Michigan Transportation History

Henry Rowe Schoolcraft

Public WP ArticleMichiganExplorersEarly 19th CenturyAuthorEthnologistMid 19th CenturyNative AmericaGreat LakesPerson

Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (March 28, 1793 – December 10, 1864) was an American geologist, explorer, and ethnologist. Because of his researches in Indian culture, history, and demography, he is one of the founders of the discipline of ethnology in the U.S. He wrote five books (comprising eighteen volumes) on the Indians which until the 1930s were the foremost authorities on Indian history and culture. He also discovered the source of the Mississippi River.

Early life and education

Schoolcraft was born on March 28, 1793, in Guilderland, New York. His parents were Lawrence Schoolcraft and Anne Barbara Rowe. His father was a glassmaker, and Schoolcraft learned his father's trade while simultaneously attending Union College (in 1808) and Middlebury College. Here he developed an interest in geology.

Beginning in 1810, Schoolcraft traveled about New York and New England managing glass factories and in 1817 published a book called Vitreology or the art of applying chemistry to glass-making. In 1818, at the age of twenty-five, Schoolcraft left for the west.

Expeditions, 1818-1821

Schoolcraft was hoping for some sort of federal patronage. To improve his chances, he partnered with Levi Pettibone, between November 1818 and February 1819, to make a topographical and geological survey westward from Potosi, Missouri to the northern bend of the White River and then down the White River Valley to the Mississippi. From this trip, Schoolcraft published two books. The first, A View of the Lead Mines of Missouri (1819) was the first survey that elaborated the possibilities for the lead deposits in southern Missouri. The second was his journal of the adventure which was published as Journal of a Tour into the Interior of Missouri and Arkansaw (1821). Both works comprise some of the earliest accounts exploring the Ozarks.

Schoolcraft returned to New York City to publish the View of the Lead Mines which he distributed to any politician who he thought would help him gain a federal appointment. One of these politicians was John C. Calhoun who as secretary of war was assisting Lewis Cass outfit an expedition of the Great Lakes (See Lewis Cass expedition). Cass had requested some scientific men, especially knowledgeable in botany and mineralogy, and Calhoun forwarded Schoolcraft to him. The Cass Expedition was intended as a topological and geological survey of Michigan and the Great Lakes region to refute the generally unfavorable Tiffin Report. Cass appointed Schoolcraft as the expedition's geologist. Schoolcraft also produced the only extensive monograph of the expedition, published as A Narrative Journal of Travels Through the Northwestern Regions ... to the Sources of the Mississippi River. The expedition explored the upper Great Lakes, the copper fields of the Upper Peninsula, and attempted to find the source of the Mississippi River (which it failed to find). The expedition traveled over 2000 miles.1


Shor, Elizabeth Noble. "Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 2008.

Miller, F. Thornton. Schoolcraft's Journal. Southwestern Minnesota State University, Department of History, n.d. <but after 2001>.

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. The Papers of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. Washington, D.C. : Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, 1973. Found on: http://www.library.utoronto.ca/robarts/microtext/collection/pages/schoolhr.html.

Schoolcraft, Henry R. Journal of a Tour into the Interior of Missouri and Arkansaw, from Potosi, or Mine a Burton, in Missouri Territory, in a South-West Direction, toward the Rocky Mountains, Performed in the Years 1818 and 1819. London: Richard Phillips and Company, 1821.

Krause, David J. The Making of a Mining District: Keweenaw Native Copper 1500-1870. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1992.

Marriages, family, and death

See also
WP:Henry_Schoolcraft #Marriages_and_family

Schoolcraft married twice. In 1823, Schoolcraft married his first wife Jane Johnston, who was half Ojibwa?. They had four children, two of whom survived into adulthood. Their son John had enlisted in the Union Army and was wounded at Gettysburg and died in 1864 just eight months before Schoolcraft. The daughter Janee live to old age. When the Whigs came to power in 1841, Schoolcraft lost his patronage position. He and Jane then moved to New York City. In 1842, while Schoolcraft was away in Europe, Jane Johnston, who had never been in good health, died while visiting a sister in Canada.

