From Bemidji to Grand Rapids, the Mississippi rolls through three large lakes, Bemidji, Cass, and Winnibigoshish; and picks up a tributary from a fourth, Leech - four of Minnesota’s most beautiful lakes. They lie in a bed of sand, which Henry Schoolcraft called “the great marine district”. This white sand is visible at the river’s outlet from Winnibigoshish. It was laid down by wind during the altithermal, a period of dry temperatures more than 4,000 years ago that turned northern Minnesota into a vast prairie. The sands can always be seen in the sand dunes that remain west of the river south of Brainerd.
Schoolcraft was funded by the U.S. government, but, unlike Flatmouth, had no authority. Perhaps, like Beltrami, he was frightened by the emotional power of Flatmouth’s appeal. In any case, there’s no record of his response. He did strike camp early and left Ottertail Point at night – a choice which suggests the desire to get away.
Flatmouth attended their late departure. Reverend Boutwell wrote that Flatmouth changed from his “native costume…to a uniform of blue military frock coat, with red collar and cuffs, with white underclothes, a linen ruffled shirt, shoes and stockings, and a neat citizen’s hat.” Boutwell recorded Flatmouth’s gesture as one of respect. But I think it was one of alliance: offering renewed allegiance to the Americans that needed his support for its own economic success. If so, then Flatmouth recognized that aligning similar objectives builds strength. Unfortunately, Schoolcraft paddled away, and we are left with the power of the moment, and the anguish of an opportunity squandered
Molly MacGregor was the Director of the Mississippi Headwaters Board for 12 years. She's the author of "The Mississppi Headwaters Guidebook", and will be our guide as we go down the River.