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The 1847 geological survey trip of J. G. Norwood, MD — Part I

September 18 — September 26: Lapointe to Lac du Flambeau
Table of Contents
Part I.La Pointe to Lac du Flambeau
Part II.Lac du Flambeau to Wisconsin River
Part III.Wisconsin River to Grandfather (includes vicinity of modern Tomahawk)
Part IV.Grandfather to Grand Rapids (modern Wisconsin Rapids)
Part V.Grand Rapids to Prairie du Chien

Voyage From the Mouth of Montreal River, Via Lac du Flambeau, and the Head Waters of the Wisconsin River to Prairie du Chien.

We remained at La Pointe five days; the time being devoted by the men to rest, and by ourselves in procuring supplies for our journey to the Mississippi.

On the 18th September we left La Pointe for the head waters of Wisconsin river, carrying with us provisions to last us to Prairie du Chien; or, at least, until we could reach the first settlement, which, we were told, was at "Big Bull falls." I camped at the mouth of Bad river, and sent one of my men to the mission, four miles above, for the purpose of procuring another man. He returned after dark, with the intelligence that an Indian would be down in the morning, to assist in making the portage. It was with great difficulty an extra pack man could be procured, to assist in making the portage of forty miles, from the mouth of Montreal river to Portage lake. At this season of the year, the fur company employs all the voyageurs to be had, in carrying goods to its trading posts in the heart of the country.

September 19. — After leaving the mouth of Bad river, the lake shore consists of sand banks for about three miles. Back of the sand hills, meadows, swamps, and lagoons extend for some distance, until the general level of the Bad river bottoms is reached. Some of the meadows are regularly mowed for hay by the citizens of La Pointe and of the mission. The marl banks then approach the lake shore, and gradually increase in height to the mouth of Montreal river, which we reached on the 19th, at 11 o'clock.

At this point is a fine exposure of sandstone, conglomerate, trap, and amygdaloid, exhibiting every indication' of the most violent disturbance. The bearing of the range is N. W. and S. E. The intrusion of the dyke has thrown the sandstone strata into a nearly vertical position, the dip ranging from 71° to 85°.

Following the windings of the river, the shores are made up of perpendicular walls of red sandstone, shale, conglomerate, compact trap, and amygdaloid, for the distance of three miles. At the shore of the lake there are alternations of shale and compact sandstones, the first in beds of from thirty to sixty feet, with laminae from half an inch to two inches in thickness, of greenish colored bands, from one to three inches thick, running through it in the plane of stratification, and all degenerating into "marl," upon exposure to the weather. The second, or compact variety, occurs in layers from five to eighteen inches in thickness. The compact beds are from two to four feet thick, and show "ripple marks" between all the layers.

The red sandstone effervesces in contact with acids, as does, also the red marl, which overlies it. The green bands, both soft and hard, show no reaction with acids. The green sandstone is coarse and occasionally pebbly, with very deep red spots disseminated through it.

About two yards from the lake shore the river falls in two cascades, of about forty feet each, over the edges of the tilted sandstone. The cascades are about sixty feet apart. There is little or no variation in the dip of the strata as far as the top of the falls. From this point to the Upper Falls, a distance of nearly three miles, following the windings of the river, and about a mile and a half in a straight line, the banks are made up of alternations of sandstone, shales, conglomerate, amygdaloid and trap, ranging from thirty to ninety feet in width, with a dip of from 75° to 95° and in some places the rocks are vertical. The Upper Falls are very picturesque, and consist of two cascades, about forty yards apart, each cascade having a fall of thirty-six to thirty-eight feet.

As it was not designed to make a detailed examination of this region the present season, I sent the packmen on the trail, as soon as possible after reaching the mouth of the river, with instructions to camp at the most convenient spot near the crossing of Montreal river, while I remained to make barometrical observations. On hastening to reach camp late in the evening, I fortunately left the trail by a path leading to the copper mine near the Upper Falls, and by this means fell in with Mr. Whitney and corps of the Michigan survey. It was now dark, and I heard signal guns from our camp. I started without a trail, or a ray of light to have seen one had it been there, through the woods in the direction of the signals. After an hour's wandering through a very dense forest, with undergrowth and fallen timber, in which I had, literally, to feel my way, reached the camp at the "crossing" of the river. The Indian from Bad river had reached our party soon after I left in the afternoon, so that we had now a sufficient force to make a single portage, by which two-thirds of the time required for a double portage would be saved, as the ground would only have to be passed over once instead of three times.

