top of page

#4. June 21st - 23rd, 1853. Lightning Lake to Pike Lake.

In the prior column we learned that the main train arrived at Lightning Lake in the late afternoon of the 20th. Isaac Stevens’ journal indicates a number of problems experienced with the soggy plains where the various wagons progress was arduous. Having crossed several streams the damage to supplies was assessed and it was discovered that flour would be deficient as some had been damaged in crossing the streams, and two bags of salt had been lost to the water.

On the 21st, Lieutenant DuBarry was excused from the train to report back to the Secretary of War to report on the progress of the expedition to that point. Accompanying him was a Mr. Kendall who was to purchase supplies and Indian ponies and return post-haste to the expedition. There were also two individuals expelled from the expedition due to poor performance of their duties; Captain Remenyi and his assistant, Mr. Jekelfaluzy. Due to the size of the teams and the distance to be traveled, each member was allowed 25 pounds plus his blankets. With the change in party number, luggage was reweighed and excess turned over to the quartermaster to be shared as necessary. Reorganizing took a deal of the day and Stevens moved ahead with the scientific parties under Dr. Suckley. The main train finally resumed their journey at 4:30 that afternoon.

They were able to travel about three miles when threatening storm clouds had gathered and the wind had begun to inflict a severe gust. At that point they had reached another beautiful lake which they called Lake Stanley in honor of Del Stanley, the artist traveling with the parties. They had just enough time to quickly set up camp before a severe storm set in which lasted several hours, so they settled in for the night.

June 22nd saw the group traveling again for another three miles before they met with their next obstacle, another branch of the Crow River. It was a marshy area with a swift running current of six or seven miles per hour. The men had to apply physical force to the wheels for the wagon teams to cross safely. Stevens recorded the changing landscape in his journal:

“…the country seems to change its character and is no longer a flat, undiversified surface, with occasionally a gentle undulation scarcely attracting attention. It has gradually changed to a heavy rolling prairie which, before approaching White Bear Lake, it becomes broken up into hills, valleys, and basins, varying from thirty to fifty feet in depth. Boulders and stones, from the size of pebbles to paving stones, are very numerous. Our route to day appears to be gradually ascending, at a probable rate of from eight to ten feet per mile. White Bear Lake upon or near which most of the parties of the survey are encamped, lies in sight of our trail, about two miles distant to the south. It is a beautiful sheet of water, bordered with timber, about fourteen miles long and two wide, with high, swelling banks running back a mile or so, and rising to the height of about one hundred and fifty feet. [1]

(White Bear Lake, Plate No. 5 by Del Stanley)

The journey to the lake was not long but it was challenging. Just a few miles from the lake they encountered a “very heavy, severe stream” that was feeding the lake. As they worked through the stream the “king bolt of the ambulance [wagon] got broken…and occasioned considerable detention.” After passing that stream the encountered other troubles like soft bogs, marshes and brooks which delayed their arrival to their camp for several hours. The finally set up camp after a halting eighteen and three-quarters day’s march. Stevens described their camp as being on a “very rapid stream, with steep, high banks. We called it Lambert river, in honor of our topographer, who received such a sad overturn as he crossed it with Lieutenant Grover’s command.” [2]

That evening, Lieutenant Grover came to their camp to dine and reported that his and two other parties were encamped about five miles distant at Pike Lake. There was yet another team lagging behind these four parties; the main train. It was under the charge of Mr. Osgood but were late in leaving Lightning Lake due to a teamsters strike in protest to the release of six unneeded workers. It was reported that the protestors had threatened to shoot the first driver who moved out of camp. No mention was made of how it happened but it was reported that “the discharged men moved off cheerfully, and the main train pushed forward to White Bear Lake, where they encamped with Dr. Suckley.”[3]

June 23rd. The parties had to cross the stream by which they had encamped. They found a promising crossing point about half a mile from the camp. It was not as easy as they had hoped as the banks were marshy and the grass had to be cut to open a passageway. Much as they had before, they created a sort of island with wood bars, marsh grass and saplings to cross the stream. Even so, it still required manpower in the water at the wagon wheels to keep them from being mired in the mud. The process was repeated just a few miles further but without mishap to wagons, mules or supplies. The marshes presented a different challenge to cross and eventually they had to unload the wagons and carry the contents to dry land to get the wagons and teams through safely. Once they reached Pike Lake, they set up camp. The next day Steven’s wrote:

This I consider as the real starting point of the expedition, and named our camp here Camp Mercy, in honor of the Secretary of State. We remained here a day, in order to give the animals a chance to rest. They appear to be in very good condition, and the grazing is fine. Received of the various scientific chiefs reports of their labors to this point.” [4]

(Pike Lake, Plate No. 6 by Del Stanley)

Our next column takes us from Pike Lake to the Grand Côteau Du Missouri.

[1] Stevens, Isaac. “Part I, General Report, Narrative of 1853” Page 48.

[2] Ibid. Page 48.

[3] Ibid. Page 48.

[4] Ibid. Page 49.

bottom of page