Lake Superior in 1840

September 1, 2016

By Amorin Mello

“Soon after removing to Detroit, Bela Hubbard became acquainted with Douglas[s] Houghton, then State Geologist of Michigan, and in 1837, was appointed Assistant Geologist on the State Geological Survey, a position which he held until 1841. He accompanied Douglass Houghton on an important expedition to the southern shore of Lake Superior, in 1840, an account of which is given in his ‘Memorials of half a century.’ It is this book more than anything else that will preserve the memory of its author. It is his most fitting and most enduring monument and entitles the name of Bela Hubbard to a place on the short list of American authors who may be justly termed ‘nature writers.'”

Quote from Report of the Michigan Academy of Science, Volume 4,
by Michigan Academy of Science Council, 1904, page 163.

 


 

This is a reproduction of "Lake Superior in 1840" from Memorials of a Half Century, by Bela Hubbard, 1887.

This is a reproduction of “Lake Superior in 1840” and illustrations from Memorials of a Half-Century, by Bela Hubbard, 1887, pages 21-62.

LAKE SUPERIOR IN 1840.*

* Read before the Detroit Pioneer Society, Jan., 1874.

Portrait and biographic sketch of Bela Hubbard are available in Report of the Michigan Academy of Science, Volume 4, by Michigan Academy of Science Council, pages 163-165. Hubbard

Portrait and biographic sketch of Bela Hubbard are available in Report of the Michigan Academy of Science, Volume 4, by Michigan Academy of Science Council, 1904, pages 163-165.  See the Bela Hubbard Papers: 1837-1893 for more information.

Among the pleasantest of all my reminiscences of travel is that of the exploration, in connection with the geological survey of Michigan, of the coasts of our upper peninsula, in 1840.

Portrait and biographic sketch of Douglass Houghton are available in Report of the Michigan Academy of Science, Volume 4, by Michigan Academy of Science Council, pages 160-162. Houghton

Portrait and biographic sketch of Douglass Houghton are available in Report of the Michigan Academy of Science, Volume 4, by Michigan Academy of Science Council, 1904, pages 160-162. See the Douglass Houghton Papers: 1829-1845 for more information.

Frederick Hubbard was Bela Hubbard’s younger brother, and became a railroad engineer.
C. C. Douglas became an agent of the Phoenix Copper Company.
H. Thielsen was born in Denmark in 1814, and became a prominent figured in the railroad industry of Detroit, Chicago, Omaha, and Portland.
Charles W. Penny became a merchant of clothes and dry goods, as well as a trustee for insane asylums.

The party for this expedition was composed of the State geologist, Dr. Douglass Houghton; his two assistants, C. C. Douglass and myself; Fredk. Hubbard, in charge of instrumental observations; and, for a part of the way, H. Thielson, a civil engineer, and Charles W. Penny, a young merchant of Detroit, supernumeraries.

We left Detroit in the steamer “Illinois,” arriving at Mackinac, May 23. Here two boat crews were made up, consisting of six Canadians. These belonged to that class so famous in the palmy days of the fur trade and the French régime, now extinct, and known to history as “coureurs de bois.” They were of mixed blood, in some, the French, in others, the Indian, predominating. Bred to the business, they would row without fatigue from daybreak until dark,—twelve or fourteen hours,—unlade the boats, pitch the tents for the bourgeois, pile up the baggage, prepare the evening meal, and then creep under their blankets in the open air and enjoy the sound sleep that labor bestows.

The principal dependence of these voyageurs for food—we had no leisure for hunting and little for fishing— was upon a soup of beans, with a most liberal supply of water, into which a piece of pork was dropped. A cake of hard-bread was allowed to each.

The boats for the passage of the Sault were each about twenty feet long by four broad, lightly constructed of pine and cedar, with sharp bows, and were drawn out of the water at night. At the Sault, to which provisions had been forwarded, one of these boats was exchanged for a “Mackinac barge,” sufficiently large to carry two months’ provisions and all our baggage.

A voyage to and upon our great lake at the time of my story was by no means the easy journey it is now. North of Mackinac, no steamers and no regular line of sail-vessels traversed the waters. The ship-canal around the waters of the Sault had not then been projected. Furs and fish constituted the only commerce, and the latter found too few customers to make the trade profitable. The American Fur Company had its headquarters at Sault Ste. Marie, where was a village of some twenty or thirty houses, mostly of logs, and the United States maintained a garrison. On the opposite shore was a small English settlement, consisting of a few white-washed cabins and Episcopal and Baptist mission establishments. Here also the Hudson’s Bay Company had a post.

At L’Anse had been established for many years a factory of the American Fur Company, the only buildings being a log house, storehouse, and barn, and near by a Baptist mission, consisting of a dozen neat huts of logs and bark. Near the extreme west end of the lake this company had another factory or trading-post, at La Pointe.

These were the only white settlements on the south shore of this great lake. At two or three points, transient fishing-camps might be met with. Else, all this region was wild and solitary almost as when, a century earlier, it was traversed by the canoe of the Jesuit missionary or echoed to the rude songs of the wild employees of the fur traders. In a large part of the country, on the southern border, within the territory of the United States, the Indian title had not been extinguished. But the settlements of the aboriginal race were rare; probably the whole region did not number 1000 souls.

Apart from the scientific animus of the expedition, our party, in the ardor of youth, could not but look forward to the new and strange scenes which awaited us with somewhat of the enthusiasm that inspired the first explorers of this region of vast forests and inland seas. We were to voyage almost in the same mode as those travellers, to witness scenes as yet little changed, and partaking of the same character of solitude and mystery.

Though I wander from my narrative, I must linger a moment over the impression produced by the romantic island which was our starting-point, Michilimackinac.

Connected with the story of the early wanderings of the French, their perilous missions in the far wilderness, the fur trade, with its fort, its agents, its coureurs de bois and numerous employees, its bustle, show, and dissipation, its traffic and its enormous profits, and with the numerous native tribes which here rendezvoused,—no place in the North-west possesses greater historic and traditionary interest. The town retained, as it still does, much of its old-time character. The crescent bay in front was still a lounging-place for the American Ishmaelite, whose huts often covered the beach; and this was the last place on the frontier where the Mackinac barge might manned and equipped, as a century ago, by a motley crew of half-breed voyageurs.

