If you have a odd imagination like mine (no cracks, please) and you take another look at an outline map of Lake Superior, you might see the profile of a face. Not a human face, but one of some malevolent goblin creature, facing west, with a long snout, slanting eye (it's actually Isle Royale) and curled, snarling mouth. That mouth is the Keweenaw Peninsula, the richest copper source on the lake. Keweenaw is an Indian word meaning 'place of the portage'. Lake Superior's deposits were familiar to the earliest known Native American peoples, those of the Hopewell civilization, who mined the ore and took it back to their towns in southern Ohio, probably as much as 3,000 years ago. Early French and English explorers such as the Sieur de la Ronde and Alexander Henry were aware of the lakeshore metal deposits, but were never able to make mining profitable, taking only small amounts from the Upper Peninsula.

If anyone could be said to have created the mining industry on the lake, it would be Dr. Douglass (with two esses) Houghton. Not all of Lake Superiors 'iron men' were the legendary, tall, strapping woodsmen and miners, impervious to wind, ice and snow. Houghton was about five-foot-four, of frail build and prone to bouts of rheumatism and other illnesses. Despite these shortcomings he was tireless in his pursuits and his influence on the region is incalculable. He had been born in New York State sometime around the year 1809, and had enrolled in the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, where he studied the sciences. In 1830 he was invited to Michigan to lecture in Detroit on Chemistry and Geology. He fell under the spell of the Lakes and decided to stay on in the region. Accomplished in his field and noted as a gifted raconteur, the scientist was elected mayor of Detroit twice. When the Indian Agent Henry Rowe Schoolcraft organized an expedition out of Sault Ste. Marie in 1832, Houghton joined it as the party's surgeon, naturalist, botanist and geologist. Appointed Michigan's first state geologist in 1837, he began a series of solitary explorations, poking around Superior's coastline in a birchbark canoe. He probably knew the region better than anyone since Admiral Bayfield's surveys several decades before. Touring the Keweenaw he discovered copper deposits in 1840, and the following year issued his first report, downplaying the size of the deposits. Nevertheless a massive copper rush was soon on. Houghton went on, traveling to rhythm of his paddle and the lapping waves. On October 13, 1845, he and a five-man crew were caught in a late-day snowstorm out of the northwest, off the mouth of Eagle River. A wave overturned the vessel, dumping the men into the night-darkened water. Two crewmen alone made it to safety. Lake Superior is legendary for not giving up its dead. It seems somehow fitting that Douglass Houghton should be the exception. His body was discovered the following Spring, washed upon the shore of the Keweenaw.

For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor

© 1998 David Minor / Eagles Byte