Maps  and the Timeline of Explorer History
1889--Jacob Brower makes a six month survey of the Lake Itasca basin, and concludes that the ultimate  source of the inflowing waters of the Mississippi River springs from the "Greater Ultimate Reservoir" of DeSoto Lake and its environs, south and west of Lake Itasca. This would push the ultimate source even further south of Nicollet's surveyed source.  Although Brower  acquiesced to state pressure to designate the north end of Lake Itasca as the official headwaters, he notes that the longest distance a falling raindrop would travel from the Itasca basin to the Gulf of Mexico would originate much further south at Lake Desoto.  Brower  then  lobbies for the establishment of a state park to protect Lake Itasca, and becomes the first Commisioner of the park in 1891.
  Brower's Report
1881--Civil War hero Willard Glazier travels to northern  Minnesota and enlists Ojibwe guide Cheno-Go-Wesic to aid his travel to the Itasca basin.  Glazier examines the large lake south of Itasca and names it Lake Glazier, proclaiming it to be the True Source, then becomes the first person to paddle a canoe from the Headwaters all the way to New Orleans. This lake, now named Elk Lake, lies at an elevation of only three feet about Lake Itasca, to which it is connected via Chambers Creek and a channel of marsh and bog.  It is likely that at the time of Nicollet's survey, a higher water level on both lakes made them contiguous, and that what is now Elk Lake was merely a bay of the larger Lake Itasca. 

Glazier's Down the Great River: An Account of the Discovery of the True Source of the Mississippi 
1872--Julius Chambers notes that Elk lies south of Itasca, connected to it by what is now known as Chambers Creek. Despite his observations, he didnt get credit for his findings until he published his expedition memoirs nearly 40 years later, in 1910, by which time the question of the location of the "True Source" of the Mississippi River had already been officially decided. 

 The Mississippi River and its Wonderful Valley
1875--On behalf of the US government, Edwin S. Hall surveys the timber resouces of the Lake Itasca region, and in surveying the land by default also produces the first accurate map of Lake Itasca and surrounding bodies of water.  
1865--Henry David Thoreau, having witnessed the destruction of the primeval white pine forests of his beloved New England Maine and, takes an interest in the preservation of Minnesota forests, and travels to St Paul.  Intending to follow the Mississippi River to its source, he instead succumbs to his chronic battle with TB and returns home, where he died soon thereafter.  Thoreau in Minnesota
1836-- French scientist and mapmaker Joseph Nicollet travels to Minnesota territory on a mission to investigate Schoolcraft's claim of the river's source at Lake Itasca.  He is the first to survey the region with scientific instruments to determine latitude and longitude and elevation and fully investigates several tributaties into Lake Itasca, pushing the designation of the "True Source" several miles south of Itasca.  His survey of the Mississippi River basin in the upper Midwest continued for several years, resulting in the first accurate hydrographic map of the region  

            Nicollet's Report to accompany his map of the Upper Mississippi Basin
1832-- Henry Rowe Schoolcraft and Lt James Allen and their crew are led to Lake Itasca by the Ojibwe leader Ozawindib.  Schoolcraft claims the north end of Itasca as the source of the Mississippi, and Lt. Allen drafts a map of the lake and submits an official report to the U.S. Congress. 

 Schoolcraft's Journal       Allen's Offical Report
Italian adventurer Giacomo Beltrami comes to America, at first intent on trekking through and exploring the great American prairies.  He is re-directed after a fortuitous encounter while travelling by steamboat to St Louis--both Governor William Clark of Missouri, and Captain Lawrence Taliaferro were travelling with him, and encouraged to journey north instead, to see if he could find the Headwaters of the Mississippi.  Beltrami follows Taliaferro to his posting at Fort Snelling, then accompanies Major Stephen Long up the Red River til he came to the mouth of the Red Lake River.  Continuing east on his own, he made his way to Red lake, where he received directions  from the Ojibwe for finding the Continental Divide and the source of the Turtle River, now considered the northermost tributary of the Mississippi.  Beltrami proclaimed the "True Source" to be at Lake Julia, at the head of the Turtle River.  Beltrami's expedition report 
Governor Lewis Cass  and Indain agent  Henry Schoolcraft head west from Michigan in the summer of 1820, bound for the Rainy River and lake of the Woods, in the vicinity of where they think the headwaters of the Mississippi may lie.  Inspired by rumors of copper along the shores of Lake Superior, they are also eager to look for economic resources of the "Northwest Territory."   The pair encounter William Morrison who is travelling from Fond du lac to Michilmacinac for a fur company meeting; when Morrison  encounters Lewis Cass and the young Henry Schoolcraft, he redirects them to the St Louis River  and gives them directions to find the Headwaters after traversing the Savanna Portage to the Mississippi . 