Starting point of the Flambeau Trail. This map is part of the 1848 federal survey map, T48N R49W in present-day Gogebic County, Michigan at the mouth of the Montreal River. Angling from upper left to lower right is the portage trail. The most common general name for the trail was the Flambeau Trail. Packers took up to 150 pounds in a pack, stopping at predesignated points known as pauses — pronounced "poses." There were 120 pauses on the Flambeau Trail, and it took 3 days to hike. It was too swampy and muddy for horses or wagons. In winter the packers and traders used dog sleds.

September 20. — After an early breakfast, Mr. Gurley with the men started in the trail to Portage lake, while I remained behind for the purpose of seeing Mr. Whitney, and of making measurements. At 11 o'clock I crossed the river and started for the head waters of Wisconsin river. At the crossing, the trap is exposed in the bed of the river, crossing it in a low range, bearing N.W. and S.E.

The country ascended all the way to-day in a series of ridges, with wet, and, in some instances, swampy valleys intervening. The soil of the hills is of a reddish black color, and looks rich, while that on the slopes and in the valleys is deeper, and has every appearance of being equal to any trap soil in the district. It is all derived from tho trap and red sandstone rocks.

Although the low lands are now wet, yet with drainage, which might be easily accomplished, they would be dry, and fit for all agricultural purposes suited to the climate. The principal timber is pine, of good size, sugar maple, ash, poplar, box-elder, oak, spruce and hemlock. Two creeks were crossed to-day, at the second of which, Rock creek, we camped. About fourteen miles south of the lake, the trail winds around the base of a ridge called Spruce hill, five thousand and sixty-one feet above the level of Lake Superior, and forms part of a range, in which sandstone, amygdaloid, greenstone, and syenite, show themselves. The soil is covered for the space of a mile, with fragments of these rocks, with sharp points and angular edges. A sparse growth of bushes, with a few scattering pines, is the only vegetation on it. Our camp at Rock creek was six hundred and sixty-four feet above the level of the lake.

"Mr. Whitney" was Josiah Dwight Whitney, a prolific geologist and scientist, and the namesake of Mount Whitney in California. Whitney led important surveys in the Midwest (then simply "the West") and in California. He studied at the best schools in the United States, and spent five years studying in Europe. He was the author of many books and dozens of papers. Like all scientists, he was sometimes wrong. His most famous conflict was with John Muir over the theory formation of Yosemite Valley — Muir (rightly) claimed the valley was scoured by glaciers. These semi-controversial parts of Whitney's life do not generally detract from his overall importance as a scientist in the middle part of of the 19th century.

September 21. — Rock creek is full of boulders; hence its name. The country after leaving camp is well timbered, with hard and soft woods of good size. On the gentle slopes, and in the valleys, a good many boulders are met with; but not in sufficient numbers to interfere materially with cultivation, should the land be wanted for that purpose. It may be remarked, as a general thing in all this section, that the north sides of the hills and ranges are much steeper than the south. In many places the north side exhibits marl escarpments, from thirty to forty feet high at the base, with a slope to the summit, but always more abrupt than the southern exposure.

