Cloquet’s Dr. Steven Parkhurst discovers an unexpected place in Minnesota historyMost any Minnesota school kid would agree that one of the traditional rites of childhood is to walk across the rocks at the source of the Mississippi River in Itasca State Park. For Cloquet chiropractor Dr. Steven Parkhurst, that simple tradition now has a far deeper meaning than he ever imagined....
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Most any Minnesota school kid would agree that one of the traditional rites of childhood is to walk across the rocks at the source of the Mississippi River in Itasca State Park. For Cloquet chiropractor Dr. Steven Parkhurst, that simple tradition now has a far deeper meaning than he ever imagined....
Parkhurst was among 20 authors whose original essays about their personal connections to Minnesota history were selected recently to be videotaped and presented as part of the “Legacy Letters” series on the popular Twin Cities Public Television’s (TPT) Envision Minnesota project.
In Parkhurst’s composition, he wrote about how his great-, great-, great-grandfather, Rev. William T. Boutwell, a Presbyterian missionary, was one of the first white men to identify and name the source of the Mississippi River, along with Indian agent Henry R. Schoolcraft.
“Actually, I never knew anything about it until my sister presented an article to me called the ‘Boutwell Postscript’ written in 1982,” admitted Parkhurst. “I quizzed her about it and told her I never knew a thing about it as I was growing up. She told me, ‘Well, I did!’
“Even my grandfather, who lived until he was in his upper 80s, never talked about anything like this, either,” Parkhurst added. “I guess that’s the problem with these historical things that get passed down verbally. Sometimes somebody gets missed and then you lose it.”
Parkhurst said he was grateful to finally learn a little of his early ancestor’s illustrious spot in history, and it made him more than “a little curious,” so he began picking up some history books of that era and poring through the indexes, looking for the Boutwell name.
According to Parkhurst’s family tree, his great-grandfather on his father’s side, Forrest Parkhurst, was the son of Elizabeth Boutwell Parkhurst, the daughter of William Boutwell. Parkhurst also unearthed interesting information about the woman, Hester Crooks, who Boutwell married. He related how she was described in a history of the state of Minnesota as “the talented and well-schooled mixed-blood daughter of the famous American Fur Company magnate.
“Their wedding feast, at Fond du Lac, was one of tea and doughnuts,” the historical account stated, “their honeymoon journey up the St. Louis River, over the Savanna portage through mud and water half-leg deep and across wild country to the lake shore where Boutwell built for his wife a mud-walled cabin with deerskin windows.”
Parkhurst was perhaps most fascinated, however, by the accounts of how Boutwell and Schoolcraft made their way to the true head of the Mississippi River.
“In 1832,” related Parkhurst, “he [Boutwell] was chosen to be the missionary on Henry Schoolcraft’s government expedition to improve Indian relations.”
After the expedition arrived at Cass Lake, the Indians there informed Boutwell and Schoolcraft that it was not the real source of the Mississippi, as it was reputed to be by earlier explorers. The men then worked their way up as far as what is now known as Lake Itasca, and Boutwell and Schoolcraft, along with a handful of others, embarked in canoes with Indian guides to explore the shores of the lake. Since no inlet was found, they came to the conclusion that the lake was, indeed, the true source of the Mississippi River and ultimately took it upon themselves to name the lake from which it flows.
“When Schoolcraft asked Rev. Boutwell for a name that would signify its true meaning,” said Parkhurst, “he offered the two Latin words which mean ‘true head’ – ‘veritas caput.’ He took the end of ‘veritas’ and the first syllable of ‘caput’ to form ‘Itasca.’”
After assimilating all of this information about his great-, great-, great-grandfather, it was little surprise that Parkhurst was all too eager to share it when he heard about the TPT/Envision Minnesota “Legacy Letters” project.
“I was watching ‘Almanac’ one Sunday night on TPT when hosts Eric Eskola and Cathy Wurzer just happened to announce that they were looking for essays on Minnesota historical connections,” related Parkhurst. “I decided since I have a connection, I’d write it up and send it in. They wrote back to me and said I had been selected as one of the
Since the “Legacy Letters” segments are shown between regular programming and each is only a minute long, Parkhurst had to write up his story in a 60-second time frame.
“When I write things, I usually have to edit with a chain saw because I really get carried away,” he said with a chuckle. “They gave me some suggestions on which parts to focus on, and I think I did one revision before completing the final segment.”
The 20 authors who were selected recorded video profiles of their essays in April at the TPT studio in St. Paul, which Parkhurst said took several takes until the final product was
“A lot of people brought props with them to use while recording their video segments,” he added. “I didn’t bring anything except a little sign with the two Latin words that Boutwell used to help come up with the name ‘Itasca,’ with each end folded over the first and last syllables to show how the word was formed. I was holding it up in front of the camera and when I pulled on it to reveal the entire words, it ripped in half!”
As it turned out, however, Parkhurst had nothing to worry about, because he said the producers made each segment look very professional.
“When we went to the launch party a couple of weeks ago,” he related, “they showed everyone’s segment. There are some really heart-wrenching stories about experiences that happened to people’s relatives and others from around Minnesota. Mine was toward the end, and I got to see everyone else’s first. I got to thinking, ‘I’m going to come across as a 60-second talking head because I didn’t have any pictures or artifacts like the others did. As it turned out, the producers had done some research and found pictures of both Schoolcraft and Boutwell, as well as their gravesites, and they included them as part of the video. I was glad they did that to make the story better.”
The newest round of “Legacy Letters” segments, including Parkhurst’s, are due to start airing on the TPT/MN network at digital channel 8.4 within the next few weeks and will air alternately for most of the rest of the year.
“Nobody knows whose is going to be on when because there’s no set schedule,” he explained, “but if you want to see all of them, you can also go to the website, EnvisionMinnesota.com, and look for “Legacy Letters.”
Parkhurst, a native of Stillwater, has been in the chiropractic business in Cloquet since 1975 after graduating from college at the University of Minnesota Duluth and serving a year’s apprenticeship. He and his wife, Diane, have been an integral part of the community ever since, and though Parkhurst said he has enjoyed the experience of sharing his family’s historical legacy, he’s probably not going to quit his day job any time soon to become an author.
“It’s an honor just to be able to tell the story,” he reflected. “Everybody somewhere along the line has a story to tell, but maybe they don’t always know about it – like me. I almost missed it!”