An 1860 Vacation Jaunt – Fall 1950

The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

From the diary of J.E. Snow, edited by Charles J. Dow

(Ed. note from 2020: This is a historical piece, written in 1860 and printed in 1950.  There are words and terms used in this piece that would not be used in Inland Seas today. )

August 17th, 1860. This morning at five o’clock, the West Andover Brass Band left home for a pleasure trip up to Lake Superior. The morning was cloudy, with a light shower to lay the dust, and make our ride in our band wagon the more pleasant. Our company consisted of the band and some of their ladies, to wit, J.H. Carpenter, Myron Beach, O.F. Mason, D R. Carpenter and Wife, J.E. Snow and Wife, T.S. Selby, C.M. Wilkins, Isaiah Crowther, Fred Boyington, Levi Rice, Henry Wilder and Wife, J.L. Osborn and sister. All enjoying ourselves first rate. We arrived at Ashtabula at eleven o’clock; we met my old and well tried friend, Rev. Ransom Dunn; was glad indeed to see him; he was on his way from Hillsdale to Boston.

We left Ashtabula at twelve-thirty on the cars for Cleveland. Had a pleasant ride, left my wife at Madison with her friends, and we arrived at Cleveland at two o’clock. We put up at the Bennett House. Rambled over the city to our hearts’ content, at five o’clock, took supper, after which we went down to the boat Iron City, a beautiful steamer which is to be our home for the next ten days. The crew were about thirty in number, and many of them were colored men, but fine fellows. After sunset, we commenced playing, and played most of the time till the boat started, which was about nine o’clock. The weather was fine, the lake smooth and we were soon out of sight of Cleveland; we were all tired, and soon found our state rooms and beds; here we spent our first night on our pleasure trip towards Lake Superior. Some of us slept, and some of us did not much.

Sat. morning Aug. 18th. This morning I arose a little before the sun, went on deck, found we were in sight of Walden, where so many black men have declared themselves free men. We are now passing some beautiful islands, and some manufacturing villages. The morning is beautiful, and the river is calm as a summer evening.

Lake St. Clair ca. 1890

We arrived at Detroit at about seven o’clock; this is a business city, everything appears to move like clock work, on the river, and the land. On the opposite side the river is a large town, called Windsor. There are a large number of colored people who find employment here, without the fear of being carried off by southern slave holders. I am glad there is a spot on this wide earth, where the colored man is free. We entered Lake St. Clair at about twelve o’clock. This is rather a beautiful sheet of water, though the smallest of the great chain of lakes. The weather is still beautiful, and all on board are enjoying themselves finely. On leaving Detroit, we went nearly due East. We are now in the middle of the South. At 2 P. M. we are having a hard shower, although there are but few clouds to be seen. The sun is shining all the while. The shower soon over, we are now on what is called St. Clair Flatts, where the grass grows up through the water. There is a light house about ten miles from shore. We are about to meet a steam tug with three tall masted vessels in tow. We have met one like it before. We are coming among the islands. At five o’clock, we are passing the town of St. Clair, on St. Clair River. This is a beautiful country on either side of the river; the river is about three quarters of a mile wide, steam saw-mills are very plenty. Pine logs are floated down from the north. We have just met a raft of about two acres of pine logs, towed by a steam tug. The crops along the river are fine, this is a pleasant country. At sunset, we entered Lake Huron, with rather a stiff head wind. The boat begins to rock some, just enough to make it ride pleasantly.

Sabbath morning, Aug. 19th, it is somewhat cloudy, but no wind, the lake is calm as it can be, not a ripple on its waters. There are now in sight thirty-one vessels, all waiting for wind to waft them along. We are nearly out of sight of land, there is a little streak lying west of us. We passed Saginaw Bay, before daylight, when we were entirely out of sight of land. We are now at breakfast time in the vicinity of Thunder Bay. At 9 A.M., we are among the islands covered with pines, the country is wild and beautiful, the day is fine, not wind enough to make a ripple on the water. At about 11 o’clock, we begin to see land on the eastern shore. At 1 o’clock, there is a long strip in view, and we begin almost to lose sight of it on the western shore. In front of us nothing is visible but water and clouds, with here and there a sail. There is scarcely any wind, all is smooth and fine. We have just left a table where we have partaken of a dinner, good enough for any man. We have lived well all the way. The whole crew appear to be men of the right stamp.

We are now at 3:30 p.m. passing out of Lake Huron. There are a large number of islands, and all covered with pines. A fine chance for a steam saw-mill. It is now raining a little, but not hard. It is not a very easy task for me to describe the splendor of the scenery, as we pleasantly float along among those beautiful islands. They are all covered with timber, of various kinds, pine, hemlock, spruce, cedar, white poplar and a variety of undergrowth. On the small islands, the timber is large. We are having rather a rainy afternoon, which makes it unpleasant being out on deck, but we have no wind to disturb at all. We are now passing a few log houses, where there are a few vegetables growing in the garden. We are just entering a beautiful river, the clouds are breaking away, and the rain has stopped. At sunset we entered a very narrow river where there was a small village, and some land cultivated, but no corn growing, a few cabbage, turnips, and a few potatoes were about all that could be seen. This is St. Mary’s River.

Soon after dark we came to the canal where there are two locks, that lock up into Lake Superior. This canal is about three quarters of a mile long. This is a great work connecting the two Great Lakes. The fall is twenty-eight feet, the rapids are about half a mile long, and I should think about the same distance wide. The Indians will run their birch bark canoes up the rapids, and catch fish. We passed through the locks, and went as far as the upper end of the canal, and tied up till morning, as it was too dark to enter Superior among the islands.

Picture Rock

Monday. I arose as soon as it was light, and viewed the canal and locks and at eight-thirty we started. And after passing a large number of islands we came into Lake Superior. We are now at noon, out in the broad lake with a stiff head wind. The waves are beginning to roll big, the white caps are showing themselves to good advantage. The weather is quite cold, at four o’clock, the weather is quite pleasant, the wind has gone down, and the lake is getting quite smooth again. At five o’clock we are passing the sand bank, or what they call the “Sandy Mountain,” which is three hundred feet high, and about five miles long, no timber for half a mile back. The wind has all gone down, and the lake is getting quite smooth again. Now at 6 P.M. we are nearly opposite the Picture Rock, but so far out that we cannot see the pictures. We can look into the big Cave where a steam boat can go in and tum around. Now the sun is just setting in the water, rather of a splendid sight. It is quite cold, more like October than August. It is no easy task for me to imagine that I am nearly one thousand miles from home, and on one of the largest lakes in the world. The weather is still fine, a little head wind, but the lake quite smooth. We are now at ten-fifteen, within forty minutes sail of Marquette. We stopped here and stayed until about three in the morning, it is so dark that I can’t say much about it.

Tuesday morning, Aug. 21st, I arose this morning, just in time to see the sun come up out of the water. There is a little wind, and the lake somewhat rough, but the wind soon died away, and it is quite calm again. We are now at ten o’clock, at Portage Entry, unloading on another vessel, about two miles from shore. The weather is beautiful, the wind is springing up from the south. The scenery along this lake is most splendid. There are mountains on the south of us, that are high, and the forests unbroken, the timber is mostly pine with a thick growth of underwood. In some places, where the soil is cultivated, some places there is a fine sandy beach, and in other places a rocky shore. Some are a white sandy rock, and others a red sand rock and very high, it has the appearance of brick, and extends along the coast for many miles. It is impossible for me to describe the many places of interest, as we sail along this beautiful day.

At 2 P.M. our boat came to an anchor about half a mile from shore, where there were six hundred fish barrels to be taken off, and about twenty-five barrels of salt. We stayed here about four hours, and all went on shore and had a ramble on the sandy beach. Here we saw the Indian women drying fish over a slow fire. Henry Wilder and I went into the lake swimming, the water was cold, and clear, we picked up a number of little stones, and brought them away with us. This is a great fishing establishment, where one of our passenger’s lives. We left this place at about six o’clock, at sunset. We are at the lower end of the peninsula, passing between it and the Manitou Island. We stopped at Copper Harbor, Eagle Harbor and Eagle River in the night.

Lady Elgin

Wednesday morning, Aug. 22nd. We arrived at Ontonagon at eight o’clock, this morning. Here we found the beautiful steamer Lady Elgin which backed out, to make room for the Iron City. It rains now very hard, and some snow mixed with it. This is quite a town, I should think contains about five hundred inhabitants. This is the extent of our journey. When we leave this place, it will be to return to our homes, which will be about noon. Here I got the first specimen of copper ore. We have had a fine passage, the lake has not been very rough, everything has passed off delightfully, I hope we shall have as good a time in going back. If this is a specimen of the western country, I think I shall not care about going west to live. All the fruit and garden vegetables are brought here on the boats, the soil is one mass of sand. Some of the residences have rather a beautiful front yard, with shade trees in them, this place is situated at the mouth of Ontonagon River, and is destined to be one of the largest cities on the lake.

Now at eleven o’clock, we are again on the mighty deep, and it is raining very hard, but the noble vessel is crowding its way, along its trackless course, regardless of the elements that surround it. We have just arose from the dinner table, and it rains powerfully, and thunders terrifically; the lake is not very rough. We came to Eagle River about four o’clock, where we spent the remaining part of the day rambling through the town, and over the hills. We went to one of the copper mines, and should have gone to another, if it had not rained. We got a number of specimens of copper at this place.  I saw fine horses here, and some very large oxen and some large cows.  We stayed at this place all night.

Thursday, Aug. 23rd. We left Eagle River at five thirty this morning, and at six thirty we are at Eagle Harbor, a place of about two hundred inhabitants. All that makes the place is the Harbor, and the copper mines in the mountains. While we were at this place, the Lady Elgin came in, and another boat was coming in as we left. We are now again out in the lake, crowding our way along against a hard wind. It is a little cloudy, but rather a pleasant day, after all. At eight thirty we enter Copper Harbor, where we stay about one hour. This is a very pretty place, but small. one church, one store, one tavern and store house, and a few dwellings.

We are now again on the great deep, pressing our way on pleasantly; there is a little wind, but not enough to make it very rough. Thus far everything has passed off first rate, we have had no cause to regret that we have made this trip. If we have no worse weather than we have had, we shall always look back to this time, as one of the brightest spots in our history. We are now at ten o’clock, turning the peninsula, between it and Manitou Island, which are about one mile apart. The Lady Elgin and another boat are just behind us, putting on all the steam they can make; they go to Portage Entry, and we to Marquette. The wind begins to rise, and the waves run rather high, the boat tumbles about more than it has done since we left Cleveland. There is quite a heavy fog, the lake is still quite rough, and many of the passengers are sick. I do not feel sick yet, but I expect to soon, unless the sea goes down a little.

Five o’clock, we are safe at Marquette. This is quite a business town, of nearly one thousand inhabitants. We called here in the night, when we went up, and I did not see much of it. Iron seems to be the main article of commerce. The hands are taking on coal, which I was told came from Cleveland. I have just been looking out of my stateroom window, to see those faithful black men work with their shovel and wheelbarrow. I really feel very sorry for them. It rains hard, but they keep at work, but they are well paid for this work. I think I should not like to be driven so hard, without any time to rest my weary bones. Just after dusk, the Lady Elgin came in, and tied up to our boat, and we all went on board of her. I think it is the most beautiful boat that I ever saw in my life. In consequence of the dense fog, and the darkness of the night, we did not leave till morning. The Lady Elgin only stopped about two hours, when she put out to sea again.

Friday morning, Aug. 24th, at about four o’clock, we left Marquette, and again launched out into the deep. The wind was blowing quite hard, and the waves running high, the boat would roll and tumble finely. We are now at seven o’clock, in sight of the Cave, and Picture Rocks, but they are some ten miles off. This forenoon has been the roughest of any time since we started. But very little stirring about on the boat. At one o’clock the weather is more pleasant, and the wind going down, but still the lake is quite rough, and many of the passengers are sick. We are coming in sight of land on the north shore, and we shall soon be out of Lake Superior. At two thirty, we have stopped at White Fish Point. There is a Light House, and a dwelling house, and a number of Indian huts, a fishing park, and barren sandy soil.

Sault St. Marie

We arrived at the Sault St. Marie’s Canal, just before sunset. Where we had a fine view of the Lock and rapids, and also of the town. When we went up, we passed this place in the night, and did not see it much. It is quite a town, about five hundred inhabitants. I should think from the appearances, that whiskey was used pretty freely here. We left the boat and went through the town on a ramble, had a good time. The boat tied up for the night. The river below here is very narrow, and difficult running in the night.

