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Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (March 28, 1793 – December 10, 1864) was an American geographer, geologist, and ethnologist, noted for his early studies of Native Americancultures, as well as for his 1832 expedition to the source of the Mississippi River. He is also noted for his major six-volume study of American Indians in the 1850s.

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He served as a United States Indian agent for a period beginning in 1822 in Michigan, where he married Jane Johnston, mixed-race daughter of a prominent Scots-Irish fur trader and Ojibwa mother, who was daughter of a war chief. She taught him the Ojibwe language and much about her maternal culture. They had several children, two of whom survived past childhood. She is now recognized as the first Native American literary writer in the United States.

In 1846 the widower Schoolcraft was commissioned by Congress for a major study, known as Indian Tribes of the United States, which was published in six volumes from 1851-1857. He married again in 1847, to Mary Howard, from a slaveholding family in South Carolina. In 1860 she published an "anti-Tom novel," in response to Harriet Beecher Stowe'sUncle Tom's Cabin, and it was a bestseller.

Early life and education[]

Schoolcraft was born in 1793 in Guilderland,Albany County, New York, the son of Lawrence Schoolcraft and Anne Barbara (née Rowe) Schoolcraft. He entered Union Collegeat age fifteen and later attended Middlebury College. He was especially interested in geology and mineralogy.

His father was a glassmaker, and Henry initially studied and worked in the same industry. Schoolcraft wrote his first paper on the topic, Vitreology (1817). After working in several glass works in New York, Vermont and New Hampshire, the young Schoolcraft left the family business at age twenty-five to explore the western frontier.

Exploration and geologic survey[]

From November 18 to February 1819, Schoolcraft and his companion Levi Pettibone made an expedition from Potosi, Missouri, to what is now Springfield. They traveled further down the White River intoArkansas, making a survey of the geography,geology, and mineralogy of the area. Schoolcraft published this study in A View of the Lead Mines of Missouri (1819). In this book he correctly identified the potential for leaddeposits in the region; Missouri eventually became the number one lead-producing state. (French colonists had a lead mine outside St. Louis developed in the 18th century.) He also published Journal of a Tour into the Interior of Missouri and Arkansaw(1821), the first written account of an exploration of the Ozarks.

This expedition and his resulting publications brought Schoolcraft to the attention of the Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun, who saw him as "a man of industry, ambition, and insatiable curiosity". Calhoun recommended him to the Michigan Territorial Governor,Lewis Cass, for a position on an expedition led by Cass to explore the wilderness region of Lake Superior and the lands west to the Mississippi River. Beginning in the spring of 1820, Schoolcraft served as a geologist on the Lewis Cass expedition. Beginning in Detroit, they traveled nearly 2,000 miles (3,200 km) along Lake Huron and Lake Superior, west to the Mississippi River, down the river to present-day Iowa, and then returning to Detroit after tracing the shores ofLake Michigan.

The expedition was intended to establish the source of the Mississippi River, and in part to settle the question of an undetermined boundary between the United States andBritish Canada. The expedition traveled as far upstream as Upper Red Cedar Lake in present-day Minnesota. Since low water precluded navigating farther upstream, the lake was designated the river's headwaters, and renamed in honor of Cass. (Schoolcraft noted, however, that locals informed the expedition that it was possible to navigate by canoe farther upstream earlier in the year, when water levels were higher.) Schoolcraft's account of the expedition was published as A Narrative Journal of Travels Through the Northwestern Regions...to the Sources of the Mississippi River (1821).

In 1821 he was a member of another government expedition that traveled through Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

In 1832, he led a second expedition to the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Arriving a month earlier than had the 1820 expedition, he was able to take advantage of higher water to navigate to Lake Itasca.

Marriages and family[]

Schoolcraft met his first wife soon after being assigned in 1822 to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, as its first US Indian agent. Two years before, the government had built Fort Brady and wanted to establish an official presence to forestall any renewed British threat following the War of 1812. The government tried to ensure against British agitation of the Ojibwe.

