Physical Geography of the Indian Country

Geographical Memorandum Respecting The Progress Of The Discovery Of The Mississippi River, With A Map Of Its Source. 1

1. It appears, from the archaeological collections of Ternoux Campan, that the mouth of the Mississippi was discovered by the Spanish from Cuba, under M. Narvaez, the contemporary and antagonist of Cortes, in the month of November 1527, during an expedition made with boats to trace the Floridian coasts of the Gulf westwardly 2 . Mexico had fallen into their hands but six years before an event by which a period was put to the Aztec empire, and a spirit of conquest and discovery awakened, which soon left no part of the continent unexplored, or unvisited. Expeditions, by land and water, were made far and wide, and it is only a matter of surprise that, while the Panuco and other minor streams were carefully searched, the Mississippi, which pours out its vast alluvion, and carries more water into the Gulf than any other stream, if not a volume equal to all the rest united, should not have been identified even at an earlier period. That such a river entered the Gulf from the North appears to have been early rumored; but whatever was known to the Spaniards, they long concealed the knowledge from other nations; and it is only, indeed, since the date of the series of publications above-named, that the account of the first discovery of the Mississippi, at that early date, has become generally known to authors.

2. De Leon had discovered Florida in 1512; but De Soto was the first of his countrymen who, in the spirit of the age, prepared to undertake, at large, the discovery of the interior of the vast Indian territories lying north of the Gulf, which now compose the United States. If he was disappointed on his march in stumbling on kingdoms abounding in gold and wealth, such as Cortez and Pizarro had found in the South, he may be said, in falling on the Mississippi river, to have found a valley more intrinsically valuable, in after times, than any or all the discoveries of his more famous predecessors. It was in 1541 that he reached the banks of this stream. It is, to some extent, uncertain at what particular point he struck it, or how far his followers penetrated north. It is manifest from the existing names of streams and places that he passed through territories occupied by the Cherokees and Musgogees. Antiquarians and ethnologists may well examine this question, in all its bearings, as it is not improbable that some features of our western antiquities, lying north of the mouth of the Ohio, which it is common to refer to earlier times, may be found to have had their origin no farther back than the era of the expedition of De Soto.

3. When De Soto landed in Florida, the present area of the United States, and all north of it, remained a vast terra incognita. The Cabots had seen the North Atlantic coast in 1497; the Cortereals had probably followed his track. Beyond this its geography remained a blank. Its rivers, and mountains, and lakes, were not even conjectured, or, like the nebulae of astronomy, served only as the basis for hypothesis.

Cartier, who ascended the St. Lawrence eight years later, namely, in 1535, appeared to have had no idea, if we are to judge by his journals, either that there was such a river as the Mississippi on the continent, or that it lay west of the vast, unexplored territories which he apprehended the Indians to call “Canada.” This navigator, on his second voyage, ascended to the island and town of Hochelaga, which he reached on the 3d of October 1535, and to the apex of which he gave the name of Mont Royal. Donnaconna, standing with him on the island mountain, told him, speaking of the river St. Lawrence, that it originated so far off, “that there was never man heard of, who had found the head thereof;” that it passed through several great lakes; and there was “a fresh-water sea,” which is, indeed, the idea graphically conveyed by the Indian term for Lake Superior.

The idea of the Great River of the West was doubtless derived from the discoveries of De Soto, and the earlier attempts of the Spanish adventurers from Cuba to trace the northern shores of the Gulf towards Mexico. France did not avail herself of the primary discoveries of Cartier, or rather failed to turn them to practical account. The opinion that Canada was unfruitful, and its vast domains were not gold-bearing regions, and that they contained no new element of commerce beyond the fisheries of Newfoundland, and the fur trade, appears to have chilled the ardor of enterprise. It was not, at least, till the era of Champlain, A. D. 1608, that any thing deserving the name of a French colony was founded in Canada.

4. Meantime, there had come from the West, as from some newly descended El Dorado, the Algonquin name of Mississippi; which was conjectured to denote the same great river which the Spaniards had seen at its mouth in 1527, and which De Soto had explored in 1541-2. To determine this fact, became a point of geographical interest. But the French colonial government found its utmost energies taxed, to maintain its position against the Iroquois confederacy, without authorizing an expedition or public commission, to explore the great and unknown river. Full seventy years more elapsed, before such an enterprise was authorized. Meanwhile, French commerce and missionary zeal had explored the great lakes, and established posts and missions at Sault Ste. Marie, Michillimackinac, and other early occupied and well-known points.

It was not till 1678, a century and a half from the original discovery of its mouth, that Robert de La Salle came out from France, with full authority from the crown, to explore the country and establish colonies. This enterprising, hardy, and high-minded explorer of American geography, directed all his energies to the South and Southwest; and he was the true cause of all the incidental explorations of this stream of that era, for some nine hundred or a thousand miles above the mouth of the Illinois, as well as those directed to proceed to its issue, into the Gulf. 3

Pierre Marquette, a Jesuit, a man of education and family, opened the path of discovery in that year, by passing from Green Bay, through the interlocking valleys of the Fox and Mindota, or Wisconsin Rivers, from the mouth of the latter of which, he descended the Mississippi to the Illinois; on his return, he proceeded to Lake Michigan, where he died. He was, therefore, if we do not misapprehend, the first explorer of the Mississippi, in the section of this stream lying between the mouths of the Wisconsin and Illinois.

