I hope teachers made a point to mention the Old Crossing Treaty to their students these past weeks. In addition to the 11 million acres of prime agricultural land gifted by Red Lake, there is a related story about the Old Crossing Treaty that is relevant to Beltrami County citizens.

In the summer of 1823, President James Monroe gave orders to Maj. Stephen Long to explore the lands surrounding the Red River Valley and make some maps.This was not an uncommon request in the early days of the United States. At the same time Long was about to undertake his map-making expedition, an Italian gentleman by the name of Giacomo Beltrami arrived at Fort Snelling (known then as Fort St. Anthony).

Beltrami was forced out of his Italian homeland for political reasons. He left Italy with a unique goal in mind. He wanted to do something special for a friend named Guilia. She had shown him much kindness in the past and he wanted to find a special way to show his gratitude.

Upon arriving at Fort Snelling and at the insistence of Gen. Josiah Snelling, Long was to take Beltrami with him on his map making trip, much to Long’s displeasure. Long was a West Point graduate and experienced explorer who didn’t care to baby sit an unseasoned tenderfoot such as Beltrami. Beltrami was about as stubborn as Long and he recently had been made aware that the source of the Mississippi River had not been located. This provided more motivation for him to accompany Long.

All along the way northwest up the St. Peter River (now Minnesota River) and then the Red River, Long was making his maps of the territory and no doubt noticed the agriculture and economic potential of the Red River Valley. Long described this land in this way, “the soil was like the valley of the Nile.” No wonder it was of special interest for the United States government to acquire this territory, which eventually happened as a result of the Old Crossing Treaty in 1863.

Long and Beltrami argued and fought most of the way to Pembina in far northwest Minnesota. Realizing that neither could stand each other’s company, Beltrami decided to go on his own.

Throughout Beltrami’s journey north up the Mississippi to Fort Snelling he had grown to appreciate Native culture and to respect a people he had not previously known to exist. In fact, as we know, he collected an array of Native American artifacts, which are on display in a museum in Bergamo, Italy. From Pembina, Beltrami traveled southeast through the wilderness still in search of the northernmost source of the Mississippi.

Guided at times by Native Americans and eventually by Red Lake Band members, he arrived at Red Lake with his canoe and a red umbrella, which created great interest among Native people.

Not surprisingly, the Red Lake people knew the location of what Beltrami was looking for and guided him south on the Mud River, which flows out of the city of Redby and leads into Lake Puposky, sometimes referred to as Mud Lake.

The river continues to flow south a short distance through swampy ground into a little lake on the west side of the hills, which are now known as Buena Vista. The Red Lake people told him this was the northernmost source of the Mississippi, whose waters flowed north to the Hudson Bay and south to the Gulf of Mexico. (Note, the Red Lake people also knew of the existence of the western most source of the Mississippi but Beltrami chose not to explore it. Too bad!)

From the Buena Vista hills, Beltrami viewed this beautiful heart shaped lake and remembering his promise to his friend in Italy, named the lake after her, Giulia, which is now known as Lake Julia.

How are the explorations of the Red River by Maj. Long, Beltrami and the Old Crossing Treaty connected? Good question. Had it not been for Long and the request by President Monroe to make maps of these lands, Beltrami would have not made the trip. He would have not known where to go and he would not have connected with the Red Lake Band. Thus, there would be no Beltrami County (named in 1866 by the Minnesota Legislature) had it not been for the Red Lake Band showing Beltrami the northern most source of the Mississippi.

Had the land in the Red River Valley not been as promising as it was, there may not have been an Old Crossing Treaty. This happened only as a result of Maj. Long’s exploration of the Red River Valley, which led to the eventual signing of the treaty in 1863 whose land was also explored 40 years earlier by Giacomo Beltrami.

Riddle: What’s the worst thing that can happen to a geography teacher? (Answer: To get lost.) Thanks to the Red Lake people, Giacomo Beltrami found his way to Lake Julia.

100 percent graduation

We are pleased to add the following businesses and organizations to our list: Evangelical Free Youth Program, Jason’s Logging and Bobcat Service, Bemidji Oshkiimaajitahdah and Bemidji Elk’s Lodge 1052. You can help our young people graduate when:

  • You know how many credits your children need to graduate and what kind of progress they are making.
  • You talk to your children often about how they are doing -- especially in high school.
  • You take time to call the school counselor if you don’t know how your children are doing in high school.

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.