Schoolcraft's second wife, Mary Howard, was the daughter of a South Carolina slaveholder and southern apologist. After the death of Jane, Schoolcraft had moved to Washington DC and met Howard there. They married in 1847. Howard despised miscegenation, and Schoolcraft became estranged from his children. After Schoolcraft's paralysis in 1848, Howard helped him complete the Historical and Statistical Study ... while composing her own "anti-Tom" response to Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Schoolcraft died in December 1864 and was buried Washinton's Congressional Cemetery. His wife Mary was buried there as well when she died in 1877.2


On Jane Johnston Schoolcraft and her family, see

Robert D. Parker, "Who was Jane Johnston Schoolcraft?" http://thesoundthestarsmake.com/ last accessed May 21, 2014.

Robert Dale Parker, Editor. The Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky: The Writings of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007.


During (at least) the early 1830s, Schoolcraft sat on the territorial legislative council representing the Sault Ste Marie area.3

As Indian Agent

Following Schoolcraft's stint in the state legislature, he returned to the Sault to mediate a dispute between the Ojibwe and the Sioux. He also made available to the Ojibwe smallpox vaccinations. Also around this time, Schoolcraft undertook more exploration of the Upper Peninsula and Lake Superior. He explored up Mississippi River in Minnesota, finally discovering the headwaters at a place he named Lake Itasca (a compound word from the Latin veritas [true] and caput [head], thus the "true head" of the Mississippi). A nearby tributary was later named in his honor. Schoolcraft described these explorations in his Narrative of an Expedition Through the Upper Mississippi River to Itasca Lake (1834).

In 1833, Congress reorganized the Indian Bureau's districts and Schoolcraft found himself with a much larger area to cover. He and Jane moved to Mackinac Island, where he established his Indian Bureau headquarters. He negotiated with the Odawa and Ojibwe the Treaty of Washington . The treaty embodied Schoolcraft's belief that traditional Indian ways of living were moribund and that they should adopt agriculture. For this purpose, Schoolcraft negotiated annuities but the U.S. government rarely made timely or full payments.


Warren Upham, Minnesota Place Names: A Geographical Encyclopedia, Minnesota Historical Society.


While serving as Indian agent, Schoolcraft became quite intrigued by Indian history and culture. This interest probably came from his appointment as Indian agent and from his marriage. While at Sault Ste. Marie?, he learned from Jane the Ojibwe language and their history. In 1826, Henry and Jane wrote a manuscript they called The Literary Voyager which is often erroneously identified as the first literary magazine in Michigan.4

In 1839, Schoolcraft was appointed Superintendent 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.

Historical and Statistical ....

In 1847, Congress authorized a research project on the history and current condition of the Native Americans and Schoolcraft was awarded the project. Immediately, Schoolcraft thought of employing George Catlin, as the then leading illustrator of Native Americans but Catlin was uninterested. Disappointed by Catlin's decision, Schoolcraft turned next to Seth Eastman, also a renowned illustrator of Indians.

Schoolcraft's work, eventually titled Historical and Statistical Information Respecting the History, Condition, and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States was published in six volumes between 1851 and 1857 by Lippincott, Grambo. The work lacked an index which made it difficult to use. In 1954, the Smithsonian's Bureau of American Ethnology indexed the work. Schoolcraft's study was the most comprehensive study of Native American culture and history until 1928 when the U.S. government underwrote the researches of Lewis Meriam published as the Meriam Report.

Founding magazines

Schoolcraft was also a pioneer in publishing in Michigan. With his wife Jane he published Michigan's first literary magazine called The Souvenir of the Lakes.5

Naming places

Schoolcraft is also responsible for naming many of Michigan's places and counties. His wife's pen name was Leelinau and so thus named Leelanau County.6 In other cases, he made up Indian sounding words for counties, such as Alcona?, Algoma?, Allegan?, Alpena?, Arenac?, Iosco?, Kalkaska?, Oscoda? and Tuscola?. Sometimes, Schoolcraft would put together Indian syllables with Latin or Arabic sylables to come up with other exotic-sounding placenames.7 Lake Itasca?, as noted above, is an example of these sorts of combinations.

