Raphael Pumpelly.

Travels and adventures of Raphael Pumpelly : mining engineer, geologist, archaeologist and explorer online

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mining coal. Professor Whitney offered a place on the
Geological Survey of California. He was to spend the
summer in Northampton, Massachusetts, working up the
California report, and, before undertaking any profes-
sional work, I accepted his invitation to write there in
his library the results of my Asiatic explorations.

I spent some happy weeks with my parents in Owego,
and the rest of the summer and autumn writing at North-

In August the National Academy of Sciences met at
Northampton and, on invitation, I read a paper on my
work in Asia. Here I made the acquaintance of several
of the leading American men of science, whom I became
able to count as friends.

In New York James P. Kimball, my fellow student at
Freiberg, had organized a mining bureau to make re-
ports on mining properties, and for this I made a pro-
fessional trip to examine a copper property on Keweenaw
Point, Lake Superior.

I don't remember how valuable my report may have
been to my employers, but the experience I gained in
visiting the copper region, its geology and its mines
through much of its length, was ever after of great use
to me. I saw things then that were no longer to be seen
six years later, when, as State Geologist, I made the sur-
vey of the copper district. Miners were working fissure
veins crossing the formation, in which were enormous
masses of solid metallic copper.


In driving on the only road that extended through the
great Keweenaw Point I was shown, near a solitary log
house, a pit which was said to have been the discovery
that led to the wealth of the Calumet and Hecla mine.
The story was that the owner of the log house had missed
a pig for several days. At last frequent squealings were
traced to a hole between the roots of a large tree. A little
work exposed a pit about six or eight feet square and as
deep, into which the pig had fallen. The pit had been
excavated in a hard conglomerate, and this rock was full
of native copper. It had been the work of the forgotten
race who had mined over the whole copper region of
Lake Superior, including the distant Isle Royale. It is a
fact that all the mines till then opened by modern miners
were started by the indications given by ancient work-
ings. Of the great number of " Indian " pits discovered,
every one was in copper-bearing rock, while only a small
percentage of modern prospecting pits showed copper.
How these ancient prospectors were able so unfailingly
to find the metal is still a mystery.

My way back to the East brought me to Marquette, in
the iron region. Iron ore had been discovered several
years before. Mining, smelting, and shipping ore had
already become an active industry. Marquette with its
neighboring ore-producing region was a busy oasis on the
edge of a vast primeval forest, almost untrodden and,
roughly, 500 miles long and 100 miles wide.

On the northern side of this wilderness, near Lake
Superior, lay great iron and copper districts. On the
southern edge, near Lake Michigan, sawmills were man-
ufacturing lumber from the great pine trees of the
neighboring region.

What I had seen of the copper and iron and lumber
on the margin of this virgin country aroused my imagina-


tion, and I determined to explore its innermost secrets.
So when I reached home my brother and I agreed to take
what money we could put together and begin the explora-
tion the next summer.

The United States Government had made large grants
of land to the different states for agricultural schools, and
issued to each state scrip to be used in selecting the land.
Some of these states had sold this scrip, preferring the
money to the land, and, while the regular Government
price for land in Michigan was $i.25.per acre, the Agri-
cultural College scrip sold in the market for sixty cents
an acre. I saw in this a great opportunity.


ABOUT this time Mr. Henry S. Welles came to me with
a proposition. He and some other gentlemen had got
through Congress two land grants to build a ship canal
across the peninsula of Keweenaw Point on Lake Su-
perior, intended to greatly shorten the distance for ship-
ping from the western to the eastern end of the lake.

One grant was of 200,000 acres assigned as in railroad
grants in checker-board fashion to consist of contiguous
odd numbered sections nearest to the line of the canal.
The other grant was 180,000 acres of odd numbered and
20,000 of even numbered sections. They could be taken
in tracts of from forty acres upward anywhere on unoc-
cupied Government land in the great region of northern
Michigan from the east end of Lake Superior to near
the western end. And to give time for the selection, all
of the odd numbered sections were withdrawn from the

The company wished me to manage the selection of
the lands of the second grant; the first had been already
assigned by law.

