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HISTORY TOPICS

Mississippi River

From the Bluffs above Reed's Landing looking across the Mississippi by Edwin Whitefield, 1856-1859. Location no. AV1995.141.47The Mississippi River flows into and out of the very heart of Minnesota, with numerous tributaries. For almost 300 years — from the time of the conquistadors up until the 1820s — the Mississippi River captured the hearts and imaginations of pioneering explorers who took to canoes and traversed its uncharted waters. These explorers were daring men with big dreams. Some sought the source of the Great River, while others hoped to find a route to China. The history of the Mississippi is filled with the stories of such explorers, from Hernando De Soto to men whose names became streets, towns, and counties we inhabit today, such as Hennepin, Marquette, Radisson, Jolliet, Duluth, and Le Sueur.

GET STARTED WITH SECONDARY SOURCES:

  • Discovery and Exploration of the Mississippi Valley: With the Original Narratives of Marquette, Allouez, Membré, Hennepin, and Anastase Douay, by John Gilmary Shea.
    Albany, N.Y.: J. McDonough, 1903 [c1852].
    MHS call number: F352 .S542.
  • Early Voyages Up and Down the Mississippi, by Cavelier, St. Cosme, Le Sueur, Gravier, and Guignas; with an introduction, notes, and an index by John Gilmary Shea.
    Albany, N.Y.: J. Munsell, 1861.
    MHS call number: F352 .S55.
  • Explorers of the Mississippi, by Timothy Severin.
    New York: Knopf, 1968.
    MHS call number: F352 .S38.
  • Exploring the Great River: Early Voyagers on the Mississippi from De Soto to La Salle, adapted and edited by Robert Meredith and E. Brooks Smith.
    Boston: Little, Brown, [1969].
    MHS call number: F352 .M45.
  • "Groseilliers and Radisson: The First White Men in Minnesota, 1655-56, and 1659-60, and Their Discovery of the Upper Mississippi River," by Warren Upham.
    In Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, v. 10, pt. 2 (1905).
    MHS call number: F602 .M61 v.10 pt. 2.
    Also published in book form: St. Paul, Minn.: Minnesota Historical Society, [1905].
    MHS call number: F1060.7 .U56 1905.
  • Growth of Geographic Knowledge of the Upper Great Lakes Region in the Seventeenth Century, by Virginia Seay.
    M.A. thesis (Hamline University), 1944.
    MHS call number: F551 .S43.
  • The Mississippi Valley Frontier: The Age of French Exploration and Settlement, by John Anthony Caruso.
    Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1966.
    MHS call number: F352 .C3.
  • A New Discovery of a Vast Country in America, by Louis Hennepin.
    Toronto: Canadiana House, 1969.
    Reprint, in English, of Hennepin's 1699 book.
    MHS call number: F352 .H754 1699a.

PRIMARY RESOURCES:

  • Documents Relating to French Explorations in North America.
    This archival collection consists of photocopies of seven letters (1683-1687) relating to the explorations of La Salle, Radisson, and Groseilliers in the northwest region of North America; and microfilm copies of diaries, letters, and other papers relating to French explorations in North America (1700-1788).
    Note: All of the items are in French.
    MHS call number: P357 (for the photocopies) and M51 (for the microfilm; there are 2 reels of film).
  • Henry H. Sibley Papers.
    Correspondence, financial records, legal papers, speeches, and miscellany of this early Minnesota fur trader, entrepreneur, and governor. More than a third of the papers concern the fur trade with the Dakota Indians of the Upper Mississippi Valley from 1815 to 1855, documenting Sibley's business association with the American Fur Company and its successor, Pierre Chouteau, Jr., and Company, as well as his interest in the treaties, wars, and welfare of the Dakota. They provide extensive information on the administration of the American Fur Company and the general status and conduct of trade; on individual traders and Dakota bands in the Minnesota area; on prices for furs, trade goods, and supplies; on the company's system of agreements and credits for traders and Indians; on missionaries, explorers, and others who visited pre-territorial Minnesota; on Sibley's long-standing rivalry with Henry M. Rice; on the gradual decline of the fur trade and its replacement by general merchandising; and on all of the treaties concluded in the Minnesota area with the Dakota, Ojibwe, and Winnebago Indians during 1834-1851. There are accounts and correspondence from Sibley's position as co-sutler at Fort Snelling (1836-1839) and from his various investments in lumbering, river transportation, railroads, and land.
    MHS call number: M164; see the published "Guide to a Microfilm Edition of the Henry Hastings Sibley Papers," by Jane Spector Davis in the green Manuscripts Notebooks under M164 (there are 34 reels of microfilm, but not all relate to this topic), or use an electronic version of the inventory.
    Note: Microfilm may be borrowed on Interlibrary Loan.
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