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[Detail] An advertisement from The Minnesota guide. 1869

Collection Overview

Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820-1910 contains seventeenth- to early twentieth-century accounts of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin as recorded in 138 books. These books include records of the land and its natural resources; conflicts between settlers and native people; as well as the experience of pioneers, missionaries, soldiers, immigrants, and reformers. The collection also documents the growth of local communities and cultural traditions and the development of regional agriculture, business, religion, politics, and education.

Special Features

These online exhibits provide context and additional information about this collection.

Historical Eras

These historical era(s) are best represented in the collection although they may not be all-encompassing.

  • Expansion and Reform, 1801-1861
  • The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1877
  • Development of the Industrial United States, 1876-1915
  • Emergence of Modern America, 1890-1930

Related Collections and Exhibits

These collections and exhibits contain thematically-related primary and secondary sources. Also browse the Collection Finder for more related material on the American Memory Web site.

Other Resources

Recommended additional sources of information.

Search Tips

Specific guidance for searching this collection

To find items in this collection, search by Keyword or browse by Author Index, Subject Index, and Title Index.

For help with general search strategies, see Finding Items in American Memory.


The 138 books digitized for Pioneering the Upper Midwest, ca. 1820-1910 provide an in-depth study of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin from the era of colonization and settlement, from 1585 to 1763, through the emergence of modern America, from 1890 to 1930. The collection, however, provides more than a parochial history by offering insight into pivotal periods and events of the nation's history. Furthermore, there is a variety of sources, from journals, letters, and autobiographies to regional historians' monographs, that will appeal to readers and present history through multiple perspectives.

1) Colonization and Settlement, 1585-1763

Although the English colonists had the greatest impact on North America, the French dominated parts of Canada and the upper Midwest of America until the French and Indian War (1756-1763). This collection documents the era of French expansion in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. You can search on the names of early explorers such as Nicolet, Radisson, Groseilliers, Joliet, Marquette, or Perrot for journal entries including the following in which Radisson describes the arrival of Boeuf Sioux:

The day following they arrived wth an incredible pomp. This made me thinke of ye Intrance yt ye Polanders did in Paris, saving that they had not so many Jewells, but instead of them they had so many feathers . . . Most of the men their faces weare all over dabbed wth severall collours. Their hair turned up like a Crowne, and weare curt very even, but rather so burned, for the fire is their cicers. They leave a tuff of haire upon their Crowne Of their heads, tye it, and putt att ye end of it some small pearles or some Turkey [turquoise] stones, to bind their heads. They have a role commonly made of a snake's skin, where they tye severall bears' paws, or give a forme to some bitts of buff's [buffalo] horns, and put it about the said role. They grease themselves wth very thick grease, & mingle it in reddish earth, wch they bourne, as we our breeks. Wth this stuffe they gett their haire to stand up. They curt some down of Swan or other fewle that hath a white feather, and cover wth it the crowne of their heads. Their ears are pierced in 5 places; the holes are so bigg that yor little finger might passe through. They have yallow waire that they make wth copper, made like a starr or a half moone, & there hang it. . . .

Page 86 [Transcription]
Radisson And Groseilliers In Wisconsin [Transcription]

Make drawings based on one of the more descriptive journal entries. This will help you to pay attention to detail and use your imagination in conceptualizing and reading about history. Write descriptions of people you see or of images from newspapers and magazines.

The first footnote to Radisson's journal provides some background on the journal, its writer, the language, and plot. You may find it helpful to refer to this note on pages 80-84, or to the corresponding transcription before investigating the journal further. As you read, notice how many different names are used for each Native-American tribe and for geographical features. What does this suggest about the culture and history of America during the period of colonization and settlement?

Also browse the Tables of Content of the Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin volumes 16, 17, and 18. They contain journals and letters written by the French about Jesuit missionary work, fur trade, and Native Americans that will allow enhance understanding of the variety of motivations behind colonization and settlement.

2) Revolution and New Nation, 1754-1820s

The collection provides unique resources that can supplement a textbook study of the events leading up to the American Revolution, the war itself, and the subsequent building of a nation.

The British reduced colonial competition by defeating the French and their Native-American allies in the French and Indian War. You can learn more by examining instructions from King Louis XV written to his Lieutenant-General of New France in 1755. You can also refer to one of the Teachers Page lessons for George Washington's correspondence regarding his encounters with the French in the Ohio Valley.

