Joseph N. Nicollet

Joseph N. Nicollet (1786-1843) was a scientist with the sensitivities of an artist.  Born in France and trained as an astronomer, Nicollet arrived in Minnesota in 1836 and explored the upper reaches of the Mississippi River.  In 1838, he was hired by the U.S. Government to prepare the first detailed map of the area between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and made expeditions to Pipestone, Minnesota (1838), Spirit Lake, Iowa (1838) and Devil’s Lake, North Dakota (1839). On his expeditions, he made many determinations of latitude, longitude and elevation, and both he and German botanist Charles Geyer, made extensive notes on the plants of the area, lakes and rivers and a range of geographical features. Nicollet and Geyer were very much in love with the landscape of the prairie-forest border and this is evident in many of their journal entries and sketch maps, housed at the Library of Congress, Smithsonian Archives, or National Archives.  Nicollet, in particular, was very conscious of the changes that would soon follow his explorations, and he dedicated much effort to learning about, and recording, the cultures of the Ojiibway and Dakota, including their names for lakes and rivers and other geographical features.  His writings thus provide a perfect starting point for an exploration of landscape and change in Minnesota and the Eastern Dakotas.