The Amazing Discovery of the Mississippi

tumafeature“If Groseilliers and Radisson had struck the Mississippi either above or below these falls they would have known it.” –William Watts Folwell, History of Minnesota, volume 1, page 13, 1921

In 1869 at only 36 years of age, William Watts Folwell was recruited to be the first president of the University of Minnesota on the banks of the great Mississippi River just below the Falls of St. Anthony. After his tenure as president ended 1884 he devoted himself to the preservation of the history of Minnesota, publishing his seminal works in four volumes in 1921. At the time there was a great debate amongst historians as to who first discovered the upper Mississippi.

Based on a short journal entry from the exploration and trade mission of Sieur des Groseilliers and Sieur de Radisson between 1654 and 1660 some have attributed to them the discovery of the upper Mississippi. It is clear from the above quote that Folwell strongly discredits this assertion based on the fact that they describe the Mississippi River as if it was some sort of common stream and the fact that if they were in this region they surely would have visited the Great Falls now known as St. Anthony that was just upriver from his office. Folwell, along with most historians, attribute the discovery the upper Mississippi to the “intrepid Louis Jolliet and his companion, the devout and darling priest, Father Jacques Marquette” on June 17, 1663.

This discovery was 341 years ago. To put in context how amazing this discovery was so deep in the interior of the North American continent, one has to understand that most of the charters establishing the British colonies had not been established. It was that very year in 1663 that a group of British Lords secured a royal charter to the Carolinas. The French explorers who penetrated deep within the interior of North America in and around the Great Lakes were truly filled with the metal of great courage and daring. These were careful coordinated government-sponsored expeditions with the vision of finding a route to the Orient and, most of all, establishing trade around the highly prized beaver pelt to feed the high-fashion demands of the European aristocrats for the felt hat.

It is hard to imagine what this land of lakes, rivers and forests would have looked like to these intrepid French explorers 341 years ago and that’s why it’s even more shocking today to see the State of Minnesota considering permitting mining operations that may last only 30 years but will require water treatment from the pollution of the mines for as long as 500 years. Yes, you read that right; based on modeling the companies have put together, water treatment must be maintained for 500 years at great expense.

We are now are finding out that there is a possibility that the water modeling used is faulty, underestimating the length of water treatment needed. That means it could be even longer than 500 years. To learn more about the truth behind this new kind of mining called sulfide mining and its potential impact on Minnesota’s pristine lakes, rivers and forests in northeastern Minnesota, go to the Mining Truth Website.

There will also be a public hearing put on by the permitting agencies on the proposed environmental review that discloses this 500 year treatment need at the St. Paul Civic Center on Tuesday, January 28, 2014 starting at 5 PM with an open house and 6:45 PM for formal presentations and public comment. It is time to make your voices heard so that historians will not be looking back at our generation some 341 years later trying to understand why we would have burdened their generation for 30 years of mining.


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