Review of True Tales, the Forgotten History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – Reviewed by Tom Powers from Michigan In Books

I received a copy of a review of my new book, True Tales the Forgotten History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It was written by Tom Powers whose blog, Michigan in Books, has been reviewing Michigan books for several years. The link to it is here: https://michiganinbooks.blogspot.com/2022/05/june-1-2022-post-79.html 

For those that don’t want to follow the link I present the review in its entirety below.

True Tales: the Forgotten History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula by Mikel B. Classen.

“Even Michigan natives who know just a little about the Upper Peninsula are aware of how unique it is geographically and historically. It is a beautiful, wild, rugged, sparsely populated peninsula full of unforgettable scenic wonders that is equaled by its unique and often strange history. This work by Mikel B. Classen is a great introduction to the often remarkable and memorable history connected to the U.P. that in all honesty weren’t forgotten by the general public. They are historical stories they never even knew about.”

“Among my favorites is the account of the last stagecoach robbery east of the Mississippi which took place in the U.P. The robber called himself Black Bart and killed one passenger and wounded another. Then there’s the Great Lake pirate who operated all over Lake Michigan from his base in Escanaba.  I thought I knew all the relevant facts about the Ontonagon Boulder. I didn’t. It was a mass of pure copper the Native Americans worshiped, but the Hell with their beliefs. The boulder was transported to Washington where it was misplaced and lost for years. The boulder was the spark that lit the Copper Boom in the U.P. The author also writes of the prominent settlers to the U.P., throws in the odd shipwreck, and relates the story of a couple of castaways on Isle Royale. The two survived a winter on the island by eating bark, roots, and berries. The husband went crazy from hunger and his wife feared she was next on his menu.”

“Those who consider history boring need to read this book before doubling down on their misplaced judgement. The book is jam-packed full of interesting and arresting true stories tied to U.P. history.  All I can say is, another volume please.”

If you are interested in purchasing True Tales, it can be picked up on Amazon or it can be ordered through your local bookstore.

Video – Mikel Classen talks about his U.P. Notable Book – Points North

This is a recent video of me talking about my book Points North. It is a bit rough because my zoom hookup was sketchy. I did this for the U.P. Notable Books Club that is administered through the Crystal Falls, Michigan Library.  It gets into a lot of the background on the book and some of the stories from the writing of this kind of book. People in this video are Myself, Evelyn Gathu, Crystal Falls Librarian and Victor Volkman, President of the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association, UPPAA.

To know more about UPPAA and the U.P. Notable Books go here: http://uppaa.org

A Walk Among Giants – Estivant Pines – Copper Harbor – Michigan

We all like to take a walk in the woods. Trees towering over our heads and the wonderful smell of pine needles as the sun fights through the dense leaves creating the dappled light of the deep forest, is unlike anything else. Then add in some of the oldest trees in the Midwest, the legendary White Pines that were sought to near extinction by the lumbering companies. In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan there is such a place.

The Keweenaw Peninsula has no shortage of trees, their presence is everywhere their roots can gain a hold. Tall pines and oaks line the ridges and valleys throughout. Though breathtaking in their own right, 150 years ago much of the forest was removed for the progress of man and very little of the original forest remains. What we see now is the offsprings of the original wilderness. But, in a tract of land near Copper Harbor, Michigan, a small part of that original wilderness remains.

The Estivant Pines is one of the last stands of old growth pines left in the State of Michigan. Deep within the 500 acre tract which is administered by the Michigan Nature Association, are the much sought after towering old White Pines. There is a double loop trail that winds beneath these monsters of the wilderness making this walk in the woods unforgettable.

The first trail loop is 1 mile long and is called the Cathedral Grove loop. This hike goes through hardwoods and then meanders through 500 year old giant White Pines. Some of them are 125 feet tall. It is hard to comprehend the majesty of these trees until one is standing beneath them, looking up seemingly touching the sky.