I objected to accepting this proposal, which would
prevent carrying out the plan I formed for an inde-
pendent exploration. Mr. Welles replied that there was
a vast amount of land that had been granted to the
state, and that this, not being open to the company,
would be open to me. He then asked what amount of



salary I would wish. I said $10,000, and he answered
they would make it $12,000.

I agreed on condition that I should have an absolutely
free hand as to all details and as to amount to be ex-
pended, to which he agreed, only they wished particular
attention to be given to exploration for gold and silver.
This I refused to have anything to do with, and I finally
convinced him of the great opportunity that probably lay
in the abundance of white pine and in the possibility of
finding iron ores.

Early in May I began my duties at Marquette by study-
ing the intricacies of the local U. S. Land Office records
and plats, and by getting well acquainted with the Reg-
ister and Receiver. At the same time I planned my
scheme of work and organization. It was my intention
to send into the great forest parties to explore for pine,
each with an expert estimator at the head, with one or
more experts under him. I reserved for myself the work
of exploring for iron. As my assistant I had engaged
Hermann Credner, who later became Chief of the Geo-
logical Survey of Saxony.

After getting all the parties off, I set about studying
the geology of the Marquette iron district and the char-
acteristics of the formation in which the ore occurs.

Then with Credner, and four Indians and two ca-
noes, I started down the Michigamme River on an ex-
ploration for iron ore. Our provisions consisted of flour,
baking-powder, pork, beans, dried fruit, salt, sugar, and

The forest abounded in deer and beaver; the streams
in trout, and the lakes in bass, pike, and pickerel, but
we rarely attempted to get venison though we caught
plenty of trout.

Our route at first was down the Michigamme River,


a stream flowing rapidly through a primeval forest, chiefly
of maple, birch, oak, pine, spruce, and balsam-fir. Great
trees hung over the banks which were often of moss-
covered rock. The water, though limpid, was of the
color of garnet, due to the action of organic acids on the
vegetation and humus in the swamps from which the
river was chiefly supplied.

We brought our canoes ashore long enough before
dark to make camp and get wood for the night, and to
cut boughs and thatch a thick layer of them in the* tents
to sleep on. The men always tried to find a large fallen
dead maple tree to serve as backlog for a fire, then they
cut logs about eight feet long; if the night promised to
be cold they cut sometimes as much as a cord of these.
The fire was then built about eight feet from the front
of the tent, whose long open front and sloping back wall
acted like the reflecting surface of a bake oven. Indeed
in the winter work the parties often did not carry tents.
Even when the thermometer would be far below zero
they would spread boughs on the snow; and, making
a leaning shelter of a blanket, would sleep warm in the
reflected heat in the dense forest that kept off the icy

In our expeditions inland we often had to cross great
windfalls that marked the path of cyclones. For a width
of half a mile, and along a stretch of many miles, the
whole forest lay a prostrate mass of trees with their tops
towards the east and their great roots rising high, and
leaving the trunks often several feet above the ground.
During the years a dense growth of brush and tall briars
had grown up to hide the fallen timber, and to give shel-
ter to hidden nests of hornets.

With packs weighing sixty to seventy pounds, it some-
times took us two days to make a half-mile across these


windfalls, never less than one day, from early morning
till night. On one trip we had to follow the path of the
cyclone for half a mile to cross a narrow deep river.
Here the forest had been a very dense growth of tall,
slender spruces. A fire had run through the fallen tim-
ber and burned the fresh growth of briars, as well as the
branches and the bark of the trees.

The bare poles lay horizontal and were sound; and
being firmly held by the roots, were a mass of parallel
spring poles. We walked along these, keeping our bal-
ance in stepping across from the small end of one to
the root end of its neighbor. Every man carried a heavy
pack and a sharp ax. We had got along very well till
suddenly a dense swarm of hornets rose from* below. It
was then every man for himself with hop, skip, and
jump till we could stop, standing or fallen. Packs were
dropped, and some fell between the poles. One man
came near cutting his throat. In throwing up his right
hand to save his balance, the sharp ax cut a slight gash
in his neck.