Though united by their victory over the French, England and its colonists in America were soon at odds over the Proclamation of 1763. Search on Pontiac for a contemporary account of the uprising that led to the Proclamation of 1763 and then access the proclamation in its entirety. You can also get a sense of the complex relationship between the British and Native Americans during the Revolution by searching on Haldimand (a British general) for correspondence such as the following:

. . . they have long requested assistance & it has been faithfully promised these three years past, but a want of Provisions, the difficulty of Transporting them to such a Distance, & the prodigious consumption owing, not only, to the necessity of feeding the Indians while collected, but supporting Entirely all Women & Children of the Mohawk, Cayaya, and many of the Onondaga nations, whose villages have been destroyed by the Rebels, & who have taken refuge at Niagara, has rendered it totally impossible for me to afford them any, although so much the object of my wishes. From the inclosed letters I have not a doubt that unless a well timed assistance may prevent it, they will be forced into a neutrality, which with Indians is little better than a Declaration of War against the weakest Party. . . .

Retaining the Indians in our Interests has been attended with a very heavy expense to Government but their attachment, has, alone, hitherto preserved the Upper Country, & the Devastation they have made upon the Susquehanna and Mohawk Rivers has distressed the Enemy prodigiously. . . .

"General Haldimand To Lord George Germain" [Transcription]

Following the war, the new nation needed to assimilate its lands west of the states, called the Northwest Territory. Read Thomas Jefferson's plan for governing western territories which, though never put into effect, became the basis of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. The collection also includes an 1887 address and an 1899 address which speak to the importance of the Northwest Ordinance in determining how the entire nation was built.

3) Expansion and Reform, 1801-1861

Thomas Jefferson's purchase of the Louisiana territory in 1803 extended America's empire, its government, and its espoused ideals. A paper by Nathaniel Pitt Langford brings the importance of this expansion into relief against the background of the geographical obstacles and Spanish intrigues that might have prevented it.

The federal government sought to make its new lands available to its people through the forced removal of Native Americans to lands west of the Mississippi. Read "A Brief History of the War with the Sac and Fox Indians in Illinois and Michigan" to learn about one incident of violence incurred by this removal.

A search on names of individual tribes such as Six Nations, Ottawa, Chippewa or Obibwe, Sac, Fox, Sioux, or Dakota will yield many of texts describing the history and culture of the quickly disappearing Native-American nations, though they are nearly all written from a white perspective.

This collection may be used to study reform movements by searching on temperance and anti-slavery. Search on women for chapters from texts such as Lucinda Hinsdale Stone Her Life Story and Reminiscences and Bertha Van Hoosen's autobiography, Petticoat Surgeon, that deal with establishing a place for women in academia and medicine respectively.

4) Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1877

Searching on Civil War yields several texts that afford views of wartime through personal perspectives. For example, Crusader and Feminist; Letters of Jane Grey Swisshelm: 1858-1865 offers the following firsthand description of Washington, D.C., after Lincoln's assassination:

It is sickening to pass the White House and adjacent Departments so recently all gorgeous with flags and all manner of festive devices blazing with many colored lights, and reverberating with triumphant music, and witness the change to the sable emblems of woe. It is sadder than these outside changes in other cities, for just behind that draped wall lies the mangled body of our sainted, martyred President, and this visible presence adds greatly to the sorrow and gloom . . . Then the presence of the thousands of Freed-people who regarded Abraham Lincoln as their Moses, adds to the impressiveness of the scene. With tears and lamentations they lean their faces against the iron fence around the Presidential Mansion, and groan with a feeling akin to despair lest now, that their friend is gone, they shall be returned to their old masters . . . One poor black woman . . . exclaimed: "My good President! My good President! I would rather have died myself! I would rather have given the babe from my bosom! Oh, Jesus! Oh, Jesus!"

Page 286
Chapter XIII [Transcription]
Crusader And Feminist; Letters Of Jane Grey Swisshelm: 1858-1865

Lincoln's Funeral Procession.

President Lincoln's Funeral Procession, Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C., April 19, 1865, Civil War.

These and other interesting letters will captivate readers. They also offer insight into the minds of people during the Civil War era.

Searching on Lincoln and funeral across all American Memory collections brings up numerous artifacts that also testify to the impact of this event, including the photograph to the left. Direct your attention to the people standing on rooftops and the cart-drawn casket in the upper right-hand corner. Other artifacts include sheet music of several funeral marches for the President, and a broadside announcing a reward for the apprehension of Lincoln's assassin.

Searching on slavery in Pioneering the Upper Midwest, ca. 1820-1910 locates texts such as the Narrative of Sojourner Truth, while reports of Civil War volunteers from Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota can be found in the indexes to the collections of each state's historical society. For example, an account of the battle of the Monitor and Merrimac is included in the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society.

The collection also includes several accounts of the Dakota Uprising that took place during the Civil War. Search on Sioux Uprising for accounts such as that of Chief Gabriel Renville, a scout serving with General Sibley's Expedition.

5) Development of the Industrial United States, 1876-1915

This collection's variety of texts will give readers an expansive understanding of industrialization in America. Railroads may be studied with some depth by searching railroad, or browsing the Tables of Content of each state's historical society collection. The advent of big business is exemplified in Cornflake Crusade, the story of how Battle Creek, Michigan, became the home of the Kellogg industry. Search on industry, manufacturing, lumber, and mining for more sources.