Lewis Hennepin had accompanied La Salle to the Niagara; was present at his opening councils with the haughty Iroquois, also at the building of the first vessel designed to navigate the lakes, and accompanied him in it to the position of Green Bay, and afterwards in canoes, by way of “the Miami,” now St. Joseph’s 4 to the Illinois. A Recollet, bent only on exercising the appropriate functions of his order among the Indian tribes, he descended the Illinois from the site of Fort Crevecoeur, with two men, (Picard and Aco); while La Salle, pressed by the imminence of his affairs, returned by land, on snow-shoes, to Fort Frontenac. 5 The descent of the Mississippi by Hennepin, from the Illinois to the Gulf, has been called in question, with apparent good reason, from discrepancies in his first published and subsequent accounts; from which it is very much doubted how far he actually descended, or whether he ever descended below the Illinois. This doubt does not attach to his capture by hostile Indians, several days journey above the mouth of the Illinois, and being carried by them above the Falls of St. Anthony, to the River St. Francis; both which received their present names from him. This constitutes the most northerly point of his voyage, and denotes the true, undisputed field of his exploration. 6

The unfrocked monk, Geudeville, who traveled extensively in Canada, and published his “New Voyages to North America,” under the name of the Baron La Hontan, is the next claimant to notice, in the section of the upper Mississippi, above the mouth of the Wisconsin. It is doubted how far this jolly soldier and Ion vivant traveled west. He had served at various points in the interior, and leaves no reason to doubt his presence, at various times, at St. Joseph’s, (now Fort Gratiot) Michillimackinac, Green Bay, and other points in the region of the upper Lakes. It is the opinion of persons best acquainted with the geography of the river Wisconsin, that he went no farther than Green Bay. Others have seen in the description of the Fox and Wisconsin Valleys, evidences of his writing from personal observation, although there is nothing between the extreme eastern and western points of these two valleys, described by him, which he could not have fully learned at Green Bay from the Indians, or the Couriers du Bois. However this may be, there can be but little question of the character of the fiction he attempted to palm off on his European readers, by the description of his discovery and exploration of a great stream falling into the Mississippi, some nine days journey above the Wisconsin, to which he gives the name of “Long River.”

6. Geographers have in vain searched for “Long River.” If either the upper Iowa, the Canon River, (called La Honton by Mr. Nicolet,) or the St. Peter s, be meant, neither of these streams correspond at all to his description. The St. Peter s, the largest and longest of the number, would not suffice, in length, for a tenth part of his protracted voyage, extending from November 3d to January 26th. Of the “Eokoros” “Essanapes,” and other populous tribes of sounding names, mentioned by ” The Baron,” no one, before or since, has ever heard. All these streams, as is well known, were inhabited during the latter part of the 17th century as at this day, exclusively by tribes of the Dacotah or Sioux family. Indeed, the entire portion of the Baron’s letter, dated Michillimackinac, May 28th, 1689, (page 109 to 135, Vol. I., London, 1703,) in which he describes his voyage and discoveries on this extraordinary stream called “Long River,” as well as his subsequent visit to, and up, the Missouri, is a literary curiosity, which, if we except the famous imaginative history of Formosa, is unexcelled in bibliography, for its bold assumption in attempting to impose on a credulous age a tale of fancied adventures and fictitious observations.

Yet, unlike the Formosian history, it details no imminent perils no curious discoveries no striking observations no thrilling events not a feature, indeed, which, as a work of fancy, may be seized on, to redeem or excuse the details of its clumsy and unblushing improbabilities. 7 He nowhere impresses us with having seen the Mississippi at all far less that portion of it above the mouth of the Wisconsin, which is embosomed in high cliffs of rock, often of the most picturesque shapes, and presenting, on every hand, views of the most striking grandeur and pleasing beauty. He does not notice a single one of its most remarkable scenes not a word of the mountain island les montagne des tromps d eau nothing of the beautiful expanse of Lake Pepin, with its storied cliff, the peak of La Grange, or the Falls of St. Anthony; which could not have failed to attract the gay visitor, had he gone so near to it as the St. Peter’s.

7. These notices constitute not the only, but the chief record of the explorations of the upper Mississippi, during the period of the French supremacy in the Canadas and Louisiana. Charlevoix, who saw the country some thirty-two years after the death of La Salle, on a general visit to the French missions, passed, in 1720, from the Lakes to the Mississippi, by the way of the Illinois. He made judicious and useful observations on the scenes and subjects coming before him, and doubted the issue of the famous mining operations then being made in Missouri, under the authority of the grant to Crozet.

