Two Months In The Copper Region

May 21, 2016

By Amorin Mello

This is a reproduction of Colonel Charles W. Whittlesey’s article, “Two Months in the Copper Region,” as published in the National Magazine and Industrial Record, Volume II., Number IX., February 1846, by Redwood Fisher, pages 816-846.  For more information about these places and people, please refer to Copper Harbor, The Copper Region, and Copper Harbor Redux in the Wisconsin Territory Delegation, which occurred only a few weeks previous to Whittlesey’s experience.

 


 

The National Record and Industrial Record

TWO MONTHS IN THE COPPER REGION.

"Studio portrait of geologist Charles Whittlesey dressed for a field trip." Circa 1858. ~ Wisconsin Historical Society

“Studio portrait of geologist Charles Whittlesey dressed for a field trip.” Circa 1858.
~ Wisconsin Historical Society

It was on the 14th day of August, 1845, that our party went on board a light and well-built yawl, of about four tons, moored in the still water above the rapids of the St. Mary’s river. We were venturing upon an experiment. We could not learn that such a craft had ever put forth alone upon the waters of Lake Superiour, and our intention was, to follow the south coast as far as the season would permit. For hundreds of years this lake had been navigated by the bark canoe, and parties were setting off every day for Copper Harbour, La Pointe, and other remote points, in these apparently frail vessels, but which the experience of centuries, in these apparently frail vessels, but which the experience of centuries had demonstrated to be the safest conveyance known. The Mackinaw boat had long traversed these shores, transporting goods to the Fur Company’s posts, and returning with furs.

These long, narrow, flat-bottomed boats, carry a heavy burden, go well before the wind, and are easily drawn ashore. The bark canoe, as well as the Mackinaw boat, has no keel, and the safety of both consists in being able to make a harbour of every sand beach, in case of a storm. The expert voyager, has a kind of second sight in regard to weather, smelling a storm while it is yet a great way off. It is only when a great saving may be made, and the weather is perfectly fair, that he ventures to leave the vicinity of the shore, and cross from point to point, in the open sea. These passages are called “traverses;” and such si the suddenness with which storms arise, that a traverse of 10 or 15 miles, even in fair weather, and while every indication is favourable, is regarded as a hazardous operation. Some daring boatmen make them of 30 miles.

Of course, the birch canoe and the Mackinaw boat, being without keels, cannot sail upon the wind. Our yawl, with a keel of four inches, having nine men and about a ton of provisions aboard, sank about 16 inches in the water. She was provided with a cotton square-sail, containing about 40 square yards, and had row-locks for six oars. How she would row – how she would sail, and how she would brave the storm, we could only surmise, and the surmises were rather against the little vessel.

The portage, over which goods now pass, from the level of Lake Huron to that of Lake Superiour, is a flat, wet, marshy piece of land, about three-fourths of a mile across. To the westward, the country appears to be low and swampy, as far as the view extends; which, however, is limited by the thick timber, principally spruce, pine, white cedar, birch, and hemlock. But a walk of one mile, in that direction, brought me to a low eminence, rising out of a cedar swamp, composed of masses of rolled granite and other primitive rocks, in size from a small pebble to a diameter of ten feet. The timber among them had been lately blackened by a raging fire. The trunks of these charred trees, some standing erect, some leaning against others, and many prostrate on the rocks, contrasted hideously with the white and nakedness of those immense granite boulders, which covered the surface.

Detail of Sault Ste Marie from Carver [Jonathan], Captain. Journal of his travels with maps and drawings, 1766. ~ Boston Public Library

Detail of Sault Ste Marie from Carver [Jonathan], Captain. Journal of his travels with maps and drawings, 1766.
~ Boston Public Library

On the north and east, in the province of Canada, a high range of mountains extends, in each direction, out of sight. They were first visible at the head of St. Joseph’s island, having the jagged outline of trap-rocks. The view from the low ground, on the American side, towards the high land across the river, is extensive and gratifying. In front is the river, a mile broad, and the rapids. At the opposite shore, the establishment of the Hudson’s Bay Company, half commercial, half military, with a stockade and white houses. For several miles down the river, there are houses on the bank, and farms extending back, at irregular distances, up the mountains. Here the traders, voyagers, missionaries, factors, Indian agents, and Indians, reside promiscuously – such is the foreground of the view. Behind and beyond rise the mountain ranges, in that pure atmosphere perfectly distinct at the distance of twenty miles.

Our tents were struck at 7 o’clock, A.M., and the journey began. There were other parties scattered about the open space at the warehouse; some had regular tents, some sheltered themselves under a broad piece of India rubber cloth, stretched over a pole like the roof of a house. One party had a conical tent, with an upright pole in the centre, the canvass spread out around the foot; and another, in default of other covering, lay snoring under a cotton bedtick, stretched across the bushes. A party of surveyors were encamped near the landing, from a cruise of three months in the interiour. This party had run a tier of townships, from Mackinaw, northward, into sections of one mile square. These men encamped a few days at this place, to recruit their tattered garments, of which only the shreds and fragments remained. In enterprises of this sort, it is only by physical energy, and great powers of endurance, that the contractor can realize any thing from the prices allowed by Government for its original surveys. They provision themselves, by carrying all on their backs, from the depots on the shore. The thickets through which they pursue their work, week after week, and month after month, would be declared absolutely impracticable to a person not trained in that school, especially in the vicinity of the lake. No beast of burden could pass without bridges, even in case a pathway should be cut through the matted evergreens that cover the ground. To make a path for a horse or mule, would consume more time and labour per mile than the survey itself. There is a hardy class of Frenchmen and half-breeds, cousin-german to the Canadian voyageur, called “packers;” they were bred in the service of the Fur Companies, to carry goods from the nearest landing to the trading post, and return with a pack of furs. The surveyors found these packers indispensable to their operations. They will carry from 50 to 70 pounds, and can travel along in the recesses of the forest, without fear of losing their way.

They are patient, cheerful, and obedient; in fact, they are on land what the voyageur is upon the water. His capacity for food corresponds with his ability to endure fatigue, and his great care is to secure it in sufficient quantity. He makes, with a little instruction, an excellent axeman and chainman. If circumstances prevent a return to the camp, or the rendezvous, he can lie down at the foot of a tree, sleep till daybreak, and resume his tramp without complaint.

George Catlin Indian Gallery

The party which joined our encampment here, was a subject for Catlin, the Indian sketcher. More hale, hearty, and jovial fellows, never broke into the limits of civilization. The northern atmosphere had tinged their cheeks with red, they were all young and active men, glowing with that high animal life, that extreme buoyancy of spirits, which is a stranger to the inhabitants of cities – to those who toss upon feather beds, and live upon soups and comfits.

1641 journey of Father Isaac Jogues and Charles Raymbault to the Sault.

This rugged company, full of fun and frolic, with beards of three months’ cultivation, in red flannel shirts, and fustian trowsers in shreds, white beaver hats, less the border, some in shoes, some in moccasins, and some in boots, from all of which various toes were looking out surprised even the worthy burghers of the Sault. The Sault St. Marie has been a trading post more than two hundred years. The good Catholics Ramboult and Jonges, preached preentance to the Nodowessies, or Sioux, on this spot, in 1641, whom the French traders immediately followed. Here it may be said the borders of civilization have been fixed for two centuries. In consequence, a mixed race has arisen, neither the representatives of refinement nor of barbarism, but of a medium state. It may well be supposed, that a band of jolly fellows, habited as we have described these hardy surveyors, axemen, chainmen, and packers, would not attract here that attention which they would in New-York, or in London. But they appeared to be objects of no little interest and curiosity to the worthy inhabitants of the Sault, especially as some of them were so disfigured that their old friends did not recognize them.

"Ojibwa village near Sault Ste Marie" by Paul Kane in 1845. ~ Wikipedia.org

“Ojibwa village near Sault Ste Marie” by Paul Kane in 1845.
~ Commons.Wikimedia.org

Looking back from the water, upon the collection of tents and lodges, we had a view of the group at one glance, and the scene from the new point of observation suggested ideas that had not presented themselves while we formed a part of it. Around some of the camp-fires were gentlemen from the Atlantic shores, with genteel caps and surtouts, shivering in the raw wind of the morning. Poor fellows ! impelled by the hope of wealth to be found in the copper region, they had rushed, at steamboat rates, to the extremity of navigation, of taverns, and permanent habitations.

The reality of copper exploration had now commenced. A night of drizzling rain and fog had been passed, in a cold tent, on wet ground. Among them were seated voyageurs and half-breeds, as happy as a plenty of grub could take them. The raw wind was no annoyance to them, so long as there was a flint and steel to start a fire, and a plentiful stock of provisions. Between the cap and surtout, and the flannel shirt and canvass trousers, was every grade of men represented by a grade of habiliments.

In front of this motley collection of persons and things, lay the frame of a large schooner, on which fifty workmen were laying the plank – all its timbers and lumber brought from the lower lakes; and in the open level space beyond, along a track cleared through the swamp, stood the spars of a vessel, advancing on solid land towards the basin above the falls. This labour and expense of bringing vessels over land, or the timber to construct them with, is unavoidable. As far as known, there is not ship timber enough on Lake Superiour to build a schooner.

The rock which causes the rapids is a close, fine-grained, red sandstone, in thin layers, pitching to the northward. There has been much diversity of opinion among geologists, about the geological position of this rock. As I proceed, I shall again notice this rock, and its analogue, which occupies almost the entire south coast of this lake.

Map of Ohio including the Connecticut Western Reserve, the First Principal Meridian, and the Base Line. Drawn by Jerome S. Higgins, 1887. ~ Wikipedia.org

Map of Ohio including the Connecticut Western Reserve, the First Principal Meridian, and the Base Line. Drawn by Jerome S. Higgins, 1887.
~ Wikipedia.org

The 1st principal meridian of the U. States surveys, comes out on the waters of St. Marie’s, at the ship yard, just above the rapids. This is a true meridian, run with great care from the base line, which is about 12 miles north of Detroit. The 1st meridian is about 30 miles west of Detroit, and passing up through the peninsula of Michigan, crosses the straits near Mackinaw. By the Government system of rectangular co-ordinates, referred always to a given base and meridian, an observer knows his exact position, wherever he may be, in the surveyed portions of the U. States. Every township is six miles square, every section one mile square, every quarter section half a mile square. Every section [corner] has permanent marks on some adjacent tree, which gives the situation of that corner from its proper base and meridian. I make this explanation, to give light upon terms that I shall use hereafter. In traversing the American shore of Lake Superiour, we found, as far as the Porcupine Mountains, west of the Ontanagon, that the surveyors had preceded us. During the present and the past year they had extended the township lines to this distance along the coast, and for a part of this distance had subdivided the townships into sections. These surveys had been carried to different distances, interiour. From the base, near Detroit, numbering northward, St. Marie’s is in township No. 47 North, range No. 1 East. But our point of embarkment was on the west side of the meridian, in town 47 North, range 1 West, or 282 miles north of the base line.

Gros Cap Conservation Area
Tahquamenon Falls State Park

We are now fairly under way, and shall be able to keep our reckoning. The river expands, as we ascend against a very gentle current; the shores are low and swampy, or sandy, and covered with stunted pines. In an hour and a half, so easily did our boat row, we were at “Point Aux Pins,” on the British side. At ten o’clock, we were on shore at the “Gros Cap,” looking up a spar, and clambering the red granite ridge, which here projects towards the American shore – the extremity of that range of mountains in view from the rapids, to the eastward. From the height of 500 feet, we could see the continuation of this range, westward, into Michigan, until its summit were lost int eh mist. The western extremity of the American range is “Point Iroquois,” nearly opposite “Gros Cap,” where the Chippeways, by their ancestors, fought a great battle with the Iroquois, long before the French came into these waters. The range is called the “Tequamenon Mountains,” overlooking for some 20 miles a deep bay, known as the Tequamenon Bay. The waters about “Gros Cap” are so clear that the bottom is seen from 50 to 60 feet below the surface.

Ile Parisienne Conservation Reserve

Before leaving this inhospitable crag, we set fire to a windfall about about two years of age, and consequently in a fine state for a conflagration. This was not done through any republican contempt of the British Queen, or her territory, but from pure benevolence towards subsequent travellers exploring “Gros Cap.” It lay between the ridge and the bay, in a swamp so thickly covered with prostrate trees that one might go a quarter of a mile on them without touching the ground, unless an unlucky misstep should precipitate him into the mud beneath. At one o’clock, we were at “Isle Parisien,” a low island, five miles long, cooking a dinner, and procuring a better spar.