The natural beauties and wildness of the island, its situation, enthroned at the apex of the peninsula of Michigan and embracing magnificent views of water and island, its lake breezes and pure cold air, and the excellence of its white-fish and trout, have long made it one of the most attractive of watering-places. The proposal to conserve it as a national park is worthy of its character, and it is to be hoped that thus its natural beauties, and what remains of its woods, will be preserved forever to the nation.

On the morning of May 26 we took our departure from Mackinac, with a moderate breeze and a clear sky,—a thing to be noted where fogs are so frequent,—and coasting by St. Martin’s Island, entered les Cheneaux.

The river, or more properly Strait of Ste. Marie, is a series of channels, winding amid innumerable islands. Some of these, as St. Joseph and Drummond, cover many square miles, but the greater number are much smaller, and often occupy only a few acres. They line the whole northern coast of Lake Huron, and are occasioned by the junction between the silurian lime rocks and the azoic or primary rocks of Canada.

These islands are but little elevated above the water, and are wooded to the edge with cedar, fir and birch. The evergreen trees are completely shrouded in a tapestry of parasitic moss. This is a true lichen, and is not allied to the great Southern epiphyte which it so strongly resembles. It hangs in long festoons, giving the woods a fantastic and gloomy appearance, but the effect is very beautiful. What are called “les Cheneaux” are passages among islands of this description. They are seldom wide enough to admit any but the smallest craft, and so intricate as to form a perfect labyrinth, where any but the practised mariner might wander long, “in endless mazes lost.”

To the north and east of St. Joseph Island the Ste. Marie parts the two systems of rocks, and an instant change takes place in the character of the scenery. Instead of low, timbered shores, the islands rise in abrupt cones, rounded and water-worn, to the height of twenty to one hundred feet, presenting bare knobs of hornblende and quartz. The surfaces are worn smooth, by the action of glaciers, and are frequently covered with a thick carpet of lichens. Among these is, in profusion, the beautiful reindeer moss. A few miles to the right, in Canada, hills of granite rise to a height of 500 to 1000 feet, and form a background to the view.

To the geologist these low hills and rounded knobs have an absorbing interest. Agassiz tells us that America has been falsely denominated the new world; that “hers was the first dry land lifted out of the waters; hers the first shore washed by the ocean that enveloped all the earth beside.” The antiquary finds in this portion of America a very respectable antiquity. To its known civil history he adds evidence of the existence of a race of men familiar with this region ages before its discovery by the French, who were by no means despicable cultivators of the arts, and he infers a human history—could he but gather the full record—possibly as ancient as the pyramids. But science points a period infinitely more remote. We had reached and stood upon what was the skeleton of our earth, when but a crust above the seething fires beneath, not only ages before man had a being upon its surface, but probably ages before what we call the “Old World” had been raised by the forces of nature above the universal ocean. Here was antiquity unmeasured by any human standard. Time itself was young then. This backbone of the earliest continent still stretches unbroken, from the Atlantic to the western plains. During the unnumbered years in which the surface of the earth has been changed by successive upheavals and depressions it has stood unmoved.

Around the base of these low granite and metamorphic hills, in the bed of the river, lies a sandstone rock, which we shall find rising into cliffs along the coast of the lake above. It is the lowest of the paleozoic series, the first rock which brings to our eyes evidence of life upon this continent, and, if geologists speak truth, the first which bears witness to the dawn of life upon our earth. Of the earliest forms of organic life two only have with certainty been found in this rock, the lingula and the trilobite. And these, in the perfection and adaptation of their structure, equal the most perfect beings of their kind which exist at the present day. Thus the first record of the earliest life, upon the most ancient sea beach which the earth affords, is in apparent condemnation of the development hypothesis of Darwin. Are they then evidence of sudden and independent creation, or must we believe that these forms had their origin in some yet more remote and obscure past, and that we behold in these silurian rocks only their perfect development?

Following the northerly channel, the Ste. Marie soon expands into a broad and lovely sheet of water, twelve miles long, called Lake St. George. We have escaped from the labyrinth of rocky isles, the southern shores are again densely wooded, while the azoic rocks are seen on the Canada side, stretching off to the north-west, and terminating in a series of mountainous knobs,—the vertebræ of the world before the Flood. To this lake the Narrows succeed, and here for the first time the Ste. Marie assumes the appearance of a river, being contracted to less than 1000 feet, with a current and occasional rapids.

We passed frequent memorials of the Indian inhabitants. It is not to be wondered at that this region abounds with them, since with an eye to natural beauty this poetical race selects the loveliest spots for the resting-places, both of the living and the dead. The graves were close cabins of logs, thatched with bark, and the places selected are among the most beautiful and elevated sites, as if the souls of the departed braves could hear the echoing paddle and watch the approach of the distant canoe. The burial-place of the chief is designated by a picketed enclosure, and here it is customary for the voyaging Indian to stop, kindle his camp-fire at the head of the grave, and, on departing, to leave within the enclosure a small portion of the provisions he has cooked, for the use of the occupant. A flat cedar stake at the head exhibits in red paint the figure of some bird or brute,—the family totem of the deceased. Often is seen a small cross, erected as an emblem of his faith in Holy Catholic Church, while close by, in strange contrast, is that evidence of his unalterable attachment to the creed of his fathers,—the basket of provisions that is to support his journeying to the land of spirits.

The camping-ground of the voyageur has been that of the Indian from time immemorial. The wigwam poles are recognized from a distance, in some open glade along the shore, left standing after the vagabond inmates have departed. And there is often to be found an old canoe, a camp-kettle, a cradle swinging from the poles, and invariably a litter of picked bones and dirty rags, completely covering the spot, with the burnt brands and ashes of the cabin fire in the midst. Sometimes we meet a rude altar of stones, on which are laid bits of tobacco and other petty offerings to the Manitou. Sometimes the scene is varied by the cabin of a Canadian Frenchman, who, unable to resist the charm of savage life, is bringing up his family of half-breed children in a condition little akin to civilization.

