Wreck of the Steamship Oregon in Lake Superior – Marquette, Michigan

The shipwreck of the steamship Oregon washed ashore near Middle Island Point north of Marquette, Michigan. (Courtesy of Mikel B Classen Historical Pictures Collection)

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.

 

Historical Photos – Camping out in the U.P. 1880s style

Camping the hard way – 1880’s

Historical Photos from Mikel B. Classen Collection

This is a picture of some men camping out at a place that is still popular for camping to this day, Chapel Beach. Chapel Rock in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore can be seen in the background.

Going camping back in the late 1800s was a lot different than it is today. There was no Coleman Company, no L.L. Bean, no ergonomic backpacks. And hiking shoes, not a chance. The equipment was heavy and bulky while the wilderness was formidable. The wooden equipment chest in the picture above attests to that.

This group camp was taken north of Marquette at Partridge Island.

The hunting camp shown above was a major project to set up showing that group camping has always been popular. There are both men and women pictured here representing several couples on this particular foray into the woods. It doesn’t appear they are moving on anytime soon.

Individual tent setup along a stream. This was the simple basic way to go. With the stream in the background this looks like a fishing trip.

Even in the early days, the U.P. was recognized for its value as a recreation  paradise and fishing and hunting became the staple of the region. People of note began particpating in the sport like Henry Ford and William Coleman. Innovations followed and equipment made specifically for the purpose of portable camping became available. These early campers were the pioneers of an entire industry that today is worth billions.

This is an unidentified camp near Lake Superior. The woodstove pipe coming out of the tent flap is classic.

One thing that is still true, an adventure into the woods is like no other. The wilderness calls many of us and in response we are rewarded with experiences of a lifetime.  Whether it is a lake, a stream, a mountain or the deep woods, these places fill a place in our souls that can be filled no other way.

Charlotte Kawbawgam, Native American Rights Icon

Charlotte Kawbawgam with her daughter Monee (Mary) around 1860. The child would later die and she and her husband Charlie would adopt two children. Another natural child had also died earlier.

Charlotte Kawbawgam – Marquette County – Michigan

A True Tale of the U.P.

Charlotte Kawbawgam who is pictured above is a U.P. Woman in History. This Marquette area Native American changed the rights of Native Americans in a profound way and has become nearly lost in time. I expect few have heard this story. 

Marji-Gesick, a Chippewa chief, was hired in 1845 by Philo Everett to locate valuable iron ore deposits near Ishpeming, Michigan. The ore was found exposed under an uprooted tree and the Jackson Mining Company was born. He was paid with a certificate of interest entitling him to stock in the company. 

After Marji-Gesick’s death, his daughter, Charlotte Kawbawgam, who was married to Charlie Kawbawgam, the new Chippewa Chief, found the certificate. Charlie and her met in Sault Ste. Marie and were married by the Catholic church. When the Jackson Iron Company refused to recognize her ownership interest, she took the company to court.

The Michigan Supreme Court considered the company’s claim that Charlotte Kawbawgam should not be recognized as Marji-Gesick’s lawful heir because she had been born to one of the three women to whom her father had been married simultaneously. Polygamy was prohibited under Michigan law, but permitted under tribal laws and customs.

The Court decided that since the marriage was valid under Chippewa law, it must be recognized by Michigan’s courts. Charlotte Kawbawgam was declared Marji-Gesick’s lawful heir, inheriting his ownership interest in the Jackson Iron Company. This was a landmark Michigan Supreme Court decision acknowledging that tribal laws and customs govern the legal affairs of Native American families.

Charlotte, who eventually went blind, remained married to Charlie for over 50 years and they lived in a house on Presque Isle in Marquette. The pair are buried in Presque Isle Park and their gravesite is still marked there.

The story of Marji-Gesick, Charlotte Kawbawgam, and the Jackson Iron Company is immortalized in “Laughing Whitefish,” a book authored by former Michigan Supreme Court Justice John Voelker under his pen name, Robert Traver.

To learn more about Charlie and Charlotte Kawbawgam, the recently released “Kawbawgam,” by Tyler Tichler explores their life much more in depth. It is a U.P. Notable Book.

If you would like to see more pictures from my historical photograph collection, go here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikel_classen/sets/72157630887269582/