John R. Carey’s “Duluth’s History to 1870” Part 2

Read the first half of Judge Carey’s early history of Duluth here.

Biographic Sketches Of Pioneers
Col. Joshua B. Culver,
as an early resident of Duluth, deserves more than a passing notice. He was born in Delaware County, New York, September 12, 1829. He came to Minnesota in 1848, and was engaged in the Indian trade on the upper Mississippi until 1855, when he removed to Superior, Wis. He remained there until 1857, when he removed to Duluth as one of its proprietors. He was that year appointed the first postmaster of Duluth, and held this office in his residence on the Point. He was also appointed by the governor the first clerk of the district court. In December, 1859, after the United States land office, in May of that year, was removed from Buchanan to Portland, he was appointed register of that office, which position he held until the appointment of Luke Marvin in May, 1861. On the breaking out of the war of the rebellion, Mr. Culver removed to Michigan, where he helped to organize the Thirteenth Michigan regiment of volunteer infantry, with which he went as adjutant, and soon succeeded to its command as colonel. He served with his regiment through the war with the highest honors, being in the latter part of the war brigade commander under Generals Buell, Rosecrans and Thomas. After the close of the war, in 1868, he returned to Duluth. In March, 1869, he was appointed by the board of county commissioners the first county superintendent of schools. At Duluth’s first city election, on April 4, 1870, he was elected its first mayor, and continued as one of its most honored and leading citizens until his death on July 17, 1883.

Robert Emmet Jefferson, whose squatter’s claim on Minnesota Point received the talismanic name “Duluth,” also deserves mention. Mr. Jefferson in 1855, then a young man, not yet 21 years old, left his parental home near St. Anthony Falls, Minn., for the head of Lake Superior, hoping, doubtless, that he might “get in on the ground floor” in the rush to own all or a part of the great prospective city. He it was that built the first frame house in Duluth, which was known for many years as the Jefferson house. It was intended as a hotel or boarding house, and is yet in existence. In it was held the first session of the district court of St. Louis County. In 1869 the house was purchased by Dr. Thomas Foster, who had the year before removed from St. Paul to Duluth. The house was known for some years after as the “Foster house.” It is yet where it was first built, on the lake side of Lake Avenue South, about 500 feet north of the canal. Mr. Jefferson, in the sale of his claim to the parties who platted it as “Upper and Lower Duluth,” received some money, besides some interest in the townsite. He was married in 1859. In August, 1861, after the breaking out of the Civil War he left Duluth, with his wife and baby girl, for his old home in St. Anthony Falls, going back by way of the Grand Portage of the Fond du Lac, up the St. Louis and East Savanna Rivers, down the West Savanna and Prairie Rivers into Sandy Lake, and down the Mississippi to St. Anthony. Before starting on their trip, Mr. and Mrs. Jefferson and baby stopped with the writer at Oneota while preparing for the journey. It was considered by all that it would be an extremely tedious and dangerous one for Mrs. Jefferson and the baby; yet there did not seem to be any other way for them to get out of the country.

In that year, although there were not many people at the head of the lake, those who remained had very little left after the panic and bursting of the boom in 1857. There was no money in the country, nor any employment that would afford a living.

It was one of those “fish and potato” years, when the people had to resort, in part at least, to the Indian style of living. Mr. Jefferson was without money, and therefore could not go around by the lake route, nor could he pay $35 fare by stage by way of the military road to St. Paul. He was not as well prepared for the trip as Du Luth was 200 years before. Yet he concluded to undertake it. After a long and perilous journey, he safely reached his old home. On his arrival he found that his two younger brothers, Rufus H. and Ernest R. Jefferson, had left home and enlisted in the First Minnesota regiment to fight for the Union.

Many citizens of Minnesota and all the people of Duluth are doubtless familiar with at least some of the history of Ernest R. Jefferson. He was 18 years of age when he entered the army, and he went with the regiment until the greatest battle of the Civil War, at Gettysburg, where he lost a leg. He came to reside in Duluth in 1869, and has so continued up to the present day.