We succeeded here so well in fitting our sail, that the traverse of 15 miles to “White-Fish Point,” ordinarily a hazardous voyage, was safely and pleasantly made, a little after dark; and the wind, though light, being still fair, we ran into the lake without landing, and made along the shore. We were now upon the largest body of fresh water on the globe; called by the Indians, Kitche-goming, by the French, Superieur, or Upper, and corrupted by the English into “Superiour.”

The moon shone dimly through a heavy sky, the water was merely ruffled by a warm southern breeze, and in the distance the flame of the burning windfall shone conspicuously above the mountains.  On the Michigan side, several large tracts of burning timbers were seen on the hills, at the head of Tequamenon Bay.  It was determined to proceed as long as the wind continued favourable, but in a short time it failed altogether, and we went ashore at half-past eleven, and encamped.  The ground here lay in a series of low sand ridges, with scattered pines.  Distance from the Sault, 45 miles.

At sunrise every thing was on board, and the sail spread before a fair wind.  Along the beach, the surf has piled a ridge of water-washed granitic gravel, five to six feet high, the deep water holding out quite to the shore.  In coasting, in an open boat, the traveller must resign all hope of regularity of hours, of meals, and of sleep.  His sovereign is the weather: when that is calm, he may proceed with the “white ash queen,” as the sailors say: when the wind is ahead, he can take his ease – provided he is safe on shore!  But, when it is fair, he must always be before it.  The prevailing winds along this shore are from the west, at this season; and, consequently, they are ahead as you go up the lake.

Breakfast on board, upon cold beans, cold pork, and hard bread.

Two Hearted River

Towards evening, the wind came so strong ahead as to oblige us to put into the mouth of “Two-Heart” river, a stream sufficiently deep to float a large vessel inside the bar, but not deep enough to carry the yawl with her load.  Of the streams discharging into the lake from the south, only two or three are known with open mouths.  At most of them it was necessary to lighten the boat and haul her over, with about the same labour and discomfort as though there was no channel; but once inside, a quiet harbour was always found.  These mouths are so completely sealed up, and concealed by sand ridges, tat persons may pass them within ten rods of shore, and not discover that a creek is there.

The shore is composed of low monotonous sand ridges; with stunted pines.  The bluff is from 50 to 80 feet high, presenting a stratified edge of sand, inclined gently to the east, not exceeding 10 feet in a mile.  The ridges run from the interiour nearly perpendicular to the direction of the shore.

We passed several fishing huts, now deserted, with a plenty of empty salt barrels and fish scales scattered around.

A little east of the mouth of the creek we observed, in toiling up, several picketed enclosures, among the pines, on a beautiful ridge.  They were Indian graves, thus strongly guarded to keep out the beasts of prey.  There are those who doubt whether the Indian is susceptible to the delights of taste – whether he enjoys a bright morning, a clear and moonlight night, a mountain, a vale, or a beautiful river.  Was it mere accident that placed this burying-ground upon so enchanting a spot?  The lake is about 40 rods distant in front, and about as many feet below the site of the graves.  Through the open trees you see its waters, as plainly as if there was no intervening timber – while the shade of its branches is perpetual upon the spot.  Even the lowest ripple on the beach reaches the ear as distinctly as the angriest roar of the waves.  Every breath of air that moves to and from the lake – the evening and the morning breeze, as well as the northern tempest, plays audibly upon the long and evergreen leaves of these ancient pines.  At the head of each grave is a flat shingle or board, with emblems, painted in red, or rudely carved with a knife.  On one, there are tree red cross-bows, and two human figures – representing a man and a woman, (doubtless a husband and wife,) with clasped hands.  On the reverse, a bear – probably the sign or token of the deceased.  On the top, three eagle quills.  Some have crosses – indicating that a good Catholic sleeps below.

At an early hour on the morning of the 16th we got out of “Two-Heart” river through a light sea, determined to try the “ash breeze” against the west wind; but, after a couple of miles hard rowing, the regular breeze prevailed: we could no longer make headway, and put about.

Notwithstanding the sand-flies and moschetoes, it was comfortable to lie down once more upon the green grass and fragrant wintergreens of that shore.  The weather was warm and heavy.  Some wandered through the sand-hills and stumps; some, wrapped in blankets as a defence against the flies, sought in vain for sleep; others, with the fishhook and artificial fly, rowed up the creek in pursuit of speckled trout.  A good dinner and supper of these fish was the result of the expedition.

At 8 P.M. the wind became more favourable, and the boat was headed up the coast.  At 10 the weather became thick, and running ashore at random, we had the first trial at hauling our craft out of the water by main force.  She proved to be as easily handled on land as a Mackinaw of the same capacity; only requiring more care.  In camp, we turned her over – one gunwale resting on the sand, about thirty feet from the surf; the other set upon sticks, after the fashion of a trap.  Under this we all crawled, spread our blankets, and some of the party went to sleep.

Josiah R. Dorr
Daniel P. Bushnell was stationed at the La Pointe Indian sub-Agency.
Mike, Martin, Charley, and Patrick cannot be identified without further biographical information.
Martin appears to be Ashland’s co-founder Martin Beaser, who formerly worked in the whaling industry:
“[Martin] engaged in sailing on Lake Erie from Buffalo to Detroit until 1847, when he went in the interest of a company in the latter city to Lake Superior for the purpose of exploring the copper ranges in the northern peninsula of Michigan. He coasted from Sault Ste. Marie to Ontonagon in a bateau. Remaining in the employ of the company about a year, he then engaged in a general forwarding and commission business for himself.”

Mr. J. R. Dorr, of Detroit, the principal of the expedition, had seen something of this kind of life.  Mr. D. P. Bushnell , of the same place, had long been Indian agent at La Pointe; and was, of course, familiar with the country and this mode of travelling.  Another gentlemen, well known on the lakes for his wit and vivacity, qualities that generally attend an excitable temperament, not being accustomed to tents, boats, and camps, found it rather uncomfortable.  The sand, so soft and yielding to the foot, was as hard as a rock to the bones.  The grinding of the gravel, thrown incessantly about by the waves, gave out a grating sound that had no tendency to sooth a man to rest; especially one who had been accustomed to the quiet of the third story of a boarding-house.  Besides, there was some chance of the props giving out, and the trap springing upon the legs, arms and bodies projecting from beneath.  Mike, an old soldier who officiated as cook; Martin, a sailor just from the whaling grounds of the Northwest Coast; Charley, a giant from the Low Countries, and Patrick, the other hand seemed to pay no attention to the hard bed, the cold wind, the noisy waves, or to the doubtful props.  A sprightly young clerk of the company, fresh from the counter, though swollen and tormented by the poison of the sand-flies, took the matter like a veteran, and slept like an opium-eater.

About noon the next day we passed the “Grand Marais,” a Bay 40 miles from White-Fish Point, with six feet water on the bar, and a fine harbour.

Two men had left St. Marie’s the day before we did, in a small, but neat and clinker-built boat, with two masts and a wide keel.  They were wholly unacquainted with the difficulties that lay before them; yet one of them, by the name of Axtel, had been exposed in the same boat 48 hours to the fury of a Lake Michigan storm, and therefore felt a confidence in fate.  neither of them had been on Lake Superiour, and therefore knew little of its harbours, rocks, and storms.  Their supplies were salt pork and bread, their furniture a camp-kettle.

Passing Grand Marais, before a smart breeze, we saw their fire in the harbour, and shortly their sail, coming up astern.  Here the low, regular, dear shore of sand, suddenly changed to a lofty wall of the same material, rising from the water’s edge, as steep as it will lie, to the height of 400 feet.  For 20 miles back, there had been seen near the water’s edge a stratum of pebbles, inclined, with the sandy stratum above it, to the eastward.  Now the strata of sand rest on a bed of clay, with the same inclination, but only a few feet in the mile.  The Grand Sable struck us with the more force, because of the sudden transition, from a low, uninteresting shore, to a bold, lofty, regular scarp, four times the height of the tallest trees.  But there were upon this Sable no trees or other vegetation, either on the face towards the lake, which was nearly perpendicular, or upon the summit – all was one black pile of sand; yet so clear, so regularly stratified, and so beautifully variegated, by colours, white and red, that the prospect was not deary, but rather sublime.  Imagine a straight wall of pure sand, four miles long, and four hundred feet high; the base lashed by a rough sea, its top enveloped in a heavy mist, through which rounded hillocks of white wind-blown drift occasionally rise, as the eye reaches, mile after mile, over the country behind.  To me, this sight was more grand and curious than the Pictured Rocks.  Whence came this mass of sand?  Its upper portion has apparently been moved about by winds; its lower portions appear to be too solid to be thus moved.  Was it not in remote ages, like the low sands we have passed, but extending much further into the lake.  A prevailing north wind, with sufficient force to move the sand at the surface, would overcome vegetation, and, like the current of a river, transport the particles incessantly in one direction.  By this means the sand would pile higher and higher, and the lake always encroaching at the foot, would increase the height of the bluff shore.

The “Sable” overlies, on the west, a variegated sand rock, coarse grained, and easily broken, pitching slightly to the eastward.  This is the first rock west of White-Fish Point.  The stratification is imperfect, the colour, an irregular mixture of grey and red.

Turning one of the rocky points west of the “Grand Sable,” a stiff gale from the west put an end to further progress, and gave warning of a storm.  The only expedient in such an emergency, is, to beach the boat, and draw her out of the reach of the waves.  It is an operation not always agreeable; because, while loaded, she cannot be run upon dry ground; and, to be unloaded, the goods must be taken through the water to the shore.  On this occasion the wetting process had been gone through with, two hours before, during a heavy fall of rain.

Our baggage was scarcely safe on land when the wind blew furiously, and our two friends in the sail-boat appeared, endeavouring to make the shore, as the sea had risen so much, that a landing was at this moment not only uncomfortable, but a little hazardous.

As the storm increased, our fires began to burn brightly.  Near the boats, was a little dell, sheltered by a low ridge of sand, where our tents were pitched, and all made dry and comfortable, while the gale heightened into a tempest.

On the next day, progress was impracticable, and being well provided, we determined to give an entertainment.  our friends were invited at 1, P.M.  They had bean soup, boiled ham, tea and coffee, bread, and pickles.  The quantity consumed, probably exceeded that of ordinary dinners, as much as it does at the annual meals of the Aldermen of New York, and London.  As to style, there were tin cups and pewter platters, knives and spoons.  For tables, there were the knees of the guests and a spare box; forseats, camp stools and bundles.  The entertainment continued with great glee about two hours, and passed off with as much sociability and mirth as though it had been given at the Astor.

After the first hour had been spent in the enjoyment of this cheer, our guests began to refuse dishes, by way of politeness; but the ex-Indian agent put all such hesitation aside, by relating what he had done and seen in the Indian country.  There was one example of an Indian eating half a bushel of wild rice at a meal.  Another, of a half-breed, who was sent out to bring in a deer that had been killed some miles from the post.  The half-breed lost his way, and slept in the woods one night.  The next day, in the afternoon, he came in without the deer.  He was asked where he had left it.  “Ugh ! got him – do you s’pose a man is to starve.”

One thing is certain – in this high latitude, with its pure and healthy climate, where the enervating effects of heat upon digestion are unknown, men may eat with impunity what would be fatal to them at the south.

In commemoration of the feast, a little trout brook, which empties there, was named “Pickle Creek,” and the names of the party, neatly carved on a neighbouring birch.

William Smith vs. Earl of Selkirk
False Imprisonment

One of the our guests is the son of a former sheriff in Canada, who made the journey from St. Marie’s to Fort William, by land, in the winter of 1816.  The object of this trip, through a region so rough and forbidding, in the severity of the cold season, was the execution of a warrant upon Lord Selkirk, then in possession of that post.  Fort William is situated about the middle of the north shore, nearly opposite the east end of Isle Royal.  The warrant was issued from the King’s Bench, and had reference to some of those acts of violence that occurred between the “Hudson’s Bay Company” and the “Northwest Company.”  The sheriff, whose name was [Smith], at last reached the fort, with ten men.  Selkirk professed to hold, and to fight, under the ancient chartered rights of his ancestors; and when Smith presented his authority for the arrest, Selkirk fell back on his charter.  Smith offered the authority of the King’s Bench; Selkirk claimed to be outside of all civil jurisdiction, and replied: “If you do not believe in my charter, here is my authority,” pointing to about 50 men, who were ready to do battle in such emergencies.  He continued: “Instead of my being your prisoner, you are mine.  I will treat you and your men well, yet you must take quarters in the block-house till I leave here.”

