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July 30, 2010

Veritas Caput

Filed under: 150 Best Minnesota Books — Pat Coleman @ 9:20 am

Down the Great River

I only know of one book on our list that was so controversial it required the intervention of the Minnesota Historical Society. It was…

Willard Glazier. Down the Great River: Embracing an Account of the Discovery of the True Source of the Mississippi… Philadelphia: 1887.

Civil War Captain, Willard Glazier, mounted an expedition to the source of the Mississippi in 1881 and claimed to have discovered a lake beyond Lake Itasca that was the true source of the river. He named the new veritas caput “Lake Glazier.” The author and his expedition then continued their journey down the Mississippi stopping to tout Glazier’s discovery at towns along the way.

Glazier’s book Down the Great River was published in 1887 and reprinted in 1888, ’89, ’91, and ’93. Each edition grew as the author added testimonials backing his claim. These came from authorities like the Ex-Mayor of Brainerd, the Postmaster at Leech Lake, and various clergymen.

Down the Great River Title PageThe controversy became a significant economic issue when a textbook publisher endorsed Glazier’s claim. Another textbook company, not wanting the expense of reprinting their geography, mounted yet another expedition which concluded that Glazier’s lake was in fact “Elk Lake” and had been known since 1803. Nicollet had shown it as an extension of Itasca on his 1836 map.

The Minnesota Historical Society asked the State Legislature to prohibit textbooks from mentioning Willard Glazier’s claim. Legendary politician Ignatius Donnelly successfully shepherded that bill into law. Not satisfied to let the issue die there the MHS hired J. V. Brower to survey and report on the headwaters. Glazier also returned in 1891 to press his lost cause.

The book is a fun read and was lavishly illustrated and beautifully produced in gold embossed decorative bindings of various colors. Collect them all.

Patrick Coleman with two edition of Down the Great River

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6 Responses to “Veritas Caput”

  1. Karen Majewicz Says:

    Aha! Mystery solved! Thank you for this great blog. It is quite informative-

    I’ve been working on the online maps project for MHS and very recently put up J.V. Brower’s hydrographic map. It includes a letter from Governor Merriam asking Brower to refute the “reputed discovery” from a “citizen of the State of New York,” and I wasn’t sure who they meant.

    But when I saw this blog, I looked up Glazier’s map, and sure enough, it shows the Mississippi ending at a lake labeled “Lake Glazier.”

    If readers would like to preview the maps, they are here:
    Glazier’s map:

    Brower’s map:

    I definitely want to read this book now. What an intriguing story! And to think that MHS commissioned a survey like this!

    Patrick Coleman reply on October 13th, 2010:

    You are welcome Karen. But you didn’t have to wait for this serendipitous blog post. You could have simply walked into my office and asked me. Next time…

  2. Jana Armstead Says:

    Very Cool find. Thank you for sharing the historical accounts.

    Patrick Coleman reply on August 13th, 2010:

    Thanks Jana. Here is a photo I was looking for but couldn’t find on my disorganized computer when I posted this blog. enjoy!

  3. Patrick Coleman Says:


  4. George Habermann Says:

    Are you the Pat Coleman who attended St. Joseph So San in San Antonio Texas in the lat 50’s? If so, Hi. If not, sorry to bother you.

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