Schoolcraft married Jane Johnston, eldest daughter of John Johnston, a prominent Scots-Irish fur trader, and his wifeOzhaguscodaywayquay (Susan Johnston), daughter of a leading Ojibwe chief,Waubojeeg, and his wife. Both of the Johnstons were of high status; they had eight children together, and their cultured, wealthy family was well known in the area.[1]

Jane was also known as O-bah-bahm-wawa-ge-zhe-go-qua (or Obabaamwewe-giizhigokwein modern spelling) (The Woman of the Sound [Which the Stars Make] Rushing Through the Sky). Her knowledge of the Ojibwe language and legends, which she shared with Schoolcraft, formed in part the source material for Longfellow's epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha.[citation needed]

Jane and Henry had four children together:

  • William Henry (b. June 1824—d. March 1827) died of croup at nearly three.[2] Jane Schoolcraft wrote poems expressing her grief about his loss.[3]
  • stillborn daughter (November 1825).[2]
  • Jane Susan Ann (October 14, 1827—November 25, 1892, Richmond, Virginia),[2]called Janee.
  • John Johnston (October 2, 1829—April 24, 1864), served in the Civil War but was wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg and disabled. He died at age 45 in Elmira, New York.[2]

The Schoolcrafts sent Janee and John to a boarding school in Detroit for part of their education. Janee at eleven could handle the transition, but John at nine had a more difficult time and missed his parents.

The Schoolcrafts had a literary marriage, producing a family magazine. They included their own poetry in letters to each other through the years. Jane Johnston Schoolcraft suffered from frequent illnesses. She died in 1842 while visiting a sister in Canada, and was buried at St. John's Anglican Church,Ancaster, Ontario.[1]

On January 12, 1847, after moving to Washington, DC, the widower Schoolcraft married again at age 53, to Mary Howard (died March 12, 1878),[4] a southern slaveholder from an elite planter family of theBeaufort district of South Carolina.[5] Her support of slavery and opposition to mixed-race unions created strains in her relationship with the Schoolcraft children.[6] They became alienated from her and their father.

After Henry Schoolcraft became paralyzed in 1848, Mary devoted much of her attention to caring for him and helping him complete his massive study of American Indians which had been commissioned by Congress.[5]

In 1860 she published the novel The Black Gauntlet: A Tale of Plantation Life in South Carolina (which she said her husband had encouraged).[5] it was One of many pro-slavery books published in response toHarriet Beecher Stowe's bestselling Uncle Tom's Cabin; such defenses of slavery became known as the anti-Tom genre, published in the decade before the American Civil War.[7] Hers became a best-seller, although not on the scale of Stowe's.[8]

Indian agent[]

Schoolcraft began his ethnological research in 1822 during his appointment as US Indian agent at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. He had responsibility for tribes in what is now northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. From his wife Jane Johnston, Schoolcraft learned the Ojibwe language, as well as much of the lore of the tribe and its culture.

Together they wrote for The Literary Voyager, a family magazine which they produced in 1826–1827 and circulated among friends. It is thought to be the first magazine in Michigan. Although they produced only single issues, each was distributed widely to residents in Sault Ste. Marie, then to Schoolcraft's friends in Detroit, New York, and other eastern cities.[9] Jane Johnston Schoolcraft used the pen names of "Rosa" and Leelinau as personae to write about different aspects of Indian culture.[10]

Schoolcraft was elected to the legislature of the Michigan Territory, where he served from 1828 to 1832. In 1832, he traveled again to the upper reaches of the Mississippi to settle continuing troubles between the Ojibwe andDakota (Sioux) nations. He reached out to talk to as many Native American leaders as possible to maintain the peace. He was also provided with a surgeon and given instructions to begin vaccinating Indians against smallpox. He determined that smallpox had been unknown among the Ojibwe before the return in 1750 of a war party that had contact with Europeans on the East Coast. They had gone to Montreal to assist the French against the British in theFrench and Indian War (the North American front of the Seven Years' War).

During the voyage, Schoolcraft took the opportunity to explore the region, making the first accurate map of the Lake District around western Lake Superior. He discovered the true headwaters of the Mississippi River inLake Itasca, a name which he coined from theLatin words veritas meaning 'truth' and caputmeaning 'head'.[11] The nearby Schoolcraft River, the first major tributary of the Mississippi, was later named in his honor. United States newspapers widely covered this expedition. Schoolcraft followed up with a personal account of the discovery with his book, Narrative of an Expedition Through the Upper Mississippi River to Itasca Lake (1834).