Accordingly, the sheriff was obliged to remain in custody about five months, until the opening of the season.

The timber about Pickle Creek is black and white birch, a few stunted white maples, white and yellow pine, mountain ash, spruce, balsam of fir, balsam of spruce, white cedar, and hemlock; none of it large enough to be valuable.

Grand Island National Recreation Area

The next morning at 4, with a fair wind, we were on the water, having Grand Island in sight, at daybreak.  This island is high and bold, like the Pictured Rocks, which lie on the mainland opposite.  It bears sugar maple in profusion, and has one family (that of Mr. Williams) residing upon it; he is a thrifty farmer and trader.  The variegated sandstone, as well as I could determine, here plunges to the west, and passes under the strata which compose the Pictured Rocks.  The lamented Dr. Houghton regarded the red or variegated sandstone of Lake Superiour, as older than the “old red sandstone.”  The Pictured Rock stratum he considered the equivalent of the “Pottsdam sandstone” of the New York Reports.  This rock comes to the shore, about twenty miles in length, and has a thickness of at least five hundred feet.  Grand Island is an outlier on the north.

The following is a section from the water’s edge upward, taken by the eye, at the highest point, which, according to Captain Bayfield, is 300 feet.

whittlesey geological section pictured rocks

It will now be readily seen, how the perpendicular faces of rock are caused, which have given this passage such a frightful aspect.  Vertical walls of smooth, gray rock, 200 to 300 feet high, passing to unknown depths beneath the surface; in places worn into large caverns, in others, coloured in fantastic, yet grim figures, half real and half imaginary, yellow, green, and black; shapes neither animal, nor in the likeness of any thing else that is natural, but so near the natural, as to give rise to the idea of monsters, griffins, and genii.  Such are the Pictured Rocks, before which the Indian thinks of his Manitou, and the Frenchman crosses himself with profound reverence.

The soft conglomerate (No. 1) yields to the incessant wear of the wave, which, rolling from deep water, strikes with great power.  When the undermining process has extended a few yards, the hard stratum next above falls, and with it the superincumbent mass.  Much of this dissolves away in time, leaving the fragments of No. 2 visible, in great blocks, at various depths beneath the surface.  The colours are furnished by the dripping solutions of iron, in the state of oxyde, carbonate, and sulphate; by moss growing upon the face of the rocks, and probably by the green carbonate of copper.  The niches, caves, and angles, follow naturally from a rock of different degrees of hardness, acted upon by the same disintegrating force.  At the mouth of a creek, where the trail from “Bay De Noquet,” (called Bodenock,) on Lake Michigan, strikes this lake, there is a hard silicious slate, approaching to flint, dark in colour, and imperfectly stratified.  This bed, which appears to be limited, lies low, near the water.

Passing these dreaded rocks, the principal harbour of Grand Island, and the farm of Mr. Williams, come in view.  For refuge in bad weather, this island must, in future time, be of great advantage to vessels.  It has several large and deep harbours, and of itself forms a good lee, in almost all weather.  On the mainland, opposite Mr. William’s, is a solitary cabin, the agency of the American Fur Company.

Between Grand Island, on the west, and the shore at Train River Point, there are two low islands, that appear to be formed of the red sandstone.  At the point, this rock forms the shore, and has a rapid dip to the eastward, say 150 feet in the mile; evidently running under the Pictured Rocks, and therefore an older formation.  Here it enclosed occasional pebbles of quartz, agates, and fine-grained sandstone.

The wind, which had been fair all day, on turning the point came strong ahead, against which we had hard pulling about five miles, to the mouth of Train river.  our craft proved to be a fast sailer, easily beating the little clinker of our friends, before the wind; but those dauntless fellows did not rest, until, at the end of the day, they drew her into the same harbour with us.  Train river, like many others, has deep water inside, but only a few inches at the entrance.  Wherever we set foot on shore, the remains of previous travellers were seen.  Here, the poles of many Indian lodges were standing, and the bones of a bear lay around, indicative of a feast.  There were, also, dwarf cherries and whortleberries.

"Geological Map of the District Between Keweenaw Bay and Chocolate River, Lake Superior, Michigan." By John Wells Foster, circa 1849-1854. ~ Huntington Digital Library

“Geological Map of the District Between Keweenaw Bay and Chocolate River, Lake Superior, Michigan.” By John Wells Foster, circa 1849-1854.
~ Huntington Digital Library

Passing out of the bay, in the morning, a range of mountains were visible, the ends presenting themselves near at hand, and the principal range extending westward, toward Chocolate river.  From the outline, I conjecture that they are composed of primitive rocks.  At the shore, the strata are still the variegated sandstone, very much tilted with thin beds of shale interstratified; apparent dip, to the northward.  Making a long traverse from Train River Bay, at 5, P.M., we entered a magnificient harbour, between projecting points of granite rocks; and coasting along inside some islands, soon saw that there was a very safe and spacious shelter for shipping still further inland, accessible in any wind, with deep and quiet water inside.  This bay is sometimes called Presque Isle.  It commences about two miles north of the mouth of “Riviere des Morts,” six or seven miles northwest of Chocolate river, and extends to Granite Point.

Mr. Dorr being quite ill, our party remained a day.  The boat anchored in a quiet nook of the harbour.  Granite rocks were projecting on all sides, through the red sandstone, scorched and whitened at the points of contact.  In the rear, were seen rugged mountains, covered with evergreens.  This was regarded as the commencement of the copper region.  Accordingly, myself and Martin sallied forth in the morning, to spy out the mineral wealth of the spot.  On the south point of the bay, to our great satisfaction, we discovered a piece of green carbonate, about the size of a pea, in the hard, green stone trap; but a little further on, found, also, evidences of prior occupation, in a log cabin covered with birch bark, a small patch of chopped land, and a pen made of poles, which enclosed two or three hills of potatoes, and some stalks of green peas.  Pursuing our way along the shore, to Dead Men’s river, we found a permanent fishing establishment, and two comfortable houses, now deserted and locked up.

The country adjacent, for two or three miles, is low and swampy, with sand ridges between the swales; and at the mouth of the river, heaps of granite rocks.  It was soon evident that the surveyors had been this way, and that very recently.  At the south point of the bay, was a stake, on the dividing line between sections Nos. 1 and 2, town 48 north, range 25 west; showing that we were one town, or six miles north of St. Mary’s, and 25 towns, or 150 miles west.

Bayfield, Wisconsin, was named in honor of Admiral Henry Wolsey Bayfield surveyed Lake Superior between 1823-1825. His map of Chequamegon Bay is available online here. Photograph from Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

Bayfield, Wisconsin, was named in honor of Admiral Henry Wolsey Bayfield, who surveyed Lake Superior between 1823-1825. His map of Chequamegon Bay is available online here. Photograph from Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

In making the traverse from Train River Bay, to Presque Isle Bay, a singular object was visible to the right, long before the shore opposite to it came in sight.  Under the effect of refraction, it rose and fell, dilated and contracted, changing continually from a tall spire to a flat belt of land.  By the glass, it was seen to be almost destitute of trees, and Mr. Bushnell began to regard it as one of the peaks of Point Kewena.  There is no map of this lake, upon which a navigator can rely, except a British one, from the survey of Capt. Bayfield, (Royal Navy,) made about 20 years ago.  We had what purported to be a copy, but soon found that it was not a true one.  We could neither recognise from it, the harbour, the points, nor the rivers, where we were.  At Chocolate river the coast, from a westerly course, makes almost a right angle to the northward; but at that time, whether we were at Chocolate, or Dead Men’s river, we could not tell.

Stannard Rock was documented by either Benjamin A Stannard or his brother Charles C Stannard.

The isolated object seen in the north proved to be the “Granite Rock,” situated about 10 miles from the shore, 50 to 80 feet in height, and a few acres in extent.  Along this shore, huge masses of this recent granite rise through the water, and may be seen in its clear depths.  From the section stake just mentioned the Granite Rock bears north, 10 or 12 miles distant.  It must not be confounded with “Standard’s Rock,” which is in the track of vessels from Point Kewena to St. Mary’s, 30 miles from land.  That these granite rocks are more recent than the sedimentary sandstone which rests upon them, is evident from observation.  The metamorphic rocks have protruded through the sandstone, distorting and breaking up the strata.  If the red, or variegated sandstone, had been deposited after the upheaval, this disturbance would not have been visible, nor would there have been seen the discolouration and semi-vitrification at the junction, or contact of the two formations.

The mountainous country, which here comes quite to the lake, extends in east and west ranges, beyond the sources of the Huron river and Kewena Bay, and appears to have been formed by the same volcanic effort.  The spacious and beautiful harbour where we lay, is formed by four granitic islands, three of them now connected with the shore by sand-bars, forming as many “Presque Isles.”

Our next day’s sail ended at a small creek, represented on the map as the St. John’s river, but by the voyageurs called Cypress river, from the adjacent forest of cypress timber, as it is called.  This tree is an evergreen, with rough bark, resembling a tamarack, but the leaves are more like the hemlock.  At 15 miles from Presque Isle Harbour, the shore made again to the westward, the sandstone bluff being more elevated and perpendicular; its strata somewhat rolling, but the general dip appeared to be westward.  The knobs of Point Kewena were now distinctly in sight, from 40 to 50 miles distant, in the north.  Mr. Door, being quite sick with a bilious fever, we determined to make a long traverse on the next day, across the bay, to Inverse Island, and thence, with all dispatch, to Copper Harbour.  But after putting out, in the face of a stiff breeze, early in the day, we found it impossible to weather the next point, and returned to camp.  The river called the St. John’s by us, is known to the French as the “Chien-Jaun,” or Yellow Dog river, corrupted, in the first instance, to “Shannejone,” and Thence to St. John.  It is, on the map, laid down as about 30 miles long.  In this country the creek is never used, but the French term “riviere,” is applied to all its streams, which is Anglicised river.  Being now wind-bound for the day, I took our trusty and intelligent whaler, Martin, who had already shown himself a good woodsman, as well as a first-rate sialor, and followed the creek into the interiour.  At the end of two miles of still, deep water, our canoe was obstructed by flood-wood, and at three-fourths of a mile further, by a fall of 8 or 10 feet, over sand rock.  Above the fall was a beautiful lake, overlooked by granitic mountains on the west, with an opening at the south.  This led us to a second lake, and this to a third – strictly speaking, only branches of the same water – in all, about four miles long.  On the wast and south were gentle ridges, sustaining the first valuable pines we had seen; on the west, lofty hills.  In the low grounds, at the water level, were thousands of large white cedars, forming a perfect abattis, or barrier, against our progress.  There were pheasants and ducks in abundance – red squirrels, and whortleberries.  On the whole, there was present so much of the New England scenery and productions, that I have written on my sketch of these ponds the name of “New England Lakes.”  This is the termination of our 30 mile river.

On the succeeding day, the wind being still adverse to a direct passage to Copper Harbour, we thought only of proceeding along the coast, to the westward, and reached the mouth of Huron river, in a few hours.  The health of our invalid having improved, we hauled the boat over the sand-bar, at the mouth of this river, and finding deep and wide water, ascended about two miles, and encamped.  The reports of other exploring parties, were highly favourable to the Huron region, as a mineral location; but after expending two days of rainy weather, in the mountains between the Little and the Big Huron, and finding the signs of valuable copper not promising, we set forward for the “Anse.”

During our stay, we had made an excursion, by water, into a bay about 15 miles deep, called after the adjacent islands and river, Huron Bay.  The shores are low, and the extremity, or head, swampy, and filled with a labyrinth of wet islands, covered with white cedar.  On the south, the Huron range overlooks the bay, at a height of 500 to 600 feet.  This inlet is in the form of a pocket, gathered at the middle; and if necessary, though shallow, would accommodate a great number of vessels.  When we were fairly at the bottom of the pocket, the wind came square in, and preventing our departure that night, we were under the necessity of encamping, without blankets, in a lodge lately occupied by the surveyors.  A lodge is a temporary habitation, erected by those who have no tents, to be occupied for the night, or, for some days if the weather is bad.  It is made of evergreen boughs, pine, hemlock, or balsam, cut short.  The frame-work consists of two crotches, and a pole between them.  On the side towards the wind poles are laid, like rafters, one end on the ground, the other on the cross-pole, in the crotches.  On these the small brush is laid, like shingles, beginning at the ground, and each course overlapping the last.  The ends are stopped in the same way, and the fire built in front.  They serve to keep off the dew, snow, and wind, but are of little avail in heavy rains.

