History of Minnesota’s Vermillion Iron Range
History of Minnesota’s Vermillion Iron Range Mining Activity & Towns (through 1922)
From Walter Van Brunt’s Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota Vols. 1 – 3. The American Historical Society. Chicago: 1922. Available at the Duluth Public Library.
There are many earlier references to Vermilion Lake, but the Vermilion Range did not come into prominence until the ’80s, when mining operations began at Soudan, near Tower. It is true that the region did come somewhat sensationally into public notice in the ’60s, when what might be termed “a gold rush” to Vermilion Lake occurred.
Disputed Territory.-That part of Minnesota lying east and north of Vermilion Lake was the subject of a long-continued controversy between Great Britain and the United States, and in an endeavor to settle the controversy and definitely delineate the international boundary, under the Treaty of Ghent, a survey was made in 1822-23 “of the line from the Soo to the Lake of the Woods … over the Grand Portage route.” The survey was made by order of the two international commissioners, Peter B. Porter, of Niagara county, New York, United States commissioner, and Anthony Barclay, of Nova Scotia, British commissioner. The commissioners did not accompany the surveyors, who “went over the ground from the starting point to the Lake of the Woods,” surveying the Grand Portage line (the present boundary) only. “They reported to the commission at a meeting held at Albany, N. Y., in February, 1824,” and “everything indicated the acceptance of the Grand Portage route.” But controversy later arose-at a meeting of commissioners at Montreal, in October of that year.
Duluth in Canada.-Then Anthony Barclay objected to the survey, and claimed that the true interpretation of the Treaty of Paris, of 1783, fixed the international boundary as “over the St. Louis river route,” the line passing out of Lake Superior “through Duluth harbor, up the St. Louis river, and across the height of land into the Pike river, and thence across the Vermilion lake to the Rainey lake.” The St. Louis River route was undoubtedly a commercial route used by traders in earlier times, but so obscure that it was probably not in the minds of the treaty makers when they attempted to describe the international boundary, from Lake Superior to the Lake of the Woods. However, the persistence of the British commissioner, Anthony Barclay, resulted in another survey being ordered “of the western end of Lake Superior, the Duluth harbor, the St. Louis river, the Embarrass river, Lake Vermilion, and of waters connecting it with the present boundary waters.” The survey was made in the summer of 1825, the surveyors “equipped with every instrument known to their science,” reaching the harbor of Duluth in June of that year. “It must have been a considerable party, the surveyors, with their assistants, canoe men, ax men, chain bearers, guides and commissary, (and) the maps which, they made show the high character of their work.” First Scientific Survey.-This was “the first scientific survey ever done” in what is now St. Louis county. The resulting maps bear the certificate of the two commissioners and of David Thompason, surveyor. “The survey of Vermilion lake was conscientiously and carefully made. Every island is delineated and numbered, the indentations of the shore being laid down with care and skill. The course of the old route is farther shown across the lake into the 340greater Vermilion river, which flows rapidly to the north. No survey was made since that time with greater care, or more conscientious fidelity than by “this body of men, perhaps fifty in number.” They must have “startled the denizens of the wilderness, human and otherwise,” and have suggested to the Indians many portentous and ominous future possibilities.
Indians Perplexed.-W. E. Culkin, of Duluth, in a review of this phase of Minnesota history, writes: “Up to this time, the Indians had met only the missionary and trader, the first seeking his salvation and the second seeking his furs.
But these did not greatly interrupt the ordinary current of Indian life. There was a greater menace to the native’s mode of life in the clink of the surveyor’s chain than in the exhortations of the missionary, or the intrigues of the trader. By this time the redskin had, in a manner, adjusted himself to the views of the man of prayer and of the man of trade. But how was he to square himself with this inexhorable organization coming up behind.” The survey, however, did not bring the commissioners into agreement.
In 1827, they reported to their respective govermental authorities, and the differences were not settled until 1842, when matters were compromised in what is known as the Webster-Ashburton treaty, by which the Pigeon River boundary was agreed to. A noteworthy fact, in connection with that treaty, is that United States President Harrison, in submitting the treaty to the senate, stated that the region between Pigeon river and the St. Louis was considered “valuable as a mineral region.” Indians, Trappers, and Traders.-Lake Vermilion was the center of important trading in peltry. Being on the route used by the ancient traders, and, connecting as it does, with the northern Canadian route to the sea, it was probably crossed by some of the earliest missionaries, and explorers, and probably was especially attractive to the adventurous coureurs des bois.
The Indians have maintained a settlement on the banks of Vermilion lake to this day. The Rev. Edmund F. Ely, missionary to the Indians at Fond du Lac, referred to the Lake Vermilion Indians in his diary for the year 1833. Robert B. McLean, in his “Early Settlement of Duluth and the North Shore,” stated that H. H. McCullough, who was postmaster at Grand Portage in the fifties, although not a resident there, had established a fur trading post at Grand Portage in 1849, or 1850, and seems to have established a chain of posts to the Lake of the Woods. McLean met McCullough at Grand Portage in 1857, and in September, 1861, was employed by McCullough “to go to the Lake of the Woods to take charge of his trading post for the winter.” McLean, while on his way to that point, found that his employer had “trading posts at Mountain Lake, Dagana Lake, Basswood Lake, Vermillion Lake, Lac La Croix, Black Bay on Rainy Lake, and the one at the Lake of the Woods.” McCullough, whose home was in Newark, New Jersey, disposed “of all his interests at Grand Portage (which presumably was his fur-trading headquarters), and his fishing interests at Isle Royal, to Peter E. Bradshaw, at Superior, in 1863.
The Vermilion in the Fifties.-John G. Rakowsky, who squatted on “a piece of land at Rice’s Point, Duluth, now worth millions of dollars,” in 1855, or soon afterwards, stated: “There was a big settlement of Chippewa Indians at that time upon what is now known as the Iron Range, perhaps as many as a couple of thousands. In time, I extended my operations to this 341 HZ H X ~Z0- <0: zzIc zS~i0 Uk Z- 3 0 (9 (r H r~ 0-c ~ z – w~settlement. It was a frightful journey. There was no road, not even a trail. As a bird would fly, the distance would be about ninety miles, but, owing to the circuitous route I had to take, it was about 150 miles. The entire trip was through forest and swamp, and it was impossible to use a horse, and the vehicles were toboggans, which the dogs could drag over the ground between the trees. On these I could transport a load of two or three hundred pounds. The woods were alive with animal life, and there was never any difficulty in getting all the game we wanted for ourselves and the dogs. The skins had to be brought back the same way.” Vermilion Indians During the War (1862).-There was Indian unrest, even war, in Minnesota, in 1862, but the Indians of Vermilion settlement were, apparently, well-disposed to white men.
Harry Ashton, son of Washington Ashton, pioneer newspaper editor at Superior, states, as to those times: “There was a friendly band of Chippewas, known as the Boisefortes, that made their home around Vermilion lake. Kabeshcodway was the name of the chief of the tribe.” Vermilion Mining.-The possible mineral wealth of the whole Range country was not unsuspected, even in early days. At first, the indications were that copper would predominate, and the expeditions up the St. Louis river were in reality prospecting trips for copper.
Iron ore was discovered at Gunflint lake in 1850 by J. G. Norwood, a scientist, and very little attention was given to the announcement of that discovery. But when the report of H. H. Eames, an official geologist, who made a trip over the range in 1865, was published, the region came attractively before certain people. They were not attracted by what, in reality, was the important part of the Eames report-that “iron ore in paying quantities and of high grade” had been discovered near Vermilion lake, but to his reference to goldbearing quartz he had noticed in that region.
Prof. Eames Discovers Iron and Gold (1865).-Sidney Luce, writing in 1902, to Judge J. D. Ensign of Duluth, stated: “In the spring or summer of 1865, H. H. and R. M. Eames, geologists from St. Paul, arrived in Duluth, making my residence their headquarters, and with whom I afterwards became well acquainted.
They had started on an exploring expedition to Vermilion lake, going by bays and rivers to Fond du Lac, by portage from Fond du Lac to river above the rapids to Floodwood dam, using bark canoes for the conveyance of themselves and outfit, with attendants to assist in making portages over the rapids in the river when required. Upon their return, after an absence of some weeks, they brought with them a nail keg filled with specimens of iron ore, of a superior quality, like that of Marquette. The quantity of this ore appeared to be inexhaustible, and the quality equal to any then known. Several locations were afterwards marked and described, upon which Sioux scrip was located awaiting Government survey, which, subsequently, was lifted.
At the same time they brought specimens of quartz rock supposed to contain gold. A box of these specimens was put up in my presence and directed to a firm in New York, for chemical analysis. Their report thereon was very favorable. The matter was confided to but a few; still, it was not long before it was generally known.” (Eames, according to one account, did not make his report until 1866). “The difficulty of getting to the location of the specimens retarded any action until snow in the winter, when there was much excitement, and a general stampede through the wilderness on the trail, with four or five feet of snow. … Final results proved a disastrous 343failure. From what I know and have seen personally, I still believe there is gold-bearing rock in the vicinity.” The Gold Rush.-John G. Rakowsky, the pioneer before referred to, went to St. Paul to enlist when the Civil war began in 1861, and did not return to Duluth until the war was ended, in 1865. He wrote: “When the war was over and I was mustered out, I resolved to come back to Duluth and resume my old business. Just about that time the state geologist had published a report on the iron range country, showing that there were extensive gold deposits there, and this report had gone over the entire country. A regular stampede set in for this section, and thousands of men were on their way to the new bonanza fields. Companies were organized with hundreds of thousands of dollars capital, claims were being staked out, and fortunes were being invested in machinery, which was being shipped in to work the new field. You must remember that the country was then in the same condition as when I first saw it. It was a primeval wilderness, heavily timbered and without a road through it. It was impossible to transport the machinery and supplies to the iron range country without a road, and it was imperative that this be constructed.
It was constructed. About 1,500 Union veterans had come up here and they went to work and cut a road through the forest to the country. They made a fairly passable road too, filling in the swampy places and making the road as near an air line as possible. After this was constructed, I was enabled to use horses and wagons in my trading with the Indians on the range.
“Did they find any gold? Not that I ever heard of. There were thousands of men scattered over the range for a year or so, prospecting, but finally the excitement died out.” George B. Stuntz was probably one of the first to prospect for gold. One account states that “the gold excitement broke out (in 1865), important discoveries having been reported on the Vermilion.
Stuntz went up on the range with a party of prospectors. While there Stuntz failed in the search for gold, but he found plenty of indications of iron ore.” George R. Stuntz’s Narrative.-George R. Stuntz’s own narrative, published about thirty years afterwards, of his explorations of 1865, reads, in part, as follows: “On the first camp after leaving the council, I found friendly Indians, who sold me fish and game. Guardful of the spies, who were on my trail, I resolved to give them the slip, if possible. Providence favored me. In the morning, the fog was so thick that we could not see a hundred feet. We passed up Pike river until far enough beyond the Indian lodges, so that our paddles could not be heard, then struck across due east to the land and coasted around the point until we landed in the west part of what is now called Stuntz bay.
“We pulled our canoe into the dense forest, got breakfast, and then proceeded to make explorations.
A Quartz Vein Eight Feet Wide.-”The first discovery made was about 40 rods from the canoe-a quartz vein, eight feet in width, with slaty iron ore walls on each side. Subsequent explorations of this vein showed the east end of it to have been worked as far as they could get for the water. I ran a stick as far as ten feet below the natural surface of the ground. This trench that had been worked for thirty or forty rods had been filled in, either by nature, or by the operators, with intent to cover up their work. The masses of rock had been tumbled back.
344Iron Ore at Breitung Mine.-”I continued south over the end of the mountain, and on the crest I discovered an exposure-immense rocks of an impure iron ore. Continuing down the south face, I discovered a very fine iron ore, from what is now the Breitung mine. I took a few specimens from the first discovery-some beautiful and novel specimens of banded quartz-one, in the shape of an S, that was done surely by compression and not by water.
“After coasting around and sketching in the country, I started home, about November 25, 1865.” First to Discover Vermilion Iron Ore (1863).-It has been stated that the principal companion Mr. Stuntz had on this adventurous trip was a Captain Pratt. Stuntz, presumably, was not surprised to find iron ore on the Vermilion; in fact he had known of it for two years, and “was authority for the statement some years before his death that the first white man who knew that iron existed on the Vermilion range was a man named N. A. Posey, the son of a fur trader. Posey was a blacksmith by trade, and under the terms of the government treaty with the Indians, had been employed by the former to instruct the Indians in his trade. The Indians, in 1863, had brought some ore specimens to Posey, who was so impressed by them that he took the specimens to Fond du Lac and showed them to Stuntz. The latter said that he did not consider the find seriously.” But when he and his companion, Captain Pratt, two years later, were attracted by the report of indications of gold deposits on the Vermilion, and in search of it, canoed up the St. Louis, portaged into Pike River, and came out into Lake Vermilion, he was destined to soon change his opinion as to the iron ore deposits of the Vermilion.
He and his companion “took back to Duluth fifty pounds of iron ore, and secured tests that proved the commercial value of what later was called the Lee and Breitung mines.” Stuntz, in his narrative, stated: “I saw the location, at the east end of the bluff, where it showed the richest, and where I got the specimens that finally called the attention of the capitalists to that part of the country.” A Mountain of Iron.-”While I was making the explorations, I found afterwards that J. B. Culver and Vose Palmer were on my trail, very anxious to know what I had found. At a Sunday conference, when asked my opinion, I told the boys: “When this country is developed, that big mountain of iron will do it. When they get to hauling that iron out, they will haul in its supplies cheap.” ‘Tis an Ill Wind that Blows Nobody Good.-The iron,i re of the Vermilion was destined to lie dormant and unexploited for almost another two decades, but the “Gold Ru§h,” which was at its height about a year or so after Stuntz returned to Duluth, served at least one good purpose; it created traffic of such volume that the making of a good road eventually became imperative.
Cutting the Vermilion Trail (1866).-The first trail to the Vermilion lake was opened by one of the mining companies, states a record of the Old Settlers’ Association of the Head of Lake Superior, extract from which record reads: “The gold boom in Minnesota, in the middle ‘sixties, was a history-making craze. The projector was a military man, and he had a lot of followers at the Head of the Lakes. Among them were August Zachau, R. B. McLean, Thomas Clark, and John G. Rakowsky.
They felt sure there was plenty of gold around Tower, and subscribed to the stock of a company, which was to develop the mines. Gold island, on Vermilion lake, on which no gold or other metal was ever found, was where they centered their hopes. Thomas Clark, a civil 345engineer, laid out the old Vermilion trail to the Land of Promise, and it was opened up by the company’s men. Mr. Zachau and Mr.
Rakowsky took a prominent part in building it, their hopes, like (those of) many another gold-hunter, were doomed to disappointment.
The trail, the earliest highway to the north, around which clings much pioneer romance, is a monument to their enterprise, (and was) its only substantial reward.” James Bardon, pioneer Superiorite, said in 1912: The old ‘Vermilion trail,’ so-called, was opened from Duluth in 1865, by funds raised in Superior by John D. Howard, aided by the work of William Nettleton, then a resident of Duluth.
The first trail was probably that to which Capt. J. J. Hibbard referred, when he wrote: The next year, 1865, in the summer, there was some talk of gold being found at Vermilion Lake, and in September a party of six of us, to wit.: Thomas Clark, Washington Ashton, James Edwards, Owen Sheridan, John Scott and myself, with four packers, started to cut a trail from Duluth to Vermilion lake. The first day out from Duluth, Mr. Ashton played out, and the next morning we sent one of the men back with him to Duluth. The balance of the party stuck to the undertaking until we got to the lake, but we did not find any gold. It took us about four weeks; then we spent about ten days at, and about, the lake.
Enormous Traffic.-The original trail was not, however, sufficient to bear the heavy traffic constantly passing between Duluth and the Vermilion Lake. There were so many persons at Vermilion that it became necessary to send in supplies during the summer months, as well as during the winter months. In the. winter transportation was comparatively easy. Sidney Luce stated that “Horses and dog trains were used for the transportation of supplies,” adding that “a large number of teams were on the road, requiring large supplies of hay and forage.” The traffic over that trail was enormous. Alfred Merritt, in his autobiography, writes: “The winter of 1865 and 1866 there was a gold excitment at Vermilion lake. A road was cut out to the supposed gold fields, and a great number of men and teams went over the road. My father, Lewis H. Merritt, made the trip, and while going out, eighty teams passed in one day, on their way in. … I remember one trip I made, with Fred Lemargie, during the winter of 1866 and 1867. We had horse trains and hauled stuff for the Indian traders. Our load was for Peter Bradshaw and Co.” Construction of State Road, 1868-69.-In the first years transportation was possible only in the winter. Then, with everything frozen hard, the question was not a difficult one, but in summer the trail was in places a treacherous morass, or peaty marsh. Construction of a better roadway was advocated strenuously. George R. Stuntz was one of the most ardent agitators for – better transportation facilities, prompted to it, perhaps, by his knowledge of the immense wealth in iron ore of the Vermilion. He was entrusted with the construction of a state road, in 1868, and completed it on federal appropriation, in 1869. His statement reads: “In June (1869), I received a letter from General Warren, of the United States Engineers Department, offering me the position of captain to expend $10,000 in opening and building, or improving, the road to Vermilion lake. I accepted his proposition and finished the state road, which I had located the year previous, under an appropriation I had obtained from the state, after six weeks of hard work.
From July 1 to December 10, I worked fifteen or eighteen men, two 346ox teams and wagons, and completed the road sufficiently to haul supplies in the summer a distance of eighty-four miles. This made the Vermilion Lake country accessible by team winter and summer, and years afterwards greatly assisted in the development of the great iron mines of that region.” Pioneer of Pioneers.-As an explorer, George R. Stuntz will always stand out prominently among the pioneers of St. Louis county.
