The Recollections of George Stuntz

One of the earliest settlers at the head of the lakes was Mr. George R. Stuntz, who a short time ago joined the great majority. Before his death Mr. Stuntz wrote of his pioneer experiences as follows.

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George Stuntz. (Image: Duluth Public Library.)

In July, 1852, I came to the head of Lake Superior to run the land lines and subdivide certain townships. When I arrived at the head of the lakes there was nothing in Duluth or Superior. There was no settlement. The old American Fur Company had a post at La Pointe, at the west side of Madeline Island.

In 1853 I got the range subdivided, and also in Superior, townsite 49, range 13. During the same year, later, in my absence, there came parties from the copper district of upper Michigan and located claims upon the range. They were principally miners.

During the same year I built a residence on Minnesota Point under treaty license before the territory was sold to the Government.

At that time there were only missionaries or license traders in the tract, as it belonged to the original Indian territory.

In 1852, at Fond du Lac, there was a trading post and warehouse, in which I stored my goods on my arrival. In the fall of 1853 I bought three yoke of cattle and two cows at St. Croix Falls and brought them to the mouth of the Iron river, and had to cut a road thirty miles through the dense forest so as to get the oxen, cows and cart through. Later in the fall of 1853 I came through with an extra yoke of oxen, buying provisions, etc., and on coming up to Superior I found quite a settlement of log cabins. These settlers were anxious to get to the United States land office, then at Hudson, Wis. A dense forest intervened.

We organized a volunteer company in January, 1854, to cut a road from old Superior to the nearest lumber camp on the St. Croix river, I furnishing two barrels of flour, provisions, pony and dog train, necessary to carry the provisions for a gang of seventeen men. The road was completed in twenty days, the snow being at that time two feet deep. This cut through a direct road to Taylor’s Falls and Stillwater. In 1854 I completed a mill on the Iron river and employed a man to superintend it, and I remained at Minnesota Point, my trading post, where I had first taken out the license. In the same year I took a contract to subdivide two townships located in Superior, townships 48-49, range 15, and afterward I attended the treaty at the time the Indians sold this country to the Government.

There were 5,000 Indians present with their chiefs. It was the biggest assemblage of Indians ever held at Lake Superior at this period of the country’s history. It took a month to pacify the troubles that grew among the different tribes in regard to their proportionate rights. This treaty was sent to congress September 3, 1854, and was ratified and became law in January, 1855.

During the season I continued to run my mill and until 1858, when the hard times came on. After the treaty Duluth made its first appearance in civilization. Robert E. Jefferson was the first one to locate a claim on the site of the city of Duluth, J. B. Culver, George E. Nettleton, Owen Rice and Robert Jefferson formed a partnership and made a survey of the townsite called Upper and Lower Duluth. I think the survey was made during the year 1855, after the Government ratified the treaty of 1854.

Colonel Culver then built a store down on Lake avenue. Culver & Nettleton then located a small sawmill in 1855-56 on Lake avenue. Joshua B. Culver was the first man to have a general store located there.

In looking over a picture of early days I recognize a large number of old landmarks and memory vigorously recalls the many incidents of complicating interests the early settlers had to contend with in getting fairly started in the building up of this young city.

In the first place, Superior was backed by a powerful company of Democratic politicians and Government bankers in Washington, while the northern and northeastern portions of the state were still held by the Indians. This Superior company sought a connection with the Mississippi river, to obtain which they urged in congress the passage of a land grant bill, offering ten sections to the mile to aid in the construction of a railroad from Milwaukee to some point on Lake St. Croix, on the western boundary of the state of Wisconsin.

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Sources:

  • 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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