Barber Papers: “In a Little Trouble” Winter of 1856

October 9, 2015

By Amorin Mello

Selected letters of the Joel Allen Barber Papers 

… continued from Fall of 1855.


Minnesota Point Jan [23rd?] 1856

Dear Parents

It is sometime since I have wrote to you and for a fortnight or more
[???] [two lines on this copy are illegible] [??? ?????]
On arriving at Lapoint we found sheets from home and a good lot of newspapers.

We left Lapoint Thursday afternoon [on a firm of ?????? ? ?? head?] of [?????????] Nagonup the principal chief of all the Chippewas, Augustus and myself [??? ??? ?????] drawn by by two dogs on a dogtrain. At [????? ???????] were joined by one of Nagonup’s [??????].

Naagaanab (Minnesota Historical Society)

Photograph of Naagaanab (Minnesota Historical Society).

Chingoon” was Zhingob (Shingoop, Chingoube), the Balsam, who was Naagaanab’s cousin, and considered the hereditary chief of Fond du Lac. He’s the same person as Nindibens in the Edmund Ely journals.  The Fond du Lac bands often had seasonal camps at Brule River and Flagg River.  Maangozid was Zhingob/Nindibens’ brother-in-law.  Zhingob and Naagaanab were both Catholic, dressed like whites, and largely allied with Chief Buffalo’s band and the mix-bloods at La Pointe.

They were on their way to Washington.  Several of them are going accompanied by a gentleman from Lapointe as interpreter.  The first night out we stayed in a wigwam with old Chingoon and his interesting family. Friday night we camped.  Saturday reached Iron river. Sunday left  and [comfortable?] – Monday came here.  Augustus has a sore througt, not severe – otherwise we are well as usual notwithstanding our tramp of over [100?] miles.  I must now quit writing and try to find one of our dogs which has strayed over to [???].

On the 5th day of August, 1826, Lewis Cass and Thomas L. McKenney, commissioners on the part of the United States, made and concluded a treaty with the Chippewas Indians at Fond du Lac, Lake Superior, by which the Chippewas granted to the United States the right to search for, and carry away, any metals or minerals from any part of their country.  […]
Under the old permit system, many locations, three miles square, were made on Lake Superior;- several on and near the Montreal river – some on Bad River, south of La Pointe – three on the main land, opposite La Pointe – two or three were made near Superior City, on the Nemadji, or Left Hand river, and one settler’s claim about twenty miles north of Superior.
Mineral Regions of Lake Superior: As Known From Their First Discovery to 1865, by Henry Mower Rice, 1865[?].

Perhaps you wonder what we have made this journey for – perhaps you hope we are going below but that is not the case.  Why should we [?????]. It is warmer here than at many places two or three hundred miles south of here.  True –  one or two thermometers froze up at this place but others did not while at Fort Snelling, the spirit thermometer inside the walls indicated 44 degrees below zero.  Augustus wanted to see to his preemption and I had nothing to do but to come along with him.  I also wanted to find out a few things concerning a place that I should like to preempt.  I suppose there is not a better copper show on the south shore of the lake, but the land is not surveyed and my only sure way to get it is to settle on it and stick to it until it can be legally claimed.

The town lines will be run next summer.

The dutchman” may have been Doctor Charles William Wulff Borup; a Dane from Denmark.  During the 1840s, Borup was involved with copper mining here.  Borup had since left Lake Superior, and was now in St. Paul starting Minnesota’s first bank and publishing banknotes.

Augustus is in a little trouble about his claim. It appears his declatory statement never reached the land office.  But I guess it will all be explained and made right.  The dutchman who was to contest his claim has left the country and would stand no chance if he was here.  We have a land office here now which saves a great many journeys to Hudson near St. Paul.  We shall go back in a few days and commence surveying around the islands.  Now don’t fancy that we cannot survey in the winter, for we have tried it and know better.

Detail from the Stuntz/Barber survey of T47N R14W.
J.H. Bardon, a Superior pioneer, stated that ‘at Copper Creek and Black River Falls, twelve or fifteen miles south of Superior, and also near the Brule River, a dozen miles back from Lake Superior, Mr. Stuntz found evidences of mining and exploring for copper on a considerable scale carried on by the American Fur Company, under the direction of Borup and Oaks of La Pointe, in 1845-46. A tote road for the mines was opened from a point ten miles up the Nemadji River to Black River Falls.‘”
~ Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota; Their Story and People: An Authentic Narrative of the Past, with Particular Attention to the Modern Era in the Commercial, Industrial, Educational, Civic and Social Development, Volume 1, by Walter Van Brunt, 1921, page 66.