He is now a member of the city council, and has held other city and county offices at different times.

Soon after returning to his old home, Robert E. Jefferson also enlisted in the Union army, was taken sick and died in the service during the early part of the war. Not long after the death of her husband, Mrs. Jefferson also died, leaving the little girl, Harriet A., who was born in June, 1860, in the Jefferson house in Duluth, being doubtless the first white child born in the old town of Duluth. Most probably also were she and her mother the first and only white females who made the 372-mile trip over the “Le Due” route, from St. Anthony to Lake Superior. She is now Mrs. L. A. Pinkham, of Lake View, near Tacoma, Wash. I may say here, lest I may be called to account about the priority of birth in the present city of Duluth, that Miss Jefferson was not the first born in the territory now composing the city of Duluth; the writer’s oldest daughter, Ida, now Mrs. C. T. Greenfield, of Auburn, Cal., was born at Oneota on November 20, 1857, and there may be others at Oneota or in other parts of the city whose births antedate Miss Jefferson’s.

James D. Ray, one of the proprietors and incorporators of the town of Portland, came from Ohio to Superior, Wis., in 1856, where he resided for three years. He then returned to Ohio, where he remained until the year 1866, at which time he came back to Portland to live. On taking up his residence in Duluth, Mr. Ray became one of its most prominent and zealous citizens in promoting and developing its resources. He was ever generous and public spirited. He died at his home in Duluth, at the age of 73 years, on the 27th day of April, 1894, mourned by all who knew him.

George R. Stuntz came to the head of the lake in the year 1852, and during that year he surveyed and definitely located a portion of the northeastern boundary line between Minnesota and Wisconsin, starting from the head of navigation on the St. Louis River at Fond du Lac, and running south to the St. Croix River. He was born December 11, 1820, in Albion, Erie County, Pa.; was brought up on a small farm to the age of 19 years, receiving a common-school education; and at 20 years continued  his studies by attending Grand River Institute in Ohio, where he took a two-year course in mathematics, chemistry, engineering and surveying. Before coming to the head of the lake, Mr. Stuntz had been engaged as a deputy United States surveyor in surveying land in Wisconsin. He probably surveyed more government land than any other man now living, as he was engaged in that business for more than fifty years. His surveys covered principally the previously unknown parts of northeastern Minnesota and Wisconsin. From important and valuable information voluntarily supplied by him, many have become rich, while he, withal, in his old age, was poor, and well deserved a pension from the government. He platted many townsites, yet I know of none that he ever owned or in which he was largely interested. He had been a continual resident of St. Louis County since 1853, at that time locating at the lower end of Minnesota Point, where he built a dock and warehouse, and where in 1855-56 he carried on a forwarding and commission business under the name of G. R. Stuntz & Co. In those years, Stuntz’s dock on Minnesota Point was the only landing place from steamboat and sail vessels for passengers and freight destined for Superior, Wis., to which place they were shipped across the bay in Mackinaw boats. Mr. Stuntz came to live permanently in Duluth in 1869, where he resided until his decease. He held the office of county surveyor for several terms.

The First Boom, Followed By Depression In 1857
History and experience would seem to indicate that. whenever a new and unexplored region of country, or a point of natural commercial advantages where exists any hope of wealth or gain is brought to the knowledge of the American people, nothing can prevent in such country or location a boom-a boom in population, a boom in wealth and values, and in fact a boom in everything but in food, raiment and good morals. It was so at the head of the lake from 1854 to 1857. In the winter of 1855-56 food was short. It was too soon for a crop of potatoes, and the people lacked knowledge and experience in the art of catching fish and living on them. Toward spring in 1856, flour brought as high a price as 50 cents per pound at retail, but that figure was paid only for the contents of a few sacks that were packed on men’s backs from Chase’s lumber camp, on the St. Croix River, a distance of about sixty miles. Other food supplies were scarce and high in price, in proportion to flour.

