Skip to primary navigation Skip to content Skip to footer

Father of Waters & Explorers

The Mississippi River

“Father of Waters”

Native Americans have lived along the Mississippi River for thousands of years.  Most were hunter-gatherers, but some, such as the Mound Builders, formed prolific agricultural societies.  The arrival of Europeans in the 16th century changed the native way of life as first explorers, then settlers, ventured into the Mississippi basin in increasing numbers.

The word Mississippi comes from the native Americans, Misi-ziibi, which means “Big River” or “Father of Waters”.  The French called the river Messipi.  The name was spelled Mississippi or Missisipi during French ­­­Louisiana, and was also know as Riviere Saint Louis.  Hernando de Soto, Spanish explorer in 1541, called the river Rio del Espiritu Santo (“River of the Holy Spirit”).

The Mississippi River, which drains 41% of the continental United States, is the fourth longest river system and the third largest watershed in the world.  Water from thirty-two U. S. states and two Canadian provinces drains into the Mississippi River, which flows south, from Lake Itasca in Minnesota, for 2,320 miles to drain into the Gulf of Mexico.

a close up of text on a white background

On May 8, 1541, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto reached the banks of the Mississippi River. De Soto and his expedition were exploring the southeastern part of North America, searching for gold and other riches.

On May 17, 1673, the Rev. Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet set out on a voyage that would take them thousands of miles into the North American interior, confirming that it was possible to travel by water from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, initiating some of the first white settlements in the region.

1682 – LaSalle ascends the Mississippi, exploring to its mouth.  He claims the vast watershed for King Louis XIV, naming it “La Louisiane” in his honor.

“In the name of the most high, mighty, invincible and victorious Prince, Louis the Great, by the grace of God, King of France, and of Navarre, this 9th day of April, 1862.”