Roughly one in 10 Minnesotans comes from Swedish ancestry. That's about a half-million people who identify as Swedes — ranking fourth behind Minnesotans of German, Norwegian or Irish origin.

Of all those Swedes, Jacob Fahlstrom came first.

Born around 1795 in Stockholm, the well-to-do blond kid boasted both a good singing voice and a good case of wanderlust. He would become a cabin boy, shipwreck survivor, fur trader, canoeing mailman, Ojibwe translator, ax-toting woodsman, blacksmith striker, Methodist preacher and early Minnesotan with a split personality.

As a young teenager, Fahlstrom used his connections: hitching on as a cabin boy on a ship captained by his uncle. He survived a shipwreck off England before joining Lord Selkirk's expedition to Hudson Bay in 1807.

Upon arriving in the New World, he went hunting with his double-barreled shotgun and promptly got lost. After eight days of eating dead fish, bark and berries, a famished Fahlstrom met an Ojibwe woman who took him in. She would remain a foster mother of sorts for years. He learned the language and culture, donned Indian attire and became known to white settlers as "the Swede Indian," while native people called him Ozawindib (Yellow Head) because of his blond locks.

He could speak Swedish, English and French and learned Ojibwe, Dakota and Iroquois in his years as a fur trader for the Hudson's Bay and American Fur companies. Sometime around 1818, he drifted south into the Minnesota territory — trading beaver pelts and other furs with tribes at Leech Lake and Red Lake before finding himself near Fort Snelling during its construction around 1820.

In 1823, he married Marguerite Bonga, the granddaughter of a freed slave grandfather and Ojibwe grandmother. The nine kids of Jacob and Marguerite would carry a blend of Swedish, African and Ojibwe blood.

Fahlstrom lived in a cabin near the Cold Spring area by Fort Snelling where light-rail trains now zip along Hiawatha Avenue. He landed a contract with the fort to provide firewood. An 1832 map of the area lists his home as a blacksmith shop. He also delivered mail to Prairie du Chien, Wis., and up the St. Croix River.

An 1826 Red River flood sent many refugee settlers to the area around Fort Snelling. Military officials chased away the squatters and early treaties allowed settlers east of the river.

According to legend passed down by descendants, Fahlstrom grew so weary of being asked to relocate, he pledged to walk east all day until the sun dropped behind him. By then, he would clearly be off government land. He settled around an area near the St. Croix River at what is now Afton.

Perhaps Fahlstrom's greatest accomplishment: finding the source of the Mississippi River. Although historians haven't confirmed the story well enough to give him credit, this much is known: In July 1832, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft led a team from Cass Lake to explore the river's source.

Schoolcraft's Ojibwe guide was named Ozawindib — or Yellow Head. He led them on a 6-mile portage to what Schoolcraft would name Lake Itasca — inventing the name from the Latin words veritas (true) and caput (head) and chopping off the first and last three letters.

Schoolcraft gave no indication in his writings that Ozawindib was a Swede living among the Ojibwe. But Fahlstrom, aka Yellow Head, was known to be tromping through the forests and paddling the rivers of the area at the same time, according to a 1984 article in the Swedish-American Historical Quarterly.

By 1841, Fahlstrom was known to be living farther south in what would become the Lakeland area of Washington County. Six years later, he settled in Afton.

A religious man raised Lutheran, Fahlstrom carried a Swedish pocket Bible with him — a gift from his mother back in Stockholm. Some Presbyterian missionaries told him the Methodists were coming and, one of his contemporaries recalled, "he was informed they were a kind of religious people, who were very noisy … they shouted and hallooed and stamped … and sometimes would knock the pulpit down they were so earnest."

After his first such service, Fahlstrom grasped Methodist missionaries' hands in two of his own and said he wanted to join. In a 1909 "Early History of St. Croix County," Augustus Easton writes: "Jacob Fahlstrom was a sort of preacher, and he could pray pretty well, and could be depended on to do so, providing a good meal was in sight."

He'd often pray at the Tamarack House in Stillwater, for example, before chowing down. He went on preaching forays to the Indian tribes he'd traded with for years. And when Swedish settlers began arriving en masse in the 1850s, he'd preach to them in Swedish.

His religion and love for the outdoors, nurtured as a teen among the Ojibwe, easily eclipsed Fahlstrom's business savvy. It's said he once staked a claim on 80 acres where downtown St. Paul now stands. Fahlstrom gave up the claim, thinking the area too hilly. He preferred his island in White Bear Lake, where his family tapped the sugar maple trees.

When one of the first Danish Minnesotans, Charles Borup, offered him a partnership in a new bank, Fahlstrom declined. He preferred the rivers, his canoes and the forests.

Fahlstrom died in 1859, 21 years before his wife. They are buried in a little hilltop cemetery in Afton that bears his name. In 1948, nearly 90 years later, Prince Bertil of Sweden unveiled a plaque in his honor in downtown St. Paul at Kellogg Boulevard and Robert Street.

Curt Brown's tale on Minnesota's history appears each Sunday. Readers can send him ideas and suggestions at