Early on the morning of May 30 we reached the Sault, and proceeded to encamp at the head of the rapids. This required a portage of several rods. The remainder of the day was spent at the village, in witnessing the novel mode of fishing, and other sights pertaining to this remote frontier post.

Page 29: “Sault Ste. Marie, from the Canada shore.”

Preparations for our expedition being completed, on the first of June we took our departure from the head of the rapids. Here lay at anchor a beautiful light brig belonging to the American Fur Company, and which bore the name of its founder, John Jacob Astor. Close by its side was a schooner, which had been built by the Ohio Fishing and Mining Company, at Cleveland, and had just made the portage around the rapids. Another vessel was preparing for a similar transportation. With three such crafts floating on its bosom, our great lake seemed to have already lost something of its old-time character, when, a wide waste of waters, it was traversed only by the canoe of the Indian and voyageur. Its importance as a great commercial highway had thus begun to be foreshadowed, but, in fact, its waters still laved a savage wilderness.*

* The immense commerce since built up will appear from the statement, that in 1886 the number of vessels which passed through the Ste. Mary’s Falls Canal was 6203, carrying 3,701,000 tons and over 50,000 passengers.

Some natural phenomena pertaining to a high northern latitude had begun to exhibit what were marvels to our unaccustomed eyes. One of these was the lengthened twilight, the sun continuing to irradiate the horizon with a bright flash, until nearly midnight. In fact, it was quite possible to tell the hour of the night at any time, by the light which indicated the sun’s position. The Auroras, too, were surpassingly brilliant; often the electric rays streamed up from every point of the horizon, meeting at the zenith and waving like flame. I note these simple and common phenomena because they were novel to us, and it is only those who travel and encamp in the open air who enjoy to the full such scenes of beauty and wonder.

A summer temperature had now set in, and we witnessed another characteristic of this high latitude,—the sudden advance of the season. During the three days of our stay at this place, vegetation, which a week before had hardly commenced, sprung into active life. Trees then bare were now in full leaf. This phenomenon, though common to our side of the Atlantic, we had nowhere else seen so conspicuously displayed.

Time will not permit a narrative of our journey, a two-months’ coasting voyage along the whole southern side of Lake Superior. Nor can I speak, except briefly, of the beauties of the scenery, most of which is now so well known; of Gros Cap and Point Iroquois, those rock-built pillars of Hercules that guard the entrance, and

“like giants stand, To sentinel enchanted land;”

of White-fish Point and its surroundings; of the grand, wild and varied rocky coast; of the many beautiful streams, flashing with cascades, and filled with the speckled trout; or of our scientific researches and observations. I will venture only to relate an occasional incident, and to delineate some features of the coast scenery which seem to me to have been to little noticed or too imperfectly described by others.

Westward from White-fish Point stretch for many miles broad beaches of sand and gravel, backed by hills clothed with Norway-pines, spruce, hemlock, cedar, and birch. These beaches form extensive fishing-grounds, of which parties had already availed themselves. Every one knows the superiority of Lake Superior white-fish, in size and flavor, over those of the lower waters. Yet in relating the following experience I am aware of the risk which I run of being set down as the retailer of a “fish story.”

As we were rowing along the beach, some object was descried at a distance, making out of the water. All, at once, gave vigorous chase. On our near approach, the animal, which proved to be an otter, dropped upon the sand a fish which he had just hauled out, and retreated into the lake. This fish, which was scarcely dead, was of a size so extraordinary that it might truly be called—the fish, not the story—a whopper! It measured two and a half feet in length, and one foot five inches in circumference. We had no accurate means of weighing, but its weight was fairly estimated at fifteen pounds! The flesh was delicious in proportion, and made our whole party several capital meals.

These beaches terminate at a deep harbor called the Grand Marais. Hitherto the hills of dunes of sand have been of no great elevation. But now occurs a phenomenon which, though it seems not to have been classed among the wonders of this region, nor described in any books of travel, so far as I am aware, may well be called extraordinary, and worthy a place among the scenic wonders of America. It is a miniature Sahara, several miles in extent, and in many of its peculiar features resembling those lifeless, sandy deserts which are so distinguishing phenomena in some parts of the world. It is known to the French voyageurs as “Le Grand Sable.”

Page 33: “Grandes Sables.”

Steep cliffs are first observed rising from the water with a very uniform face, of about 200 feet in height, beyond which are visible barren dunes, rising still higher in the distance. On our approach the whole appeared like lofty hills enveloped in fog. This proved to be nothing less than clouds of sand, which the winds were constantly sweeping towards the lake, and which formed a mist so dense as to conceal completely the real character of the coast.

On ascending these steep and wasting cliffs, a scene opens to view which has no parallel except in the great deserts. For an extent of many miles nothing is visible but a waste of sand; not under the form of a monotonous plain, but rising into lofty cones, sweeping in graceful curves, hurled into hollows and spread into long-extended valleys. A few grass roots and small shrubs in some places find a feeble subsistence, and are the only vegetation. But thrusting through the sand are several tops of half-buried pines, barkless, and worn dry and craggy by the drifting soil, while below the surface their bodies appear to be in perfect preservation. To our imagination they seem the time-worn columns of an antique temple, whose main structure has long ago tumbled into dust, or been buried, like the ruins of Egypt, beneath the drift of many centuries.

The surface sand is mostly packed quite hard, and may be trod as a solid floor. This, in many places, is strewed thickly with pebbles; the deep hollows present vast beds of them. Among these are a great variety of precious stones common to the rocks of the country; agates, chalcedony, jasper, quartz of every shade of color and transparency, with hornstone, trap, and other minerals. All are worn smooth, and often beautifully polished by the sharp, drifting sands, and many rich specimens were obtained. We were reminded of the valley of diamonds in the Arabian tales, which it was the fortune of Sinbad to discover, in a scarcely less singular depository.