As a surveyor and road builder, he must come into even greater prominence among the pioneers, for it was he who was responsible for the opening of the original trail to Vermilion. Judge J. R. Carey, a recognized authority on pioneer history of Duluth and St. Louis county, recorded that: “For about a month (December, 1865, to January, 1866), there was quite a rush for the supposed Vermilion gold fields. When the first teams arrived (at Duluth) the road to Vermilion was not cut out (for more than) a short distance from Duluth, although George . Stuntz, of Duluth, as surveyor, and Mr. H. Mayhew, now of Grand Marais, were in charge of a large force of men cutting out the road. There was quite a body of snow on the ground, and it took about three weeks to cut and break the road before any teams got through.” Made Hotel-Keeper Against His Wish; The Rush of St. Paul Parties to the Gold Field (1865-66).-Judge Carey’s narrative of other incidents connected with the Vermilion “gold rush,” should have place in this review. Judge Carey was mail contractor in 1865 and 1866, and lived at Oneota. He removed his family and household effects to Duluth, in December, 1865. How that removal brought him into the swirl of the “rush” of gold prospectors to the Vermilion lake he set down in writing in 1898. His narrative, in part, reads: “In the late part of December, 1865, the writer and his family and household effects were removed from Oneota to Duluth. At this time Duluth was almost entirely deserted. Only two small houses were occupied. * * One was occupied by Doras Martin, and in which he died, in 1868, and the other, close by, was occupied by Z. J.
Brown. … These two houses were in a grove of pine trees, close to the trail,-which was zigzag up the point, nearly half-way from where the principal’settlement had been, where the canal now is.
The writer had the freedom of the city, and all the empty houses in it. He needed no keys, or burglar tools, to enter them. He chose the Jefferson House, which was the most commodious and in best repair. … The writer had hardly got settled in the Jefferson house than, on the evening of the 25th day of December, 1865, Capt.
James Farrell and his brother, William P. Farrell, both of whom subsequently became well and favorably known citizens of Duluth, arrived from St. Paul, with a train loaded with supplies for the Vermilion gold fields. They asked for lodging, or at least a place, or’ stable, for their horses. They were freely accommodated, with such accommodations as the Jefferson house could afford. No bed, but plenty of space on the rough floor to camp. A vacant barn, not far distant, was at once appropriated for the horses. On the same night, an hour or two after the arrival of the Farrell party, another and larger party of six, with three or four teams, arrived. This party was known as the Webb party, and Davis party, also from St. Paul.
… The next day other parties arrived and demanded shelter. To his great surprise, the proprietor of the Jefferson House was forced to become a hotel-keeper, without any preparations or furniture for the enterprise. For about a month there was quite a rush for the supposed Vermilion gold fields. … The travel to Vermilion 347was fairly active during that winter and spring. No teams could make the trip in summer, yet many passed back and forth over the trail, packing their supplies and camp outfits, and bringing with them hundreds of pounds of quartz, which was supposed to contain an abundance of gold. It took until the spring of 1868 to prove to them, inexperienced, that there was not enough gold to pay at Vermilion lake, yet thousands of dollars were expended in sending to the Vermilion wilderness men, supplies, and even machinery, to crush the rock and extract the gold.” A Secret Confided is a Secret no Longer.-Judge Carey further stated that Prof. Henry H. Eames, “a geologist of Pennsylvania,” who “through the influence of persons at the Head of the Lake was appointed state geologist,” was “sojourning in Duluth with friend Henry Mayhew” at the time of the first rush to Vermilion lake, in 1865; also that the professor did not make his report, covering “two years or more” spent in “exploring and surveying the Vermilion Lake country, and the country along the north shore of Lake Superior,” until 1866.
This would imply that news of the finding of gold-bearing quartz by Professor Eames must have been privately circulated. And, apparently, the news soon spread.
Company Promotion.-The Farrell brothers, at the time of their first expedition, or during the next winter, were interested in the Vermilion Falls Gold Mining Company, a St. Paul incorporated company, capitalized at $300,000. C. Draper Williams was president, and E. A. Dodge, secretary. It issued stock as late as February, 1867.
Some of the Perils.-Harry Ashton writes of one expedition, headed by Superior men, stating that: “In the ’60s Capt. J. J. Hibbard, Capt. James Edwards, Thomas Clark, John Scott, John Gatherer, and John Parry, started out on an exploring expedition, in search of gold and iron. Realizing a shortage of provisions, they sent halfbreed packers back to Superior. The packers did not return at the allotted time, and the larder became empty. They traveled for nearly a week without food, expecting the packers to show up. They finally reached Vermilion lake and camped. The next day they made their way to the highest point of land in search of human assistance, realizing that starvation was staring them in the face unless they got aid Towards evening they espied an Indian in a canoe, gliding over the lake. The Indian was hailed, and carried them across the lake to Rousseau’s trading post. Mr. Rousseau ‘received them cordially, and furnished them with food.”‘ Gold, but Not Enough.-Much might be written of the personal experiences of those who made expeditions to the ill-fated Gold Island on Vermilion lake, in search of gold. Gold-bearing quartz was undoubtedly found, and in fact is still present on the island, but, it is stated, not in sufficient quantities to justify extensive mining operations.
Yet, almost superhuman efforts were made by some of the miners. Two stamp mills were hauled by ox team all the way from’ St. Paul, over a trail which for some distance-probably a considerable distance-had to be built as they proceeded. One of the mills was placed at Pike river, and the other at Trout lake. The latter is stated to be still there. But “most of the prospectors abandoned the country in disgust, after delving for one or two seasons in the soil of the island.” The only men that made money were those who brought in supplies from Duluth, and the owners of boarding houses.
An Awful Experience.-Some of the prospectors did not only lose money in their search for gold. The following is narrated of two Superior men: 348″Among the expert miners were Olaf Norman and Peter Peterson, of Superior. Mr. Norman had been a mining captain in Sweden, and was drilled in the school of practical experience. Messrs. Norman and Peterson were searching for gold on the banks of Vermilion lake. This was before the days of Dynamite, and when black powder was used (in blasting). They had charged a hole, and went away to avoid the blast. The charge hung fire, and they went back and removed the tamping. A slight spark near the end of the fuse received new life when it came in contact with the elements, and ignited the powder, causing injury to both men. They got into their boat, and tried to paddle across the lake to some friends with whom they used to exchange visits on Sunday. A storm came up and, in their wounded condition, they were unable to handle the boat, and they returned to the shore a long distance from their camp. Mr.
Norman had one arm and a thumb broken, and both men became totally blind from the result of the blast. In this condition, they wandered in the woods nine days, without anything to eat. They became delirious, and in their delirium fancied that they saw a pool of fresh water, or an Indian in his wigwam handing them bread, and when they would stoop down to drink, or reach to take the bread, both would vanish.
“Their friends, missing their accustomed visit, came over to see what was the matter, and found them in a serious condition. They were cared for and placed on stretchers and transported to Superior.
This accident happened in July, 1868,” Mr. Norman partially recovered his eyesight, but eventually became totally blind.
Grasping at the Shadow.-It will probably never be known how many men suffered the loss of time, health, and money, in the futile search for gold in the vicinity of Vermilion lake. Was there even gold-bearing quartz? Prof. Albert H. Chester, who explored the eastern end of the Mesabi and Vermilion ranges for iron ore, in 1875, also examined what he termed “the fake gold locations of 1866,” stating that “specimens of gold ore, so-called, were taken, and I assayed them with great care, but not the slightest trace of gold was detected in them.” The gold hunters grasped at the shadow, and lost the bore. Gold was a much shorter route to wealth than iron.
Iron Ore Mining.-It may be considered that Vermilion iron ore mining history began with the coming of Prof. Albert H. Chester, of Rutgers College, to the range, in 1875, his purpose being to report, on the mineral possibilities of the ranges, to important eastern financial groups. But between the filing of the Eames report, in 1866, and the coming of Professor Chester, at least one important iron mining enterprise was projected, and it was in reality because of this particular enterprise that Chester was ordered to head an expedition to the ranges.
Peter Mitchell’s Find (1873).-Professor Chester’s employers, Samuel A. Munson, of Utica, New York, and Charlemagne Tower, of Pottsville, Pennsylvania, had had a specimen of the Mesabi magnetite taken from Mitchell’s workings sent to them. Professor Chester had analyzed it, and had advised the exploration; and his report of the exploration states that “the main object of this expedition of 1875 was to fully explore the Mesabi iron range, on which Peter Mitchell had worked several years earlier.” This mining enterprise is referred to Castle’s “History of Min-, nesota” thus: 349″The first mention of iron ore was made in 1866 by H. H. Eames, the state geologist. * * Midway between these extremes (Prairie river and Gunflint lake) the existence of ore in the region north of Beaver Bay was noted by surveyors, who subdivided the townships for the ULnited States government. This led to the organization of a company, which included several Duluth men, and the men who located in the Town of Beaver Bay. Among them were Peter ‘Mitchell, W. W. Spalding, and one Wieland. Mr. Mitchell led the exploration in the field. The results were not encouraging and the enterprise was suspended.” Mesabi Activity (1875).-George R. Stuntz refers to the matter thus: “In 1875, capitalists began to suspicion that there was iron on the range. These suspicions were founded on the statements of Ontonagon parties that there was a solid mountain of iron ore, twelve miles long, on the Mesabi, sixteen miles this side of Vermilion. In that year I was out on a wildcat expedition to find coal near the international border.
“I was requested by George C. Stone to get specimens of iron on the Vermilion on my way. These specimens, which I had forwarded, resulted in a courier being sent to head me off at Embarrass river, to get some more specimens.
“Just as a matter of history, I camped on the Embarrass river, July 1, and ice froze there a quarter of an inch thick. I had summer blankets and didn’t relish the cold snap a bit.
“Prof. Chester, of Hamilton college, New York, an expert, was sent out here by Charlemange Tower, of Philadelphia, and Mr. Munson, of Utica, New York. This was in 1875.” Incorporation of D. & I. R. (1874).-The “Ontonagon parties” referred to by George R. Stuntz, were undoubtedly those interested in the incorporation of the Duluth and Iron Range Railroad, in 1874.
W. W. Spalding, in his autobiography, makes the reference clear.
He states: “In 1873, the Jay Cooke panic hit Duluth hard, and knocked the stuffing out of her citizens for a long time. December 24, 1874, the Duluth and Iron Range Railroad was incorporated. The incorporators were W. W. Spalding, Clinton Markell, C. P. Bailey, B. S.
Russell, John C. Hunter, Luther Mendenhall, Josiah D. Ensign, P.
Mitchell, L. M. Dickens, J. B. Culver, George C. Stone, William R.
Stone, and John D. Howard. I was the first president, and remained so until 1883, when the organization was gobbled by George C. Stone, and some of the other members. I had organized the company, and selected the incorporators, in the interests of an Ontonagon syndicate that had obtained a large tract of land on the Mesabi range, in town 60, ranges 12 and 13, in order to get access to the lands.” A Mistaken Idea.-So that evidently the general belief, that the Duluth and Iron Range Railroad had its inception in the desire to reach and carry the minerals of the Vermilion range, even though that was the first service to which the railway, when built, was put, is erroneous.
George C. Stone’s Original Plans.-During the decade, 1865-75, George R. Stuntz made many trips to the Vermilion range, and he seems to have formed business association with George C. Stone, a promoter, of Duluth; but whether Stuntz acquired mineral land, or leases to it, on the Vermilion range is not clear. Neither is it clear what exactly was his association with Stone, who was a banker in Duluth until the panic of 1873 crippled him temporarily, and caused 350him to turn actively to real estate operations (perhaps to liquidate his holdings). One report has it’ that Stuntz interested Stone in the Vermilion iron lands, and that “Mr. Stone’s original interest was in half a section, 320 acres.” It is quite certain that the association between Stuntz and Stone was in Vermilion lands, although it seems also clear that Stone’s eastern journey and negotiations with Charlemagne Tower, in 1875, had reference, chiefly, to the Mesabi holdings of “the Ontonagon syndicate,” in town 60, ranges 12 and 13. It was unfortunate that Stone centered on the Mesabi lands, for the report by Professor Chester, who was sent into Minnesota, in 1875, by Charlemagne Tower, to investigate, was unfavorable, and probably prejudiced the eastern capitalists against the Vermilion, as well as the Mesabi.
The Chester Expedition of 1875.-Prof. Albert H. Chester, in 1914, contributed to the Old Settlers’ Association of the Head of Lake Superior, a paper, entitled “The Romance of the Ranges,” which paper reviewed his two expeditions, 1875 and 1880. The article begins: “Early in the year 1875, the late George C. Stone, then of Duluth, but later of St. Paul, took to the east samples of the iron ores of Northern Minnesota, hoping to interest capitalists there, and so bring about the development of those great iron regions, and thus benefit the City of Duluth, which was then rapidly losing in prosperity. At that time, the population of the city, which had previously been in the neighborhood of 6,000, had dwindled to about 3,000. G(rass was growing in the streets; there were many unoccupied houses, and a general air of gloom pervaded the community.
“Mr. Stone’s specimens were so attractive that he had little trouble in interesting Samuel A. Munson of Utica, N. Y., and Charlemagne Tower of Pottsville, Pa., who authorized him to arrange for an exploring party at once, at the same time engaging my services for the expedition. I had already examined the hard ore from near Vermilion Lake, and was well assured of its quality. It was sent to’New York City among specimens representing the mineral wealth of Minnesota, for exhibition at the Paris Exposition, and it had been my task to arrange these specimens before they were sent abroad. This ore was brought out, as I have been informed, by George R. Stuntz, who first found these deposits and made them known in 1874. A specimen of the Mesabi magnetite, taken from Mitchell’s workings, was submitted to me for analysis at the time of Mr. Stone’s visit, and found to be most desirable in quality, so that I advised the exploration.
Tower’s Son-in-Law.-”I reached Duluth for the first time July 10, 1875, having with me, as my assistant, Richard H. Lee of Pottsville, Pa., who had just married a daughter of Mr. Tower. Mr. Tower hoped that his son-in-law, who was an engineer, would take a prominent part in the mining operations then about to be initiated in the development of this iron region, and particularly in the construction of the contemplated railroad, and therefore desired that he should take part in the preliminary exploration.
“On our arrival we found that a portion of the exploring party had already left Duluth, going to Mesabi by way of the old government road to Vermilion Lake, and from there cutting a new road in a northwesterly direction to their destination in township 59, range 14, west. Anson Northup was in charge of this party, having been engaged to take the party in and out, and to furnish provisions and other necessary supplies during the whole time.
351The Canoe Route.-,”Mr. Lee and I started on July 13th with two explorers and four Indians, going by rail to Northern Pacific Junction, and from there across the portage to Posey’s, on the St.
Louis River. Our explorers were the veteran George R. Stuntz, who also acted as our guide, and Benjamin F. Bishop. The Indians were John and Frank Houlle, Billy Church and Antoine Couneyer. At the river we found two large canoes in readiness and started at once up the stream. As we left Joe Posey’s house, we left behind us the last signs of civilization on the St. Louis River, and we hailed it again with satisfaction on our return, though we did not find it occupied on either occasion when we passed it.
“Posey’s house burned down one night several years ago, and poor brother Joe and his family perished in the flames; his wife was a squaw but she was a good cook. and housekeeper, and we could always get a square meal and a good bed. We started from Posey’s late in the afternoon, and our first camp was made in section 14, town 50, range 17, west.
On Vermilion After Ten Days.-”Voyaging steadily every day, we reached the Indian agency at Vermilion Lake on the tenth day, where we spent the night. The Wheelers were most hospitable, and did their best to treat us well and feed us while we stayed with them.
As a special treat that night, we were served with cove oysters.
Think of it! An oyster stew in the middle of July and in the wilds of Northern Minnesota.
The Indian Agent.-”It was interesting to note the complete way in which the government positions at that post were filled by the Wheeler family. The father, George E. Wheeler, was Indian agent, and also blacksmith.-Whether he was paid salary for each I do not know.-His wife was schoolmistress for the Indians of the reservation, but as far as I could learn, she was never troubled with any scholars. The elder son was a farmer, and it was his duty to instruct the Indians in the peaceful art. The younger son was helper to his father, the blacksmith. Only the little daughter, perhaps eight or nine years old, failed of a government appointment. Yet, when one considers the life they led, with its isolation and hardships, any pay they could manage to get was all too small a remuneration.
Camping Near Tower (1874).-”The next day, July 28, we crossed the lake and before night had begun looking for -he lhematite exposures on Vermilion Lake. We camped that night near the present village of Tower. This location was carefully gone over, and a definite plan made as to some later explorations of the iron deposits there, although the main object of this expedition of 1875 was- to fully explore the Mesabi iron ran#ge, on which Peter Mitchell had worked several years earlier. The next day we turned back, and retraced our steps to a suitable point on the upper Embarrass River, and from there struck westward and found those of our party that had preceded us in camp at section 28, town 59, range 14, west. Some work had been done here, for the indications of iron were abundant, so that our compasses were of no use in determining directions, being as likely to point in any other direction as north. But the ore here seemed to consist of loose blocks, float-ore so-called, and there was none found in place.
Personnel of Expedition.-”This party was in charge of William Bassett, and was made up as follows: William Bassett, explorer; Anson Northup, manager; Charles Northup, John Lightbody, Stewart Caley, wood choppers; James Northup, teamster; Edward Sterling, cook; Burton Northup, cookee; James Drogan, blacksmith; Dennis 352Higgins, Martin Casey, John Lynch, Daniel Carr, Michael Sharkey, Charles Hoffenbecker, Nils Nelson, George Hull, Jacob Zimmerman, John Mallman, miners.
