Henry Schoolcraft was the US Indian Agent stationed at Fort Brady in Sault Ste Marie after the end of the War of 1812. He was commissioned by President Andrew Jackson to explore the ancient Indian trade route from Lake Superior to the Mississippi River in 1831. He gathered a team, in the fashion of Lewis and Clark, and departed the Sault in July. (It is likely that Chief Namakagon was part of the team.) They crossed Lake Superior to the Ojibwe village of Odanah, entered the Bad River, then took the White River fork, following it beyond the Bibon Swamp. From there, they portaged to the north end of (now) Lake Owen, then followed the Turtle Portage through Price and Perry Lakes, eventually reaching the Namekagon River near what is now the Cable airport. The following excerpt from his journal begins somewhere north of Lake Owen. It offers a glimpse at what Schoolcraft's team found almost 200 years ago.

From the Journal of Henry Schoolcraft, July, 1831

On the 25th we went three pauses to breakfast, in a hollow or ravine, and pushing on, crossed the last ridge, and at one o'clock reached the foot of Lake Ka-ge-no-gum-aug, a beautiful and elongated sheet of water, which is the source of this branch of the Maskigo River. Thus a point was gained. This lake is about nine miles long.

Lake Ka-ge-no-gum-aug.--At nine in the morning, we embarked on the lake in four canoes. Two of the flotilla of canoes were occupied by the military under Lieut. Clary. Its waters were clear; we observed fish and ducks. After proceeding a little less than two hours through a very irregular, elongated, and romantic lake, we reached a portage in the direction of the Namakagun. This portage is called Mikenok, or the Turtle. It proved to be two hundred and eighty yards to a pond, or small lake, named Turtle Lake. About two hundred yards of this portage lies a dry pine ridge, the remainder bog. On crossing this little sheet, we encountered another portage of one thousand and seventy-five yards, terminating at a second lake named Clary's Lake (Price Lake). About five o'clock the canoes came up, and we embarked on the lake and crossed it, and, striking the portage path, went four hundred and seventy-five yards to a third lake, called Polyganum (Perry), from the abundance of plant. We crossed this and encamped on its border.

This frequent shifting and changing of baggage and canoes exhausted the men, who have not yet recovered from the toils of the long portage. Three of them were disabled from wounds or bruises. Laporte, the eldest man of our party, fell with a heavy load, on the great Wunnegum portage, and drove a small knot into his scalp. The doctor bandaged it, and wondered why he had not fractured his skull. Yet the old man's voyager pride would not permit him to lie idle. If he died under the carrying-strap, he was determined to die game.

Namakagun River.--Early on the 27th we were astir, and followed the path 1050 yards, which we made in two pauses to the banks of the Namakagun River. We were now on the waters tributary to the Mississippi, and sat down to our breakfast of fried pork and tea with exultation.

Dead pines cover the ground between Lake Polyganum and the Namakagun. A great fire appears to have raged here formerly, destroying thousands of acre's of the most thrifty and tall pines. Nobody can estimate the extent of this destruction.

The river, where the portage strikes it, is about seventy-five feet wide, and shallow, the deepest parts not exceeding eighteen inches.

About one o'clock the canoes had all come up, and we embarked on the waters of the Namakagun. Rapids soon obstructed our descent. At these it was necessary for the men to get out and lift the canoes. It was soon necessary for us to get out ourselves and walk in the bed of the stream. It was at last found necessary to throw overboard the kegs of pork, &c., and let them float down. This they would not do without men to guide them and roll them along in bad places. Some of the bags from the canoes were next obliged to be put on men's shoulders to be carried down stream over the worst shallows. After proceeding in this way probably six or seven miles, we encamped at half-past seven o'clock. Mr. Johnston, with his canoe, did not come up. We fired guns to apprize him of our place of encampment, but received no reply. There had been partial showers during the day, and the weather was dark and gloomy. It rained hard during the night. Our canoes were badly injured, the bark peeling off the bows and bottoms. The men had not yet had time to recover from their bruises on the great Wannegum portage. Mr. Clary had shot some ducks and pigeons, on which, at his invitation, we made our evening repast, with coffee, an article which he had among his stores. Some of the men had also caught trout--this fish being abundant here.

On the next morning I sent a small canoe (Clary's) to aid Johnston. Found him with his canoe broke. Brought down part of his loading, and dispatched the canoe back again. By eleven o'clock the canoe returned on her second trip. Finding the difficulties so great, put six kegs of pork, seven bags of flour, one keg of salt, &c., in depot.

PuckwaÉwa Village.--At four o'clock we had got everything down the shallows, mended our canoe, and reached the Pukwaéwa, a noted Indian village, where we encamped. The distance is about nine miles from the western terminus of the portage, course W. S. W. We found it completely deserted, according to the custom of the Indians, who after planting their gardens, leave them to go on their summer hunts, eating berries, &c. (We saw a)  high wooden cross on the south bank. Hence we called it the Lake of the Cross. It is called Pukwaéwa by the Indians.

