Today, the Minnesota State Quarter Coin remembers two of the expeditions into the origin of the Mississippi River.
On July 13, 1832, one expedition arrived at what became known as Lake Itasca, the origin of the Mississippi.
Though, some disagree and claim that streams flow into Lake Itasca that could and should be explored as the true origins of the river.
But, even today, people accept Lake Itasca as the headwater of the Mississippi.
George Bryce included in his book The Remarkable History of the Hudson’s Bay Company, Including that of the French Traders of North-western Canada and of the North-west, XY, and Astor Fur Companies, published in 1900, these descriptions:
CASS AND SCHOOLCRAFT.
Lewis Cass, of New Hampshire, was appointed Governor of Michigan in 1813.
Six years after this he addressed the Secretary of War in Washington, proposing an expedition to and through Lake Superior, and to the sources of the Mississippi.
It was planned for an examination of the principal features of the North-West, tributary to Lake Superior and the Mississippi River.
This was sanctioned in 1820, and the expedition embarked in May of that year at Detroit, Michigan, Henry Schoolcraft being mineralogist and Captain D. B. Douglas topographer and astronomer.
The expedition, after much contrary weather, reached Sault Ste. Marie, and the Governor, after much difficulty, here negotiated a treaty with the Indians.
Going by way of the Fond du Lac, the party entered the St. Louis River, and made a tiresome portage to Sandy Lake station.
This fur-trading post the party left in July, and ascended the Upper Mississippi to the Upper Cedar Lake, the name of which was changed to Lake Cassina, and afterwards Cass Lake.
From the Indians Governor Cass learned that Lac La Biche — some fifty miles further on — was the true source of the river, but he was deterred by their accounts of the lowness of the water and the fierceness of the current from attempting the journey any further.
The expedition ingloriously retired from the project, going down to St. Anthony Falls, ascending the Wisconsin River, and thence down Fox River.
The Governor himself in September arrived in Detroit, having crossed the Southern Peninsula of Michigan on horseback. Hon. J. W. Brown says:
“When Governor Cass abandoned his purpose to ascend the Mississippi to its source, he was within an easy distance, comparatively speaking, of the goal sought for. Less timidity had often been displayed in canoe voyages, even in the face of low water, and an O-z-a-win-dib or a Keg-wed-zis-sag, Indian guides, would have easily won the battle of the day for Governor Cass.”
SCHOOLCRAFT AT LENGTH SUCCEEDS.
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, of good family, was born in New York State, and was educated in that State and in Vermont.
His first expedition was in company with De Witt Clinton in a journey to Missouri and Arkansas.
On his return he published two treatises which gave him some reputation as an explorer and scientist.
We have already spoken of the part taken by him in the expedition of Governor Cass.
He received after this the appointment of “Superintendent of Indian Affairs” at Sault Ste. Marie, and to this we are indebted for the treasury of Indian lore published in four large quarto volumes, from which Longfellow obtained his tale of “Hiawatha.”
In 1830 Schoolcraft received orders from Washington, ostensibly for conference with the Indians, but in reality to determine the source of the Mississippi.
The Rev. W. T. Boutwell, representing a Board of Missions, accompanied the expedition.
Lac La Biche was already known to exist, and to this Schoolcraft pointed his expedition.
On their journey outward Schoolcraft suddenly one day asked Boutwell the Greek and Latin names for the headwaters or true source of a river.
Mr. Boutwell could not recall the Greek, but gave the two Latin words — Veritas (truth) and caput (head).
These were written on a slip of paper, and Mr. Schoolcraft struck out the first and last three letters, and announced to Boutwell that ” Itasca shall be the name.”
It is true that Schoolcraft wrote a stanza in which he says, “By fair Itasca shed,” seemingly referring to an Indian maiden.
Boutwell, however, always maintained his story of the name, and this is supported by the fact that the word was never heard in the Ojibeway mythology.
The party followed the same route as that taken by Governor Cass on his journey, reaching Cass Lake on July 10th, 1832.
Taking the advice of Ozawinder, a Chippewa Indian, they followed up their journey in birch bark canoes, went up the smaller fork of the Mississippi, and then by portage reached the eastern extremity of La Biche or Itasca Lake.
The party landed on the island in the lake which has since been known as Schoolcraft Island, and here raised their flag.
After exploring the shores of the lake, he returned to Cass Lake, and, full of pride of his discovery, journeyed home to Sault Ste. Marie.
On the map drawn to illustrate Schoolcraft’s inland journey occurs, beside the lake of his discovery, the legend, “Itasca Lake, the source of the Mississippi River; length from Gulf of Mexico, 3160 miles; elevation, 1500 ft. Reached July 13th, 1832.”
The Minnesota State Quarter Coin shows with an image, circa 1936, of the source of the Mississippi River.