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
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