“The united party moved by degrees to the northwest, finally examining all of town 59-14 and 6Q-13, covering much more ground than had been assigned, for the explorers had been out every day and in all directions, bringing in samples of all rocks noticed, and every favorable indication was thoroughly examined. Mr. Lee and myself were fully occupied in directing the daily work, and had little time for such explorations.” The First Blast in the Soudan District.-”On July 31 (1875), Mr. Stuntz, with John Mallman as his assistant, and two of the Indians, were sent back to Vermilion Lake, about twenty miles as the crow flies, but much further as they were forced to go, with directions to carry out the work which I had laid out with Mr. Stuntz, when we were on the ground a little earlier. This party returned after several weeks spent at the Vermilion location and accomplishing the work laid out,)having, however, put in but one shot, at what is now the Lee mine, the first blast in that district. My notes made at the time read as follows: ‘July 31, Stuntz, one miner and two Indians sent to Vermilion. Later, on Aug. 25, Stuntz and party returned.’ “My examination of this belt of iron ore on the Mesabi range having been completed, specimens having been selected from various points for examination at home, camp was broken on Aug. 20, 1875, and most of the party sent back overland to Duluth in charge of Mr. Lee, while Stuntz and myself, with two Indians, returned to Vermilion to complete my examination there, and to inspect the work accomplished by the party that had been sent there. We took a canoe route, by way of Birch, Burntside and Mud Lakes, examining the fake gold locations of 1866 on the wa*y . * * We reached Vermilion Lake on September 2, and spent the day in examining the iron exposures, carefully looking over the work done by Stuntz and his party: While the ore was seen to be much mixed with jasper in places, there were many good exposures of hard rich hematite, samples of which were taken for subsequent examination.
Nature Had Done the Mining.-”One exposure of ore, found for the first time on this visit to Vermilion, was particularly interesting, as there was a natural break in the vertical bed of ore, which was at that point about twenty-five feet wide, so that it showed a solid cliff of pure hematite of that width, standing at least thirty feet out of the ground, and with large blocks of the same rich ore scattered in profusion over the ground at the foot of the cliff. It was a magnificent sight. Nature had’ here done the mining, and it was only necessary to break up these large blocks to have many tons of the finest iron ore ready for shipment when the railroad should come.
The Prospective Railway.-”This allusion to a then prospective railroad reminds me of an incident at the Wheeler’s home the next day. Mr. Wheeler’s little daughter had a pet kitten, which, however, ‘did not like strangers and scratched my hand when I undertook to caress it. In a moment the little girl had the kitten in a corner and was boxing its ears, saying: ‘Oh kitty! How could you be so naughty as to scratch Mr. Professor? Don’t you know he is going to bring us a railroad?’ Poor child! No other white child was within a hundred miles. Between her and civilization was a canoe trip of a week or more. After spending the night at the Indian agency we took the river route homeward, arriving in Duluth September 8, 1875.
Vol. 1-23 353Mesabi Ore Condemned.-”The specimens secured were shipped to Hamilton College laboratory as soon as possible, and there examined and analyzed with as much celerity as was consistent with suitable care and attention, and a report was made to Messrs. Munson and Tower late in the ensuing fall. As the substance of this report is given in a paper, by myself, submitted to State Geologist N. H. Winchell, aid published in his eleventh annual report of the geology of Minnesota, I need not give further details here. Suffice it to say that the part of the Mesabi district that I examined was condemned, while of the Vermilion Lake district it was said that it well deserved further most careful and exhaustive examination. The total cost of this exploration was about $10,000.
“It should be noted here that it was only the lean magnetic belt of the Mesabi range, in townships 59-14 and 60-13, that was examined and condemned at this time. Of the soft hematites later found to the west of these deposits nothing at all was then known, nor did we make any explorations in their neighborhood.
“I notice with some satisfaction that Professor Winchell says in a paper read in 1901 before the International Mining Congress, and published in a recent number of the American Geologist: ‘Professor Chester’s report on that part of the Mesabi range (made in 1875) was unfavorable, and nothing has transpired to invalidate his conclusions.’ This confirmation of the soundness of my report, after a lapse of more than 25 years, is the more gratifying to me, because I learned that after the nature of my report was known I was set down by some of the parties interested in the sale of those lands as a ‘D -d fool, and one who did not know a good thing when hc saw it.’ Some of the Pioneers.-”Of several that were connected with this expedition, I have a further word to say. It is somewhat appalling to notice how many of them are dead. George C. Stone is too wellknown in Duluth to need any eulogy from me, but I must testify to his untiring energy in arranging for this exploration, and to the very efficient way he managed the Duluth end of it during our period in the woods. We were made as comfortable as possible. The news of his recent tragic death came to me as a great blow. Mr Lee, lily ever-ready and efficient assistant, should also have a word. His pleasant companionship was most grateful to me. Many friends mourn his untimely death. Mr. Stuntz was one of the best men, for guide and advisor on such a trip, that I ever met; without his aid and council, I am sure the expedition would not have been the success that it was.
His practiced eye never failed to detect every detail of interest or value; and experience enabled him to interpret correctly many things of importance, which the inexperienced would never have noticed at all. He, too, has left us at a good old age.” (George R. Stuntz, pioneer of pioneers, died at the Red Cross Hospital, West Duluth, on October 24, 1902, at the age of eighty-two years. An obituary sums up his benefit from a life of useful work thus: “While Mr. Stuntz made it possible for many others to make fortunes, he never gained any good store of this world’s goods, and he died a very poor man.”) Mr. Chester, continuing, wrote: “Of Bishop and Bassett I have only to say that they performed their duties as explorers entirely to my satisfaction, and gave me most efficient aid. Anson Northup was so well known in Duluth that I need give him no eulogy. Without him I do not think the land party would have reached the Mesabi; he fairly pushed it through by main force, but as I believe got very little, out of it for his long summer’s 354work. The other’men were all satisfactory. Each, in his way, worked faithfully for the success of the enterprise. … Toting Extraordinary; 100 Miles in 36 Hours.-”One feature of this expedition which added much to the comfort of all was an arrangement of Mr. Stone’s, whereby one of the Indians acted as mail carrier between our camp and Duluth. A runner started every Monday morning, taking our letters and returning sometimes the next Saturday, bringing not only our mail with him, but also many other small things, which had been sent for and were within the limit of his carrying powers. It was astonishing to see what a large load could be brought. While in general our mail carrier took three days for the trip in each direction, on one occasion at least the distance of nearly 100 miles was made in much shorter time. Billy Church started from camp one Monday morning at daylight, and reported to Mr. Stone in Duluth at two o’clock the next day.” The Exploitation Drags.-It perhaps never will be clear why further active exploitation of ‘Vermilion iron ore deposits did not quickly follow the return of Professor Chester to the East. Evidently, Mr. Tower was in some way connected with the Duluth and Iron Range Railway project even in 1875, although presumably he was not interested in it at the time of incorporation, and his subsequent association with Mr. Stone in the transportation project was with a different object to that of the original promoters, who wished it to link the Mesabi range with the docks. -Mr. Tower looked furtherto the Vermilion range. Some sensational stories have found their way into news-print, as to the desperate plight in which George C. Stone was placed by his endeavor to enlist Mr. Tower’s co-operation in mining the rich mineral wealth of the Vermilion. One story has it that Mr. Stone, while waiting in Philadelphia in 1880 for an interview with Mr. Charlemagne Tower, had to resort to “writing jingles for soap advertisements, to keep himself from starvation,” and that when he had reached the end of his financial resources he literally forced himself into the presence of the capitalist, “with his maps, title deeds, and ore samples,” and demanded a hearing forthwith.
That accorded him, he so convinced Mr. Tower, that within two hours he was on his way back to Duluth “with a check for $50,000 tucked in his pocket,” and a commission from Mr. Tower to proceed at once with the preliminaries necessary for the opening of mining at Vermilion Lake on a large scale. The story is a romantic one, but does not harmonize with other records, particularly the Chester records. If the story has any foundation in fact, the year probably was 1875, not 1880. In 1875, George C. Stone was not in affluent circumstances; and after he returned from his eastern trip of that year he acted as the agent of Mr. Tower in the business matters connected with the first Chester expedition.
Clearing the Way.-The delay in proceeding with the exploitation of the Vermilion ore, may perhaps have been dictated by business .caution, and by the desire of the eastern magnate to assure himself that taxation would not be excessive before going further into the mining project. Judge Carey, in his “History of Duluth” (1898): “About the year 1878, George C. Stone … became interested in measures for developing those iron deposits. Through Mr. Stone’s efforts favorable legislation was obtained from our state legislature, exempting iron ore from taxation, except at a nominal rate of 1 cent a ton.” Second Chester Expedition (1880).-That may have been the reason why the exploitation “hung fire” until 1879, when Professor 355Chester was asked by Mr. Charlemagne Tower to head another (xpedition- this time to the Vermilion. Prof. Chester’s paper of this second expedition reads: “I have never known just why this matter was dropped for nearly five years, but it was not until 1879 that I was requested by Messrs. Munson and Tower to lead another expedition, which was to start from Duluth the following summer. During the winter intervening, provisions and supplies were sent over the frozen snow and ice, and stored at the Vermilion agency, then in charge of Z. J. Brown.
A small log house was erected on section 22, town 62, range 15, west, on the shore of the lake, and as near as possible to the outcropping of ore, to be used as a storehouse and office while the work was going on. I arrived in Duluth on July 3, 1880, and got away from there on the morning of July 5, the party by road starting a few days later.
I had brought with me H. M. Hill, of Watertown, N. Y., then my laboratory assistant at Hamilton College. … The men engaged were all on hand, but the most of them had been celebrating too much of the ‘Glorious Fourth,’ and were not worth much for work.
We made a start, however, and camped quite late the first night, at the lower end of Grand Rapids, in section 34, town 50, range 17. Our party consisted of the following men: Albert H. Chester, professor in charge; Herbert M. Hill, assistant; Thomas Monoque, cook; Henry Eyre, James Wheeler and E. Dykeman, miners; John Houlle and Ben Cadotte, Indians.
Stuntz Again the Guide.-”Mr. Stuntz was with us, partly as guide and explorer, as on the previous trip, but he also had charge of a surveying party, which was to survey for the government those towns which we expected to explore. Part of these men were with us, but I never made any memorandum of their names. It was of great service to me to have Mr. Stuntz with us, and his party and mine were never far apart during the entire summer, though we did not camp together after we reached the scene of our work.
The Land Party.-”Our land party was as follows: William Bassett, explorer in charge; Robert Whitford, Peter Armstrong, A. Sandhill, Pitt Ericson, John Drohan, Angus McKinnon, James Cutter, F. Fristburg, A. Nelson, John Hogan, Pat Cudahay, miners. George E. Wheeler, who was on the ground at Vermilion Lake, had been engaged as our blacksmith. Bassett’s role was that of explorer, and he sometimes acted as boss of the men. Eyre was a man of considerable education, and was engaged/nearly all the time in the office, calculating results from the figures obtained, and making maps.
Establishing Mail Service.-”Our trip up the river was uneventful; the water was very high and there were frequent rains, so that we did not make very good progress. Some member of the party had brought a dog, which was forgotten and left behind at one of the portages, and part of a day was lost in sending back for him. He was found, and as far as I remember, went with us to the end of the trip. We reached the Embarrass bridge on July 14th, and found there the rest of our party, which had arrived ahead of us. From that point we kept together as much as possible, and the whole party arrived in good shape at Zack Brown’s, on Vermilion Lake on July 16, in the afternoon. Our weekly mail service was at once inaugurated, John Houlle taking the trail back to Duluth the next morning.
When Hunger Prompts.-”One incident in the long canoe trip is perhaps worth recording. At one of the long portages Mr. Stuntz and I were obliged to wait for some of the men who had not come up, and, by an oversight, the rest of the party, including the cook, had 356gone over the carry. It was long past the time for the noon meal. We had made an early start that morning and were nearly famished. We waited on and on, and still the men did not come. Suddenly Stunz got up from the ground, where he had been lying pretending to smoke, but really growling all the time, and taking a stick, began poking in the muck at the foot of a stump by the side of the trail. I asked him what he was doing, but he did not answer until he had unearthed several cans of corned beef, which he showed in triumph.
We opened them, and tested them at once, and found them to be perfectly good and unspoiled. He then reminded me that he had buried these cans there five years bfore, to lighten our loads, expecting to reclaim them on our return; but we went back by another route.
Many Indians had been over the trail in the meantime, and they had even built their fires against the stump, but they had not found the cans of beef, neither had it been injured in the slightest degree by its five years’ exposure to summer and winter changes of temperature, much to our satisfaction.
Mining Crews Busy.-”On July 17 we crossed the lake from Brown’s, and made our permanent camp in the green timber near our log house in section 22, town 62, range 13, west. The next day, Sunday, we spent in preparation for actual work, which began on Monday, July 18, when the mining crews were set at work at several places on the ledges, where the ore bodies were exposed. At 9:10 a. m. that day the first shot was fired, a block hole in pit Q 5.
“A detailed account of the daily business of trenching, drilling and blasting, measuring and sampling would be out of place here, and presents little of interest. As the various places where the several gangs of men were at work were far apart, in general it was sufficient for a day’s business to inspect them all, so that I had little leisure for exploring the surrounding country.
A Secretive Indian.-”Once Mr. Stuntz and I made a canoe trip of two or three days, guided by our cookee named Pashiguun, who said he knew where there were large cliffs of ore similar to those which we were working, but this expedition came to naught, though we explored the country nearly to Ely in a northeasterly direction. Our guide either did not know as much as he pretended, or, what was more probable, was not willing when it came to the point to show us the outcrop of ore. Why he should not reveal the secret we could not guess, for he was promised a substantial reward, but the Indian is always/secretive and this particular one possessed the characteristics of his race in a marked degree.
Work Completed.-”Work was completed on the various locations on Saturday, August 21, and the homeward start was made two days later. The men were taken to the Vermilion road in Brown’s large canoe, and set ashore there to walk to Duluth, a distance of 100 miles. Mr. Hill and myself, with two Indians, went all the way by canoe, Zack Brown going with us, so two canoes and other Indians were required. Mr. Hill went in one canoe with John Houlle and Pashiguun, who wished a sight of cilivilzation, and Ben Cadotte, Bemoshkawaub and Zack Brown with me. x .^>-L. A:. *-r A Faithful Indian.-”This latter Indian was a youth of about twenty, who had been our mail carrier for the whole season and had proved a ‘very good Indian.’ He stuck to his job in a most plucky way, though he often came limping into camp, after the long run, with feet so sore and swollen that it did not seem that he would be able to start back again for the next week’s tramp, but he never failed us.
I asked Ben Cadotte the meaning of his name, he found trouble in 357putting it into English, but after considerable thought said: ‘It means he sit solid.3 He proved as good on the river as on the road, and safely steered us past all the dangerous rocks and down the rapids.
A “Dead Shot.”-”Zack Brown was a dead shot with a revolver, and twice we tried unsuccessfully for the deer, which he saw frequently at the water’s edge. He, however, succeeded in bringing down a great horned owl, firing at it from the canoe as it sat perched on a tree. … Return of Expedition.-”We reached Duluth on Sunday, August 25, after a quick and very pleasant trip. There were no ‘flies’ and though there was some rain we were not hindered by it. We started each morning as soon as it was light enough to see, and traveled until dark, or we could not have made the distance so quickly with our heavily loaded canoes. We had all the specimens that had been collected to represent the summer’s work. I had collected not only with reference to my own examination and report, but also a full series of rocks of the district for the United States Geological Survey.
These went to Professor Roland Irving, of the University of Wisconsin, who was then in charge of the work for the United States in the northwest.
Report Most Favorable.-”We spent two or three days in Duluth busy sorting and packing specimens and making up the figures and accounts of the expedition, which, as nearly as I can remember, cost about $6,000. Mr. Hill and I started east on the evening of Sept. 1, reaching home about noon Sept. 4, 1880. The analysis and other examinations were made as speedily as possible, and a report was rendered to Messrs. Munson and Tower in a short time. This report has never been made public in full, but the substance of it is given in my paper to which reference has been made, published in the eleventh annual report for 1882 of the geological survey of Minnesota. It was at once well known that my report was most favorable. Indeed, I could hardly say too much as to the value of these deposits, and the vast amount of ore which has been brought down since the railroad was built, and the mines opened, has more than justified my good opinion of the district. … The existence of the now famous Mesabi mines of soft hematite was not even suspected at that time.” Looking for Railway Route.-Of the departure of Professor Chester, Stuntz wrote: “He was enthusiastic, though in August (he, Chester), had a sudden call to go home. I bought his supplies for use in my surveys. After Chester had left, Engineer Lee, a son-inlaw of Charlemagne Tower, came up, missing Chester on the way.