Harvey B. Dodworth

Saturday morning, Aug. 25th. We left this place a little after sunrise. This is a beautiful morning, but rather cool. We have had quite a large accession in the number of our passengers, and among them is the celebrated Mr. Dodsworth of New York City. He is leader of the largest band in the United States; he had his instrument, and played a few solos very nicely. At eleven o’clock, we have passed through the river, and among the islands and now we are at Detour, a small place, of two or three log houses, and one large frame house. This ls just at the entrance of Lake Huron. The scenery is rather beautiful, but there is nothing to induce anyone to come here to live. At eleven thirty, we are now again under way, with the broad Huron before us. The day is beautiful, and the lake is calm, and we are passing rapidly over its smooth waters. The afternoon passed off very pleasantly, nine o’clock, beautiful scenery, the moon shines brightly, and we are enjoying ourselves finely. We are now off Saginaw Bay, and out of sight of land. This is the only place, that we have passed, where we could not see land on one shore or the other.

Sabbath morning, Aug. 26th, we are still on Lake Huron, on the Western shore. For twenty miles the banks are rocks, and very high. There are two considerable villages in sight, I should think they were about ten miles apart. This is a beautiful morning, the lake is calm. There is quite a number of vessels in sight. Eight o’clock, we have just left Lake Huron, and entering St. Clair River. This is a beautiful place on either side of the river. The cars come in from the East, and West, and almost every point of the compass. These are the largest towns I have seen since I left this place going up. This place is called Gratiot.

We passed down the river, and through Lake St. Clair, met a great many tugs, towing sail vessels up, and some had as many as four or five in tow. At one o’clock, we arrived at Detroit, the shops are generally closed, and all seems to be quiet as a Sabbath day, except the unloading of some freight, from our boat. Just now a ferry boat came over Canada, with about twenty-five colored children on board, dressed in their Sunday suits, looking as happy as any children in the city. They started directly up town, probably on their way to church. I was glad to see that the Sabbath day was regarded in so large a city as Detroit.

At two o’clock, we left Detroit, and are again on the river, making our way towards Cleveland. We rode pleasantly down the river, and were soon on Lake Erie. At about five o’clock, we come among the islands, which we passed in the night when we were going up. This is the battle ground of Commodore Perry, which was fought on the 10th of September, 1813, a day that will not be soon forgotten, by the people of America and Great Britain. We arrived at Cleveland about twelve o’clock, at night, all safe and sound. The band all got up and played a few times, and then returned to their beds again. Monday morning, August 27th, we left our beds, and found our boat tied up at the same spot where we found it ten days ago. We were glad indeed, to set our feet on Terra Firma again, once more. Our journey has been a pleasant one, still we were glad when we left that noble steamer the Iron City. We formed acquaintance with some of the crew, and passengers, that will not soon be forgotten. We had another ramble through the city, went to the Bennett House and took breakfast, and at ten o’clock we took the cars for Ashtabula.

[end of J. E. Snow’s account of trip up the Lakes.]

At Willoughby, J. L. Osborn, and his sister Helen, left us to visit their relatives, by the name of Lord. At Madison, J. E. Snow left us to join his wife. At Ashtabula, some of the Band Boys went to Mr. Nettleson’s on the South Ridge, for our horses and band wagon, when they came with the wagon, we loaded in, and started for home. And right glad we were to get back, safe and well from our very pleasant trip. After being gone from home eleven days.

[Record finished by Henry Wilder, West Andover, Ohio, leader of the band.]

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This article first appeared in Inland Seas in Fall 1950

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The Story of the Schooner HERCULES – Summer 1950

The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

By M.M. Quaife

The Hercules was one of the tiny schooners which sailed the Great Lakes a century and a half ago. Some of them were vessels of 30 tons or evenness. The U. S. snow Adams, the finest vessel on the lakes in her time, rated 150 tons and carried a crew of 10 or 12 men. The Hercules was rated at 60 tons and her crew numbered half a dozen men.

A two-masted schooner, similar to what the HERCULES may have looked like.

Then, as now, the Great Lakes were subject to violent tempests, and the Government had not even dreamed of surveying channels or providing harbors and other aids to navigation. The little vessels of the period, consequently, too commonly ended their careers on some stormy lee shore, which became the common grave of vessel and crew. Such was the fate of the Hercules, whose story provides a typical illustration of shipping conditions on the lakes in the early decades of the nineteenth century.

On August 12, 1816 the vessel cleared Fort Gratiot (present-day Port Huron) for Mackinac with a cargo of 370 barrels of flour, 31 barrels of salt, 3 barrels of pork, all of it consigned by James Thomas to J. W. Biddle of Mackinac. Master of the Hercules at this time was William Keith, a veteran lake sailor.

Two years later, June 26, 1818, Ebenezer Church, master, the Hercules cleared Mackinac for Chicago with a cargo composed chiefly of flour, soap, and whiskey consigned to the traders of that future metropolis. Twenty-two days later, June 18, she was back at Mackinac bringing a cargo chiefly of furs. John Kinzie, the Chicago trader, had consigned 312 packs of buffalo skins, 56 packs of other furs and 166 bear skins to Mackinac traders; other shippers had sent 44 packs of furs.

American Bison

Few people of today have ever heard that extensive herds of buffaloes occupied the country around the head of Lake Michigan a couple of centuries ago. Before the advent of the nineteenth century settler they had vanished from the region. One can only wonder whether the shipment of over 300 packs of skins came from Chicago’s back country or from some more remote point. All but forty packs of furs were unloaded at Mackinac. In their stead, the Hercules sailed for Detroit with almost 400 mococks of maple sugar, besides a lesser number of various other items.

In the spring of 1817 the Hercules again voyaged from Detroit to Chicago. The first Fort Dearborn had been burned by the Indians following the massacre of August 15, 1812. Promptly upon the close of the war the Government laid plans to reoccupy Chicago and on July 4, 1816 two companies of the Third U. S. Infantry arrived from Detroit to erect and garrison the second Fort Dearborn. Major Daniel Baker, a veteran officer of the regiment, had been assigned to the command, but for some reason he did not accompany the troops in 1816. The following spring, accompanied by his family, he sailed from Detroit on the Hercules. On June 1, 1817 he wrote a letter to his friend, Solomon Sibley of Detroit, describing his new situation. He had intended to write by the return of the Hercules, but the vessel had left too soon to permit doing so.

He was hard at work making a garden and other necessary arrangements for living. The Fort was pleasantly situated and his living quarters were more comfortable than he had expected to find them. “The surrounding country, ” he continued, “abounds with almost every species of game, which is easily procured and enables us with little expense to live in a style very different from what we have of late been accustomed to.” Already he had established a garrison school, “with some prospects of success” and with a company clerk as instructor. Mrs. Baker was less pleased with her wilderness situation, but the Major hopefully anticipated that in time she would become reconciled to it.

Such was Chicago in 1817, But little has been learned concerning Captain Ebenezer Church. One item from the year 1816, however, indicates that he was a man of resolute hardihood. The schooner General Jackson had been caught at Mackinac by the advent of cold weather and had been laid up for the winter there. On December 18, therefore, Church set out for Detroit in a birchbark canoe. The details of his 300-mile mid-winter voyage down the coast of stormy Lake Huron would undoubtedly make an interesting story.

Owner of the Hercules was James Thomas, concerning whom considerable is known. He was a Massachusetts man who from 1808 to 1811 had served as captain of dragoons in the U. S. Army. Upon the outbreak of war a year later, he reentered the service and from 1813 to 1815 held the rank of colonel, serving as an assistant deputy quarter­master. Evidently this service brought him to the lakes, where he remained for two or more years following the close of the war. Evidently, too, he sought to obtain a livelihood in the shipping trade, for the entire 400 -barrel cargo of the Hercules on the voyage to Mackinac in August, 1816 was shipped by Thomas, owner of the vessel. At this time the vessel was listed as ‘of Presque Isle (Erie ).’ Thomas must soon have removed to Detroit, where he established friendly and social relations with such prominent families as the Sibleys and the Woodbridges. About the year 1818 he went to Washington, where he seems to have lived for many years. Here as late as 1828 he was still struggling to settle his accounts with the Government for his war-time service.

Comes now into our story a young Green Mountain boy named Luke Sherwin. In 1818, seeking fame and fortune, he made his way to Lake Erie and hired for the season on the Hercules. From the flotsam of time a single letter, written to his brother in Vermont, has emerged. “I am now a sailor,” he proudly announced. Already he had been as far west as Mackinac, 600 miles from Buffalo. When he began the letter, on August 9, 1818, the Hercules had been stormbound for three days off Cunningham Island in Lake Erie, prevented by contrary winds from continuing her voyage to Buffalo. He finished it at that port three days later. The captain had gone ashore, all of the crew save one were drunk, and Sherwin was in temporary charge of the vessel. He had engaged to remain with her until the close of the season of navigation, when he intended to seek other scenes; where, “God only knows.” Less than two months later his corpse, battered beyond possibility of recognition, was tossing in the surf off Michigan City.

Soon after the date of Sherwin’s letter we encounter a surprising document. William Woodbridge, collector of the port of Detroit, had persuaded the Treasury Department to permit him to procure a small sailing vessel to serve as a revenue cutter. She was built at Erie at a cost of $600, a far cry from present-day conceptions of governmental expenditures. Named the A. J. Dallas and manned by sturdy Captain Gilbert Knapp and crew of three or four sailors, she cruised the Detroit River and adjacent waters intent upon discouraging smuggling and enforcing a proper degree of respect for the Government of the United States.

On September 2, 1818 the Dallas dropped down the river and out upon Lake Erie. Several vessels had been spoken, when in the distance a strange sail was observed veering and tacking in such manner as to indicate she was desirous of avoiding the Dallas. Captain Knapp set out in pursuit and presently came close enough to fire a blank shot across her bow. No attention being paid to this, he fired another loaded with ball. The vessel replied in kind, repeatedly firing a musket at the Dallas which continued the chase for several hours. Eventually the wind failed the cutter and the vessel she had been chasing passed from sight, heading toward the mouth of the Detroit River. Knapp reported, however, that in the chase he had come near enough to her to identify her as the Hercules of Detroit.

Luke Sherwin had stated in his letter of August 12 that the Hercules was to remain a week or more at Buffalo. Presumably she was returning to Detroit when Captain Knapp encountered her. But the character of James Thomas, recently a colonel in the United States Army and the acknowledged friend of Detroit’s leading citizens, seems to render such conduct as Captain Knapp reported inexplicable.

Whatever the explanation of the mystery may be, the Hercules was engaged upon her last voyage. When favoring winds blew, the voyage from Detroit to Chicago might be made in a few days’ time. When the winds were contrary, or lacking altogether, it might require many weeks. The General Wayne, which carried the troops from Detroit to build Fort Dearborn in 1816, had consumed a month on the voyage, and the Hercules, which left Lake Erie on September 2, was at Chicago ready to begin her return voyage to Detroit, exactly a month later.

Lieutenant William S. Eveleth was a brilliant young Virginian who had graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in the spring of 1815. His excellent record as a cadet gained for him the assignment to the engineering corps of the army and immediate appointment as instructor in engineering at the Academy. A year later he was sent to Detroit as assistant engineer in charge of the defenses around the lakes, and in July, 1818 he went to Chicago to supervise the work of construction of Fort Dearborn.

The Hercules weighed anchor for her return voyage to Detroit in the evening of October 2 and Lieutenant Eveleth improved the opportunity to return to his home station before the onset of winter. Next morning a tempest such as the oldest Chicagoan could not remember developed and raged for two days. Around the southerly half of Lake Michigan no single harbor afforded a shelter for shipping, and the tiny Fort Dearborn community anxiously awaited news of the Hercules.

It came with sickening impact a week later. On October 9 a band of Indians from the Grand River of Michigan arrived. They reported that they had encountered pieces of wreckage at the end of the lake, and among the objects which they had picked up and brought with them was a scale which had belonged to Lieutenant Eveleth.

Major Baker at once dispatched a party in search of any survivors of the disaster. They found the wreckage of the Hercules scattered along the shore for several miles in the vicinity of Michigan City. Although the hull had vanished, the main mast and some pieces of spars had drifted ashore. But one body was found, and this one was in such condition as to be unrecognizable. A party of Potawatomi Indians had already visited the scene and carried away whatever they deemed worth taking, but a uniform coat belonging to Captain Eveleth had been left behind.

Such was the contemporary report made by Major Baker to his superior at Detroit. Two years later, however, Henry R. Schoolcraft, the noted Indian authority, attended the Chicago Treaty of 1820 and returned to Detroit by open boat around the lake shore. He recorded that the mast and spars of the Hercules were still to be seen, and the voyageurs pointed out to him the graves of several victims of the wreck, scattered along the shore at points where their bodies had been washed up. The body of Lieutenant Eveleth had been identified and had been buried beneath a cluster of small pines at the edge of a sand dune, the spot marked only by a blazed sapling. Schoolcraft commented that a more adequate tribute of respect was due Lieutenant Eveleth from his brother officers, and expressed the hope that those at Fort Dearborn would yet provide a suitable memorial for him.