The Barber brothers have apparently already started surveying at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, and at the Bad River Indian Reservation.  No record of these field notes are available from the General Land Office archive.

At Bad river we were at work during the coldest weather, and only lost two or three days because of cold but when the thermometer was up to 20* below zero we worked right ahead – sometimes in swamps where we stepped through the snow into the water,
[last line on this page of this copy is cut off]

The weather for a week or more has been fine.  Cold enough to cover us with frost but not severe.

Provisions are very scarce – no flour or pork can be had.

They will begin to bring them through from St. Paul in a few days.  Flour it is hoped can then be bought for $20 per barrel. Fish are not exactly plenty but they can be obtained for money or labor which is not the case with anything else.  The country is flooded with dry goods, [p??y] articles and everything but provisions because they can be bought on time but eatables could only be got by paying cash down.

Geology of Wisconsin: Volume 3, page 341.

Geology of Wisconsin: Volume 3, page 341.

Geology of Wisconsin: Volume 3, page 345.

Geology of Wisconsin: Volume 3, page 345.

Barber’s “little map” of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore was not included in this copy of his letter.

The Fon du Lac mine has commenced operations with tolerable fair prospects.  It is the only mine in operation this side of Montreal river.  Augustus’ claim is on the same vein and for aught anyone knows just as good besides having abundance of water power.  All the copper excitement since I come to the country has been directed toward the north shore.  This morning I signed 2 petitions, one to congress for the early survey of the north shore and another for a road down that way.  I have made a little map of the islands and last summers survey and some other things that I will enclose.

The Fond du Lac mine was located near a small tributary of the Left Hand River. Augustus' claim may have also been located in this area of T47N R14W.

The Fond du Lac copper prospect was located near a small tributary of the Left Hand River on this map detail from T47N R14W, near Pattison State Park. Augustus’ claim was along the same vein of copper but had not been surveyed yet; perhaps it was at Amnicon Falls State Park.

Augustus has begun a letter to send with this.  He has just come home with letters now about his claim.

No more at present from

Your affectionate son

J. Allen Barber

Direct to Lapoint
Minnesota Point
Superior County
Minn. Terr.


Sunday Feb 10th 1856

Dear Mother

Augustus has written a letter, and left it for me to enclose and dispatch so I thought I would ship in a few lines before sending it off.

Augustus started today with a young man and two dogs for Lapointe.  I shall probably go there in a two or three weeks to return immediately.  There are two men going down with a tamlins pony team with provisions from St. Paul for Augustus. The men are going to work for him and I shall probably bring the team back and use it a while.  I have at last fixed my mind on a place that I mean to claim.  The location is a point at the mouth of Left hand river, known as Left hand point.  It contains only 5 or 6 acres in low & swampy and covered only with bushes coarse grass and floodwood.  Nothing but the fact of its being a part of Superior city is of any value whatever.

Barber's sketch of his land claim at the mouth of Left Hand River.  This is now <strong><a href=

Barber’s sketch of his land claim at the mouth of Left Hand River.  This location is now an industrial neighborhood of Superior on the Nemandji River.

As it is $1,000.00 per acre is not an overestimate of its marketable price at present.  It joins or is part of the grounds intended for the Railroad buildings when the survey was made here this point was cut off by the meander lines instead of meandered.  Therefore according to the [rearns/records?] no such land exists.

A resurvey is to be made and I mean to fasten it by a preemption which is the only way to obtain it before the land sale.  I may get cheated out of it and I may throw away my time and money but such chances are scarce and should it transpire that my claim is good I want to have my dish right side up for once.  I have written for Uncle Allen’s advice and should I ever find it advisable to drop the matter I can do so without forfeiting my preemption right.

More Proprietors of Supeior from The Eye of the North-west, pg. 9.

The Eye of the North-west, page 9.

The Superior Company with Company with which I shall probably have to contend is rich, influential, and on good terms with the administration.  All that can be done by fair means or foul to defeat any claim will probably be done, but some things can be done as well as others, at any rate we shall see what we shall see.

So my head is so full of business just [snow?] you will please excuse the shortness of this letter and look for more when I have more time.

Your affectionate son

J Allen Barber


Superior Feb. 17th 1856

Dear Brother

A wonderful overview of a Lake Superior Chippewa sugar bush was published in our Ishkigamizigedaa post.