When he found me he had no supplies, but I fixed him out. We looked over the country for a railroad route.” First Land Entries.-Mr. Tower, evidently, did not wait for Professor Chester’s final report. Possibly, the weekly mail service between Chester’s camp and his agent, Mr. Stone, in Duluth, had brought him such favorable reports as the work of exploration proceeded that he had quite made up his mind to invest heavily in Vermilion lands, which presumably he was able to do as soon as the government survey then being undertaken by Stuntz had been completed, and the land thrown open for entry. It has been stated that “the first land entries on the range (Vermilion) were made December 22, 1880, by George C. Stone, of Duluth,” but there is record that Mr. Tower, probably through George C. Stone, bought 840 acres in township 62-15, sections 13, 31, 32 and 33, as early as August 28, 1880, while Prof. Chester was still in Minnesota. Some of it was “scripped” with half-breed scrip, being acquired from Francis Roussain, F. Roussain, 358Jr., E. Roussain, Joseph Chatelain, A. J. Frizzell (or Fuzzell), W. Morgan and Wm. Paterson, at $4 an acre. As one writer has it: “In August and December, 1880, Stone is found picking up for Tower and his associates the virgin Vermilion lands, surveyed and opened for entry through his importunity. It is an illustration of the innocence of those times that some of the choicest pieces were acquired with half-breed scrip, which entitled the claimant to anything except mineral land, and nobody seems to have thought it was anything out of the way. That cost $4 an acre. For the rest they paid $500 a quarter-section to entrymen, who took up farms on the barren rocks and commuted them at $1.25 an acre, with a minimum of time and easy swearing. And nobody thought there was/anything out of the way in that either. It cost Tower $40,000 for 17,000 acres of land.” Some of the Entrymen.-It was $300 easily and quickly made for each entryman, among whom were: H. L. Eyre, Thomas Englishby, Bernhardt Fitztaff, August Johnson, Wm. Mathison, B. S. Morgan, E. B. Stanton, Robert Whitford, G. E. Wheeler, Benj. Cadotte, D. Grant, Alex. McGinnis, Duncan McKinley, J. M. Fratenburgh, T. A. King, Ed. Keaugh, Pat McGuire, J. M. Andrews, Andrew Parsons, C. Y. Rogers, Hugh Rose, M. Sharky, C. Syvoisan, C. Brennan, J. Catler, J. Hamilton, J. Leonard, P. McCarron, J. Peterson, J. Periault, C. E. Rich, J. Scott, J. A. Tompkins, T. Cushing, P. Lynch, E. Lynch, M. McAndress, J. O’Niel, D. Payne, John Whelan, H. Dore, P. Eaton, L. Vanavay, L. LaRoche. Yet, in the light of subsequent development, the descend’nts of the entrymen must regret the haste of their forebears. All probably was not mineral land, and much is still unproved; yet most of the acreage is potentially valuable.
Tower, the Landed Proprietor.-Tower and his associates, through George C. Stone, seem to have acquired almost all the mineral land in that part of the Vermilion range, and the Ely group of mines was not discovered for another six or seven years.
The D. & I. R. Railroad Grant.-Possessing such an acreage of land in a proved mineral district, the most important matter to arrange was that of transportation. Unquestionably. it was a deciding factor with Mr. Tower even in 1875, and the plannings and endeavors of George C. Stone during the years 1875-1880 were probably dictated by Mr. Tower, or by a desire to give the eastern magnate the best possible assistance.
Stone’s “Mission in Life.”-It is said that from the moment (in 1875) Stuntz returned from the Vermilion range “with fifty pounds of /re in his packsack,” and “made the geologist sit up,” Stone “had a mission in life, the development of the Vermilion.” For that purpose “he ran for the state legislature in 1875, working as for a sacred cause for favorable legislation.” C. H. Graves, later U. S. minister to Sweden, then a member of the state senate from the Duluth district, “looked after the other end of it.” By faith and zeal, they obtained from the legislature a grant of 600,000 acres of swamp land “for the railroad company that would build to the iron mines.” Through their “patriotic fervor,” there was also adopted “a law by which a tax of one cent a ton on the ore mined should stand in lieu of all other taxes on iron mines in Minnesota,” the following: As to the swamp land, or the land granted to the D. and I. R.
Company, conflicting statements raise a doubt as to whether that company received the 600,000 acres granted them in 1875, but that they did receive a free grant of land is clear., W. W. Spaulding, who was so closely interested in the projects at the time, being president 359of both the Duluth and Iron Range and the Duluth and Winnipeg railway companies, stated that: “The swamp land granted to the Duluth and Iron Range Railroad, by act of the legislature, approved March 9, 1875, was turned over to the Duluth and Winnipeg Railroad Company, by an act approved March 9, 1878.” On the other hand, the following is extracted from a letter written by William R. Marshall, in 1893: I think that but for my efforts the Legislature would not have made the grant of state lands in aid of the Duluth and Iron Range, which was the condition on which Charlemagne Tower had agreed to furnish money for the construction of the road.
Tower in Control of Railroad.-As has been stated earlier in this chapter, the Duluth and Iron Range Railroad Company (organized in 1874, by the Ontonagon syndicate, for the specific purpose of opening up the eastern Mesabi lands owned by them and proved by Peter Mitchell), eventually passed into the control of George C. Stone and the Tower interests. As a matter of fact, the incorporating syndicate did no more than incorporate the railway company. Not a yard was graded, nor a spike driven until 1882, by which time the D. & I.
R. Co. was to all intents and purposes owned by Tower and his associates, the most active being perhaps George C. Stone.
Nothing But Iron in Sight (1881).-In 1881, at the request of “eastern parties,” George R. Stuntz made another exploration, and estimated,that 100,000 tons of ore was “in sight” on’the Vermilion.
That of course would not justify the laying of the railway. It.cost Tower altogether $3,500,000 “to open the mines and reach them by rail.” Tower evidently had his bases in iron safely estimated by better qualified men than Stuntz. Prof. White made calculations also in that year, and of Professor White’s visit, Stuntz writes: “I remember his tapping a ledge, and I asking him what he was looking for.” “I’m trying to find foreign rock,” he replied. “It seems all iron so far.” Fast Work on D. & I. R.-Stuntz and Lee may be said to have made the first rough survey for the railroad in 1880-81. In 1882, at about the time Stone sent the first small crew up to commence preliminary work at the mines, the surveying of the railway was begun. And then, or soon afterwards, Edward N. Breitung, of Marquette, joined Tower in the mining and transportation enterprise, investing considerable money, and in the fall the railway construction contract was let to John S. Wolff and Company, work thereafter proceeding steadily.
Work Begins at Soudan.-In June, 1882, George C. Stone sent up from Duluth a small crew, two men and a boy, to begin test-pitting at Soudan. The two men were Andrew Sandell and Peter Erickson, and the boy was Thomas J. Walsh (who, by the way, has held interests in that vicinity ever since, and at present is actively developing peat deposits near Tower Junction). The crew walked in over the Vermilion trail, from Duluth, with bedding and provisions in their pack-sacks.
Primitive Living.-They had a cabin twelve feet square, built of logs, with roof of cedar bark, and floor of hewn holes. They cooked at first in camp style, in the open, but eventually found a steam boiler “at the gold diggings,” that could be adapted, so as to serve as a stove. But although this improvised stove served for some culinary purposes fairly well, they could not trust the baking of their bread to it. That was done for them by the squaw wife of Mr. Donaldson, the Indian farmer at the Vermilion Indian Reservation.
360They test-pitted at what became the Lee mine, and also at the Soudan, and had only hand drills for the work. In that hard rock it may be imagined their drills constantly needed resharpening and tempering, yet their only anvil was a piece of steel driven into a tree stump. The drills were heated by charcoal, made from brush wood. Of course, such conditions did not last long, although the winter of 1882-83 was a hard one for the pioneers at Tower and Soudan. The commissariat failed, and for more than a month, the Miners had only beans and canned tomatoes to eat. Occasionally they were able to supplement this fare with rabbits brought in by the Indians. However, relief came eventually from an unusual source. The Duluth office of the company despatched John Maallman, Jim McIntyre and Bill Green along the route traversed by/6ne of the earlier expeditions to pick up and carry on to Tower some flour that had been “dumped out of the surveyor’s canoe some years earlier.” They found the flour and carried it on to the mine, although they probably had grave doubts as to its wholesomeness. Upon examination it was discovered that the one inch of hard outer layer of pasty flour had served as a keg. Inside the crust was flour, perfectly wholesome and dry.
Grganization of Minnesota Iron Mining Company.-At the outset, the operations were conducted in the name of George C. Stone and Company, but in December, 1882, the Minnesota Iron Minini Company was formed. Interested in it were Messrs. Tower, Breitung, Lee, Stuntz and Stone. Breitung became connected with the enterprise through the recommendation of Jack Armstrong, it has been stated. Armstrong was the first mine manager, and his deputy was Capt. Sandy McMlaster. Soon, the neighborhood was again to become a center of mining activity, after a lapse of almost two decades. This time, however, it was based on the surety of ascertained mineral deposits of definite merchantability, and backed by a syndicate with ample means to surmount the obstacles that are apt to bring disaster to operators of limited means. A. F. Gross, it is stated, decided after “prospecting the Vermilion that that was no poor man’s country.” He was fortunate in turning to the Mesabi, where he eventually made a fortune; the Vermilion mining needed more than a well-bucket, and rope.
Surveying Townsite of Tower and Soudan.-The townsites of Tower and Soudan were surveyed by Stuntz in 1882, and in 1883 Elisha Morcom became general manager of the mining operations.
Railroad Prospects.-It would seem that the building of the Duluth and Iron Range Railway was not so speculative a project as some writers/have asserted. Its building cost was more than two million dollars, and $3,500,000 was spent by the Tower syndicate on railway building and mining operations before the first 100,000 tons of ore had been carried over the railway. One writer has stated that the railway was constructed “on the strength of an estimated ore body of 50,000 tons,” which is unbelievable. Another stated: “There was no excuse for the building of the Iron Range road than to bring down the ore of the Vermilion range. There was no incidental traffic, and at that time no well-founded hope of any.” But this view can hardly be accepted in view of the correlative facts of that period in the development of St. Louis County. It is true, Tower had rejected the Mesabi mineral lands, to reach which the Duluth and Iron Range Railway was first projected; yet the Ontonagon syndicate had evidently not lost faith in the Mesabi. That is evident in the fact that a company having a capital of $3,000,000 was formed on January 15, 1882. It was called the Mesabi Iron Company, and its incorporators were: W. W. Spalding, at that time president of the Duluth and Iron Range Railroad Company; H. P. Weiland; Alexander Ramsay, 361Minnesota’s war governor; William Harris, of Lake Linder; W. D.
Williams, of Marquette; Lucius Stannard, of Rockland, Wis., and James Mercer, of Ontonagon. And the prospect of profit in railway promoting must have been good in 1883, for in that year local men incorporated the Lake Superior and Northwestern road (the Duluth, Missabe & Northern of later years), which was to run “from the tip of Minnesota Point to Duluth, over to Rice’s Point, and northwest to Red River near the state boundary, with branches to hit the Mississippi at Brainard, and another to the boundary north of Red Lake, and another to Rainy River, by way of Vermilion.” The projectors were James Bardon, J. H. Upham, George R. Stuntz, Joseph A. Mannheim, W. C./Sargent, A. C. Jones, John McGuire, Herman Burg and Leonidas Merritt; and their ambitious plan would probably call for the expenditure of more than the authorized capital of the corporation, $5,000,000. So that it may be assumed Charlemagne Tower and his associates in the Minnesota enterprise were reasonably assured of sate return, in interest as well as principal.
Tower Realizes.–And they had not to wait long; only a few years, for in 1886 “H. H. Porter, an ally of Illinois Steel, came from Chicago, insisting that he must have access to the Vermilion mines for his syndicate, even if he had to build a competing railroad to fetch it.” That was Tower’s opportunity, and he sold everything, lands, mines, railways and docks, for $7,500,000. “A year later, the Minnesota Iron Company showed assets in railroad, docks, and a fleet of vessels and other equipment equal in value to the purchase price paid to Tower, in addition to the 17,000 acres of land of unknowable value” on the Vermilion, and presumably the immense land grant secured for the railroad company by Stone, when a legislator.
The “Red-Cut” that Shouted Iron.-However, to go back a few years in the narrative-to the time when the Duluth and Iron Range road was being built. It was probably in 1883 that the road reached and was crossing the Mesabi; and what then was disclosed certainly added zest to the endeavors of those who thought that the Mesabi would prove a great field. “John Mailman, one of the old miners of 1875, began doggedly following a clue from a well-marked ‘redcut’ that shouted iron to every passerby where Tower’s Iron Range railroad crossed the Mesabi formation.” And James B. Geggie, “starting from the same red cut, followed the trend of the ore onto state property, which though it brought him nothing resulted in the mineral lease law that is enriching the Minnesota state school fund by a hundred million or so.” And it may be taken that these indications of iron on the Mesabi, to the westward of the lean magnetite deposits already investigated by Tower, were duly reported to Mr. Tower, who, although then centering all efforts on the development of the Vermilion range, must have been confirmed in his investments by the knowledge of the Mesabi possibilities. (First ticket over this road bought by R. B. Whiteside.) The Railroad Reaches the Mines.-July 31, 1884, was a momentous day for the Vermilion range. The railway was completed to Soudan, and on that day brought to that point the first passenger train. Elisha Morcom, Jr., writing of that great event, states: “All the men of the mines had a half holiday in celebration of the completion of the railroad. The Indians came in from the forest, and helped the celebration along with a big ‘pow-wow.’ The men all got busy, and shipped five cars containing one hundred tons of ore on the same day. The special which came in for this shipment was 362in charge of Henry Black, as conductor, and Thomas Owens, as engineer.” First Shipment.-John Woolf, the contractor, was honored by being permitted to wheel the first barrow-load of iron ore into the first car, “and every citizen in Soudan heaved in a chunk ‘for luck.’” It appears that “ordinarily the train would have gone out on a Friday, but the date of shipment was changed. Friday was considered unlucky, so Thursday was decided upon instead.” The Indian Pow-wow.-Another account of the day reads: “It was a gala day and everybody was there. The Indians came, and gave one of their pow-wow dances. The son of the man after whom Tower was named was there, and gave the Indians presents, to placate them and enthuse them kindly toward the white man. In those days the white man was in a great minority, and it was a William Penn act in thus dealing with them.” Tower Spur.-It was not until 1886 that the railroad ran the spur from Tower Junction to Tower. Tower history will be reviewed later in this chapter.
First Year’s Shipments; Quality of Ore.-The ore cars at that time were only of 20-25 ton capacity and the average train would consist of about fifteen cars; yet before navigation closed in 1884, 62,124 tons of ore had left Soudan for Two Harbors. Each year the quantity shipped increased, until 1892, in which year more than a million tons were shipped from the Vermilion. That was the year in which the first four thousand tons of Mesabi ore went to the docks.
As to quality of ore, Professor H. V. Winchell, in 1894, wrote: “The quality of Vermilion range hematite has made it famous. ‘Minnesota No. 1 Bessemer’ is as well and favorably known to blast furnace operators as ‘Minnesota No. 1 Hard’ is to grain men. The per cent of iron is high; but less than half the ore produced from these mines is within the Bessemer limit, as to phosphorus.” First Air Drills on the Vermilion.-The first compressed air .drills used on the Vermilion range were brought to Soudan in 1886.
The miners did not take kindly to them. The first hole drilled was only three feet in depth, yet it is supposed to have been all that the air drill could do in three days.
Mining Position in 1894.-Professor Winchell designated the mines of the Tower and Soudan group as the Minnesota mines, and reviewed their history in 1894 as follows: “Discovered thirty years or more ago, no ore was shipped from this range until 1884. The D. and I. R. R. was built by Charlemagne Tower, of Philadelphia, who became interested in the project through the efforts of Mr. George C. Stone. Capt. E. Morcom had charge of the first work of development until the entire group of mines, railroad and state land grants were sold to the present Minnesota Iron Company in 1886. Since then all matters pertaining to the management of the mines have been under the supervision of Mr. D. H. Bacon.
It is generally admitted that there is not a better planned, better kept and more complete and efficient mining plant in the Lake Superior region. It is in many respects a model of how mining operations ought to be conducted. … Ore is being hoisted in eight different shafts at the Minnesota mines. These shafts are between 400 and 800 feet deep, and have for the most part underground connections with each other. They are sunk in the footwall, and communicate with the ore body by cross cuts at the various levels. … The present working force numbers between 600 and 700 men. The filling system is adopted here, and the ore is taken out in overhand stopes 363the full thickness of the ore body. … The levels are about 75 feet apart, and chutes for milling the ore are placed at intervals of 50 feet. … The compressor house is on the shore of Vermilion lake, north of the mine. Ore is loaded from pockets and stockpiles into cars on the railroad tracks which are laid along the south side of the ridge in which the ore is mined. The mines are at present under the direction of Capt. Edwin Ball.” Grouped in the Minnesota mines presumably were what were first known as the Lee, Breitung, Tower, Stone, Stuntz and Armstrong mines, most of them later recognized as part of the Soudan mines, which were the first to ship.
All the mines eventually passed into the control of the United States Steel Corporation, through its subsidiary the Oliver Iron Mining Company.
The Mystery of the Lee Mine.-When mining operations first began on the Vermilion range in 1882, the small crew settled down resolutely to work the most attractive prospect, which later became known as the Lee mine. Lee Mine Hill was apparently “nothing but iron ore.” Stone “and his men stripped a breast of ore at the North Lee, sixty feet wide and eighty feet long. It was a rich ore running about 67 per cent iron content, covered by only a few feet of overburden” states the report.
Work was proceeding concurrently at other prospects, including the Breitung, and several were operating before the railroad reached Soudan.
The exact year in which the Lee mine was opened has not been ascertained by present compiler, but one report has it that “soon after the Lee mine was opened up, it was abandoned, on account of the low grade of the ore, and operations were transferred to the Soudan Hill, where there was a large outcrop of hematite iron, and where thousands of tons were mined from an open pit before shaft sinking was commenced.” Another report, and it has the merit of being the testimony of a man who was there at the time, infers that the quality of the ore was not the true reason for the closing of the Lee Hill mine. At that time, it appears, “the Minnesota Iron Company was operating both the North and South Lee mines, and employed about three hundred men in them; had two mining plants, and railway tracks to both mines.” In other words, the mines had all the necessary surface machinery. Yet, “in one night, all disappeared-all trace of surface property had been blotted out.” Indeed, the miners who “dropped their tools” one evening, at 6 o’clock, and were at the mine at 7 o’clock next morning, “ready to again pick up their tools” for another day’s work, had to do “some hard blinking,” and in other ways try to be sure that they really were awake, and at the mines. Yes.