Very often we saw the contributions of beavers to the
stage of forest growth. There were ponds which they
had formed by building dams across a stream at a care-
fully selected point. In some of these the beavers were
still living in their " lodges " raised in the middle of the
water. Small canals ran from the pond to the forest.
One of these, that seemed to be freshly made, I followed
to its source at the foot of a slope on which stood poplars.
It was here that the beavers provided themselves with
both food and materials to build their lodges and make
and repair their dam. Tall trees, up to six and fifteen
inches thick, were in process of being felled by the slow
gnawing of gouge-shaped teeth. Others lay already fal-
len and cut up into short logs from the thicker trees, or


longer ones from the slender branches, all ready to float
down the canal to the pond. The bark would supply
food, and then the stripped wood would serve for con-
struction. Truly the beaver was the pioneer lumberman
and hydraulic engineer.

On a later trip in the region where pine was being
cut to haul to the river we saw a corduroy road of heavy
logs just built through a swamp bordering a beaver pond.
The builders had cut the dam, drained off the water, and
built the road. After a day or two the beavers rebuilt
the dam, and the logs of the road were all afloat !

To return to our voyage down the river. At the junc-
tion of the Michigamme and Brule rivers there is a beau-
tiful waterfall over twenty feet high, where I had a nar-
row escape from drowning.

From here we were on the Menominee River, and cahie
upon several high and picturesque falls. In the ponds
below these we sometimes found large turtles and stur-
geon for supper. At last we camped at the foot of a
fall sixty feet high, from where I proposed to leave the
river to go north on an Indian trail to a lake.

In portaging our canoes and provisions to the lake we
crossed a high ridge of limestone and an outcrop of
quartzite in thin layers coated with films of specular iron
ore. The northern slope, mantled with a superb forest
of maple and beech, yellow birch and ironwood, de-
scended to the ridge of the beautiful Lake Antione. Here
we made a camp to serve as a point from which to begin
the exploration of the immediate region.

I was elated at the thought that this great development
of crystalline limestone might lead to important results
that should justify my insistence on making a search for
iron ore a principal element in the exploration. Of
the importance of pine selections I had had no doubts.


I lay long awake till at last lulled to sleep by the distant
roaring of the falls four miles away.

To begin as thorough a reconnaissance as possible, of
the geological structure of the region, we traced east-
ward eight miles the limestone ridge and an accompany-
ing line of magnetic attractions, finding, as well, some
loose good ore.

During this study, as far as it related to the geology of
the iron formation, we accurately outlined the part, east
of the Michigamme River, of what is now called the
Menominee Iron District; and we mapped the lines of
ore formation. These lines lay along two massive lime-
stone ridges between which nestled the beautiful Lakes
Antoine and Fume. The ore formation proper seemed
to overlie the limestone.

Some great mines have developed here. I may relate
an anecdote connected with one. A man, in Ohio I think,
had failed and been stripped of everything. There re-
mained eighty acres of wild land in the woods of Michi-
gan that seemed not worth the cost of valuing. In time
an explorer got from him an option for a lease and found
one of the big iron mines of the world. It is related that
the old gentleman used to sit all day on the dump watch-
ing the skips discharge and counting the royalty, '* fifty
cents, fifty cents."

Before the middle of September we had covered with
the reconnaissance the whole area within the limits of
the grant. Thus I was able to select a maximum of iron
ore possibilities with a minimum expenditure of the acre-
age of the grant.

I now set out with a light bark canoe for a rapid voy-
age down the Menominee to its mouth, and thence by
rail to Marquette. We started from a little isolated In-
dian settlement called Badwater. Here some Indians


had built several log huts in the midst of some hundreds
of acres of fertile land all of it, except three or four
acres, covered with a grand forest. They raised some
of the northern maize called " squaw " corn, and the
women showed with pride some fine potatoes.

I had been there before, and they knew me, and when
I appeared there now they exclaimed : " Bid-wey-wey-
Gizjek ! Bid-wey-wey-Gizjek ! "

When I asked what they were saying, one of my In-
dians said that was the name they had given me. It
meant " Sounding Sky."

