Mississippi River Flood, 1543

IN 1543, GARCILASO DE LA VEGA, a member of Hernando de Soto’s expedition, was one of the first white men to see the Mississippi River. He recorded its power: “Then God, our Lord, hindered the work with a mighty flood of the great river, which … came down with an enormous increase of water, which in the beginning overflowed the wide level ground between the river and the cliffs”—meaning the river’s banks, which towered above the river at low water—”then little by little it rose to the top of the cliffs. Soon it began to flow over the fields in an immense flood, and as the land was level, without any hills, there was nothing to stop the inundation. On the 18th of March, 1543, … the river entered with ferocity through the gates of the town of Aminoya [an Indian village near the present site of Greenville, Mississippi]. It was a beautiful thing to look upon the sea that had been fields, for on each side of the river the water extended over twenty leagues”—nearly 60 miles—”of land, and [within] all of this area … nothing was seen but the tops of the tallest trees…. These floods occur every fourteen years, according to what an old Indian woman told us, which can be verified if the country is conquered, as I hope it will be.”

SOURCE: Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, by John M. Barry (Touchstone, 1998), p. 173

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