John L's Old Maps

Part 1: c.1710-1857

A collection of images centering eventually (in Part 2) on Northwestern Wisconsin, particularly Sawyer and Washburn Counties.  Included on this page is a brief comparative survey of maps by Farmer, Allen and Nicollet concerning the Mississippi River source and Northern Wisconsin.

The "Supplementary" and "Special" pages shown in the list on the right include copies of some old maps. However, photos of the contemporary geography of these areas have apparently taken over, and (except for "Evolution of the Northwest Territory") the pages have become general travelogues.  Enjoy!


Old Map Collection – web version 4.2 (5/24/07):
"  Part 1: c.1710-1857 (this page)
"  Part 2: 1873-1920 (with list of map sources)
Supplementary Pages:
Evolution of the Northwest Territory
"  Photos of the Source of Brule & St. Croix Rivers:
      Parts 1 and 2
"  Photos of the Sources of the Mississippi River:
      Pages 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5
"  Photos of Railroads and Trails: Parts 1 and 2
Apostle Islands Photos (with menu)
Special Pages:
"  The Legendary Steamboat Island
"  Coppermine Dam on the St. Croix River
"  Morgan Falls and St. Peter's Dome

Click on items in the left-hand column to view maps in separate windows.
Do not allow your browser to reduce larger images to screen size.

Map 1 (JPEG, 165K): Detail from "A Map of Louisiana and of the River Mississippi" which appears to be from approx. 1710-20. Publication details presently unknown. Map obtained from an estate auction in tattered condition.

Map 2 (JPEG, 248K): Detail from "Carte de la Louisiane et du Cours du Mississippi" – the French version of the above map.

Map 3 (JPEG, 149K): Part of the "Map of the Territories of Michigan and Ouisconsin" by John Farmer, 1830. Detail from the area around the source of the Mississippi River and what is now Northwest Wisconsin are shown respectively in Map 3.1 (JPEG, 252K) and Map 3.2 (JPEG, 264K).

Map 4 (JPEG, 220K): The northern two-thirds of Lt. James Allen's map titled "St. Croix and Misacoda or Burntwood [Bois Brule] Rivers" which was published in Henry Schoolcraft's Narrative of an Expedition [in 1832] Through the Upper Mississippi to Itasca Lake (Harper & Bros., New York, 1834) – a work that was reissued and expanded (without the original maps) into the Mason book listed here. Detail showing the St. Croix-Brule portage area is shown in Map 4.1 (JPEG, 83K). Map 4.2 (JPEG, 83K) shows the area immediately to the south (at about the same scale) which includes the Namekagon River and the portage to the Chippewa River system.

Map 5 (JPEG, 231K): Detail from Joseph Nicollet's "Hydrographical Basin of the Upper Mississippi River," a map depicting his travels over a wide area of the upper Midwest in the 1830s, authorized by the War Department and published in 1843 and 1845 with his official reports to the Senate and the House of Representatives, respectively.

Map 6 (JPEG, 149K): Detail from "Index Map to Canada and the United States" by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge and published in 1834 by Chapman and Hall, London.

Map 7 (JPEG, 474K): Detail from Thomas G. Bradford's 1835 map titled "Michigan and the Great Lakes."

Map 8 (JPEG, 165K): "The Entire Territory of Wisconsin. As Established by Act of Congress. April 10, 1836." This map is an inset in a larger map which shows the populated areas of Wisconsin and Iowa Territories in 1838 – available as a reprint from Wisconsin Trails Magazine. Click here for a larger version (JPEG, 578K) of Map 8. Carver's Tract is shown in better detail here (JPEG, 99K).

Map 9 (JPEG, 215K): Showing most of a map titled "From a Map of the Entire Territories of Wiskonsan and Iowa, Published by order of the Legislative Assembly of Wiskonsan 1838." This is map "No. 1" of possibly three or more which show various parts of these territories.

Map 10 (JPEG, 132K): Showing the western half of "Map of Michigan, Wisconsin and Part of Iowa to illustrate Olney's School Geography" with copyright date of 1844.

Map 11 (JPEG, 149K): As for Map 10, but this is a later version of the map – still showing the 1844 date but describing features not present until several years later.

Map 12 (JPEG, 149K): A small engraved map from about 1850 – date not shown and publication details unknown.

Map 13 (JPEG, 198K): Detail from "A New Map of the State of Wisconsin" published by Thomas, Cowperthwait & Co., Philadelphia – from A New Universal Atlas of the World for 1850.

Map 13A (JPEG, 275K): Detail from "A New Map of the State of Wisconsin" published by Charles DeSilver, Philadelphia and dated 1857.

Map 14 (JPEG, 288K): Detail from "Sketch of the Public Surveys in Wisconsin and Territory of Minnesota" by the Surveyor General's Office, Dubuque, Oct. 21, 1854 (Warner Lewis).