In the rear of this desert, about two miles from the coast, timber is again met with. Here, just at the edge of the wood, a small and beautiful lake lies embosomed; on the one side, a rich tract of maple forest; on the other, barren and shifting sand. It broke on our view, from amidst the realm of desolation, as did the unexpected fountain to which Saladin led the weary cavalier, Sir Kenneth, over the sandy plains of Palestine, as told in the magic pages of Scott. We named it, not inaptly, I think, “the diamond of the desert.” Around this sheet of water we found snow, on the tenth of June, in large quantities, buried beneath a few inches of sand.

From the diamond lake issues a small stream, which, after making its way through the sand, reaches the clay that constitutes the base of these dunes, and tumbles a perfect cascade into the greater lake. This rivulet separates the dense maple forest which lies on the east from cliffs of driven sand, which rise abruptly to a height that far overlooks the woodland, and are the commencement of the grand and leafless sables.

Page 35: “Grandes Sables from above – sand flying.”

The view on ascending these is most entrancing. On the one side stretches beneath, and far away, the verdant forest; while, by a transition as sudden as it is opposite in character, on the other side every feature of the landscape seems as if buried beneath hills of snow. The desert surface might be likened to that of an angry ocean, only that the undulations are far more vast, and the wave crests more lofty than the billows of the sea in its wildest commotion. Looking upward from one of these immense basins, where only the sandwave meets the sky, the beholder is impressed with a sublimity of a novel kind, unmixed with the terror which attends a storm upon the Alps or on the ocean. The scene, wild and unique, may well claim this brief praise, though hitherto unsung, and lacking the charm of historical association,—“the consecration and the poet’s dream.”

Twelve miles beyond this singular region the beaches terminate, and the sand-rock makes its appearance on the coast, in a range of abrupt cliffs. These are “The Pictured Rocks.” They have been often described, but no description that I have seen conveys to my mind a satisfactory impression of their bold, wild, and curious features. In attempting to convey some dear comprehension of them, I can only hope to impart a faithful, though it be a feeble conception of the peculiar features of this marvel of the Northern Lakes.

Page 37: “Distant view of the Pictured Rocks.”

These cliffs are composed of the same gray-and-red sand-rock which I have alluded to as the lowest of the paleozoic or silurian rocks. It appears in many places on the coast, and probably forms a large part of the bed of the lake. The cliffs here rise into a mural precipice, springing perpendicularly from the deep waters to the height of from 80 to 250 feet; and for the distance of fifteen miles, except in one or two places, are destitute of a beach upon which even a canoe may be landed. So dangerous is the coast that vessels all give it a wide berth, passing at too great distance for accurate view. A small boat that lingers runs imminent risks, from the liability of this lake to sudden gales, and the traverse is attempted only during a perfect calm. The sandrock lies in thick strata of varying degrees of hardness, from a coarse crag of the hardest cemented pebbles to a friable rock of aggregated sand. The predominant color is gray, sometimes light, often dark and rusty, and stained by oxides of iron and copper, with which the materials are charged. Bearing in mind these characteristics, the variety of aspects and the strange forms that these cliffs assume will find a ready explanation.

The great diversity of hues that give so beautiful and variegated an appearance to large portions of the surface, and from which the cliffs derive their name, are owing to the metallic oxides which have filtered through the porous stone in watery solutions and left their stains upon the surface. Beautiful as is the effect, it is due to candor to say that to my eyes there appeared but very imperfect representations of those various forms in the vegetable and animal kingdoms which figure in the highly-colored and fanciful descriptions in travellers’ tales. Too extravagant an idea could scarcely be conveyed of the exceeding brilliancy of the coloring; but in regard to what artists style the “laying on,” the picture presented a much closer resemblance to a house-painter’s bucket, upon the outside of which paints of all colors have trickled down in tapering streams. They represent not so much the picture which Nature has painted, as the palette upon which she has cleaned her pencils. Every hue of the rainbow, besides black and white, and in every possible circumstance of shade and alternation, are drawn in long lines, covering thousands of feet of surface.

Near the western extremity of the range, these colors assume a surpassing brilliancy, with a metallic lustre. Streaming over a gracefully curved surface, having an area of several thousand yards, they mimic, on a gigantic scale, the stripes on our national flag, as it waves in the breeze; or, passing down a fractured ledge, are contorted into long zigzag lines.

Upon close examination, these colors are found to proceed from slimy exudations, and to retain their brilliance only while fresh. When the face of the cliff has become dry, they possess a more faint and often mottled appearance. Then may sometimes be found depicted, upon a background of white, yellow or dun, as if rudely dabbed in by the artist, those vague similitudes, in which the imagination may realize verdant landscapes or fierce battle scenes; perhaps, if sufficiently vivid, a full set of Raphael’s Cartoons. As a whole, the general effect of the coloring is so striking, that the appellation conferred upon these cliffs is well deserved. Thus strangely drawn, upon as strange a canvas, they add, at least, wonderful beauty and effect to the greater wonders which Nature has here displayed.

But color is far from being the most notable feature of the Pictured Rocks. The disintegrating material of which the rock is composed renders it very susceptible to the effects of the elements. These cliffs present indubitable evidence that the lake once washed them at a height many feet above its present level. And as the strata are of differing degrees of hardness, they have been worn by the waves into a variety of forms. Huge cavernous fissures penetrate the massive wall, often to the distance of several hundred feet, piercing through its great projecting buttresses, and leaving the solid mountain supported by bare pillars. These, in turn, are worn by the eddying waters into cylindrical columns, connected by arches that sometimes spring with great regularity to a vast height.

Page 41: “La Portaille.”