Using this collection, you can also study the ramifications of industrialization in labor and politics. Fifty Years on the Firing Line provides a portrait of the Populist movement, while the Minnesota Historical Society collection offers a brief history of the Granger Movement. Crusaders, the biography of Arthur and Marian Le Sueur, explores the lives of avid socialists.

The conservation movement developed concurrently with industrialization. Conservationist John Muir's autobiographical The Story of My Boyhood and Youth provides a good introduction to this movement and testifies to the importance of the individual in shaping history. You can learn more from the online collection, Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920.

6) Emergence of Modern America, 1890-1930

This collection's texts allow students to explore the Progressive reform agenda that emerged with modern America. An autobiography of Wisconsin Governor Robert M. La Follette, called La Follette's Autobiography; A Personal Narrative of Political Experiences, and Trials of a Lawyer, the autobiography of Minnesota lawyer and congressman James Manahan, are both interesting and instructive.

Searching on women and suffrage yields titles such as The Story of a Pioneer, an autobiography of Anna Howard Shaw. In addition to recounting her own experiences as a suffragist, Shaw provides a captivating anecdotal portrait of suffrage leader, Susan B. Anthony. Here, Shaw describes what happened when Anthony was unable to attend the first meeting of the International Suffrage Alliance:

When the meeting was opened the first words of the presiding officer were, "Where is Susan B. Anthony?" and the demonstration that followed the question was the most unexpected and overwhelming incident of the gathering. The entire audience rose, men jumped on their chairs, and the cheering continued without a break for ten minutes . . . Afterward, when we burst in upon her and told her of the great demonstration the mere mention of her name had caused, her lips quivered and her brave old eyes filled with tears. As we looked at her I think we all realized anew that what the world called stoicism in Susan B. Anthony throughout the years of her long struggle had been, instead, the splendid courage of an indomitable soul--while all the time the woman's heart had longed for affection and recognition.

Page 210
Chapter IX [Transcription]
The Story of a Pioneer


Critical Thinking

Because the collection Pioneering the Upper Midwest, ca. 1820-1910 contains materials covering such a vast period of time, it lends itself to activities that foster chronological and comparative thinking. Narratives allow thorough examinations of a variety of topics and provide an opportunity to analyze authors and authors' biases through their own works. Finally, the historical content provides challenging issues and rich research topics.

Chronological Thinking

Choose a historical era in American history and make a list of its major events. Then, create a timeline that shows the impact of these events in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. With this list, you can explore the collection for illustrative examples to reference in your timeline. If you are able to make their timeline in HTML, you can reference your examples with links to images and excerpts from texts.

Alternatively, you can illustrate continuity and change over time by searching on a topic such as emigration. Searching on emigrant or immigration, and on place names such as Norway, Germany, and Scotland yields narratives that reflect possible reasons for migration at different periods of time.

Historical Comprehension

The narratives of this collection recount events; disclose individuals' thoughts, feelings, and intentions; tell stories; and portray a time period. As such, they afford users of the collection a multifaceted and thorough understanding of a variety of topics. For example, Tracks and Trails, depicts frontier life in the second half of the nineteenth century. Use this text or pick a similar topic and narrative, and begin an inquiry with the following questions:

  • How does the author think or feel about his life on the frontier? How can you tell?
  • What are the major events of the narrative? How do they comprise a story? What does the way the story ends suggest about living on the frontier? What do other events in the story suggest?
  • What do the descriptive details in the text tell you about frontier life?
  • How do you think you would have liked living on the frontier in the nineteenth century?

Historical Analysis and Interpretation

First person narratives also lend themselves to activities of analysis and interpretation based on the author's subjectivity. Look at two accounts of meetings with Abraham Lincoln, one by Jane Swisshelm in 1863 (found on the bottom of page 175), and the other by Sojourner Truth in 1864. Compare and contrast the two accounts using the following questions:

  • What is different about these two meetings? What is the same?
  • Who wrote these two accounts? How are the authors different and how are they alike?
  • Who is each author's audience?
  • What do your answers to the preceding questions suggest about each author's values and opinions, especially in regards to the subjects of their narratives?
  • How do the accounts reflect those values and opinions? To what extent do the accounts seem to be biased by them?
  • Do these accounts tell you more about Abraham Lincoln or their authors?
  • What information, events, and details does each include and exclude?
  • What kind of language does each author use?

Historical Issue-Analysis and Decision-Making

The collection allows readers to analyze the expansion and industrial growth which also resulted in untold devastation of the environment and Native-American cultures. Search on words including railroad, city, Black Hawk War, and Native, for citations that not only illustrate destructive activities, but illuminate the complex set of values and ideals behind them.

