The Preposterous Pathfinder

Giacomo Beltrami’s discoveries were mostly illusory, but he had a glorious time making them, and the people of Minnesota have never forgotten his name.

In the serious story of the exploration of the Mississippi River, there is one unique and preposterous character. He is Giacomo Constantino Beltrami, an Italian of comic-opera proportions. Beltrami was in every way a glorious misfit. He was wayward, unpredictable, and humorous. It was impossible for him to be anything but a charming maverick, and when this dilettante set forth alone to discover the true source of the Mississippi, he did so in a gush of hyperbole.Read more »

A Man To Match The Mountains

To David Thompson—who died blind, penniless, and bypassed by history—we owe our first knowledge of the American continent’s rugged Northwest

David Thompson was a short, stocky man with snub nose and hair “cut square” across his forehead in a way that made him resemble John Bunyan. That is all we know about his looks. Until recently, historians knew little about who David Thompson was or what he did, and even today, few people recognize his name. Among those familiar with his exploits, however, he is now deemed one of the most important explorers of the New World, and has been acclaimed as one of the greatest land geographers ever produced by the English-speaking people.