Due to scheduled maintenance, parts of MNHS.org will be inaccessible on Monday, November 24.
Minnesota Historical Society M-Flame Logo
Townships and Villages banner
Hotel Pokegama, Grand Rapids. 1897

Hotel Pokegama, Grand Rapids. 1897
 
Itasca Census Information
 
Estab:  October 27, 1849
Parent County:  Unorganized Territory
 
 
 
Itasca county with county seat
 

Southeast region of Minnesota Southwest region of Minnesota Northwest region of Minnesota Northeast region of Minnesota Central region of Minnesota

SEARCH FOR A NAME
 
Go to Mn. Place Names Home page
Itasca
Go to Itasca County Towns page
Go to Itasca Lakes & Streams page
Go to Itasca People page
Go to Itasca Other Items page
Go to Itasca names from other languages or places page
 
Itasca County

This county, established October 27, 1849, having originally a much greater area than now, derived its name from Itasca Lake, which was named by Henry R. Schoolcraft in his expedition to this source of the Mississippi in 1832. The translation of its previous Ojibwe and French names is Elk Lake. Schoolcraft gave no explanation of the origin and meaning of the name Itasca in his narrative of this expedition published in 1834, but in his later book, on Gen. Lewis Cass's expedition of 1820 and this of 1832, published in 1855, the following statement is made, relating to the meaning of Itasca Lake. "I inquired of Ozawindib the Indian name of this lake; he replied Omushkos, which is the Chippewa name of the Elk. Having previously got an inkling of some of their mythological and necromantic notions of the origin and mutations of the country, which permitted the use of a female name for it, I denominated it Itasca."

The existence of this lake, and its French name, Lac la Biche, were known to Schoolcraft by information from Indians and voyageurs before this expedition, and the actual history of his coining this new word, as narrated 50 years afterward by his companion in the expedition, Rev. William T. Boutwell, is told by Hon. J. V. Brower in the MHS Collections (7: 144, 145).

"Schoolcraft and Boutwell were personal associates, voyaging in the same canoe through Superior, and while conversing on their travels along the south shore of the great lake, the name 'Itasca' was selected in the following manner, in advance of its discovery by Schoolcraft's party.

"Mr. Schoolcraft, having uppermost in his mind the source of the river, expecting and determined to reach it, suddenly turned and asked Mr. Boutwell for the Greek and Latin definition of the headwaters or true source of a river. Mr. Boutwell, after much thought, could not rally his memory of Greek sufficiently to designate the phrase, but in Latin selected the strongest and most pointed expressions, 'Veritas,' and 'Caput,'--Truth, Head. This was written on a slip of paper, and Mr. Schoolcraft struck out the first and last three letters, and announced to Mr. Boutwell that 'Itasca shall be the name.'"

The origin of this name had perplexed experts acquainted with the Ojibwe and Dakota languages, as related by Charles H. Baker in the St. Paul Pioneer, May 26, 1872. Three weeks later the same newspaper for June 16 published letters received by Alfred J. Hill from Gideon H. Pond, the missionary to the Dakota; Mary H. Eastman, citing a supposed Ojibwe myth or tradition in her "Aboriginal Portfolio"; and Rev. William T. Boutwell, telling how Schoolcraft coined the name by using parts of the two Latin words, Veritas Caput. Twenty years later, Brower's publication of his interview with Boutwell, as here cited, settled this very interesting question beyond any further doubt.

The chapter of Clearwater County contains a review of the explorations of the sources of the Mississippi, which were completed by detailed surveys of the Itasca State Park, lying mainly in that county.