Schoolcraft's report of the Cass expedition
Having been passed over in the selection of Lewis and Clarkes entourage, Zebulon Pike is allowed an expedition of his own in 1805. Woefully unprepared for a winter's journey, he and his men barely make their way to Leech Lake and Cass Lake in February 1806.   Though told by the fur company agent, Hugh McGillis, that winterer William Morrison could lead him further upstream along a network of tributaries, Pike decides not to risk the lives of his men in trekking further, and declares Leech Lake to be the "True Source' of the Mississippi. 

 Pikes Expedition Report
1803--William Morrison, a fur post clerk at Grand Portage, is assigned a wintering post at Upper Wild Rice Lake, and travels there via the Mississipi River. He crosses to the lake via a portage located located 6 miles north of Itasca.  During his 2 year post there, he travels often to the nearest larger fur post at Lac Travers (Bemidji) in order to replenish supplies and turn in furs traded for with the local Ojibwe trappers.  He also claims to have visited Lake Itasca on several occasions, and describes exploring its five tributaries.  After being re-assigned to Leech Lake for several years, he returns to his Headwaters post in the winters of 1811-1812.  He later rises to the level of chief agent of the Fond du Lac region, and decades later retires to Montreal.  . 
British cartographer David Thompson is charged with mapping the Northwest territories of Canada in 1798 before he starts out, he travels by dogsled from Red Lake to Cass Lake along the upland portage that parallels the Turtle River; though he doesnt find the headwaters of the Mississippi, he believes  it lies in the vicinity.
David Thompson's Narrative 1784-1812
French fur traders are trapping and trading in the vicinity of  Lac La Biche, now Lake Itasca,  and give the lake a name that is french translation of the Ojibwe name, Omushkos, for Elk Lake.  While they do not specifically publish a report that they recognize it as the headwaters of the Mississippi, Jacob Brower does later find the ruined foundation of their french fur post on Schoolcraft Island in Lake Itasca, which he states proves their presence dating back  to 1750.  
1680 --Father Louis Hennepin travels down the Illinois River from the Great Lakes, then north along the Mississippi to the location of present-day Minneapolis, where he encounters the Dakota at what they call "Minirara"  (curling water)  which he maps and labels as St Anthony Falls.                           
  A History of St Anthony Falls   
1541-- Spanish explorer Hernan de Soto is the  first European explorer to encounter and cross the Mississippi River, in his overland journey from Spanish Florida to what is now Arkansas and Louisiana   DeSoto's Expedition
1898 --Minnesota state geologist Newton Winchell examines the records and surveys and maps of all previous explorers, and agrees with Brower that the ultimate source of the headwaters is south of Lake Itasca.  He makes a final pronouncement that  it is a toss-up whether to consider Glazier's claim of Chambers Creek and  Elk Lake as the "True Source,"  or Nicollet's claim of Nicollet Creek leading to the upper Nicollet Lake.  While Elk Lake is a larger lake upstream from Itasca than the upper Nicollet Lake, the stream connecting Elk Lake is shorter than the Nicollet Creek, and drains from a  lower elevation.  Despite his official scientific pronouncement of 1899, which is correct from a geologic and hydrologic perspective, the State legislature votes to keep the official designation of Schoolcraft's proclaimed headwaters at the north end of lake Itasca-- in part because they had already appropriated funds for a park sign crediting Schoolcraft

 Winchell's Report on the Source of the Mississippi River  

1682 --From Montreal, Rene Rovert Cavelier sieur de La Salle  travels through the Great Lakes to Lake Michigan, down the Illinois River to its confluence with the Mississippi River, then downstream from St Louis  to the Gulf of Mexico. He plants a marker when he arrives at the river's outlet at the Gulf of mexico, and claims the entire territory for France.

 The journeys of La Salle  

From archaeologic evidence, as well as oral histories and legends of different present-day tribes, it seems that  early Paleo-Indians followed the last of the retreating Pleistocene glaciers 10,000 years ago, meandering  their way northward up the Mississipi River to the region of today's headwaters.  
Overview of Minnesota Archaeology
1673 French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet explore the Mississippi River at the confluence of the Wisconsin River 
1904--after several years acting as assistant Park manager at Itasca State Park, Mary Gibbs is appointed head Park Commissioner and defies  incursions into the park by  lumber companies and poachers who are taking advantage of unclear park boundaries
1899 to 1908 --  The Minnesota Federation of Women's Clubs, led by Professor Maria Sanford of the University of Minnesota and Minnesota Forestry Commission delegate Florence Bramhall,  form a conservation caucus to lobby for forest preservation, especially in the Mississippi Headwaters region. Their cause is championed by Teddy Roosevelt, who becomes president and advocates for new National Parks and  National Forests.   A  "Chippewa National Park" is proposed, which would encompass  the area from Lake Itasca to Cass Lake and Deer River, expanding the area of headwaters protection from the 30,000 acres at Itasca State Park, to over 4 million acres further downstream in the Headwaters region.  Although legislation for this proposed National Park was defeated, Teddy Roosevelt and  the Minnesota Women's Federation is credited for at least establishing the Chippewa National Forest, which protects 225,000 acres of forest around Cass Lake and Leech Lake.    
  Minnesota National Forest:  Politics of Compromise 