8. The fall of Canada, in 1763, opened the path of enterprise for the English colonies towards the West, and brought several adventurers into the field, who were actuated by higher motives than those of mere trade with the native tribes. Carver was the only one of the number, known to us by their publications, who pushed his travels into the upper Mississippi. This man has been underrated. He had formed the bold design of crossing the continent to the shores of the Pacific, which he supposed he could do by the headwaters of the Mississippi. He reached Michilli-mackinac-on-the-main in the summer of 1766, and thence proceeded, on the 3d of September, to Green Bay, and, by the old French route of the Fox and Wisconsin valleys, to Prairie du Chien. At this place the traders with whom he had traveled took up their wintering posts. He then purchased a canoe, and with two men, a Canadian and a Mohawk, proceeded to ascend the river reached the falls of St. Anthony on the 17th of November, and ascended, as he adds, above that point to the river St. Francis, being the precise spot that Hennepin had reached in the time of La Salle. This was the terminus of his voyage. He did not, therefore, extend the area of discovery towards the north, in that direction, although his subsequent exploration of the St. Peters, and the north shores of Lake Superior, place his name among the number of those who have enlarged the boundaries of American geography.

9. Carver had either misjudged the difficulties of so serious an enterprise as an overland journey across the continent, or the means he had for its accomplishment, probably both objects: for we find him, in July of the next year, wending his way back to the seaboard, by the way of Lake Superior. He then went to London to advocate his plan of discovery, and having been disappointed in his interviews with official persons, turned to the booksellers with the manuscript of his travels. Discredit has been thrown upon his volume, partly from the introduction of some injudicious matter in that portion of it which consists of his own personal narrative, extending from the 11th to the 114th page, (Phil. ed. A. D. 1796,) but, chiefly, from the compiled account of the manners and customs of the Indians, which is clearly taken from the works of Charlevoix, Adair, La Hontan, and other authors, without apprising the reader of these sources of information, and without a discriminating judgment in the selection and re-production of the matter. If I have been correctly informed, Carver had very little agency in bringing forward the superadded matter, which the book sellers, owning his personal narrative, found it necessary to have prepared in order to swell the size of his volume, and arrest the public eye. 8 Carver, as is known, did not survive his repeated disappointments, but died in London, as it is asserted, in great want.

10. Carver was the only colonial traveler who ventured into the area of the upper Mississippi, Adair and others having been located, or having passed their itinerating voyages in other parts of the immense frontiers. The name of “Oregon”, of which the origin is uncertain, first appears in the volume of this traveler, and we trace to him the apparently misinterpreted name of Rum River an important stream originating in a great lake, called Mille Lac by the French, lying west of the head of Lake Superior. This stream comes in, on the left or east bank of the Mississippi, above the Falls of St. Anthony.

11. Pike s expedition is the next in the order of discovery. The acquisition of Louisiana, in 1803, had rendered it an object of just interest to the government to ascertain its utmost boundaries, and true geographical extent and character; and the necessary instructions for exploring the Great River of the “West, now called Columbia, extending to the Pacific Ocean, were confided to General Wilkinson, and executed by Lewis and Clark. Lieutenant Pike, who was selected to trace up the Mississippi to its source, left St. Louis on the 9th of August, 1805 full two months too late in the year, to reach its source before the season of in tensest cold. He reached the Falls of St. Anthony on the 26th of September, where he determined the river to sink its level fifty-eight feet in two hundred and sixty poles, with a perpendicular plunge of sixteen and a half feet. Passing the St. Francis, the utmost point reached by his predecessors in discovery, he urged his barges up the numerous rapids, with great toil, to and above the falls of the Painted Rock a distance of two hundred and thirty-three and a half miles above St. Anthony s Falls, and six hundred above the junction of the Wisconsin, as estimated from day to day by himself. (Pike’s Expd. App. 1, p. 26.) This point he reached on the 16th of October. A change in the weather now occurred snow began to fall ice had commenced running, and the temperature of the water became so reduced that his men could not endure the continued labor of dragging the boats up the rapids; he therefore determined to build a small stockade at this point, and leaving his heavy baggage and part of his men in charge of a trusty non-commissioned officer, to proceed in the ascent on foot.