Undoubtedly they were, but what a change in a night. All visible surface property had disappeared. Not a vestige of anything, but the hill itself, was in sight. The railway tracks even had been torn up and carried away.” The narrator surmised that the sensational removal of “attachable” property to Soudan Hill was “because the Astor Estate, of New York, had filed, or was about to file, a claim to Lee Hill, by a right Astor had acquired under a grant given by the general government to an Indian, for treaty services.” Since that year, 1888, not a pound of ore has been taken from the Lee Hill mines. Litigation followed the closing, but eventually the Minnesota Iron Mining Company was confirmed in its Lee Hill holdings.
Soudan Mines.-Up to the end of 1919, the Soudan mines had yielded 9,298,478 tons of ore. It is said to be the deepest mine in Minnesota, being now at the 1,800 foot level. Its available ore body seems now near exhaustion; yet, it has so seemed many times before. About fifteen years ago “a large body of ore was encountered at the 1,400 foot 364level, after it was supposed that the mine had been practically worked out;” and a similar find at a lower level may prolong its life for many years yet. When at the zenith of activity, the Soudan mines found employment for 1,500 to 1,800 men, Elisha Morcom bringing in about 1,500 men, “as fine a band of miners as ever assembled in Minnesota,” most of them “picked men,” from Michigan.
From the time of the transferrence of the Tower interests to the Porter syndicate in 1886, to the passing of the Minnesota Iron Company, D. H. Bacon was in charge. “He in turn was succeeded by Captain Pengilly (and) when the U. S. Steel Corporation was formed the mines of the Vermilion range (those that belonged to that corporation) both at Tower and Ely were placed under the general superintendence of Capt.
Charles Trezona.” For many years Wm. A. McCurdy was superintendent at Soudan. Elisha Morcom, Jr., is now in charge. Captain Trezona is still general superintendent of the Oliver Iron Mining Company’s Vermilion properties.
Independent Mines of the Tower District.-Before passing on to a review of the Ely group of mines, some reference should be made to independent mining companies of the Tower district. They are not many, or important. The Consolidated Vermilion mine, situated at “Semer,” near Tower, was opened in 1916. In 1909 Thomas J. Walsh, the boy who was sent with the first small mining crew to the Vermilion by George C. Stone in 1882, “secured 160 acres in section 5, 62-14, from John Semer, of Escanaba, Michigan, and organized the Vermilion Iron and Steel Company, of which Mr. Walsh was president. The company spent about $400,000 in developing the mine, and prospects seemed to be good in 1916, when 1,436 tons were shipped. Shipments continued until 1918, when the property was closed down. Only 19,521 tons have been shipped. Development work, however, is now proceeding under the Phoenix Mining Company.
Another property, owned in fee by Thomas J. Walsh, was the subject of protracted litigation, the Minnesota Iron Company claiming it.
It was, however, confirmed to Mr. Walsh, who, however, has not brought it into production.
Then there is the McComber mine near Armstrong Lake, 62-14. It was acquired by W. C. McComber about the time the D. and I. R. was extended to Ely, and at that time a small shaft was sunk, but no ore was raised until 1917. Up to the end of 1919, only 8,386 tons had been shipped. It is owned by the Mutual Iron Mining Company, of Duluth.
The Chippewa Iron and Shawmut Iron companies have undeveloped properties in township 62-14.
The Ely Group of Mines.-It has been stated that at “about the time that developments were started at Tower, ore was also discovered at Ely, by Martin Pattison, at what is known as the Pioneer mine at Ely, adjoining the famous Chandler.” It does not fix the date very definitely, but it was probably in 1885, or 1886, the discovery of what became the Chandler mine being in the latter year. The Pioneer, as its name indicates, was probably the first discovered, although Winchell stated, in 1894, that “the first work of exploration was performed on the present site of the Chandler mine in the summer of 1886.” Pioneer Mine.-The original Pioneer lease is dated June 24, 1886, and is from W. J. Conan, William Pattison and R. B. Whiteside to James B. Gregory, on a basis of a royalty of 50 cents a ton. The lease was “modified and confirmed to the Pioneer Vermilion Iron Mining Company,” which, perhaps, was not the original Pioneer Iron Company “formed to develop the property,” that company being “composed of Dr. Conan, Martin Pattison, W. H. Pattison, M. E. Pattison and R. B.
365 QC 00 ff;;f00::A0: f0ff0 :If If ~ ::000:::0 :0 ….. 0;V0;000Whiteside.” A lease filed Dec. 12, 1891, and signed by Thomas Bardon, as president of the Pioneer Vermilion Iron Mining Company, stipulated for payment of a royalty of forty cents a ton on the first 75,000 tons, and “all over that at 35 cents.” Apparently, Dr. Conan was principal original owner, for when, on August 5, 1898, a fifty-year lease was granted to the Oliver Mining Company at 33 cents Eliza Conan was shown to own one-half of the property, and W. H. Pattison, Grace E. Pattison and R. B. Whiteside one-sixth each. Shipments of ore at the Pioneer began in 1889, although only 20,886 tons were shipped up to 1892. Nothing was shipped in the next two years, and then Prof. Winchell stated: “Owing to the great depth at which the ore is found, there has been great difficulty in getting the mine developed. … During the past two years, however, a four-compartment shaft has been sunk 800 feet, and good ore has been found, both by drilling and cross-cutting.
The prospects are good for as large a deposit of ore here as in the Chandler.
The mine superintendent is Capt. E. J. Gilbert, with W. J. Rattle as consulting engineer. The ore is as good as the Chandler, or even better.” When the operation passed to the Oliver Mining Company in 1898, the mine was yielding substantially 500,000 tons, having been mined since 1894. Capt. Chas. Trezona took over the management of the mine for the Oliver Company, and became general superintendent of the Vermilion mines, and still is. B. 0. Strachan is assistant general superintendent.
The shaft house erected by the Oliver Company at the Pioneer mine is stated to be “the largest and most substantial in the district.” The ore “is considered to be the most valuable hard ore” mined in the Lake Superior district, and it is the premier underground mine of the Minnesota ranges, having yielded to end of 1919, 11,318,527 tons, the next largest underground mine being the Chandler which to end of 1919 had given 10,694,684 tons. Work is at the 13th level now, and there is still an ore body of more than four million tons available. The Pioneer mine has been one of the mainstays of the city of Ely, for more than twenty years having maintained a constant and substantial yearly yield.
Chandler Mine.-The Chandler mine, first to be brought to shipping stage, was explored and developed for the Minnesota Iron Company by Captain John Pengilly, who in the first years worked under the direction of Joseph Sellwood. Winchell wrote that “trenches were dug in the mixed ore and gravel which lay above and a little to the south of the Chandler deposit” in 1886, and that “in 1888 the D. and I. R.
reached the mine and the town of Ely sprang up.” Continuing, he wrote: “The ore at the Chandler mine is peculiar in two respects. In the first place, it is hard ore crushed into small bits and pieces by natural forces.
In the second place, it is all Bessemer ore. … It is a very desirable ore, and finds a ready purchaser. … The mining is done by the caving system, and is performed at a very low cost for underground mining. There are four shafts, two on the north and two on the south side of the ore deposit. … The ore body seems to have been subjected to a buckled fold, which crushed it and greatly increased the width of its middle portion. … The mine has paid a small fortune in royalties to the fee-owners, among whom are Hon. Martin Pattison, of West Superior and H. M. Bradley, of Duluth.” During twenty years of operation, the Chandler mine “paid several thousand dollars a year to the fee owners,” and the Chandler Iron Company “paid its stockholders $100,000 net profit each month for nineteen years.” The first shipment was made in August, 1888, and during the next twenty years more than 9,500,000 tons were shipped. The vein seems to have been exhausted in 1908, when the mine was aban- 367 Xdoned. Shipments were resumed in 1911, but on a much smaller scale, the average yearly shipment since being about 120,000 tons. The property latterly has been under divided management, the North Chandler mine being operated by the Chandler Mining Company, the manager of which is Captain Frank Kent, and the South Chandler mine by B. M.
Pattison. The ore latterly won is still of good grade.
The south forty of the Chandler mine was acquired from the government by William and Martin Pattison, they having filed scrip thereon, this forty of the mine has always remained in the Pattison hands and is still owned by the Pattison estates.
The north forty of the Chandler mine was filed on by Thomas Armstrong, his filing included also three other forties to the north, Armstrong proved up his title to this claim. Later on, this forty was acquired by Hiram Sibley of New York, Isaac Bearinger of Saginaw, H. M. Bradley and the Myers Brothers of Duluth.
Of the other mines in the Ely group, the Sibley, Zenith and Savoy were operated by the Oliver Iron Mining Company. The first two are still active mines but the Savoy has not been worked since 1916.
Savoy Mine.-The Savoy yielded, to the time of stoppage in 1916, 1,862,229 tons of ore. The property was first explored by the Minnesota Iron Company, and condemned as worthless, after long drilling operations.
Later, however, the property was explored by John G. Brown and A. M. Miller, Sr., of Duluth. “These gentlemen demonstrated the superiority of shaft sinking over drill work in the exploration of Vermilion range properties,” and in 1898 proved it to be a good property. In 1899 shipments began, and continued without a break until 1916. Mr. Miller owned seven-eighths of the property, which he and his partner disposed of, soon after shipments began, to the Oliver Iron Mining Company.
Zenith Mine.-The Zenith mine was owned and explored by the Bradleys and Harvey, of Duluth, operating as the Zenith Mining Company.
Exploratory work began in 1888, and the first shipment was in 1892. In 1893 the operations were suspended, the mine proving in early years a disappointing one. Up to that time the mining captain had been Nick Cowling, and he directed its subsequent development until the mine became a steady and heavy producer. Franklin Rockefeller, the Harvey Iron Company, and R. B. Whiteside were all interested in the fee, and carried it through to good development, eventually selling to the Oliver Company. For a depth of 800 feet, the Zenith had only a seven foot vein, but at 1,000 feet the vein widened to 400 feet. In 1919, the property passed to an independent mining company, the Zenith Iron Mining Company, and indications are that the mine will continue to be a heavy producer, having more than two million tons yet available. Kennett Duncan is present superintendent, and to end of 1919 the Zenith had given 5,618,797 tons.
Sibley Mine.-The Sibley mine, which is between the Zenith and Savoy properties, was owned by Hiram Sibley. Shipments began in 1899, under Captain Pengilly, acting for the original Oliver Mining Company.
Eventually it. passed to the Steel Trust, Capt. Charles Trezona taking over general managership in December, 1903. Not quite ten thousand tons had been shipped up to 1902, but each year since has resulted in substantial shipments, the total to end of 1919 being more than three million tons, of high-grade ore.
Other Mines.-The foregoing reviews the history of the principal mines of the Vermilion. There is the Chippewa property east of Winton, and of course the celebrated Section 30 mine, the history of which is a dramatic story. That, however, is beyond the province of Vol. I-24 369this compilation, which has to be confined to activities within St. Louis County.
White Iron Lake mine, section 2, 62-12, yielded 30 tons in 1912, and there is the Romberg property on section 25, 63-12, also the Lucky Boy mine, on section 5, 62-12, but explorations were unsuccessful.
Municipal History.-The history of Morse township, also that of Breitung township, will be found in the township chapter of the current compilation. The history of the incorporated village of Winton is included in the Morse township sketch. Therefore this chapter will deal, in municipal history, with the two cities of the Vermilion range, Ely and Tower, and with the unincorporated, but not unimportant, place Soudan.
Village of Soudan.-The village of Soudan, which is about a mile or so distant from the city of Tower, has remained as it was in its early years of activity. It certainly has not changed much in twenty years, and its governmental policy is the same now as when first planned. There has never been a saloon in the village, or a store. It is an ideal home community, a place of good substantial residences, and good substantial people. All are interested directly, or indirectly, in the mines, and many have been in the employ of the company for very many years.
Tower probably was the first townsite surveyed, and the first community to come into existence north of Duluth, but Soudan was surveyed and planned at so nearly the same time as to be generally considered to be almost as old a place as Tower.
The history of both Tower and Soudan, we may assume, began with the coming of the little crew of miners to the Vermilion in June, 1882. They worked at Lee Hill, and may have put up their log cabin near their workings; or perhaps they used the cabin erected by Stuntz for Professor Chester in 1880. That hut was “on section 22, town 62, range 15 west, on the shore of the lake, and as near as possible to the outcropping of the ore.” Other crews soon came, and John Owens was sent in by the company to erect a saw mill, so that lumber might be prepared for house-building. He came in 1882 or 1883, accounts being conflicting. One narrative has it that “the first planing mill was brought to Tower in April, 1882,” adding that “the machine weighed 1600 pounds and it took five arid a half days to get it to Tower from Duluth. Ted Wheeler took the job of bringing it.” Another record is that “Ted Wheeler brought in the first load of freight in 1882″ and that “he was accompanied by John Owens, of Sellers-Owens Co., who later built the first saw mill” at Tower. The first boiler was “hauled up from Duluth, January, 1883,” by Wheeler. Perhaps it was part of the sawmill plant. It took six days for Wheeler to bring it in, although he had two teams of horses. It appears that the cold was extreme, “20 to 30 below,” and the horses “were kept from freezing to death by one of the party at a time staying up all night, and keeping a huge fire roaring near the horses.” The same narrative continues: “This sawmill sawed lumber for twenty-six of the homes in Soudan and here (Tower), some of which are now standing. In the fall of 1884, the mill burned.” Another account is that “the first well dug in Soudan was completed in 1883, and was dug by John Owens”; so that evidently Tower and Soudan came into existence almost simultaneously. Elisha Morcom, and a number of experienced miners arrived on Sunday, March 17, 1884. They had been a week on the journey from Quinnescq, Mich.
His party included Hart Hewitt, Charles Johnson, Hy. Kellow and his wife, Frank St. Vincent, William LaBeau and his wife. “From Duluth they road on sleds in the open March weather and arrived in 370the Town of Breitung, Soudan, on March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day,” stated the narrative, adding that “Frank St. Vincent has ever since been employed at Soudan,” latterly as foreman of the blacksmith’s shop at the company’s mine in Soudan” and has “never missed a payday.” The remainder of the story of Soudan might well be taken from the history written about two years ago by Elisha Morcom, Jr.
His narrative, in part, reads: “Mr. E. Morcom was the first superintendent and Nick Cowling the first mining captain. John Owens came in with a little sawmill, which was used in making the lumber for the houses which were to be built. On March 17, 1884, a party of twenty-eight families drove in from Duluth, after a long and tedious journey of three days.
*,< 4 ; * “At first the little mill had to be situated where Tower now is, as the logs had to be floated down the East Two Rivers. A boarding house was built there, and soon the people began to start their homes there. Business men bought lots and immediately started to build ——– SOUDAN PUBLIC SCHOOL stores and business houses. An agreement was made between the business men and the mining men that no stores or business houses would be at the mining location. The name Tower was given to the business section, after Charlemagne Tower, one of the mining men.
The name Soudan was given to the mining location.” Thus one is able to see what was the original intention of the town planners. Soudan was intended, Tower was incidental; and being incidental was made up of business men who planned to trade with the residents and workers at Soudan. Which explains the ultimate agreement between the mining company and the business men of Tower, whereby the people of Soudan recognized Tower as the business section of the joint community.
Mr. Morcom’s “History of Soudan” continues: “The railroad was built from Two Harbors, and the first passenger train came in on July 31, 1884. … The first depot was situated just below where the bridge now is.” “The first house which was built was for Mr. Frank St. Vincent.
The first church in Soudan was the Methodist Church and the first minister was Rev. Knox. Before the erection of the church, services 371had been held in a large boarding house at the Stone location. On account of the distance the miners living in Tower had to walk, a street car was secured to convey them to and from their work. This was in 1890. It was drawn by an engine over a narrow-gauge track extending between Tower and Soudan, and made about ten trips during the day. However, it did not prove much of a success, and, finally, in 1893, it was abandoned. The old roadbed can still be seen.
“Mr. ‘Ted’ Wheeler is one of the oldest citizens of Soudan. He toted over the old Vermilion road in ’84, and hauled in some of the families from Duluth to Tower during that year. Only a few of the families who came here with the first lot are still here. Among them are Mrs. Henry Kellow, Mrs. Fred Williams, Mr. Hart Hewett, Mr.
Charles Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. Mike Duffalow and Mr. E. J. Morcom.
“With the increase in population, it was necessary after a few years to enlarge the public buildings and add new ones. The school was built in 1898 and an addition was added in 1914, making it larger and more sanitary in every way. The hospital is in charge of Dr. R. L.
Burns, and has done much to add to the reputation of Soudan. The mines are still producing ore, but with a smaller force than in former years.” Ten years or so ago Soudan was the “largest location in Minnesota,” having a population of 2,000 or more, and almost all of the conveniences, and few of the disadvantages, of a city. Now only about 250 men are regularly employed at Soudan mines.
The hospital at Soudan was built in 1891, and Dr. Wm. Hutchinson was the first resident physician. Prior to the building of the hospital, there was a surgeon’s office and dispensary at Breitung location.
Franklin Prince was the first chemist, and also mining engineer at the Tower mines, and Lee, son-in-law of Mr. Tower, was the first surveyor of the railroad, being assisted in that work by George R.