About four miles from camp, came to an exceeding bad tamerack [sic] swamp, and half a mile further on, to a range one thousand and seven feet high, bearing northeast and southwest, with a dip of 63° to the southeast. This range is made up of altered or metamorphosed sandstone, hornblende, and trap. The southern slope of the ridge exhibits hornblende slate, altered sandstone, greenstone, and granite. This range is one thousand one hundred and fourteen feet above the level of the lake. Four miles south by east, we crossed a small stream, called "Bare Rock" river, running at the northern base of an outburst of trap through syenitic granite, bearing northeast and southwest, and parallel with a range on the other side of the stream, which is well defined when seen from the top of this range. Numerous veins of quartz traverse the granite, running, generally, east and west. Some of these veins are colored by oxide of iron, and in one of them many small crystals of galena were seen. The granite is overlaid on the north by hornlende slate. In the next two miles two other ranges cross the trail, the structure of which is in every respect similar to that last described, the prevailing rocks being syenitic granite, with dykes if greenstone traversing it. Half a mile further, there is an outburst of feldspathic granite, overlaid by gneiss. The gneiss has a dip of 40°, and is traversed by many nearly vertical granite veins, from three to fifteen feet wide at different points of exposure. This point is nine hundred and fifty-four feet above the level of the lake. The principal growth seen to-day was sugar maple, with undergrowth of the same; a few oaks were scattered through it, with some soft woods; and in the swamps and low grounds, tamerack and cedar.

September 22. — Soon after leaving camp this morning, I passed over numerous fragments of amygdaloidal trap, and large angular fragments of red sandstone, in such quantities as to show that the rocks from which they were derived cannot be far distant. The country ascends gradually from this point, for the distance of four miles, over a succession of low granite ridges, some of the granite being finer grained than any before met with. Numerous fragments of red sandstone were scattered over the hills and valleys.

About seven miles from the camp of last night, we came to a deposit of "drift," from fifteen to twenty feet high, composed of sand, with pebbles and small polished boulders disseminated through it. It rests on the southern slope of a granite range north of Spruce river, and appears to dip conformably with the rocks on which it rests.

Spruce river is twenty feet wide at the crossing place. There is a fine exposure of reddish granite on the south bank, in a hill one hundred and seven feet above the level of Lake Superior. On the north shore, at the water level, it is grey, very micaceous, and contains but little feldspar.

Two miles from Spruce river brought us to the crossing of the west fork of the Montreal river, where we concluded to camp.

Most of the route to-day was over a rolling country made up of rather low granitic ridges, with almost innumerable fragments of disintegrating sandstone scattered over it. The prevailing growth was sugar maple, with undergrowth of the same; oak, poplar, birch, and linden, on the ridges; with tamerack and cedar in the wet valleys. Just before reaching the river, a ridge one hundred and seven feet high crosses the trail, covered by a growth of small pines. Except on the summit of the ridges, the soil is at least equal to second rate. Although, as a general rule, soils derived from granitic rocks are thin and unproductive, in this section they are rendered comparatively rich by transported materials, and by the decomposition of the red sandstone, which is scattered over nearly the whole route travelled [sic] from the lake to this place. The crossing of Montreal river is nine hundred and sixty-three feet above the level of Lake Superior.

September 23. — Montreal river is about twenty-five feet wide at this point, and three feet deep. It has been bridged in a rude manner by the engagés of the American Fur Company, who have, for many years, transported goods over this route to the small trading post established among the Indians at Lac du Flambeau and other points in this direction. We crossed at 7 o'clock, and commenced ascending hills of slight elevation, apparently made up of granite boulders, until we reached a ridge one thousand and seventy-eight feet above the lake.

One mile beyond this station we reached the summit of the highlands, dividing the waters of Lake Superior from those of the Mississippi. At least it appeared to me to be the highest point on the route. I could not verify this opinion, however, for, half an hour before reaching it, I was so unfortunate as to slip from a root in the trail, and in the endeavor to save my barometer, struck it against a tree and broke it. No one except those who have met with similar misfortunes under like circumstance can imagine the feelings experienced by me when this accident occurred. It was a great gratification, however, to reflect that I had preserved it long enough to get measurements from the lake to this point. The ridge which I supposed to be higher than the one on which the last barometrical observations were made, exceeds that, as near as I could judge, by about forty or fifty feet, and I have so estimated it in the section of this route. The level of Portage lake, which we reached a few minutes before 10 o'clock, is, of course, a mere estimate, made from observing the general slope of the ridge, and noting the distance walked in reaching it.