12. By the 10th of December he had finished his blockhouses, and replenished them with provisions by hunting, and having built sleds to be drawn by hand, took a part of his men and moved forward. He reached Sandy Lake on the 8th January 1806, and Leech Lake on the 1st February following. The ice had now firmly sealed up the streams, lakes, and savannahs, which proved advantageous to his progress, by enabling him to take short cuts across the country. The snow, which had begun to fall about the middle of October, appears to have spread equally over the surface, and is not complained of on the score of its depth, while it permitted the sleds to be drawn. He found the factors of the North-west Company in possession of the whole country. They had ample stockades at Sandy Lake and Leech Lake, and occupied the minor trading posts with subordinate buildings. He states that they sent out annually into different parts forty outfits, or separate trading canoes, and employed one hundred and nine accountants, clerks, interpreters, and canoe-men, exclusive of their families. By their agency, two hundred and thirty-three packs of furs and peltries, including the returns of the ” X. Y. Company,” and some other posts, were gathered from the Indians. He estimates the duties on the goods and wares brought into the United States in this quarter, and traded illegally, at thirteen thousand dollars per annum. Acting under the apprehension of a seizure of the peltries in store, (one hundred and fifteen packs,) and led by feelings of enlightened hospitality, he received every attention from the agents in charge at Sandy Lake and Leech Lake. On the 12th of February, the factors at the latter post went with him in a train de glis, drawn by dogs, to Upper Ked Cedar Lake a distance estimated on the portage route, at thirty miles, where he remained over night, and the next day, and he returned to Leech Lake on the 14th. This constituted the terminal point of his expedition.

13. Pike’s expedition served to give us the first notions of that remote part, of what was then called Upper Louisiana its general topography and resources. He writes to Gen. Wilkinson on his return, that he had traveled seven hundred miles on foot; that six months out of the nine, while he was in the country above St. Anthony s Falls, snow covered the ground, which forbade minuteness of observation on its natural history, had he been ever so competent to this branch; and that the cold was often so severe as to freeze the ink in his pen, while recording his notes. He took observations for latitude at the mouth of Turtle River on Upper Red Cedar Lake, which he places in 47° 42′ 40″ being but 17′ 17″ north of the true latitude, as subsequently determined by Mr. Nicolet, in 1846. He speaks of this lake as “the upper source of the Mississippi,” and observes of Leech Lake, that “this is rather considered the main source, although the Winnipeque branch is navigable the greatest distance.” (Pike s Exp., App. Part I., page 56, Philada. ed. 1810.)

14. Geographers consider that branch of a river its true source, which draws its waters from the point most remote from its mouth. In this view, neither the Leech Lake, which is, however, the largest mass of water tributary on that plateau or formation, nor Upper Red Cedar Lake, which is a mere expansion of the Mississippi, can, by any means, be deemed the source of this celebrated stream, consistently with our present information. But the servants of the North-west Company, who were assiduous in their attentions to Lieutenant Pike, while they offered to facilitate his minor trips of exploration from Sandy Lake to Leech Lake, and Upper Red Cedar Lake, were content to let him depart with as precise a compliance with his requests as the nature of these permitted, without attempting to enlarge voluntarily the cycle of his knowledge of the general topographical and statistical features of the country at large. Whether policy or some other motive dictated this, it is certain that these agents of a foreign power did not lay before him what they, as intelligent men, should certainly have known the actual point or points from which this river draws its primary waters.

15. They gave him the Turtle Portage, as the ultimate source; a summit little exceeding forty miles north of the northeastern shores of Upper Red Cedar Lake.

At the same time, they concurred in the opinion of Mr. Thompson, an astronomer formerly employed by the Northwest Company, that the national boundary, to be drawn west from the Lake of the Woods, would intersect the Mississippi; an old idea, founded on the delineations of Mitchell s map, which it appears was employed at the time of the definitive treaty of 1783, but which Lieutenant Pike felt no disposition, however, to concur in, although he was not apprised of the influx of the Mississippi proper into the west end of Upper Red Cedar Lake, from a summit which is now known to be nearly an entire degree south of that point, and by a channel but little short of two hundred miles.

16. Pike set out from Leech Lake on his return, on the 18th of February, 1806; and rejoined his party in the fortified camp at Pine Creek, below Elk River, on the west banks of the Mississippi, on the 5th of March. The river began to open on the 4th of April, and he was able to set sail, down stream, in his largest perogue, on the 7th of that month. Floating on the spring tides, he was impelled forward with extraordinary velocity, and reached Prairie du Chien on the 18th of April, and finally returned to St. Louis, on the 30th of April 1806, after an absence of eight months and twenty-two days; of which the greater part was passed above St. Anthony’s Falls.

17. The spirit of discovery now paused for twelve years. In the early part of 1820, the Executive of Michigan Territory, at Detroit, General Lewis Cass, transmitted a memorial to the government, suggesting the continuation of the discovery at the point previously dropped. An expedition was organized in the spring of that year, under this recommendation, which embraced a survey of the natural history and resources of the country, as well as its topography and Indian population. It passed through the series of the upper lakes, tracing their shores, devoting special attention to the development of copper ores on the shores of Lake Superior. Leaving that lake at its extreme western head, it ascended the St. Louis River to its highest navigable point, and made an overland journey across the summit separating it from the Mississippi Valley, reaching the waters of the latter at Sandy Lake. At this point the trading fort of the North-west Company, mentioned by Lieut. Pike, was found; but it had in the meantime passed out of the hands of that company four years previously, having, together with all the posts of the region, been purchased in 1816, from the proprietors, at Montreal, by Mr. John Jacob Astor. This individual organized a new co partnership under the name of the American Fur Company. A law of Congress of the same year, excluded foreign traders from the business, which led him to make exertions to obtain American citizens to take out his licenses, and cover the trade; without any marked success, however, in this respect, for many years. Men who had grown grey in the service of a foreign company, who had been born and bred under another allegiance, but who were expert traders, felt but small interest in remodeling the political feelings and general relations of the Indian tribes, and changing their fealty from a government which they had ever heard extolled, and which they admired as a model of strength and magnanimity, to one which they regarded as rather antagonistical to all this. This second display of the national flag, therefore, in that remote quarter, with a renewal of the efforts to produce a permanent peace between the Sioux and Chippewa tribes, and a manifestation of the ability of the American government both to claim its rights, and exert its power over the country, had a decided effect upon the aborigines. And from this era we may date the establishment of American supremacy and a favorable state of feeling in that quarter. Katawabeda, Frezzie, Guele Plat, and other leading chiefs, who had attended Pike s councils twelve years before, were still alive. These were chiefs in the height of their influence.