The second loop, the Bertha Daubendiek Memorial Loop is 1.2 miles long. Bertha was the founder of the Michigan Nature Association. Pine, maple and oak grow along this trail with one of the pines having germinated as far back as 1695. Hiking both trails is about 2.5 miles, none of which is very rough. There are some ups and downs, but not overly strenuous.

Other attractions of the Estivant Pines is over 85 identified species of birds make the tract their home. This place is a bird watchers paradise. Also, this is a hiking only trail so meeting vehicles on the trail such as bicycles, isn’t happening here. There has been a recent boom in bicycling in Copper Harbor and many of the trails around the area are now multi-use.

To get to the Estivant Pines, drive to Copper Harbor in the Keweenaw Peninsula. In Copper Harbor, turn on 2nd street. This road will turn into Manganese Road. Follow this for 1.2 miles. On the left just out of Copper Harbor is Manganese Falls, it is well worth checking out. Turn left on Clark Mine Road. Public access to Lake Manganese is to the right, a beautiful spring fed lake, also worth checking out. Continue on Clark Mine Road for approximately 1.2 miles and turn right on Burma Road. Another half mile and you are at the parking area for the Estivant Pines.

This tract of land was originally owned by Edward Estivant who was from Paris, France. It was originally 2400 acres when Estivant purchased it. He eventually sold it to the Calumet Hecla Mining Company in 1947. Then in 1968 it went to the Universal Oil Company who purchased the land for logging and proceeded to cut 300 acres of it. The Michigan Nature Association stepped in and bought 200 acres of the remaining old growth in hopes of preserving a small portion of it. Local citizens worked with them to raise funds and organized a “Save the Pines” campaign. Even local school kids fund raised. In 1973 the Estivant pines was created. Since then more of the tract has been purchased and over 500 acres of the original 2400 is now in the hands of the Michigan nature Association.

The Estivant Pines is open to hiking and snowshoeing. This is a day use area, so there is no overnight camping of any kind. There is no cost to hike other than time. It is a worthwhile experience to walk among these old giants and is something that shouldn’t be overlooked while in the Copper Harbor area.

For more information, here are some websites:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estivant_Pines

https://www.michigan.org/property/estivant-pines-nature-sanctuary

https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/michigan/estivant-pines-loop

My book Points North reviewed by Midwest Book Review

I received a note that pointed me to a review of my book Points North. It was from the Midwest Book Review and written by Carolyn Wilhelm. I really thought it was nice so I wanted to share it here.

Oh, this book helped me reminisce about the days when I could do primitive camping, hear loons, see wildlife, go canoeing, and enjoy the outdoors with relative privacy. It covers history, fishing, boating, hiking, walking, camping, with detailed location information in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.). How many camping spots, a few or many? Tents only, or are recreational vehicles allowed? Are canoes or motorboats allowed? Is the fishing good? Is the park or camping area away from roads and noise? Where should a family go for a good day trip? What animals are usually seen around the campsites? Is it a good location for photographers? Where do the seniors stay? Are there accessible trails for those who need them? Where can people who want a grueling climb and a sense of accomplishment find a spot for that type of exercise?

Details like this are usually only known by locals. This illustrated travel guide lets us in on these secrets not usually shared to have the best vacation possible for a single day or longer. Classen must have spent many years experiencing all the U.P. offers and kindly shares this off the beaten path information.

Carolyn Wilhelm, Reviewer
Wise Owl Factory LLC
https://www.thewiseowlfactory.com

Points North is an award winning book; Best Independent Publication 2020 – Historical Society of Michigan, U.P. Notable Book – Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association; that details 40 different destinations across all areas of the U.P. To purchase Points North, click here.

O-Kun-de-Kun Waterfall – Ontonagon County – Bruce Crossing – Michigan

Across the Upper Peninsula there are dozens of waterfalls, all worth seeing, all spread across the peninsula giving virtually every county their own. Waterfalls are a staple of the U.P. scenery and bring countless sightseers to the area annually. O-Kun-de-Kun Falls in Ontonagon County is not only one of those “must see” U.P. Waterfalls, it is one of the easiest to access.