The promontory between Huron Bay and Kewena Bay is called “Point Obang,” a corruption of “Point Abaye.”  It is a low, flat tract of land, which bears some sugar maple, and has a good soil, capable of cultivation.  The range line between ranges 29 and 30 west, comes to the lake a short distance west of the mouth of Huron river.  The northwest corner of Section 18, T. 52 No., R. 29 W., is about a mile from the shore – showing a progress to the westward of St. Marie’s of 29 towns, and to the northward five towns.

About six miles from the shore is a collection of granitic islands, called the Huron Islands, inhabited by rabbits in great numbers.  Soon after casting loose from the Islands, our fitful breeze again settled into the west, where she tumbled and pitched all night and all the next day, our faithful whaler sleeping on board.  In the evening, a calm enabled us to work with oars, and to reach the mission at the “Anse” about daybreak.

Father René Ménard

This term, is the French for a small bay, and is used to designate the place, as well as the head or extremity of Kewena Bay.  Here the Abbe Mésnard preached to the Sioux, in 1660, and impelled by the missionary spirit, proceeded towards “Chegoimegon,” the modern La Pointe.  He is said to have perished in the wilds beyond the Ontonagon, for he was seen no more.

Dr. Lathrop Johnson was the Government carpenter for the Indian sub-Agency located here.
Daniel D. Brockway was the Government blacksmith for the Indian sub-Agency locaed here.

There is yet a Catholic mission on the north side of the bay, which, with its collection of log cabins, and chapel, presents at a distance, a very pretty view.  On the south side is the Fur Company’s agency, now comparatively desolate, and the Methodist mission for the Chippeways.  Dr. Johnson, the carpenter, and Mr. Brockway, the blacksmith and farmer, of this mission, showed our party great kindness, which is more to be considered, when it is known that the spirit of copper speculation had attracted many people to the country, all of whom received the good offices of the establishment.

The mission farm produces good grass, very heavy crops of potatoes and turnips, good oats, barley, and rye.  They are now trying the wheat crop, with little doubt of success.

Those who have spent the winter here, do not complain of its severity, although snow lies from one to four feet deep, from December till May.  The bay furnishes inexhaustible supplies of white fish, that are taken almost the entire year.  Every night, except Sunday, the water is dotted with the canoes of the squaws and Indians, planting their gill nets; and again, at daylight in the morning, these female fishermen are seen overhauling the net for their morning meal.  The two missions appear to divide the band about equally.  At this moment, the principal portion of both flocks are absent at La Pointe, receiving their annuities, each under the watchful care of their respective pastors.

From the Anse to the mouth of the Ontanagon, direct by land, is a very practicable route for a road, the distance about 45 miles.  It is from this place, also, that the winter trail to Green Bay leads off to the southward, and which must always be the approach from the States by land.  To reach the Ontanagon by water, the distance is about 160 miles, following the shore around Point Kewena.  But about 12 miles from the Catholic mission there is a river, called the Portage river, that communicates with the Portage Lakes, which extend across the base of Point Kewena, to within one mile and a half of the northern shore.  For bark canoes and light craft this portage is practicable, and usually made.  About 60 miles of navigation is thus avoided.

Having feasted a couple of days upon the good things of the Anse, to wit: potatoes, turnips, sweet milk, and fresh bread, we departed for Copper Harbour, and arrived there in ten days.  The sand rock of the south shore of Kewena Bay continued around on the northern side to “Bay de Gris.”  A little beyond this, a different rock made its appearance, but probably the geological equivalent of the red and variegated sand rock.  it is a very coarse, but stratified conglomerate, with pebbles of gate, quartz trap, amygdaloid trap, red granite, &c., many of them larger than a man could lift.  It is raised in uplifts, corresponding with the subordinate trap, and contains fissures like the trap, which are filled with spar.  The general course of the uplifts is southwest by west, and the course of the fissures or veins, both of the trap and conglomerate, is nearly at right angles to the face of the uplifts.  It is in these veins that the native copper and its ores are found.

The line of greatest elevation runs near the middle of the point, forming an anticlinal axis, from which the rocks pitch each way, at various angles, from 20 to 60 deg.  But it must not be supposed that the descent is regular from the summit towards the lake.  In the volcanic convulsions that generated and raised the trap rocks, they were greatly broken and fractured; and consequently, the overlying rocks, the conglomerate and sandstones, were dislocated in the same way.  They now lie in the form of vast steps; the broken faces of the conglomerate and trap nearly perpendicular, and the slopes at the angles above stated.  The veins of the stratified and the unstratified rocks appear to be of the same age, to have been formed by the same cause, after the enclosing rocks had taken the form and position they now have.  Upon the manner of the formation of these veins there are various conjectures, which I have not space to notice.  When they pass from the conglomerate to the harder and more compact trap rock, they are said to diminish in width, sand the material of the vein changes.  They carry, in general, beautiful calcareous spar, and also other substances besides copper, such as quartz and barytes.

Painting of Douglass Houghton by Robert Thom. Houghton first explored the south shore of Lake Superior in 1840. Houghton died on Lake Superior during a storm on October 13, 1845. The city of Houghton on Chequamegon Bay was named in his honor.

Painting of Douglass Houghton by Robert Thom. Houghton first explored the south shore of Lake Superior in 1840. Houghton died on Lake Superior during a storm on October 13, 1845. Chequamegon Bay’s City of Houghton was named in his honor, and is now known as Houghton Falls State Natural Area.

From the Manitou Islands, at the extremity of Point Kewena, to the Portage Lakes, the most elevated mountain range, or rather succession of knobs, is nearer to the north than the south shore, and from 100 to 800 feet in height.  It is a very rough region to explore, with precipitous rocks, thick cedar swamps, and tangled evergreens, in every part.  But, Dr. Hougton, with five companies of explorers and surveyors, has subdivided all the land east of the Portage Lakes into sections, during the past summer, except one fractional township.  The labour and exposure attending this work cannot be understood by any except those who have been upon the ground, and seen its mountains and swamps.  This survey was undertaken to demonstrate the practicability and value of a favourite system of Dr. Houghton’s.  He had, as geologist of the State of Michigan, spent several years in this desert region, and knew its mineral worth.  He felt, as every exploring geologist feels, the necessity of exact topographical and lineal surveys, in order to give his reports that character of perfect accuracy of which the science is capable.  in truth, a large portion of the results of mineral explorations is geographical, topographical, and mathematical matter.  The thickness, extent, and dip of rocks, when found, constitute a perfect measurement of the country.  Dr. Houghton contracted with the Government to make the lineal survey of this region, and at the same time a geological one; and labouring upon it as the great undertaking of his life, had, as I have remarked, nearly completed the most difficult portion – that of Point Kewena.  His melancholy fate is well known.

Detail of a Survey of Location No. 4 for the Pittsburgh & Boston Copper Harbor Mining Co. (Image digitized by the Detroit Public Library Burton Historical Collection for The Cliff Mine Archeology Project Blog).

Detail of Copper Harbor and Fort Wilkins from “Survey of Location No. 4 for the Pittsburgh & Boston Copper Harbor Mining Co.” Image digitized by the Detroit Public Library Burton Historical Collection for The Cliff Mine Archeology Project Blog.

By these surveys, Fort Wilkins and Copper Harbour are situated near the southwest corner of town 59 north, range 28 west, or 12 towns north, and 28 towns west of St. Mary’s.

The returns of the Government surveys of this region will not show any of the coasts and water-courses, in connexion with towns and section lines, but will give the elevation and depression – what public surveys hitherto have not – of the country, taken at every change, by the barometer. They will, further, exhibit the exact limit and character of the mineral region.  Such a system, introduced into all the public surveys, with modifications suitable to the agricultural districts, such as the analysis of soils, collection of plants and marls, would be of immense advantage to the settler, and honourable to the nation.

The maps and papers of the mineral agency at Porter’s Island, in Copper Harbour, showed about 500 locations, of one mile square, each.  The War Department has, by usage, the control of the mineral lands of the United States.  It is doubtful whether there is any law that covers the case of the copper mines of Lake Superiour.  The President has, however, reposed the power of leasing these and other mineral lands in the War Department, which confides their management to the Bureau of Ordnance, which acts by local agents.  The Secretary of War, or the local agents, grant permits of search and location, and the location being made, a lease is granted to the locator.  in this lease, there are covenants to render the Government six per cent. of the mineral raised, for three years, and after that time, the Government have power to require ten per cent. for the next six years.

At first, the permits including three miles square, or nine square miles; but were, early last spring, reduced to one square mile, and given upon every application, without fees.  About 70 permits were now laid in the neighbourhood of Dead Men’s river, and 8 or 10 about the mouth of Huron river.  The Point Kewena, proper, that is to say, that portion east of the Portage Lakes, was mostly covered, and various other large tracts on the waters of Elm river, the Ontonagon, Iron river, and even on the Brulé, beyond La Pointe.

In order, therefore, to locate our permits, it became necessary to go westward, and explore some of the vacant regions beyond the Portage Lakes.  We therefore left Copper Harbour, touching at Agate Harbour, Eagle Harbour, and Eagle river, and proceeded to the mouth of Salmon Trout river, in township 55 north, range 35 west.

Mr. Bushnell, and myself, and two men, here took to the woods, and striking the range line between 34 and 35, followed it south, to the southeast corner of township 53 north, range 35 west, being about 17 miles interiour.  To our surprise, instead of finding a rugged mineral region, we had passed through a handsome rolling country, tolerably well watered, with a good loamy soil, producing an abundance of sugar maple.  Along the margin of the lake, owing probably to the harsh and moist winds from the water, nothing bu birch, balsam, pine, hemlock, spruce, and white cedar, is seen; but to the distance of two to five miles, interiour, the forest growth changes entirely.  There is an occasional white pine, with a lofty, straight, and majestic trunk, some scattering elms, linns, and black oaks, but the reigning tree is the sugar maple.

On the left, lay the valley of the Portage Lakes and of Sturgeon river, which we had just crossed.  Turning westward, we soon encountered one of those eye-sores to the explorer and surveyor, a cedar swamp, in which a progress of a mile an hour is considered rapid travelling.  The white cedar lives to a great age before it beings to decline.  It finally rots at the root, and is blown down by the northern tempest.  But this is by no means its end; its prostrate trunk sends up live branches, that draw sustenance through the roots of the parent, of new prongs went by itself below, among the buried trunks of preceding centuries.  In after ages, when it has at length matured, and, weakened by time, has yielded to the winds, another sprout from its side keeps the family stock in perpetual being.  Beneath the accumulated bodies of these trees, some dead and some living, the water, in which they delight, stands the year through, flowing gradually towards some stream of the vicinity.  What is remarkable, the water of these swamps, so little and slow is the decay of the cedar tree, is clear, pure and cool.

I hope I have been able to convey to the reader, a just idea of a white cedar swamp, because without a correct conception of this, he will never be able to realize the great difficulty of travelling in this new country. After he has penetrated one of them forty rods, the view is equally extensive in every direction, whether it is only forty rods to the other side, or whether it is two miles.  In addition to the network of logs, and the thicket of leaves that never fall, it is necessary to thin of numberless dry, sharp, and stiff prongs, the imperishable arms and limbs of dead and fallen trees.  It is then to be remembered that every man carries more or less of a load upon his back; his blanket, his tin cup, probably some implement, a hatchet, or a hammer, with specimens, and a few pounds of provisions.

The second night found us advanced about one mile into a noble cedar swamp.  Climbing a tree extended somewhat the range of the eye, but it met only the sombre and half naked trunks of the white cedar, in every direction.  A camp-bed was formed beneath a tall and beautiful larch, or tamarack, and a fire made at its root.  The bed was made made as usual of branches, kept out of the water in this instance by brush and poles.  This white cedar has the merit of burning readily, as well as of durability, and made to-night a bright fire, flaming gaily upwards against the straight and stately larch.  When had such an illumination shone there before?  The owl gave utterance to his surprise in hideous screams, and hooted for his mate.  The larch, as it swayed to and fro in the night breeze, seemed to creek and groan because of the fire, which was scorching its sinews and boiling its life-blood in its veins.  No doubt, before many seasons pass by, he will sicken and die, and from a tall prince, overlooking the humble cedars, will come heavily down, perhaps in the stillness of night, and lay his body along side of theirs.