18. Governor Cass, who led this expedition, determined to make the depot of his heavy supplies, and leave his military escort, with part of his French canoe-men, at the post of Sandy Lake, and proceed with light canoes, and a select party, to ascend the river. Considering his initial point to be Sandy Lake, he was now at an estimated distance of about two hundred miles above the site of Pike s wintering grounds in 18056. It was the month of July the face of the country exhibited its summer aspect, spotted, as it is, with almost innumerable lakes, savannahs, and rice lands; and it was hoped the waters of the higher summits, or plateau, were still sufficient to permit navigation to its farthest source.

19. The élite party selected for the ascent embarked in canoes of good capacity at Sandy Lake, on the 17th of July. Two days diligent ascent brought them to the Falls of Puckagama; so called by the Chippewas, from the portage, which it is necessary to make across an elbow of land formed by the passage of the river through a formation of quartzy sand rock. In this passage the river is much compressed, twists greatly in its channel, and rushes with a foaming velocity, without a perpendicular fall. It forms, however, an absolute bar to the navigation. Above this point spreads the Leech Lake level or summit. This summit abounds in extensive savannahs, rice fields, and open lakes, and which are interlaced, as it were, with passages that may be navigated by canoes most of the season. The party passed the Leech Lake fork or inlet on the third day from Sandy Lake; and having the next day entered Little Lake Winnipec an expanse of the channel again entered the river, and pursued it to Upper Red Cedar Lake, which the party entered on the 21st of August. They encamped on the west side of the mouth of Turtle River. This constituted the terminus of the voyage. On their return route the party descended the Mississippi, by the way of St. Anthony s Falls, to the mouth of the Wisconsin, and by the Wisconsin and Fox valleys to Green Bay, Chicago, and the lakes, the shores of which were topographically traced.

20. By this second expedition of the government to determine the sources of the Mississippi, the channel was first traced from Pike s Stockade, at the falls of the Painted Rock, to Upper Red Cedar Lake, or Cass Lake, so named to prevent its being confounded with another Red Cedar Lake below Sandy Lake. The shores of Lakes Huron, Michigan, and Superior, were topographically traced by Captain Douglas, an engineer officer from West Point Academy, together with the valleys of the rivers St. Louis and Savannah, which form the connecting link of communication between Lake Superior and Sandy Lake of the upper Mississippi. It revealed the geological and mineral structure of the basin of Lake Superior; the vast diluvial plains resting on primitive and volcanic rock, on the source of the Mississippi, and the broad northern terminal edges of the great carboniferous and magnesian limestones of the Mississippi Valley.

21. Geographers still felt that the actual source of the Mississippi was not determined. The Chippewa bands at Cass Lake, described the river as flowing in, on the southwest end of that lake, in a volume not inferior in width to its outlet. They reported it as expanding into numerous lakes, with many falls, and severe rapids, over which the river descended from higher levels. They affirmed its actual origin to be a sheet of water called by the French Lac la Biche that is, Elk Lake; lying in or amidst chains of hills which separate its waters from those flowing north, into the great basin of Lake Winnipec of Hudson Bay.

22. In 1823, the United States determined to carry out this exploration of its northern domains. Major S. H. Long, U. S. A., entered and ascended the St. Peters; passing from its head-waters to the Red River of the North, which he pursued to its mouth in Great Lake Winnipec; traversed the southern shores of that lake to the outlet of the Lake of the Woods, and thence by the Rainy Lake route and Fort William, on the northern shores of Lake Superior, proceeded to the Sault Ste. Marie. A long line of the extreme northern frontiers of the Union was thus laid open and described.

23. A Mr. Beltrami, who had attached himself to Major Long’s party, left him at the Scottish settlement of Lord Selkirk, about Fort Douglas, or Kildunnan, on Red River, and took his way back up the Red Lake River into Red Lake, and thence by the usual traders route, across the summit of Turtle Portage to Turtle River, and down this stream to its inlet into Cass Lake, at the very point where the expedition of 1820 had terminated its explorations. Mr. Beltrami, whose volume, in many respects, is worthless, and replete with descriptions not to be relied on, must, however, be regarded as the earliest author who has described the Turtle River route. He named a lake at the head of this river, Julia; apparently, that he might denominate this the Julian source of the Mississippi.

