1902 Encyclopedia > Henry Rowe Schoolcraft

Henry Rowe Schoolcraft
American geographer, geologist and ethnologist

SCHOOLCRAFT, HENRY ROWE (1793-1864), a North-American traveller, ethnologist, and author, was born 28th March 1793 at Watervliet (now called Guilderland), Albany county, New York, and died at Washington 10th December 1864. After studying chemistry and mineralogy at college he had several years' experience of their practical application, especially at a glass-factory of which his father was manager, and in 1817 published his Vitreology. In the following year he was appointed to the Geological Survey of Missouri and Arkansas, and in 1819 he published his View of the Lead Mines of Missouri. Soon after he accompanied General Cass as geologist in his expedition to the Lake Superior copper region, and evinced such capacity for good exploring work on the frontier that in 1823 he was appointed " agent for Indian affairs." He then married the granddaughter of an Indian chief ; and during several years' official work near Lake Superior he acquired a vast fund of accurate information as to the physique, language, social habits, and tribal institutions of the American natives. From 1828 to 1832 Schoolcraft was an active member of the Michigan legislature, during the same period delivering lectures on the grammatical structure of the Indian language, which procured him the gold medal of the French Institute. In 1832 also, when on an embassy to some Indians, he ascertained the real source of the Mississippi to be Lake Itasca.

Previous to 1832 he had published Travels in the Central Portions of the Mississippi Valley, and in 1839 appeared his Algic Researches, containing "Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes," and also, notably, " The Myth of Hiawatha and other Oral Legends," - probably the first occurrence of the name immortalized (in 1855) in Longfellow's poem. School-craft's literary activity was indeed remarkable, since, besides his ethnological writings, he composed a considerable quantity of poetry and several minor prose works, especially Notes on the Iroquois (1848), Statistics of the Six Nations (1845), Scenes and Adventures in the Ozark Mountains (1853). His principal book, Historical and Statistical Information respecting the Indian, Tribes of the United States, illustrated with 336 well-executed plates from original drawings, was issued under the patronage of Congress in six quarto volumes, from 1851 to 1857. It is a vast mine of ethnological researches as to the Red Men of America, systematically arranged and fully, if not exhaustively, detailed, - describing not only their origin, history, and antiquities, but the physical and mental " type," the tribal characteristics, the vocabulary and grammar, the religion and mythology. Schoolcraft's diplomatic work on the Indian frontier was important, - more than sixteen millions of acres being added to the States' territory by means of treaties which he negotiated.

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