The First Years of Settlement 1852 – 1857 (Part 2)

Read Part 1 of this piece here.

The Pioneer Effort and Reminiscences of the Actual Pioneers

The Pioneer Hotel.-The building of the first hotel at the Head of the Lakes was a more stupendous undertaking than it would now seem to build a frame house where timber was so accessible. But to whipsaw sufficient lumber for a large building was not an easy task. One account reads: When the spring of 1854 advanced, Mr. Zachau established a camp on what is now Tower Bay slip, and there hewed down and sawed into timbers the first logs ever so treated on the Bay. … He also had a crew of shingle makers, their camp being established at the present Third Street and Tower Avenue, Superior. The lumber and hewed logs were for the old Superior Hotel, the first building of the kind at the Head of the Lakes, which stood on the Superior Bay front, near Hollingshead Avenue. For the structure his crew got 24,000 feet of timber; the whipsawing alone cost $24.00 per thousand, the men earning from three to four dollars per day; axes and saws had to be taken to the government shop at Fond-du-Lac to be sharpened; and ax handles made by the Indians cost $2.00 each.

Bringing Lumber to the Lumber Country.-But even after going to that trouble and expense, it was found necessary to send Zachau to Chicago for planed lumber with which to finish the hotel. Stuntz’s mill at Iron River had not yet been brought into operation, otherwise the whipsawing would probably not have been attempted. It was early in May, probably, that Zachau hurried to Chicago for lumber, so that he might complete the fine work on the hotel before navigation had long been open. The account of Zachau’s trip to Chicago reads: Mr. Zachau * * after getting out timber from the woods, started on a journey to Chicago, for supplies and matched lumber to be used in finishing the Pioneer House, a hotel on which he was then at work. The only lumber to be had here then was what could be sawed by hand and from the timber in the woods; and after sawing 50,000 feet by hand, he planned to ship the remainder into the heart of the woods from Chicago.

Starting from Superior on a bleak rainy morning in April (probably May) 1854, he tramped through the dripping woods toward Kettle River, in company with the mail carrier. There was no building along the trail, and at night they camped around a fire, kindled with dry birch bark.

Kettle River and the station where the mail carriers met’ was reached after two days of weary tramping through the dismal forest. Here a supply of provisions, consisting principally of salt pork, was procured for the journey down the river. This was made in a canoe of another mail carrier. * * After reaching the St. Croix River, the journey was continued in the company of a party of French and Indian voyageurs, whose cheeriness did much to enliven the voyage, until Taylor Falls was reached. From this point the journey was continued on foot as far as Stillwater, and from there by stage coach to St. Paul.

A number of steamboats were plying on the Mississippi River, and the trip from St. Paul to Dubuque, Iowa, was made in one of these. From Dubuque the journey was made by railroad to Chicago. … The whole trip had occupied about three weeks, but the expense … amounted to only some $35 or $40.

At that time, Chicago gave but little promise of becoming the important commercial center that it now is. Even the lumber for the projected buildings Vol. I-6 ’81in Superior could not be procured there. It was secured at Detroit, and so it happened that lumber was shipped from the lower lakes to Superior, where since that time millions of feet have been sawed and shipped to various parts of the country. … He (Zachau) returned by way of the lakes, together with his cargo, in the early part of June, having spent six weeks in making the trip which could now easily be made in as many days.

The hotel was opened in June, 1854, by 0. K. Hall, but when opened it evidently was not a finished building.

Pardee states that one traveler, in the summer of 1854, “got off at Superior, climbed a ladder to the second story of the hotel, not yet enclosed, made a bed of shavings on the floor, and fought mosquitoes all night.”

The Head of Lake Superior in 1854 Well Described.-The traveler above referred to was an Englishman, Laurence Oliphant, at that time, or a little earlier, Civil Secretary and Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs in Canada. He wrote an interesting account of his trip to the “edge of civilization” in 1854, his writings being published in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1855 and subsequently appearing in book form. He came on the “Sam Ward,” regarding the approach of which steamer to the head waters of Lake Superior he wrote: The scene was wild and exciting; the violence and direction of the wind, and the intricacy of the navigation, rendered the, work one of considerable danger and difficulty, and the captain had at first! determined to remain outside until the gale moderated.

The scenery, too, was bolder. On the right was a deep bay, backed up by a high wooded range. A sandy promontory, more than a mile long, and in places only a few yards across, upon which grew a grove of tall limbless pine-trees, separated the St. Louis from Lake Superior. Near its point were pitched a number of Indian wigwams, with upturned canoes arranged before them. Upon the left the land was low, and covered with a dense forest.

Opposite to us and upon the further shore of a broad lagoon formed by the St. Louis stood the city of Superior, perfectly invisible however from the point at which we crossed the bar. We just touched the ground once, then swung around in the deeper waters of the St. Louis, and anchored in front of the Indian village. … Our arrival caused the greatest excitement everywhere. Blanketed figures emerged out of the smoky wigwams and stood motionless on the shore, with their arms folded like Roman senators, betraying as much animation as Indians ordinarily do. Innumerable curs testified their astonishment by shrill yelps. Two or three crazy-looking boats put off (as we were informed) from the city; but we had not yet been able to discover any signs of a city beyond a single wooden shed.