We found eight large permanent bark lodges, with fields of corn, potatoes, pumpkins, and beans, in fine condition. The lodges were carefully closed, and the grounds and paths around cleanly swept, giving the premises a neat air. The corn fields were partially or lightly fenced. The corn was in tassel. The pumpkins partly grown, the beans fit for boiling. The whole appearance of thrift and industry was pleasing.

A little below we met the chief Pukquamoo, and his band, returning to the upper village. Held a conference with him on the water on the subject of my mission and movements. He appeared, not only by his village, which we had inspected, but by his words, eminently pacific.

I sent two canoes immediately up stream, to bring down the stores put in deposit. I descended the river, taking along Dr. Houghton and Mr. Johnston, leaving the heavy baggage in charge of Mr. Woolsey, with directions to accompany Lieut. Clary across the portage from the Namakagun to Ottowa Lake. It was half-past five on the morning of the 29th, when, bidding adieu to Lieut. Clary and Mr. Woolsey, we embarked.

About four o'clock the chief of this party hailed us from shore, having headed us by taking a short land route from the Lake of the Cross. He sought more perfect information on some points, which was given, and he was requested to attend the general council appointed to be held at Lae Courtorielle (Ottawa Lake). We continued the descent till eight o'clock P. M., having descended about thirty-five miles.

On the 30th we embarked at five in the morning, and reached the contemplated portage to Ottawa Lake at seven. I stopped, and having written notes for Lieut. Clary and Mr. Woolsey, put them in the end of a split pole, according to the Indian method. At ten I landed for breakfast with my canoe badly broken, and the corn, &c., wetted. Detained till twelve. Near night met a band of Chippewas ascending. Got a canoe from them to proceed to Yellow River, and, after dividing the baggage and provisions, put Mr. Johnston with two men in it. This facilitated our descent, as we had found frequent shallows, in consequence of low water, to impede our progress. Yet our estimate for the day's travel is forty miles.

On the 31st we were on the water at six A. M. Soon passed seven Indians in canoes, to whom a passing salute of a few words and tobacco were given. We landed at ten to breakfast. The current had now augmented so as to be very strong, and permit the full force of the paddles. Stopped a few moments at a Chippewa camp to get out some tobacco, and, leaving Mr. Johnston to make the necessary inquiries and give the necessary information, pushed on.

Their first request is tobacco, although they are half starved, and have lived on nothing but whortleberries for weeks. Suguswau, let us smoke," is the first expression.

The country as we descend assumes more the appearance of upland prairie, from the repeated burnings of the forest. The effect is, nearly all the small trees have been consumed, and grass has taken their place. The moose is also an inhabitant of the Namakagun. The Chippewas, at a hunting camp we passed yesterday, said they had been on the tracks of a moose, but lost them in high brush. Ducks and pigeons appear common. Among smaller birds are the blackbird, robin, catbird, red-headed woodpecker, kingfisher, kingbird, plover and yellow-hammer.

We frequently passed the figure of a man, drawn on a blazed pine, with horns, giving the idea of an evil spirit. The occiput of the bear, and head bones of other animals killed in the chase, are hung upon poles at the water's side, with some ideographic signs. The antlers of the deer are conspicuous. Other marks of success in hunting are left on trees, so that those Indians who pass and are acquainted with signs, obtain a species of information. The want of letters is thus, in a manner, supplied by signs and pictographic symbols.

Late in the afternoon we passed the inlet of the Tetogun--one of the principal forks of the Namakagun. The name is indicative of its origin. Totosh is the female breast. It describes a peculiar kind of soft or dancing bog. Soon after, we broke our canoe--stopped three-fourths of an hour to amend it--reached the forks of the St. Croix directly after, passed down the main channel about nine miles, and encamped a little below Pine River. We built ten fires to keep off the mosquitoes, and put our tent and cooking-free in the centre. It rained during the night.  EXCERPT END

Schoolcraft continued downstream to the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers, then found his way upstream to what he believed was the headwaters of the Mississippi. He made up a name for the lake, calling it Lake Itasca. After more exploration, his team returned to Sault Ste. Marie in September, 1831.

This author believes one of Henry Schoolcraft's porters was a tall, strong Ojibwe man who would later return, following the same portage route and finding a residence on Lake Namakagon. We know that man as Mikwam-migwan or Chief Namakagon. The author also believes that Henry Schoolcraft miscalculated when determining the headwaters for the Mississippi River. Research shows that, if you follow the river upstream, the greatest water flowage comes from the St. Croix River, not the Itasca. Further, the Namekagon River, where it meets the St. Croix, is the stronger of the two. Therefore, Lake Namakagon is the headwaters of the Mississippi River, not Lake Itasca.

More information on these two theories will be posted soon. Stay tuned!



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