On this day in 1894, John D. Rockefeller took control of all the mining and railroad interests of the Merritt Family, pioneers of Oneota and, along with the Wheeler clan, West Duluth’s most prominent citizens. Patriarch Lewis Merritt had traveled to Lake Vermilion in search of gold in 1866; he returned speaking of iron, not gold, and told his sons that north of Duluth there were iron deposits “worth more than all the gold in California.” After the Vermilion Range opened up in the early 1880s, the Merritt boys went in search of iron on what would become the Western Mesabi Iron Range. In 1890 they struck iron on a site they called Mountain Iron. The next year they built the Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railway to transport the ore to their ore dock under construction in West Duluth. All of this work was done on speculation and before they generated enough cash, creditors came calling. The Merritts made a deal with Rockefeller: Rockefeller would pay off their debts for a substantial stake in their mining and railroad operations. The Financial Panic of 1893 set them back even further. By January 1894 the mine was still not operating at a profit, its stock value had dropped, and Rockefeller called in his note. (They later tried to sue the industrialist, but won back less than $1 million, barely enough to cover their debts). After toiling ceaselessly for five years, the Merritts had created and lost a fortune. Their efforts did little for them, but they had opened the Mesabi Iron Range, through which many others would find a way to make their living—and a handful of others would make a fortune.