An immense angular projection of the cliff, known to voyageurs as “La Portaille,” exhibits on its three sides arches of this construction, one of which springs to a height of about 150 feet. The openings form passages into a great cavern, or more properly a vestibule, the roof of which is beyond the reach of our longest oars, and which conducts through the entire projecting mass,—a distance of not less than 500 feet. Entering with our boat into this natural rock-built hall, its yawning caverns and overhanging walls strike a sudden awe into the soul. Echo gives back the voice in loud reverberations, and the discharge of a musket produces a roar like a clap of thunder. “Even the slight motion of the waves,” writes Governor Cass, “which in the most profound calm agitates these internal seas, swept through the deep caverns with a noise of distant thunder, and died upon the ear, as it rolled forward in the dark recesses inaccessible to human observation; no sound more melancholy or more awful ever vibrated upon human nerves. Resting in a frail canoe, upon the limpid waters, we seemed  almost suspended in air, so pellucid is the element upon which we floated. In gazing upon the towering battlements which impended over us, and from which the smallest fragment would have destroyed us, we felt, and felt intensely, our own insignificance. No splendid cathedral, no temple built with human hands, no pomp of worship, could ever impress the spectator with such deep humility, and so strong a conviction of the immense distance between him and the Almighty Architect.”* Enthusiastic language! and yet it cannot be deemed exaggerated.

* Discourse before Detroit Historical Society.

The number and perfection of the wave-created pillars meeting the eye at every turn,— and which seem formed to support the immense weight above,—the various forms of the arches and of the overhanging rock, bear a close resemblance to the orders of human architecture. The rotundity of the columns is, in general, well preserved, and their tops swell into capitals. The supported mass, which is seldom less than 100 feet in thickness, often assumes characteristic forms, corresponding to the mock design. In one instance, for nearly half a mile, it resembles a vast entablature, of which the cornice,—jutting at least 20 feet, with a curve whose grace is not excelled by the best sculpture,—the pictured frieze, the mouldings, metopes, medallions, and other of those forms which pertain to Grecian architecture, are struck out, with a master, but giant hand, in magnificent relief, and with a perfection truly admirable. A portion of the structure had fallen, and lay at the base in heaps of ruins. But even the imperfections appear as if due to the gradual process of decay. It requires little stretch of the imagination to conceive the whole fabric to be an enormous edifice, the grandest of man’s construction, of which the main body has by some convulsion been suck and engulfed in the waters. We thought of these monuments of ancient art which the volcanic rain of Vesuvius has overwhelmed; but such a temple as this would have enclosed half of Pompeii!!

Page 43: “The gothic rock.”

The mind naturally inquires, Are the beautiful forms of ancient architecture the result of long and laborious study, or was some marvel like this exhibited in that distant era, from which cunning sculptors borrowed those designs that immortalized the Parthenon? And if—as the learned have supposed—the marble structures of that age received the addition of a coat of glowing colors,—of which time has left some traces—we here view the prototype, not only of the graceful forms upon which they labored so successfully, but of the overlay of colorings, in the glory of their original freshness!

These are but single features in the scenic display. The line of cliffs is not uniformly regular, but curves gradually to the south-west, and presents many angles and projecting points. Passing on to harder portions of the rock, the voyageur may encounter at the next angle a vertical and unbroken wall, rearing its solid front from the bed of the lake to the height of from 200 to 300 feet above the surface. The sharpness of the angular projection equals that created by the square and plummet; while the immense thickness of the strata causes the wall to appear as laid in immense blocks, a hundred feet in length. No such blocks were built into their mausolea by the proudest of the Pharaohs.

New changes present themselves as the traveller proceeds. Suddenly he is before the walls of an impregnable fortress, complete with glacis, bastion, and towers. The western cape of Miner’s River exhibits a curious display of this kind. It resembles the dilapidated tower of some timeworn castle. The base rests upon a series of short columns, connected by groined arches, through many of which a boat may pass with ease. There are eight or ten of these pillars; several have large entrances above, and the tower rears its broken battlements to the height of 120 feet.

Page 45: “La Chapelle, from the Lake.”

Among the characteristic features, none is more extra-ordinary than one to which the French voyageurs have appropriately given the name of “La Chapelle.” This rock was originally part of the solid cliff, of which the greater portion has been swept away, causing a valley about half a mile in breadth, through which a considerable stream enters the lake, falling over the rocks in a sheet of foam. Close by, reared upon the rocky platform, about twenty feet above the lake, and conspicuous from its isolation, stands the chapel. It consists of a tabular mass of sandstone, raised upon five columns, whose capitals swell into a uniform arch and support the ceiling or dome of the edifice. Its whole height is 56 feet. The pillars are somewhat irregular in form and position; including their bases, they are about 25 feet in height, and from 4 to 6 feet diameter in the swell. Regular proportion are not altogether preserved, for in most of them the central portion has the smallest diameter, like an hour-glass. Two uphold the front, and from these the arch springs to the height of 30 feet, allowing to the roof a thickness of five or six feet. The span of this arch is 32 feet, as viewed from the water, in which direction the spectator looks completely through the temple into the woodland beyond. The strength of the roof thus upheld must be considerable, since it is clothed with timber, and from the very centre shoots, spire-like, a lofty pine. The cliff on which the edifice stands forms a proportionate pedestal, ascending from the water in steps, which may be easily mounted.

This solemn natural temple might contain a congregation of several hundred persons. Nor are the usual accommodations for the preacher wanting. A column, the upper half of which has been broken, projects from a recess in the walls, and is worn into a curve behind, like the half of a letter S, creating a stand which would serve the purpose as admirably as it strikingly resembles the old-fashioned pulpit, the base of the column affording convenient steps.

Page 47: “La Chapelle, inside view.”

Upon the cliff, just without, a column stands detached, and worn into the form of an urn, no bad representation of the baptismal font.

At what epoch of the world, or for what class of worshippers, this almost perfect temple was created, we might ask in vain of geologist or theologian. Certainly it is well designed to raise in the beholders thoughts of adoration for its all-skillful Architect, while they assign to it a chief place among the wonders of his workmanship.

An urn-shaped mass, similar to the one here observed, of great regularity and beauty of form, and not less than 50 feet in height, may ben seen at another point of the coast. Several rills of water leap from the very top of these precipitous cliffs, and add much to the charm of the view. Indeed, taken in connection with the wide-sweeping lake, the distant mountain ranges, and the woodland, crowning the cliff, the scene presented is of the most picturesque and wildest character.

