Minnesota v. Wisconsin,
252 U.S. 273 (1920)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Minnesota v. Wisconsin, 252 U.S. 273 (1920)

Minnesota v. Wisconsin

No. 16, Original

Argued October 16, 17, 1919

Decided March 8, 1920

252 U.S. 273


Part of the boundary between Wisconsin and Minnesota is described in the Wisconsin Enabling Act of August 6, 1846, as running westwardly, through Lake Superior

"to the mouth of the St. Louis River; thence up the main channel of said river to the first rapids in the same, above the Indian village . . . ; thence due south,"

etc. As given in the Minnesota Enabling Act of February 26, 1857, from the opposite direction, the line follows the boundary of Wisconsin

Page 252 U. S. 274

until the same intersects the St. Louis River, "thence down said river to and through Lake Superior," etc. The St. Louis River loses its well defined banks, deep, narrow channel, and obvious current, characteristic of a river, before reaching Lake Superior proper, emptying or merging into Upper St. Louis Bay, which joins with Lower St. Louis Bay and this with Allouez and Superior Bays, all of the same level as Lake Superior and connected with it by a narrow "entry." Held, upon historical and other facts and circumstances, that the mouth of the river, as intended by the Wisconsin Enabling Act, is this "entry" or opening, and not where the river, in a stricter sense of the term, debouches into Upper St. Louis Bay. P. 252 U. S. 279.

At the date of the Wisconsin Enabling Act, Upper and Lower St. Louis Bays, parts of St. Louis River as herein defined, were broad sheets with irregular, indented shores, with no definite, uninterrupted channel extending throughout their entire length, and with no steady current controlling navigation. Such vessels as plied there then and long thereafter, until dredging improvements intervened, moved freely in different directions, and drew less than 8 feet, the depths of the entry from Lake Superior and of the waters of the Lower Bay being too slight for vessels drawing more. The Lower Bay was shallow, with a ruling depth of eight feet, and had no well defined channel. In the Upper Bay, there was a narrow, winding channel near the Minnesota shore with a ruling depth of ten, possibly eight, feet, but a more direct median course could be and customarily was pursued by vessels for approximately one mile until a deeper channel was encountered, and this was long regarded by officers and representatives of the two states as approximately the boundary. Held that the boundary runs through the middle of the Lower Bay to a deep channel leading into the Upper Bay, to a point, thence westward along the aforesaid more direct median course through waters not less than eight feet deep, approximately one mile to the deep channel to which it leads, and thence, following this, upstream. P. 252 U. S. 280.

In applying the rule of the Thalweg (Arkansas v. Tennessee, 246 U. S. 158), the deepest water and the principal navigable channel are not necessarily the same. It refers to actual or probable use in the ordinary course, and to adopt in this case a narrow, crooked channel close to shore in preference to a safer and more direct one with sufficient water would defeat its purpose. P. 252 U. S. 281.

The case is stated in the opinion.

Page 252 U. S. 275

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