The Survey of the Penokee Iron Range and Incidents Connected With Its Early History

By James Smith Buck

Penokee Survey Incidents: Number I

“I first visited Lake Superior in the month of May, 1857, in the interest of the Wisconsin and Lake Superior Mining and Smelting Co., a charter for the organization of which had been procured the previous winter.”

Penokee Survey Incidents: Number II

“Prominent among these last named was Joseph Houle, or “Big Joe” as he was usually called,– a giant halfbreed, (now dead), who was invaluable as a woodsman and packer. Some idea of Joe’s immense strength and power of endurance may be formed from the fact that he carried upon one occasion the entire contents, (200 lbs.) of a barrel of pork from Ironton to the Range without seeming to think it much of a feat.”

Penokee Survey Incidents: Number III

“I refer now to Hall, of St. Paul, Minnesota, who undertook, with the assistance of S.R. Marston, a treacherous employee of the Company, and Schuyler Goff, of Racine, at that time a resident of La Pointe, to beat us out of our rights, by entering the lands upon the Range with Sioux Scrip, in which nefarious attempt they would no doubt have succeeded, but for him. He was more than a match for all of them, and they finally retired from the contest in disgrace. Such was Gen. L.L. Cutler, a firm friend, but an uncompromising enemy.”

Penokee Survey Incidents: Number IV

“Rome was not built in a day, but most of these cabins were. I built four myself near the Gorge, in a day, with the assistance of two halfbreeds, but was not able to find them a week afterwards. This is not only a mystery but a conundrum. I think some traveling showman must have stolen them; but although they were non est we could swear that we had built them, and did.”

Penokee Survey Incidents: Number V

“The forest has, at all times, a charm for for me, and the autumnal months doubly so; It is then and then only that its full glories can be seen; and in no country or section of country that it has ever been my privilege to visit, is the handiwork of Dame Nature’s gelid pencil, so grandly displayed as upon Lake Superior, and more particularly is this so, in and around the Range.”

Penokee Survey Incidents: Number VI

“At length old Sol sunk in the west, and night once more spread her dark mouth over the surrounding landscape. A strange feeling of loneliness, such as I had never felt before, crept over me as I closed the door of the cabin for the night, and sought my couch of balsam boughs, where I slept soundly until 6 o’clock the following morning, when presto! what a change met my eye! The air so soft and clear the previous evening, was now filled with snow, while upon the ground it was two and a half feet in depth, and increasing rapidly. You can easily imagine that I was not a little startled at the outlook, as being snowed in upon Lake Superior was no joke; and from the rapidity with which it was falling, it was apparent that it would be six feet in depth in twenty-four hours, if it kept on.”

Penokee Survey Incidents: Number VII

“There are, however, many yet living with whom I became acquainted at that time, in Ashland and vicinity, for whom I have ever cherished the warmest personal friendship. If these sketches and reminiscences of long long ago have interested or amused them, I am glad. The writing of them has brought to mind many scenes and faces, that were almost forgotten, but which are as vivid now as though occurring yesterday. I hope, the coming season to see you all, and talk over old times, and make a trip to the Range over the old trail, every foot of which is accurately mapped in my eye. And now, as my task is done, at least for the present, I will bid the Press readers good-bye…”


Supplemental biographical information about Colonel Lysander Cutler:

They Called Him Gray Devil

“His first trip was made in the Summer of 1857. He spent several months on the range and at LaPointe, Ashland, Bayfield and on to the Indian Reservation, acquainted himself thoroughly with the status of the company’s claims, and returned to Milwaukee. He had ascertained that the immense value of the claim had not been overestimated, and had made a further discovery, less desirable, that the company had no valid title to it, except they occupied it as actual settlers. It was determined to organize a colony sufficiently large to cover every section of the territory desired, and squat it out a sufficient time to entitle them to settlers’ warrants. The colony consisted of picked men, some from the State of Maine, who entered the employ of the company, and built their cabins as fast as the surveyor’s stakes were driven.”

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