1500's Mississippi River Basin

1500's Mississippi River Basin from Fisk Report

Chart from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

This map shows flow patterns in the Mississippi River Basin in the 1500's; not much different from todays. In Southern Missouri during October, 1541, natives told Hernando de Soto that there was a large body of water near Autiamque at Jacksonport/Newport, Arkansas. They were describing the Mississippi River Basin at springtime, just like Lake Michigan had been described as an ocean by natives in Indiana where DeSoto had surmised that to be the Pacific Ocean.

At that time, before the New Madrid Earthquake of 1811, the Mississippi River above Memphis was a giant lake at springtime. DeSoto, however, believed this "ocean" to be arm of the Gulf of Mexico, which he was headed for to get needed supplies from Cuba. He would spend the winter at Utiangue where his scouts determined, from water marks on the trees, that this "ocean" was actually a giant lake at springtime. Accordingly, DeSoto set out southbound in late winter to avoid the Spring Floods.

One of DeSoto's officers says, "...we traveled downstream along the river, where we found other well-populated provinces (at today's Taggart, Cotton Plant, Clarendon and many others between Newport and St. Charles) with a quantity of supplies..." Another says, "From Utiangue, it took the governor 10 days to reach the province called Ayays" which began at the Cache River near Brinkley. "DeSoto reached a town near the river which flowed through Cayas and Utiangue..." He reached Cross Roads, near Marvell, the Territorial Headquarters during the Louisiana Purchase - all land in Arkansas is titled in relation to that location on the White River. Cross Roads was that river's pioneer crossing place for centuries. DeSoto crossed it there, too.

"As soon as it stopped snowing, he marched three days (at 10 miles per day - while gathering what he could to eat) through an unpeopled region and a land so low and with so many swamps and such hard going that one day he marched all day through water that in some places reached to the knees and others to the stirrups, and some passages were swum over (it's a massive rice field today). He came to a deserted village, without corn called Tutelpinco (Arkansas Post on the Arkansas River)."

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