This will be a presentation of some of the fascinating stories contained with my newest book “True Tales – The Forgotten History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.” The talk will include pirates, thieves, misadventures and crime in the early days of the U.P.
There were logging camps in every part of the Upper Peninsula. They are the stuff of north country legends and lumberjacks were notorious for their drinking and brawling. Most of the lumbering towns have their tales of bullets and blood.
Logging covered the entire U.P. and in a decade, much of the thick pine forests were cut leaving behind them an ocean of stumps. The dense forests we see today are a testament to the recovery power of the natural environment.
Horses did much of the work as the logs were slid out across the frozen ground in winter. It was a brutal job in harsh conditions. Many died in the pursuit of the lumber that went to build so many cities and homes.
A large portion of the white pine lumber went to help rebuild the city of Chicago after the great fire in 1871 where over 17,500 buildings were destroyed.
For more information on logging in the U.P. check out the Tahquamenon Logging Museum in Newberry. https://www.michigan.org/property/tahquamenon-logging-museum
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
I recently did a podcast called “For the Love of Books” with host Emma Palova. We were able to get into some interesting discussions on the subjects within the book. We also began a contest for a signed Hardcover copy of “True Tales.” So give it a listen. Some of the things in it may surprise you. https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-wte2p-11e9af0
Emma Palova describes our conversation like this: ”
Digging deep into the past, U.P. author & historian Mikel Classen uncovers hidden stories in his newest release “True Tales- The Forgotten History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.”
Stories of piracy, lost gold mines, the origin of the Copper Boom, profiles of people of note, Starvation on Isle Royale, and one of the darkest periods of Michigan history, are all True Tales of the early days of the Upper Peninsula Frontier.
“Some subjects I’ve researched over the years as a journalist,” Classen said.
One story, in particular, captured Classen’s inquisitive mind and set him off on a wild chase across the rugged northern peninsula hunting down the truth to rectify myths. During his research, Classen visited the historical societies in 16 towns.
“The local communities and historians sometimes intentionally buried the stories,” Classen said.
In seven towns, he was able to confirm the unimaginable.
“I was shocked,” he said.
Find out what it was by listening to this intriguing episode with a true U.P. expert for a chance to win a signed copy of his “True Tales.”
Link to For the Love of Books podcast: https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-wte2p-11e9af0
In my collection of old photos, I occasionally come across portrait style pictures, Unfortunately many of these are unidentified and we don’t know who these individuals are. Maybe somewhere along the way, someone may know who these individuals are. The first picture was a lucky one because we have part of the name for these three ladies. The back of the photo says “These ladies probably were Lypsinmaas.” of all of the pictures on this page, it is the only one that has some form of identification.
What this does do, is give us a look into the faces that walked the streets of Red Jacket / Calumet in the 1880s and 90s. Walking along the streets one could easily encounter any one of these folks going about their daily business. The second picture is completely unknown though by looking at their faces, it appears that they are related. My guess would be brothers but it is impossible to be sure. It does illustrate the importance of labeling photographs of families. We don’t normally think of ourselves as historical but as time moves on all things become historical by their representations of days and people gone by.
The next picture, which is a typical Red Jacket couple, seem to be economically reasonably well off. If nothing else we know they are probably wearing their “Sunday best.” Most of the locals worked in the copper mines where the companies paid low wages and worked long endless days of hard labor. The early days of living on the Keweenaw were hard and cold, yet Red Jacket / Calumet thrived with art and culture. A dozen nationalities converged on the region all in pursuit of wealth from the copper deposits. Cornish, Irish, Italians, Finns, Swedes, and Slavs, all became the backbone of the copper community of the Keweenaw.
Like many communities, there were those that put on uniforms. Our fourth picture shows an unknown soldier from Red Jacket / Calumet. (For those that are unaware, Red Jacket is the original name of the town of Calumet. Calumet was the original name of Laurium. In the 1920s, they moved the name of Calumet to Red Jacket and Calumet became Laurium.) Not being an expert of the military, I’m not sure what this uniform is from. I believe he has a bayonet holder on his belt. It is his English style bobby hat he has next to him that has me guessing. It would be really great to put a name to this guy. Actually it would be really great to put a name to any of these pictures.