Stuntz, who is supposed to have surveyed both the Tower and Soudan townsites. Prince died in 1893, following sunstroke suffered in Cuba. Elisha Morcom, Sr., died in November, 1908, and was buried in Tower.
John Anderson, who now lives in retirement near Dodge Center Minn., was the first postmaster at Soudan. He was also the first bookkeeper at the mines.
It is interesting to note, in connection with the earliest days of mining at Soudan, that for some time-perhaps until mining operations assumed volume under Elisha Morcom-all the steel needed was obtained from “the old gold diggings,” picks, hammers, and such-like mining necessaries being found in surprising quantity. A boat, the “Andrew Reefer,” was built specially, so that some of the heavier material might be brought to Tower from Gold Island and from the Stamp Mill at Pike River. All the lumber had to be whipsawed from the logs; and it is asserted that every nail used in the boat-building was made in the blacksmith’s shop at the mines from sundry pieces of steel picked up at some of the gold explorations.
Andv White was the blacksmith.
The first serious accident at the Soudan mines was on April 18, 1893, when three men were killed and a dozen or more injured by an explosion in the blacksmith’s shop. Some dynamite had become clogged in gaspipe which was being broken up by powerful blows of a 1200 lb. steam hammer. J. B. Nettle, Charles Nelson and Jacob Koshaver were killed, and the shop “presented a harrowing scene.” From a study of the records now available it would seem that 372the ore mined at Soudan, and in that vicinity, prior, to the coming of Elisha Morcom was taken from the surface, shaft-sinking being left to the more experienced miners brought in by Morcom.
The little village is an ideal residential center, and gives good indication of the prosperous state of its residents, who mostly are men of reliability, morally and financially, men who by steady application to industry and firm in loyalty to those by whose enterprise the constancy of work has been developed, have grown into habits of life that mark the best type of American citizens, stable, industrious, and productive.
THE CITY OF TOWER Tower was the “first place to take corporate form of government north of Duluth.” As has been well understood by a reading of this chapter, its existence began and developed concurrently with the e-xploitation of the iron ore resources in the district.
First Family.-The first white family to take up residence in the vicinity of Tower was probably that headed by George E.
Wheeler. Professor Chester, when he reached the Vermilion lake on his first visit, in 1875, to examine the iron ore deposits, found that George E. Wheeler was government agent at the Indian Reservation, his wife schoolmistress there, one of his sons farmer, and another assistant blacksmith. When Chester organized his second expedition, in 1880, he engaged George E. Wheeler, as blacksmith, his narrative of the expedition stating: “George E. Wheeler, who was on the ground at Vermilion Lake, had been engaged as our blacksmith.” Yet, the Wheeler family evidently did not then live at Tower, Professor Chester stating, in 1914: “The flourishing village (city) of Tower has grown up where in 1880 there was not a house, or even an Indian’s hut.” Surveying the Townsite.-George R. Stuntz, in early days, knew the Vermilion country better perhaps than any other white man, excepting possibly the Wheelers. As a matter of fact, he knew the country before the Wheelers went to the Indian reservation; and in 1880 was the principal guide, explorer and advisor of Professor Chester, at the same time having an important governmental commission, that of surveying the township. Whether he completed the township survey in that year is not stated, but it may be taken for granted that he did, seeing that in August, 1880, very many entries of land were made. Stuntz was in the neighborhood in 1881, and he is credited with having surveyed the townsite of Tower in 1882 for the Minnesota Iron Company.
First Men to Arrive.-The first crew of miners did not leave Duluth until June, 1882, but it appears that John Owens in April, 1882, “went to Tower and took charge of the construction of a sawmill for the Minnesota Iron Company, which organization was preparing to begin the development of iron mines at that place.” As other records show it, the Minnesota Iron Company was not organized until December, 1882, but it was merely a continuation of the Stone company, and many records show that John Owens was in Tower in 1882. In April, 1882, Ted Wheeler brought in from Duluth “the first planing mill;” another record is that “In 1882, Mr. Wheeler brought in the first load of freight. He was accompanied by John Owens.” The account goes on to State: “The first boiler was hauled up from Duluth January, 1883,” which agrees with another story, that “the mill was completed in time to begin sawing in February, 1883.
… The lumber manufactured was put to immediate use by the 373company in the construction of houses and other buildings for its own use, or that of its employes.” So that it may be considered that Tower and Soudan began to grow in 1883.
First Building Contractor.–John Owens presumably was the first building contractor on the Vermilion, for he “superintended the бerection of the buildings, as well as the operation of the mill for two years.” That of course would be “company” buildings. Tower in reality however grew independently of the company, although of course because of the company’s operations. Owens was busy with the construction of company houses, at Soudan, but independent enterprise demanded housing at some point near enough to the mining location to attract the trade of the people living there. The location townsite probably was reserved for employees of the company, therefore the tradespeople had to buy lots in the “business section,” which was Tower townsite. Also, economy would seem to dictate location, and it was but natural that buildings should grow in number near to the sawmill. The first independent contractor perhaps was 0. W. Saunders. One note reads: “The first contractor north of Duluth was a man named 0. W. Saunders, of Washburn, Wis.” And Tower being “the first town laid out north of Duluth,” his operations presumably were in that village. It appears that Owen’s mill “was scarcely able to meet the demands for lumber in the growing town,” and “high-grade lumber and other necessaries of life were hauled from Two Harbors to Tower by team until 1884.” In that year, Owen’s mill was gutted by fire. Saunders, then or later, “had a camp in and around Cloquet.” Transportation Before Railroad Came.-Transportation certainly was better in the early ’80s over the Vermilion trail than in the first year of the “Gold Rush,” winter of 1865-66, but even in 1882-83, “teamsters from Duluth and Tower who made the trip with supplies … had no picnic. … It took three days and two nights to cover the more than 100 miles between Duluth and Tower, by wagon road. But few cabins were scattered along that lonesome trail, and the stopping places at night had to be figured on. The Cloquet River, eighteen miles out of Duluth was the first halt; then came White Face River, St. Louis River, Wine Portage, Embarrass Lake, and Tower.” It was stated that “Only in the winter could teams be used. In summer the swamps were many and long, and no horse could negotiate the trail, and so those desiring to come adjusted their packsacks and started on afoot.” Yet it is asserted that “at times there were as many as 200 people at one time en route for Tower and Soudan.” There was a weekly mail service, and “at one time William Bassett had the contract for toting for the Minnesota Iron Company from Duluth up.” John Mallman, also it appears, traveled the trail as the company’s messenger, bringing the pay, which was in “actual money,” week by week (or pay-day by pay-day) from Duluth.
“Thousands of dollars were transported nailed up in a box, and hauled by team over the long trail through the pines,” yet Mallman was never molested.
An Unusual Requisition.-Life in Tower and Soudan seems to have been rigorously passed in the first days, and probably the winters seemed harder to bear on the ranges than in the steam heat of the city.
Yet, a characteristic cheerfullness was present, as indicated in the company clerk’s requisition for a thermometer “which would not freeze up at 40 degrees below zero,” as the Mercury instruments were apt to do.
He is supposed to have asked “for a six-foot thermometer, with the zero at the top, so that all might know how cold it really did get.” First Post Office.-A “History of Tower” written in 1916 states: “The post-office was located in a log hut southwest of the depot, John 374Anderson being the first postmaster. Old-timers will recall that the mail was brought from Duluth by dog trains driven by Barney Lynch.” Tower Incorporated.-Tower was incorporated as a village under chapter 73 of the General Laws of the State of Minnesota, 1883, compilation, the incorporation coming into effect on November 11, 1884, when the first election of village officers was held at the Cody House, Tower, a boarding house erected by the Minnesota Iron Company, and later known as the Pioneer Hotel.
First Village Officers.-The voters then assembled, and named F. A. Cody and Robert A. Kempffner to be judges of election, and W. G. Bonham, clerk to them. In due course, the judges declared the voting to have brought into office: John Owens, as president, he having received 136 votes; John G. Brown, John Sawbridge and James Bale, as trustees, they having received 118, 129 and 100 votes respectively; Neil Mclnnis, as treasurer, with 135 votes; Wm. N. Shephard, recorder, having had 136 votes; Horace N. Blanchard and James W. Goss, as justices, having had 131 and 94 votes respectively; and Michael O’Keefe, as constable, he having received 136 votes.
First Council Meeting.-The first council meeting was held in the office of James W. Goss on November 28, 1884. At that meeting, the president “was authorized to appoint someone to procure a copy of the bylaw and ordinance, as used in the village of Duluth.” W. N. Shephard was appointed. There was only one other meeting that year, and that was somewhat notable, the minutes stating that “further business was suspended, because the council had “received information to the effect that the Supreme Court had declared the incorporating of the village to be unconstitutional.” First Marshal.-Before suspending business on December 16, 1884, the council evidently had determined that the necessary measures should be taken to ensure order in the community. Michael O’Keefe was appointed village marshal at a salary of $50 a month.
Ordinance No. 1.-They also at that meeting passed ordinance No. 1, which fixed penalties that would follow prosecution of residents who had violated the law of common decency. Conviction on the charge of being drunk or disorderly would bring, under Ordinance No. 1, a fine of from five dollars to twenty-five dollars, or “five days to thirty days in the lockup,” or both. A reading of the first “Financial Report,” covering the period November, 1884, to March 9, 1886, will give an indication of the necessity of the enactment of some such ordinance. Of total revenue, during that period, of $4,957.57, more than four thousand dollars came from holders of saloon licenses.
Village Council Resumes.-Business was resumed by the same village council in February, 1885, the State “Legislature having passed an act, legalizing the incorporating of our village.” First Village Attorney.-W. G. Bonham was appointed village attorney, at a salary of twenty-five dollars a month, and was assisted in his work, it has been stated, by A. J. Thomas, later of Ely.
First Financial Report.-The village treasurer’s “Financial Report, November, 1884, to March 9, 1886, reads: Receipts: For saloon licenses …………………………………. $4,005 00 Pool and billiard table licenses ………………………… 113.40 D og tax ………………………………………….. 15.00 Fines ………………………………….. 354.50 Miscellaneous ……………………………… 34.85 Lot assessments ………. 434.82 —- $4,957.57 375Expenditures: Police ………………………….. ………………. $1,329.90 Lock-up ………………………… …………….. 43.95 Village attorney ……………………………………. 225.00 Election expenses ………………………………….. 15.00 Officers’ fees: T reasurer ……………………………… $ 71.29 Recorder ………………………………. 113.33 President ……………………………… 10.00 Trustees, 3 at $10……………………….. 30.00 244.62 Stationery …………………………………………. 151.54 M iscellaneous ……………………………………… 112.09 M aterial, street improvements………………………… 281.04 Labor, street improvements………………………….. 1,232.84 3,635.98 Balance ………………………….. ………. ………. $1,321.59 (There is not such a difference between municipal expenditure of first and a recent year of Tower, as can be shown of some other Range cities and incorporated places, for as a matter of fact Tower was in the heyday of its prosperity in, about, the year 1890, and has since been to an extent decadent. It 1919 the total tax levy was only $18,109.78, for all purposes. Tower had an officially-recorded population of 1,110 in 1890, but at that time at Soudan “there were 1,800 miners on the payrolls of the company, and … a population of about 7,000 in this neck of the woods,” testifies one pioneer.) Village Prospering.-By the year 1886, the village had progressed so far in importance as to boast of possessing a good bank, a school, a church, a village hall, and (perhaps first in importance) a railway station.
Some of the Pioneers.-Among the pioneers who have held to the neighborhood are Andrew Bystrom, Gus Bystrom, William Holter, M. Kellow and Ted Wheeler. Others are named elsewhere. Charles McNamara, Hy. Chin, Andrew Hockinson, C. H. Oppel and John Rice came in the first years. W. H. Congdon “walked in from Allen Junction, July 7, 1884,” having left Two Harbors three days earlier with two other men.
Heavy Transportation Cost.-It “cost $3.00 to get a hundred pounds to Tower from Duluth,” it appears. “A sack of flour of 100 pounds could be laid down here by team for $10.” An even more grievous overcharge was that made for carrying “necessities” such as Milwaukee beer to the village. It appears that “from Milwaukee to Duluth the freight rates were $40″ (for a carload of fifty barrels); from there by team to Two Harbors $30,” and “from there to Tower another $100 went for freight alone.” Whether this was before the completion of the railway is not stated, but the linking of Tower to the D. and I. R. system became vital as the town grew.
Tower a Railway Terminus.-The most active, probably, in the movement to bring the railway from Tower Junction to Tower was John Owens. The first mill was burned in 1884, and the next mill he leased “for two years” from the Minnesota Iron Company, forming partnership with Mr. Sellers, and trading as Sellers and Owens.
They had to ship much lumber, and had to haul it “to Soudan by team, that it might be loaded on cars for shipment to market.” The narrative continues: “This was an added expense and also quite a task at times, as the roads were not then as now. So this company decided to ask the Iron Range officials to extend the line to Tower.
The officials told them that for $2,000 spot cash, the road would be built. It was a hard undertaking in those days of little money, but ’376it was eventually arranged, J. D. Murphy dropping a hundred dollar bill into the hat; Richwine and Murray put up $200. Oppel and Sons were among the big subscribers, and Capt. Morcom put in the last $68.
The D. and I. R. officials returned the $2,000 eventually in freight bills.” An indication of what that meant to the people of Tower is conveyed in the statement that even in the spring- of 1883. tccording to Silas Robinson, later of Robinson’s Lake, “270 tons of freight were drawn in by this means (over the Vermilion trail on sleighs) that spring” at a cost of “three dollars per hundred weig-ht.” Early Church History.-In 1885 “part of North Second Street was donated by the mining company for churches, and throu-gh the influence of Father Champaigne the Catholic church was erected.” Earlier, SECOND SCHOOLHOUSE ERECTED IN TOWER (IT WAS BUILT IN 1891, AND DISMANTLED IN 1919. THE FIRST TOWER SCHOOLHOUSE STILL STANDS-A TWO-ROOMED FRAME BUILDING LYING ALONGSIDE PRESENT SCHOOLHOUSE) it seems, that church services were conducted in the J. D. Murphy store. Father Buh, who in 1888 went to Ely, was earlier in Tower.
The Presbyterians early had a society in Tower, building a church, it is said, at about the same time as the Catholics. Rev. E. N. Raymond was one of the first ministers, if not the first, of Presbyterian faith in Tower.
Early Real Estate Values.- What was paid for village lots has not been recorded in papers available to compiler, but it appears that Sellers and Owens paid the Minnesota Iron Company $250 an acre for eight acres of swampy land, “the home of bullrushes and bullfrogs,” between the depot and the sawmill of the Trout Lake Lumber Company. On that land the lumber company built two mills, both of which were destroved. Mr. Sellers was instantly killed on July 6, 1887, “by the bursting of a revolving saw.” Lumber Historv.-After the burning of the last Owens mill, and the tragic death of his partner, Mr. John Owens left Tower, going to the Mesabi range, and there forming association with David Adams 377and other founders of Virginia and Eveleth. He left Tower in, or before, the spring of 1891. After the burning of Owen’s mill, the Tower Lumber Company “built the mill on Pike Bay, now (1916) owned and operated by the Cook and Ketcham Lumber Company,” which plant was dismantled in 1920. The Vermilion Lumber Company built a small mill at Tower in 1905 or 1906. Later, the Alger- Smith Lumber Company operated.
Tower Receives a City Charter.-Tower completed city organization on April 9, 1889, “when election was held by the powers of bill by which the village of Tower was granted city government.” There were two candidates for mayoral office, W. N. Shephard and Chas.
McNamara. W. N. Shephard became the first mayor of Tower, receiving 283 votes, against 179 cast for his opponent. The other offices under the city government were filled by: Daniel McDonald, recorder, defeating E. Tullberg; Julian Howard, H. D. Kepner and Charles Johnson, aldermen; C. C. Oppel, city treasurer, his opponent being L. A. Marsell; Seth Scott, municipal judge.
(By the way, more than one record states that “William Bassett was the first mayor of Tower.” The present compiler, however, has failed to find any basis for such a statement; certainly the official records do not show his name, for any office at all in the original village organization, or in the first city administration.) Present Council.-The present city administration is as follows: Mayor, H. T. Olson; M. Gunderson, A. Weinsierl and W. A. Tufander, council; J. B. Pearson, city clerk; L. A. Redeen, city treasurer; T. H.
Wheeler, municipal judge. The city clerk receives a salary of only $300 a year, that contrasting strikingly with salaries paid to clerks of some Range cities and villages.
City Hall.-The first city hall was built in 1884, or rather the village hall. It was destroyed by fire in 1885. The present city hall was built in that year.
Early Merchants.-C. H. Oppel and Sons erected a general store in Tower in 1884; J. D. Murphy had a store in the village in the early years, and J. C. Sovde and Co.’s store was opened in 1886.
Banking.-The “History of Tower” (1916) locally written, states that “the first bank in Tower was built by John Rice in 1884, on the site now occupied by the Merchants and Miners State Bank, and was succeeded by the National Bank in 1887, which later became the First State Bank.” Other records aver that “the First State Bank of Tower was established in 1886, as C. H. Graff and Company, private bankers,” John Rice being cashier. The First National Bank was organized in 1886, and “commenced business in 1887,” with a capital of $50,000.
A bank building was built in 1887, at a cost of from $15,000 to $20,000, and as a national bank the financial institution was continued until 1895, when it became a state bank, the capital under the reorganization becoming $25,000. The first directors of the national bank were H. A. Ware, A. D. Thompson, A. M. Miller, Thomas J. Davis and Luther Mendenhall. George A. Whitman, the present president, became cashier in 1890, 0. WV. Akerson becoming assistant cashier in 1897. H. A. Ware was first president, and G. W. Hertges first cashier.