It is sometime since I have written anything to you but you have heard of me so often that I suppose it makes no particular difference.  It will be nearly sugaring time when you get this.

Makak: a semi-rigid or rigid container: a basket (especially one of birch bark), a box (Ojibwe People's Dictionary) Photo: Densmore Collection; Smithsonian

Makak: a semi-rigid or rigid container: a basket (especially one of birch bark), a box (Ojibwe People’s Dictionary) Photo: Densmore Collection; Smithsonian

I have once more got into a country where sugar is made but not by white men.  The Indians make pretty good sugar which is generally done hard and [sinted?] dry and put into birch barkmo’kucks holding from 50 to 75 lbs.  This bark is also used exclusively for buckets, store trays, gathering pails, &c.  The timber in this country is not as equally distributed as in Vermont.  The land is mostly covered with evergreens but there are some located portions of country where maple abounds.  Thesesugar bushes” as they are called are often quite extensive covering several sections and and [they?] only at intervals of 8 or 10 miles, but this is just as well for the Indians are both migratory and gregarious in their habits. 

Detail of an Indian Sugar Camp (T48N R5W).

Detail of an Lake Superior Chippewa “sugar bush” from the Barber brothers’ survey of T48N R5W.

I hope you will eat plenty of sugar next spring and take some of the girls to a sugar party or two like I used to.  I am doing nothing now most of the time but shall have business enough in a few days when I begin to build my house that is if I conclude to grab for the price of land I am now watching.  I am waiting to hear from Uncle Allen and for some other things to transpire.  There is not a man in the country whom I could trust that could give me any reliable information such as I want.  I want you to hurry and become of age as soon as possible and come out here this spring and make a preemption.

Harvey Fargo was featured in our Penoka Survey Incidents series.
Stephen Bonga was featured in our Barber Papers Prologue post.

There are some good places left yet, but don’t get married before you make a preemption for it might not be convenient to take your wife out into the woods 30 or 40 miles to live on the place as you would have to do in order to “prove up.”  I am going to get up an ice boat before long which will be very useful as I mean to do considerable boating yet this winter, and I might use it to carry lumber and other things up and down the lake.  With such winds as we have had a few days ago I could easily go to Lapointe and back in two days.  I suppose Augustus got a party started by this time and he will be at it himself in a few days.  I am living with a man named Fargo, you have heard of him before.  We are living in Stuntz’ store.  Board at the hotel is ten dollars per week.  Old Steven Bonga is living on the point, he has been something of a traveller having been to Montreal, Hudson Bay, [Oregon?], Prairie du Chien, and all intermediate places.

He is half indian and half negro so you may suppose he is not very white.

Portrait of Stephen Bonga (<strong><a href=

Portrait of Stephen Bonga (USDA Forest Service).  Additional information about Bonga is available from the Wisconsin Historical Society.

This terminus at Left Hand River may have been associated with the Chicago, St. Paul, & Fond-du-Lac Railroad Company.

A railroad has been laid out from here to St. Paul and my claim covers the terminus at this end.  There have two or three new towns started into existence along its route in imagination.  Perhaps they are [surveyed?].  This making towns in a new country is a great business.

What happened in your good town on Christmas and New years eve
Were there any stockings left.

I want to inquire about lots of girls and boys in Johnson and Cambridge but I conclude you will tell me as much as you can in your next letter so with respects to all enquiring friends I remain

Your affectionate brother

Allen


Superior, Douglas Co. Feb. 25th 56

Dear Parents

Detail of Superior City townsite at the head of Lake Superior from 1854 Plat Map of Township 49 North Range 14 West.

Detail of Superior City from T49N R1W.

Night before last I got a letter and some papers from Augustus also 2 letters from home which he had read.  They were dated Dec. [21st?] & Jan 2nd.

Sad and startling was the news of the death of George Hill.  Who could have thought three years ago that such a dark future lay before that family.  Every day some sad event warns me of the uncertainty of life.  Men have died here who had no friends to mourn their loss, and their death is hardly noticed.  I always ask myself why was it not me instead of them and will not my turn come soon. Yes, let it come soon or late as the world reckon, and it will be soon to me.

There is just as much danger or accidents in this country as in any other and no more but as to health there is no better place in the world than this.  You seem shocked at the idea of surveying in the winter, but it will be nothing but fun to survey during the rest of the winter.  It has been moderate pleasant weather now about two weeks.  The snow is going off a little lately and it seems a little like spring.  We had some pretty cold weather about new years but we shall have no more such.  The lake is more open than it ever was known to be at this season before.