St. Anthony is on the east side of the Mississippi; Minneapolis is opposite, on the west side. Both places are now large and populous . . . One of the finest water powers in the Union is an element of growth to both towns. The lumber which is sawed there is immense. A company is undertaking to remove the obstructions to navigation in the river between St. Paul and St. Anthony . . . The suspension bridge which connects Minneapolis with St. Anthony is familiar to all. It is a fit of the enterprise of the people. I forget the exact sum I paid as toll when I walked across the bridge--perhaps it was a dime; at any rate I was struck with the answer given by the young man who took the toll, in reply to my inquiry as I returned, if my coming back wasn't included in the toll paid going over? "No," said he, in a very good-natured way, "we don't know anything about coming back;it's all go ahead in this country."

Page 40 [Transcription]
Minnesota and Dacotah

Analyze and take a position on congruent contemporary controversies. Newspaper articles provide information about environmental issues, while the poetry and short stories of Sherman Alexie provide an engaging starting point for considering the situation of Native Americans today.

Historical Research Capabilities

Many topics pertinent to the history of the upper Midwest can be well researched in this collection. Search on fur trade and John Jacob Astor to find readings about the French, English, and American fur trading enterprises. Search on names of religions or denominations such as Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal, Catholic, and Mormon for materials on religion and missionary work in the upper Midwest; or supplement this collection with a variety of other sources such as museum collections, newspaper archives, and trial transcripts to study different views of the Sioux Uprising of 1862 and the subsequent execution of thirty-eight Dakotas. Search on Swisshelm for one woman's discussion of contemporary opinions about the uprising.


Arts & Humanities

The texts of Pioneering the Upper Midwest, ca. 1820-1910 facilitate projects in which one can practice a variety of language arts, from travel writing to poetry analysis, while learning about history. Additionally, the overlap of this collection's historical content with that of other American Memory collections affords users of the collections opportunities to make well-researched, dynamic, multimedia documentaries.

Biography and Autobiography

From the Narrative of Sojourner Truth to reminiscences of pioneer life, the collection includes numerous biographies and autobiographies about courageous individuals. In addition to learning about Sojourner Truth's antislavery and women's rights activism, you can read about the personal strength required of pioneer Hastings Hufford in Then Came May. Then write a chapter of a biography of someone you know who displays courage in his or her own way.


Select a topic such as the pioneer experience, woman suffrage, Native-American culture, railroads, or exploration. Then, search the collection for information about the topic and for images, letters, journals, and biographies to use in a short documentary. Write a script that explains the topic in your own words and illustrate your points with examples from the collection. Texts can be incorporated through dramatic readings. If you don't have the facilities or equipment to make a video, present your documentary live or create a storyboard to show what the video would be like.

Texts with images from this collection may be identified by reading texts' summaries and checking tables of content for illustrations. A few examples are listed below. Search on Wisconsin and Milwaukee in the collection California Gold: Folk Music from the Thirties for audio tracks some of which are also listed below. Other helpful American Memory collections include:



Travel Writing and Tourist Guides

The collection boasts many examples of travel writing and tourist guides. Browse the Subject Index for the heading, Description and travel - Guidebooks, or browse the Title Index to find texts such as A Merry Briton in Pioneer Wisconsin and The Standard Guide; Mackinac Island and Northern Lake Resorts. Practice descriptive and persuasive writing by composing a chapter from a guidebook for the area in which you live or do some travel writing. Even if the travel is just between school or work and home, you can practice observation, description, and creation of a literary tone.

The Standard Guide; Mackinac Island and Northern Lake Resorts.


Read some of the many letters in the collection to analyze the techniques by which people convey different sentiments and create different moods in writing. Start with a study of wit and humor in Intimate Letters of Carl Schurz, 1841-1869.


The poem "White Pigeon's Grave" appeared in the White Pigeon Republican on May 29, 1839. It describes the construction of a pioneer's home on the site of an Indian chief's grave. The poem can lead to discussions of the effectiveness of poetry in expressing feeling and the widespread public use of poetry during the nineteenth century. Write your own poems about incidents described in the collection or in current newspapers.

Local Color and Literature

A number of the books included in the collection provide examples of local color or regionalism. A selection from G. W. Featherstonhaugh's A Canoe Voyage up the Minnay Sotor is but one example of this genre. Compare this work with selections from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, keeping in mind the following questions:

  • What are the techniques used to create local color?
  • What are the effects of local color upon the reader?
  • Why might an author use local color?

Public Speaking

The art and potential power of public speaking is exemplified by Sojourner Truth's famous "Ain't I a Woman?" speech (pages 133-135) [Transcription] , given at the Woman's Rights Convention of 1851. Try presenting the speech yourself. Present it for others if possible and discuss the techniques and elements that make this address so memorable