" Why do they call me that? " I asked.
He asked the old man of the group. I saw an expres-
sion of sadness on the faces about me as the answer was
given :

" These Indians try do same as white man. They
make house and plant crop. They think they always live
here. The land is good, heap fish, heap deer, heap
beaver, and mink and marten, heap fur. Now they say
they see you take all land. They think you take their
land. Yes, they heap sad."

"Well," I said, "what has that got to do with the
name they call me ? "

" They think you thunder that come before storm."
So I was the "rumbling of the coming storm."
The tract was an odd numbered section, and I told him
to tell the Indians that no one but me could take that dur-
ing the next few years, and that I would not take it from
them; and I added that I would try, if possible, to have
it secured to them once for all.

They were very grateful. After a consultation among
themselves an old squaw went off and came back with
a gift. The group gathered near, as she proudly handed


it to me. It was a freak of three potatoes united to form
a strikingly peculiar growth. The old man smiled, and
the women, old and young, giggled. My interpreter said,
*' They say this bring you heap papoose." In return for
the mascot I made them all happy with tobacco.

Down the Menominee was a charming paddling trip of
about two hundred miles. The river often meandered
through lowlands covered with large elms. We portaged
around great waterfalls, and dashed down long and dan-
gerous rapids, where only the skill of my Indians saved
us from destruction.

One of these long rapids was especially difficult. It
was full of large sharp-edged and sharp-pointed blocks
of white quartzite. Only the greatest skill with paddle
and pole could guide the boat safely through the intri-
cate windings of the foaming torrent. A touch of the
frail bark canoe against a jagged block might mean

I remember that at every critical point, in the " shoot-
ing" of these cataracts, I felt a stinging thrill on the
soles of my feet. I had had this sensation before. In
going carefully down the slippery surface of a smooth
rock that sloped to the top of a high fall my moccasins
slipped, and I narrowly escaped the fatal plunge. With
the slipping came the stinging thrill ; it was a physical ex-
pression of fear in the presence of imminent danger, and
it lasted for some time after. While shooting the cat-
aract it came when I was sitting on the bottom of the
canoe with my feet stretched out at rest, and even when
I was enjoying the excitement of the adventure.

My work was now chiefly at the Land Office. Some of
my pine parties had arrived from the woods, and I
checked their lists on the plat-books. Then I sent the


men, who had explored in the region east of Marquette,
to reexplore the lands examined by those who had ranged
through the southwest, and vice versa. I followed this
plan throughout 1867 an ^ 1868. The result showed a
rough conformity in the estimates, such as would neces-
sarily vary with the personal equation of men estimating
by sight without instrumental measurement. I detected
fraud only once.

In the meantime the company had been preparing to
dig the canal, and I was called to aid on the spot, which
I had not yet seen.

The length of the canal was to be six miles. Of this
four miles consisted in deepening the outlet at the east
end of Portage Lake and two miles to be dug from the
west end of this lake to Lake Superior. This western
part lay about a mile and a half through a swamp; the
rest, a half-mile or less, through a ridge of sand and
gravel, rising to about thirty feet above lake level. My
business was to determine the nature of the ground to
be excavated.

My soundings showed the whole swamp to be a deep
mass of liquid ooze. It seemed probable that the ridge
could be traversed by dredges without meeting a bed of

A contractor offered to build the canal for $80,000. I
don't remember whether he included the harbor demanded
in the Act of Congress. To me this seemed clearly im-
possible. The bid was rejected because the engineers es-
timated that the company could build it for $40,000!

So the company started on the track that led in the end
to ruin. A mortgage for $400,000 on the granted lands
had been made under the authorization of Congress, to
raise the money to build the canal. When a million had


been spent, the company became bankrupt and it took
$800,000 more to finish the canal under a receiver.

After starting the parties to explore for pine through
the coming winter I went to New York to stay there till



IN the spring of 1868, after a visit to my father in
Owego, I again took up my work on Lake Superior.

