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Willard Glazier

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

William Glazier was a professional adventurer whose activities took him around the world. In 1881, he decided to travel the entire Mississippi from its source down to the Gulf of Mexico in order to write a book, Down the Great River. Titles of his previous books—Soldiers of the Saddle and Ocean to Ocean on Horseback—indicated that this was to be no ordinary trip. William Glazier was not a man who did things half-way.

On July 7th, 1881, Glazier, his brother, and an Indiana journalist started north from Brainard, Minnesota, heading for the source if the Mississippi. In spite of the fact that this stretch of the river had been well traveled and mapped since 1832 when Henry R. Schoolcraft discovered its source at Lake Itasca, Glazier blithely renamed the lakes and rivers through which he traveled after members of his family. There was Lake George for his brother, Lake Elvira for his sister, Lake Paine for his journalist friend.

The rag-tag expedition did eventually reach Lake Itasca. Here Glazier discovered that silt had reduced the passage to one arm of the lake to a trickle, forming almost a separate lake. He named this new body of water Lake Glazier after himself and claimed it as the true source of the Mississippi.

From here, he traveled the length of the River and published his book. But he left behind a controversy that swirled on for decades. Lake Glazier replaced lake Itasca in several history and geography texts as the true source of the Mississippi.

Eventually, careful readers began noticing that anecdotes in Glazier's book were strangely similar to ones in Schoolcraft's book fifty years earlier—often word for word. A section which Glazier called "Meteorological Observations" turned out to be identical in every reading to Schoolcraft's earlier account, except the dates had been changed to 1881.

To the end of his life, William Glazier stuck by his claims, and he had an argument for one—others may have traveled the 2,552 miles from Itasca to New Orleans, but Glazier’s voyage was a record: 2,552 miles and 800 feet.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.