Although his fellow officers might be thus indifferent, the auditors of the Treasury Department could safely be trusted not to forget the dead lieutenant. Sometime before his last mission he had received $1000 in government funds. He had paid Lewis Morgan of Green Bay $50 and had rendered an account of $600 expended for other purposes. Although Eveleth died too soon to know of it, only $99.18 of the latter sum had been approved, leaving almost $850 still charged against him, and payment of the sum that had been approved was being withheld from his widowed and indigent mother until the entire $1000 should be accounted for. Although Lieutenant Eveleth was known to have been notably careful of his expenses while a cadet at the Academy, the question was raised whether at Detroit he had lived more extravagantly than his salary permitted. If not, had he carried the money with him, separated from his personal funds, in which event a presumption might be advanced that it had been lost when he perished in the line of duty, and consequently the loss was chargeable to the Government. How the matter ended, we do not know. Possibly the auditors are still pursuing the claim. More probably, the distressed mother did not live long enough to receive the minute fraction of the amount at stake which even the auditors acknowledged was rightfully due her son. Like the encounter of Captain Knapp with the Hercules the determination of Lieutenant Eveleth’s account still remains a mystery.

Read More of Inland Seas Online

This article appeared in Inland Seas in Summer 1950.

About the Author: Dr. Quaife of Detroit is author of many books and articles on the Great Lakes, one of its best known and most distinguished historians.

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The St. Lawrence Seaway – Spring 1950

The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

By N.R. Danielian

It is quite appropriate that the Great Lakes Historical Society should be interested in the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Basin Project because it was in Cleveland that the first impetus to its development was given in September 1895 at a meeting of the International Deep Waterways Association. One of the great advocates of this project was the late George T. Bishop, an officer of the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company and later of the Niagara Frontier Association.

Like all major undertakings of mankind, the St. Lawrence Project has had a long and turbulent history. Following the Cleveland meeting of the International Waterways Association in 1895, the President of the United States and the Government of Canada appointed a Deep Waterways Commission to report on all the possible waterway routes which might connect the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. Reporting on January 8, 1897, this Commission advised the President that both the St. Lawrence route and the Oswego-Oneida-Mohawk canal route were feasible and that construction of either project as quickly as it could be technically planned and economically executed was fully justified. This Commission also recommended deepening of the connecting channels between the Great Lakes and further surveys to determine which one of the two routes should be undertaken. In the next three years Congress appropriated a total of $483,000 to finance further investigation by the Board of Engineers on Deep Waterways which the Secretary of War had established. In the light of unsettled boundary disputes and navigation rights on boundary waters between the United States and Canada, the inclination of the Army Engineers at that time was to favor the construction of a 21-foot all-American canal.

Cedar Rapids, St. Lawrence River

In 1902 Congress took the initiative in requesting the President to establish an International Waterways Commission jointly with Great Britain (for Canada) for the purpose of reporting upon the use and conservation of the Great Lakes. Such a Commission was established in December 1903. The great accomplishment of this Commission was to negotiate and to settle the existing points in dispute between Canada and the United States. These settlements were embodied in the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. This treaty clarified navigation rights on the boundary waters, defined the amount of diversion of water each country could take at Niagara River and established an International Joint Commission with broad powers over the control and utilization of boundary waters. With the settlement of these issues, the St. Lawrence route became the preferred channel for the Great Lakes to Atlantic Ocean navigation project.

In February 1914 the United States inquired of the British ambassador as to the views of the Canadian government with regard to a study by the International Joint Commission, established under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, concerning the feasibility of constructing a deep waterway for ocean-going vessels. Due to the great war this was delayed until 1920. In the meantime, Canada had already authorized the construction of the Welland Canal and work on it was started in 1914 but was delayed on account of the war.

The International Joint Commission held extensive hearings throughout the United States and Canada and in 1921 reported unanimously in favor of undertaking the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Seaway Project.

In the meantime, private interest was very much alive to the advantages of constructing the St. Lawrence project for both navigation and power. In 1919 the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Tidewater Association was organized as a Council of the States and in the succeeding decade as many as thirty state governments became officially affiliated with the organization, which devoted its sole efforts to public education and promotion of the Seaway Project.

At the same time private companies interested in the development of St. Lawrence power and the utilization of this power in the reduction of aluminum were engaged in acquiring riparian rights upon the shores of the St. Lawrence River. As early as 1896 private interests had acquired leases from the State of New York by special legislative act to utilize some portion of St. Lawrence River’s water power in northern New York. It was under such a lease that the present Massena power canal was constructed and still utilizes a part of the flow of the St. Lawrence River in northern New York for the production of power to be used in the plant of the Aluminum Company of America. The history of private efforts to secure licenses for the development of power on the St. Lawrence River has been checkered with political controversy ever since 1907 when Governor Charles Evans Hughes took a hand in the definition of a water conservation policy in New York State. This controversy has at times been very lively and has involved Governors Miller, Alfred E. Smith, Franklin Roosevelt, Herbert Lehman and Thomas E. Dewey. In the end, however, the state finally decided by legislative enactment to retain the right of utilization of St. Lawrence power as a public domain and to hold it in trust for the benefit of the people of the state as a whole.

Hugh L. Cooper

The most ambitious program of development of the St. Lawrence Project was proposed to the International Joint Commission in 1920 by the great American engineer Hugh L. Cooper, who appeared before the Commission on behalf of his clients, namely, the Aluminum Company of America, the General Electric Company, and the Dupont Company, to propose a privately financed program of developing water power resources of the St. Lawrence River from Ogdensburg to Montreal, where there are potentially over five million kilowatts of undeveloped resources. An interesting part of Cooper’s program, which called for the private expenditure of $1,300,000,000, was the proposal that his clients would make a gift of the joint works that would be useful in the creation of navigation facilities, to the two governments, in exchange for the right to utilize the water power of the river. This program, as well as other similar private offers, did not reach a stage of maturity because of political opposition in New York State and because, being an international project, Canadian consent was necessary, which could not be obtained for private exploitation of the river. It is an interesting footnote that Hugh L. Cooper, having failed to develop this greatest of the domestic water power sources, soon was engaged by the Russian Soviet Government to supervise the construction of the Dnieper Dam, which was the major symbol of the first five-year plan. The successful construction of this project made Cooper the “darling” of the Soviets. It is also a matter of record that an American manufacturer, who was also interested in the St. Lawrence power development, supplied the generating equipment for the Dnieper Dam.

The first sustained effort to secure agreement with Canada for the development of the St. Lawrence Project was initiated and carried through to completion under the Republican administrations of Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, while Andrew Mellon was Secretary of the Treasury and Charles Evans Hughes and Henry L. Stimson were Secretaries of State. In July 1932 President Hoover finally announced the signing of a treaty with Canada and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee immediately undertook, under the chairmanship of the late Senator Borah of Idaho, to hold hearings. The political campaign in which the St. Lawrence Seaway was an issue between candidate Franklin Roosevelt and President Herbert Hoover and the subsequent period of economic crisis, delayed Congressional consideration of the treaty until March 1934. At that time the treaty came to a vote and it was defeated; although it had a majority of Senate votes, it failed of the required two­ thirds endorsement.

Lachine Rapids, St. Lawrence River

During the following six years, Secretary of State Cordell Hull made repeated overtures to Canada to renegotiate a new agreement. Because of certain political conditions in Canada, no definite progress was made until 1940. Then, under the impetus of the national defense preparedness program, the two governments resolved to proceed expeditiously for the construction of the project. An agreement was, therefore, signed on March 19, 1941, which immediately became the subject of hearings before the House Committee on Rivers and Harbors, and after seven weeks of hearings the Committee voted 17 to 8 to report the measure to the House. This was delayed until November 22, 1941. Two weeks after the measure reached the House floor, the tragedy of Pearl Harbor set aside major projects of long range significance, as the attention of the country was immediately focused on winning the war with all available weapons.

President Roosevelt, however, was convinced that power from the St. Lawrence Project and also the navigation works might ultimately be useful in the prosecution of the war, for he more than anyone else realized that the war would be long, hard, and bitterly fought. In the spring of 1942 he attempted to interest Speaker Rayburn and Chairman Mansfield of the House Rivers and Harbors Committee in reviving the St. Lawrence Seaway legislation, but received advice that because of its long range character, there was no chance of its being approved at that time.

President Roosevelt did not give up hope of pushing the project forward. Relying upon the precedent that such other major projects as the Panama Canal, Muscle Shoals, Bonneville and Grand Coulee had required strong executive action, sometimes of an unorthodox character, to start them on the way towards ultimate realization, President Roosevelt resolved to initiate the St. Lawrence Project by Executive Order under his war powers. This is an episode that is not generally known and is buried deep in the files of the late President. To begin construction of the St. Lawrence Project by Executive Order, the President needed funds. He determined that the first allocation of funds should be so substantial that the further construction of the project could not be stopped, as were the Passamaquoddy Project and the Florida Ship Canal, because such large investment would be involved that the Congress would be disinclined to abrogate Presidential action. He, therefore, called upon his budget officers to find fifty million dollars for the initiation of work on the St. Lawrence. His budget officers, however, could locate only about sixteen million dollars of unencumbered funds. To secure the rest the White House had to go to the War Department, or more specifically to Undersecretary of War Robert Patterson, who was then in control of War Department expenditures. War Department appropriations during the war provided flexibility within ten percent of total appropriations which permitted diversion of funds from one use to another depending upon the exigencies of the war.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Judge Patterson had a singleness of purpose at that time–to use all available resources of manpower and materials which could have demonstrably a direct and immediate impact upon the war and, be opposed to long range projects, even though they might help in the prosecution of the war at some future time. He, therefore, visited President Roosevelt in August 1942, in company with the Chief of the Services of Supply, General Brehon Somervell, and strenuously opposed the allocation of any War Department funds for the St. Lawrence Project. President Roosevelt was unconvinced and still insisted that he wanted the project initiated. Judge Patterson was equally adamant and two weeks later, early in September, he again went to see the President, this time in company with a Vice Chairman of the War Production Board, opposing the initiation of the St. Lawrence Project. The President had no choice then but to yield to the deep rooted conviction of his Undersecretary of War and made announcement on September 15, 1942 that the St. Lawrence Project would have to wait the termination of the War. After this decision it was obvious that there was no easy way of building the St. Lawrence Project but to secure Congressional approval. Even before the end of the War, Senator George Aiken of Vermont initiated action in the Senate in 1944, but his attempt to attach the St. Lawrence Project as an amendment to the Rivers and Harbors Bill failed by a wide margin on December 12, 1944.

The defeat of Senator Aiken’s motion revealed certain aspects of the St. Lawrence legislation that are of paramount interest to the residents of the Great Lakes area. First, it became obvious that the agreement of March 19, 1941 encompassed many issues that went beyond the mere construction of the Seaway Project, it contained provisions concerning navigation rights on boundary waters, connecting channels and the lower St. Lawrence. It contained provisions relating to additional diversion of water at Niagara River. It contained provisions for the arbitration of damages arising from diversion of water from Lake Michigan via the Chicago Canal. Some of these provisions raised serious questions concerning the constitutional authority of the Senate to approve treaties by two-thirds vote whereas the proposed agreement called for a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.

During the first part of 1945, at the initiative of Senator Arthur Vandenberg, the State Department undertook revisions of the 1941 Agreement with the consent of the Canadian Government. These revisions were incorporated in Senate Joint Resolution 104, introduced by Senator Alben Barkley, then Majority Leader, on October 1, 1945. This resolution was the subject of extensive hearings before a sub­committee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which Senator Hatch of New Mexico was Chairman. This resolution was reported by the sub-committee and it was approved by the full committee by a vote of 14 to 8, but was not considered by the full Senate because it was near the end of session in 1946, an election year.

Republican victory at the polls in the 1946 election raised the whole issue of economy in Federal expenditures. As a concession to this feeling and as an improvement in the development of such a great natural resource as the St. Lawrence, Senator Vandenberg took the initiative in introducing the concept of making the St. Lawrence Seaway Project self-liquidating by the charging of tolls. It was my privilege to assist Senator Vandenberg in formulating and securing acceptance of this idea by many organizations throughout the country. The Canadian Government and our own State Department readily acceded to this program. Senate Joint Resolution 111, which Senator Vandenberg as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee introduced on May 8, 1947, embodied this concept.    Although there has been much controversy about this idea, it is a fact that the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, Article I, specifically authorizes each country to charge tolls in boundary waters, with the proviso that any regulations or charges on boundary waters must apply equally to the citizens and the vessels of both countries.

Senate Joint Resolution 111 came to a vote in the Senate on February 27, 1948. It was subject, as usual, to bitter controversy between eastern and middle western Senators. In the course of the debate the St. Lawrence Waterway became a “leeway”; the St. Lawrence project which has been the subject of study and endorsement by innumerable governmental and private engineers was attacked as the pipe dream of woolly­-minded liberals; and the project which had the support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was labeled as a military liability, the folly of misguided enthusiasts.

