This is a rather large Museum covering two floors telling the story of the river from pre-Columbian times up until the modern era. The first Europeans to see the Mississippi River were in the expedition of Hernandez De Soto in 1541. He was so excited at the prospect that he died right on the spot. Well, actually he died of a tropical fever. In order to make it easier to deal with the locals, Hernandez had kind of let on that he was a god and the remaining members of his party had some difficulty figuring out how to explain his inconvenient demise to the natives. Remembering what happened to Sean Connery in "The Man Who Would Be King", they decided the best course was to wrap his body up in a blanket with a bunch of rocks and sink it in the Mississippi in the middle of the night when nobody was looking. Then they made up some excuse and hot footed it back to Mexico, but not before claiming the river and all of its tributaries in the name of Spain.
As Mark Twain pointed out in "Life on the Mississippi", the significance of a major waterway in the middle of the North American continent so impressed the Europeans that nobody bothered to go peek at it again for well over 100 years. Finally Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette led an expedition from the western Great Lakes region which stumbled onto the Mississippi River again in 1673 . They explored the river in canoes nearly to the Gulf of Mexico, desperately hoping that it would lead them to the Pacific Ocean but, alas, such was not to be the case. While the French explorers were disappointed that they had not found the elusive Northwest passage, free land is free land and, figuring the Spanish claim had long since exceded the statute of limitations, they turned around and claimed the whole area for France. The French and the Spanish wrangled over the river for 100 years without either side ever actually doing much with it. The only people that actually settled along the river were Americans. By the beginning of the 19th century, Napoleon was gearing up to take over Europe and needed funds way more urgently than some backwater bayou in the Americas, so after once again winning the Louisiana territory back from Spain in 1800, he turned around in 1803 and offered the whole kebab to Thomas Jefferson for the bargain sale price of three cents per acre. Jefferson accepted, although the only part he was really interested in was New Orleans. The rest was just gravey, though it ended up being the smartest real estate deal since the Dutch bought Manhatten.
|Raft, flat bottom and keel boat|
The museum devotes a fair amount of space to paddlewheel steamboats as the iconic representation of Mississippi history. There are a lot of small models and a full-size mockup of the front half of a steamer along with a full-size mockup of Mark Twain himself, mostly for atmosphere. This brings
|The River Walk from the second floor of the museum|
|Memphis in the dark|
|Balcony of the Lorraine Motel|