The First State Bank is still the substantial financial institution of Tower and that part of the Vermilion Range, and George A. Whitman is still identified with its management. The capital is still $25,000, and the present officers are: G. A. Whitman, president; O. C.
378Sovde, vice president; W. J. Pryor, cashier; Messrs. Whitman, Sovde, Pryor, Gunderson and McQuade being directors.
The bank had total deposits of $388,415.00 on October 6, 1920, deposits subject to check being $123,782.06.
Another bank was opened in 1915, the Merchants and Miners Bank, it being “one of a string of banks organized by Roy Quimby.” The bank examiner closed fourteen banks in February, 1919, including the Merchants and Miners Bank, Tower. It is stated that there were deposits amounting to $122,000 shown on the last statement issued by the closed bank, presumably the deposits of Tower people, chiefly.
The stockholders were assessed one hundred per cent, and the final accounting will, it is expected, mean a heavy loss to depositors.
A Noteworthy Achievement.-Tower need not only take pride in the fact that it was “the first town laid out north of Duluth.” It has another unique distinction. To it “belongs the honor of being the first city in the United States to unveil a monument in memory of William McKinley, the martyred president.” William McKinley was shot on September 7, 1901. He died on September 14th. A memorial service was held at Tower on September 19th. A resolution was adopted then to erect a monument, and school children became active thereafter in collecting funds. The monument, 22 feet high and based on iron-bearing rocks cut from the Soudan deposits, was placed in position at the head of Main Street, and dedicated on November 10, 1901, “the ceremonies being attended by officials and other distinguished people from St. Paul, Minneapolis, Duluth and other places.” Beautiful Lake Vermilion.-Lake Vermilion should have charm because of its historic associations, which reach back in the annals of the white people of America to the time when the French missionaries and coureurs des bois canoed the upper reaches of the St. Lawrence.
(The trade route, in fur-trading times, from Lake Superior to the Lake of the Woods and Canadian waterways was through Lake Vermilion, and it is said to be possible, with easy portages, to canoe from Tower to the sea at Hudson Bay). The Indians used the waters of Lake Vermilion for centuries before that, in all probability; and they still cling to the beloved spot. The early traders had posts on the lake, as has been noted earlier in this chapter. But apart from the historic interest, Lake Vermilion should have irresistible charm because of its natural beauty. The mining activity is diminishing, and the city of Tower has laterly been decadent, and to some extent its future will lie in its development as a summer resort. Lake Vermilion, with its many charming little islets-365′ in all, it has been asserted- most of them well timbered, makes an ideal summer “retreat” for the city man who loves nature. It has been only within the last few years that the people of Tower have awakened to the possibilities for the city in developing the lake. A local review reads: “The beauty of Lake Vermilion was not fully appreciated until 1910, when I Goodwill erected a summer hotel on the mainland, about eighteen miles up the lake. In 1912, the Vermilion Boat and Outing Company was organized, and constructed boat houses on East Two Rivers and cottages on the Isle of Pines. The Grey-Wertin Company, Hunter’s Lodge, Fabin’s Place, Joyce’s Hotel, and others, with the officials of the D. and I. R. Railroad, are making Lake Vermilion the Mecca of the summer tourists.” Sixty thousand dollars have been spent in dredging East Two Rivers, so as to give Tower ready access to the lake.
The Indian name, “Ona-ma-sa-ga-i-gan,” meaning “Beautiful sunset,” is descriptive of one of the charms of Lake Vermilion. There 379are excellent school buildings on the Indian reservation, which borders part of the south shore of the lake. There are also other administrative buildings, but the school has not been used since 1918, and apparently will not be again reopened, “the young Indians formerly attending the school being sent to Indian schools elsewhere.” Boating.-In the early days of Tower a side-wheel steamboat plied the waters of the lake. It was built by Lynch Bros., and could carry fifty persons. Its first notable trip with excursionists was on the. Fourth of July, 1886, when “it carried a load of excursionists out to Birch Island for the day, charging $1.00 a head, round trip.” Nowadays, the motor boat shoots through the water, but the romantic mode of weaving in and out among the many islands of Lake Vermilion will perhaps always be by canoe and paddle.
Lake Vermillion is a distinct asset to the city of Tower.
School History.-School history in Tower began, in all probability, in 1884. A “small schoolhouse” was built in 1885, but apparently school was “conducted formerly in the J. D. Murphy store.” Whether the 1884 school was of private character cannot be determined; the school records begin with the school-year 1885-86, when A. W. Jones was the teacher, he being paid a salary of $60 a month.
In that school-year, John A. Eby was the teacher at Soudan, and received a like salary. School opened in November. School District No. 9 probably was not organized until 1888; records preserved do not go further back. Then apparently the school district heads were W. N. Shephard, director; C. C. Oppel, treasurer; E. P. Morcom, clerk. The school levy in 1889 was $8,500. Salaries to teachers totaled to $4,500, teachers receiving $60 and the principal $90 a month.
In 1886-87 there were four teachers for the two schools, Soudan and Tower, namely: John A. Eby, Kate Sevelting, Mary Kinney and Luwell (or Sudwell, or Suwell) Williams. Bartlett Sinclair taught in 1887-88; and new names in 1888-89 were Nelson Williams, A. R.
Nichols, D. T. Denton, Alvina Morcom and B. F. Replogle. The last named was principal at Tower School, and presumably the superintendent, being the highest-paid educator employed in the district.
There is not sufficient space available to completely review school history of the Tower District; furthermone the complete records were not found by present compiler. But some of the leading facts are given. The principals at Tower during last twenty years have been: Mr. Wiles, 1899-1900; E. O. Loveland, 1902-03; Fred Miles, 1904-05; E. A. Mooney, 1906-08; W. R. Morton, Ruth Rankin, L. A. Joel, R. J.
McClintock and S. Coher, for periods between 1909 and 1912; R. E.
Atterholt, 1912; J. R. Oberg, 1913; C. O. Reinhold, 1915; G. C. Applebee, 1916; M. P. Rapacz, 1917; H. A. Bruehl, 1918; B. F. Eveslage, 1919; M. P. Rapacz, 1920. The Soudan principals during the same period were: E. O. Loveland, 1889-90; Mr. Buck, 1901; N. A. Young, 1902-06; W. H. Cartwright, 1907-08; Isabelle Carlisle, 1909-10; B. F.
McComb, 1911; R. W. Borst and B. C. Winkelman, 1912; Chris J.
Wernlund, 1913; Joseph Koucky, 1914; P. M. Nelson, 1915; L. C.
Haskins, 1916; 0. D. Flenner, 1917; Chester Miller, 1918, and W. M.
The superintendents of School District No. 9 from 1909 have been: W. H. Cartwright, E. E. Mclntire, B. F. McComb, P. M. Atwood.
The present superintendent is G. L. Fleming, and his task is by no means unimportant, District No. 9 being probably the largest, in area, in St. Louis County. It reaches into 31 townships, practically all the territory in eastern part of St. Louis county north of Tower 380being in School District No. 9, although, of course, the main service is at Tower and Soudan.
The district had an enrollment of 603 scholars for the school-year 1919-20. The corps of educators consisted of five male and twentythree female teachers, the average monthly salary of the former being $159, and of the latter $104. School property was then valued at $160,000, there being three frame schoolhouses, and one brick. The brick building is the new high school at Tower. It was completed in 1917, at a cost of $80,000, and was well planned, although of course in size it does not bear favorable comparison with some of the Mesabi Range schools.
The principal officials of the school board in 1919-20 were: J. P.
Pearson, clerk; Carl G. Carlson, treasurer; H. T. Olson, chairman of directors.
Publicity.-Latterly, Tower has been well cared for by an enterprising commercial club, which organization in 1920 was officered by: G. C. Carlson, president; Gunder Peterson, vice president; Herman T. Olson, secretary; Frank C. Burgess, treasurer.
The last-named has been editor and owner of the Tower newspaper for many years. The Tower Weekly News was established by him in June, 1900, when he took over the plant “of an Austrian paper.” It is a seven-column six-page weekly, and is mostly “homeprint.” During recent years, he has been assisted, editorially, by George B. Heath, an ardent sportsman, whose chief delight is to be on Lake Vermilion.
First Newspaper North of Duluth.-It was at Tower that the first newspaper of the Vermilion and Mesabi ranges was started. The “Vermilion Iron Journal” was founded in about 1888, by Dr. Fred Barrett, it being a continuation of the “Tower Press,” founded by a Mr. Bingham in 1884. In 1888, Dr. Barrett founded the “Ely Iron Home,” his assistant printers and editors at Tower at that time being Henry Nelson and Peter Schaefer. In 1890 Peter Schaefer went to Ely as editor of the “Iron Home,” taking the place of Jack E. Robie, and in 1895 started the “Ely Miner.” It is interesting to record that the first council of Tower refused to give its patronage to the struggling little Tower newspaper, preferring to make its announcements in one of the journals of the village of Duluth.
Population.-The population of Soudan cannot be stated exactly; it is included in the figures for Breitung township, which had a population of 2,034 in 1910, and’in 1920 had only 1,277. It will therefore be realized that there has been a shrinkage at Soudan. The figures for Tower were separately shown.
The population of Tower, according to federal census-taking, in 1890 was 1,110; in 1900 it had increased to 1,366; in 1910 the figures totaled to 1,111, and in 1920 only to 706.
Tower probably is, or soon will be, on the upward turn again, although perhaps independently of mining.
The City of Ely.-The city of Ely is the premier incorporated place of the Vermilion range, although in point of age it is second to Tower. With that exception, it ranks ahead of all the incorporated places of St. Louis County, north of Duluth.
Its municipal history dates back to within a year of that (1886) in which iron ore deposits were found at Pioneer mine, section 27, 63-12.
A mining location soon afterwards developing, a townsite was platted in the spring of 1887, and the village organization effected in 1888, the community being advanced to city dignity in 1891.
381Origin of Name.-It has been stated that Ely was so named “as a compliment to Arthur Ely, a gentleman who was actively interested in promoting the construction of the Duluth and Iron Range railroad, and in the development of the mines at Tower.” As a matter of fact, the place was so-named in honor of a brother of the Arthur Ely referred to. The brother was Samuel P. Ely, in whose honor the first child born on the townsite was named Samuel Ely Polkinghorne.
Discovery of Ore.-The discovery of ore at the Pioneer and Chandler mines has been earlier reviewed in this chapter. The mining promoters, Martin and WV. H. Pattison, R. B. Whitesides, H. M. Bradley and Dr. Conan, all of Duluth and Superior, were all directly interested in the development of the Ely district, being fee-owners.
They, however, had little part in the active founding of Ely.
Town Site of Spaulding.-It appears that “as a result of the discovery (of the Pioneer mine), exploration became very active in that vicinity, and a townsite known as Spaulding was laid out on the shore of Long Lake, about two miles northeast of the present city of Ely,” which also is situated “on the banks of Shagawa, or Long Lake.” On the townsite of Spaulding, “a number of buildings were put up … but interest was soon transferred” to Ely, to which place “a number of buildings were removed.” Which about sufficiently reviews the history of Spaulding.
Townsite of Ely.-The townsite of Ely was forty acres in extent, and “had been taken as a homestead by Edward Brown, and sold to George E. Greenwood and others, who platted the property as early as 1887.” The surveyor was … Hinton, and the plate was recorded on May 25, 1887. “R. B. Whiteside platted the first addition to the townsite,” it being another forty-acre tract, and now “the heart of the city.” Some of the Pioneers.-One of the first men to arrive was H. R.
Harvey, who is supposed to have been exploring in the vicinity as early as 1875; and one report has it that he “located the ore body on the Chandler, Pioneer and Zenith properties.” He certainly was one of the first residents, and was a mining engineer of experience, originally working in the tin mines of Cornwall. But only two of those who signed the petition for incorporation of Ely in 1888 still live in the city. They are Fred B. James and August Fenske. Mr. James came in “over the lakes” during the winter of 1885-86 from Tower.
That was the only feasible route that winter, for anything that could not be packsacked, was sledded over the lakes, as the only alternative was an Indian foot trail, which wound for 28 miles in and out through the forest, avoiding where possible the treacherous marshy spots.
Cutting the First Roadway.-During the winter of 1886-87 an endeavor was made to bring in all the supplies necessary for a whole year by sleds over the lakes and waterways, but the new mining location grew rapidly, and it was necessary to cut a roadway from Tower, through the woods, during the summer of 1887, and soon strenuous efforts were made to induce the railway company to extend the railway system from Tower to the new mining field. By the end of March, 1888, the population was shown to have increased to 177, and for some time before that it was felt that an endeavor should be made to place the community under corporate government.
Petition to Incorporate.-On March 31, 1888, a petition addressed to the county commissioners of St. Louis County, was signed by Robert Whiteside, James Thompson, Eugene J. Poirier, E. J. Emmons and fifty-seven other residents and “duly qualified electors of the ter- 382ritory” under reference, the petitioners seeking permission to incorporate, as the Village of Ely, the below-described territory: a. Ne.-ne. section 33, t. 63-12, already “platted into lots and blocks, and the plat thereof filed in office of the Register of Deeds, 25th May, 1887. Book B of Plats, page 216, entitled ‘Plat of Ely’”; b. Nw.-nw. section 34, t. 63-12, platted and known as Whiteside’s Addition to Ely (Book B. of Plats, page 257); c. Se.-ne., and n. half of se. qr., and sw.-se. of section 33, t. 63-12, known as Porters’ Addition to Ely, (Book B of Plats, page 359); d. Sw.-se. section 27, t. 63-12, known as Pioneer and Zenith Addition to Ely (Book B of Plats, page 372); e. Ne.-nw. and nw.-ne. of section 34, t. 63-12; the several parcels containing in all “about 360 acres.” Incorporation was sought under chapter 145 of the General Laws of the state, 1885 compilation. The accuracy of statements made in petition, and regularity of signing, were sworn to by F. B. James, Joseph H. Hopperton and Samuel V. Brown.
Petition Approved.-On April 16, 1888, the county commissioners approved the action of petitioners, and ordered election to be held on May 31, 1888. They appointed Robert Whiteside, Archibald McLeod and Edgar F. Atwood inspectors of election, and ordered notices of election to be published in the “Ely Iron Home” journal for six issues.
The election, which was held “at the old postoffice building, back of Vail’s hardware store, lot 11, block 15, townsite of Ely,” on May 31st, resulted in seventy-seven votes being cast, every vote being in favor of incorporation.
First Village Officers.-Therefore, voting for officers was soon held. The election date was June 21, 1888, and then John Pengilly became president. The voting for the various municipal offices was as follows: for president, John Pengilly received 58 votes, and his opponent, Asa E. Camp, 57 votes; for trustee, James Thompson received 113 votes, August Fenske, 111 votes; Samuel V. Brown, 56 votes, and Allen J. McDonald, 61 votes; for recorder, Otto G. Korb received 114 votes; for treasurer, Charles T. Fox, 60 votes, and Eugene J. Poirier, 55 votes; for justices, Louis Sletton and Elijah C. Davey received 115 votes each; for constables, J. H. Murphy received 115 votes and Joseph Hopperton 110 votes.
Village Presidents.-Ely remained a village until 1891. Alexander Lawson succeeded John Pengilly, the president in third year being Charles G. Shipman.
Village Attorney.-All the legal papers connected with the incorporation of the village of Ely were prepared in the office of W. G.
Bonham, attorney of Tower. Associated with him was A. J. Thomas, who eventually became the first attorney of the city of Ely, and drafted the act of incorporation of the city, and also the municipal court act.
Taxation.-The assessed valuation of real and personal propertv within the village of Ely in 1889 was only $202,914, upon which was levied for all purposes $6,838.20. All the rich mineral lands were outside the bounds of the village, which perhaps was the main reason why movement was prosecuted in 1891 to change form of government, and enlarge the limits of the proposed city, so as to include the Chandler, Zenith and Pioneer mining properties, the western end of the Sibley property, and also sections 27 and 28. The wisdom of this measure is at once understood by reference to recent assessment figures. The assessed valuation of real property within the city of Ely in 1919 was $4,035,196, personal property valuation being assessed at $732,800. The full assessment of mining property was not 383 u FY Pe4 << oachieved at the outset; in fact, it was not until a tax committee appointed five or six years ago, had followed the matter through strenuously that the city became satisfied that the mining companies were contributing a proper proportion of the sum necessary for city purposes.
Fred B. James is entitled to the chief credit for increasing the valuation of real property from $2,000,000 to its present level.
Ely a City.-In 1891, by act of the State of Minnesota, approved in the state legislature, March 3d of that year, Ely took city powers, the state legislature in the same year and session approving the act which established the municipal court.
First Mayor.-John Pengilly had the honor of being first mayor of Ely, but the election was not so closely contested as that which brought him into office as village president by one vote. John Pengilly was a mine captain, and might thus be termed a “company man,” but he had been fair in his municipal trust, and was respected by the residents of the city. He was returned as mayor at each election for four years.
Succession of Mayors.-P. R. Vail succeeded John Pengilly as mayor in 1895; in 1897 Grant McMahan was elected; giving place to Louis Sletton in 1900. Next came M. E. Gleason in 1901, Mike Weinzierl in 1903, P. R. Vail again in 1904, J. A. Dinsmore in 1906, M.
Weinzierl in 1907, M. J. Murphy in 1908, Louis Eisenach in 1909, Olof Knutson in 1910, M. Wienzierl again in 1912, Charles Trezona in 1913, John A. Harri in 1914, M. Weinzierle in 1916, George L. Brozich 1917-18, Olof Knutson 1919-20, Henry Chinn, now in office.
