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#3: June 6-1, 1853. Saint Paul to the Sauk River.

Isaac Stevens’ journal is filled with details of the Mighty Mississippi, the surrounding land, the plants, resident animals and humans. Stevens described the Native Americans he met with on the West side of the Mississippi about three miles above Rum River.

…there was a large encampment of Winnebago Indians, consisting of about 100 lodges. These are constructed of oak bark, fastened by strips of buckskin over arched poles, resembling in shape the cover of a wagon; they are about eight feet high, and from ten to thirty feet long, according to the number of families to be accommodated. The chief’s lodge, in the centre, is much larger, and distinguished by the flags upon it, two British and two American colors. The shores are lined with canoes, and the village extends an eight of a mile along the river. [1]

Stevens’ descriptive narrative is enjoyable to read and your mind’s eye can easily envision the scene he described.

On June 8 (1853) when they arrived at the Sauk Rapids he describes several additional men they engaged to aid in the journey. These men, being sometimes half-breeds, speek a jargon of patois French, Chippewa, and other Indian dialects. They are a hardy, willing, enduring class, inured to hardships, and used to encountering all sorts of difficulties in their journeys between different posts of the fur companies. (P. 41)

June 9th - 10th saw the teams crossing a branch off of the Sauk River called Cold Spring in a rather unique manner. The advance team headed by topographer Mr. Lander, had found an ideal crossing route over the Cold Spring where it was only ten feet wide and just over one foot in depth. Over this area Lander had constructed a causeway of logs, filled in with willows, saplings, and mowed grasses; forming a good wagon road. The next day, the arrived at Camp Davis, named in honor of the Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis. The camp was situated on the north bank of the Osakis or Sauk river, about two miles from the mouth of the river. They crossed the Sauk river fairly easily. The only difficulty was unloading the wagons and letting them down a very steep bank by hand.

June 17th, the plans to make a camp at Lake David was changed to move on to Lake Henry. The journey to cross the Sauk and head for Lake Henry took them through “rolling prairie, interspersed with small sloughs [deep mud or mire] filled by the recent rains; the soil is rich and black; grass good, and occasionally gravelly hillocks.” (Stevens)

While crossing the Sauk, by the main train (group/team) the used the India Rubber boats for the first time. The larger boat was around twelve feet long and four feet wide, weighing seventy-five pounds and the smaller about one-fifth the size.

A rope was stretched across the stream and the boats ferried across by means of a ring attached to their bows and sliding along the rope. They succeeded admirably, and a birch canoe, managed by one of the voyagers, was also used in crossing. Some of the men were in the water for hours, but worked faithfully and efficiently. The distance from the Sauk river to Lake Henry is nineteen and a half miles. The pioneer wagon came within a mile of our camp after dark, where it remained all night. (Page 45.)

June 18th saw Stevens going ahead to join the advance team while Mr. Osgood was directed to head to Lightning Lake with two wagons, the reserve wagon loaded with ropes, spades, a boat, &c, and that containing Indian goods. It was at this point in their journey they left the Red River Trail and headed across raw land unmarred by trails. The prairie was beautiful and heavily wooded, but they often encountered overflown [over flow from a river], deep muddy areas that required the use of ropes to haul the wagons overland. The parties soon arrived at the Crow River which was not as easily crossed as the Sauk and much of their tools and supplies were carried across by hand due to the over-flowing river banks. Nightfall saw the advance team arriving at Lightning Lake with the main body of the train arriving later in the evening. Stevens wrote: After the hard day’s march we enjoyed our supper of game, cooked in hunter’s style on sticks before the fire, although it was midnight before we could have it ready. (Page 46.)

Sunday, June 19th, Stevens wrote in his journal:

Lightning Lake is a very beautiful sheet of water; so called [Lightning Lake] from the fact that during Captain Pope’s expedition, while encamped here, one of those storms so fearfully violent in this country occurred, during which one of his party was instantly killed by a stroke of lightning. (Page 46.)

Stevens provides a very picturesque description of the lake as the shores being well covered with timber with excellent water and grass. He lists the various fish to be caught (pickerel, pike and bass), as well as the waterfowl in the area (ducks, geese, swan) as well as plover and prairie chicken. The group spent their day fishing, bathing, washing and mending their clothes, and some trying out various modes of cooking the game and fish which abounded.

[1] Stevens, Isaac. “Part I, General Report, Narrative of 1853” Page 40.

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