September 26, 1857: First communique from Buchanan Land Office is a complaint

On this day in in 1857, Registrar Samuel Clark of the Buchanan Land office sent the first message from the newly established outpost in the wilderness of Lake Superior’s North Shore to his boss T. A. Hendricks in Washington D.C.—and he was not happy. The previous year the town of Buchanan—platted by W. G. Cowell and other pioneers and named for sitting President James Buchanan—was established southwest of the mouth of the Knife River. Buchanan was selected as the site for the new U.S. Land office for the Northeast Section of the Territory of Minnesota, and so it became vital to the shore’s development: anyone who wanted to make a land claim along the shore did it at the office in Buchanan. It was thought that the community would soon rival Ontonagon, Michigan, then home to the nation’s most productive copper mine. Historians Woodbridge and Pardee describe the letter as “a bewailment that his paraphernalia have not come; no plats, no record books, no instructions.… A little later the register writes again; He is informed that the plats and records are lying in a postoffice somewhere between Superior and Taylor’s Falls, on the overland route from the St. Croix River. He is not altogether enjoying his idleness. His office is daily besieged by land claimants and contestants, keenly watching the office lest somebody get the start of them. John Whipple arrives as receiver, but the plats have not come, so there is no proving of pre-emptions and no entries. The register nevertheless thinks they ought to have a clerk, at probably $1,000 salary, because many locations will be contested, what with townsite claims and copper claims.” By June 1859 Clark had been replaced and the office at Buchanan shuttered and moved to the town of Portland. It became a ghost town soon thereafter. Read more about the early history of Lake Superior’s North Shore here. (By the way, “bewailment” is a synonym for lamentation.)

The historic marker indicating the site of Buchanan along the Minnesota North Shore of Lake Superior. (Image: Dead Pioneer)

Subscribe to This Day in Duluth!

You cannot copy content of this page