Senate Joint Resolution 111 was, therefore, recommitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a vote of 56 to 30, but like all great undertakings that appeal to the imagination, the project will not die an unsung death, for in the 81st Congress, Senate Joint Resolution 111 reappeared as Senate Joint Resolution 99, this time sponsored by Majority Leader Scott Lucas of Illinois with 18 other bi-partisan Senators, willingly and eagerly putting their names to the Bill.

There it rests now, still subject to controversy between the east and the middle west and between the south and the north. The only new element in the picture that gives added significance to this controversy is the growing realization of middle western industry of the danger inherent in the rapid exhaustion of iron ores. What will happen to this project from now on depends upon how quickly the country at large, and the Great Lakes area in particular, come to realize the seriousness of the depletion of natural resources and their impact upon the long-range strength and security of this country.

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This article first appeared in Inland Seas in Spring 1950: A paper given at the Annual Meeting of the Great Lakes Historical Society, May 19, 1949

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Lake Michigan Shipping 1830-1850 – Summer 1949

The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

By R.G. Plumb


There is no better or more interesting method of recapturing the past than to browse through the newspapers of a given period. This can best be illustrated by a study of the periodicals of Chicago, Green Bay and Milwaukee covering the beginnings of Lake Michigan navigation. In fact the amount of space devoted to marine affairs in comparison with other news material was far greater than it is today. The reason is obvious, since the day of the telegraph and the railroad was not yet at hand and the editor had to rely on the arrival of the boat from Buffalo or St. Joseph to bring him the latest on such matters as the national campaign for president or the War in Mexico. Thus on June 8, 1838, the Milwaukee Sentinel thanked Captain Pratt of the steamer Anthony Wayne for his kindnesses in delivering papers from the East and the officers of other craft are repeatedly praised for bringing up the latest news via Chicago. Later a gift of pickled lobsters is acknowledged from the captain of the Great Western, and on another occasion whitefish from Mackinac are gratefully received. In exchange for these courtesies the papers were not slow in “puffing” the boats and the captains, giving each craft a complimentary notice as it arrived or left port.


The boats of the period 1830-50 fall in two distinct classes, the sailing vessels including the larger ones trading down the lakes, and the smaller ones serving the lake itself and the steamers. Prior to 1835 there was little travel on the lake for the very good reason that most of the territory had not been opened up to settlement until after the Indian treaties had been made. True, there was a very old settlement at Green Bay at which the first steamer on the lakes, the Walk-in-the-Water, had made a visit in 1821 and where other early steamers made calls during the succeeding years, generally bringing troops or supplies for the Wisconsin forts. Then at Fort Dearborn (Chicago) a schooner or two a year could take care of the necessities of that station. The ill-fated expedition under command of General Scott had, during the Black Hawk insurrection, called at Chicago in 1832. It consisted of the steamers Sheldon Thompson and William Penn, carrying cholera-infested soldiery. Outside of these sporadic expeditions the trade on the lake was limited to a few little schooners. When the white man began settlements at such points as Milwaukee, Racine, Southport (Kenosha), Little Fort (Waukegan), Sheboygan, Manitowoc and Two Rivers in the period from 1834 to 1837, the growth of Lake Michigan marine began in earnest.

The first to claim attention in the pioneering days were schooners. John P. Arndt of Green Bay had built in 1832 the first schooner, the Wisconsin, noted in the list of arrivals at Milwaukee and other ports until lost at Death’s Door in 1847. Two years later the Solomon Juneau, named after the founder of Milwaukee, was built at that place, a sturdy boat of 60 tons. The Hiram and the Fly, tiny craft, opened up trade to Southport and the Llewellyn and the larger Oregon brought the first settlers to Manitowoc. The former boat is also listed as making trips to Green Bay and to St. Joseph, the latter the earliest settlement on the eastern side of the lake, together with the Swan and the Helen. The Knickerbocker, Merchant and brig John Rogers engaged in the Green Bay-Detroit trade together with the schooners Jefferson and Mississippi.

The Sentinel in August, 1838, rather humorously remarked, “The Schooner Nekick (in plain English Otter) Captain W. Brooks, came into port last week. She is a new vessel, built at Sheboygan, well fitted for passengers and her captain (who has not heard of Captain Brooks of the old Jessie Smith?) is a fine fellow.” The Nekick advertised in the Green Bay Democrat two years later for a prospective trip to Detroit.

What were the usual trade routes of the later thirties? Harbor improvement had been undertaken at Chicago in 1833 and at St. Joseph three years later, but slight work had been done at Milwaukee until well along in the forties. Therefore the ports of call had to be served by lighters or barges while schooners rolled in the waves some distance out. Only at Green Bay could they enter the river mouth. Outside of the trade between that port and Chicago already mentioned, the most traveled route was between Milwaukee and Chicago. Steam vessels made too infrequent visits to serve the needs of those two communities. For instance at the port of Milwaukee in 1835 there were two steamboat arrivals and that of eighty schooners, a number increased five years later to 126 steamboats and 127 sail vessels.

This busy trade was served between the two towns by the schooners Ocean, Western Trader, Solomon Juneau, Victor and General Thornton. The Ocean made a trip to the mouth of the Kalamazoo while the Jessie Smith was listed as visiting Sheboygan and the N C. Baldwin carried on the trade to St. Joseph. In 1839 the Eliza is the first trading schooner mentioned as visiting Manitowoc whereas the Clarissa added Sheboygan to her calls and the Western Trader called at Michigan City.

In 1840 Two Rivers is added to the list of ports regularly visited, principally by the schooner Liberty, a midget of twenty-four tons under the command of Captain Guyles. Muskegon and the mouth of the Grand River (later Grand Haven) also became points touched by such craft as the Ranger and the Marvin. Another east shore village, Manistee, was served soon after quite regularly by the 145-ton schooner Bonesteel. Practically all of these craft were registered as bringing in lumber and shingles and usually returned in ballast, although at times freighted with supplies for the small communities. This was the case in December, 1847, when the little schooner Citizen, Captain Joseph Edwards, the first craft built at Manitowoc, brought a load of provisions to that village for the long winter ahead.

The year 1841 saw an increasing trade, marked by trips of the McFarlin, Captain Andros, to Muskegon, the Columbia and the Ocean to Sheboygan, the Manitowoc to Two Rivers as well as the schooner Van Buren, then commanded by the veteran Captain Henderson. White Lake was visited this year by the Ranger while the little settlement at Manitowoc was the goal of the Wenonah, Columbia, Memee and Drift. The larger craft, Henry Norton, 154 tons, appeared in Milwaukee with sixty passengers from Buffalo, showing that all emigrants did not arrive under steam.

It was that September that the schooner Dolphin went ashore at Death’s Door, the crew being rescued by the fine seamanship of the Yankee, although Captain Morgan blamed the Gazelle for failing to lend a hand. This was only one of the many disasters that befell the feeble craft as they traversed the harborless lake. The Sentinel mentions one day in the fall of 1842 three craft ashore at or near Milwaukee and four at St. Joseph. While in many instances the crew got ashore when their boats were beached, not all were so fortunate. The schooner Milwaukee went down that same fall of 1842 with the loss of nine lives, while the little Ocean that had traded at Milwaukee, Racine and nearly all west bank ports followed her to a watery grave two years later, and the Wave carried her crew of thirteen to the bottom the same fall. The schooner Jefferson met her fate near St. Joseph and an unnamed capsized schooner was located bottom up in the middle of the lake.

The years 1845-7 saw the addition of such craft as the Gallinipper, E. Henderson, Toledo, Crook, Liberty. Eagle, Traveler, Baltic and Planet, all noticed in the lists with the usual ports of call. Through it all the crying need for proper refuge against storms is noted by the papers, as when the Sentinel of Milwaukee recorded in November, 1847:

The schooner E. B. Wolcott of Sheboygan went ashore at that port in a gale Monday night. The schooner H. Merrill also went ashore and Captain Woodward was drowned in the act of jumping from the sinking craft to the dock.

Then it was the Gallinipper that was reported the next year as having capsized and righted to survive three more years before finally going down. The Tribune, a 278-ton schooner not a year old, disappeared and was reported as located in eighty feet of water in Traverse Bay the next spring. The Lasalle was reported missing late in the fall of 1849 and though it was late in November, the sturdy old Vieau went out to search for her until it was determined she had capsized near Racine.

Despite these handicaps the trade went on. The Eagle and the Raleigh were reported as carrying 8000 bushels each of wheat to Buffalo in ’47 and the Lawrence 11,000 bushels the next year. It was the schooner Eagle that planned to run regularly between Sheboygan and Milwaukee with passengers and freight, since it was explained that the steamers often refused to land persons or freight destined for the former port because of lack of proper harbor facilities. The Baltic, though a small craft, was reported as having brought thirty-five passengers from Manistee late in the season of 1848, proving that sail was the resort of travelers where steamboats did not venture. The same year the little vessel Crook is remarked as having stopped at the newly settled village of Kewaunee on the west side of the lake.

The chances that these early navigators took is evidenced by such passages registered in the newspapers as that of the Eliza, which arrived in Milwaukee with sails all split, and that of the Cherubusco which came into the same port on December 11, 1848, from Green Bay with canvas frozen stiff after having experienced, as the Sentinel tersely put it, “considerable difficulty.” There was always a last necessary trip to make before winter set in, one final load that had to be delivered, be risk what it may. Finally, however, the fleet was hauled in for repairs and the hardy sailors busied themselves with new shipbuilding, making ready for another season. Such a fleet is recorded at Milwaukee in the winter of 48-49 as one steamer, four brigs, two barques and twenty-seven schooners.

What of steam navigation during these years? Green Bay and Chicago had the lead in the early part of the thirties. Green Bay was served usually by the Sheldon Thompson, 241 tons, then over ten years old and a survivor of the Chicago expedition of 1832. When she arrived on her first trip of 1837 in Green Bay, the Democrat of that city published the following card:

The undersigned passengers on board the steamer Sheldon Thompson from Detroit to Green Bay during a trip of considerable difficulty feel great pleasure in offering their testimony to her merits as an excellent sea boat and to the handsome and becoming conduct of Captain Brundage. The undersigned in the belief that the boat is perfectly safe and seaworthy publish this card for the newspapers more particularly for the reason that the opinion of the public, which has for some time been unfavorable to her reputation, may be corrected.

Twenty names were subscribed, among them some prominent Wisconsin pioneers. Sad comment when the fact remains that the craft was broken up the same fall.


The Michigan and the Pennsylvania, somewhat newer and larger boats, called at the Bay the same year and the next spring the newly constructed Buffalo of 613 tons was greeted gratefully by the citizens who in turn were given a free excursion on the bay. These craft called at Milwaukee en route to Chicago and were supplemented by the Thomas Jefferson, the Constellation, the Madison and the De Witt Clinton in 1838, several of which stopped also at Racine when business required it. These same western ports then welcomed the largest craft then engaged in the trade, the new Illinois of 755 tons, commanded by Captain Blake. This was the property of the Newberry interests, whereas the Madison was one of the pioneers of the Reed Line. The former boat had cost the then extravagant sum of one hundred thousand dollars to build and equip. Chicago built a little steamer, the George Dole, to run on the St. Joseph route, but it evidently did not prove a successful venture since it was soon converted into a barge.

The steam craft on the lakes, some eighteen in number at that time, had been run by a Steamboat Association in 1834, which planned the schedules and fixed the rates. As usual such cooperation was too good to last and by 1836 the boats were running wild again and often at cut rates. The association was revived in 1839 and the Green Bay newspaper mourned the fact, fearing that the economies effected by the combination would cut down the number of trips to that port. Steam craft, poorly powered, suffered nearly as much as the sailing vessels, from lack of proper harbors. In October, 1838, the 443-ton Constitution was driven back to Chicago after having reached a point thirty miles south of the Manitous. “This,” said the Milwaukee Sentinel, “is another instance of the want of harbors on Lake Michigan and consequent risk of life and property.”

In 1839 the Reed Line was running the Jefferson, Madison and Buffalo while independent owners advertised the New England, Anthony Wayne, De Witt Clinton, Constitution and Pennsylvania. Then in May came the first visit of the new Great Western, then the largest boat on the lakes, measuring 780 tons. She burned at the dock that winter but Captain Walker had refitted her and she was greeted by the encomium, “In smooth water she’s fine, in a sea she’s a steamer.” Despite boisterous weather she made a trip in eight days. The next spring she brought up the lakes a large party on a fourteen-day excursion at a rate of $30 for the round trip. 1839 also witnessed visits of the Chesapeake, with her popular Captain Howe, and the same year Green Bay papers note a visit of General Scott on the Illinois while they also advertise the little steamer Fairport to take passengers down the lakes.