The Hotel and Prior Accommodation for Travelers.-The “single wooden shed” was possibly the first shanty erected by George Nettleton; the Englishman had still to experience the comfort of Superior’s first hotel, which, however incomplete in its first few months of operation, was at least a beginning in public accommodation and somewhat better than the bachelor quarters described by Ely, and certainly than those referred to by F. A. Buckingham, in 1901, in “a letter to the Old Settlers,” who after explaining that “thought runs faster than pen will write” and so he got “all mixed up,” wrote: Lord, Bacon, Hiram Hayes, Ed. Hall, Freeman Keene were some of the boys that used to sleep in the shanty on the shore. Where are all the rest? For one night, if memory senses me right, seventeen (17) of us slept in that shanty, which was not over fourteen feet square. … All beds were big enough for two … one on the floor, (and) one three feet above, so as to accommodate twelve. What we did with the rest, I do not remember, but in there we slept, cooked, etc. No other house in town at that time. Soon after built another house, a little east; Boarding House it was called, for it was there we ate, with Mrs. Crozier for cook. Oh, but did we 82not live high then. Soon had to build a big flat timber house, two rooms below and upstairs. Yes, a flight of stairs was put in, and room enough for eight or ten beds. I think there must have been three rooms in the lower part. Am not sure. At any rate, we had lots of room to sit in evenings.

Now we had room for a table in the middle of the room, with lots of grubsalt pork, bread and molasses; once in a while potatoes, not often. I remember once going to Fond du Lac and buying a bushel for $1.50, packing them down to the end of the Point, where Ellis lived. They were good, but not one bigger than a black walnut. … Two winters I remember flour being $40 per barrel, and none to be had at that. But we did live high in the spring, on fish; they were cheap-one cent each, never mind the size; pick them out of the pile to suit.

Pioneer life at the Head of the Lakes had its disadvantages and privations, but there were nevertheless periods of plenty and happiness; and as a whole, the pioneer settlers were of that happy disposition which laughs at misfortune, and sees humor even in discomfort.

Hiram Hayes fostered that spirit.

“A Little Medicine for the Poor.”-Hayes first saw Superior on June 17, 1854, when he came “to the old Lighthouse Point, where George R. Stuntz and Charley Lord clerked, with stock in trade of blankets, red cloth, sheeting, tobacco, beads, belts, axes, hatchets, maple sugar and a little medicine for the poor (spirituous liquor, presumably). “This dispensary” explained the colonel, “was in a back room; a more shining array was found at the counter on board the ‘Baltimore,’ at the wharf (Stuntz’s).” A “Tenderfoot.”-Colonel Hayes saw the humor in all things.

.One anecdote of his early days in Superior, he tells thus: … This young limb of the law … one day in the early fifties, having breakfasted at the hotel in Superior, at 10 o’clock, and desiring to take his constitutional, went down to the landing with his long-stemmed pipe in his mouth, and stepped gingerly into his canoe. He was fresh from Washington City, confident and dudish, but had never learned the mystery of balance in a bark canoe. The birch, like the broncho, knew his rider, and in a twinkling bucked, and incontinently darted out from under, and threw the law and the meerschaum overboard into the depths. The onlookers grinned.

The Fourth of July, 1854.-Hayes also told of his part in the celebration of Independence Day at Superior, in 1854, saying: There was an-occasional public discourse on patriotism and good morals.

The writer gave the very first Fourth of July address, and the very first temperance lecture. An Indian in the crowd said that he thought it was “pretty dam poor preach,” and his native sense was true and correct.

There are other references to that memorable day, one of them reading: July 4th, 1854, Superior held its Independence Day celebration. Colonel Hiram Hayes was the orator. He was a young lawyer, and frontiersman, and, according to one of the old-timers, he did the oratorical stunt in truly picturesque style. The settlement, while “long” on patriotism was “short” on fine clothes, and he appeared on the hurdle rostrum wearing lumberman’s boots and a flaming red shirt. This gaudy garment, the same authority says, was washed the night before by the Colonel, that his appearance might be the more impressive, and was not quite dry when he appeared before the “assembled multitude.” Therefore, the July sun raised a steam around the orator that not the heat of his patriotism could produce unassisted.

That Red Shirt.-Col. Hiram Hayes’ red shirt is vividly remembered by the men of ’54. W. V. Hoge, writing in 1910, admitted as much: I shall never forget my first sight of Kitchi Gumee-About November 1, 1854. with one partner (Samuel Houston Jones) and two guides, we arrived on the east bank of Left Hand River, coming over the trail from Taylors Falls.

We met D. George Morrison, a few miles out, on his way to St. Paul, a full-fledged voyageur, who laughed all over at the sight of the Tenderfoots, weary and worn. … Near our journey’s end we were met by Hiram Hayes in a dug-out, and paddled over the river. He wore an old wool hat, red flannel shirt, trousers, and moccassins, spectacles on nose and smoked a pipe. His appearance was comical. He had the same dignified bearing that is natural with him now-May his shadow never grow less: After a chat with the colonel, we trudged up to the Superior Hotel, kept by Mr. Hall.

Other men Hoge met in Superior soon after his arrival were: A. J. Markland, Thomas Clarke, William H. Newton, Benjamin Thompson, Fred Whittaker, Frank Perfect, the two last-named “then having a claim on school section 16, up on the St. Louis Bay.” Hiram Hayes’ Story.-The compiler does not feel that apology is called for because of his decision to spread on these pages of Duluth history the story of a Superior pioneer, or because up to now this chapter has been mainly about happenings in Superior. He feels that Superior history of that period is in reality Duluth history; that the first period of pioneer effort in Superior might be termed the prenatal influence of Duluth. Certainly, out of Superior came Duluth.

When the restrictions were removed and the North Shore opened by the Treaty of La Pointe in 1854, the men who passed over to the rocky shore were men of Superior. And while some remained in Superior, all, whether in Superior or in some one of the many communities on the North Shore, might be looked upon as of one colony.

Click on “2” for the rest of the story….


  • Van Brunt, Walter, ed. Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota Vols. 1 – 3. The American Historical Society. Chicago: 1922.
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