In Map 1, the long tributary of the St. Croix River which ends in two lakes probably represents what is now known as the Namekagon River. For what appears as the "Lake of the Old Defarts," the word Defarts is actually Desarts (with the old f-like rendering of the letter "s") and refers to "deserted places." The lake is presently known by the French translation "Lac Vieux Desert" and is in reality the source of the Wisconsin River, shown on this map as just the very short "Ouifconfing R." On the French version of Map 1 – shown here as Map 2 – the lake is seen as "Lac des vieux Deserts." The long, narrow plateau running across what is now lower Michigan was perhaps a legendary feature found eventually not so distinctive.

The Northwest Territory was progressively subdivided into smaller territories and states as tabulated here, and the area now known as the state of Wisconsin was successively included in Indiana (1800), Illinois (1809) and Michigan (1818) Territories. While still a part of Michigan Territory, names applied to the future Wisconsin area included "Ouisconsin Territory" as shown in Map 3, a revival of the name "Northwest Territory" as shown in Map 6, and "District of Huron" ("attached to Michigan") as shown in Map 7. (A list of some of the names applied to Michigan's "unwanted" western area is given here.) By the mid-1830s, Michigan Territory extended westward to the Missouri River, and Wisconsin Territory was organized from most of this western area in 1836. The upper peninsula was reserved by Congress for the State of Michigan which finally became a reality in 1837.

Regarding the Source of the Mississippi River:  Farmer's famous 1830 map shows a great amount of detail and was used (with caution) in the 1832 Schoolcraft-Allen Expedition which visited the Northwest Indians and sought to determine the ultimate source of the Mississippi River. Lac La Biche (the French name for "Elk Lake") was long known as the source of the main branch, and it is shown in Map 3.1 (a detail from Farmer's map) as "L. La Beesh." Fixing the actual position of the lake and the northward direction of its outlet were finally achieved in a cursory visit by the Expedition and drawn accurately by Lt. James Allen. An early map by Allen of the area is shown on an Institute for Minnesota Archaeology web page (with links to enlargements); note the odd labeling of the branches of the Mississippi River (an apparent reversal of "east" and "west") as this had been the orientation in people's minds before Allen established the northward flow. Also shown on the same page is a 1836 manuscript map by Joseph Nicollet who also visited the area, and there is more about his activities here.

The lake was renamed "Itasca" by Henry Schoolcraft from the Latin words "veritas caput" which literally means "true head." Allen's original sketch of Lake Itasca (from Schoolcraft's 1855 book) is shown here; it indicates the route of the expedition from B to A and "Schoolcraft's Island" at C, but information about the extent of the southwest arm of the lake and the various inlets are left vague and incomplete.

On a related note, my own several expeditions to the ultimate headwaters of the Mississippi River start here and include copies of maps by J. V. Brower, the original administrator of Itasca State Park. As the determination of the geographical position of Lake Itasca did not bring to a lasting close any controversy over what was the ultimate source of the Mississippi, Brower expanded greatly on the explorations and discoveries of Nicollet and the Schoolcraft-Allen Expedition, establishing the fact that Lake Itasca is basically the funnel that collects surface and underground water from a very large area and sends it out as the Mississippi River. Unfortunately, the Park has its own history lessons that totally ignore Lt. Allen and give great exposure to the plagiarist Glazier.

Taking Farmer, Allen and Nicollet in order again, we move eastward to the area which became Northern Wisconsin. On Map 3.2 (another detail from Farmer's map) are shown "Upper Sturgeon Lake," "Chippewa River" and "Maquagan River" which are now known (respectively) as Upper St. Croix Lake, St. Croix River and Namekagon River. Actually, these waterways were already known by their modern names in the early 1830s. Clam River appears to begin near "Lac Courteoreille," but in reality it is the "Maquagan" that comes as close. Proper positioning of the lakes and rivers became a challenge for explorers, surveyers and mapmakers in the 1800s.

Map 3.2 correctly depicts the northward-flowing Bois Brule ("Burnt-Wood") River and indicates the portage to the river system across the watershed divide to the south. The Schoolcraft-Allen Expedition of 1832 traveled the two-mile portage trail which followed along a continuous wetland, confirming previous observations that the wetland flowed out in both directions, serving as the source for both the Brule and the St. Croix. Half-way along the trail is a pond which Lt. Allen described on his map (Map 4.1) as a "Small Source L. from which the water runs both ways." In his journal, he stated his impression that Upper Lake St. Croix would probably flow into the pond and out the Brule in times of high water.

Lt. Allen's journal is freely downloadable here and is also included in the Mason book listed here. A discussion of his unfortunate abandonment in the Brule River area by the rest of the expedition is given here. Biographical details of Allen's short and eventful life are summarized here along with a journal written during an expedition in 1844 to study unexplored parts of Iowa Territory.

