August 5, 1856, early pioneer William Epler arrives in Superior

On this day across the bay in 1856, William Epler arrived “afoot and footsore” to the young city of Superior, Wisconsin. Epler had been raised on a farm in Illinois and had walked to Superior on the Old Military Road from St. Croix Falls. Epler later moved across the bay to the town of Portland (today Duluth’s East Hillside) after taking a job with William Burt, a deputy United States surveyor. He and Burt surveyed the Lake Superior Shoreline as far north as Beaver Bay. Together Duluth and Portland, Epler remembered, had a combined population of “a dozen or so.” He went on to say that “Duluth cannot be said to have had a resident population at that time. It was made up of transient people who came and went, explorers, fishermen, voyagers and Indians.” In Portland he met J. B. Culver, who in 1870 would become Duluth’s first mayor, as well as Culver’s sister-in-law jane Abigail Woodman. Four years later, in 1859, Epler and Woodman were united in matrimony in the town of Duluth by Reverend J. M. Barrett of Superior with the Culvers as witnesses. It was the first wedding in what would later become the city of Duluth. By that time, the Panic of 1857 had decimated the local population, and soon others would be off to fight in the Civil War. The Eplers left Portland in 1860, eventually heading to Nevada to try their luck mining silver; Jane Epler died there October 2, 1863.

The Village of Superior in November 1856 as seen from the dock of pioneer George Stuntz’s trading post at the southern end of Minnesota Point, painted by Eastman Johnson. (Image: Library of Congress)