Friday, September 27, 2013

St. Croix River

A misty morning on the St. Croix.  Buddy's ready to push
into the river.
I'm going to start on the account of our trip down the St. Croix and Mississippi River.  As soon as I make this post, I'll have to go out and vacuum the spiders out of the tornado shelter for later today.  The chance of a tornado is reportedly small, mostly large hail, but the chance is there nonetheless.  With the winds blowing 25-40 the last several days, I not only haven't been paddling, but haven't even gotton on the bike.
The Great River Rumble is held once a year on a river in the Mid-West. Between November and January, club members meet, decide on a river, and begin planning and organizing a trip for a week in July and/or August. This summer, the trip was on the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers of Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The St. Croix River was one of the first eight rivers in the nation to be placed under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. There were 203 such protected rivers in 2011, but the total still means that less then ¼ of one-percent of the nation’s rivers are protected for future generations.

While there are eight rivers that feed into the St. Croix, the protection extends to the St. Croix and the Namekagon, which is the St. Croix’s primary tributary. In all, the two rivers total 255 miles of waterway. However, I don’t know how they measure these, as checking five different information sources will give you as many different mileage numbers. In round numbers, the St. Croix starts near Solon Springs, WI, about 20 miles south of Lake Superior. It travels its first 38 miles solely in Wisconsin, but for the next 127 miles is the border between Wisconsin and Minnesota. The Namekagon River, starting in Lake Namekagon, contributes the remaining 90 miles of the total before its confluence with the St. Croix at Danbury, WI. Their waters, drawing from an 8,000 square mile watershed, then join the Mississippi River at Prescott, WI. Since our trip was solely on the St. Croix, the Namekagon was mentioned here for background only, and will not come up again in this account. The most important thing to keep in mind, however, is that the St. Croix and its tributaries created an 800 mile network of riverways that were crucial to the movement of furs and supplies from the territories since the earliest days. By way of the Brule River from Duluth, the St. Croix connected the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River, and therefore linked the economy of this area to the rest of the world. Through this web of waterways, the furs harvested in South Central Canada and the Northern Plains would soon be made into hats and other garments in Europe and beyond.

The St. Croix was originally named the River of the Grave in 1683 in honor of a man buried on the river after dying from a rattlesnake bite. The name was changed in 1688 on a map that recorded the location of Fort St. Croix along the river’s upper reaches. Tradition holds that the name comes from a man named St. Croix, who was killed in a boat accident at the confluence of the river with the Mississippi. The river received several other names of minor import, which have mostly disappeared into history.

The St. Croix River Valley began 15,000 years ago during the ice age, when the area was buried under hundreds of feet of ice. As the ice moved north, the deluge from the melting ice scoured out the valley. The area became home to eleven Native American tribes, but the primary two were the Ojibwe and Dakota, until 1745, by which time the Ojibwe had driven the Dakota west.

Photo credit: Google images
The capote, a long coat explorers and settlers adopted from
Native Americans.  This one is in wool, but those actually
used in the wilderness were generally leather.  If you look
at pictures of Lewis and Clark, you will see the capote became
a popular and essential garment.

The fur trade of the 17th, 18th, and 19 centuries in this area was to the local economy and its development what oil and gas are to the economy today. It brought together the English, French, Native Americans, and settlers, to all compete for local resources, and inevitably to fight over them. The competition over resources lead to conflicting claims over the region by nations, and a military presence arose in places like Fort William and Fort Snelling to enforce those interests and drive out the others. The fur trade also brought together Native American cultures with Europeans. The latter soon learned they had much to learn from the local Indians in how to adapt to the local weather, environment, and ways to conduct business. From the Indians, they acquired their first snowshoes, toboggans, moccasins, leather and fur garments, such as the capote coat, and of course, the canoe. The Native American canoes of the time could be built to any size, but generally were known as the 15-ft. hunting canoe, the 24-ft. North canoe, and the 36-ft. Montreal canoe. The importance of the Montreal canoe is obvious when we are reminded that it could carry an 8,000 lb. load of furs or supplies.


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