In the morning, after passing a cold and comfortless night, a few minutes’ travel cleared the swamp, and rising some very high land, we found the stratified sandstone again, and inclined towards the lake.

At the southeast corner of township 53 north, range 36 west, the trap ranges again made their appearance, from whose summits the mountains of the Huron river were visible, in the south, beyond the Anse.

John Harris Kinzie ~ Wikipedia.org

John Harris Kinzie
~ Wikipedia.org

We were now on the head waters of Elm river, on ground located for many miles around.  Most of them are what are called office locations, made without visiting the spot, and in consequence of some locations made by Mr. Kenzie, of Chicago, from actual observation, of which favourable reports were in circulation.

That night we should have met two of our men at a rendezvous with supplies; but neither party had sought the right spot, so indefinite were the descriptions given us of localities.  As it was some miles from the coast to the mineral ranges, the boat passed slowly along the shore, sending out provisions, from time to time, to the exploring party.  It was not then known how far west the township lines were surveyed, consequently the points of meeting were fixed at the forks of some stream, or some old camp, and in finding these many errours might be committed.  In this case a day was consumed in uniting the two parties, which would not have been of so much consequence, had not the stock of eatables began to fail.  But most of the disagreeable effects of a short allowance were avoided by the capture of a porcupine, of which we made, by long boiling in the camp-kettle, very palatable soup.

On the 20th of September, at a distance of 20 miles from the coast, there were a few flakes of snow, succeeding a cold rain.  On the 21st and 22d, rain.  The ground passed over during this week, is drained by the Salmon Trout river, (a creek,) Elm river, Misery river, Sturgeon, and Flint Steel rivers.  Every member of the party was delighted with its soil, its beautiful and heavy timber, and the unsurpassed purity, plenty, and coldness of its waters.  We passed several small clear lakes, the sources of many streams.  These streams are in general but few miles in length, enlarging very fast as you follow them downward from the head, alive with the famous speckled trout, rapid in their descent, and so uniform in the flow of water, that water power is every where abundant.  Many a time did Patrick and Charley select their future farms, on the border of some quiet pool, from which a tumbling brook issued, bearing its faithful tribute into the reservoir of the Father of Lakes.

The cedar swamps, so hateful to the explorer, will be necessary to the farmer for his supply of rails; the tall, round pines, scattered here and there among the sugar trees, now so green and majestic, will supply him with lumber; the straight and beautiful balsam, with timber.

Hitherto, the mineral trap rocks that rise occasionally through the sandstone stratum, do not greatly interfere with the use of the land for tillage.  This rock, when fully disintegrated, gives a light soil that produces well.  In this vicinity, the trap rises suddenly out of the plain land, sometimes with one perpendicular face and one gentle slope; sometimes like an island with a bluff all around, and flat, rich land on the top; and sometimes in irregular peaks, standing among the timber like cones and pyramids.  At the sources of Flint Steel river  we saw, interspersed with protruding summits of trap, peaks of conglomerate shooting up from flat land, to the height of 50, 70, and 100 feet.

Pursuing a southwesterly course, about noon, on the 26th, we entered the ravines that lead into the Ontanagon.  From Elm river to the Ontanagon, the sand rock is covered from 10 to 400 feet in depth, with a stratified deposite of red clay and sand, very fine.  It is commonly called clay, but contains more silex than alumine, though tit is so minutely divided as to have the appearance of clay.  I saw nowhere true clay beds, but it is possible some of this deposite will harden in the fire, so as to make bricks.

This great sand-bed is easily washed out by running water.  From the Falls, the Ontanagon has hollowed out for itself a channel 300 to 400 feet deep, and from a half a mile to two miles wide.  The lateral gullies are very numerous, deep, and steep.  Every permanent rill, operating for ages, has excavated a narrow trough, the bottom of which descends towards the river, in the inverse proportion to its length, and the sides remain as nearly a perpendicular as the earth will lie.  The low grounds, not so wet as to cause cypress and cedar swamps, are everywhere inclined to produce hemlock and balsam.  It is the same in the prairies; cold, moisture, and a confined atmosphere, causing the growth of evergreens, and also of cedars.

It will be easy to judge of the facilities of travelling in the region of the gullies.  To cross them, rising one slippery face and sliding down the next, is very exhausting to men loaded with packs.  To follow down one of the ravines, so narrow, deep, and shaded, as almost to exclude the sun at noon, is much like the change “from the frying pan into the fire.”  The timber of the sides has fallen inward, into and across the contracted pathway of the rivulet, so thick, and so much entangled, that the mind is in a constant state of exercise, determining whether it is easier to crawl under, or climb over the next log.

In such regions, as you approach the common discharge of all these ravines, as a creek, a lake, or, as in this case, a river, the number of lateral gullies diminish, and it is sometimes preferable to take the crest of the gulf, and follow it towards the mouth.  We did so; and coming along a narrow backbone, scarcely wide enough for two to walk abreast, suddenly came to its termination, with the river far below us.  It was noon of a lovely day, such as are called the Indian summer.  In the distance, to the north 12 or 15 miles, a thick haze covered the lake; the sides and bottom of the valley of the Ontonagon, were brilliant in the mellow sunlight, mottled with yellow and green; the golden tops of the sugar tree mingled with the dark summits of the pine and the balsam.  The rough gorges that enter the valley on both sides, were now concealed by the dense foliage of the trees, partly gorgeous, and partly sombre, made yet richer by the contrast, so that the surface of the wood, as seen from our elevation, in fact from the waving top of a trim balsam which I had ascended, lay like a beautifully worked and colored carpet, ready for our feet.

On this promontory, jutting into the valley, we kindled a fire in the dry and hollow trunk of a hemlock, as a beacon to our companions, who were to be at the foot of the rapids with the boat.

On the left or inland side, the valley at some miles distant is seen to divide, corresponding with the two branches of the river. In this direction are elevated peaks, several hundred feet higher than our position, but partly hid in the mist of the atmosphere. We had now spent as much time in scene gazing as was profitable, and taking up our packs, tumbled down the bluff to the river. There stood the tents, and there lay the boat, with our comrades lounging about in the sun. The meeting brought forth three hearty shouts all around, and such congratulations of genuine good will, as none but woodsmen and sailors know.

We were now at the foot of the rapids, one mile north of the correction base, which is also the line between towns 50 and 51 north, and one mile east of the range line between ranges 39 and 40 west.

Could this have been Patrick Sullivan, who later lived in La Pointe?

On the next day, after washing, drying, and mending, some of the most needed garments, Patrick, our faithful Irishman, and myself, crossed the river, and went west along the correction line. This course carried us constantly nearer the lake, because the direction of the shore is south of west. The timber was, as might have been expected, on approaching the lake, more hemlock, birch, and balsam; but the soil appeared as good as that we had passed over from Salmon Trout river, in range 35 west. In range 41 west, we turned to the left, and soon found that no surveys had been made south of the correction line. The same day a rain set in, that lasted, with little intermission, four days and five nights. In the trap region, the magnetic needle is subject to great fluctuations. When the sky is overcast, as it was in this case, from morning to night, the sun, the principal guide, is of course lost. If the traveller loses his confidence in the compass, that instrument is the same as lost, and he is compelled to rely upon judgement, or rather the woodsman’s instinct. This judgement is, sometimes, a very uncertain reliance. The streams and ridges of land are so irregular that little information can be drawn from them. There is a great difference in persons, in the accuracy of their calculations, guided by the “make of the country,” as its general topography is called. In this region, none but the oldest hunters and trappers feel safe, when the compass begins to play false, and the sun withdraws himself.  If the consumption of provisions could cease for the time, it would always be safer and wiser to stop and encamp until clear weather comes; but the appetite does not seem to know that circumstances alter cases. With the mind in a state of perplexity, the fatigue of travelling is greater than usual, and excessive fatigue, in turn weakens, not only the power of exertion, but of resolution, also. The wanderer is finally overtaken with an indescribable sensation—one that must be experienced to be understood —that of lostness.  At the moment when all his faculties, instincts, and perceptions, are in full demand, he finds them all confused, irregular, and weak. When every physical power is required to carry him forward, his limbs seem to be yielding to the disorder of his mind; he is filled with an impressive sense of his inefficiency, with an indefinite idea of alarm, apprehension, and dismay; he reasons, but trusts to no conclusion: he decides upon the preponderance of reason and fact, as he supposes, and is sure to decide wrong. If he stumbles into a trail he has passed before, or even passed within a few hours, he does not recognise it; or if he should at last, and conclude to follow it, a fatal lunacy impels him to take the wrong end. His own tracks are the prints of the feet of some other man, and if the sun should at last penetrate the fogs and clouds that envelop his path, the world seems for a time to be turned end for end; the sun is out of place — perhaps it is, to his addled brain, far in the north, coursing around to the south, or in the west, moving towards the east. At length, like a dream, the delusion wears away; objects put on their natural dress; the sun takes up its usual track; streams run towards their mouths; the compass points to the northward; dejection and weakness give place to confidence and elasticity of mind.

I have twice experienced what I have here attempted to describe. It is a species of delirium. It oppresses and injures every faculty, like any other intense and overwhelming action. The greatest possible care should be taken to prevent the occasion for its return. Two men, last summer, were exploring on Elm river, and without compass or food, started for a vein a few rods from camp. They got entangled among swamps and hills, and wandered forty-eight hours in the woods, bewildered and lost. By accident, they struck the lake shore, and their senses returned. It is not prudent to be a moment without the means of striking a fire, without food for a day or two, and a plenty of clothing, or without a compass. Our man Martin, and myself, went out in the morning, from Salmon Trout river, intending to go three miles and return. He had neither coat, nor vest, nor stockings, because the weather was mild. A rain soon come on, and a thick mist; steering for the camp, we struck the creek two miles above the mouth and the camp. The ground in the vicinity of the lake has a low, evergreen bush, with a leaf like the hemlock, which lies flat on the surface, entangling the feet at every step. It was dark when we struck the creek, and began to follow it down stream. The sloughs, logs,ground hemlocks, and cedar brush, were so bad, that it would have been difficult to make much progress in daylight, and it was now pitch dark. We took to the water-course to avoid the brush and bluffs of either bank, and waded along the channel. But the waters of these streams are always cold, and Martin, though a stout fellow, and full of resolution, began to be numb with cold and wet. We took nothing to eat; our matches were wet; the gun could not be fired off. There was but one course to pursue. The stream would take us to camp, but how far distant that desirable spot lay, we could not conjecture. But the chilly water must be avoided, and the brush and logs, wet, slippery, and numberless as they were, must be surmounted. “We have crossed that log before,” says Martin. “What, are we lost?  Impossible; we have not left the stream a moment—it cannot be.” Crooked and winding as it was, it is not possible that we should travel twice over the same ground. But there was the log, to all appearance the same we had crossed half an hour before. Both of us would swear to the identity of the log—the same timber, the same size, the same splinters at the root; the bark off in the same way; and still it was more probable that two such logs should be found, than that we had passed twice over the same spot.

We crawled around, filled with the mystery—and it is not to this hour any thing else than a mystery. In about two hours my companion gave an exclamation of hope and joy. He had been up the creek the day before, shooting ducks and fishing for trout. He recognised the spot where the canoe was obstructed by flood-wood, half a mile from the tents. We now knew where there was a trail, and in a few minutes beheld the sparks of the camp-fire ascending gaily among the trees.

With fire works better secured, with more attention to clothing on the part of Martin, and to blankets by both of us, especially with ordinary prudence in regard to provisions, the discomfort and exertion, the bruises, chills, and exhaustion of this day, so injurious to the constitution, whether felt immediately or not, might have been entirely avoided. It may be thought that such vexations might be prevented by a rational foresight, and this is no doubt true ; but in practice they occur frequently to woodsmen, and they are in general as keen in the examination of chances as any class of men. Even Indians and Indian guides become bewildered, miscalculate their position, make false reckonings of distances, lose courage, and abandon themselves to despair and to tears.

It is not explicit which map Charles Whittlesey was using on his expedition.  Could it have been an unpublished draft of Douglass Houghton’s survey?

The maps for the copper region, instead of assisting the explorer, were for the interiour so erroneous—a fault worse than deficiency—that mistakes equal to a day’s travel frequently resulted from a reliance upon them.