O-Kun-de-Kun falls is located approx. eight miles north of Bruce Crossing on U.S. 45. There is a parking lot located on the east side of the road where the trail head begins. Don’t blink, you’ll miss it. The hike back to the falls is only a little over a mile on a trail that is very well made and is a portion of the North Country Trail. Maintenance of this trail is ongoing and is an easy hike. The 1.3 miles goes quickly and the walk is over before one realizes it.

As a hiker approaches the falls it is important to know there are two sets of falls. There is an upper and a lower set of cataracts. The upper falls will be the first one along the trail. It is well below the trail and is not easy to get to. There is a foot trail, but it is steep.

This is the O-Kun-de-Kun upper falls. Not easy to get to, but worth a look just the same.

Though very beautiful to see, the upper falls isn’t what the trail actually leads to. It is the lower falls that most come to see. Following the trail further will get you there. The trail follows the Baltimore River for a few more hundred yards. The lower falls will be on the right, they are impossible to miss.

O-Kun-de-Kun lower falls, a close look shows a photographer behind the falls shooting a picture.

The lower falls is the easiest to reach and it is large enough to go behind. There are no fences, just a great place to see a waterfall. If by some chance the falls are missed by a hiker, there is a suspension bridge that crosses the river. This is the point of going too far and are past the falls. The bridge does provide a beautiful view of the lower falls and is an excellent place to get pictures from.

The suspension bridge across the Baltimore River. This was taken from the top of the O-Kun-de-Kun lower falls.

O-Kun-de-Kun waterfall is one of the premier sights of the Upper Peninsula. Named after an Ojibwa chief, there are few hikes with easier access than this one. Though it isn’t the largest water fall in Michigan, it is one that has its own character and beauty.

For more information: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/ottawa/recarea/?recid=12359

https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/michigan/o-kun-de-kun-falls-loop

O-Kun-de-Kun lower falls on a nice summer day.

 

Coming Soon! True Tales – The Forgotten History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

I have just finished the rough version of my new book. It is off to the publisher awaiting publication. Whew! It always feels like a long haul when you finish a book. Though I feel all of my books are worth a read, this one is special. If you are a fan of this website, then this book is for you.

In this book the romance is gone. It tries to show many of the true hardships and facets  of trying to settle a frontier that was sandwiched between three Great Lakes. There are stories from across the Peninsula from first hand accounts to revelations from the news of the time. As always there are heroes and villains. There are feats of great good and dirty deeds of the worst kind. There are adventures of the most extraordinary men as they struggle for the riches of the U.P. well before gold was discovered in California. There are accomplishments of those that braved the wrath of the Great Lakes in leaking ships and frozen waters. The intensity of storms killed thousands on land and lakes. Over 200 died in one season just between Marquette and Whitefish Point. Often the Edmund Fitzgerald is memorialized, but few remember the hundreds of wrecks before it. You will find some here.

These pages are populated by Native Americans, miners, loggers and mariners that consisted of Germans, Italians, Finns, Swedes, French and English. People came from everywhere looking for their personal promised land. Some to raise families, some to avoid the law or to start a new life. Some to get rich no matter what it took. The Upper Peninsula frontier called to all.

This book is the first installment in what will be a larger work that chronicles the rare and forgotten stories that make the history of the U.P. what it is. Through research and investigation I hope to bring back many of the tales that time and historians forgot.

The U.P. of today was created by individuals that rose up to meet challenges that broke lesser folks. Their mental and physical stamina was that of finely honed athletes accomplishing feats unheard of in the modern world. They hacked homes out of a dense wilderness and raised families with danger at every turn. Many of these feats have gone unsung throughout history and through this book many come to light.

