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The Baron Lahontan

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Ever since 1689, historians have wondered just what happened to the Baron Lahontan in Minnesota. Although he was only twenty-five, the Baron had already spent several years in Canada fighting the Iroquois Indians, when his superiors sent him and a detachment of troops to explore the Upper Mississippi country Marquette and Joliet had just discovered in 1673. He and his men made an extensive voyage that included the Missouri, Des Moines, and Illinois Rivers in addition to the Mississippi. He later published a series of letters accurately describing what he found.

Except for letter sixteen, his trip to what would eventually become Minnesota. In that letter, he describes finding the mouth of the Long River on November 2nd and beginning a long journey to its source. Along the way, he encountered more and more marvelous Indian civilizations. First, there were the Ekoros, who welcomed him with gifts. Further upstream lived the Essanapes, a tribe of twenty thousand warriors living in twelve villages full of permanent homes. Still further up lived the Gnacsitares and the Mozeeleks who made utensils of a strange copper-like metal that hardened when heated. The Gnacsitares showed Baron Lahontan a map they had made of the entire region, including a great Salt Lake to the west.

Near the head of the Long River, the Baron encountered the Mozeemleks, living in a hundred civilized villages. Here, he had to turn around, as winter was coming. It was the Mozeemleks who told him about the Tahuglauks at the head of the river, who lived in houses 80 paces wide, and built war canoes 130 feet long manned by two hundred men. Their six stone cities were marvels of engineering.

The Baron had discovered several of the most amazing Indian civilizations on the continent: larger, more civilized, with written languages and sophisticated governments. Marquette and Joliet could not hold a candle to the baron's discoveries.

The only problem was, subsequent explorers were unable to ever again find the Long River, or a single Essenape, Mozeemlek, Ekoros, or Gnascitare Indian. The baron was eventually discredited, save for one honor: his ability to exaggerate, to make everything bigger and better makes him a candidate for the title of "First Minnesotan."

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.