On the office map there was noted a lake not far above the forks of the Ontanagon—on the west fork. Leaving the “correction base” at the southwest corner of town 51 N., range 40 W., we should have struck that lake in the distance of ten miles; but, instead of a lake, found ourselves involved in the marshes at the sources of the Cranberry and Iron rivers, the lake itself being about fifteen miles distant. The forks of the Ontanagon appeared from the map, and the best information within reach, to be about four miles by river above the foot of the rapids. This was made a point in our return, to which a packer was sent with pork and beans. Instead of making the rendezvous in one day’s travel, as was expected, he reports the distance at fifteen miles by river, and seven or eight in a direct line. The delay occasioned by bad weather and mistakes, amounted on our part to two days; the packer, who had at last reached the forks, after spending two nights in a cold rain, without fire, had left, and carried back his provisions. Patrick had, by mistake, taken salt pork for three men, instead of two. When we arrived at the Forks, only one meal of bread and beans remained, with a little tea and sugar; but the pork was sufficient for two days more. It was necessary to alter our route, and employ those two days in reaching the agency at the mouth of the river. This is an instance of hazard and disappointment, and it is difficult to see how it could have been avoided. With the greatest sagacity and forethought, small parties, who do not survey and mark their courses and distances, cannot avoid occasional perils.

Photograph by Ian Shackleford, 2011, of the Ontonagon Copper Boulder off display at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History. ~ Wikipedia.org

Photograph by Ian Shackleford, 2011, of the Ontonagon Copper Boulder off display at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History.
~ Wikipedia.org

The circumstances in which we were placed, did not allow of as much observation upon that interesting region, the Falls of the Ontanagon, as I desired. The greatest fall is on the west branch, and occupies a distance of at least two miles, with a descent of about eighty feet. It was at the head of this succession of cataracts, that the “Copper Rock” was found, which is now at Washington city. It lay when first discovered, on the brink of the river, in the red deposite, of which I have spoken, although mountains of trap, sandstone, and conglomerate, rise on all sides. The rock was removed from its place upon a temporary railway, constructed through the woods, about four miles, to a point on the river where it could be floated. This road crossed deep ravines, and a steep mountain 300 feet high. The rock was hauled along on a car, and up the mountain, by a capstan and ropes. Its weight is a little over 3,000 pounds.

It is now eighty years since this copper rock obtained notoriety among white men.  Mr. Alexander Henry,- an adventurous Englishman, and an agreeable writer, who entered the Indian country immediately after the peace of 1763, gives a description of the rock, which is worthy of being repeated.


“On the 19th of August, (1765,) we reached the mouth of the river Ontanagon, one of the largest on the south side of the lake. At the mouth was an Indian village, and at three leagues above, a fall, at the foot of which sturgeon were at this season so abundant, that a month’s subsistence for a regiment, could have been taken in a few hours. But I found this river chiefly remarkable for the abundance of virgin copper which is on its banks and in its neighbourhood, and of which the reputation is at present (1809) more generally spread, than it was at the time of this, my first visit. The copper presented itself to the eye in masses of various weight. The Indians showed me one of twenty pounds. They were used to manufacture this metal into spoons and bracelets for themselves. In the perfect state in which they found it, it required nothing but to be beat into shape. The ‘Pi-wa-tic,’ or Iron river, enters the lake to the westward of the Ontanagon, and here it is pretended silver was found, while the country was in the possession of the French.”—Part 1, pp. 194-5.

“On my way (1776) I encamped a second time at the mouth of the Ontanagon, and now took the opportunity of going ten miles up the river, with Indian guides. The object which 1 went most expressly to see, and to which I had the satisfaction of being led, was a mass of copper, of the weight, according to my estimate, of no less than five tons. Such was its pure and malleable state, that, with an axe, I was able to cut off a portion weighing a hundred pounds. On viewing the surrounding surface, I conjectured that the mass, at some period or other, had rolled from the side of a lofty hill which rises at its back.”—p. 203.


I quote extensively from Mr. Henry’s interesting book, because it is now out of print, and very rare. Capt. Jonathan Carver, also, travelled in the Lake Superiour and Mississippi country, in 1766, of whom,-after the manner of succeeding travellers, speaking of their predecessors, Mr. Henry says, “and he falls into other errours.” The Chippeways told Carver, that being once driven by a storm to the Isle de Maurepas, (now Michipicoten,) they had found large quantities of shining earth, “which must have been gold dust.” They put some of it into their canoes, but had not moved far from the land, when a spirit sixty feet in height strode into the water, and ordered them to bring every particle of it back to the island. This of course they did, and never ventured again to the haunted island.

Detail of Lake Superior from Carver [Jonathan], Captain. Journal of his travels with maps and drawings, 1766. ~ Boston Public Library

Detail of Lake Superior from [Jonathan] Carver, Captain. Journal of his travels with maps and drawings, 1766.
~ Boston Public Library

Alexander Baxter partnered with Alexander Henry the Elder to mine for silver/copper ore on Lake Superior.
Henry Bostwick was the first Englishman licenced in the Great Lakes fur-trade.

In the spring of 1769, Mr. Henry, excited by this and other reports of the Indians, visited the islands, expecting to find “shining rocks and stones of rare description,” but found only a mass of rock, rising into barren mountains, with veins of spar. The Indians then insisted upon going to another island to the south, (Caribeau) as it was the true island of the “golden sands;” but the weather prevented this visit at that time. In 1770, Mr. Baxter, Mr. Bostwick, and Mr. Henry, were constituted members of a company for working mines on Lake Superiour.


“We passed the winter together at Sault de Sainte Marie, and built a barge fit for the navigation of the lake; at the same time laying the keel of a sloop of forty tons. Early in May, 1771, we departed from Point aux Pins, our shipyard, and sailed for the island of Yellow Sands, promising ourselves to make our fortunes, in defiance of the serpents. I was the first to land, carrying with me my loaded gun, resolved to meet with courage the guardians of the gold.

“A stay of three days did not enable us to find gold, or even yellow sands ; and no serpents appeared to terrify us, not even the smallest and most harmless snake.

“On the fourth day, after drying our Caribeau meat, we sailed for Nanibason, (on the north shore,) which we reached in eighteen hours, with a fair breeze. On the next day, the miners examined the coast of Nanibasou, and found several veins of copper and lead ; and after this returned to Point aux Pins, where we erected an air furnace. The assayer made a report on the ores which we had collected, stating that the lead ore contained silver in the proportion of forty ounces to the ton; but the copper ore only in very small proportion indeed.”


“Mr. Norberg, a Russian gentleman, discovered a mass of choloride of silver on the lake shore, and that it contained sixty per cent of metal.”
A Brief Account of the Lake Superior Copper Company, 1845, page 13.

The party now start for the Ontanagon, having in company a Mr. Norberg, an officer in the 60th regiment, then stationed at Mackinaw, old fort. At Point Iroquois, he found among the loose stones, one “of eight pounds, of a blue colour, and semi-transparent,” which he deposited in the British Museum at London, and which, it is said, contained sixty per cent, of silver.


“Hence we coasted westward, but found nothing till we reached the Ontanagon, where, besides the detached masses of copper formerly mentioned, we saw much of the same metal imbedded in stone. Proposing to ourselves to make a trial on the hill, till we were better able to go to work on the solid rock, we built a house, and sent to the Sault de Sainte Marie for provisions. At the spot pitched upon for the commencement of our preparations, a green coloured water, which tinged iron of a copper colour, issued from the hill, and this the miners called a leader. In digging, they found frequent masses of copper, some of which were of three pounds weight. Having arranged every thing for the accommodation of the miners during the winter, we returned to the Sault. Early in the spring of 1772, we sent a boat load of provisions, but it came back on the 20th day of June, bringing with it, to our surprise, the whole establishment of miners. They reported that in the course of the winter they had penetrated forty feet into the hill, but that on the arrival of the thaw, the clay on which, on account of its stiffness, they had relied, and neglected to secure by supports, had fallen in ; that from the detached masses of metal which to the last had daily presented themselves, they supposed there might be ultimately reached some body of the same, but could form no conjecture of its distance. Here our operations in this quarter ended It was never for the exportation-of copper that our company was formed but always with a view to the silver which it was hoped the ores, whether of copper or lead, might in sufficient quantity contain.”—pp. 227,233.

“In the following August we launched our sloop, and carried the miners to the vein of copper ore on the north side of the lake, (probably at Nanibasou, about one day’s sail from Michipicoten.) Little was done during the winter; but by dint of labour, performed between the commencement of the spring of 1773, and the ensuing month of September, they penetrated thirty feet into the solid rock. The rock was blasted with great difficulty, and the vein which at the beginning was of the breadth of four feet, had in the progress contracted into four inches. Under these circumstances we desisted, and carried the miners back to the Sault. What copper ore we had collected, we took to England; but the next season we were informed that the partners there declined entering into further expenses. In the interim, we had carried the miners along the north shore, as far as the river Pic, making, however, no discovery of importance. This year, therefore, (1774,) Mr. Baxter disposed of the sloop and other effects of the company, and paid its debts. The partners in England were his Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester, Mr. Secretary Townshend, Sir Samuel Tucket, Baronet, Mr. Baxter, Consul of the Empress of Russia, and Mr. Cruikshank. In America, Sir William Johnson, Baronet, Mr. Bostwick, Mr. Baxter, and myself. A charter had been petitioned for and obtained, but owing to our ill success, it was never taken from the seal office.”—pp. 234-5.


Detail of Ontonagon River, “Paul's Cabin,” the Ontonagon Boulder, and the Porcupine Mountains from Map of the Mineral Lands Upon Lake Superior Ceded to the United States by the Treaty of 1842 With the Chippeway Indians. ~ Wisconsin Historical Society

Detail of Ontonagon River, “Paul’s Cabin,” the Ontonagon Boulder, and the Porcupine Mountains from Map of the Mineral Lands Upon Lake Superior Ceded to the United States by the Treaty of 1842 With the Chippeway Indians.
~ Wisconsin Historical Society

There is living an old chief who, when a boy, saw this company of English miners at the falls of the Ontanagon. He represents the manager as a stout, burly man, with a red face. There are near the spot where the great copper rock was found, remains of a chimney, supposed to belong to the house spoken of by Henry. The timber around the spot was of a second growth; now cut away by Mr. James Paul, who has lived there, and located a three-mile permit. He told me that an aspen, eighteen inches in diameter, had blown down near his cabin, and a copper kettle was found, flattened and corroded, beneath its roots. There are also the remains of ancients pits, still visible; and in the sand and clay deposite, by digging, lumps of native copper are now found. There can, therefore, be no doubt but this is the spot visited by the English company, before the American Revolution, and now become again an object of hope and notoriety.

This region is singularly wild and disordered. The Falls, which are distinct from the “Rapids,” are caused by the irregular upheaval of trap, sandstone, and conglomerate, thrown about in grand confusion. To the miner and geologist such points possess not only the greatest interest, but the greatest practical value.

Here appears to be one of those great centres of convulsion, which raised and tossed about the metalliferous rocks. Another may be seen to the eastward of the Portage Lakes. From the central point in such direction along the line of action, that is to say, in a northeasterly and southwesterly course, the height of the upheaval and the extent of the distortion gradually becomes less on each side. The effect of the subterranean forces being very much the same upon the overlying sand rock, as that of a projecting point of rock upon the ice of an estuary of the sea when the tide falls away. The trap uplifts represent the rock, itself rising instead of the sandstone stratum settling. The resemblance is not perfect, but only illustrative. The field of ice subsiding upon a sharp point of rock, in a bay of quiet waters, will break and crack equally in all directions. But the uprising trap, though it has a centre, does not act equally on all sides; for there is a line of upheaval, along which the force operates, giving rise to an elevated ridge, which is highest at the centre, or focus. It has a breadth of 5 to 15 miles, and a length of 50 or 60. The trap rock intruding from below has within itself a certain regularity, which I have noticed before ; throwing up long parallel faces, looking inward towards the line of greatest elevation.

Of this fact I have from observation a knowledge of only a portion of the northern half of the trap range ; from the Manitou Islands to Sun river, a distance of about 120 miles. I did not cross the range far enough to ascertain the position of the south half, and give this statement of its organization upon the representation of other explorers, whom I have no reason to doubt.