The Madison attempted to draw trade by advertising that she could save time by not stopping at Green Bay. Her list of competitors was increased during the early 40’s by trips of the Vermilion, De Witt Clinton, Missouri, and Bunker Hill. The last named boat, it was noted, had brought New York papers to Milwaukee in six days after publication, a feat for that era. The Illinois got as far as Sheboygan on her last trip of the season, and the weather proving inclement, she returned to Chicago to lay up. It was this same boat that in the spring of ’43 advertised the new cut rates, as low as five dollars steerage for the trip from Buffalo. In the meantime the rails had nearly reached across Michigan and the 140-ton Huron was put on the St. Joseph-Chicago run to connect with them. For those desiring a trip to Green Bay, the Soo and the Manitous, the Buffalo, Captain Allen, offered a reasonable priced excursion from Milwaukee or Chicago. The papers noted in September of the same year the arrival of the Constitution, delayed twelve hours by storms at the Manitous and bringing the largest load of passengers that had arrived so far on any craft.

In 1844 there arrived the newly built Nile of 600 tons that was to be welcomed and praised until her untimely end at the foot of Wisconsin Street, Milwaukee, four years later. Other new liners were the rebuilt Wisconsin, the propeller Hercules and last but not least the gigantic 1136-ton Empire, now under command of Captain Howe. Passengers were a grateful lot in those days. They composed a poem to the Hercules and to her captain, Fred Wheeler. On an excursion trip aboard the steamer Indiana a gold watch was presented to the captain. The next Fourth of July, 1848, Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw of the Massachusetts Supreme Court was aboard the Empire and was prevailed upon to act as chairman of a celebration in Lake Michigan, of which one W. B. Denmore was the orator of the day and Captain Howe made fitting response. Nor were narrow escapes from disaster overlooked, as witness the card:

NEW ORLEANS in Buffalo Harbor

The undersigned passengers on board the steamer New Orleans from Chicago to Buffalo tender their thanks to Captain Brundage for the nautical skill with which he managed the vessel during the severe gale on Lake Michigan and for his attention to their comforts during the trip.

And again:

The undersigned passengers on board the steamer Wisconsin on her trip from Buffalo to Chicago April 26, 1845, render this acknowledgment to Captain S. Card for his uniformly courteous demeanor and attention to their comfort, for the very excellent brass band and cotillion music that added much to the enjoyment of the trip.

Yet all was not always so bland and lovely, as witness an unsigned contribution from “two ladies whose names can be obtained from the printer” stating that they desired “to make due acknowledgment of the austere treatment they had received from the captain and also from his steward” of another passenger boat.

The Steamboat Association was again in control in 1844 with a fixed rate between Buffalo and Chicago of fourteen dollars cabin class and seven dollars steerage, but within a year or so independent operators were cutting that rate to as low as four dollars steerage. The tide of immigration from Europe was now at its height and the Sentinel makes mention of the piers being congested with boxes and bales and newcomers’ belongings after a visit of the Nile and the Empire on the same day. The year 1846 brought the first trip of the Niagara, the new 1084- ton Reed liner, which ran in conjunction with the Madison and the Louisiana. Independent liners of that year numbered the St. Louis, Boston, Hercules, Saratoga, Oregon, Wisconsin, New Orleans, Cleveland and Samson while the Columbus furnished bi-weekly service to the Bay from Buffalo.


1847 was a momentous year on Lake Michigan. It witnessed the great harbor convention at Chicago attended by hundreds from the East, among them such notables as Horace Greeley, Thomas Corwin, Schuyler Colfax and Thurlow Weed. They came by boat and many excursions were arranged, the passengers using their cabins as their hotel while in Chicago. At that gathering a young Whig congressman, named Abraham Lincoln, arose and made a few remarks not considered of sufficient moment to be reported fully in the press of the day. The People’s liner, A. D. Patchin, was added to the list of down lake carriers that year. Also passengers on the Empire expressed their gratitude to the captain and the line for their accommodations and in the fall those who survived the November storm on the Hendrick Hudson added their praise for the seamanship of her crew. It was the same month that the propeller Phoenix, loaded with emigrants from Holland, burned just north of Sheboygan, entailing a loss of one hundred and ninety lives. It was one of the saddest catastrophes of the lake, whole families perishing with all the belongings that they were bringing with them to their new homes.


The little settlements along the lake were now of a size that was demanding service and in 1848 Captain Ward ran the Pacific on a triangular route, touching Chicago, Southport, Racine, Milwaukee and St. Joseph. Later in the fall he put the Sam Ward on the same run, so that daily service was possible. On the west shore the two hundred ton A. Rossiter, built at Chicago, was placed on a Chicago-Sheboygan route. Later in the season it extended its run to touch Manitowoc and in the spring included Green Bay on its schedule. The Buffalo boats by this time had made it a practice to stop at Sheboygan and Manitowoc at the bridge piers, when business and weather permitted. Reed had added the new Queen City to his line, replacing the older Madison, and in 1849 brought out the Keystone State. The leading independent liners of the year were the Globe, Great Western and Nile. The Grand Haven, Milwaukee and Sheboygan triangle was now served by our old friend Captain Howe with the 200-ton Champion, working in conjunction with the Pacific, which now touched at New Buffalo, while the new steamer J. D. Morton made occasional trips to Manistee. The year 1849 ended with the usual severe storms, wherein the Nile went ashore off Milwaukee and the Keystone State broke her arches on the east shore. Rates were again in confusion, the Michigan offering a trip from Green Bay to Buffalo for ten dollars cabin, five dollars steerage. As a further incentive to citizens to patronize her, the captain arranged the usual free excursion on the bay. Then if the residents of the Bay desired to visit Chicago there was the 763-ton Lexington advertising her occasional trips.

Thus the two pioneer decades came to a close and Lake Michigan was ready for the humming days of the fifties.

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This article first appeared in Inland Seas in Summer 1949.  1949 was the only year that Inland Seas published less than four issues; only two were published, Spring and Summer.

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A Great Lady Passes – Spring 1949

The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

By Herbert R. Spencer

The Grand Old Lady of the Great Lakes is dead.

Seldom has a ship been so greatly loved by so many. In her life of 106 years, she trained many of the greatest officers of the Old Navy. On her decks [Charles V.] Gridley, Commander of the Olympia at Manila Bay on May 1, 1898, began his naval career; on her decks Stephen Champlin, Commander of the Scorpion at Perry’s Victory in 1813, ended his long naval service. And many others: Commander John Champ Carter, whose granddaughter still tells the stirring story of that night in 1864 when a gang of Confederates plotted to capture the ship and use her as a commerce raider on the Great Lakes, and came within twenty minutes of succeeding! Captain Andrew Bryson, who helped General Meade suppress the Fenian War and the invasion of Canada in June, 1866. Commander Charles H. McBlair, who took her to the Beaver Islands, Michigan, to arrest “King” Strang and disperse the Mormon colony there, in 1856.

Charles V. Gridley

Stephen Champlin

“King” James Strang

Personality? She has It, as every man who sailed in her knows. She knows what she wants. It was in 1924, on her eightieth birthday, that one of her two cylinders blew up. Not a defect in the engine, but failure due to old age. But she wanted to go home, a thousand miles away, and home she limped, on her one good cylinder, just barely turning over at three miles per hour, by the grace of God and good weather.

Personality? She was not launched on December 5, 1843. She launched herself, that midnight, when no man saw her. Personality? In 1927, while she was being towed over to a mud bank in a far corner of Erie harbor appropriately named Misery Bay, three times she took a sheer off to the north and headed for the open lake where she belongs; three times the tow line brought her up short, and the last time she swung around and charged the tug, missing it by a bare twelve inches. When at last she was pushed up on the bar for her last resting place, with a final gesture she kicked that tug up on the bar too, where it stayed for several days.

Personality? In June 1949 she was towed in ignominy to the scrapping yard. But there is pride in the Grand old Lady yet, pride in her tatters, although she has been neglected for 25 years. The simple job of towing her should have been done in three days; she resisted every effort, and it required four weeks’ work to drag her off the mud bank into deep water. There she floated at ease, serene and beautiful with the smooth easy lines which only the clipper-ship builders—her descendants– could build. Her hull is as sound today as it was in 1843. Proud she is, and rightfully so; her own men, those who have sailed her, were delighted on that last journey, to see her ram the towing tug and sink it, then stop and pick up the swimmers lest she be guilty of ever doing injury to anyone. A Noble Lady.

So passes the Iron Steamer, the United States Sidewheel Topsail Schooner-of-War Michigan. Requiescat in pace.

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This obituary originally appeared in Inland Seas in Spring 1949

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Oldest Ferry in Service – Winter 1948

The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

By Neil F. Morrison

Oldest Car ferry in active service on the Detroit River, the Huron, is a familiar sight along the Windsor and Detroit waterfronts. Time was when the Huron was new, and great was the excitement which prevailed in connection with her launching at Point Edward in June, 1875. The Sunday Commercial of Port Huron, which is no longer published, carried a fine account of the launching:

It was the longest side launch on record, the great steamer sliding over fifty feet before she struck the water. The launch was very successful, the boat going off promptly, the moment the last two small lines holding the braces were cut by two men on deck. The view was very pretty and animated. The deck of the Huron was well filled with people and she was gaily decked with flags and streamers. The large crowds on the Canadian and American shores, the steamers, with their throngs of excursionists, lying out in the river, and the sailboats darting hither and thither over the blue waters made such a marine picture as is seldom seen. As the Huron touched the water she was greeted with the whistling of the steamers and the shouts of the people. She has her engines all in and is nearly completed. She will be on duty the end of the present month.

An old Detroit newspaper contained a concise story:

The new ferry Huron launched at Point Edward is the finest railroad ferry on the rivers. Length over all, 240 feet; breadth, 52 feet, hold 15 feet. The hull is entirely of iron and was built at Newcastle, England, the plates being put together here (Point Edward). The iron averages one-half inch in thickness. Her capacity is 24 cars, these to be shipped on three tracks.”

Additional information regarding the construction of the Huron was to the effect that her engines and boilers were built at Dundas, Canada by Mr. Wilson.

References to individuals brighten up accounts of the launching. “As she (the Huron) started down the ways, Miss Jessie S. Hughes of Toronto broke the traditional bottle of wine over her bows.  The launch was a complete success, not the slightest delay or accident occurring.”

“On Friday evening (June 4) Mr. Smith, the foreman, gave the men who had been employed on the boat a banquet on board.” This must have been a grand party, for it is stated, “Since last August (1814) from 150 to 200 men have been engaged in putting the pieces together.”

Mr. John H. Smith, I am told, subsequently moved to Cleveland, but through the assistance of Mr. David Gray of Sarnia and Mr. James Jack, Jr., of Point Edward, I have ascertained that his Point Edward home is now the residence of Mrs. Laina Oya, at the southeast corner of Albert Street and Michigan Avenue.

James Jack, Jr., as a small boy of six, witnessed the launching of the Huron. His father, James H. C. Jack, one-time Grand Trunk baggage master at Sarnia, has left a vivid account in his handwritten diary:

June 3rd, 1875 (Thursday). Much cooler and pleasant after last night’s rain. The country looks gorgeous, all Nature being decked in floral green and seems to be making amends for the late spring. This afternoon at 2:20 the new car ferry Huron was launched into her native element. The affair was witnessed by immense crowds.

A second reference to the Huron occurs in the Jack diary under date of Dominion Day, July 1, 1875: “At 3 p.m. the new ferry boat Huron followed by the Manitoba went out into the lake for a trip. These boats were loaded with pleasure seekers.”

Opening of the tunnel between Sarnia and Port Huron in 1891 resulted in the transfer of the Huron to the Detroit River. Here she functions as a car ferry during the mild part of the year, but in effect the winter, ties up and serves as a heating plant supplying the Windsor yard offices.

She also heats the passenger car tracks before the locomotive is coupled on to the cars, so that the coaches (passenger, baggage and mail) are all ready to be shipped out on short notice, properly heated and ready for use.

Present day residents along the Detroit River may be excused for believing that nothing exciting has ever happened to the Huron.  But in this they are mistaken, for in or about 1912 the Tashmoo caused her to sink at the Windsor water front. Repair work was in progress at the time on the propeller of the car ferry, which instead of being in dry dock was receiving attention at the Grand Trunk slip dock in Windsor at the foot of Glengarry Avenue. Two car (gondolas) of coal had been run on to her bow, elevating her stern, and unwittingly making her an easy victim for the swell of the fast traveling Tashmoo. These waves came in through her portholes and sank the car ferry.

This repair job had an unpleasant sequel for Captain Baker of the salvage company. A very valuable diamond ring, which had been presented to him for a previous salvaging job, slipped off his finger while he was washing his hands on the bridge of his tug. His ring fell overboard and was never seen again, in spite of efforts by his divers to recover it.

In 1913 another exciting experience befell the Huron. On Good Friday of that year, March 21, a severe and destructive westerly gale blew the car ferry out of control up the Detroit River as far as the Belle Isle bridge. On the Canadian side of the river the force of the wind undermined a siding precipitating 13 Wabash freight cars into the water near the slip dock in Windsor, used by the Huron and her sister car ferries.

