1848 — Wisconsin Territory survey crew arrives at Lake Vermilion

J. G. Norwood, working in the employ of U. S. geologist David Dale Owen, spent the summer and autumn of 1848 surveying the northwestern most reaches of the Wisconsin Territory, including Lake Vermilion and the Vermilion River.

The Minnesota Arrowhead, lands east and north of the Mississippi River and west of the St. Croix, north to the Canadian border, remained a part of Wisconsin Territory following the 1838 split of Iowa and the Dakotas to form the new Iowa Territory. In 1848, as Wisconsin was preparing for statehood, the United States commissioned a survey of the northern most outreaches of the territory.

Norwood’s survey crew followed the old Indian and voyageur fur trade route out of Fond du Lac and he reports a detailed accounting of his journey to Lake Vermilion country:

I started to La Pointe, on the 31st of July. At that place, I obtained provisions sufficient to last the corps for three months, and then returned to Fond du Lac Village, where I was rejoined by Colonel Whittlesey; and on the 12th of August, we began to ascend St. Louis River. This stream was followed up to the mouth of Upper Embarras River, where we left it, and ascended the last-named stream to a point where the Indian trail, which crosses the highlands separating the waters of Hudson’s Bay from those of Lake Superior, strikes it. By this trail, which is six miles in length, we reached the head-waters of Vermilion River, (1.) and descended that stream, through Vermilion Lake to Rainy Lake. thence we descended Rainy Lake River as far as the mouth of Big Fork River, the largest tributary of that stream. …

Upper Embarras River. — We entered this river on the 21st of August, and on the 23d reached Ishquagoma, or “End Lake,” as it is termed by the Indians. Between these two points the country consists of a coarse yellow sand, with a very thin soil, supporting whortleberry, mountain-tea, pipsissewa, and a few other plants which flourish in a sandy soil. The trees are all small, and consist of birch, ash, and aspen poplar, with some soft maple in the bottoms, and cypress on the drift-hills. the river is exceedingly crooked, and much obsructed by drift-wood in the lower portion. the banks are generally low, and overhundg by the alder, willow, chokeberry, and high-bush cranberry.

Ishquagoma Lake is about three hundred and fifty yards wide in the lower part, shallow and full of rushes; the upper part is clear, deep, and five hundred yards wide. It is half a mile long, and surrounded by low shore, covered with small poplar. The Second Lake is reached by a portage two hundred, around a rapids made by boulders, among which I observed granite, syenite, greenstone, and  metamorphosed slate. This lake is small and shallow, and the bottom covered with boulders. the stream connecting it with the Third Lake is a mile and a quarter long, and about four hundred yards wide. It contains several small islands, and many large boulders are strewed around its shores. Fourth Lake is one-third of a mile long, and three hundred yards in length, over a ridge of boulders; the fall between the two lakes three or four feet. Fifth Lake is a beautiful sheet of water, and on the west side of it, at the distance, apparently, of two miles, was seen the Missabé Wachu, or “Big Man Hills,” which form a portion of the dividing highlands between the waters of Hudson’s Bay and Lake Superior. A small stream, obstructed by very large boulders, leads to the Sixth Lake, which is a mile and a half long, and from two hundred to three hundred and fifty yards wide. On the west side Missabé Wachu approaches within three hundred yerds of the lake and was estimated to be three hundred feet high. …


(1.) The Pike River was known by the name Vermilion River during the earliest days of Euro-American history, and, in fact, the voyageurs and early explorers considered the Pike River, Lake Vermilion and the Vermilion River all one long river system.

1783 British cede the Northwest territory to U. S.

Wisconsin Territory: 1836–1848. The territory was Incorporated on July 3, 1836, until Wisconsin achieved statehood on May 29, 1848.



photo: Portrait of geologist and medical professor Joseph Granville Norwood, Unknown photographerAmerican Geologist Volume XVI 1895