24. The next eight years complicated our Indian affairs on that frontier. In 1831, the government directed the author to visit the Chippewa and Sioux bands, occupying the area of the valley of the Upper Mississippi, with the view of arresting the long-continued feuds of these two tribes, which were then newly broken out, and restoring peace on the frontiers. It provided a military escort, under Lieutenant R. Clary. I left the basin of Lake Superior at Chegoimegon, or La Pointe, and ascended the river called Mushkego by the natives, and Mauvais by the French, to the summit, which divides it from the waters flowing into the Mississippi River. The ascent was difficult, and the waters low. By a series of portages, and intersecting lakes, I carried my baggage and canoes to the Namakágon branch of the St. Croix, and descended the latter to Yellow River. The state of the war which it was sought to allay between the Chippewas and Sioux, led me to rescind the St. Croix and the Namakágon, and from the banks of the latter to cross the portage to Ottowa Lake, one of the sources of Chippewa River. Thence I descended the outlet of this lake to Lake Chetac, the source of the Red Cedar or Folleavoine branch of the Chippewa, and went down this branch to the main Chippewa and to the Mississippi. The latter was then descended to the mouth of the Wisconsin, and thence I returned by the Wisconsin and Fox Valleys to Green Bay, Michillimackinac, and St. Mary s. In this expedition the valleys of the Maskigo, the Namakágon, the Upper St. Croix, the Chippewa, and the Folleavoine, were explored.

25. The following year, the Sauks and Foxes, under Black Hawk, commenced hostilities against the United States by murdering their Agent, Mr. St. Vrain, and falling unawares upon the citizens. This outbreak, which was, early in the year, unknown to, but suspected by the government, furnished an additional motive for continuing the efforts commenced the prior year, to preserve peace among the northern tribes. Congress had also, in the mean time, passed an act for vaccinating the Indians; and this duty was grafted, by new instructions, on the original plan. These instructions also embraced the topic of amendments of the laws regulating trade and intercourse on the frontiers, the state and prospects of the tribes, their numbers and location, and the statistics of the country generally. The party embraced a physician and naturalist (the late Dr. Douglas Houghton), a small detachment of infantry, under the command of Lieutenant James Allen, U. S. A., who took cognizance of the topography, and it was provided with the usual aid of guides, interpreters, and Canadian canoe-men, necessary in such labors. Going north to the head -waters of the Mississippi, by the Lake Superior Basin and the St. Louis River, it reached the utmost point of the prior discoveries of Lieutenant Pike and General Cass, that is to say, Upper Red Cedar or Cass Lake, on the 9th of July, 1832; having made the ascent from Sandy Lake trading house in five days. The Mississippi, at the outlet of this lake, was found to be 172 feet wide, by measurement, and to have an estimated depth of 8 feet. It had previously been observed to be 318 feet at the influx of Sandy Lake.

26. An approximation only to the comparative volume of a river can be made by mere admeasurements, without regarding, with great minuteness, the various depths of the channel; but such approximations increase our knowledge of the relative volume of remote streams, but little known. If the above data be regarded in this light, they weaken the opinion of Lieutenant Pike, that the Leech Lake branch contributed the greatest body of water; although the Itascan called by him the “Winnipique branch” drew its waters from the remotest point. It is shown that Leech Lake, and the entire volume of water added to it by eleven tributaries between its mouth and Sandy Lake, have not duplicated the volume of water as determined by width.

27. I encamped my party, and made my depot on a large island, which stands in the central area of the lake, (See Plate 41,) where the Indians have gardens, and have cultivated Indian corn from the earliest known period. I could not learn that the time of the introduction of this grain was known to the Indian traditions at that point. Having found here the last fixed village of Chippewas in the ascent of the Mississippi, or between it and Red Lake, north of its sources, and finished my official business, I determined to trace up the river to its actual source. The water was found favorable; although the rapids were represented as very numerous and formidable, and wholly impracticable for canoes of the large size I travelled in. I procured smaller ones, such as the Indians hunt in; and seating myself in one, and each of the four gentlemen of my party in a separate one, proceeded the next morning to make the ascent, with Indian maps of bark, and Indian guides. As I have described this journey in detail, in a volume published in 1834, with maps, 9 it will only be necessary to say that the effort proved successful. A sketch may, however, be given.