Events have been experienced 
and  remembered differently 
by different peoples;  

there are facts, and 
different interpretations of facts; 

there are  stories and story-tellers,  and myriad legends that evolve through time, 

all of which become part of 
the rich tapestry of history

The more facts we review, and 
the more primary sources we examine,  

the more we look backwards 
                    through the lens of time, 

the better able we are to forge new perspectives 
that help us discover who we are today,  
and how we got to where we are.  

Later Pre-Columbian Woodland Indians established a trade network that spanned the length of the river, from mouth to source, trading ideas and goods with their neighbors along the way, and who, since ancient times, have recognized it as "The Great River" and "the Father of Waters." 
 Prehistoric Man at the Headwaters of the Mississippi River
Commissioned by Thomas Jefferson to survey America's newly acquired Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark set out on a two year expedition to the Pacific Coast and back.  Though they map the Missouri River watershed fairly accurately, their map shows minimal information on the upper Mississippi River as they did not traverse it.  Later, in 1823, after  William Clark has become the governor of Missouri and meets Italian explorer Beltrami travelling en route to St Louis, he  encourages Beltrami to trek northward to fill in the gaps with new knowledge of the Mississippi Headwaters
The Woodland Anishinabe people begin The Great Migration westward into the what the Dakota call "Land of Sky-Tinted Water" (Minnesota), and map their journey on birchbark scroll maps.  Anishinabe Migration story and Map
1498--Amerigo Vespucci sails past the Mississippi Delta and maps its location in the Gulf of Mexico' His mapped information is incorporated in Martin Waldsemuller's World Map of 1507, which was the first map to include the word "America" in honor of Amerigo Vespucci.   Waldseemuller's map   
French metis furtrader Jean-Baptiste Cadotte, Jr.,  is assigned to work the Fond du Lac territory, including Leech Lake, Cass Lake, and Red Lake,  for the Northwest Fur Company.  He is known to have travelled up the Mississippi as far as Cass Lake to an early assignment at the Red Lake furpost, and his supervisor Perrault claims that he explored  the region of the Mississippi Headwaters in the process, though  he published no maps or official documents to verify any specific claims of recognizing or pinpointing the river's source.         
  Cadotte and the Sources of the Mississipp
Italian mapmaker Coronelli drafts the first map which shows the Mississippi Headwaters region with a distinct river source. He includes it on his famous globe made in  Florence, 1693.  This globe was exhibited permanently in several places, including the court of Louis XIV and also in the library of  Bergamo, northern Italy, where Giacomo Beltrami was born and studied in his younger years.   

Geographer Vicenzo Coronelli
1866 Coloney and Fairchild Ribbon Map--"Father of Waters" 
from David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

This page is still under construction.
Stay tuned as our journey through the past continues, and as we shed more light on our explorers stories! 
900 AD
The more we study the past, 
the more we realize that the history we thought we knew 
is not necessarily carved in stone. 
 1395 -- Anishinabe people reach Madeline Island in Lake Superior.  Anishinabe Migration story and Map
1545--After hearing rumors of the  arrival of Europeans on the shores of North America, some Anishinabe start to move further northward and westward into Minnesota, including into the region of the Mississippi Headwaters, displacing some of the Dakota who were living there at the time.  
Ojibwe history timeline
1967--Art Keenan, DNR Forester, surveys the Headwaters corridor and establishes the Minnesota DNR Headwaters Canoe Trail for public recreation.  Outdoor explorers of all kinds are now able to launch their own  canoes to explore the Mississippi River on their own, using newly established DNR campsites and canoe landings  along the river corridor.  The trip from Itasca to Bemidji is now a tame  three to five day paddle.  