From Montreal river to Portage lake, a distance of six miles, no rocks were observed in situ. Both bills and valleys are covered with boulders of crystalline rocks, principally granite, intermingled with fragments of red sandstone and hornblende slate. The hills are covered with a growth of small timber, mostly pine, with some maple, oak, and a few aspens, while the valleys support a tolerably good growth of sugar maple, with undergrowth of the same. Within the last two miles, a number of small ponds were seen, — a feature which, though very common in other sections, had not been observed before on any part of this route.

At this point the long portage ended, and, after discharging the extra packmen, and furnishing them with provisions, we set about preparing for our journey to Lac du Flambeau. We expected to obtain here a canoe belonging to a man living on Wisconsin river. He was at La Pointe when we left, and obligingly offered us the use of it as far as the mouth of Maple river, stating, at the same time, he would send an Indian who knew its place of concealment, and would discover it to us. Early in the afternoon the Indian arrived, with the intelligence that our obliging friend had instructed him not to show us the canoe, but to cache it in a new place, where we could not find it. We were thus deprived of the means of transportation upon which we had relied from the moment of leaving Lake Superior. We had now left the alternative of making a further portage to Lac du Flambeau, over a region only traversed by the Indians in the winter, when the rivers, swamps, and lakes are frozen and passable, or of waiting until some straggling Indians should arrive with a canoe which could be purchased.

Fortunately, however, the men, in examining the lake shore, discovered a small canoe concealed among the bushes, and, under the circumstances, we determined to follow the custom of the country. In like exigencies, and appropriate it to our own use without waiting to consult the owner, who was supposed to be an Indian left sick at Madeline island. The canoe, though entirely too small for our purpose, being intended for only two persons, was perfectly new, and of excellent model, and by judicious stowage, it was supposed capable of answering our purpose until we could procure a larger one.

Interior termination point of the Flambeau Trail. Shown at left is part of the 1863 federal survey map, T44N R4E (modern Iron County) showing the termination of the Flambeau Trail at what was then called Portage Lake in Section 18. The trail is indicated by solid line with small dots, entering the image from the upper left. On this map, the lake name is Turtle Lake, but that is probably a cartographer's mistake for this particular map. The modern name is Long Lake. It outflows via Long Lake Creek into the Turtle River about four miles north of modern Mercer. The USGS 7.5 minute series map for this location is Lake Evelyn.

September 24. — The early part of the morning was spent in arranging our provisions and luggage to the best advantage in the small canoe. About 8 o'clock, we left the head of Portage lake| which is from two hundred to four hundred yards wide, and four miles long. We had proceeded about two miles, when we observed a canoe approaching us containing a young Indian. Contrary to the usual custom, he gave us no salutation as he approached, but, paddling swiftly along side, grasped the canoe, and claimed it as his property. After being made acquainted with the circumstances which induced us to take it, he expressed himself satisfied, and, after considerable hesitation, agreed to sell it for about three times its value, which we declined giving. Whatever may be thought of the simplicity of the Indians when bartering in the frontier villages with the whites, I have always found them not only acute dealers on their own soil, but ever ready to seize the slightest occasion for extorting money or provisions. In the meantime two other canoes came up, and we finally succeeded in purchasing an old one, a little larger than the one we were in, for the price of a new one. It took but a few minutes to exchange loads, and we were soon floating down the lake in our own vessel secure for at least as long a time as the bark would hold together.

After leaving Portage lake, we passed a series of small lakes, connected by shallow, winding streams, with numerous granite boulders in their beds, and finally entered Big Turtle lake, from the east side of which there is a portage of about six hundred yards to Little Turtle lake. At this place we camped just in time to escape the rain, which had been threatening to fall all day, and now came down in torrents.

The country around these lakes, in its general features, differs from that north of the dividing ridge, in having a more sandy and lighter soil, while the conical hills have disappeared, and in their stead there are gentle swells, with dry valleys intervening, and all covered with a dense growth of hard and soft woods, showing the capability of the soil for supporting a luxuriant vegetation a character suited to the climate.

