The Upper Peninsula glides past on our starboard. The landscape doesn't vary much as we travel along the Huron Mountains of this central portion. The shoreline is broken only by the outlet of Big Bay and the narrow mouths of the Yellow Dog and Dead rivers. Then gradually, we become aware of increasing activity on shore, more than we've seen since leaving Duluth. Somewhere nearby there must be a highway sign reading "Welcome to Marquette".

Today Marquette, home to WLUC-TV, the University of Northern Michigan, the largest population of Yoopers on the Peninsula and, until recently, its own Stealth bomber, hums with activity. Things were much quieter back on September 19th, 1844, when William Burt's survey project for the Michigan government was brought to a screeching halt, a mile south of Teal Lake. His compass suddenly became possessed with a life of its own. He soon determined that it was being thrown off by large numbers of iron rocks. His half-breed guide Louis Nolan began talking about the disruptive rocks and the story reached the ears of copper prospector Philo Everett and his partners, and they soon forgot about the copper. The escalating railroad and shipbuilding industries back east had developed an insatiable appetite for iron. Everett planned to get in on the ground floor, as did others. All would become wealthy.

A work gang arrived in town, prepared to build a port. Their first project was a pier. The crude iron had to be hauled out of the interior, and that took teams of oxen and horses. As with everything else necessary for the job, the animals had to be brought to the site by boat, which meant shoving them overboard and letting them swim to shore on their own. And then there was the problem of getting the iron onto the ships. The men cut down trees, ran two lines of timber out into the water, and filled in the space between with gravel. That night a storm came up on the lake and when the crews awoke in the morning they were greeted by empty shoreline. Finally they got a permanent pier in place. In July of 1852 the first shipment, of six barrels, left Marquette aboard the schooner Baltimore , bound for Cleveland, Ohio. This modest shipment was the nucleus. The mines and forges of the region would soon be providing the raw material for steel mills along the shores of the eastern Great Lakes. But at first mere survival was often in doubt. Never so much so as back in the late fall of 1850, when supplies began running out and the supply steamer Napoleon failed to appear. Days turned to weeks, as winter closed in. Food and fodder began running out and the settlers now looked at their scrawny horses with hungry eyes. After long, suspenseful weeks of waiting, on December 15th, the sound of a propeller could be heard across the water. One hard-nosed settler heard, found tears running down his face. His horse Bill would not be the plat (or plug) du jour.

For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor

© 1999 David Minor / Eagles Byte