Mississippi Headwaters DNR Water Trail 
Map from the DeSoto expedition, the first map of North America to depict interior land along the Gulf Coast.  The mouth of the Mississippi River is labeled as the Spiritu Sanctu River.  From the University of Richmond's On-Line Historical Atlas:
Map of Marquette and Joliet's expedition to the Mississippi at the confluence of the Wisconsin River in 1673-1674.  Credit: Library of Congress
Hennepin's first map of the Mississippi River, 1683.  Compiled based on his 1680 expedition to St Anthony Falls via the Great Lakes and Illinois River. See
David Thompson's map from the winter of 1798, when he traversed  sections of  the Turtle River between Red Lake and Cass Lake prior to his expedition to map the northwest territories of Canada
Map of the fur posts of the Northwest Company, including the post at Upper Rice Lake where William Morrison first overwintered in 1804-1805.  He frequently visited and stayed at many posts throughout the area up through the winter of  1811-1812, including the  post six miles north of Lake Itasca
Lewis and Clarke's mapped the Missouri River basin and the upper reaches of the Louisians purchase , based on their expedition  of 1803-1805. Details of the Mississippi Headwaters are sketchy as that region was not part of their expedition
Zebulon Pike's map idnetifies Leech Lake as the source of the Mississippi after his expedition there in February 1806.
Beginning in  1816, John Melish publishes several editions of a map that combines information from the  expedition maps of Pike and Lewis and Clark. The 1823 map appears to also include updates based on the Cass and Beltrami expeditions
Governor Lewis Cass of Michigan,  accompanied by a young Hnery Schoolcraft,  travel upstream on  the Mississippi as far as Red Cedar Lake in 1820.  Cass declares it the True Source of the river, and Schoolcraft renames it Cassina Lake, now known as Cass Lake.
Schoolcraft would return to Cass Lake 12 years later, in 1832, but was advised by Ojibwe leader Ozawindib to travel further upstream to the river's source at Lake Itasca.  Schoolcraft's assistant, topographic engineer Lt. Allen, drafted this map to accompany their expedition report  to Congress
Nicollet's headwater survey of 1836, four years after Schoolcraft and Allen, resulted in a hydrographic  map that showed 'the Infant Mississippi" originating several miles further upstream than Schoolcraft's source at Lake Itasca
Minnesota Territory in 1853.  When Minnesota officially became a state, the legislature and the newly founded Minnesota Historical Society debated who would get credit for discovering the True Source, and where it was officially located
Julius Chamber's map from his 1872 expedition, showing Elk Lake as a large tributary source of water flowing into Lake Itasca.  His designated  "True Source" was not considered as an option during the debates of the late 1800's, because he did not publish his map and his report until 1910
Capt. Willard Glazier visits Lake Itasca in 1881, also finding Elk Lake and naming it Lake Glazier.  He then paddles the length of the Mississippi to its outlet, publicizing his find of "the True Source"
Jacob Brower's map published after his surveys of the Itasca basin in 1889.  He notes the ultimate sources of the water in Lake Itasca as originated in the Greater Upper Reservoir of lakes at the base of the heights of the Itasca morain south of Lake DeSoto
Atlas map from 1895, showing Brower's designated source of the Mississippi River located at DeSoto Lake
Original park boundaries of Itasca State Park after it was first established in 1891, showing much a smaller park with muchof the land still privatley held  within the tentative park borders
Searle's 1904 map of the proposed 4 million acre Chippewa National Park, as favored  by Teddy Roosevelt and Maria Sanford and allies.  It would has encompassed Itasca State Park and today's Chippewa national Forest, and all the public and private land in between
9000 to  8,000 BP
10,000 to 9,000 BP
early 1700's
John Melish compiled the first map of the United States showing possesions from coast to coast. His first edition of 1816  used information from  the expedition maps of Pike and Lewis and Clark.  The 1823 edition also includes  information from the Cass and Beltrami expeditions to update the  Mississippi Headwaters region of the map
1816 -1823
Note: This page is still under construction. 
Check back often to see what we add!

Publisher Matthew Carey  designs numerous important maps of the United States and its territories, resulting in the  First Atlas of America.  He contracts with Lydia Steele Bailey to print his works. His 1814 atlas  includes William Clark's Map of the Louisiana Territory  
Philadelphia printer Lydia Steele Bailey prints the first map of the entire inland waterways of the United States as known at the time.  The map was sold on its own, and as an insert in  Armroyd and Tanner's 1830  report to Congress on the current state of American navigation, also printed by Bailey. The map includes details of the Mississippi Headwaters based on the  Pike and Cass expeditions, favoring Cass's designation as the source, and entirely dismissing Beltrami's northern Julian source.  Inland  Waterways map
1826 -1830
late 1700's
"The Source"
Resources  for the modern day river explorer
Virtual Journey
 to the Headwaters
River's Edge
Our Cast of Characters
Explorer Expedition Timeline & Maps
MN Alliance for Geographic Education