“Where’er we gaze, around, above, below, What rainbow tints, what magic charms are found! Rock, river, forest, mountain, all abound, And bluest skies that harmonize the whole; Beneath, the distant torrent’s rushing sound Tells where the volumed cataract doth roll, Between those hanging rocks, that shock yet please the soul.”

Against these huge ramparts in the hour of the storm the billows of this impetuous lake dash with terrific fury, rumbling beneath the open arches, until, from the hollow caverns within, the sounds return like distant echoes, and at times their spray is thrown to the very summits of the cliff. Woe betide the bark that is overtaken by the tempest before these hopeless barriers!

But when the winds are down, lulling the lake to gentlest murmurs, the cautious boatman piles along the lone rampart, and with beating heart ventures to explore its awe-inspiring recesses, those.

“Worn and wild receptacles, Worked by the storms, yet work’d as it were planned, In hollow halls, with sparry roof and cells.”

From this sketch some correct idea may perhaps be gathered of a few of those strange forms which Nature, in her sportive hours, has here carved out of the solid fabric of the globe, as if in mockery of the efforts of man, gigantic monuments of that immeasurable Power who formed the wonders of the universe.

Thirty miles west form the Pictured Rocks, at Chocolate and Carp rivers, we first met, in their approach to the shore, the azoic or primary rocks, which from here onward constitute so interesting and important a feature in the geology of the country. Of their scientific or their economical character it is not my purpose to speak, further than to say that to them belong the iron beds, which are such a mine of wealth to our State. Here, a few years after our visit, sprang into being the busy and thriving city of Marquette. But at the time of which I speak, all was a solitude.

From hence to Keweenaw Bay ranges of granite knobs rise into considerable hills, and around them lie a series of quartzites, slates, and metamorphosed sandstones. The granites are pierced by dykes of trap, which in some cases form straight, narrow, and often lofty walls, in others have overflowed in irregular masses. Here Pluto, not Neptune, has been the controlling spirit, and has left the witness of his rule upon the face of the country. Ascending the knobs of granite and quartz, the change is most striking. To the east the eye embraces a tract lying in immense broad steppes of the sandstone, extending beyond the Pictured Rocks; while to the west are seen only rolling hills and knobs, terminating in the Huron Mountains.

I can add nothing to what is so well known of the mineral riches of this part of the country. But there is in its building-stones a wealth that is hardly yet begun to be realized. No more beautiful and serviceable material than the easily-worked and variously-tinted sandstones is found in the West; and her granites, already broken by natural forces into convenient block, and as yet untried, will command a market in the time coming, when the solid and durable shall be regarded a chief requisites to good architecture.

Following our westerly direction to Point Keweenaw, we find the dominion of Pluto established on a most magnificent scale. Not only is his energy displayed in the stern and rock-bound coast, but in the lofty ranges of trap, which rise into rugged hills of from 400 to 900 feet above the lake. Within these are secreted, but scarcely concealed, those wonderful veins of native copper, here quarried rather than mined, in masses such as the world has nowhere else produced.

Page 51: “View from the cliff ranges.”

But of all this wealth nothing was then known, except that traces of copper were visible at a few places along the coast, and that a large mass of the native metal lay in the bed of Ontonagon River, long revered by the Indians as a Manitou, and mentioned in the relations of the early French historians.

I will but add, as the result of this season’s explorations, that the report of the State geologist, published the ensuing winter, unravelled the whole subject of the mode of occurrence of the copper and its associated minerals, in the most complete and scientific manner. It first made known the immense value which Michigan possessed in its hitherto despised Upper Peninsula; and its immediate effect was to arouse an interest in this then wild and uninhabited Indian territory, which has led to the opening up of its mines, and its present teeming prosperity.

On the third of July we encamped at Copper Harbor, and spent several days in exploration of the surrounding country, and in blasting for ores. Several blasts were got ready for the great national jubilee, which we commemorated in the noisy manner usual with Americans, by a grand discharge from the rocks. We succeeded in producing a tremendous report, and the echo, resounding from the placid water as from a sounding-board, pealed forth in corresponding reverberations for several minutes. Later in the day we retired to our camp and partook of an equally grand dinner. It consisted of pigeons, fried and stewed, corn and bean soup, short-cake and hard-tack, pork, and—last but not least—a can of fine oysters, which had been brought along for the occasion. Truly a sumptuous repast for a party of wilderness vagrants, even on a Fourth of July anniversary!

But time warns me to hasten my journey. I will therefore proceed at once to the Ontonagon, where an adventure befel, which it becomes a true knight-errant to relate. It was our purpose to pass up this river to the large mass of copper already alluded to. As we landed at the mouth there were noticed, on the opposite side of the river, several Indian lodges. As soon as we had dined, a few of the occupants crossed over in canoes, shook hands with us, giving the usual greeting of “Bo jou,” and received a small gift of tobacco and bread. Accompanying were half a dozen young boys, some of whom had remarkably fine features. We could not but notice, as an usual circumstance, that several of the men were painted black. One athletic fellow in particular, in this grimy coloring, and naked except the clout, made a very grotesque though savage appearance. The devil himself, however, is said not to be so black as he is painted, and this fellow seemed rather to act the buffoon than the noble warrior.

This son of Chief Buffalo from the La Pointe Band appears to be Jechiikwii’o.
“Houghton served as surgeon and botanist with Henry R. Schoolcraft’s 1831 and 1832 expeditions to the source of the Mississippi River.”
Douglass Houghton Papers: 1829-1845
Excerpt about Chief Buffalo:
“It is at this place, the Chegoimegon of early writers, that tradition places the ancient council fire of the Chippewa nation. […] The present chieftain, Chi Waishki, alias Pizhickee, or the Buffalo, is the representative of this line.   He said to the Indian Agent, who, by direction of the commissioners at the treaty of Fond du Lac, in 1826, invested him with a silver medal.  “What need I of this!  It is known whence I am descended. […] Chi Waishki, the chief above alluded to, was met at Keweena, on his way to visit the Agency.”