As I stated earlier, these are all people that one would have met on the streets during daily life. This last picture shows a pair of unknown women that still seem to have an old world connection. The embroidery on the dress of the woman on the right seems Scandinavian or Slavic. It is hard to tell if they are related. These pictures are around 150 years old. They depict the faces of those that came to one of the harshest places on Earth to establish their places in the American Dream. These are the pioneers of the Upper Peninsula. These are the faces of the U.P.’s past.
Pictures courtesy of the Mikel B. Classen Collection of Historical Pictures
I just received notice that my new book, True Tales, the Forgotten History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is now live on Amazon. It is available in hardcover and softcover currently with the e-version in a few days. There will also be an audiobook. I know a lot of you have been waiting for this, so here’s your opportunity. As it settles into catalogs, it will also be available to order through bookstores.
Here are some of the reviews:
“Romantic ideas of the pioneer days in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula will fade quickly as these true tales of lawless, rugged, wild-weather, difficult times before about 1900 are perused. Laws were few, enforcement was scarce, violent events were often, and shipwrecks were many. However, opportunities to be a hero were as numerous and wonderful life-saving deeds of kindness and compassion are recorded in these pages as well. Classen does history an excellent service by revealing the truth. Sometimes we think humanity has advanced little. An attitude quickly challenged in these pages. Readers will feel gratitude for all they have today after finishing these tales.” –Carolyn Wilhelm, MA, Midwest Book Review
“Classen accomplished what he set out to do-provide readers with interesting and true tales about the U.P. He did not romanticize the history and told bold facts to enlighten the reader. The U.P. was uncharted territory with harsh beginnings. Captains battled terrible storms while sailing on Lake Superior. Corrupt entrepreneurs made money off the suffering of young women. Classen rang bells for unsung heroes. Much can be learned about Chase Osborn’s efforts-the man who became the first governor of Michigan from the U.P. and Peter White, founder of Marquette. So much can be learned by reading Classen’s book. It is highly recommended.” –Sharon Brunner, U.P. Book Review
Here is the link to order on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/True-Tales-Forgotten-Michigans-Peninsula/dp/1615996354/
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.
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.
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.
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
I recently acquired some old photos of individuals from across the U.P. Many of them are unknown as to the identity of the individuals in them. I have that issue with the one above. I have no idea what is going on in this, but it looks similar to one I have where a known outlaw is having his picture taken with the sheriff after being arrested. It is also from Ironwood and the individual on the right in the back looks a lot like the sheriff in that picture. If anyone has any information regarding this, I would really appreciate hearing from you. Currently I’ve dubbed this the “Ironwood Bad Boys.” If nothing else it is a really awesome picture from the U.P.’s past.
For those of you that like the history that I post, must realize I have a sizable collection of Upper Peninsula historical items. Many of these are pictures that often are posted here, but I do have other items as well as some picture haven’t made it here yet.
Here’s a chance to check some of these items out. In conjunction with the Great Michigan Read – The Women of Copper Country, at Bayliss Library here in the Sault, I have displayed some Copper Country history in the glass case at the entrance of Bayliss Library.
These will be on display throughout the month of February. If you are in the Sault, stop by the library and take a look.
This is one of the only times I’ve put some of these in front of the public. For more information on Bayliss Library, go here: https://www.sdl.michlibrary.org/our-locations-and-hours/bayliss-public-library
A while back I acquired an old magazine from 1860 that had a few drawings of the early days of mining in the Upper Peninsula. These were printed when the copper boom was rising giving us in this century, some of the earliest images of the beginning of this era of our history.
The danger of those days can’t be understated. There was poor lighting and high explosives were used on a regular basis. The threat of cave-ins and flooding were constant. Accidents abounded.
Getting the ore out of the Upper Peninsula wilderness was no easy task. The picture above shows not only that aspect, but the process of getting it to shipping. The track runs down the incline to a plant below. The copper ore was then smelted into large ingots (copper bricks) and then shipped south through the Great Lakes. Millions of tons were mined, smelted and then shipped during the copper boom, much of it like the picture above.
In the early days, wood was the only building material available to build the necessary structures for mining. It wasn’t until steel and equipment could be shipped into Lake Superior that the steel hoists came into prominence. This is just a small bit of our mining history.