Title: Iron Men of Duluth

In 1870, the year the citizens of Duluth cut their channel through Minnesota Point, the railway from the south out of St. Paul arrived, creating a rapid overland connection with civilization back to the east. The following year the railroad was extended to Manitoba's Red River Valley. The Zenith City of the Unsalted Seas was well on its way to becoming a transportation hub for the upper midwest. The Canadian Pacific Railway was fourteen years from completion, so the railroad through Duluth became the most important overland route for shipping the pelts of the beaver to the cities of the east. The trade was no longer dependent on the seasonal and meteorological vagaries of shipment via the Great Lakes. Unfortunately the beaver was being depleted and fashion would soon bow to necessity, and dictate that men's hats be made of silk.

The agricultural potential of the Canadian prairies would not be realized until the Canadian Pacific could bring the settlers out of Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto. Then iron rails and iron plows would work in symbiotic harmony to make the region the breadbasket of Canada. Duluth would lose much of that market. But this was in the future. The city's problems in 1873 were more immediate. A financial panic in the major cities along the eastern seaboard was followed by a severe depression. Jay Cooke's plans for a railroad and steamboat empire centered in Duluth lay in ruins.

It was eleven years later, in 1884, that a major source of iron ore was discovered in the Vermilion Range, up near the border with Canada. That July the Great Lakes steamer Hecla left Duluth, towing a barge of ore to eastern cities. The iron would now begin flowing by land and lake to the mills of Toledo, Cleveland, Erie and Buffalo. But there was more to come. As rail cars carried the ore back through Duluth, they passed over even richer land. The range of hills was named from a Chippewa word meaning Giant, and the name was not an exaggeration. Members of Duluth's Merritt family , operating on a combination of instinct and experience, felt the reddish earth beneath the rails of the Mesabi Range signaled a rich source of ore. When their hunch was confirmed they became known as The Seven Iron Men. Their city's fortune was in the ascendent.

Perhaps the area's real iron man was an Chippewa chief by the name of Kichiwiski. In the early 1800s he put his canoe into the waters of Lake Superior, in the area that would become Duluth, and began paddling. He paddled for 988 miles and pulled his craft onto the beach at a place called Buffalo. He set out to the south on foot, walking until he came to another town named Washington. There he attended a conference on Indian affairs. When it was over he walked back to Buffalo and paddled home to Duluth. Talk about a commute!

For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor.

© 1998 David Minor / Eagles Byte