Old Man River:  History Along the MississippiApril 19-November 2, 2003

Early Exploration and Development

Exploration in the 1500s and 1600s

Bald eagle and alligator crossing sign
The Upper vs. The Lower Mississippi
Exploration exhibit section
"De Soto's Discovery of the Mississippi" chromolithograph, c.1898
"Burial of De Soto" hand-colored lithograph, 1876
"Carte De La Louisiane Et Du Cours Du Mississippi" map of exploratory routes from the 1500s up to 1716, drawn by
Guillaume DeL'isle and engraved by Jean Covens and Corneille Mortier
~ Muscatine Art Center, Muscatine IA
PERMIT TO TRADE (facsimile) with the Sioux Indians, granted to Pierre-Charles Le Sueur signed June 5, 1685.
VOYAGEUR'S CONTRACT (facsimile) for French fur traders in Outaouais (Ottawa) country, July 2, 1688.
~ Floyd Risvold, Edina MN
Hernando De Soto and his Spanish army embarked from Cuba in 1539 on their quest to find "El Dorado," the legendary cities of gold. They journeyed through several present-day southern states before reaching the Mississippi River in 1541. The army forged on through Arkansas and Texas before returning to Louisiana, expending three years on the expedition.

De Soto introduced horses and armor to North America - along with smallpox, measles, yellow fever, and typhoid. When De Soto died of a fever himself in 1543, the Mississippi River became his watery grave.

In 1673, Jesuit priest Jacques Marquette and French fur trader Louis Joliet paddled the Mississippi down to the mouth of the Arkansas River. There they turned back, fearful of the Spanish in the region, unaware that they were only ten days away from the Gulf of Mexico.

In 1682, Frenchman Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, set up trading posts down the Mississippi River. Reaching the mouth of the river, he claimed the entire river basin for King Louis XIV. Five years later, La Salle returned to America with four ships and 300 colonists. He missed the mouth of the Mississippi by over 400 miles and landed near present-day Corpus Christi, Texas. Shipwrecks, smallpox and hostile natives nearly destroyed the colony. As 36 survivors struggled north to reach established French trading posts, La Salle was murdered by his own men.

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Did you know … ?
One of La Salle's ships, La Belle, had sunk during a storm in 1686. Over 300 years later, it was miraculously found and recovered from beneath the mud of Texas' Matagorda Bay. Much of the hull survived intact and over a million artifacts were recovered. In 1997, Texas A&M University's Conservation Research Laboratory began to preserve the priceless artifacts. Even the hull was carefully taken apart for conservation and re-assembled for eventual display.


This section "Early Exploration and Development" has the following related pages:
Exploration in the 1500s and 1600s

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2 men in a canoe
Early Exploration and Development
River Days
view of Bellview, Iowa
Riverfront Property
Civil War enenactors
Man vs. Man
Bald eagle and conservation officer
Man vs. Nature
jazz musician
The Arts Along the River
New Orleans graveyard
Legends and Spirits
View Selected Artifacts
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