tribe’s name; their educated guesses include widely varying possibilities—grass, river of death, hunting ground, as well as a verb meaning “to blow on an instrument.” Contemporary place-names derived from yazoo include the Yazoo Cutoff, in Madison, Louisiana; the Yazoo Backwater Levee, in Sharkey, Mississippi; and Yazoo County, the storied region where the Mississippi hills descend into the Delta.

Emily Hiestand