These ranges are not- in every case parallel to the great anticlinal line, but generally they are so. There are cases of spurs, or lateral ranges, of limited extent, branching off from the main pile. Both the trap and the overlying conglomerate rocks, are very hard to work. The trap is the most compact, but is more uniform in its texture. The conglomerate encloses pebbles of all sizes, and of many different rocks, most of them very hard. This want of homogenity prevents the blast from producing that effect, which it would on a close, uniform, tight rock. I think there can be little doubt but Mr. Henry’s conjecture respecting the source of the copper rock of the Ontanagon, and the many copper boulders found in the red clay deposite, is correct. That they were loosened from their position in a neighboring vein, by the disentegration of the enclosing rock, and by the force of gravity and that agent, whatever it may have been, which brought on the red sand and clay deposite, they have been scattered around. The red deposite is evidently younger than the sandstone and the trap, for it is horizontal. The sandstone it is equally evident is older than the trap, for the latter has shot up through it, tilting it outward from the line of uplift. The copper boulders are found imbedded in the red loam, as it may be called, and must have been loosened from the vein at and before the period when it (the loam) was brought on.

The native copper, which is the principal ore of the country, (if metal can be called an ore,) exists in the veins, in all sizes and shapes; from the weight of the point of a pin to 20, 40, 100, 1,000 and 1,500 pounds. A boulder was found this season near the mouth of Elm river, weighing over 1,500 pounds, which is now at New Haven. I saw an irregular mass in a vein near Agate Harbour, about one mile east, which might with great care have been taken out, weighing 800 to 1000 pounds. It was removed in one body, to the amount of about 400 pounds; but to procure such specimens there is great trouble and expense, in securing all the prongs against damage by the blast. These boulders are found in the water-worn pebbles of the shore, and of various sizes, from 1 to 40 and 100 pounds. They are also found far to the southward, in Wisconsin—giving rise to great hopes and speculations—transported by that universal power, (whatever it was,) which covered the northern hemisphere with drift from the north.

It may then be suggested whether the great copper rock and its satellites, of the Falls of the Ontanagon, were not carried thither in the same manner. There is certainly room for such a doubt. But no matter how far these masses of copper have been transported, or how short the distance they have been moved, they must have originally been derived from veins. Here we find not the particular veins from which the boulder was extracted, but find in the country veins containing exactly such masses. They may have been dragged from regions farther north, where similar veins probably exist, but as there is no necessity for going to sogreat a distance in search of their origin, so there is not a.s great a probability of finding their original seat far from their present position. The difficulty of transporting such heavy material is a strong reason against distance, though not a conclusive one.

But in the case of the great rock, the number of attending fragments is so numerous—so much more so than is known anywhere else at a distance from the veins, that little doubt remains that they are from a nest not very far off. In the gold region, and in the lead mines, where loose metal is found, the miner begins to search in all directions to ascertain from whence it came. If he finds it more abundant on one side than another, he famines more closely the soil of that side; and if found to increase as he proceeds, he is convinced that he is on the trail. As he follows this, the evidences multiply, and at last he arrives at the parent vein, from which the scattered fragments were driven. It is probable that time, money, and enterprise, will finish what the English company began; and at last disclose a prominent vein within hearing of the cataracts of the west branch.

The mouth of the Ontanagon is one of those commanding points that strike the observer at first glance. As Henry says, it is the principal river of the south shore, and the only one except the Chocolate river and Grand Marais, where a vessel can enter. There is now, in a low stage of the lake, six feet water on the bar, and deep water several miles up the stream, which is about 300 feet wide. It is the natural outlet of a large fanning region, which the surveyors say extends 50 or GO miles interiour, and 40 or 50 each way along the shore. The mineral belt occupies several miles in width, at this point 10 or 12 miles from the shore, and parallel with it; but at the mouth of Sun, Black, and Montreal rivers, it comes down to the waters of the lake. On each side of this range, and even among the Porcupine Mountains, the agricultural resources of the country are only limited by the shortness of the seasons. The soil is good— the climate without an equal for health and strength, and the lake and streams abound in fish. The swamps and the flat lands produce wild grass in abundance, showing the tendency of the soil to that production. Potatoes, turnips, and all roots grow here in the greatest perfection; and oats and barley do well. I have little doubt but it will also be found an excellent wheat region.

We found the rich bottom-lands of the Ontanagon already dotted with the cabins of pre-emption claimants, for several miles up the river. The Indians have a tradition about the name of Ontanagon, as about almost every thing else, and say it is truly “Nindinagan.” That an old woman, long ago, was cooking on the shore at the mouth, and her dish slipped into the current and was carried out into the lake. She exclaimed, “Oh! there goes my dish,” the Indian of which is said to be Nindinagan.

The site at its mouth is rather low and swampy. On the west the Porcupine Mountains rise boldly out of the water, at the distance of 20 miles, presenting that peculiar outline of the trap uplifts by which they may be recognised afar off, almost as well as by inspection. A cross-section, which would also correspond with the end view, from the Ontanagon may be compared to the notches or teeth of a mill-saw, laid upon its back, one edge straight and vertical, the other sloping. If the expectations of mineral locators are realized, the prosecution of the mining business will of itself create a place of some importance here. To the fanner of New England there will be great inducements, as soon as the mining operations are placed upon a sure footing; for the products most congenial to the region are such as are bulky, and cost much in their transportation, to wit: potatoes and roots, hay and oats. It is well known that miners never till the soil to much purpose. A garden and a little pasture suffice for them. This must be done by the practical farmer. The mineral and the agricultural districts are here so admirably situated as mutually to render to each interest the greatest assistance. When the navigation shall be completed around the rapids of the St. Mary’s, the emigrant and miner, placing himself at any harbour of any of the lakes, may take his passage to any part of Lake Superiour, with his family and effects. The hardy son of Vermont and New Hampshire will find here his own climate and mountains; his own trout streams, and a good substitute for the shad and salmon of the ocean ; and a soil equal to most parts of the West, without the fever and ague of the more southern portions. The facility of making roads to the interiour is great, and along the shore they are practicable. Of course, on the immediate east, ravines are too frequent to cross without expensive bridges. But a few miles inland the country rises, the valleys of the streams diminish, and a very favourable country is found as far east as the Portage Lakes and the Anse. Here the swamps and lakes form the only serious obstacles, and they are avoided by good selections of routes. The difficulty of making roads in the Ontanagon region is far less than it was in the first settlement of Ohio.

Major Campbell reported on the copper lands here in December of 1843.

Until the night of the 5th of October I had not observed any frost, although the leaves were already coloured with the hues of autumn, and falling from their stems hid begun to cover the ground. The winds and ruins that occurred between the 5th and the 10th left the branches of the trees almost as naked as in winter, and the snow began to fall. We were received at the Agency house with that liberality of hospitality which can be found nowhere more full and hearty than among the backwoodsmen of the West. Major Campbell, the agent, was absent in search of a copper rock, in the neighbourhood of “Lake Vieux Desert,” about 150 miles distant. In the evening Mr. Paul, who has been three years in the country, and who had joined in the wild-goose chase after the copper rock, on the faith of an Indian, came in, and amused the company till a late hour by reciting the stratagems and effrontery of their Indian guide.

Since the whites have shown such an intense curiosity about copper rocks, they have sprung up on all sides. Every Indian knows where one may be found. It can be had of any size or shape, and generally for the price of a few dollars and provisions for the trip. It is generally seven, ten, or twelve days’ journey to it. The Great Spirit and the tribe will destroy or otherwise injure him who shows it to the white man, but they will lead him to the vicinity, and he can do the rest. In this case a monster was to be found, and the price was to correspond; but $50 or $60 was somehow procured in advance. The Indian lived in the neighbourhood of the rock and had shown it to but one other mortal; a half breed now dead. After great labour and vexation the party approached the sacred place. There are four trees marked with Porcupines, done in charcoal; according to the description. They were far from any trap ranges, in a low, swampy country. The Indian fixes his eyes in a given direction, and all are elated with the certainty of success. They scour the woods in that direction, but no rock is found. The Indian and his boy wish to be left to pursue the search by themselves, and still the rock hides itself. He is watched, and they find that he only moves around in a limited circle, and returns to the camp. Hesitating between the apprehension that he is duped, and the realization of his hopes, the agent becomes impatient. The Indian at length points his finger to the spot, but the Great Spirit had sunk the rock deep into the earth. The Indian is calm and immovable. “Hou, hou—marchez wigwam” he says, in the usual tone. “What does he say?” inquires the agent. “He says we had better go to his wigwam,” replies the interpreter. The scene changes from the highest expectations to the highest rage. “Give him a hundred lashes—break every bone in his body—kill him!” and expressions of this sort, are now heard, with gestures to match. The Indian could not understand English, but knew enough to be sensible that some cursing was going on, and that he was the object. He now began to kindle with wrath. The first motion was to throw down his pack, and in this he was followed by the boy, and two or three other Indians of the party. What was the agent, the surveyor, and the interpreter to do, here in this wilderness, deserted by their packers and guides. Paul, who had long known the Indian’s cunning, saw at once the position of affairs, laughed at the agent, and offered the Indians a half dollar to take up their packs. They had, in the mean time, proceeded from anger to mockery. They had paraded themselves in advance of the party, strutting along with some small willow sticks on their shoulders, in derision of the many loads under which the whites were groaning. The latter were obliged not only to pocket the insult, but to employ the old man, his boy, wife, and canoe, to cross some lakes that lay in their route home.

Coming in they met another party of whites, with the usual complement of Indians, also in search of a copper rock, said to exist in the region of Lake Vieux Desert. If such rock were actually visible, no Indian would show it, so long as he can get one-half of his yearly support from it as a guide. Those who know them best, say that it matters little to the explorer whether such boulders exist or not, the Indians will never be guilty of showing one to a white man. There is a superstition upon the subject, and it is also a rule that the proceeds of a found rock should be divided, and a large portion go to the chief. In case an Indian actually knew of one, he would not disclose its position, unless he was sure the fact would never be made known to his tribe.

On the morning of the second day the square-sail of our boat, which had been to La Pointe, appeared at the foot of the Porcupine Mountains, bright in the light of the rising sun. At eleven it entered the river, before a bountiful breeze, and the company was once more together.

"Algonquin Company of Detroit." ~ Reports of Wm. A. Burt and Bela Hubbard, by T. W. Bristol, 1846, page 97.

“Algonquin Company of Detroit.”
~ Reports of Wm. A. Burt and Bela Hubbard, by J. Houghton Jr and T. W. Bristol, 1846, page 97.

The mining company for which we were acting is called the “Algonquin,” and is composed principally of citizens of Detroit. Our locations were made, four in number, upon the waters of Flint Steel river, and we were now on the way thither, to make preparations for the men who were to stay through the winter. Towards evening, we entered the mouth of Flint Steel river, which is six miles east of the Ontanagon. Dragging the boat over the bar, and rowing it two miles up the stream, we landed. From thence to the locations, is about twelve miles, over a beautiful rolling country of sugar maple. The copper found here is chiefly native, and is enclosed in the trap rock. We brought away a piece weighing seven pounds, that lay in a vein near the surface.

On the 13th, we were again at the boat, working out of the river. For several days there had been snow, and indications of the close of the season. The snow was still falling as we proceeded down the lake, after dark, with a view of reaching Elm river. But the water was calm, and the oarsmen were making good speed. A little after 9 o’clock, we passed the mouth of Misery river, a bleak and desert place, without firewood, and some of the party fancying they saw a light at the old camp, or Elm, the boat was kept on her course. It was difficult to the see shore at the distance of twenty rods, on account of the falling snow.

About half past 9, a light puff of wind came on from the northwest, which aroused the attention of Martin at once. “If the next one (says he) is stiffer than that, we must put about for Misery river.” A sharp flaw followed his words, and the boat was put about. But it was scarcely before the breeze, when it came in short, irregular blasts, and the water became agitated. Martin was our oracle on the water. He said we must make the shore instantly, and the craft bounding and splashing, was headed for a light streak that appeared to be a sand beach, but above which frowned a dark line like a bluff! Before she struck, the sharp, irregular waves combed freely over the sides and the stern of the boat.

“Charley, Patrick, Mike, and all hands, throw your oars and jump ashore!” Every man was in the water in a moment, holding her by the head. “Keep her stern off; heave, ho! heave, ho! Now she sticks. Throw out the luggage before she fills. Keep her stern off; heave, ho! Now she rests; take a line to that root.” It would seem that not more than five minutes had passed, since we were quietly moving over that water, from which we were now thankful to seek relief on land. The storm had already become a tempest, roaring through the woods and over the waves, like a tornado. There stood the giant frame of Charley at the stern of the boat, the waves dashing over him, lifting and pushing her towards the shore; the others grasping her by the sides, assisted to work her further on, but she was too much loaded with water, to be moved by main strength; Martin soon rigged the halyards into a purchase with two blocks, by which advantage she was drawn beyond the reach of the sea, that seemed to grow more angry as we rescued the boat from that element.