September 25. — Turtle portage is an excellent one, over the plain lying between the two Turtle lakes. At the east end of it is an Indian village, inhabited during the summer months by one of the Chippewa bands. At present it is deserted, the band having gone north to their winter hunting grounds. Potatoes and corn are raised at this village. The soil is underlaid by fine drift, with occasional large granite boulders disseminated through it. Along the shores of the lakes, sections of drift from ten to twenty-five feet in thickness are exposed.

The outlet from Little Turtle lake is through a very narrow channel connecting it with another lake, which we crossed, and came to the beginning of what is known as "Six Pause Portage." As the voyageurs had to make a double portage, we took our packs and walked on to its termination, at the east branch of the Chippewa river, or as it is commonly called the Manidowish, where we arrived at noon. The trail runs over a sand barren, with the exception of the last half mile, which runs through one of the worst tamerack swamps I have ever seen. A few stunted pines, with occasional patches of coarse grass, is the only vegetation supported on the high grounds.

The Manidowish river at this point comes from the northeast, is deep and clear, about thirty feet wide, and winds through the centre of a broad wet meadow, with grass from two to five feet high. After the portage was made, we descended the river four miles though probably not more than one mile in a direct line from the portage to a favorable place for a camping ground.

Six Pause Portage. Section from USGS map (Mercer 7.5 minute) showing the location of the Six Pause portage. It followed fairly close to modern Highway 51, the red line in the map. All of the upper tributaries of the Chippewa River system flow generally from northeast to southwest, and are often within a few miles of each other, as at this particular portage. This is an unusual type of portage in that it traverses between two tributaries in the same river system, rather than between a lake and a river, or two rivers in different drainage systems. Mercer Lake (unnamed in Norwood's report) is in the Little Turtle River system — its inlet and outlet are that river — and the portage is to the Manitowish (spelled Manidowish by Norwood).

From the portage, the Manitowish flows generally south and intersects with the North Fork Flambeau. Travelers then followed the North Fork southward, but now up stream, to the trading post and general settlements at Lac du Flambeau. To summarize: from Portage (Long) Lake to Lac du Flambeau, the route is for the most part directly south — partly on rivers flowing southerly, partly on portage trails, and partly on a river flowing northerly (and the travelers paddled against the flow for that section).

September 26. — The river is exceedingly crooked, and from forty to fifty feet in width from the camp to the mouth of Lac du Flambeau river, a distance of about three miles. Where the bends of the river approach the margin of the meadows, the banks are from four to six feet high, and composed entirely of a yellowish coarse mud resembling very much that found on the Chippewa below the Dalles. Soon after entering Lac du Flambeau river, which we ascended to the lake of which it is the outlet, large boulders began to show themselves, some of them of great dimensions. One which was examined measured fifteen feet in the long diameter, twelve feet in the transverse, and stood seven feet out of the water. It was composed of mica slate, and studded with garnets of small size.

Just before reaching a range of hills, the river runs through what was once evidently a large lake, now elevated and overgrown with aquatic grasses. Through this the river flows in many channels, some of them fifty yards wide. This alternate widening and narrowing of the river occurs all the way to the lake. The trunks of hundreds of dead tameracks are standing in all the spaces between the channels, and give a peculiar air of desolation to the scene only partially relieved by the evergreens on the distant highlands.

About three miles above the mouth of Lac du Flambeau river, in a direct line, we came to a range of low hills on either side of the wide meadows through which it flows, which gradually recede until they reach the height of from forty to eighty feet. One mile higher the rocks show themselves in place, and are composed of quartz rock, granite, and mica slate, with innumerable garnets disseminated through them. Disthene, tremolite, and crystals of hemalite were also abundant in the schist. The slate dips 37° to the southwest. The rocks are in parallel ridges, the summits of which are from one to two hundred yards apart, and becoming . more elevated as they trend to the northeast and southwest. The ridges are bare, with the exception of an occasional bush, and in the intervening valleys only a little coarse grass is found.

Shortly after passing this range the swamps again show themselves, and continue on either side of the river up to Lac du Flambeau, the river is exceedingly crooked, its general course being S. S. E. We reached the lake late in the afternoon, and, crossing its north-west arm, camped near the old trading house of the American Fur Company, now deserted.
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