The old car ferry has, however, survived these minor mishaps now buried deep in the past. Since those days she has transported thousands of cars across the Detroit River and will likely carry thousands more. Her capacity averages 12 present-day high standard freight cars or five to six passenger cars. These numbers are less than for the Huron’s early days as a car ferry, because of the smaller-sized cars then in use.

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Update: The Huron sank at her dock in Windsor on December 16, 1981.  Her cargo at the time were several cars full of dried beans and one car with some chemicals – which caused some concern until it was recovered with no spilling.

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Captain Chesley Blake – Fall 1948

The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

By Marie E. Gilchrist

Chesley Blake* was born in Maine
And sailed before the mast.
He fought in the battle of Lundy’s Lane
And in the army did remain
Till peace was made at last.

A giant over six feet three
Was Chesley Blake, they say.
He came to the Lakes to ply his trade
And soon he was a captain made
In Oliver Newberry’s pay.

Always swearing to leave, and always
Standing by Oliver’s ships.
He had a chest, if you can believe,
Like a volcano about to heave,
And great oaths sprang from his lips.

His voice was like the speaking trumpet
Of Boreas. In length
His arms were like a gorilla’s.
His jaws – A boa constrictor’s, and his paws
Had Bluebeard’s size and strength.

In the midst of storms he would shout commands
In such a blasphemous way,
That the rigging trembled, also the shrouds;
The lightning hid behind the clouds
And the thunder slunk away.

He was a captain who knew his trade
Fore and aft and some more.
In forty years on countless trips
Nothing ever scratched paint from his ships
And they never touched bottom or shore.

The schooner Jackson, the Michigan,
The Nile and the Illinois:
At their helms and others, all of wood,
This ramping roaring captain stood,
And he loved them like a boy.

He died of fear, did Chesley Blake,
Who never feared storm or battle.
When cholera raged, he ran in fright
And shook in terror day and night
To hear death’s ghostly rattle.

He hid in a Lake Superior mine,
Then to Milwaukee came.
And there the cholera waited to take
The one who feared him, Chesley Blake
And rack his giant frame.

He seemed to rally, but that same night
The old Nile went ashore.
When news was brought to his bed, he rose
And with a cussword asked for his clothes,
Himself, and a captain once more.

He heaved himself into his pants,
Sat down on his bedside
And had one great boot half-way on
When in that moment he was gone –
With uplifted foot he died.

A-pulling on his boots he died,
All for his good ship’s sake.
Forgetting the cholera, up he girds –
“Save my ship!” were the last words
Of Captain Chesley Blake.

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About the Poem: Capt. Blake died at Milwaukee in I849. The material for this ballad was taken almost verbatim from Bygones of Detroit by the Honorable George C. Bates, pub­lished in the Detroit Free Press 1877-8, and reprinted in the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society Collections, vol. 22, pp. 339 to 341.

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The Wreck of the KERSHAW, MOONLIGHT, and KENT – Summer, 1948

The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

By R.A. Brotherton

On September 6, 1947, Roy Long left the Marquette County Air Port in his plane. While passing near the Chocolay shore on Lake Superior much to his amazement, he saw lying on the bottom of the lake near a reef of rocks, and about a hundred yards from shore, the sunken hull of what looked like a large ore boat.

The surface of Lake Superior was like glass and its waters, due to atmospheric conditions, enabled one to see to a considerable depth. He circled about several times, flying low, and upon his return to Marquette he began querying as to the identity of the ship.

To answer his questions we have to go back to another September day, Sunday the 29th, 1895, fifty-two years ago. During the night a violent northeast gale had sprung up. The ore carrier [Charles J.] Kershaw and her two barges, the Moonlight and [Henry A]Kent, were attempting to make the turn to get inside the Marquette Harbor breakwater, when a steam pipe broke, and there was nothing for the ships to do but drift helplessly to shore near the mouth of the Chocolay River.

The Kershaw was smashed against a rock reef about a hundred yards north of the river’s mouth. The giant waves carried the Moonlight and Kent over the rock reef, and landed them far up on the Chocolay sand beach.

MOONLIGHT on the Chocolay beach with the HENRY A. KENT in the background. The remains of the CHARLES J. KERSHAW appear to be to right.

The lookout at the Life Saving Station gave the alarm and soon the surf boat was on the way to the Chocolay beach. There on their first trip in spite of the reef-infested shoals and high seas, they removed all but four of the crew from the Kershaw and brought them ashore safely.

It was Sunday, but the ministers preached to empty pews as thousands of Marquette people lined the Lake Superior shores watching the daring rescue. On the second trip out, the surf boat capsized halfway to the Kershaw, and the gallant lifesaving crew were thrown out, all, however, managing to reach shore safely. The surf boat had a large hole stove in its bow where it had struck a submerged rock, and was rendered useless. With a volunteer crew in addition to the Coast Guards (who were all right after their experience of the morning), Captain Cleary got out the big life boat at the Station, and another attempt was made to reach the Kershaw. By this time she had broken in two, and the bow end had started drifting toward the beach.

The ship’s captain and the remaining three members of the crew were in a yawl boat in the lee of the stern, where hour after hour they kept rowing determinedly, attempting to keep the small yawl from capsizing. It was a thrilling moment for the thousands who lined the shore, but one of great anxiety to the brave rescuers in the life boat and the four benumbed seamen in the little craft toward which she was speeding, the gale furnishing the impetus and the skilled hands of the crew guiding her in her flight with unerring precision.

And now she is within a hundred yards of the spot where the Kershaw lies, broken-backed, awaiting the final stroke that would rend her in twain and send her dissevered hulk to the bottom of the lake; now it is fifty, now twenty, now ten, and now she gracefully swings around the stern of the disabled vessel on the rock, and within a few yards of the yawl in which the four men have been riding,  buffeted by the great waves and chilled by the cutting northeast gale since early morning. Will the brave crew of the life boat succeed in their noble endeavor or will they fail and have to rally for another attempt? The swaying, silent crowd along the shore watches breathlessly, with an interest so intense as to check expression by word or gesture as the critical moment arrives. Many a silent prayer goes up for both the rescuers and those waiting to be rescued.

The yawl goes down in the trough of a mighty sea as the life boat sweeps toward it. Now both are lost to sight for an instant and they both reappear, the life boat many yards away from the yawl and the latter empty. What has become of the four men? It seems almost incredible that they could have been transferred from the yawl to the life boat in that instant of time that the two were together in the trough of the churning sea, shut out of sight of the straining vision of those lining the shore by the mighty heaving billows. But now a tremendous cheer goes up from a thousand throats as it is seen that the life boat carries four more persons, and is valiantly battling its way to the shore, where it was successfully beached. The men in the boat, being too exhausted to pull for the harbor, took a chance and landed on the beach without mishap, although they were soaking wet and half frozen.

The crews of the barges, Moonlight and Kent, got off without difficulty and hardly were wet, for the huge waves pushed the two vessels high up on the beach.

I was just a small boy when I witnessed this daring rescue, which was vividly recalled by the chance glance from his plane by Roy Long. I know of only one member of the crew of the Moonlight who is still alive, Edward Noren, who makes his home on State Highway M 3, a few miles east of Gwinn. Here he operates a small eating place and gas station. On the wall in a very prominent place is a picture of the Moonlight and Kent.

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This article first appeared in Inland Seas in Summer 1948.

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Peninsula, the Pic River Region, and Modern Marathon – Spring 1948

The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

By Grace Lee Nute

Guarding the little, ultra-modem hamlet of Marathon on Lake Superior’s rockbound, lonely, eastern shore, the Peninsula looks down, from its rocky heights, on an island-studded bay. It has watched Indians, French explorers, British traders, French Canadian voyageurs, and travelers of many nations and races come and go during the centuries. It must have been seen by a white man as early as the 1650s, for a map drawn before 1658 and now in Paris1 shows the general shape of all Lake Superior in fair detail. Before 1670 it was clearly delineated on a map published by the Jesuits2 and based on Father Claude Allouez’s3 circumnavigation of Lake Superior in 1667.

General Location of Peninsula, Pic River, and Marathon

Just when the first trading post was established in the immediate vicinity of Peninsula Bay is uncertain. None is mentioned by Alexander Henry, a famous English colonial explorer and trader, who visited the mouth of Pic River, some ten miles south of Peninsula Bay, in June, 1775, and reported4 his impressions of the “Pijitic” River, as he called it; “a band of Wood Indians” living on the river, “who are sometimes troublesome to the traders passing”; and the general aspect of the countryside. By 1790, however, there must have been a fort at the Pic, for Count Andreani, of aviation fame, was on Lake Superior that year and reported that the Pic district produced “30 bundles of fine peltry.” In 1793 a clerk of the North West Company, John Macdonell, mentions5 ” Pic River, where there is a trading Post belonging to Mr. Cote and associates situated within half a mile of our encampment.”

This was probably Gabriel Cotté, who with John Grant and Maurice Blondeau was trading on Lake Superior at least from 1779 to 1785 and perhaps earlier and later. Fortunately, a detailed picture of Cotté’s post can be formed in our minds because of a document discovered in Edinburgh in 1938.6 It is an inventory written in French sometime between 1794 and 1804, which describes the buildings and lists their contents. It shows that the cleared land about the post amounted to about 193 feet in width and three-fourths that number in depth. About it stood the “fort,” or pickets, nine feet above ground. There were two buildings of Cotté’s -a warehouse 36 feet by 12 feet, made of round cedar logs laid horizontally, roofed with cedar bark, and with two little glassed sashes that opened and shut; and the residence, 30 feet by 20 feet, built similarly, divided into two rooms, and with two similar windows. Inside the residence the enumerator found tin plates, tin kettles, a copper kettle, eight goblets, a frying pan, two large wooden platters, twelve chairs, two little tables of poplar wood, a desk of the same material, and “two miserable bedsteads.” By the time the inventory was made there were buildings of three distinct periods: Cotté’s, the “old firm’s,” and the “new firm’s.” The old firm’s structures consisted of a shed 24 feet by 15 feet; the “big house,” 40 by 21 feet, roofed with boards, and divided into five rooms with eight glass windows and one fireplace; and the stable, 15 feet by 8 feet, which held carefully enumerated tools. The new firm’s establishment consisted of a large warehouse, 48 by 18 feet; a “big house, ” 40 by about 19 feet, a little forge building, and a cellar serving as a powder magazine.

Cotté was succeeded by a trader named St. Germain, perhaps Venant Lemaire St. Germain, who as early as 1777 in partnership with Jean Baptiste Nolin bought the fort at Michipicoten from Alexander Henry. Then came one who has preserved his memoirs of a long and exciting life as a trader for many companies and in many areas as widely separated as the Illinois, the upper Mississippi, and the Albany River regions. This was Jean Bte. Perrault, who served twice in the Pic district – six years for the North West Company, 1799-1805; and again for the winters of 1810- 1811 and 1811-1812 for an American trader and for the Hudson’s Bay Company respectively. This later sojourn was inland on the Pic River and on the watershed between Lake Superior and the Albany River. Perrault has left several very interesting sketch maps showing the posts and the canoe routes in the region between Lake Superior and James Bay.7

North West Company Coat of Arms

Perrault was succeeded in the North West Company post by still another famous trader, Dr. Henry Munro, who was at the Pic post in 1805. From 1807 to 1809 Charles Chaboillez was in charge of the post. He was followed by Alexander MacKenzie, a nephew of Sir Alexander Mackenzie. When Perrault returned to the district in 1810, he found the scion of one of France’s great colonial families in his former fort ­ Pierre Rastel de Rocheblave, son of Phillipe Rastel de Rocheblave, the governor of Illinois who capitulated to George Rogers Clark in 1778.

In 1812 and 1813 the trader was John Haldane. For the next two years James Grant was there. In 1817 the famous Astorians, Gabriel Franchere and Ross Cox, passed the Pic on their way from the mouth of the Columbia to New York and Montreal respectively. Both mention the fort in their accounts of the trip, Franchere calling it8 “a small trading establishment,” where he dined. Cox says of it,9 “The house is handsomely situated on the shores of a small bay. A proprietor was in charge, He was on the beach when we approached in shore and on seeing us disembark, he turned on his heel and retreated into the fort. This movement foreboded anything but a hospitable reception; and we therefore pitched our tent, and prepared for breakfast.” One of Cox’s companions visited the inhospitable gentleman, but not Cox, who left without an invitation to enter.

In North West Company days, especially while its offshoot and rival, the X Y Company, was in opposition, there was quite a complement of men at the Pic fort. Thus in 1804 there were three clerks, William Harris, Philo Lewis, and Henry Munro; one interpreter, Louis Boileau; and ten voyageurs. Sometime between the years 1812 and 1816 George Nelson was a trader at the post.

