Recollections of the Early Days in Duluth Part 4

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Self-Published by author Jerome Cooley in 1925. Readers should be aware that Mr. Cooley put this book together when he was elderly, and not all of his “recollections” are historically accurate. Reader should also note that Mr. Cooley is very much a 19th-century man, and his language—much of which we would consider politically incorrect today—reflects the era in which he developed.


Duluth’s first mayor, J. B. Culver, went in with the first city charter in 1870. He served two years and got out just in time to let his successor, Sidney Luce, get the full blow of the Jay Cooke failure.

Luce was originally from Ohio. He was an enthusiast who was fond of the slogan “Do it for Duluth.” Yet he did not leave any prominent mark on the pages of Duluth’s history as mayor.

Dr. Vespasian Smith came third. He reached Duluth, via Bayfield, Wisconsin. He was in the employ of the government for the Indians, of large, imposing figure and considerable skill as a doctor. He once gave an Indian a dose of quicksilver-Red Raven being yet undiscovered. The patient lived, to Dr. Smith’s great glory and surprise.

Duluth next tried a dry goods merchant for a change—Peter Dean. He was a Democrat, but politics did not count for much in those days, especially in local matters, so he was re-elected for a second term.

Then Duluth drew John Drew, a tailor. He mayored when Duluth was passing through the reconstruction period. People thought he was the man to measure up the situation and help the city tighten her belt and readjust her debt. It was done and the charter for the city given up and Duluth made a village.

The minutes of the first meeting of the city council, Walter Van Brunt clerk, show that the council met at the schoolhouse. The schoolhouse was located at about Third Avenue east and the teacher was a Miss Bell, afterwards Mrs. George Barnum.

New bonds were issued for 25% of the old ones, as fast as the bond holders became satisfied that they could not get more. It was a long and tedious process and required lots of gall and nerve on the part of the officers to pull it through.

There was a time when no officers qualified, so that, no one could serve papers on them for back interest on the bonds.

It was lots of fun starting a city in those days. From 1880 to 1885 Duluth got along without any mayor, while the bond holders were getting their systems adjusted to the 75% discount on their bonds.

Finally came John B. Sutphin. He was a drover or cattleman. He shipped cattle down the lake and supplied the merchants here too. That was before the days of the packing house. Every butcher must buy and kill his own beef. Those were what some call “the good old days with Sutphin for mayor.”

Paddy Doran was Chief of Police, Tim Daugherty, John Flynn and John Monahan were fire commissioners. The lid was off and you had to stand from under or get it. Labor Unions flourished and tried to run the city. There was a number of contracts out for sewer and water mains. The unions wanted only union men on the jobs.

Sutphin told them that any man who lived in Duluth and wanted to work would be protected, if he had to appoint every other man a policeman. The city had a very good company of militia and they were notified to listen for the elevator whistle. If it blew, every man was to get to the armory P. D. Q.

L. P. Totman was then running a livery and he was instructed to have all his hacks in readiness to take the boys anywhere at once. Trouble broke out at the corner of Garfield Avenue and Superior Street. The boys got there as directed and formed in line and the order was to fix bayonets and right wheel double quick.

The street was crowded, but it didn’t take long to create a large vacant space. Some got pricked. There was some shooting and I believe two men were killed.

But the strike was broken up and the men were not molested any more. That is what comes of having the right man in the right place at the right time. Mayor Sutphin held office for two terms.

Charles d’Autremont followed Sutphin. He did as well as a Democrat could do, but did not succeed himself.

Capt. Ray T. Lewis came next and it proved to be two of a kind, though the politics were different.

Then the Unions got their man in, M. J. Davis. But I think they were sorry, for he was a disappointment. He was a good man and tried to run the city on a Union card, but it was too small and he quit after one term.

T. W. Hugo took his place and held it fourteen years, from 1884 to 1896. This will speak as well or better for him than anything I can say. He did his best and the city prospered. When in 1912 the city decided on the Commission form of government, T. W. Hugo was again called to be the mayor, but soon resigned because of failing health.

Henry Truelsen was elected in 1896. He was mayor during the time the city was buying and building a light and water plant. He merits great praise for the way he managed affairs, as he gave the city pure water from fourteen miles down the lake. His name will long be associated with Duluth’s city water system.


According to the books at the court house, the list of the probate judges in Duluth is as follows:

J. G. HUSSEY 1858

J. R. CAREY 1860




JOHN DUNPHY 1873-1881

PHINEAS T. AYER 1887-1898

J. B. MIDDLECOFF 1898-1901

W. G. BONHAM 1901-1904

J. B. MIDDLECOFF 1904-1911

S. W. GILPIN 1911 and he is still in

John R. Carey, known in the later days as Judge Carey, acquired his title by being judge of probate. He was also appointed United States Commissioner when the Indians were tried for getting drunk on whiskey, furnished them by the government Indian traders.

From 1870 to 1874 there did not seem to be a municipal judge. There was a Justice of the Peace and Judge Fleshman held the place. The cases were tried by the justice of the peace, with Henry Meining Sr., as constable.

Some years later, after Duluth got her second breath, Judge Martin dispensed justice with Sam Thomson as the whole police force. Sometimes the prisoner who had been arrested for being drunk would have to remain in jail a day or more until the judge got into condition to dispense impartial justice, he being about in the same condition as the prisoner before the arrest.

Judge Martin had a farm on the hill, on the road leading to Pike Lake, which his son inherited and afterwards sold. The son still lives in Duluth.


A rather amusing thing happened once when the old steamer Manistee was running. They had a black fireman, who was about seven feet tall. He got into a fight with one of the deck hands and did him up. He was arrested and brought before City Judge Martin, who was holding court on the second floor of the old Hayes block which stood on the lower corner of Superior Street and First Avenue east.

The mate told the fireman that when they blew three whistles, he was to come, regardless of anything. So when they got ready to sail they blew long and loud for Sambo. There were two policemen at the door and it was about sixteen feet to the ground or sidewalk. But he gave one look around, saw how the ground lay, made a dive for the window, climbed out and dropped to the sidewalk.

The policemen did not want to follow him that way, so they took the stairs, but Sambo was longer geared than they were and had quite a start for Stone’s dock where the boat was lying. As soon as he got within hailing distance he hollered, “I’s coming. Cast off!”

They needed no second bidding. He jumped aboard just as the Manistee was getting under way, with the police a good second behind him, but a bad second too late.

Two policemen went back empty-handed and told the judge he might as well adjourn the court. I think that was the first time a judge ever took orders from the police.

They had two policemen on the dock when the Manistee came in next time. They searched the boat, but no Sambo. He had gotten off at Ashland and was waiting for her to come back for him. He did that for about two trips and they had forgotten about the case by the time he came again, so his trial was never finished. When the old Peerless used to come here from Chicago, she always had a crew of African Americans. In those days the boats had to carry deck hands enough to do the work of handling the freight. There were no roustabouts at the docks to load and unload freight.

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


  • Cooley, Jerome. Recollections of the Early Days in Duluth. Published by the Author"Duluth, Minn. 1925
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