John L's Old Maps / Supplementary Pages:

Photos of the Source of the
St. Croix and Brule Rivers
and Associated Areas, Part 2

Click on images for extended view in separate window.
References regarding the area under discussion are listed here.


Old Map Collection – web version 4.2 (5/24/07):
  Part 1: c.1710-1857
  Part 2: 1873-1920

Supplementary Pages:
•  Evolution of Northwest Territory
•  Photos:  Source of Brule & St. Croix Rivers –
      Parts 1, 2 (this page) and 3
•  Photos:  Sources of the Mississippi River
•  Photos:  Railroads and Trails
•  Views of the Apostle Islands
•  References

A Special Cross-Swamp Expedition
(at roughly a right angle to the general trend of our hike).

Keeping in mind that the old explorers (Schoolcraft & Allen and others) noted the pond draining out toward the northeast, we wonder if there is visible evidence of a channel representing an older state of the East Branch of the Brule River which would have drained the pond and swamp in that direction. So, starting at the portage trail a little northeast of the spot where we were at the end of the previous page and heading in a roughly westerly-northwesterly direction, we walk across a relatively drier part of the swamp, not encountering any open water nor evidence of a discrete channel. The dense growth of large trees is like what is shown in photo 10 on the previous page. After about a half hour of heavy plodding and maneuvering around or through fallen tree branches, we come upon a strip of high ground – an "island" of sorts which possibly represents the west bank of Brule River's East Branch centuries ago. Perhaps it was the bank of (or an island in) a channel back in ancient times when Glacial Lake Duluth was drained toward the south.

As it is usually easy to get turned around while straying far off the portage trail without a compass, this author has (more than once) wound up on the "island" just described rather than on the trail. A reward for undergoing this inconvenience in the summer is a tasty and filling meal of wild raspberries and blueberries!

Considering the potential for steady build-up of vegetation and consequent ground level in a swamp such as this, any channel that might have been noted by the old explorers may have become totally obliterated in not too many years. However, did any of those old explorers actually discuss the appearance of the pond's northeasterly outlet in detail? At least it was obvious to Schoolcraft and Allen in 1832 that the pond "drained both ways" and Allen was under the impression that Upper St. Croix Lake would drain out through a reversed St. Croix Creek into the pond and then out through the Brule River – if the water in the lake were high enough.

Joseph Nicollet's opportunity to convince himself that the pond could at least run out in the northeasterly direction is noted in his journal entry of August 9, 1837. On this day he attempted to ascend the Brule in a small canoe to the pond which the natives had told him they had done – apparently with no problem. Nicollet found the stream unnavigable and the swampy water and surrounding brush impenetrable, and it appears that he gave up on the project and went back to his originally-intended survey of the area in the direction of Lake Superior.

With such a flat level of the terrain, a lateral shifting of the "continental divide" from the pond toward the northeast – enabled by the accumulation of vegetation – could have occurred around the 1830s and thereby changed the direction of the pond's northeasterly outlet such that it became the major inlet which we see today. And all along the bed of this inlet (as was probably the case when it was the outlet) are those innumerable incoming springs which appear to arise from the base of the elevation upon which runs the portage trail. Those springs can be said to be the ultimate source of the east branches of the St. Croix (i.e., St. Croix Creek) and the Brule.

Photos 19-32:  Down the Brule.




We resume our hike (from the previous page) through the swamp in a northeasterly direction, parallel to the portage trail which is up on high ground to the "right." We see less water in pools or streams beneath the surface, and the swamp appears less saturated.

19 – We come upon this small spring-fed pool at the edge of the swamp just 50 yards from the trail. Springs pour out from the steep banks along the swamp.

20 – The outlet from this pool heads in a northerly direction and after a few yards is joined by another tiny, spring-fed stream. This view is looking upstream; the small pool is just out of the picture to the upper left.

21 – Now it would be a neat thing to think of that small pool as the ultimate source of the Brule River (at least of the East Fork), but such is not the case. Turning around at the point where photo 20 was taken – and taking a few steps downstream – a large branch is seen to pour in from the left.

Following this latter branch upstream for awhile in a roughly southwesterly direction, one can see that it has a good claim to be the primary branch of the East Fork of the Brule River. In essentially back-tracking in the direction of the pond, I was hoping I would still be able to find some obvious evidence to connect this stream with the pond's inlet (i.e., what Lt. Allen and others had observed as the pond's eastern outlet years ago), but such was not the case. The stream simply emerged from a small elevated patch of "wet swamp" – probably built up by a process of debris accumulation that a fluvial geomorphologist could best describe!

22 – Here is the first rough water on the East Fork – a noisy little waterfall a few inches wide and about two feet high.

23 through 25 – As one hikes continuously downstream (toward the northeast), one sees the Brule River taking shape and beginning to resemble a real trout stream as branches large and small pour in.

26 – Two miles from the start of the portage trail near Upper St. Croix Lake (and one mile from the pond), the Brule River is navigable to canoeists. In this photo taken in July, 2001, a light-colored wooden post is clearly visible; on its other side is marked "PORTAGE" in vertical letters. The West Branch joins a little farther downstream.

26A through 26E – The swampy area seen in photo 26 became considerably grown up by July, 2005, and the wooden post was difficult to detect among the tall grass. These photos of the portage area from the latter date show the Brule emerging from a clearly non-navigable section of the stream (photo 26A) and then widening near its intersection with the foot trail. (Photos 26A and 26E were taken upstream; the rest downstream.) This part of the Brule is similar to the inlet of the pond discussed and shown on the previous page in a few ways: The water is very cold (a refreshing experience on a hot summer day), there are those hand-size green and orange rocks here and there, and the current flows just as fast although with quite a bit more volume. The reason for the apparently artificial arrangement of log and rocks seen in photo 26C was not evident.

27 – At the "Stone Bridge" (aka "Stone's Bridge") about 4 miles downstream from the portage, the Brule flows slowly on, not reaching any major rapids until about 4 miles farther on.

28 – A view of the Brule 7 miles farther downstream, about 16 miles (as the ravens fly) south of its outlet into Lake Superior.

29 – About three miles from Lake Superior, the Brule looks like this.

30 and 31 – Two views of the mouth of the Brule taken from about the same spot, looking upstream and downstream respectively. A link to a recent aerial photo of this historic place can be found by clicking here.

32 – From the other (western) side, here is another view of the Brule coming in to Lake Superior.


















Go to Part 3 or
return to Part 1.

The hike on and off the portage trail that is described on these pages is a composite
of several trips taken along the same route during the summers of 2000 through 2005.
Read the safety note on the first page.

  E-mail me at jlindquist001 @ .
  Explore the North Country Trail Assn. website.

Page last modified on 1/10/15 at 5:45 PM, CST.
John Lindquist:  homepage, complete site outline.
University of Wisconsin-Madison