A Catholic missionary, Bishop Joseph N. Provencher of the Red River Settlement, visited the Pic fort and baptized one child in 1822. Two years earlier Colin Robertson of the same settlement, one of Lord Selkirk’s men, was detained at the Pic a full month by North West Company men on his way to trial at Montreal. This was the period of intense struggle between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company for the control of the fur trade of western Canada, when both sides were seizing their opponents and taking them down to Canada for trial.

In 1823 no fewer than three travelers of note visited the Pic post and have left us their impressions of it: Major Stephen H. Long, Major Joseph Delafield, and Dr. John J. Bigsby. The first two were Americans, the one sent by his government to determine the exact spot where the newly established boundary between British possessions and the United States crossed the Red River of the North; the second representing the United States among the many British and American groups at that time surveying the region between the mouth of the St. Louis River and that of the Kaministiquia River, and along the usual canoe routes inland to Lake of the Woods. Dr. Bigsby was the representative of science among the Englishmen of these groups. Bigsby writes,10 “The River Peek takes its name from an Indian word, signifying mud, as it pours out an ash­coloured, and when swollen, a reddish-yellow water, tinging the lake for a mile or two round its mouth, and derived from beds of yellow and white clay some distance up the river.” Major Delafield describes the Pic as “well-picketed,” and with “a capital dwelling house,” and refers to “several other houses &c. within the pickets” and to “Mr. McTavish” in charge of the post. This was Alexander McTavish, who was stationed at the Pic in 1821 when he and the post were taken over by the Hudson’s Bay Company at the merger of the two rival fur companies. On his return trip along the north shore of Lake Superior Delafield stopped again to visit McTavish, and was given a breakfast of fish and potatoes raised at the post. William H. Keating of Major Long’s expedition refers11 to the fort as a “trading house of the Hudson’s Bay Company . . . . This establishment is called the Peek, which is an abbreviation of the term Pekatek, used by the Indians.”

In 1827 the man in charge of the fort was Donald Mcintosh, whose long report of that year to his Hudson’s Bay Company superiors has been preserved in the extensive archives of that corporation in London. It is quoted here by kind permission of the governor and committee of the company. It describes the Black and the White rivers which united to form the Pic River. Today this is confusing, because the White River enters the lake farther to the southeast. Both Perrault and Mcintosh, however, seem to indicate that the main Pic River above its junction with the Black was called the White River on occasion.

Mcintosh’s report describes12 the mountainous terrain, the barren soil, the Indians, the furs, and so forth. The natives, he wrote, lived chiefly on rabbits in winter and on fish in summer. They made blankets and even capotes of rabbit skins. “The former are wrought with so much art and skill that they are as lasting and much warmer than any European Manufactured Blankets.” He describes in detail the Long Lake post, which is in the same trading district but back in the interior. The men at the Pic post “subsist mostly upon Salt Trouts and Potatoes during the winter,” he writes. The Indians of the district consisted of 72 men and lads, 50 women, and 116 children. He describes the natives as amiable and docile.

From 1828 to 1830 John Swanston was the clerk in charge of the Pic fort. From 1831 to 1834 Thomas McMurray, a chief trader, was in charge. On May 23, 1832, he wrote to a friend,13 “I passed an agreeable winter, at this Place . . . No Returns this year in this Dept.” The explanation was the disappearance of rabbits, probably in one of their cyclic declines. He mentions his “good wife & bairns.” He was in charge again from 1837 to 1841. In 1836 William Clouston had charge. In 1841 Cuthbert Cumming, the son-in-law of McMurray, was appointed to the post. The following year and until 1849 Erland Erlandson was the clerk in the district, with Louis D. de Laronde his subordinate.

John Henry Lefroy

In 1843 a young English artillery subaltern, John Henry Lefroy, visited the Pic country on an expedition dispatched to the Hudson Bay territories to make a magnetic survey of those little known regions. Since 1841 he had been in charge of the new observatory in Toronto. He spent eighteen months in the interior and many years later, when he had become General Sir J. H. Lefroy, C.B., K.C M.G., F.R.S., et cetera, he published his diary. It is a strictly scientific document and gives little other information about the countryside and its inhabitants. However, just before his death in 1890, he printed privately his autobiography, which is full of travel incident for this same trip. That document shows that he stopped at the Pic post both on the outward and inward trips. Indeed, he was windbound there from October 16 to 21, 1844. Even on the outward trip he experienced the dangers that beset all travelers on that bleak shore. He stayed behind to make afternoon observations, while his crew went on but were forced to put ashore on Pic Island. There after a tumultuous crossing from the mainland he found them “considerately engaged in erecting a cairn to our memory,”14 believing that he and his voyageurs could not have escaped death in such a violent sea.

In 1848 Laronde succeeded Erlandson. He was followed by Charles Begg, who remained the post master till the middle sixties at least. The Company’s records for the post seem to end about 1865, but an old lake captain at Port Arthur remembers calling at the “Hudson’s Bay Post” at the Pic in 1881. This is Captain Harry Nicholson, who will be mentioned again. He recalls four buildings, forming a hollow square, but no stockade. He saw three or four papooses and some dogs, but he found there was a contagious disease prevalent among the residents, and so he did not enter the establishment.

Erland Erlandson was a Dane, who reached England as a prisoner of war during the Napoleonic wars. He entered the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1814 as a laborer and lived in the Hudson Bay and Labrador districts until 1841. He was appointed clerk at Michipicoten, to the south of the Pic post, in 1842, was in charge at Long Lake, 1842-43, appointed in charge of the Pic during 1843-45, and of the Pic and Long Lake posts combined, 1845-1849. Sir George Simpson, who kept a sort of index to the characters of all his employees, gave him one of his few glowing tributes.

From 1823 to 1825 Lieutenant Surveyor H. W. Bayfield, later Admiral Bayfield, was making the first scientific survey of Lake Superior. His great map, so avidly sought by all early mariners on that otherwise uncharted and treacherous inland sea, has been preserved in its original, manuscript form, at Ottawa. It is interesting to find “Peninsula Harbour” and “The Peninsula” on it in some detail, as well as Pic Island and River, and much information of interest to those now living in or near Marathon, Ontario. Accompanying the main map is a smaller one entitled “Track Survey of the Pic River by Mr. Philip E. Collins Mids and assistant surveyor.” It shows the Pic River, with soundings, up to a little distance above the junction with Black River. There, at the junction, the “Woods principally of Tamarac & white spruce” are mentioned. Lower down, on the left bank of the main stream, the terrain is described as “Sandy Cliff.” On the right bank, sand dunes are indicated just where they are today; and the fort itself is seen on the site of the Marathon Corporation’s buildings. There were obviously six buildings inside one picketed enclosure, but three other adjoining areas seem also to have been fenced in in some fashion. Beside the fort occur the words, “H B Company’s Trading Post.” A gate is indicated on the river side of the fort.

In 1838-39 a famous Wesleyan Methodist missionary spent the winter near the Pic. This was James Evans, known especially for his work among the Cree Indians northeast of Lake Winnipeg, for whom he invented an alphabet and printed some devotional material. A Hudson’s Bay Company chief trader of importance, John McLean, who was Evans’ son-in-law, states in his reminiscences15 that Evans “and his brother missionaries [Thomas Hurlburt and Peter Jacobs, an Indian] began their operations by raising with their own hands, unassisted, a house at the Pic; themselves cutting and hauling the timber on the ice.”

Evans’s unpublished diary of 1838-39 devotes a few pages to his fearful autumn journeys to Michipicoten and back from the Sault in a bark canoe. The next April he records, “Thurs. 24. Made the Pic Establishment about 8 o’clock where we were most hospitable received & entertained by Mr. Mc Murray the Co. Factor. There are here 120 indians and 180 at Long Lake many of whom often visit this Fort. The Ind have never been visited by any missionary & are rejoiced almost to tears to learn that they may expect one . . . . I & B. J. spoke awhile in English . . . . promising them a Mission as early as possible.” At noon that day he “left the Fort . . . & pulled through a dense fog & against head wind about four miles where we encamped on the worst ground we have found since we left home.”

Next morning they crossed, with trepidation, “a bay of 15 miles in breadth & open to the lake.” This was surely Heron Bay. Next day they were windbound. Then, on the following morning, “crossed a ten or twelve miles bay all open to the sea . . . When about six miles from our old encampment we perceived a smoke on the point behind us, and in a short time three large Montreal canoes hove in sight. As we carried sail & they carried none, it took them some time to overhaul us but having 15 paddles constantly plying cheered by the boat song, and animated by the idea that they can pass anything like the wind we could see them paddle in rapid motion & even the gentlemen passengers were . . . helping in the chase. The wind falling about 3 o’clock, we honorably laid on our oars & waited for them & had the pleasure of dining with my old friends & winter associates once more.”

The next July he was back briefly on his way to Canada. He found that since his departure, “the Indians have been visited by the Am. Rem. Priest – who used every persuasion to induce them to be baptized.” Even the anxious father of a sick child refused. “God spared the child’s life & I had the pleasure of baptizing it with about 16 others before leaving these anxious & attentive people. Never did I see any poor people so thankful for & attentive to the word of life.”

Actually there had been two Catholic priests at the Pic during Evans’s absence. One was the Austrian, Franz Pierz, on a journey from his post at Grand Portage to the Sault. One sentence of his letter written in German from the Sault on July 2 reads: “Continuing my journey through the Pick and other villages, I baptized several Frenchmen and half breeds, but few adult Indians and their children.” The other priest was George Antoine Belcourt, the French Canadian missionary of the Red River Valley, en route from Quebec to his post. He writes, “On rounding the Pic, we met the schooner, the White Fish, coming from Fort Williams.” At the Pays Plat “we joined a Methodist minister, who had spent the winter for nothing at Michipicoten.” It is hardly necessary to point out that the missionaries of different faiths were not precisely cordial to one another even in the wilderness.

In 1847 a young English gentleman, Frederick Ulrich Graham, passed up Lake Superior on his way to hunt buffalo and grizzly bears on the western prairies. Sir George Simpson of the Hudson’s Bay Company accompanied his party during much of the Lake Superior journey. Of him Graham wrote,16 ” Governor ran into the Pic Fort about four; and after crossing the bay we dined on a rock.” Next morning he wrote, “Friday, May 28th. Off at 3 a.m. Lovely day. A swim in the lake before breakfast . . . We had some fresh meat, having picked up half a calf and some eggs at the Pic.”

At the very end of the 1840’s Louis Agassiz, the renowned scientist, and quite a party of men passed up the north shore of Lake Superior from Sault Ste. Marie, stopping en route at the Pic. His printed volume17 reporting this trip states: “The Pic is a post of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the smallest of the three on the lake; the name is derived not as we at first supposed, from the pointed hills across the river, but from an Indian word, Peek or NeePeek. . . . The same word occurs in Neepeegon . . . . The establishment consists of a number of whitewashed red-trimmed buildings of one story, like the fishermen’s cottages of our coast, ranged round a hollow square and surrounded by a high palisade. The ground inside of this courtyard is covered with plank, and a plank road, also enclosed by a palisade, leads up the slope from the river to the gate-way, which is surmounted by a sort of barbican.”


By 1850 there were several missionaries on Lake Superior, and a few steamboats and many sailing vessels were bringing miners and some settlers to her shores. Some of the vessels put in to the mouth of the Pic River. After 1858 the Rescue, a twin-screw propeller, stopped regularly at the Pic on her trips as a mail carrier between Collingwood and Fort William. The Ploughboy also stopped after 1859. There was much prospecting for copper and other metals after 1845. The opening of the American locks at the Sault in 1855 meant that steamboats could now operate between Lake Superior and the lower lakes. Travel by canoe ceased rather abruptly, though occasionally a graceful birchbark vessel, like that of Mrs. Edward Hopkins in 1870, could be seen on the lake. Mrs. Hopkins’ oils and other pictures of canoe travel on Lake Superior are deservedly renowned.

By the early 1880’s a railroad was being planned along the mountainous north shore of Lake Superior from Heron Bay (between the mouth of Pic River and the Peninsula) to Prince Arthur’s Landing, now Port Arthur. There were few habitations and no ports on that rocky arc of shore. Whether the Hudson’s Bay Company post at the Pic, which persisted at least till 1865, was still there is problematical. When William Van Home actually began the task of building the Canadian Pacific Railroad along the north shore, west from Heron Bay, it was necessary to have a dock, to which rails, ties, other supplies, men, and provisions could be taken. Peninsula Bay, because of its great depth and protection from winds, was chosen. Remains of the pier could still be seen when, in the early 1940s, a large paper-pulp plant and a village for the operatives, officials, and others were begun on the same shores. To this pier came the well remembered vessels of many Great Lakes lines, both sailing vessels and steamboats: the Ontario, Ocean, Argyle, Prussia, Kinkadim, E. M Foster, and many stragglers carrying lumber for bridges and trestles, and rails. Then there were Smith and Mitchell’s meat vessels, The Butcher Maid and The Butcher Boy. Captain Nicholson was master of one of them and remembers well how the cattle and other meat on the hoof were carried by vessel to Peninsula, as the C.P.R.’s main camp on the picturesque bay of the same name came to be called. Here the cattle were driven from camp to camp as required. Slaughtering was done at the destination of the individual animal, and carcasses were wrapped in cheese cloth and hung up on neighboring trees till required.