Later years

Legacy and honors

See Wikipedia


1. Krause, pp. 68-71.

2. Find-A-Grave, "Mary Howard Schoolcraft"

3. Robert J. Parks, Democracy's Railroads: Public Enterprise in Jacksonian Michigan (Port Washington, NY; London: Kennikat Press, 1974), , 44.

4. Schoolcraft: Literary Voyager or Muzziegun, edited by Philip Mason (East Lansing: Michigan State University, 1962); Jeremy Mumford, "Mixed-Race Identity in a Nineteenth-Century Family: The Schoolcrafts of Sault Ste. Marie, 1824–27", Michigan Historical Review, March 22, 1999, pp. 2–3; but on the myth of the Literary Voyager being the first literary journal in Michigan, see Robert Dale Parker, "Myths about Jane Johnston Schoolcraft," Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, http://thesoundthestarsmake.com, last accessed May 21, 2014.

5. Mary J. Toomey, "Schoolcraft College — The Name and its Significance," Schoolcraft College. Accessed on February 13, 2007.

6. Jeremy Mumford, "Mixed-Race Identity in a Nineteenth-Century Family: The Schoolcrafts of Sault Ste. Marie, 1824–27", Michigan Historical Review, March 22, 1999, pp. 3–4.

7. "Michigan Counties," History, Arts and Libraries. Michigan.gov. Accessed on February 13, 2007.


Bremer, Richard G., Indian Agent & Wilderness Scholar: The Life of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. Mount Pleasant: Central Michigan University, Clarke Historical Library, 1987.

"Henry Rowe Schoolcraft", The International Magazine of Literature, Art, and Science 3, no. 3 (June 1851). (Verified March 19, 2016)

Lovell, Linda. "Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (1793–1864)," The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, Central Arkansas Library System.

Merrill, George P. The First One Hundred Years of American Geology. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1924.

Merrill included biographical sketches of American geologists and a review of state geological surveys. See this.

Mumford, Jeremy. "Mixed-Race Identity in a Nineteenth-Century Family: The Schoolcrafts of Sault Ste. Marie, 1824–27", Michigan Historical Review 25 (Spring 1999): 1-23.

Savage, Henry, Jr. Discovering America 1700–1875. New York: Harper & Row, 1979. pp. 229–233.

Samson, Rev. George Whitefield. Remarks at the Funeral of Henry R. Schoolcraft. Published by the Washington, D.C. Chronicle, December 1864. Printed Ephemera Collection, Portfolio 204, Folder 55, "An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera," Library of Congress American Memory. (Verified March 19, 2016).


Henry Rowe Schoolcraft Papers, 1788-1941. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Works by Schoolcraft

Journal of a Tour into the Interior of Missouri and Arkansaw. London: Sir Richard Phillips and Co., 1821. Online at University of Missouri Digital Library. http://digital.library.umsystem.edu/ .

Rude Pursuits and Rugged Peaks: Schoolcraft’s Ozark Journal 1818–1819. Edited by Milton D. Rafferty. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1996.

Narrative of an Expedition Through the Upper Mississippi River to Itasca Lake (1834)

Algic Researches (2 vols., 1839)

Historical and Statistical Information Respecting...the Indian Tribes of the United States, (6 vols., 1851-1857)

External links

There are works by and about Schoolcraft at

Citation: When referencing this page please use the following citation:

R. D. Jones, "Henry Rowe Schoolcraft," Michigan Transportation History (Ypsilanti, MI: 2020), www.michtranshist.info/.

Unless otherwise noted all content on the Michigan Transportation History site is Copyright © 2020.
Page last modified on January 01, 2020, at 07:27 PM EST

Page last modified on January 01, 2020, at 07:27 PM EST