Joseph Nicollet visited the Mississippi-St. Croix area in 1837 and eventually summarized his travels in his 1843 map, part of which is shown as Map 5. Nicollet heard the reports from the locals but expressed great doubt that there would be such a body of water from which the St. Croix and Brule Rivers would both flow. He tried to ascend the Brule to the pond by canoe but found it ultimately unnavigable and the surrounding forest impenetrable. (This is from his daily journals.) His map does not appear to show the pond at all, but it is notable in detailing some of the major trails which were heavily used by natives and other travelers.

Quoting from the excellent 1960 book on the history of La Pointe and its environs by Ross: "A phenomenon of the time [of Sieur Dulhut's exploration of the area in 1679] was the small lake, one end of which discharged into Lake Superior by way of the Bois Brule, and the other into St. Croix Creek and thence to the Mississippi." Ross indicates in a footnote that "[t]he small lake has since been captured by St. Croix Creek" – which is the situation presently with the East Fork of the Brule originating in the swamp just northeast of the pond. Further discussion about the St. Croix/Brule portage area (along with relevant photos of the pond and both rivers taken by myself in recent years) is found here.

Map 8 shows Wisconsin Territory as organized in 1836. That which is labeled as "Carver's Tract" had been (supposedly) deeded to surveyor/mapmaker Captain Jonathan Carver by two chiefs of the Sioux nation in 1767, although Carver himself never wrote about the deed. Such a land grant from Native Americans to an Englishman was forbidden at the time by royal decree, but Carver's heirs and their associates continued to press for ownership rights for some time. Map 7 labels the area as "New York Mississippi Land Co's Tract" followed by "Commonly called Carver's Tract."

Wisconsin Territory was split in 1838 with the green area shown in Map 8 becoming Iowa Territory and the rest remaining as Wisconsin Territory. Statehood for Wisconsin was achieved in 1848 with its present boundaries. That portion of the Territory which was left out of the state was combined with that which had been left out of Iowa (when Iowa became a state with its present boundaries), becoming organized as Minnesota Territory in 1849. Iowa became a state in 1846, and some proposed state boundaries are shown here.

Map 9, from 1838, shows the Namekagon (tributary of St. Croix) flowing straight east to west as in the preceding maps; stay tuned for the correct course of the channel. L. Vieux Desert is incorrectly shown feeding streams to Lake Superior and Green Bay rather than the "Wiskonsan" River; this possibly represents its significance along the portage between the two watersheds. "Lac Courtoreville" (presently Lac Court Oreilles) is shown draining out into the Red Cedar River (incorrect) and a tributary of the Ojibwa (Chippewa) River (correct). Much of the "guesswork" concerning the rivers continues in the following maps.

Map 10 is copyrighted 1844 and this appears OK. County boundaries and names will continue to evolve into the early 20th century. Map 11 – also used in Olney's School Geography – does not update the 1844 copyright date but now shows the present state boundaries of Wisconsin as defined when statehood was achieved in 1848. Also shown is "Minnesota" which – if the name is to be applied to Minnesota Territory (established in 1849) – should extend about a hundred miles farther south as shown here.

Map 12 – probably from about 1850 – shows the continuing settlement of European-Americans as the southeastern counties assume their present form and more division is seen elsewhere. The southeast border of La Pointe County suggests the northern border of Carver's Tract, no longer of any real significance.

Map 13 is dated 1850 and depicts the continuing evolution of the counties as well as the historic mail route and tote road shown extending from "Falls of St. Croix" to the shore of Lake Superior across from Madeline Island. A short stretch of this road in Douglas County is still in use today as "Bayfield Road" – photos of which are shown on this page in Photos 24-26.

In Map 13, the actual distance (only 3 miles) between the Namekagon River and the lake (presently named Windigo Lake) which connects to Court Oreilles (Ottawa) Lake (and ultimately the Chippewa River) appears to be lengthened considerably with additional intervening lakes on this map. Compare this to the earlier, more accurate depiction of the area by Lt. James Allen in Map 4.2 (Windigo Lake is shown as Lake of the Isles). Some new photos of the portage trail between the two river systems are shown here in Photos 21 and 22.

Map 13A is a later version (dated 1857) of Map 13 and reflects the surveys noted in Map 14. The impossibly straight-line "Bayfield Branch R.R." was merely proposed. Note the peculiar arrangement given the Apostle Islands. The spike-heel shoe-shaped "Two Islands" suggests a union of Rocky and South Twin Islands at the time; a closer view is shown here. The changing perception of the Apostle Islands is discussed a little here.

That this area is still "Wisconsin's last frontier" is suggested by Map 14 which shows much of the area still unsurveyed. Probably because of the importance of the intervening portage, the Namekagon River's origin is shown near "Lac Courteoreille" instead of its actual source some distance to the northeast where another portage trail was utilized to the tributaries of the Bad (Mauvais) River.


Mapsite put on web 6/29/00. This page was
last modified on 8/25/10 at 8:45 AM, CDT.
John Lindquist:  homepage, complete site outline.
Department of Bacteriology, U.W.-Madison

" Go to Part 2.