Captain Nicholson also recalls how the navies were always passing to and fro, mainly between Port Arthur and Peninsula. Three gangs, it was commonly reported, were required on the railroad job, “one coming, one going, and one on the job. ”

Besides the dock there was a warehouse at Peninsula; and soon a rail­ road station went up. Houses mushroomed among the hosts of tents where the business part of Marathon, as the town of the 1940s is called, now is. A hotel was erected. A photograph of this motley village of about the year 1885 is still in existence. Twelve thousand men and 1500 horses were employed in constructing “two hundred miles of engineering impossibilities,” as the indomitable Yankee builder, William Van Home, termed his job.

Van Home chanced to be in Ottawa on a seemingly fruitless task of trying to bolster the dying credit of his undertaking, when the second Riel rebellion began in 1885. He was clever enough to see his chance to get public support for his railroad construction. It had taken from March to August in 1870 to ferry troops from eastern Canada to Prince Arthur’s Landing and Winnipeg in the first Riel rebellion. Van Home offered to move them in 1885 in eleven days from Ottawa to Fort Qu’Appelle, far beyond Winnipeg, on two days’ notice. His offer was accepted. Then little Peninsula witnessed an odd sight. Soldiers were brought to the end of the rails in midwinter weather on Lake Superior. The official report comments: “About 400 miles between the west end of the track and Red Rock or Nipigon – 66 miles from Port Arthur – had to be passed by a constantly varying process of embarking and disembarking guns and stores from flat cars to country team sleighs, and vice versa. There were 16 operations of this kind in cold weather and deep snow. On starting from the west end of the track on the night of 30th of March the roads were found so bad that it took the guns 17 hours to do the distance (30 miles) to Magpie Camp. On from there to the east end of the track by team sleighs and marching 23 miles further on; on flat cars (uncovered and open) 80 miles, with thermometer 50 degrees below zero. Heron Harbour, Port Munro, McKeller’s Bay, Jackfish, McKay’s Harbour were passed by alternate flat cars on construction tracks and in teaming in fearful weather round the north shore of Lake Superior. Nipigon or Red Rock was reached on the evening of 3rd of April. The men had had no sleep for four nights.” The C.P.R. construction camps, however, had supplied them with copious draughts of coffee and hot food.

Van Home fulfilled his promise and got the money he needed to complete his railroad. It took twelve million dollars to build the two hundred miles of difficult North Shore track between Heron Bay and Nipigon. Gradually fill-ins replaced the long timbered trestles that were improvised in so many places over otherwise impossible terrain. Building finally came to an end. Transcontinental trains sped past little Peninsula – and few passengers in them or since have dreamed of the drama that the high promontory, the peninsula proper, witnessed in the 1880’s. Gradually all traces of the railroad construction operations died away.

Only a small railroad station, a water tower, a post office, and a very few houses remained at Peninsula. Just before World War I the place was examined as a possible coaling station, but the idea was given up in favor of Port Munro. After the war, a black granite quarry was opened, but it closed during the depression of the 1930s. Finally, during World War II, the building program of the Marathon Corporation, a paper manufacturing company of Wisconsin, was begun. Almost overnight the busy construction scenes of 1885 were re-enacted, as the new village, a hotel, the great pulp factory, and hundreds of residences went up in record time. Though far beyond the reach of roads, the villagers have automobiles and just about everything else that modern man deems indispensable to civilized life, except close physical contact with other communities. For Marathon is truly in the wilderness.

Near the mouth of Pic River. Image by John Stanton

The scenery is awe-inspiring. Wild life is abundant, with an occasional moose and a rare caribou to be seen. Indians are still common. There is a native village still near the mouth of Pic River. Great rafts of pulp logs are towed up coast from the river, and stored temporarily as enormous golden islands out in the bay in front of the village. The Pic River brings down the logs from the vast forests farther inland, toward the height of land between the Albany River and the Pic. The sand dunes at the mouth of the Pic are still a notable feature of that region. In them I have picked up without digging – for they shift constantly – quantities of voyageur pipe stems and bowls, fragments of dishes and bottles, beads, animal bones, handwrought nails, and so forth. The site could be a sort of New World “windy Troy” for a modern archaeologist with an urge to explore into the remote past of one of the best known spots, historically speaking, on Lake Superior.



  1. Service Hydrographique B 4040. 1. Published in Grace Lee Nute’s Voyageur’s Highway, Paul, Minnesota Historical Society, 1941, p. 2.
  2. Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale 8695-Geo 2981. Published in Grace Lee Nute’s Lake Superior, Indianapolis, Bobbs-Merrill, 1944, p. 30.
  3. Early Narratives of the Northwest, 1634-1699, by Louise P. Kellogg, New York, Scribner, 1917, pp. 93-160.
  4. Travels and Adventures in Canada and the Indian Territories Between the Years 1760 and 1776, by Alexander Henry; ed. by M. M. Quaife, Chicago, Lakeside Press, 1921. pp. 227-8.
  5. Five Fur Traders of the Northwest, by Charles M. Gates, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1937, p. 90.
  6. An anonymous manuscript in the General Register House, Edinburgh.
  7. Perrault’s reminiscences in French may be found in Henry R. Schoolcraft’s manuscripts at the Library of Congress. In translation they have been edited by John S. Fox as a Narrative of the Travels . . . of a Merchant Voyageur . . . (Historical Collections and Researches of the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society, 37, 1909-10, pp. 508-619.)
  8. Narrative of a Voyage to the Northwest Coast of America in the Years 1811, 1812, 1813, 1814, by Gabriel Franchere, New York, Redfield, 1854, p. 348.
  9. Adventures on the Columbia River, by Ross Cox, New York, J. & Harper, 1832, p. 290.
  10. The Shoe and Canoe, or Pictures of Travel in the Canadas, London, Chapman and Hall. 1850, Vol. 2. p. 214.
  11. Narrative of an Expedition to the Source of St. Peter’s River, Lake Winnipeek, Lake of the Woods, &c.. London, Whittaker, 1825, vol. 2, p. 179.
  12. Hudson Bay Company Archives in London, 162/e/1.
  13. The Hargrave Correspondence, 1821-1843, ed. by G. P. De T. Glazebrook, p. 93. (Champlain Society Publications, Toronto, 1938.)
  14. Journey to the Northwest in 1843-4, by Sir Henry Lefroy, ed. by W. S. Wallace. (Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada II, 1938, p. 69.)
  15. Notes of a Twenty-five Years’ Service in the Hudson’s Bay Territory, by W. S. Wallace, p. 363. (Champlain Society Publications, Toronto, 1932.)
  16. A diary kept by Graham on a trip to Fort Edmonton in 1847 was published privately in a few copies as Notes of a Sporting Expedition in the Far West of Canada, ed. by Jane Hermione Graham, London, 1898. It is a very rare Item, and the copy I used was kindly lent me by a member of the Graham family. The entries relating to the Pic are those of May 27 and 28.
  17. Lake Superior, Boston, Gould, Kendall and Lincoln, 1858, pp. 71-2.

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Lucky Stones – October 1947

The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

By I.S.H. Metcalf

Today, I suppose, when little boys are talking about gas-powered airplane models and are eagerly following the exploits of Superman and Captain Marvel, they do not spend as much time hunting the beaches for certain stones and shells as they did when I was of grade school age. To me, the beaches of Lake Erie were filled with strange and exciting things in those days – things which would be just as strange and exciting now if boys were not so engrossed in pilots and parachutes.

Lucky Stones – Otoliths

There was a time, not so long ago, when the proud possessor of a “lucky stone” from the beach was a boy or girl to be envied. To have a matched pair of such stones was almost better than having a knife with the new stainless blades or having a siren on one’s bicycle. These lucky stones are attractive bits of material, usually found just at the water line or slightly above it. They are flat and thin, with a square outline, and may vary in size from about an eighth to nearly half an inch on a side. Each stone has on it, engraved in a delicate groove, the letter L, the two limbs of which are about the same length. The stones are quite as white as porcelain and exhibit a lovely mother-of-pearl finish when viewed in the right light. I have found that if one is persistent enough in his hunting, and if he looks long enough among the windrows of small pebbles at the water’s edge he may find a matched pair of lucky stones.

Freshwater Drum

What are these bits of white which we used to treasure? The answer is quite simple, as is also the explanation of their occurring in sets of two. The fresh-water drum, or sheepshead, carries them in his ears, building them up from the lime salts which occur in minute quantifies in the lake water. When a fish dies, its body, unless eaten by a scavenger, is cast upon the shore. As the flesh disintegrates the stones drop from the rotting head and remain among the beach pebbles, a memento, as it were.

I mentioned the fact that the stones are carried in the ears of the fish. Does this mean that the fish hears as we do? Well, probably not in the way that we hear. What we call the ear of a fish is simply the balancing organ which zoologists will tell you is the forerunner of our own inner ear mechanism, the balancing part of which is just like that of the fish.

It should be mentioned here that the sheepshead is not the only fish that produces ear stones. Most other fishes have something comparable, but in many cases the stones are soft and not very resistant to destruction, and in certain instances there are numerous fine particles produced instead of one large stone for each ear.

To get back to the balancing organ. The structure is a paired one. Each ear is a delicate set of membranous bladders and tubes, snugly embedded in the skull of the fish. There is, of course, one organ on each side of the brain, just behind the fish’s eye. The balancing organs are pretty important, since a fish frequently finds himself in the position of an aviator, who is flying inside a fog or cloud, and can see nothing by which he can estimate his own path. It is by means of these wonderfully constructed sense organs that our sheepshead is able to swim on a straight course, even though he is able to see nothing but an unbroken field of green water all around. The ear thus acts like sort of a bank-and-turn indicator.

The little pictures which I have provided will show something of the nature and position of the ear of the fish. Each ear lies within little cavities in the skull, protected from bumps and jolts. When removed by painstaking dissection, we find that it consists of two little bladders, the utriculus and the sacculus. “The utriculus has, extending from it, three fine tubes of membranous consistency. The tubes are loop-like and each one is attached to the utriculus in two places. The position in which the tubes lie is important. One extends laterally (with respect to the long axis of the fish) and in a horizontal plane; the other two are in vertical planes which lie approximately at right angles to each other. The utriculus, the three little semicircular canals, as the loops are called, and the sacculus are all filled with fluid which is able to flow through the canals and bladders should the occasion arise. ‘The occasion does arise, as we shall presently see.

Careful examination of the semicircular canals reveals that each canal is not of uniform diameter Throughout its length. Near the lower point of attachment of the vertical canals, and near the front point in the case of the horizontal canal there occurs a slight bulb or swelling. Each little swelling or ampulla contains rows of delicate hairs extending up into its cavity from the floor. Should the fluid in a semicircular canal move, for some reason, its current will bend or distort the hairs within its ampulla. The hairs are connected with the brain of the fish by means of the auditory nerve (or what compares with the nerve of hearing in man).

Within the sacculus, which is connected with the utriculus, and lies somewhat between it and the brain, there lies, in the case of the sheepshead, the “lucky stone. ” The stone is held in place by delicate strands of tissue, and is in contact with delicate hairs similar to those within the ampullae.

Let us see how the apparatus works. The lucky stone or otolith is merely acted upon by the force of gravity. When the fish tips to one side or the other, the otolith rocks slightly, stimulating the hairs which touch it. This portion of the ear seems simple in its function. The operation of the canals is a bit more difficult to explain.

Everyone knows that floating dust upon the surface of water in a dish tends to remain stationary if the dish is turned. The explanation lies here in the inertia of the water and in its low internal friction. Just as the water in the dish tends to remain stationary when the dish is turned, so the fluid within the semicircular canals of the ear tends to remain stationary when the fish turns from one side to the other, or changes his course in any way. That is where “the occasion arises.” The momentary current produced by the motions of the fish’s head results in the stimulation of the hairs of the ampullae. The different positions of the different canals will take care of all possible movements the fish may make as it swims.

If you have ever, as a child, “wind yourself up” in an old-fashioned rope swing, and then let yourself whirl to a stop, you have unknowingly demonstrated the function of the semicircular canals in your own ears. By the prolonged and rapid rotation as the swing unwound, you set into circulation the fluid within the canals. After you stopped rotating, the fluid kept circulating, with interesting sensations. To stop the sensations, a few quick rotations in the opposite direction are necessary. The reason is obvious.

From “lucky stones” to hearing, flying, or swinging. This started out as a recollection of boyhood interest and ended up with a touch of physics. The next time you find yourself picking up bits of shell and stone on the shores of the lake, look for lucky stones. They are fascinating in more ways than one,

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This article first appeared in October 1947

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