It is my hope that the stories contained within this book not only celebrates the struggles of the individuals that first braved this formidable and raw land , but honestly portrays their efforts to overcome the incredible obstacles that stood in the way of the beloved peninsula we now know. It was once a very different place.

 

Whitefish Point, More Than A Lighthouse

Whitefish Point Fishing Village

Writing and photography by Mikel B. Classen

The old buildings at the Whitefish Point Harbor are remains of an era gone by and a village that once was.

Whitefish Point in Chippewa County, Michigan, is known for a lot of things, not the least of which is the shipwrecks like the Edmund Fitzgerald that made the point famous. The lighthouse, which was one of the first on Lake Superior, houses the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum (For more on that, check out my book Points North). Whitefish Point also is the eastern boundary of the legendary Shipwreck Coast. All else seems to have gotten lost.

This is one of the old homesteads from Whitefish Point. One of the few remaining buildings.

Whitefish Point is actually one of the very early fishing villages on Lake Superior. As early as 1840, a small trading post and fish packing operation was set up by Peter Barbeau of Sault Ste. Marie. Barbeau had a general store where he would outfit hardy souls to establish posts along the shoreline on Lake Superior. They traded for furs and barrels of salted whitefish. Barbeau would then ship them out to places like Chicago and the east coast.  Barbeau’s trading posts went as far as Minnesota. Whitefish Point was one he paid close attention to.

This old fishing boat sits next to the harbor another relic of the point’s past.

When the lighthouse was established in 1849, fishing here was going hard and heavy. Tons of barrel packed salted fish were being sent to the Sault every year from Whitefish Point. It was a very profitable enterprise. Occassionally the fish wouldn’t be packed right and the fish would spoil leaving Barbeau to smooth out relations and make amends.

This old band saw blade and belt are in the woods near Whitefish Point.

Though many have Whitefish Point’s beginnings at 1879, documents at the Sault plainly show that there was lots of activity here long before 1879, including some logging enterprises. Whitefish Point was used as a resupply point for the logging companies. There was a small population of approx. 60 people. There was a school and hotel. Also a general store and a post office was established. The population grew to 200.

The former Whitefish Point post office as it is today. It its earlier days it had a different front on the building.

One of the local commodities was cranberries. They grow wild in the region and eventually were cultivated. There were more than a dozen growers registered at Whitefish Point. There was a daily stagecoach that ran from there, south to Eckerman. It was a thriving community by all standards.  But as time went on, it all faded.

Th Whitefish Point Lighthouse brings thousands of visitors to Whitefish Point and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum which is housed in the lighthouse buildings.

Because of the Whitefish Point lighthouse and the life saving station, the village’s decline was a slow one. Fishing dwindled to one commercial fishery, Brown’s, which still is in operation. Most of the small town’s remains have disappeared but much of the property associated with the village is in private hands and still occupied as residential. But if one looks carefully, on the east side of Whitefish Point Road, between the harbor and the former post office, hiding in the trees, a few of the remaining relics of Whitefish Point can be seen.

An old fishing boat has seen better days as it sits being buried by the sands of Superior.

A turn into the Whitefish Point Harbor can be very rewarding. The harbor is shared by the State of Michigan and Brown’s Fisheries. There is a fence that divides the public land from the private. Brown’s Fisheries has old boats and buildings that date back to the early days of Whitefish Point and some of it can be seen from the parking lot of the Harbor.  A couple of old fishing boats are beached on the shore and old storage barns are there too.  It is a snapshot of not only Whitefish Point’s past but commercial fishing on the Great Lakes in general.

For a vision of the past, take a walk out towards the breakwall on the marina walkway. Go out as far as the last dock and turn around and look back. With the old fishing boats and storage buildings, the old dock, an image of the village of Whitefish Point appears, or a small part of it anyway.

The view of Brown’s Fisheries from the marina walkway showing what Whitefish Point would have looked like as a fishing village.

