"‘Tell Quentin who discovered Mississippi River, Henry.’ ‘DeSoto.’"
Discovery of the Mississippi
Public DomainDiscovery of the Mississippi - Credit: William H. Powell

Hernando de Soto, a Spanish explorer, became the first documented European to discover the Mississippi River on 8th May, 1541. He and his 400 men were engaged in a long and fruitless search for gold and silver in the American wilderness before they encountered the ‘Father of Waters’ just south of present-day Memphis. The Mississippi had of course been known to America’s native inhabitants for some time, with archaeological evidence suggesting some form of settlement may have been established there as early as the 4th millennium BC. Nonetheless, DeSoto County is named for the Spanish explorer, as is its seat, Hernando.

 

DeSoto Bridge crosses the Mississippi in Memphis, Tennessee
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeDeSoto Bridge crosses the Mississippi in Memphis, Tennessee - Credit: lalunablanca
The red star indicates the approximate location of de Soto’s crossing
Public DomainThe red star indicates the approximate location of de Soto’s crossing - Credit: Pearson Scott Foresman

The Mississippi is the largest river system in North America. With its main body and tributaries combined, it covers a distance of approximately 3,740 miles. It has its source in Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota and empties in the Gulf of Mexico.