It is not clear why the Lake Superior Chippewa chiefs went to St. Paul during the winter of 1855-1856, or why their visit was delayed.  [The answer may be found in Leo’s The 1855 Blackbird-Wheeler Alliance and Photo Mystery Still Unsolved posts.]  Their business was likely unfinished business from the 1854 Treaty of La Pointe.

It sometimes freezes across at Lapointe but now it is open within six or eight miles of here.  Flour is only $20 per bbl‑ with prospect of falling lower.  The Indians chiefs have returned having only been to St. Paul where they found a letter telling them to delay their visit a while.

Poor creatures!  They are fooled around by traders and speculators who are with the government in robbing and dwindling them.  Any thing like a full account of their wrongs would astonish even them.  About my claim I have not [???] today.  There is another man after it and it will be no easy thing to carry my point.

Valuable property is troublesome stuff in this country.  There is a townsight three miles from there now in litigation for which there is a standing offer of $200,000.

I am still living with Fargo on Minnesota point.  I expect to go to Lapointe before long with Albert Stuntz who is going down with some supplies for Augustus which he brought from St. Paul.

It is too dark to write

Good bye

Allen


Superior, March 4th 56

Dear Parents

Not much has happened in this vicinity worth recording.  The principle circumstances of note is the burning of a house and all the worldly possessions of a poor [Indian?].

Detail of Minnesota Point during Stuntz's survey contract during August-October of 1852.

Detail of Left Hand River from Stuntz’s survey; where Barber’s land claim was located.

I have heard nothing of Augustus since writing last but expect to when anybody comes up the lake.  About my claim I can say but little my chance is but dull still I don’t mean to give up so large a prize without good reasons.

I have had it surveyed and the notes sent to the Surveyor General with a memorial stating the facts and asking him to [appraise?] the [notes?].

The price contains over 8 acres (8.695).

Perhaps it occurred to you that I am was 22 years old last Sunday.  Well such is unquestionably the case although nothing was done to celebrate the day only I had my hair cut for the third time after leaving Vermont.  I think I shall have to go to Lancaster this spring but unless I get ousted here it will be difficult to leave.

Albert Stuntz led the Penokee Survey.

I wish I could multiply myself by about a dozen in order to hold several valuable claims which are not occupied by any one who can legally hold them.  I can’t write here two children [pretting?] and several people [telling?] Albert Stuntz and family are here today.  I am perched on a sawhorse writing on a work bench loaded with all manner of [marbles?].

Evening – quiet once more since dark I have written a letter to the Surveyor General to accompany a memorial that I have been circulating.  O I wish there was a person in the country that I could depend on to assist me in regard to that claim.  There are one or two that I counsel with who know no more than I do and then I do as I think best.

I expect [Lowener?] to find out I have no show, and that will be the last of it I shall [not feel?] that I had lost it for I never had it, but if I don’t get it some body else will get 15 or 20 thousand dollars worth of land that I want.

Provisions are still high and will be higher again before navigation opens which cannot be expected before the 1st of May.  Flour is $20/barrel, fresh pork 18 ¾ cents per lb, beef 20 cts milk 20 to 25 cts per qt.  &c, &c.  Eatables must be higher because there will be little or no sleighing after this over the barrens between here and St. Paul.  My mind has been on the [rock?] so much today that I am not in a mood to think much about home so please excuse the shortness and dryness of this letter.

I remain your affectionate son

J Allen Barber


Went to Iron River Thursday 13

Returned 15th

Superior , Douglas Co. March 11 1856

Dear Parents

The new General Land Office in Superior City was a bastion of corruption.  Daniel Shaw was the Register here.  Shaw’s Receiver, Eliab B. Dean Jr,  will be featured in future posts here on Chequamegon History.

Yesterday I read a package of letters from Augustus containing one from him & from home one from Albe and one from [Caldridge?].  As Augustus was in town (Lapointe) when he recd. your letters I suppose he has answered them so I cannot tell you much news about him.  I am still staying with Fargo – not doing much but hoping to get pay for my time and expense by securing the prize I am after.  There is some excitement in town about it, but mighty little is said to me.  The Register at the land office gives me good encouragement and says a preemption will hold it.  I have taken some steps toward building on it.  Today I bought a sack of flour ½ barrel for 12 dollars, I shall get some fish from Lapoint where they are very plenty and cheap and then I shall be almost ready to try housekeeping alone.