28. I left my encampment on the island at four o clock, A. M., on the 10th of July, in five small hunting canoes, each having an Indian and a Canadian in its bow and stern; the whole being under the guidance of the chief of the village, Ozawundib, or the Yellow Head. I took the chief into my canoe, with the mess-basket, oilcloth, kettle and axe. Lieut. Allen had charge of the canoe-compass, and the other paraphernalia of the topographical department. Dr. Houghton put his plant-press beside him, and my interpreter, Mr. Johnston, and the Rev. Mr. Boutwell, a missionary in the service of the A. B. C. F. M., each occupied separate canoes. It required skill, indeed, even for a practiced man, to sit in so ticklish a vessel, and in so confined a space. We move forward rapidly, whenever the water would permit. An hour s working with paddles, brought us near to the end of the lake, where, to avoid a very serpentine course of the river, we made a portage of fifty yards, from the shores of the lake into the river above. We passed, in a short distance, two small lakes, being expansions of the river. Numerous severe rapids were encountered. Up some of these, the men dragged our canoes. Partly in this way, and partly by the force of paddles, we pressed on, step by step, and at last reached the summit of the Pemidjigumaug, on Cross-water Lake, at the computed distance of forty-five miles above Cass Lake. This was the first essay.

29. The Cross-water Lake, called Traverse by the French, is, in every feature, a beautiful sheet of clear water, some ten or a dozen miles in length. It lies on the same summit as Turtle Lake, which has been so long and so improperly reputed as the source of the Mississippi. The elevation of the Cross-water, or Permidjguma, has been determined by barometrical observation at fifty-two feet above Cass Lake. 10 It is a point, which may be noted in the topography of this stream, as its most extreme extension of north latitude; all its waters above this lake, being from sources south or south-west of this parallel. Its most southerly point is put, in Mr. Nicolet s tables, in lat. 47° 28′ 46″.

30. Half a mile above this we entered a lake, to which the name of Washington Irving was given. This lake might be deemed a re-expansion of the Cross-water, were it not separated from it by a narrow strait, or channel, having a perceptible current. About four miles higher, the Mississippi is marked by the junction of its primary forks, both of which originate in the elevated heights of the Hauteur des Terres. The right hand, or largest branch, originates in Itasca Lake. I took the other branch, or Plantagenet source, as having fewer rapids and minor falls to surmount. It was soon found to expand into a small lake, called Marquette; and a little higher, into another lake, called La Salle. A few miles above the latter, we entered the more considerable expanse of the Kubbekaning, at the head of which we encamped, at a late hour, in a drizzling rain, and amidst a forest of spruce and larch, which had quite a spectral look, from the thick depending mosses which hung from branch to branch.

31. “We left this dreary camp as early the next morning (the 11th) as the heavy fog and murky air would permit, and pursued our course a very serpentine channel; the stream winding its way through savannahs, and re-doubling in its course, with scarcely a perceptible current. These boggy grounds were narrow, and bounded by a forest of stunted grey pines and tamaracks, festooned with moss. Clumps of alder and willows fringed the banks. Vegetation had an Alpine character. We frequently disturbed waterfowl in the passage, and observed deer on the shore; one of the latter was shot by OZAWTJNDIB. The stream appeared to be nearly on a dead level. Styx could not have been less attractive. Towards evening we passed the Naiwa, or Copper-headed-snake River, a tributary coming in on the left bank. Soon after this, we encountered rapids, and some minor falls. The guide stopped at the foot of a high hill of drift pebbles and sand. Up this we scrambled. Canoes and baggage followed. We made a portage across a peninsula, and struck the stream again above the falls; where we encamped, wearied with a long day s little incidents.

32. On the third day’s journey we came, at an early hour, to Assowa Lake, which passed, under paddles, in twenty minutes. On reaching its head, Ozawundib pushed my canoe into a marshy inlet covered with pond lilies and other aquatic plants. He urged it as far as possible towards the dry ground, and stopped. We had reached the terminal point of this branch. We were in a perfect morass. Here the portage to Itasca Lake began, across the Hauteur des Terres. No tract on the whole route presented so severe a toil. We were continually mounting acclivities, or descending into gulfs. Geologically, this elevation consists of hills of the diluvial or erratic block group, disposed in ancient dune-shaped ridges. Pines, of several species, are dispersed over it. The depressions or depths between these have served as repositories for accumulated vegetable matter. These gulfs are sometimes boggy: more often they contain small lakes or ponds. The pines exhibit parasitic grey moss. We saw the passenger pigeon, and one or two species of the hawk family. It was a hot July day. Our hardy canoe-men set down their burdens many times on the route. We passed it in thirteen rests, or opugidjiwunun, as the Chippewas term it which, in estimating the actual distance, gives this elevation a breadth of about six miles. We found the strawberry ripe. We saw frequent tracks of the red, or common Virginia deer. Beneath the tread, we had evidences of oceanic action, in the abraded boulders and pebble stones of both the primary and sedimentary species of rocks. It seemed that northern oceans must once have rolled over this region. We were evidently passing over a soil which had been reproduced from broken-down strata; and although a species of marine sand capped the heights, it was clear, from the small lakes and numerous springs, that an aluminous basis was present at no great depth below. I felt too much interest in beholding the source of so celebrated a river, to permit my lagging behind as we approached the object. My share of the baggage consisted of little besides a spyglass and portfolio; and during the last stage of the portage, I kept up with the chief, and passed him in the descent of the last ridge, which brought me first to the goal. It was the 13th of July a clear and calm day, and the lake spread, as far as the eye could see, like a mirror, resting in a basin crowned with picturesque hills. The view was wholly sylvan; some elms and other deciduous species lined the shores. As soon as the baggage and canoes came up, we embarked, passed through the lake, and encamped on an island near its central point, where the two arms of which the lake consists, unite. The accompanying view (Plate 42) is taken from the shore abreast of this island.