Narrative of an expedition through the upper Mississippi to Itasca Lake, the actual source of this river : embracing an exploratory trip through the St. Croix and Burntwood (or Broule) Rivers, in 1832, by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, 1834, pages 20-21.

The party proved to belong to the Buffaloes, whose chief we had met at River Tequamenon, near the eastern end of the lake, and were under the command of the son of that chief. The latter was a resolute-looking fellow, of about 26 or 30 years of age. His face was painted red, and he wore a medal bearing the likeness of John Quincy Adams. We paid little attention to the Indians, although aware that on several occasions exploring parties had been stopped at the mouth of this river and turned back.

We had made but two of three miles progress up the stream when the rapid stroke of paddles was heard, and a canoe, manned with Indians, shot quickly around a bend below and came into slight. The savages were seated, as their custom is, in the bottom of their bark, so that only heads and shoulders were visible. As each applied his whole strength the canoe skimmed over the surface like a young duck, while the dashing of so many paddles caused her to seem propelled by a water-wheel.

Excerpt from Dr. Houghton’s report on small-pox vaccinations:
“”By a comparison of the number of Indians vaccinated upon the borders of Lake Superior, with the actual population, it will be seen that the proportion who have passed through the vaccine disease is so great as to secure them against any general prevalence of the small-pox; and perhaps it is sufficient to prevent the introduction of the disease to the bands beyond, through this channel.  But in the Folle Avoine country it is not so.  Of the large bands of Indians residing in that section of country, only a small fraction of been vaccinated; while of other bands not a single person has passed through the disease.”
Narrative of an expedition through the upper Mississippi to Itasca Lake, the actual source of this river : embracing an exploratory trip through the St. Croix and Burntwood (or Broule) Rivers, in 1832, by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, 1834, page 253.

Our leader’s boat, which was ahead, immediately lay to and raised her American flag. “If they want to fight,” said the Doctor, “we’ll give them a chance.” Our two boats moved into line, and the doctor’s assistants armed themselves, one with a revolver, the other with a rusty shot-gun, our entire military resource. The canoe was soon alongside, and the heads and shoulders proved to belong the bodies of eight stout natives, headed by the young chief. Dr. Houghton held out his hand to be shaken as before. He then asked, through an interpreter, if they recollected the man who had put something into their arms when they were sick, a number of years ago. This something was vaccine for the small-pox, Doctor H. having accompanied the Schoolcraft expedition, in the capacity of physician and botanist. To this the chief, who doubtless well knew, made no reply, but demanded our errand up the river, and said that he and his men had been stationed at the mouth by his father, the head of the tribe, with orders to allow no boat to pass up without that chief’s permission. He added further, that we had not paid him, the son, the respect that was his due, by calling at his lodge and leaving a present. Our leader replied that he was sent hither by their great Father, whose instructions he should obey; that he should ascend the river as far as suited him, and that he did not recognize in them any authority to stop him.

Is this a photo of Jechiikwii’o wearing the 1826 medal in 1856-7? You be the judge.
~ Error Correction: Photo Mystery Still Unsolved

Chief. You must wait at the mouth until the Buffalo comes up. Else I and my band shall go with you, and see that you take nothing.

Doctor. I have been here before, and shall go now, as I am ordered by your great Father. I know the country and do not need a guide.

Chief. This country belongs to us.

Doctor. I know that the country is Indian territory, but the treaty of 1826 allows citizens of the United States to visit it. Neither shall I ask consent of the chief to take what I please. But, being acquainted with the Buffalo, I have no objection to showing him what I bring away.

At this stage of the alteration another canoe came in sight, which proved to contain the boys. By this time two of the Indians had made free to step into our small boat, where they seated themselves with great appearance of familiarity. The affair would have had enough of the ludicrous mingled with its serious aspect to warrant us in making light of it, and holding no further parley, but for two considerations, which we could not afford to overlook. Owing to the numerous rapids, the barge, which contained our whole stock, could be got up only ten miles, while we had to proceed to the forks, twenty miles further, in our smaller boat, and thence five miles by foot. And in case of a trial of strength with the Indians, no dependence could be placed upon our hired voyageurs, most of whom were allied to the opposite party, both in blood and training.

Pointing to a bend in the river, our detainers now said, “We are determined that you shall not go beyond that point to-night.” This audacious order determined us to at once break off all conference, so asserting our intention to be no longer hindered or delayed, we prepared for immediate departure. After some consultation among themselves, the chief answered, that if we would then and there make them a present of a keg of pork and a barrel of flour we would be allowed to proceed, but should be expected to bestow a further present to the head chief on our return.

To this bold demand, which plainly appeared to be a levy of blackmail, an act of piracy, Dr. Houghton replied that he would give them as a present such things as they stood in immediate need of, but nothing more. Nor should he recognize the shadow of a right to demand even that. Accordingly, a bag filled with flour, and some pork and tobacco were offered, and the leader agreed to accept his present in powder, lead, and provisions at La Pointe, whither we were bound.

The parley being at an end, we drew off and pushed up the stream. The hostiles remained awhile in consultation, and then withdrew in the opposite direction. A few miles above we encamped for the night.

It was a necessity, as I have stated, to leave our barge behind with all our stores, while the exploring party were absent for two days and a night. Of course this dilemma was known to the enemy. Holding a council of war the next morning, it was resolved to leave with our goods four of the men, together with the gun. They received most positive orders to fire upon the first Indian who touched the baggage, in case any of them should return, as we had reason to expect. And our captain added with solemn emphasis, that if any man failed in fidelity, his own life should pay the forfeit. Having thus played upon their fears, we pursued our laborious journey, reached the Copper Rock at nightfall, and tired with the day’s toils, laid down beneath the cover of the forest and slept soundly.

