It was this day in 1832 that the true source of the Mississippi river was “discovered” by Henry R. Schoolcraft. An explorer, ethnologist, geographer and geologist, Schoolcraft was born in New York in 1793. At the age of 25, he left home to go exploring in the west.
In 1820, he joined Lewis Cass’ expedition to chart boundary issues between US and Canada and to try to determine the headwaters of the Mississippi. Upon arriving at Upper Red Cedar Lake, they could no longer navigate by boat, so re-named the lake to Cass Lake and proclaimed it the beginning of the Mississippi. But the natives who were part of the expedition told Schoolcraft that earlier in the year when the water was higher, you could keep going by canoe. Two years later, Schoolcraft did just this and was able to get to what was then known as Elk Lake, the true headwaters of the Mississippi. As was the custom of the time, Schoolcraft promptly re-named it, making up Lake Itasca from the Latin veritas (truth) and caput (head)
Soon after, he was assigned as the first Indian agent in the area, based in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, where he met and married Jane Johnston. Jane was the oldest child of a Scottish fur trader and his Ojibwa wife. Jane’s Ojibwa name was “Woman of the Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky” and a writer in her own right, she taught Schoolcraft her language and culture. He went on to research and document much of Native American life and history, including a six-volume survey of Native American tribes that has since been indexed and updated. He even spent two stints at Fort Snelling, once as the commander of the fort.
There are quite a few things named after Schoolcraft, from townships in Michigan and Minnesota as well as parks, schools, roads, lakes, islands and even the ship SS Henry R Schoolcraft (launched in 1943). He passed away in 1864 at the age of 71. Of his many accomplishments, he is best known for his discovery to the headwaters of the Mississippi.
Tell us about the lake that is named after you!