Selected letters of the Joel Allen Barber Papers :

“Primarily letters exchanged by Barber, a surveyor in northern Wisconsin and later a soldier in the 25th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, and his parents in Vermont from 1854 to 1865. Written from Superior, Ashland, and La Pointe, Barber’s letters refer to economic conditions and pioneer life, to Indian affairs, and to Catholic and Protestant missions.”


(Prologue) Stuntz Surveys Superior City 1852-54

Before taking a closer look at the Barber Papers, let’s examine the lives and affairs of other surveyors and speculators along the southwest shore of Lake Superior, starting with George Riley Stuntz and his production of these Exterior Field Notes (June of 1852).

“Augustus” 1854

“Perhaps you would like a little information in regard to my operations –: well Stuntz’ survey is finished and I have some writing to do for him, which will occupy me several days; as for subsequent ‘doins’ you will be dully appraised.”

“Come up here!” Winter of 1855

“Come up here! I am confident that our season spent in surveying, voyaging, or exploring in this region or any healthy country would do your whole system, constitution, mind & body more good than all the medicines in the universe.”

“I shall not go without Jo” Spring of 1855

“Going to Lake Superior is not so much of an undertaking as when Augustus first went. I should have to foot it about 200 miles. A great many people are going through every few days but probably I shall not go without Jo as he understands all the minutia of providing necessary articles and food, coaching, camping out &c &c.”

“Lake Superior” Summer of 1855

“There are lots of Indians on this point very peaceable among themselves and towards others but some imps will furnish them with ‘scoo te wau bo’ (firewater). Several Indians are now at work here carrying in freight. The squaws too are hanging round with their children and pappooses.”

“Barbers Camp” Fall of 1855

“Our party now contains 3 halfbreeds, two to keep camp and one to ax. At first I did not like the idea of having such looking fellows to work for us but they get up good victuals. I don’t inquire how. I have to cook occasionally but I can’t tell how I make it go. Still my pancakes and fried pork and bean soup are generally devoured with an assiduity not often seen out of the woods.”

“In a Little Trouble” Winter of 1856

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

“Let ‘Em Rip” Spring of 1856

“There is a conspiracy, or combination of old preemptors here who have no right to make claims. Their object is to secure each member a claim on the North shore, and to drive off and keep off by knives and pistols any who may wish to make legal preemptions on the lands they choose to appropriate to themselves.

“Ironton” Summer of 1856

“Now to tell the truth I am as much attached to this lake as to any other place and I don’t know how to leave it. I know its disadvantages and privations as well as any one. I know the sweets of a more social life and much do I long for them. I know the luxury of living on a fertile soil in a genial climate and hope some day to enjoy it, but still if my life is spared Lake Superior will probably see me occasionally for a number of years.”

“The Gardens” Fall of 1856

“Yesterday I arrived here from Bad River in a Macinaw boat with two fair men, we have been surveying nearly two weeks although we have scarcely made a beginning. Thus far we have been at work at ‘the Gardens’ as the settlement at Bad River is called to layout out an Indian Village.”

“A Southern Confederacy” Winter of 1857

“The Southern [??????] are alarming and talk loudly of a Southern Confederacy. The Democracy generally throughout the Southern states are in opposition to their stupid Presidents on the Kansas question, & nothing but Douglas’ carrying his point will save this party from utter defeat & ruin. While at the same time the party will be rid of its most obsiquious satans of southern [????] if the Poor devils and find any place to go to. Perhaps they may get up a [????] of Secession party to catch the scum of the Democracy.”

“Poor McEwen” Spring of 1857

“Mr. McEwen, a gentleman from Detroit connected with the Indian Agency, and several persons from La Pointe county, with half-breed packers, started together last fall to go across the country, and traveled in company until reaching the head waters of the St. Croix.”

“Apostle Islands” Summer of 1857

“Aunt Sa’h pointed out to me a high sharp bluff which Augustus climbed and left his name out on the white bark of a tree. To me, how interesting – almost sacred does every thing appear where he has left the impress of his work. There is nothing can bring so forcibly to our minds a dear departed friend, as a sight of the productions of his hands or his mind. So, if we would be remembered with pleasure and gratitude we must do something for the good of every being with whom we have to do.”

“Houghton” Fall of 1857

“Your father warns you to be careful what you do this winter. – not to meddle with any thing – in Ironton shares – or any kind of property – even if you can buy it for a ‘song’ – Every thing is ‘dead broke’ and the less you have to do with Lake Superior property, the better.”


Stay Tuned for More:

Winter of 1858

Spring of 1858

Summer of 1858

Fall of 1858

Winter of 1859

Spring of 1859

Summer of 1859

Fall of 1859

1860-1861

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