Historic Diaries: James Doty, 1820
July 10, 1820: Overland into the Forest
This entry and the two that follow were written three days later, in a third pocket notebook, once Doty had reached the fur trade post at Sandy Lake, Minn. According to Schoolcraft, the hikers consisted of eight soldiers under the command of Lieut. Mackay, Doty, Trowbridge, Chase, and myself, together with an interpreter and the two Indian guides -- sixteen in all. It is impossible to trace their exact route on modern maps. Here are excerpts from Schoolcraft's account of it:
"Our guides taking their course by the sun, immediately struck into a close matted forest of pine and hemlock, through which we urged our way with some difficulty. On travelling two miles we fell into an Indian path, leading in the required direction, which we followed until it became lost in swamps. After pursuing it two miles, we passed through a succession of ponds and marshes, where the mud and water were in some places half leg deep. These marshes continued four miles, and were succeeded by a strip of three miles of open dry sandy barren, covered with shrubbery, and occasionally clumps of pitch pines. This terminated in a thick forest of hemlock and spruce, of a young growth, which continued two miles and brought us to the banks of a small lake, with clear water and a pebbly shore. Having no canoe to cross, we took a circuitous route around its southern shore, through thick woods and swamps, where the difficulty of travelling was very much increased, by fallen trees and brush. In order to avoid these difficulties, on approaching the head of this lake, we walked along the shore of it and occasionally in the water…
"We now again fell into the Indian path which led us to two small lakes, similar in size to the Carnelian lake, but with marshy shores, and reddish water, and filled with pond flowers, rushes, and folle avoine. At the second lake the path ceased at the water's edge, and our guides could not afterwards find it. Here they found a large green tortoise, which they killed... it was carried along to be eaten at night. They here appeared to be in doubt about the way. We now entered the great tamarack swamp, in which we progressed about eight miles, and encamped at 5 o'clock near the shore of the third lake, having travelled eleven hours, and passed a distance of about twenty miles."
Location: uncertain, though their route presumably roughly paralleled MN 210; this map shows the region
View Doty's handwritten manuscript of this page
View page in the 1895 printed edition
View this page in Schoolcraft's 1821 Narrative
Early on the morning of the 10th Mr. S., Lt. M., Mr. C, Mr. T., and myself with a party of the soldiers and two Indian guides left the portage to cross the country on foot to Sandy Lake while the residue of the party accompanied and managed the canoes. This measure was adopted, on the representation of the frenchmen, of the great difficulty and labor in ascending the Fond du Lac river, to lighten the canoes, which they said was absolutely necessary, or we should be compelled to walk on the banks of the river. Though I was well satisfied the walk we undertook would be very tedious and laborious, at the earnest request of the Gov. we consented, I feeling well satisfied with the walks I had already had.
For the first 2 miles we steered west, and nearly the course of the river, until we gained a path leading from Plain Island to the interior, some particular hunting ground of these Indians. We continued on this path until our last course this day. We next steered N. 70 W. 1 mile, S. 20 E. 2 miles to a small pond or lake, the lower part of which we waded through — the waters being high it was impossible to follow the path; and probably in a common season there is little or no water here. We then went S. 70 W. 1 mile to a lake of considerable size. Thus far the land has been low — timber birch, maple, bass wood, and elm. Next we steered S 20 west 6 miles over a ridge one half (the first covered chiefly with pine the residue the sugar maple). The Indians had a large establishment in this wood, this last spring where from every appearance they must have made great quantities of sugar.
We stopt and dined on raw ham and sea biscuits, the only provisions we had brought with us. Each man carried his own provisions and blanket, A short distance from where we rested, perhaps 1 & 1/2 miles and course S. 30 W., we came upon the banks of a lake about 3 miles long and two broad, of pure water, and containing 4 Islands. I think I never beheld a Lake more beautiful. In walking on its beach some of the finest cornelians and agates were found which had been picked up on our voyage. They must have been abundant for in half an hour we obtained a great quantity. From this circumstance we named this water "cornelian Lake."
We passed on towards the head of the lake steering S. 20 W. 4 miles, and arrived on the bank of another small lake near its outlet which was not a step over. We took a portage path made by the Indians across 1/2 of a mile to a Lake apparently 5 or 6 miles long and 2 broad. Its water was muddy and warm. Our guides killed a large green turtle on which they feasted at night. They boiled it and gave us one of the fore legs — it was very sweet and delicious.
Here our troubles and severest toils commenced. They stated this was the end of the path, and requested we should not be angry with them if we found the road bad after leaving this lake. They must either have intended to take us a more direct course, or they were unacquainted with the country. I have since learned, that had we passed around the head of the lake to opposite side to where we left the path, our course would have been over a country high and dry and by which we might have gained the lake [Sandy Lake] a day sooner. Far different from such a country was that we crossed. We steered N. 20 W. 6 miles along the bank of this lake nearly to its head where we encamped a little before sunset, some of us much fatigued.
We had not proceeded a mile on this course before we were led into swamps and morasses which one would think impenetrable were he not led on by an Indian. We seldom found footing before we had sunk to our knees in mud, and frequently to our hips. We encamped on a slight rise of ground, but it was with great difficulty water was procured at all paletable. Rain with thunder and lightening during the night. Whole distance 24 m.