Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/322

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THE true American takes an honest pride in recounting the natural features of our country—its mountains, plains, lakes, rivers, cataracts, trees—all, in Yankee parlance, 'the greatest things on earth.' Of them all none is more truly worthy of admiration than the great river which practically spans our territory from north to south, draining an inland empire on its way. My vacation trip last summer took me to its source, and it is of this, with the peril that has threatened it and the measures taken to avert the peril, that I wish to tell briefly in this article.

We need not enter upon the vexed question as to what and where the real source is. Every explorer has found some new lake or river or spring which by ingenious definition he could make out to be the 'original and only' beginning of the Mississippi. Schoolcraft and the schoolboy agree in saying it is Lake Itasca; but there are streams entering that lake which if followed to their source would increase by a mile or two the total length of the 'Father of Waters,' and so satisfy more fully our national taste for bigness. The largest of these affluents is the 'Infant Mississippi,' discovered and named in 1836 by Jean Nicollet; but claims are made also for Mary river and lake, for Elk Lake and its tiny outlet, for the Mississippi springs, and for Hernando de Soto Lake. The truth is that each of these contributes its quota to the making of the Mississippi, while Itasca is the reservoir in which all their contributions are assembled. To the geographer it is a most interesting region, close to the watershed whence flow streams of widely different destination. The cook of a surveyors' camp located on this watershed used to boast that he could throw his dishwater to the left and send it to the Arctic Ocean, or to the right and start it towards the Gulf of Mexico. Not far away rise other streams whose waters find their way to Lake Superior and so to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This peculiar configuration was known to the early French explorers, who gave the group of low hills the expressive title 'Hauteurs des Terres.'

Lake Itasca lies in a valley of irregular horseshoe shape, encircled by a range of low hills, and is the largest of a considerable number of lakes in the same depression. Its form is most peculiar (as may be seen by a reference to the accompanying map); and it was doubtless