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Historic Diaries: James Doty, 1820

Aug. 4, 1820: Chief Wabasha and Mount Trempealeau

Editor's Note:

Schoolcraft noted that their visit to Wabasha was a brief one: "At four o'clock in the afternoon, we made a short halt at the Sioux village of Wabashaw, which is eligibly situated on the west bank of the Mississippi, sixty miles below Lake Pepin. It consists of four large lodges, with a population of, probably, sixty souls. A present of tobacco and whiskey was given, and we again embarked at twenty minutes before five o'clock."


He also described a prominent landmark on the upper Mississippi, Mount Trempealeau: "A few miles below Wabashaw's village, an isolated mountain, of singular appearance, rises out of the centre of the river, to a height of four or five hundred feet, where it terminates in crumbling peaks of naked rock, whose lines of stratification and massy walls, impress forcibly upon the mind the image of some gigantic battlement of former generations... This singular feature in the topography of the country has long attracted the admiration, and the wonder, of the voyageurs of the Mississippi, who have bestowed upon it the appellation of The Mountain that sinks in the Water, (La Montaigne qui Tromps dans l'Eau,) an opinion being prevalent among them, that it annually sinks a few feet... About five miles below the Sinking Mountain, we encamped on the west shore of the river, at seven in the evening, having been twelve hours upon the river, and descended the current seventy miles..."



Location: near modern Dakota, Minn., across from Onalaska, Wis.



View Schoolcraft's complete description in his 1821 Narrative


View Doty's handwritten manuscript of this page

View page in the 1895 printed edition

Embarked at 5. Weather cold & cloudy. Proceeded on 3 miles to the foot of the Lake, where the Chippeway or Sauteur river empties in. Stopt a short time at The Wings village [actually, the village of Wabasha, not Red Wing]. It has eight lodges, and is situated on a very large prairie which is bounded in the rear by the bluffs which appear to conduct the Mississippi in its course, and at this place they present a beautiful and pleasing prospect…


The Wing [i.e., Wabasha] is the Chief of all of the Sioux bands and is considered their Emperor. A party of Sacs and Foxes had a short time previous fallen upon a few of the Sioux and killed them. He stated the circumstances to us, and before he should proceed to revenge it, wished to have the advice of the Americans. "For myself," said he, "I wish to have it amicably and speedily settled. I hope they will do justice to us. If they do not — I can command many men — I may do something for which I shall afterwards be sorry, and by which they will long remember me." The Gov. advised him, and he promised, to settle the difficulty without shedding any more blood…


We had not proceeded far before we ran upon several sand-bars in the middle of the river which we passed with some difficulty. These bars are continually rising in the middle of the river, and in some places putting almost across it, so as to throw the water against the banks on each side.


At 7 we encamped on the S. W. side of the river, and opposite the mouth of Black River. I ascended the hill which rose directly in rear of our tents, and it was 1,000 paces from the waters edge to its summit. Prom this point I had a view of the country to the East. The bottom through which the Black River ran, appeared to be about 10 miles long, and 5 broad, and heavily timbered with hard wood. It appeared also as though two streams joined this river, one above the South and the other from the North, before its confluence with the Mississippi, and a short distance above its mouth. About 12 miles up this river is a saw mill, at which a considerable lumber is cut. Whole distance to day 72 miles.

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