In the fall of 1857, the bottom, yes, and the top also, fell out of all the booms at Superior and at all other points at the head of the lake. Three-fourths of the people left the country, by every means of exit that were then available. Some, with gun and pack, “shot their way out.” Some who had families, and who were without means to pay their passage on boats, were taken out free by the generous and charitable captains of the few steamboats that in those days visited the head of the lake.

Sound money, or any money, was then very valuable; a corner lot in Duluth was not worth a pair of boots. In October of 1857 the writer, then doing business in Superior, refused to trade two pair of boots with Orrin W. Rice for two lots in the now famous city of Duluth. The writer believed that, in view of the approaching winter, the two pairs of boots were a better asset than the two lots.

For about eight or ten years after this, the people that were left had to live by barter, by adopting more of the Indian mode of making a living. They did not despise capturing the beaver, the mink and the muskrat, and they traded their furs for flour, pork and other necessaries, which they were able to get in exchange from the few merchants and traders that were left in Superior. There were no stores then in Duluth or anywhere else on the north shore. The settlers on the north shore in Minnesota were compelled to go to Superior by boat in the summer and on the ice in winter for everything in the line of clothing and provisions, with the exception of what they could produce or capture at home.

One of the first deaths at Duluth that I can now recall to mind was the drowning, in 1859, of a young man by the name of Welter, who lived with his widowed mother and brother upon a preemption claim near Oneota. About the 12th of November, after St. Louis Bay had frozen over, the ice being yet quite frail, young Welter was compelled to cross the bay in the morning to go to Superior for something which the family needed at home. On his return toward evening he broke through the thin ice. His body was recovered within two hours, by use of a boat, and efforts were made to bring him back to consciousness and life, but without avail.

First Saw & Grist Mills
In the winter of 1856-57 a small sawmill was erected at Duluth by the townsite proprietors. It was situated where the canal is cut through the point. The mill was not a paying enterprise, and after running it a year or two it was abandoned.

Oneota, with its immediate neighborhood, was from the start, in 1855 to 1869, the largest settlement on the north shore in Minnesota. In 1855, Wheeler, Ely and their associates built a good and fair-sized steam sawmill, adding to it in 1856-57 a planer and lath and shingle attachments. A mile above Oneota, in 1857, at what was then known as Milford, another good steam sawmill was built by Henry C. Ford, of Philadelphia, Pa., now deceased, who held a preemption claim of eighty acres at that point. This tract was subsequently platted as the Fourth division of West Duluth. In a year or two to this mill was added a grist mill attachment, where the settlers who were industrious enough to raise any wheat or other grain had it ground. These two mills were kept in operation intermittently in sawing the pine on lands in the immediate vicinity until about the year 1866, when they ceased running because of the total lack of any demand or market for lumber. Mr. Ford left the country and returned to Philadelphia about the year 1860. The Milford mill soon became a wreck, and it was finally destroyed by fire in 1868. The mill at Oneota remained silent until about the year 1868, when it came into the hands of R. S. Munger, then of St. Paul, who removed to Duluth in 1869, and in 1870 the mill was destroyed by fire.

From the year 1857 up to the year 1870 the surplus product of those two mills, and also salted fish, a few droves of cattle driven through in the summer from the region of the Mississippi to Superior, and what was left of the products of the fur trade, comprised the articles of export from the head of Lake Superior. I have no means of ascertaining the annual volume of those exports. The two sawmills were of a very moderate capacity.

Each would cut no more than 20, 000 to 30, 000 feet of a mixed class of lumber during a day of ten hours, while running steadily; and, considering delays from various causes, in a month the daily average would doubtless not exceed more than half that amount. When running steadily, each mill employed from six to ten men.

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


  • Woodbridge, Dwight and John Pardee, eds. History of Duluth and St. Louis County Past and Present Vols. 1 – 2. C. F. Cooper & Company, Chicago: 1922.
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