There is generally within hailing distance a birch tree to be found, and the ragged outside bark, that rolls up like paper, in tatters, will burn at the touch of fire. No matter whether the tree is green or dry, or the day has been wet or dry, there is some side of a birch tree from which there can be pulled a handful of these paper-like shreds, to kindle a fire. These, with a few small dead cedar limbs, will always, with due care, give the foundation of a camp-fire. But to be more certain, voyageurs usually carry a roll of peeled birch bark, the remains of some bark canoe, and this, broken and split into strips, burns at once. Groping about among the balsams and pines, that stood thick on the beach, no birch could be found. The roll in the boat had been washed out, and though found at last, was coarse and wet. The wind and snow which penetrated every nook and corner, added to the difficulty of starting a blaze, and some of the party began to yield to the influence of cold and exhaustion, when we found a piece of dry pine board, and cutting it into shavings, had the satisfaction to see it flame up brightly at the root of a tree. A dish of hot tea rivived every one, and at 1 o’clock, the whole party were as sound asleep as ever, in a little hollow, back from the shore. But the storm raged on until the morning after the succeeding day, when we ventured to put ourselves before it, and reached Copper Harbour, sixty miles distant, in eleven hours, without landing. As we passed Eagle river, a number of people were seen along the coast, where the spray still dashed over the rocks, in search, as we afterwards learned, of the body of Dr. Houghton, who with two of his men, were lost there as the gale arose. It is remarkable that no more persons were shipwrecked on that dreadful night. A birch canoe, with an Indian and his boy, and a white man, put out from Agate Harbour, and sailed in the height of the storm to Eagle Harbour, several miles. Other boats were exposed at various points, but by seeking the shore in season, escaped the danger. Dr. H. had the misfortune to be opposite a forbidding coast, with rocks extending into the water, and shallow for some distance out. It was not his misfortune alone, but that of science, and the nation. The boat did not, as it appears from the survivors, capsize, so capable is a well-built sail boat of resisting severe weather; but was sent end over end, probably by hitting the bottom, while in a trough of the sea.

In September, a boat of about the same size, made the passage from Isle Royal to Copper Harbour, direct across the open lake, with a bark canoe in tow, before a severe gale. A party of seven men, among whom was Mr. Hall, of the New York survey, were on the island, and short of provisions. The vessel which was expected to take them off had missed the rendezvous, and they were driven to attempt the passage in their open boats. When fairly out on the lake, the wind, which was fair, increased to a gale, in which they gave themselves up for lost. About midway from the two shores the canoe and two men went adrift, and it became necessary to put about and take them again in tow. When it is considered how much the lug of a canoe impedes and endangers a small sail boat in bad weather, it will be regarded as a miracle of preservation that these men completed their voyage in safety.

I intended to give a brief notice of the mines now in operation, but have already made a much longer article, as I fear, than will suit a magazine reader.

"Lake Superior Company" ~ Reports of Wm. A. Burt and Bela Hubbard, by T. W. Bristol, 1846, page 92.

“Lake Superior Company”
~ Reports of Wm. A. Burt and Bela Hubbard, by J. Houghton Jr and T. W. Bristol, 1846, page 92.

The most extensive works are those belonging to the “Lake Superiour Company,” at Eagle river, under the superintendence of Col. C. H. Gratiot. There were here about 120 workmen, and, in September, near 800 tons of ore, ready for the stamping or crushing machine. This machine is a very nice piece of mechanism, that works by water, and crushes ten tons of the rock in a day. The principal shaft, then 70 feet deep, was in a vein or dyke, about 11 feet wide, one-half of which bears native silver in such quantities as to be an object without regarding the copper. Whether it is a true vein, or an irregular mass, I find geologist do not agree; but for practical purposes, it is regular and extensive.

"Pittsburgh and Boston Copper Harbor Company" ~ Reports of Wm. A. Burt and Bela Hubbard, by J. Houghton Jr and T. W. Bristol, 1846, page 92.

“Pittsburgh and Boston Copper Harbor Company”
~ Reports of Wm. A. Burt and Bela Hubbard, by J. Houghton Jr and T. W. Bristol, 1846, page 92.

"New York and Lake Superior Company" ~ Reports of Wm. A. Burt and Bela Hubbard, by J. Houghton Jr and T. W. Bristol, 1846, pages 93-94.

“New York and Lake Superior Company”
~ Reports of Wm. A. Burt and Bela Hubbard, by J. Houghton Jr and T. W. Bristol, 1846, pages 93-94.

Boston Mining Company stock issued by Joab Bernard. ~ Copper Country Reflections

“Boston Mining Company”
~ Copper Country Reflections

About four miles southwest from this, the “Pittsburg Company” are working a vein about four feet wide, which bears silver also, but its value is not as well tested as the Lake Superiour Company’s bed. Eagle river is only a brook, coming down from the mountains, which a Ynan may cross by ten steps at low water. The shaft and pounding mill is about one and a half miles from the shore, and their landing is five or six miles east. At Eagle Harbour, they have a saw mill and many buildings. The celebrity of the mines, and the scarcity of places of shelter, have caused a great many persons to visit the spot during the past season. The superintendent and his assistants have, however, always shown visiters that attention and hospitality, which could nowhere be esteemed more highly. About three miles east of Eagle river, is the Henshaw location, not as yet much worked. On the west side of Eagle Harbour, at Sprague’s location, I procured a handsome specimen of silver, which appeared to be abundant. On the east side is the Bailey location, not worked, but which is well spoken of. On Agate Harbour, the “New York and Lake Superiour Company” had sunk three shafts without hitting the metallic vein. The “Boston Company” have an establishment at the east end of the harbour. Within two miles, on the east, there are two veins, from one of which a piece of native copper, weighing about 400 pounds, was taken by Mr. Hempstead, and in the other a valuable sulphuret of copper has since been discovered. A vein of sulphuret is also known on the waters of Mineral creek, a few miles west of the Ontanagon.

"Massachusetts Company" ~ Reports of Wm. A. Burt and Bela Hubbard, by J. Houghton Jr and T. W. Bristol, 1846, pages 101.

“Massachusetts Company”
~ Reports of Wm. A. Burt and Bela Hubbard, by J. Houghton Jr and T. W. Bristol, 1846, pages 101.

"Isle Royale Company" ~ Reports of Wm. A. Burt and Bela Hubbard, by J. Houghton Jr and T. W. Bristol, 1846, pages 94.

“Isle Royale Company”
~ Reports of Wm. A. Burt and Bela Hubbard, by J. Houghton Jr and T. W. Bristol, 1846, pages 94.

The “Massachusetts Company” have commenced works about a mile west of the extremity of Copper Harbour, where several veins, apparently rich, and said to carry silver, have been opened on the coast. At the Harbour, the “Pittsburgh Company” have two shafts, from which they have taken several tons of the rich black oxyde. A mile east, is a location of the ” Isle Royal Company,” under the charge of Mr. Cyrus Mendenhall, employing ten or fifteen hands.

There are probably now in the country 600 persons engaged in mining, as labourers, agents, clerks, superintendents, and mining engineers.

Communication is kept up with them during the winter, by a semimonthly mail from Green Bay, taken on the back of a man, by way of the Menominee river and the Anse, to the post-office at Fort Wilkins. This does not allow the carriage of newspapers, or heavy packages, but only letters. Although the winter is severe, it is so uniform that those who have tried it do not complain, and even pursue their journeys with more facility by land than they can in summer. If a road were open to Green Bay, the journey would be made in four or five days, over a road which, once trod, would be perfect for several months. From the best information derived from mail carriers, and gentlemen who have made the trip on snow-shoes, it is not an expensive route for a road.

William Austin Burt ~ Wikipedia.org

Judge William Austin Burt
~ Wikipedia.org

I have spoken frequently of the fluctuations of the needle, and of its variations. The surveys in this region can be made only with the solar compass, or some instrument of that nature. The one used by Judge Burt, who has run all the township lines west of the Sault, is of his own invention. It is now made in England for exportation to this country. This compass is placed in the meridian by an apparatus always directed on the sun, and as it carries a needle, shows the variation every time it is set.

At the Sault the regular variation was given 2 deg. east, which, at every section corner on the town lines, is written with red chalk on the stake. At southwest corner section 19, range 35 west, T. 55 north, variation 7 deg. 15 min. east; 6 miles directly south, 5 deg. 15 min. east. One mile north of southeast corner of T_ 52 north, range 36 west, variation 5 deg. 5 min.; one mile west, 6 deg. 5 min. At south corner of T. 52, range 37, variation 5 deg. 15 min. east; one mile north, 1 deg. 10 min.; two miles west, 1 deg. 35 min.; three miles further west, 8 deg. 15 min. At middle of south line of T. 51 north, range 40 west, variation 5 deg. 35 min. east.

For game we saw pheasants, or as some call them partridges, in great numbers, and also red squirrels. No turkeys, deer, or black squirrels. There are bears, moose, and reindeer; yet they are not numerous. There is also an animal of the wild-cat species, called a lynx, whose tracks we saw. For reptiles, we saw none but a few feeble garter snakes. There are owls, mice, and rabbits in abundance. We saw no insects of consequence, except spiders, and these were sufficiently numerous to be troublesome. During the latter part of June, and the whole of July, in the woods and low places, there are countless myriads of moschetoes and sand-flies. They are said not to be troublesome on the coast.

Much of the comfort of a trip in this region depends on the outfit. Arrangements should be made for a supply of at least two pounds of solid food per day for each man, and a surplus for friends who are less provident.

The cheapest, least weighty and bulky, as well as the best for health and relish, are hard bread, beans, and salt pork, of the very best quality. Tea, coffee, and sugar, are in such cases not necessaries, but are, for the expense and trouble, the greatest and cheapest luxuries that can be had under any circumstances. To every two men there must be a small camp-kettle, and if in a boat, a large kettle and frying-pan. In the woods, a hatchet to every two men, and a strong tin cup for each, with a surplus of one-half these articles to make up for losses. Knives, forks, and spoons disappear so fast that two setts to each man will be none to many. Salt and pepper are indispensable for the game you may kill; and if there are a plenty of horse-pistols, a great many pheasants may be shot without much loss of time. But these are not to be taken into account for supplies.

A pocket compass is necessary to each party. For a pack there is nothing better than a knapsack and straps, without the boards. Ordinary clothing is of no use, for it will disappear in a short time. The surveyors wear trousers made of heavy cotton ticking, and a sort of pea-jacket made of the same. This or medium cotton duck will stand wear, and although moisture comes through, the rains do not. It thickens when wet, and turns long storms better than any thing except oil-cloth. A supply of thick flannel shirts should be procured without fail, and flannel or Canton flannel under-clothes. A vest is unnecessary, and instead of suspenders the pantaloons are kept up by a broad belt, on which the tin-cup may be strung. A low, round-crowned, white beaver hat is much worn, but perhaps a light cap, of oiled silk, made soft and impervious to rain, is better. For the feet, moccasins or light brogans, made of good leather, and plenty of woollen stockings. In the wet season, cowhide boots, made of good but not heavy leather, and very large, but in the shape of the foot. A flint and steel for emergencies, and matches for ordinary use to strike a fire. Without something water-proof around them, the matches will acquire moisture in long spells of wet weather. If you carry a map case, they may be put in a second case, around which the map is rolled. A belt with a leather pouch and a buckle, to carry the hatchet in, is a very great convenience; for nothing is so likely to be lost as a hatchet. We were three days without one in very bad weather, having dropped it on the route.

Tents are not indispensible, but comfortable, especially along the shore and in very warm weather, when moschetoes are plenty.

A good, large, heavy Mackinaw blanket is beyond comparison the most necessary article to the voyageur and woodsman. With all these preparations, the lover of exercise and adventure may count upon as much enjoyment, on a trip through the Lake Superior country, as he will find at home. If he is badly provided, he will be inefficient and uneasy – will suffer many privations, and perhaps injure his health.

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2 Responses to “Two Months In The Copper Region”

  1. Doug Karttunen said

    I believe (based on Whittlesey’s descriptions and Martin Beaser’s biographical record) that the man refered to simply as “Martin” in this article is almost certainly Martin Beaser.

    • Amorin Mello said

      Thank you for making that connection, Doug. I believe you are correct, and will make an update to both posts.

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