John L's Old Maps / Supplementary Pages:

Photos of the
Sources of the
   Mississippi River   

continued from Page Two and featuring photos
taken in late March and early August, 2010.
Continued on Page Four.
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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
"  Photos:  Sources of the Mississippi River –
      Pages 1, 2, 3 (this page), 4, 5
Photos:  Railroads and Trails
Views of the Apostle Islands

As on the previous pages, background information and references relevant to this page (including Nicollet's Journals and Report) are given in the literature review. Again note that the general direction of the streams and springs is from south to north, with the Mississippi River exiting Lake Itasca at its north end. The opening essay was rewritten and clarified on April 5 & 11, 2011.

Whipple Lake, Floating Moss Lake and the Mississippi Springs


As on Page Two, the map on the right is marked with red dots to show a portion of the Nicollet Trail and with other markings which go along with the discussion of the photos below. This is a southerly portion of Brower's 1892 map – a poster-size copy of which is on display at the J. V. Brower Visitor Center at Itasca State Park. (A more northerly part of this map is similarly utilized on Page Two.) The map is over a century old, but it matches well the general topography seen today.

On my early August, 2010 visit, Whipple Lake actually appears larger, being swollen by recent rains to cover the entire swampy margin around the lake. Brower put the level of Whipple Lake at 1564 feet (above sea level) and that of Floating Moss Lake at 1561 feet, but the difference today at the intervening beaver dam (at the green dot) appears much greater than three feet as might be shown in the photos below.

The general course of the water in the entire basin associated with Lake Itasca runs from south to north – with Lake Itasca and its outlet into the Mississippi at the lowest level, determined by Brower to be at 1470 feet. One would expect that an upper lake would be considered connected to Lake Itasca via any of three ways: swampland, underground seepage, and a surface channel. Nicollet apparently thought of his "infant Mississippi" as recognizably continuous as he followed it from Whipple Lake to Lake Itasca. (See his Journal and Report referenced here and the summary given here.) As Brower later noted two places in the course of this water where it disappeared into the ground to re-emerge as springs, he labeled the portion of the surface channel between the two "disconnects" as the "Detached Upper Fork of the Mississippi River."

Brower's 1892 sketch map of the Whipple Lake/Floating Moss Lake/Mississippi Springs area which is in his 1893 reference is shown here. Note the portion of the Floating Moss Lake outlet toward the Mississippi Springs which is labeled "dry" (in upside-down lettering). Also note his indication of the historic "Garrison's Beaver Dam" which is shown in Photos 3 and 5 below. The label "Mississippi Springs" applies more generally than in the other map above.

So, one may express reservations about a continuous flow from Whipple Lake to Lake Itasca, if one holds to the traditional definition of a tributary which implies an open channel. Winchell logically loosens up this view a bit. Among his criticisms of Glazier who apparently reported only on what he wanted to see (and plagiarized the studied observations of others as he chose), Winchell (referenced here) gave the following statement about a true explorer: "Had an explorer, intent on finding the source of a stream, found it issuing apparently from the ground with such a volume, his own judgment would have driven him to search further up the valley, as Nicollet, Clarke and Brower did. He would there have found the same stream reappearing, and again disappearing. Sometimes in lakes, or in marshes, lost to sight as running water, like a 'bashful maiden' as described by Nicollet, finally plunging under a screen of vegetable debris, bogs, peat, and floating driftwood, much overgrown with small trees, only to come to the light of day again . . ."

Having dealt with the "disconnect" in the area of the Nicollet Springs in Page Two, we have the question in the present visit (August, 2010) as to the nature of any connection between Floating Moss Lake and the Mississippi Springs whose surface elevation (as determined by Brower) at 1548 feet is 13 feet below that of Floating Moss Lake. The following is already known: From the Mississippi Springs flows the "Detached Upper Fork" which runs as a vigorous and noisy creek for about a mile, stalling at the wide spot which Brower called the "upper lake," emerging further on as springs, collecting with the Nicollet Springs into a channel and subsequently feeding Nicollet Lake (Brower's "middle lake"). The latter lake, in turn, is directly connected to Lake Itasca via the surface channel which has become known officially as Nicollet Creek.

Photo 1: Here we are on the north side of Whipple Lake whose high water fills the beaver channels at least three feet deep. (It was a good choice to do this hike in tennis shoes rather than the usual knee-high boots!)

(At the green dot on the map above) Photo 2: This view is from a somewhat elevated position, looking across the north end of the swollen lake along the shoreline which is trending toward the southeast and starting to curve southward. Here I am standing on a ridge from which one could walk on a beaver dam across to the other side of the Whipple Creek outlet, if one were to be foolish enough to do so.

