Recollections of the Early Days in Duluth Part 5

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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.


A number of characters prominent in the early days of Duluth still stand out in my memory.

There was J. D. Howard, father of the Howard family. In the early days he built a sawmill in what was known as Howard’s Pocket, over at Superior, where the Dry Dock is now located. There was a time, after he moved here, when he used to spend considerable money in saloons. He would start from his house on Minnesota Point, a little above the canal and gather up the boys who were waiting for him and they would make the rounds. Ernie Jefferson, Ed. Patterson, Frank McWhorter, Tom McGowan and a number of others, would usually bring up with him at Charlie Mitchell’s saloon, on the lower side of Superior Street between Lake Avenue and First Avenue west. After they had imbibed a sufficient quantity, J. D. would ask them to sing

“Waste not, want not, is a maxim I would teach,
Let your watchword be dispatch and practice what you preach.
Never let your chances like the sunbeams pass you by,
For you’ll never miss the water ’till the well runs dry!”

The next morning he would go around and pay up the bills of the night before.

When I was city assessor, I met old J. D. one day in the American House, which stood on the site of the Sellwood building. I said, “Come in, Mr. Howard and let us make out your assessments.”

He said, “Yus, yus,” so we went in and he started filling out his list. Before going far, he asked, “Isn’t there some place where we can get down something more? I want the damn thing to look respectable.”

We found the place all right and when we got through, the document was eminently respectable.

J. D. was reported to have about thirty or forty thousand dollars in the First National Bank. One day he gave a boy a check for thirty-five cents. Soon the boy came back to tell Mr. Howard that the bank wouldn’t pay it because it was too small to bother with.

“Yus, yus,” said the old man, “We’ll give them one they will care to bother with.”

He wrote out a check for $35,000. They had time to bother with that, for $35,000 drawn out then would probably have crippled things seriously. It took the whole bank force to straighten things up. The president called in the directors and finally sent for Mrs. Hardy, a school teacher, to quiet the old man. He stalked about the bank, striking his cane on the floor and demanding his money. They finally pacified him and saved the bank. Mr. Howard served one term as state senator, 1881-1883.

One day, while I was city assessor, I went to Nehemiah Hulett for his assessment and he surprised me by putting down five thousand dollars in mortgages.

I said, “Mr. Hulett, is that right?”

“Oh yes, that’s all right. I got it and want to put it in,” which he did.

When he died, the woman who had been his housekeeper for many years found a piece of wrapping paper with an agreement written on it to the effect that she was his common-law wife. Many suspected that she never thought of it until some wise attorney suggested it to her after the old man died.

At any rate, she sued the estate and got a judgment, but the estate was mostly absorbed by taxes on high valuations and costs of litigation. Until this case was tried, most people believed that a woman could not be a man’s widow without first having been his wife.

Capt. James Sullivan gained his notoriety by sailing the steamer Stewart from Duluth to Two Harbors, for Capt. Holt, before the Iron Range Railroad was built into Duluth. Before that he used to sail the Siskiwit to Port Arthur. When he quit sailing, he ran the Board of Trade Livery and was one of the first to run a cab line in Duluth. He has now turned farmer and owns a large stock farm southwest of Superior. He was one of the dependable Irishmen of the early days and is still with us.

We had one old Irishman here, whose name was Cole; King Cole he was called. His every move was comical. He had run the bogs in Ireland until he was web-footed and his brogue was as rich as his movement was comical. He once went as deck hand on the old Manistee. After he came home he was asked how he liked steam boating.

He said, “Phat do you tink? When we got to Ashland I stood all day to my vaste in snow on a furricane deck, heaving overboard five hundred barrels of empty kegs. Sure, I never go to sea no more.”

He has left two sons, one of whom is now in Duluth.

On Christmas or Thanksgiving Day, as a rule, the gang, that is all the gentlemen loafers, used to gather at J. H. LaVaque’s store and spend the balance of the day after dinner playing cards, cribbage or seven-up. That was way before bridge was thought of.

One day stands out vividly in my mind. I do not remember whether it was Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s. There were rather more than the usual number assembled. Two sets were playing cribbage, which took eight and there were two left over. They were Judge Ensign and John LaVaque.

Everything was going along in a noisy but orderly manner, when all at once Judge Ensign got up and started towards the door. As he did so, he turned and said to the balance of the crowd, “John and I are going to get a Tom and Jerry.”

Everybody said all right and dropped their cards and started with them. Charlie Mitchell kept a saloon next door and we all headed for there. The Judge and John looked chagrined, but stood for it all right. We all got our drink and returned to finish our games.

It was not long before Charlie came in and said, “There is another drink coming to you boys.”

Everybody looked at his neighbor to see who of the crowd had money enough to pay for two Tom and Jerrys, a drink that has gone completely out of style. There was so much hesitation, Charlie spoke up and said, “It’s all right, I got my pay.”

At that we all went, but still wondered. It turned out that someone had swiped Dan Cash’s fur overcoat and taken it in to Charlie and he put it behind the It was said he had to keep it nearly two weeks before Dan was able to redeem it.

Those were the days when nearly anything was legal tender, especially for a drink of Tom and Jerry. I have forgotten who all were there, but there were Judge Ensign, Judge J. R. Carey, Dan Cash, Ed Olds, Tom Pressnell, J. H. Baker, the two LaVaques, John, George and J. P. Johnson, a Mr. Hammond and myself and one or two others sitting around, not playing but coming in on the drinks.

Billy Lynn, familiarly and lovingly known as “Jack of Clubs,” was a native of the old sod. He came to this country in the early days and finally drifted to Duluth about 1873 or ’74. He was one of the few who stuck it out until Duluth got her second wind. He was once elected a city alderman. One son and daughter are still here.

Fred Schadewald arrived in this country in 1873, from Germany. He came straight to Duluth and became a pioneer wood merchant. He always had a fine team of horses and supplied the citizens with wood. He afterwards got contracts to haul freight from the Northern Pacific Railroad to the Duluth & Iron Range. He is still in the business.

Dan Cash, who was with Judge Ensign for a number of years, had two brothers here, James and Charles. They are all three living. Jim is now living in Los Angeles, California. Charles, I think, is in Seattle, Washington. He was at one time Register of the Land Office here. They were all good law-abiding citizens, above the ordinary man in intelligence, but not brilliant enough to attract the police or the general public—just good everyday folks and fine neighbors. Dan was a major in the Civil War, having gone to the war from Michigan.

One interesting character was John Rakowsky, old Honus, he was called. He was a Prussian soldier and once a member of the Royal body guard. He was over six feet tall and big and strong in proportion. He came here in the early seventies and started a saloon on East Superior Street between Second and Third Avenues East, near the site of the new Hotel Duluth.

There were about seven steps from the single plank sidewalk up into his rooms. His building was twenty-five feet front and two stories high. His place was the headquarters for the toughs, before George Sherwood’s place opened.

Old Honus was a great sticker for a quiet place and when the boys would get noisy or start fighting, as was usually the case, Honus would let them go until there was danger of their doing more than ordinary damage. Then he would grab a man in each hand and carry them to the door and throw them down the steps, yelling “Rouse mit ’em.”

When he began to “Rouse mit ’em” it was not long until his place was as quiet as a church, so to speak.

Honus would have a quiet and orderly place, if he had to throw all his customers out, which he could do, if necessary. One of the third generation is now county commissioner of St. Louis County, a quiet inoffensive fellow and a credit to his ancestors.

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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