Engraving depicting the Schoolcraft expedition crossing the Ontonagon River to investigate a copper boulder. ~ Wisconsin Historical Society

“Engraving depicting the [1820] Schoolcraft expedition crossing the Ontonagon River to investigate a copper boulder.”
~ Wisconsin Historical Society

The next morning we proceeded to the difficult task of detaching portions of the metallic mass, which was successfully accomplished, and we brought away about twenty-five pounds of it. I will here add, that this copper boulder was, a few years afterwards, removed through the agency of Mr. Eldred, of Detroit, and taken to Washington, where it enriches the museum of the Smithsonian Institution. It is now no novelty to see very much larger masses brought down and landed on the dock at our smelting works.

But to conclude the narrative: on reaching camp, on our return, we learned that the chief, with several of this band, had been there, but had touched nothing, and according to his own account, had taken the trail for Lake Flambeau, in order to join a war-party, then organizing, of the Chippewas against the Sioux. Notwithstanding this story we fully expected to meet these fellows again at the mouth, and to whip them there if we could. But when we reached the place all was silent, and the lodges deserted.

Page 57: “Falls at the mouth of Montreal River.”

I will only add to this long story, that our captain’s order was never presented. We learned further, on reaching La Pointe, that the party which waylaid us had known of our journey from the first; that they had “smoked over it,” had dogged us the whole way up the lake, subsisting themselves by fishing, and that when we met they were nearly starved.

I will take my hearers but one stage further before closing this excursive ramble.

http://www.mnopedia.org/multimedia/charles-w-borup

Charles William Wulff Borup
~ Minnesota Historical Society

Charles Henry Oakes ~ Findagrave.com

Charles Henry Oakes
~ Findagrave.com

A few days brought us to the islands called by Carver “The Apostles.” On one of the largest of these, Madeline, at La Pointe, is located a general depot of the American Fur Company, for all the western parts of the lake, and the chain of lakes and rivers leading into it. It had become, in consequence, an asylum for all the old traders of that part of the country, and the temporary abode to great numbers of Indians. After pitching our tents on the beach, in front of the fort, amid a crowd of Indians and equally idle half-breeds, we were welcomed by the company’s factor, Dr. Borup, Mr. Oakes, the factor from Fond-dulac, and Mr. Bushnell, the Indian agent, and invited to all the hospitalities of the place.

During our whole voyage from the Sault we had not seen the face of a white man, except at the mission of L’Anse, and a casual fishing party. But here, at the end of our wandering, far from what we had been accustomed to consider the limits of civilization, we were greeted, in the families of these gentlemen, not only by features to which we had been so long strangers, but by all the attendant civilized refinements. The dress and manners of the East, the free converse with friendly voices of our own and the gentler sex, the music of a piano, the sound of the church-going bell and Christian services, seemed to us rather like a return to our homes than the extreme of a two-months’ journey in the wilderness.

It may interest my hearer to know in more detail what composed a post so remote, and which was to me so much a surprise.

Borup and Oakes were La Pointe agents for the American Fur Company, and had married into the powerful Beaulieu family of Chippewa mixed-blood traders, and were signatories of 1842 Treaty at La Pointe and 1847 Treaty at Fond du Lac.  Sometime between 1832 and 1836, Borup and Oakes relocated the economic center of La Pointe from its original site at Old Fort to New Fort where it is today.  They became first bankers in Minnesota during the 1850’s.

La Pointe at that period was one of those peculiar growths known only to a era which has long passed away, or been banished to regions still more remote. What is called the company’s “fort” consisted of two large stores painted red, a long storehouse for fish, at the wharf, and row of neat frame buildings painted white. The latter were occupied by the half dozen families in the company’s employ. These dwellings, with the two stores, formed opposite sides of a broad street, in the centre square of which was planted a large flag-pole. Upon this street also clustered sundry smaller and unpainted log tenements of the French and half-breeds. Half a mile from the fort were the Protestant and Catholic missions. The former boasted a good frame mansion of two stories, attached to which was a school, numbering thirty scholars. The Catholic mission had a large number of followers, including the French and Indians. In all, the settlement contained about fifty permanent tenements. Beside these were perhaps an equal number of Indian lodges, irregularly disposed in vacant spaces, and adding to the size and picturesque character of the village. Several hundred Indians usually found constant employ in the fisheries at this place.

This was the oldest, as well as most remote, of the Jesuit missions in the North-west, having been established by Father Allouez, in 1665. It was then a gathering place of many Indian nations, and was hundreds of miles from the nearest French settlement.

It has additional interest from the fact that it witnessed the youthful and zealous labors of Pere Marquette, who came, in 1669, to take the place of Father Allouez, among the Ottawas, Hurons, and other tribes of the neighborhood. It was at La Pointe that Marquette planned that voyage of first discovery, exploration and missionary enterprise down the Mississippi which has rendered his name illustrious.

Page 61: “Pere Marquette. (From the statue at City Hall, Detroit.)”

In the families I have mentioned might be detected an intermixture of Indian blood, which detracts little even from the fairness of the daughters, and the ladies as well as the gentlemen are intelligent and highly educated. Their lives, when not occupied in business, are spent in reading and music; and during the long, cold winter, frequent rides are taken on the ice, upon which they pass from island to island in sledges drawn by dogs.

I could not but picture to my mind, outside of this intelligent circle, the festivities which marked this distant post, at that season, in the more palmy days of the fur trade; when it would be crowded with the hangers-on of such an establishment, returned-returned from their sojourn in the trapping grounds, or their toilsome voyages to and from Montreal and Quebec, bent on lavishing away their season’s earnings in days of idleness or debauch, and in “long nights of revelry and ease.”

Much of this old-time character still remained. The motley population, the unique village, the fisheries and furs, the Indian dances and pow-wows, the mixture of civilization and barbarism, the isolation, broken only be occasional and irregular arrivals from the world below,—made up a scene for which we were little prepared, which will not be easily forgotten, but of which I can give only this meagre description.

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One Response to “Lake Superior in 1840”

  1. LeaAnn Schroeter said

    I love the southern shore of Lake Superior. This description is like finding another beautiful jewel on her shores!

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