John Beargrease

John Beargrease. (Image: Cook County Historical Society)

The most famous among the Ojibwe who lived in Beaver Bay was John Beargrease, born in Beaver Bay in 1858, the son of a minor Anishinabe chief named Makwabimidem (Beargrease). Along with his brothers, John delivered mail along the North Shore from 1879 to 1899. During the summer he used a small boat he either sailed or rowed up and down the shore each week. In the winter months Beargrease used a dogsled on Lake Superior’s ice whenever it was frozen enough to allow safe passage. At times the sled held nearly five hundred pounds of mail. Bells on the dogs, used to frighten away wolves, heralded the arrival of Beargrease (and the mail) to villages from Beaver Bay to Pigeon River. When the Old North Shore Road was complete in 1899, Beargrease lost his business to carriers using horse-drawn stages.

Beaver Bay is home to an Ojibwe cemetery, where Beargrease, his wife Louisa, and other members of his family lay in rest. Today the annual John Beargrease Sled Dog Race commemorates his efforts.