After his territory for Indian Affairs was greatly increased in 1833, Schoolcraft and his wife Jane moved to Mackinac Island, the new headquarters of his administration. In 1836, he was instrumental in settling land disputes with the Ojibwe. He worked with them to accomplish the Treaty of Washington (1836), by which they ceded to the United States a vast territory of more than 13 million acres (53,000 km²), worth many millions of dollars. He believed that the Ojibwe would be better off learning to farm and giving up their wide hunting lands. The government agreed to pay subsidies and provide supplies while the Ojibwe made a transition to a new way of living, but its provision of the promised subsidies was often late and underfunded. The Ojibwe suffered as a result.

In 1838 pursuant to the terms of the treaty, Schoolcraft oversaw the construction of theIndian Dormitory on Mackinac Island. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It provided temporary housing to the Ojibwe who came to Mackinac Island to receive annuities during their transition to what was envisioned by the US government as a more settled way of life.

In 1839 Schoolcraft was appointedSuperintendent of Indian Affairs in the Northern Department. He began a series of Native American studies later published as the Algic Researches (2 vols., 1839). These included his collection of Native American stories and legends, many of which his wife Jane Johnston Schoolcraft told him or translated for him from her culture.

While in Michigan, Schoolcraft became a member of the Board of Regents of theUniversity of Michigan in its early years. In this position he helped establish the state university's financial organization.[12]

Founding magazines[]

Schoolcraft founded and contributed to the first United States journal on public education, The Journal of Education. He also published The Souvenir of the Lakes, the first literary magazine in Michigan.[12]

Naming places[]

Schoolcraft named many of Michigan's counties and locations within the formerMichigan Territory. He named Leelanau County, Michigan after his wife's pen name of "Leelinau".[13] For those counties established in 1840, he often created faux Indian names. In names such as Alcona, Algoma, Allegan,Alpena, Arenac, Iosco, Kalkaska, Oscoda andTuscola, for example, Schoolcraft combined words and syllables from Native American languages with words and syllables fromLatin and Arabic.[14] Lake Itasca, the source lake of the Mississippi River, is another example of his faux Indian names.

Later years[]

When the Whig Party came to power in 1841 with the election of William Henry Harrison, Schoolcraft lost his political position as Indian agent. He and Jane moved to New York. She died the next year during a visit with a sister in Canada, while Schoolcraft was traveling in Europe. He continued to write about Native Americans.

In 1846 Congress commissioned him to develop a comprehensive reference work on American Indian tribes. Schoolcraft traveled to England to request the services of George Catlin to illustrate his proposed work, as the latter was widely regarded as the premier illustrator of Indian life. Schoolcraft was deeply disappointed when Catlin refused. Schoolcraft later engaged the artist Seth Eastman as illustrator. An Army brigadier general, Eastman was renowned for his paintings of Native American peoples. He had two extended assignments at Fort Snelling in present-day Minnesota, the second time as commander of the fort, and had closely studied, drawn and painted the people of the Indian cultures of the Great Plains.

Schoolcraft worked for years on the history and survey of the Indian tribes of the United States. It was published in six volumes from 1851-1857 by J. B. Lippincott & Co. ofPhiladelphia. Critics praised its scholarship and valuable content by Schoolcraft, and the meticulous and knowledgeable illustrations by Eastman. Critics also noted the work's shortcomings, including a lack of index, and poor organization, which made the information almost inaccessible. In 1954 theBureau of American Ethnology of theSmithsonian Institution prepared and published an index to the volumes. (It was not until 1928 that the US government had another overall study of the conditions of American Indians; it was informally known as the Meriam Report, after the technical director of the team, Lewis Meriam.)

