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History Spanish and French Explorers

The Legacy of the Spanish and French

Spanish explorers led by Hernando deSoto were the first to cross the Mississippi River inland, near Memphis, Tennessee. Their explorations led them through the southern Missouri and north Arkansas Ozarks all the way to the vicinity of Fort Smith, Arkansas. Maps recording their travels put them at several locations along or near the White River, and they may have actually set foot in or near the watershed, but that is not known for certain. 

French explorers Marquette and Joliet were the first white men to arrive at the mouth of the Missouri River, near Saint Louis, in 1673. Other explorers and traders followed, moving west and south. By the early 1700s, a flourishing fur trade in beaver pelts existed between the Indians and the traders, and some of the fur trade may have been fueled by furs taken in or near the watershed, but there is no written or recorded documentation to verify this. As the wilderness gave way to frontier settlement, so too the fur trade, along with the Native American presence, gave way to civilized commerce and the relocation of native people. 

The area that was to become Missouri was first claimed by the Spanish by virtue of their explorations, but was ceded to France in 1763. In 1803 the United States bought Missouri from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase, and Missouri became a state in 1821.