Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (March 28, 1793–December 10, 1864) was an American geographer, geologist, and ethnologist, noted for his early studies of Native American cultures, as well as for his "discovery" in 1832 of the source of the Mississippi River. He married Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, who was Ojibwe and Irish-American. Her knowledge of the Ojibwe language and of Ojibwe legends, which she shared with Schoolcraft, formed in part the source material for Longfellow's epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha.
Read Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers by Henry Schoolcraft, free from Project Gutenberg. Schoolcraft was born in Guilderland, near Albany, New York, the son of Lawrence Schoolcraft and Anne Barbara (Rowe) Schoolcraft. He entered Union College at age fifteen and later attended Middlebury College. He was especially interested in geology and mineralogy. His father was a glassmaker and he initially studied and worked in the same industry. He wrote his first paper on the topic, Vitreology (1817). After working in several glass works in New York, Vermont and New Hampshire, he left the family business at age twenty-five to explore the western frontier.
Exploration and geologic survey
From November 1818 to February 1819, Schoolcraft and a companion, Levi Pettibone, made an expedition from Potosi, Missouri to what is now Springfield, Missouri, and down the White River into Arkansas, making a survey of the geography, geology, and mineralogy of the area, which he published in A View of the Lead Mines of Missouri (1819). In this book he correctly identified the potential for lead deposits in the region: Missouri eventually became the number one lead-producing state. He also published his journal from this trip, Journal of a Tour into the Interior of Missouri and Arkansaw (1821) which was the first written account of an exploration of the Ozarks.
This first expedition and resulting publications brought Schoolcraft to the attention of 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, he served as a geologist on the Cass expedition which began in Detroit and traveled nearly 2000 miles 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 of Lake Michigan.
One objective of the expedition was to discover the source of the Mississippi River, in part to settle the question of an undetermined boundary between the United States and British Canada. The expedition erroneously concluded that the Mississippi's headwaters were in Cass Lake. Schoolcraft published an account of the journey in 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.
Schoolcraft began his ethnological research in 1822 during his appointment as Indian agent at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. He married Jane Johnston, who was the daughter of an Irish fur trader and an Ojibwe woman, Ozhaguscodaywayquay or Susan Johnston, who named her child O-bah-bahm-wawa-ge-zhe-go-qua (or Obabaamwewe-giizhigokwe in modern spelling) (The Woman of the Sound [Which the Stars Make] Rushing Through the Sky). From his wife, he learned the Ojibwe language and the lore of the tribe. Later he moved to Mackinac Island, the new headquarters of his administration as an Indian agent after his area was greatly increased.
In 1832, he journeyed again to the upper reaches of the Mississippi in order to settle continuing troubles between the Chippewa and Sioux nations, and to talk to as many Native American leaders as he could in order to maintain the peace. He was also provided with a surgeon and given instructions to begin provision of vaccinations for smallpox among the Indians of the region. He determined that smallpox had been unknown among the Chippewa before the return in 1750 of a war party that had gone to Montreal to assist the French against the British in the French and Indian War.
During the voyage, he took the opportunity to explore the region, making the first accurate map of the Lake District around western Lake Superior. It was also during this journey that he discovered the true headwaters of the Mississippi River in Lake Itasca, the name of which he coined from the Latin words veritas meaning 'truth' and caput meaning 'head'. The nearby Schoolcraft River, the first major tributary of the Mississippi, was later named in his honor. This expedition was covered widely in American newspapers and Schoolcraft followed up with his own account of the discovery, Narrative of an Expedition Through the Upper Mississippi River to Itasca Lake (1834). From 1828 to 1832 he served in the legislature of the Michigan Territory. In 1836, he was instrumental in settling land disputes with the Chippewas. By the Treaty of Washington (1836), a vast territory of more than 13 million acres (53,000 km˛)—worth many millions of dollars—was ceded to the United States. Schoolcraft oversaw the construction in 1838, pursuant to the terms of the treaty, of the Indian Dormitory on Mackinac Island, which survives. Schoolcraft was engaged as Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Northern Department in 1839, when he began a series of Native American studies later published as the Algic Researches (2 vols., 1839).
When the Whig Party came to power in 1841 with the election of William Henry Harrison, Schoolcraft lost his position as Indian agent and moved back to the East, where he continued to write about Native Americans. In 1846 Congress provided him with a generous subsidy to develop a comprehensive reference work on American Indian tribes.
To illustrate his proposed work, Schoolcraft traveled to England to request the services of George Catlin, widely regarded as the premier illustrator of Indian life. He was deeply disappointed when Catlin refused. Schoolcraft later engaged artist Seth Eastman as illustrator but continued to bear a grudge against Catlin.
His massive work, Historical and Statistical Information Respecting...the Indian Tribes of the United States was completed in six volumes published from 1851 to 1857. It was praised for its scholarship and valuable content, but also criticized for various shortcomings, including a lack of organization that made the information almost inaccessible. Later, an index was prepared by the Bureau of American Ethnology and published in 1954.
He is responsible for naming many of Michigan's counties and locations within the former Michigan Territory, and giving several of those established in 1840 faux Indian names. The names Algoma, Alcona, Allegan, Alpena, Arenac, Iosco, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Oscoda and Tuscola, for example, combine words and syllables from Native American languages with words and syllables from Latin and Arabic. Lake Itasca, the source lake of the Mississippi River, is another example of his faux Indian names. Also, Schoolcraft Road in Wayne County, Michigan which runs for 13 miles from the west side of Detroit into Livonia is named after him.
Schoolcraft County, Michigan, the village of Schoolcraft, Michigan, and Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Michigan, are named in his honor, as is Schoolcraft State Park in Minnesota.
In 1943, a United States Liberty ship named the SS Henry R. Schoolcraft was launched.
U.S. Route 65 in Springfield, Missouri is named the "Schoolcraft Freeway" for him, as well as "Schoolcraft Road" in Marquette and Wayne Counties, Michigan, and in Dakota Couty, Minnesota.