After their deaths, Schoolcraft and his wife Mary were each buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC.[4][15]


  • A View of the Lead-Mines of Missouri, including Observations on the Mineralogy and Geology of Missouri and Arkansas (New York, 1819)
  • “Transallegania, or the Groans of Missouri,” a poem (1820)
  • Journal of a Tour in the Interior of Missouri and Arkansas (1820)
  • Travels from Detroit to the Sources of the Mississippi with an Expedition under Lewis Cass(Albany, 1821)
  • Travels in the Central Portions of Mississippi Valley (New York, 1825)
  • “The Rise of the West, or a Prospect of the Mississippi Valley,” a poem (Detroit, 1827)
  • “Indian Melodies,” a poem (1830)
  • The Man of Bronze (1834)
  • Iosco, or the Vale of Norma (Detroit, 1834)
  • Narrative of an Expedition Through the Upper Mississippi River to Itasca Lake (New York, 1834)
  • “Helderbergia, or the Apotheosis of the Heroes of the Anti-Rent War,” an anonymous poem (Albany, 1835)
  • Algic Researches, a book of Indian allegories and legends (2 vols., 1839)
  • Cyclopædia indianensis, of which only a single number was issued (1842)
  • “Alhalla, or the Land of Talladega,” a poem published under the pen-name “Henry Rowe Colcraft” (1843)
  • Oneota, or Characteristics of the Red Race of America (1844-5) Republished as The Indian and his Wigwam (1848)
  • Report on Aboriginal Names and the Geographical Terminology of New York (1845)
  • Plan for Investigating American Ethnology(1846)
  • Notes on the Iroquois, containing his report on the Six Nations (Albany, 1846; enlarged editions, New York, 1847 and 1848)
  • The Red Race of America (1847)
  • Notices of Antique Earthen Vessels from Florida (1847)
  • Address on Early American History (New York, 1847)
  • Outlines of the Life and Character of Gen. Lewis Cass (Albany, 1848)
  • Bibliographical Catalogue of Books, Translations of the Scriptures, and other Publications in the Indian Tongues of the United States (Washington, 1849)
  • American Indians, their History, Condition, and Prospects (Auburn, 1850)
  • Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers, 1812 to 1842 (Philadelphia, 1851)
  • Historical and Statistical Information respecting the History, Condition, and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States, with illustrations by Capt. Seth Eastman, published by authority of congress, which appropriated nearly $30,000 a volume for the purpose (6 vols., 1851-7) He had collected material for two additional volumes, but the government suddenly suspended the publication of the work.
  • Scenes and Adventures in the Semi-Alpine Region of the Ozark Mountains of Missouri and Arkansas, a revised edition of his first book of travel (1853)
  • Summary Narrative of an Exploratory Expedition to the Sources of the Mississippi River in 1820, resumed and completed by the Discovery of its Origin in Itasca Lake in 1832(1854)
  • The Myth of Hiawatha, and other Oral Legends(1856).
  • Mentor L. Williams, ed., Narrative Journal of travels Through the Northwestern Regions of the United States Extending from Detroit through the Great Chain of the American Lakes to the Sources of the Mississippi River in the year 1820, East Lansing, Michigan: The Michigan State College Press, 1953.

The Indian Fairy-Book, from Original Legends(New York, 1855), was compiled from notes that he furnished to the editor, Cornelius Mathews.

Legacy and honorsEdit[]

Numerous counties, towns, lakes, streams, roads and other geographic features are named in his honor, including:

  • Schoolcraft County in Michigan.
  • Schoolcraft Township in Houghton County, Michigan.
  • Schoolcraft Township in Kalamazoo County, Michigan.
  • Schoolcraft Township in Hubbard County, Minnesota.
  • The Village of Schoolcraft in Kalamazoo County, Michigan.
  • Schoolcraft River and Schoolcraft Lake in Minnesota.
  • Schoolcraft Island in Lake Itasca, Minnesota.
  • U.S. Route 65 in the vicinity of Springfield, Missouri is named the Schoolcraft Freeway.
  • Schoolcraft Roads are located in Marquetteand Wayne Counties, Michigan, and in DakotaCounty, Minnesota.

In addition,

  • Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Michigan is named in his honor.
  • Henry's Food Court on the Schoolcraft College campus in Livonia, Michigan is founded in his name.
  • Schoolcraft State Park in Minnesota was established to commemorate his expeditions in 1820 and 1832.
  • The Liberty ship SS Henry R. Schoolcraftwas launched in 1943.
  • Schoolcraft Cemetery in Calumet, Michigan