The Recollections of Roger S. Munger

Roger Munger. (Image: Duluth Public Library.)

The year 1869 brought a great many men here, and many of these were destined to play important parts in the subsequent development of the city. One of these men is R. S. Munger, who in his time has been active in every movement that promised to advance the interests of the city, and who is still living in it.

Mr. Munger is today 80 years old, but there is something in the air of Duluth that allows men to grow to a ripe old age while they still retain the characteristics of youth, both mentally and physically. Mr. Munger is a striking illustration of this. He looks and talks like a man of sixty; his memory is active and retentive, and he possesses all the vigor and enthusiasm that in his earlier years gave him a foremost place in the ranks of the men who were doing things. His information about the city and the men who made it is encyclopedic in its character, and he is  as certain of its ultimate greatness as the most optimistic of the younger generation. Mr. Munger said to the writer:


Tell you something about the early days? With pleasure.

You know out in California they have a society of the ’49ers.

Some day, perhaps, they will have a society of the ’69ers in Duluth, for it was the men who came in that and the immediately following years who made the city.

I was a ’69er myself. I left St. Paul, where I had been in business, in January, 1869, and made the trip over the old military road in two days and three nights. The weather was cold, there was plenty of snow on the ground, and consequently the conditions for traveling were pretty fair, much better than when you had to travel by coach and get bogged and racked to pieces on the road. The fare in those days was $15 from St. Paul to Superior, and from the latter place you had to be ferried over to the site of Duluth. The lake was frozen over when I came and we finished the trip in sleighs.

At that time there were only fourteen families in Duluth, and all gathered together in a little hamlet at the base of Minnesota Point. Among the families then here were those of Luke Marvin, Commodore Saxton, Sidney Luce, Zank Brown, J. D. Ray, Dr. Foster, William Nettleton and J. B. Culver. There was also a settlement of a few families at Oneota, and there was also a small sawmill there. I settled on Minnesota Point and put up a small cabin, almost alongside of where the ship canal is now.

The Lake Superior and Mississippi railroad was building toward Duluth and I was satisfied that the place had a future. My judgment was verified by events. By the 4th of July, 1869, there were 3, 500 people in the place and still they were coming.

The first thing I did was to engage in the lumber business. I had the machinery for a small steam sawmill shipped from St. Paul, and erected my mill on the lake shore. The hills of Duluth furnished me for a long time with the finest quality of pine, and by the time I was in operation and the rush had set in I couldn’t begin to supply the demand. I got more machinery and started another mill up the St. Louis river, from which every day the lumber would be rafted down to Duluth. It did seem as if I would never be able to satisfy the demand. The hills of Duluth and out on Minnesota Point were dotted by thousands of tents, all kinds of the rudest kinds of shacks, and all these thousands were clamoring for lumber in order that they might erect houses.

It was a good business and I made money rapidly.

In 1870 and 1871 we were having a good deal of trouble about our harbor. At that time the entrance from the lake to the harbor was about seven miles from the city. It was the natural outlet for the waters of the St. Louis river, which probably ages before had worn a passage through Minnesota Point.

The channel was not a very good one, and besides it added several miles to the trip of vessels destined for Duluth. Government engineers and Duluth men had considered the subject, and various conflicting reports had been made as to a solution of the difficulty. Duluth had only one opinion on the matter and that was that we should cut a new channel through Minnesota Point close to our city, but at this suggestion Superior set up a cry that this would ruin the existing channel by diverting the flow of the river and that the channel would then fill up with mud and silt. We didn’t believe that it would affect the old channel a particle, and made up our minds that we would have the new channel, whether the War Department approved of our plans or no. We weren’t rebels, you understand, nor were we setting ourselves up in opposition to the Government, but we knew what we wanted, knew that our plan was reasonable and feasible, and resolved to carry it out.

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


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