A Sense of Where We Are: The Source


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Bemidji, Minnesota—Our route north from New Orleans has more or less paralleled the Mississippi River; at last count, we’ve crossed the river 20 times and seen river towns in their every make and model—rural Delta towns, abandoned junction cities, manufacturing hubs and distribution centers, gambling ports, and whatever exactly you’d call New Orleans. But all of that ends today, when we’ll cross over for the 21st and final time on our way to Lake Itasca, where my sources tell me the Mississippi actually begins.

As it happens, the man who finally figured this out*, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, also kept a blog of sorts, and it’s all available for free on Google Books. Check it out; it’s what I’ll be reading for the next day or so.

*I should say, “the white man who finally figured this out.” Schoolcraft could have been spared the considerable stress of the expedition if someone would have just bothered to ask the Native Americans. Or if he’d gotten it right the first time he explored the region, instead of falsely concluding that the river began in Lake Cass. But then he probably woudn’t have gotten the sweet book deal, either, so I guess you take the good with the bad.

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  • Tim Murphy

    Tim Murphy is a senior reporter at Mother Jones. Reach him at tmurphy@motherjones.com.