33. Itasca Lake, to which the river has thus been traced, has its origin wholly in springs and small streams of pure water, which issue from the sandy elevations embracing it. From a mean of two published estimates of distances, it may be put at three thousand and twenty-five miles from the Gulf. Its altitude above the Atlantic was estimated at the time at fourteen hundred and ninety feet; assuming, as a basis for this, my prior estimate of Cass Lake, made during the expedition of 1820, at thirteen hundred and thirty feet, and the elevation of Itasca Lake above Cass Lake at one hundred and sixty feet.

34. Having finished the necessary observations at Itasca Lake, and taken specimens of whatever could be found in its natural history, and cut some canes, I embarked on my return down the Itasca branch, and without serious accident, rejoined my encampment in a few days, at Cass Lake. Lieutenant J. Allen, the officer in charge of the topography, who furnished the elements of the annexed map, (Plate 41,) estimated the distance at two hundred and ninety miles, of which one hundred and twenty-five miles were up the Plantagenet, and one hundred and sixty-five down the Itasca branch.

35. The natural history of Itasca Lake was left in the hands of Dr. Houghton; whose subsequent lamented death in the geological survey of Lake Superior, has, it is feared, deprived the public of many interesting and valuable observations. He noticed, among other plants on the island, the microstylis ophiog, lossoides, physalis lanceolata, and silene antirrhina. The elm, pine, spruce, and wild cherry, were also noticed. I picked up, on its sandy shores, the small planorbis companulatus. There was no rock in place. Among the pebbles of mixed primitive and sedimentary boulders, there were some of considerable size. There were the spinal and head bones of some fish, the remains of former feasting, at a deserted Indian camp, which is the only evidence known of the lakes yielding fish. There were also shells or bucklers of a species of large tortoise. We saw a fine deer, drinking at the margin of the lake. The water was pure, deep, and cold; and reflected, at the depth of several feet, a clean, pebbly, and sandy bottom. The topographical observations of Lieutenant Allen estimate its extreme length at seven miles.

36. Four years afterwards, namely, in 1836, Mr. J. J. Nicolet, who was under instructions from the United States Topographical Bureau, (Colonel J. J. Abert,) visited this lake. He reached it on the 29th of August, and we are indebted to him for several valuable scientific contributions. He determined its latitude, at the island, to be 47° 13′ 35”. The highest observed point of the Hauteur des Terres, he puts at 130 feet above the lake. His report, communicated to Congress after his death, by Colonel Abert, is a document of high value. Barometrical observations made by him make the extreme altitude of Itasca Lake, above the Gulf of Mexico, to be 1575 feet. The same observer found the apex of the Hauteur des Terres to be 1680 feet above the Gulf; a very inconsiderable altitude, if we consider it as the continental elevation between the West Indies and the Northern Seas.Citations:

  1. The connection of these papers with the past and present history and condition of the Indian tribes, who are the immediate subject of these inquiries, will be recognised.[]
  2. This fact is not, however, specially stated in the loose translations of Ternoux, which are without maps of the journey. The inference is plain.[]
  3. The narrative of the expedition of Narvaez has never been translated: it is inaccessible to the common reader. Its early date makes it an important document, which it is hoped may be soon given to the public.[]
  4. Hennepin says two hundred and fifty leagues above the point of his capture which is stated to have been one hundred and fifty leagues above the influx of the Illinois vaguely guessed, but still approximating to the true distance.[]
  5. Of Lake Michigan.[]
  6. On Lake Ontario. Let no American boast that he has exceeded this piece of hardihood.[]
  7. The account of the purported voyage from Fort Crevecoeur, on the Illinois, to Michillimackinac, page 135, 137, recognizes the ordinary land-marks, mostly by existing names, and contains but few improbabilities; yet the observer who could state that there are no “banks of sand,” at de lours qui dort, could never have passed that marked coast.[]
  8. Verbal communication of the late Elkanah Watson, Esq., of Albany, N. Y.[]
  9. Narrative of an Expedition through the Upper Mississippi to Itasca Lake. New York, Harpers, 1834[]
  10. Nicolet. Archives Of Aboriginal Knowledge Archives Of Aboriginal Knowledge, Henry R. Schoolcraft, 1860[]


Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Archives of aboriginal knowledge. Containing all the original paper laid before Congress respecting the history, antiquities, language, ethnology, pictography, rites, superstitions, and mythology, of the Indian tribes of the United States. Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1860.

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