First Merchants.-It appears that “the first grocery store was opened in a small log building by James R. Cormack, who had started business a year or two earlier at Spaulding. Fenske and Lawrence built the first frame building in the fall of 1887, it became a hardware and furniture store. It seems that Fenske and Lawrence brought in lumber from Tower on sleighs. The stock came in by sleigh also, probably over the new roadway opened during that summer. It is said that “a stage line was put in operation and did a thriving business while the use of sleighs was practicable. Much other teaming was done over this route, the material for several buildings being transported on sleighs.” P. R. Vail had a hardware store, and Dobie Bros. and Miller became established in general store business in 1888.
First Postoffice.-The first postoffice was named Florence, being changed to Ely under the second postmaster, Edward Atwood. The first postmaster was Fred Fifield, nephew of a former governor of Wisconsin.
First Hotel.-The Pioneer Hotel was built in 1887 by Robert B.
Whiteside, one of the townsite owners and one of the pioneer mining men and fee-owners. The Exchange Hotel was not built until 1891.
First Physician; First Hospital.-The first physician to take up residence in Ely was Dr. Charles G. Shipman, who became village President in 1890. He came to Ely in 1888, and soon established the Shipman Hospital, directing it until 1908, when it passed to Drs. G. T.
Ayres and 0. W. Parker. The Carpenter Hospital, an imposing brick structure, was first directed by Dr. Tanner in 1907.
First Church.-The Roman Catholic Church members soon formed a society in Ely, Father Buh coming over from Tower, and eventually causing to be erected a church building, which it is asserted was the first church built in Ely. Father Buh was “early in the north country, working among the Indians and sparse white settlers,” with headquarters at Little Falls, according to one record, and he was Vol. 1-25 385in Ely “before half a dozen houses had been built,” holding services in Tom Fottrill’s lumber office.
The first Protestant church built was the Presbyterian, the first minister being Rev. Freeman, who held the Easter service of 1889, at which time, however, the local society did not own a church building.
Early services were held in the Central school.
The churches of the present in the city of Ely are the Catholic, Presbyteriah, Methodist, Swedish Evangelical and two Finnish Lutheran churches.
First Birth.-The first white child born in Ely was stated to have been Samuel Ely Polkinghorne. But one prominent present resident of Ely has an even greater distinction. Elias LaBeau, son of Mr. and Mrs. William LaBeau, who were pioneer residents of Tower, was the first white child born there; and in consequence was probably the first white child born north of Duluth in St. Louis County, if the few “towns” established on the Minnesota shore of Lake Superior north of Duluth in the fifties are not considered.
City Departments.-The city maintains its own light and water plant, and has several miles of water mains. Its lighting plant is complete, and extends service to all parts of the city. It has been asserted that “Ely has the finest white-way system of any city of the northwest, the larger cities not excepted.” The sewer system, storm and sanitary, is sufficient and covers the entire city. Ely compares creditably with other Range cities in the matter of street paving; and, in general, the roadways are kept in good condition.
The light and water service is based on a plant completed in 1904, at a cost of $125,000. The power house was in that year located on the shore of Long Lake, from which the water supply comes. The original plant consisted of two pumps, having a combined capacity of 1,500 gallons a minute, the water tank being of 90,000 gallon size.
Filters that could handle 500,000 gallons a day were installed, and there was satisfactory equipment affording direct force of water at high pressure for fire protection. The electric light service included a day and night current, the plant being in the same power house.
In 1910 there were 45 street arc lights, and 550 private users served.
Within five years the number of consumers had increased to more than 1,000, and street-lighting has advanced with the years and the need.
The first board of health was established in 1891, Dr. C. W. More, Alex. McCurdy and Ed. Cram constituting the first board.
A volunteer fire company was organized in 1889, and it has remained an active organization ever since. P. R. Vail was the first fire chief, and other original members long associated with the department are Grant McMahan, A. D. Ellefson and Thomas Jury. For many years the force consisted of about thirty men, but latterly the strength has been thirty-five. Much modern equipment has within recent years been purchased. I. G. Cox is the present chief, and has been since 1911. M. E. Gleason is another who served the department for many years, being chief for several years.
The city hall still used is the one built in 1899. It is a frame building hardly in keeping with the standing of the city among the incorporated places of St. Louis County; but those responsible for the expenditure of public money in Ely are apparently careful of the public purse. The city hall serves its purpose moderately well.
Present City Administration.-The present principal officials of the city are: Henry Chinn, mayor; Arthur 0. Knutson, clerk; Andrew Watilo, Jr., treasurer; Fred B. James, assessor; J. R. Rubey, engineer; 386Barth Coffey, chief of police; William Mitchell, superintendent light and water departments; B. O. Strachan, E. C. Jones, John P. Erickson, Louis Champa, Gus A. Maki and Steve Kovall, aldermen.
Publicity.-Ely is fortunate in having an active commercial club.
It was organized in 1917, and its present officers are: Peter Schaefer, President; H. J. Merdink, secretary; L. J. White, treasurer.
Chief perhaps in matters of publicity being certainly ever-present, is the Ely newspaper, the “Ely Miner,” which is now in its twentysixth volume. It was founded in 1895 by Peter Schaefer, who has since 1890 given his time wholly to the affairs of Ely, in a journalistic sense. He has been termed “the Nestor of the journalistic fraternity of the Minnesota ranges,” having been identified with literary work on the Vermilion range longer than any other newspaper editor. He was associated with Dr. Barrett in the publication of the Tower newspaper long before there was a single community on the now populous Mesabi range; and he conducted the “Ely Iron Home” for Dr. Barrett in 1890. After that paper was sold to the Ely Times, Editor “Pete” Schaefer returned to Tower, and took charge of the “Vermilion Iron Journal” again, Dr. Barrett having to devote much of his time then to the paper (the first on the Mesabi range) he had started at Merritt, which little village, the first to blossom on the Mesabi and also the first to fade, was then showing promise, ore having been discovered in three places in Biwabik Township. In 1895, however, Mr. Schaefer was again in Ely, then establishing the “Ely Miner,” which he has since owned and edited, always placing the interests of Ely foremost.
He has held many public offices in the local administration. When the “Ely Miner” was first issued, it was in the form of a five-column four-page weekly. Today it is a seven-column eight-page weekly, mostly home-print, with good advertising patronage and strong editorials.
Banking.-The First National Bank of Ely may be deemed to have had its inception in 1889, when a private banking partnership was established by O. D. Kinney and Joseph Sellwood, who traded as the Bank of Ely. In 1895 the institution became a state bank, under the name of the Exchange Bank of Ely. In 1902, another private banking house was established by Davidson and McRae, who took the name of the original bank and traded as the Bank of Ely. In April, 1907, the two banks were consolidated as the First National Bank of Ely. The original officers of the state bank were: Joseph Sellwood, president; W. T. James, cashier. The original president of the national bank was Joseph Sellwood, with F. L. Cowan cashier. L. J.
White has been connected with the bank for many years, and has been cashier since 1910. The present officers are: R. M. Sellwood, president; George T. Ayres, vice president; L. J. White, cashier; these three with William Mudge, A. J. Fenske and Louis Eisenbach forming the directorate.
(August Fenske, by the way, was one of the signers of the petition for incorporation of the village in 1888; and L. J. White has known Ely since 1889, when his parents settled at Burntside Lake.) The First National Bank building was erected in 1913, and is valued, with fixtures, at $12,250. Present capital is $50,000, with a surplus of $12,500. On September 8, 1920, there were undivided profits amounting to $13,152.14, and on that day the total of demand and time deposits stood at $732,993.31.
The other good bank of Ely is the First State Bank, which was founded in 1912. The original capital was $25,000, and the first officers were: M. J. Murphy, president; George L. Brozich, cashier.
The capital is still the same, but there is now a surplus fund of $10,000. On October 6, 1920, there were undivided profits amounting to $3,543.71, and the deposits at that accounting stood at $555,082.72.
The bank owns its own building, built in the winter of 1912-13, at a cost of about $8,000. The present officers are: M. J. Murphy, president; Peter Schaefer and George L. Brozich, vice presidents; G. H.
Good, A. D. Ellefsen, John Kapsch and James Moonan, directors. The cashier is Leonard Slabodnik.
Fraternal.-Ely, like most cities, has local lodges of the principal fraternal and benevolent orders, but space in which a review of these branches might be put is not available; but reference should be made to one fraternal organization which, in its national activities, centers in Ely. The Slavonic Catholic Union was organized in Ely in 1899, and within ten years had organizations in 27 states, and more than a hundred lodges. Mr. George L. Brozich has been secretary for many years. Among the original organizers who were resident in Ely were John Gouze, John Habian, Stephen Banovetz, Joseph Agnich, M\att.
Kapsch, John Preshern, John Prijatel and John Pakish.
School History.-It is understood that School District No. 12. as a common school district, was organized in the fall of 1887. The board was constituted as follows: Alexander McCurdy, chairman; John Palmier, secretary, and Asa Camp, treasurer. But it is not clear that school was held in that year. In the following year, “a new board organized at first election,” and A. J. Thomas was elected chairman. Most records agree that “the first school was opened in January, 1889, in a small frame building on Second Avenue,” which later became part of the Central school building, now used as a community hall. There is general agreement also that “the first teacher was Miss Ella Wilson, who came from Detroit, and taught until June, 1890,” soon after which she became the wife of August J. Fenske of Ely. It would seem, however, that the school board organized in 1887 would have been able to establish a school in some place during the ensuing year, even though they may not have owned a school building. However, the record “that the school attendance reached 112 during the first season” can hardly have referred to the winter of 1887-88, for in March, 1888, when census was taken for purposes of petition of incorporation, “there were (only) 177 persons resident in the territory.” Still, the population must have rapidly increased, for the records of first election of village officers (June 21, 1888) show that some of the candidates received as many as 115 votes. It is generally accepted, however, that school opened for the first time in Ely in January, 1889, with Miss Wilson as teacher. VWhen first organized, School District No. 12, had jurisdiction over only one congressional township, 63-12, and actually, of course, only over the village of Ely and that vicinity, seeing that its only school building was in that village; but the scope of the school district rapidly expanded in every way, and during the chairmanship of Mr. Thomas, which lasted for six years, the board was made responsible for public education in five additional congressional townships. It had very little money for its work, and it is said “that the original school district was practically carried by the original school directors; indeed, it appears that at the end of six years the school directors could not exceed, in bonded indebtedness, $7,000, that being the maximum authorized, notwithstanding that the district embraced six congressional townships, which were being homesteaded with comparative rapidity.” 389To those of the original board that still live it must therefore be gratifying to realize that “the splendid school system of the city is the outgrowth of this humble beginning.” Twenty-five years later, in 1914, the district had a total enrollment of 1,400, and 29 graduated from Ely High school in that year. The corps of teachers had increased from 1 to 48, and the average salary was “nearly $80 per month.” There were seven school buildings, “erected at a cost of over $200,000.” During the next six years, which brings the record to the school year 1919-20, the progress has been marked in many phases. The enrollment in 1919-20 was 1,997; teaching staff had increased to 72, including seven male teachers; and the salaries had greatly increased, the average pay of male teachers being $209, and of female teachers $125 a month for the school-year of nine and a half months. The district then had eight school buildings, five of them being of brick, the whole valued at $559,400. That included the grade school building erected in 1914, at a cost of $150,000.
Independent School District No. 12 embraces the six townships in ranges 12 and 13, 62, 63, and 64 N, and under the guidance of an enterprising intelligent school board, and a superintendent of wide experience and known ability, the district has come into good repute among those of the school system of St. Louis County. Mr. H. E.
White has been superintendent for many years, and the present school board officials are: H. J. Lockhart, clerk; Mrs. H. S. King, treasurer; A. J. Fenske, chairman of directors; George T. Ayres, Henry Chinn and L. J. White, directors.
Population.-Ely must have grown very rapidly in the first couple of years, for the federal census-taking of 1890 disclosed the fact that at that time 901 persons lived in the village. In 1900 the population of the city was 3,717; in 1910 it was 3,972; and the 1920 census was 4,902. It is thus shown that Ely has grown solidly. It has had few “set-backs,” and although its growth has not been as phenomenal as that of some of the Mesabi range places, it probably has a surer future.
Environs.-The environs of Ely are beautiful. Ely has been termed: “The Gate of the Nation’s Playground,” one description reading: “Ely’s claims to public attention * * rest in it being the gateway to what is, or should by all means (be), the Nation’s Playground. Hay fever is unknown and those afflicted with this annoying trouble are quickly relieved upon coming to this high and bracing climate. Here surely is the entry to the ‘Outer’s Paradise.’ Ely is surrounded by many beautiful lakes, miles of good auto roads lead off in all directions to these lakes, where pike, pickerel, trout, bass and other game fish abound.
“Right in the town you will find Long Lake … and four miles distant is Burntside Lake, which can be reached either by auto, or by an interesting canoe trip. … And best of all, a number of excellent bass lakes can be reached by canoe trips from Burntside Lake.
” … Ely is the administrative seat of the Superior National Forest, which reaches clear up to the International Boundary.
… “The entire country west and north of Ely is a network of lakes and streams. Forests still abound, and here you will find the stately Moose in his last refuge. You are most likely to meet him on any trip you take, for here too begins the immense Game Preserve which the state of Minnesota has set aside for the protection and propagation of the wild animals, which had almost become extinct. … 390One of the best canoe trips in the region, and one which can be made with ease in about fifteen days, is the trip from Ely to Tower. It … was used long ago by the voyagers and fur traders.” Maybe, this association of ideas-waterways, canoes, Indians, fur traders, with the Rev. Edmund F. Ely, pioneer missionary to Indians at the old Fond du Lac fur-trading headquarters strengthened the founders in giving Ely that name, happily associated as it was with the man, Samuel P. Ely, whom they particularly wished to honor. In such beautiful country many more romantic names might have occurred to the pioneers of the townsite in 1887; but none could be more historic than Ely, which sends the mind back to the time when Indians only roamed the forests and paddled the waterways of St. Louis County.
Pioneers of the Vermilion Range.
On the occasion of a reunion, in 1918, at Ely, of the pioneers of the Vermilion range, a list of the old settlers who registered was published, and opposite each name was put the year of arrival on the range. The list reads: Victor Takkunen, 1889; Carl Sletton, 1887; M. P. Lampi, 1894; William Gardner, 1884; John Kapsch, 1886; Toivo Wenstrum, 1892; John Prishern, 1889; Paul Lobe, 1888; Mike Sterk, 1889; John Kovall, 1883; Thomas Taylor, 1886; Joe Weed, 1892; W. -H. Congdon, 1884; John Hickey, Sr., 1892; T. H. Wheeler, 1882; John Anderson, 1881; John Owens, 1882; Elmer Jackson, 1893; Sam Owens, 1883; Mike Shito, 1892; Matt Martin, 1892; E. J. Johnson, 1893; John Harlo, 1893; Dr. Charles W. More and wife, 1889; J. C. Poole, 1889; Steve Kovall, 1889; Neil Mclnnis, 1884; J. A. Graves, 1895; Jake Skalla, 1890; Andrew Wattlla, Jr., 1890; Matt Mattson, 1889; Charles Pelto, 1893; P. T. Brownell, 1886; Walter Sletton, 1890; Joseph Agnich, 1884; Charles Anderson, 1891; Bror Magnusson, 1890; Pete Swanson, 1888; Harold Morcom, 1895; Rt. Rev. Mgr. Joseph F. Buh, 1888; 0. E. Hansen, 1892; Gust Maki, 1893; John Lamuth, 1894; Chas. Roland James, 1890; Carl Harvey, 1890; Richard Whiteside, 1887; Ed. Edwards, 1892; T. H. Roberts, 1884; Richard Hodge, 1883; Jack Seraphine, 1893; Joseph Smuk, 1890; John Gouze, 1891; Matt Marovetz, 1883; John Somrock, 1894; A. J. Thomas, 1887; Geo. H. Vivian, 1884; J. M. Brown, 1888; John O’Conner, 1884; Henry Wicks, 1884; James O’Neil, 1882; I. G. Cox, 1892; Joseph Skalla, Sr., 1890; Joseph Skalla, Jr., 1890; Joseph Marovetz, 1899; Matt Muhvich, 1889; Jacob Markovich, 1890; Thomas A. Slattery, and wife, 1892; Frank Thomas, wife, and daughter, 1889; Francis Thomas, and wife, 1889; Joseph Thomas, and wife, and daughter, 1889; Steve Agnich, 1885; Axel Larsen, 1892; Thomas Jury, 1888; Elias LaBeau, 1887; Henry Chinn, 1889; Nick Selko, 1887; H. Sletton, 1888; E. A. St. Marie, 1888; Mrs. Lena Seraphine, 1893; Mrs. Andrew Hedloff, 1891; Richard Wallace, 1892; Mrs. Mary Coffery, 1885; Alfred Skogland, 1893; 0. Freisburg, 189’5; B. C. Prout, 1884; E. R. Fitch, 1892; J. G. Kotchevar, 1893; Bart Coffery, 1884; James Nankervis, 1892; Grant McMahan, 1888; A. A. Sheridan, 1888; Peter Mourine, 1894; Matt Boldine, 1890; James Sheridan, 1889; Nick Mattish, 1888; Guy Coffery, 1894; Martin Pattison, 1882; John A. Harri, 1891; J. P. Seraphine, 1893; John Gnidica, 1893; Gabriel Hippakka, 1892; Louis Larson, 1893; Edward Locher, 1889; Albert Kolstad, 1889; and John Gribbon, 1889.
The names of many of the pioneers of the Mesabi range will be noted on the list, many mining men of the Vermilion passing to the Mesabi during the first years of the exploitation of the latter wonderful iron range.