I am sorry to hear of the disastrous results of the low price of hops.  Although farmers must suffer in consequence yet I believe speculators will make fortunes out of it.  If I was in the business of raising them I should stick to it.  No articles is so liable to fluctuations in prices as hops but it is well known that the risk fails once in five years on an average so they must come up sometime.

The Barber Papers provide vicarious details about the economics conditions along western Lake Superior during this pivotal time period.  For example, this letter from Barber contains practical information about the fashions of white men surveying in this frontier, which contrasts dramatically with those of a stereotypical survey crew during the 1850s.

I see you are inclined to believe our country and climate are more in hospitable & forbidding than yours.  Such I believe is not the case.  We have had some very cold weather but the changes are so moderate and so seldom that we pay but little attention to the weather – in fact we call most all of it very fine weather, as it is.  The lake is a great equalizer of temperatures and our cool lake atmosphere in summer causes showers to fall from all the warm, sweaty winds that come here to wash their faces in this big blue pond.  People in this country go much better prepared for cold than they ever do in Vermont.  I have not worn a boot since leaving Lancaster.  We wear shoes in the summer and moccasins in winter. 

Boots won’t do for surveyors – they carry too much water unless we stop to empty them after crossing every stream or marsh.

While speaking of clothes perhaps I might as well go on with a few more items of the same sort.

Shoes for this country should have no lining or binding as they are quicker and ae not as stiffwhen dry.  We never apply anything to soften them and nothing can preserve them from wearing out in about two months of hard service.   They [sell?] about $1.50 per pair.  We can get plenty of wool hats which are the only ones we wear.

All manners of shirts can be bought, even the very best quality of red flannel ones, which are universally warm, outside, i.e. by common folks.

The gentry of Superior dress most distressingly.

It is difficult to get good socks any where on the country.  I have worn out 6 or 7 pair this summer and lost some more – they cost high bests we don’t wear.  I have none.  The only cost I have is of [Gihon?] cloth and made by Mrs. Sheldon.  Cost are not much more except as an extra garment to wear occasionally.

Good durable pants I find it difficult to get.  They are generally poor [ashnet?] and not half put together.  Good your mittens would be very acceptable but for want thereof buckskin or blanket mittens are generally warm.

You speak about bringing Kate [in?] to Wisconsin.  My advice is to it without fail if you intend coming out to live, nothing should prevent it if I were in your place.  The horse that Uncle [Jay?] brought out with him is smarter and tougher than any one he can find to use with him.  There is nothing that I regard as more necessary for a family than a first rate horse.  I think [Kelty?] will be a very good serviceable animal for work besides being one that you might be proud to ride [after?] over the prairies.  Probably Augustus has told you what he thinks about Amherst and other boys coming out here to survey.  Butler was so badly disappointed in this country that I have had but little thoughts of [enough?] any one else to come here.  Such a disappointment I think would be the fate of 4 out of every 5 that try the business.

A person to be a surveyor must be able to travel all day through the woods and sometimes carry a pack.  I would not prevent any from coming here as there is generally business enough besides surveying.  A surveyor can make no greater mistake than by hiring any but the best of men.  Perhaps Augustus has not told you that he will be out of the business as soon as his present job is done and will devote his time to the improvement of his claim &c.  I should like very much to [have?] Amherst here but I dislike to have my parents left entirely alone.  As I have [???] two half [sheets?] – when I only [illegible] mind up for the [present?].

[Incomplete copy of letter]


To be continued in the Spring of 1856

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3 Responses to “Barber Papers: “In a Little Trouble” Winter of 1856”

  1. Linda Bryan said

    I would very much like to correspond with the author of the Chequamegon History blog. I suspect that we are working on aspects of the same larger history.

    Linda Bryan 1752 Gulden Place Maplewood MN 55109 651 777-7037 Mrs.Bryan@att.net

    • Leo said

      Hi Linda,

      I think I emailed you last year about the 1849 Washington Delegation. If you check the “About” and “Contact” tabs at the top of this page, you’ll see that there are actually two of us now, and we aren’t as incognito as we once were.

      Leo

  2. Leo said

    Amorin, this is my favorite Barber post so far. I think you’ll find the answer to why the chiefs were in St. Paul by combining the “Blackbird-Wheeler” post with the “Photo Mystery Still Unsolved” post. Looks like more crazy contradictory info from Armstrong and maybe Blackbird got part of his wish regarding the $90,000 after all.

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