Shipwrecks are always a fascinating subject but not all of them end up in terrible tragedy. Such is the case of the wreck of the Oregon which took place north of Marquette in Lake Superior.
The Oregon was a steamer freighter, one of the earlier incarnations of the freighters we see today. On October 15, 1905, it wasn’t ore she was carrying, but lumber. The Oregon was steaming west across Lake Superior when the wind began to pick up. The Lake Superior surf rose and the ship began a rough ride. Behind her was another ship that was being towed, an old schooner named S.H. Foster being used as a barge. They were on their way to Pequaming in the Keweenaw Bay.
Near Stannard Rock, almost the precise middle of Lake Superior, things were getting ugly. The schooner barge was pulling hard and the strain on the engines were getting intense. Captain Elliot, the skipper of the Oregon was a well seasoned sailor and was pushing his ship as quickly as he could. He knew the brewing storm would be one the Oregon might not survive if she were caught in the middle of Lake Superior.
The wind roared, the waves rose, and a steam pipe burst. It was the main steam pipe and it split open for two/thirds of its length. The Chief Engineer, Wellman, wrestled loose a length of chain and wrapped it as tight as he could. The repair was fragile and inadequate for the job ahead. The Engineer told the Captain exactly that the repair wouldn’t last and they needed to find shelter for the the ship as soon as possible.
Consulting his charts the Captain decided to head for Partridge Island north of Marquette. He was sure they could ride the storm out in what was then called Wahoo Bay, the inlet between Partridge Island and Middle Island Point. He reduced speed hoping that lessening the strain would make the repair hold until shelter. The schooner still trailed behind. Its skeleton crew of five men were keeping the ship on an even keel but that was becoming harder as the wind kept building with gusts hitting 48 miles per hour.
At 2 am Partridge Island loomed out of the blackness. Great granite boulders lined the passage into the island’s lee side. A danger frought passage in the daylight, it was a miracle of steerage that got them beyond the deadly rocks and reefs. Suddenly the ship lost power and a new problem arose. The ships propeller had tangled in a fish net. because of the blown steam pipe the ship didn’t have the power to tear free. The Oregon was at the mercy of the storm.
With no control the crew of the Oregon cut the S. H. Foster loose to fend for itself. The wind caught the Oregon broadside and washed it ashore. The schooner’s luck held when its anchor caught on a rock crevasse and held. She was in the lee of Gull Rock.
The Marquette Life Saving Station was notified and they loaded their equipment and surfboat onto a wagon and headed north. It was over seven miles to the wreck site and took them nearly two hours to get there.
When they got there they decided to wait and see what happened. Both ships seemed stable where they were, so they waited and watched ready to spring into action should events call for it. But both ships rode the storm out where they were. As the gale died, the lifesavers left.
The schooner was able to sail into Marquette while the owners of the Oregon, a Chicago company, hired the Great Lakes Towing Company to get the ship offshore and back into the water. The tug Wisconsin did the work and after 24 hours of pulling and jerking the tug got the Oregon free.
After an initial inspection, the Oregon was towed to Detroit and there she was dry docked. Her fate would be eventually decided as scrap metal. By some miracle, No one was hurt or lost on either ship during the entire incident. Captain Elliot would later claim it was the worst storm he’d ever been in during his years sailing the Great Lakes.