When visiting the lighthouse, it is good to note what was around it. A trip into the shipwreck museum leaves one with the idea that Whitefish Point is all about death and tragedy. It is so much more. It was a tiny place that provided food and lumber for the country in the harshest of conditions. It took people with tenacity and guts to face Lake Superior at its worst and create one of the earliest settlements. The village of Whitefish Point should be remembered alongside of its legendary lighthouse. It has its place in history too.

Historical Photos – U.P. Fishing

Historical Fishing Pictures from the Upper Peninsula’s Past

Pictures from the Mikel Classen Historical Pictures Collection

Native Americans fishing the St. Mary’s River near Sault Ste. Marie.

Fishing has always been a part of basic human survival. Plain and simple, fish are great to eat. Around the world people use fish as a major source of their diet, but, the squirmy things are an awful lot of fun to catch. Fishing here in the U.P., like many places, is ingrained into the culture and as fishing moved from a necessity to a sport, it became even more so.

Fishermen line the Soo Locks as a ship locks through.

Fishing is one of those things that has never changed over the years. You can add all the technology you want to it, but when it comes down to basics, it’s still a stick, a string, and a worm.

When the smelt ran, everybody came out. Dip your net in and it was full of fish.

Of course there are different kinds of fishing, as the picture above illustrates. Smelt dipping was a spring rite of passage for many here in north country.  The rivers would be lined with campfires, waiting for the smelt to run. When they finally did, the streams would be full.

Brook Trout fishing on a beaver pond on the backwaters of the Hurricane River. This guy is pretty dapper for being back here.

I’ve always been a fan of Brook Trout fishing. If you are doing it right, it is incredible excersize, but I have to admit that there is nothing as good as pan fried fresh caught Brook Trout.

Fishing the rapids at the St. Mary’s River has been a long tradition. These two are having a great time.

Fishing is a connection to our past. It is something we have in common with our ancestors going back to prehistoric times. It strikes a chord within us that gives a feeling of peace and when the day has success we feel excited and elated. Our fishing experiences stay with us forever. What can be better than that?

Sometimes you just need a helping hand.

Little Lake Lost or What Happens When the Dam Breaks

Discovering a ghost lake in Mackinac County, Michigan.

Writing and photos by Mikel B. Classen

I hit the road today, with no particular destination. That means I’m really susceptable to signs pointing to nearly anywhere. It happened in Mackinac County. The sign said “Brook Trout Pond Landing.” I really do stick my nose into just about anything, so I headed down the two-track the sign indicated.

This is my first view, that made me go “What Brook Trout Pond?”

I drove about a quarter mile and there was a cul-de-sac that was still a bit mucky from the early season. I could see a small stream running, so I treked down the hill to the water, expecting to see a trout pond of some size. Off to my right there was a large opening in the woods.

The valley of the lost trout pond, it must have been more like a lake.

Across the way is a vast plain of what once was a lake. Apparently, whoever made the sign was using the term “pond” loosely. It fascinated me to think that all of this, not long ago, was under water. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that somewhere out there a dam broke. Likely the entire expanse was at one time created by beavers damming up the small stream that now wound through the former lake bed.

At one time, keeping its head above water, this rise would have been an island in the lake.

As I looked across the still boggy lake bottom to the far side, I saw a small hill with live trees on it. It had been an island at one time.  The ghost lake had been vast and would have been great to paddle. I could see lunch on the island. With a brook trout population spread out across this large a tract, this would have been teeming with waterfowl.

This is the spring that fed the now ghost lake. It flows as it always has.

I turned around and headed back. I followed the creek up stream for a few yards and came to a small pocket of water. I looked around to see where the stream went and quickly realized I was at the beginning, the source of what had been everything around here, a wonderful fresh water spring. I looked back at the stream winding through the brown of the dry lake bottom, running clear and cold. If the probable beavers get to work on the dam break, maybe in a couple of years, this could all be back to what it was. That is how nature works after all.

The forest surrounding the ghost lake is thick and lush, but the ground is boggy and hard to walk through.