Photo 3: We are still standing on the same spot, now looking across the heavily grown-up beaver dam toward the west. Floating Moss Lake can be seen in the background. At the time, I judged the level of Whipple Lake to be at least a man's height above that of Floating Moss Lake (6-8 feet, perhaps?), but in this photo view, such cannot be seen definitively. According to Brower's 1893 reference, this is the historic Garrison's Beaver Dam. O. E. Garrison was a surveyor and explorer of the region and became familiar with the Elk Lake area in 1880 – before Glazier visited the area and claimed Elk Lake as his own discovery, declaring it Lake Glazier.


Photo 4: We are now on the north edge of Floating Moss Lake, looking across the lake toward the southwest where there appears to be a swampy or boggy bay sticking out like a mouse ear. The only things floating in the lake these days appear to be lily pads. From this same spot is a telefoto view (Photo 5) toward the southeast in the direction of Garrison's Beaver Dam which is highlighted by the drawn-in black box. Whipple Lake is immediately beyond the dam – poised and ready to inundate the area should the dam suddenly give way.

(At the yellow dot) Another mouse ear-shaped swamp sticks out from Floating Moss Lake toward the northwest, and this appears to be a likely place for a connection to the next wetland in line, namely The Mississippi Springs. In Photo 6 we see a dry channel across which logs have been placed. This area is probably a swampy bay at times, but it appears exceedingly dry at this time. Photo 7 looks across its entire length toward Floating Moss Lake.

Walking toward the northwest and across a small ridge into an area of definitely lower elevation, we come upon a veritable jungle which immediately brought to mind the swamp which is the headwaters of the St. Croix and Brule Rivers back home – especially near the small lake that drained out both ways back in the days of the Schoolcraft-Allen Expedition who visited that area on their return from Lake Itasca in 1832. We are now entering the Mississippi Springs!

(At the blue dot) Photo 8 shows a spring popping out of the ground.

(At the orange dot) Farther downstream to the north, the swamp which encloses the Mississippi Springs tapers down to the width of the fully-formed "Detached Upper Fork" (Photo 9) which swiftly continues northward on its way to the "upper lake" as seen in Page Two. Was Nicollet's elusive second lake in this area? Could a beaver dam at this spot create such a lake?

Conclusion from this visit and a Proposal:

  • The appearance of Floating Moss Lake – as it collects and holds the outflow from Whipple Lake and then apparently (by underground means) merges with the Mississippi Springs – resembles greatly the situation at the "upper lake" (covered in Pages One and Two and summarized in the video) which receives and holds the water from the "Detached Upper Fork" and then (again by underground means) merges with the Nicollet Springs.

  • How about officially giving the name Upper Nicollet Creek to the "Detached Upper Fork."

On my next incursion into this area (to cover in Page Four), I plan on heading toward the brown dot which marks the headwaters of Howard Creek. If it still seems a stretch to consider the overall flow from Whipple Lake to Lake Itasca as a continuous source stream of the Mississippi River, Brower determined the following (circa 1890): The longest continuous open-water channel from the Mississippi Headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico (2552.02 miles) starts at the source of Howard Creek, which connects with Nicollet Creek a little ways downstream from Nicollet Lake.

Some More Lakes and Schoolcraft River


Photo 10: Along the park's south entrance road is Lake Josephine, one of several unique and well-studied lakes in the area which do not turn over (mix) in the spring and fall as would be expected in this climatic area.

Photos 11 and 12: Because of their highly convoluted bays which can cause fishermen and others to become confused, there are two lakes to the south and east given the name "Mantrap Lake." Neither is part of the Mississippi Watershed. A detached bay of Little Mantrap Lake – labeled on some maps as "Luebeck Lake" – is found in the southeast corner of the park and is shown in Photo 11. Across Highway 133 to the south is the main part of Little Mantrap Lake, partly shown in Photo 12.

From its origin southeast of Lake Itasca, Schoolcraft River joins the Mississippi near Bemidji where the rivers are trending more toward the east; the Mississippi then continues to arc toward the southerly direction familiar to all. Upstream from the confluence, the Mississippi gains the edge in miles, volume and speed as its course meanders from the south and west. In his journals, Nicollet notes how the Mississippi "stems the tide" of the Schoolcraft River (then called the Ossawa) which is consequently backed up and widened for a considerable distance from the junction.

In the early part of the 19th century – before it was realized that these rivers do not just simply flow south from their respective origins as one might have naturally assumed – Schoolcraft River was considered a western branch of the Mississippi, and it was still labeled as such on one of Lt. Allen's maps, even after the true direction was discovered.

Photo 13 shows Schoolcraft River a few miles from its junction with the Mississippi, and Photo 14 was taken closer to its origin.





Continued on
Page Four

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This page is best viewed at 800X600 or wider. Unless otherwise
noted, all photos herein are by myself and were taken during visits
in late March (before things greened up) and early August, 2010.
This page in its present form was uploaded to the web on 8/15/10,
and the narrative was finalized on 4/11/11 at 10:15 AM, CDT.
Hopefully this adds a little substance to the show.
John Lindquist:  homepage, complete site outline.
University of Wisconsin – Madison.