Burial of DeSoto in the Mississippi River, 1542
The first European to explore Louisiana was 15th century Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernando de Soto. In 1539 De Soto's expedition traveled through much of the southeastern U.S. In 1541, he reached the mouth of the Mississippi River, the first European to document its existence. De Soto convinced local tribes that he was an immortal sun god in order to avoid conflict. When he died of a fever on May 21, 1542, his men attempted to conceal his death by wrapping his corpse in blankets weighted with sand and sinking it in the middle of the Mississippi River in the middle of the night. The Indians were not fooled, however; of the 700 participants on the expedition, only about 300 survived. However, some of his horses escaped and established the first populations of wild mustangs in North America, while the pigs he brought for food were the ancestor of the Razorbacks of Arkansas.