November 23, 1923: Bert N. Wheeler shares his pioneer family’s history

On this day in Duluth in 1923, Bert Wheeler gave a speech about his pioneer family at the annual meeting of the Old Settlers Association of the Head of the Lakes. The venue was very appropriate: Wheeler’s family was among the oldest settlers of today’s Duluth, having established the town of Oneota (part of today’s West Duluth) in 1856 along with the Merritt and Ely families. The Wheeler’s American history dates back much further, as ancestor Thomas Wheeler first arrived in the U.S. from England in 1635. Wheeler’s mother, Sarah Brewster Wheeler, was a direct descendant of William “Elder” Brewster, a passenger on the Mayflower who became the senior elder of Plymouth Colony, essentially the community’s religious leader. In 1852 Henry Wheeler, Bert’s father, moved his family to St. Paul and took a job as steamboat engineer and then went to work for a sawmill in the same capacity. There he was approached by Reverend Edmund Ely, a former missionary, who convinced him to move to the Head of the Lakes and set up the first sawmill on the “Minnesota side” of Lake Superior. Henry Wheeler walked the 150 miles from St. Paul to Superior (there was no Duluth at the time) over the rough and dangerous Military Road. Once in Duluth, the Wheelers became prominent pioneers. Read Bert Wheeler’s history of his family through 1922 here.

This photograph of Bert N. Wheeler accompanied his 1946 obituary in the Duluth News Tribune. (Image: Zenith City Press)