During this summer the lists of the pine explorers of
the past winter were checked by reexamination, and the
final lists forwarded to Washington, so that the whole
floating grant, excepting some even sections, was certi-
fied by the General Land Office to the Canal Company.

In the meantime I was called twice to the works at
the canal, and made flying trips to revisit the lands taken
for iron ore possibilities, and other excursions to study
in more detail the geology of the Marquette region. It
was on these last that I took with me, as stated before in
telling of the mouflon, the Duke of Wiirtemburg and his
nephew. Among the stories told around our camp-fires
I remember one told by the Duke. Some years before
his uncle, Duke Paul, had traveled in the United States
and had passed a night at a village in Wisconsin. The
next morning he ordered a carriage to take him to a place
several miles distant. While he was waiting in the
office of the inn a man came in and, walking forward,
slapped the Duke on the shoulder, asking:

" Are you the fellow that wants to go to Mayville ? "

" Yes, I wish to go to Mayville," answered the startled

" Well, I'm the gentleman that's goin' to drive you."



On these trips the conditions were not always com-
fortable. We had some cold rains, and sometimes
camped in swamps, and went across one narrow but soul-
harrowing windfall. My guests had insisted that no
change in my camping methods should be made on their
account. And no one could have gone through the ex-
periences with a better spirit of camaraderie and enjoy-
ment than did this old man of seventy and his royal

The uncle seemed a good botanist, and had a good lay-
man's knowledge of the geology of the period; and at
the mines he took careful notes. Without appreciably in-
terfering with my work he added to the pleasure of the

Autumn had begun and my work for the Canal Com-
pany was finished. At the last minute there came an order
from the General Land Office in Washington affecting
the first grant, with which I had had nothing to do. The
enabling act which had authorized the grant had stated
that it should be of lands nearest the line of the Canal.
The department had now discovered that, to meet the re-
quirement, sections covering 20,000 acres would have to
be shifted. It was merely a question of making some
changes in the boundary of the grant. So I set to work
studying the plat books in the Marquette Land Office. I
shifted the 20,000 acres of odd numbered sections so as
to include the iron ore possibilities.

This was to become the great Gogebic iron range of
which the Canal Company obtained about one half
through its ownership of the odd numbered sections.

When, during the long panic that started in 1873, tne
Portage Lake and Lake Superior Ship Canal Company
went into bankruptcy there began a series of Congres-
sional hearings and cases in the courts, in some of which


I had to appear as witness. The lands were to be sold
under foreclosure of the several mortgages. The holders
of the mortgage bonds insisted on a sale of all the lands
in one block. The company fought for sales in parcels.
They rightly claimed that in the then existing financial
depression a sale en bloc would be ruinous, and that by
selling in parcels much might be saved of the immense
excess of value of the property over the debt. I testified
that they should average seven dollars per acre in quick
sales of parcels. Mr. J. M. Longyear put them at $2.50.
As a matter of fact the records show that the pine
alone on 186,506 acres has been sold standing for $5,945,-
384 an average of $31.88 per acre while, by 1915,
more than $10,000,000 had been received in royalties
from the iron mines on the grant. So I felt justified in
having insisted on exploring for pine and iron ore in-
stead of for gold and silver.

My experience during this work for the Canal Com-
pany confirmed me in a decision I had taken on my first
visit to Lake Superior. This was that instead of putting
any savings I might be able to make into life insurance
or savings banks I would invest them in Government
lands carrying timber, and in lands having the iron ore
formation, whether merchantable ore showed on the sur-
face or not.

I had on my first visit become acquainted with Major
Thomas Benton Brooks, and, now that I was free, I told
him my plan, and proposed that we should join in buy-
ing lands on it. This led to an informal association that
lasted nearly forty years. There was no written con-
tract that I remember, only a verbal arrangement to in-
vest jointly such money as we then could spare, in such
lands as either of us should think desirable.

Our first joint work was to quickly trace the Marquette


ore formation west from Ishpeming along the northern

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Online LibraryRaphael PumpellyTravels and adventures of Raphael Pumpelly : mining engineer, geologist, archaeologist and explorer → online text (page 21 of 23)