Thu, 19 Sep 2013 20:28:21 GMT — One of the most important events in Upper Peninsula history occurred 169 years ago today. Surveyor William Austin Burt ran the prime meridian across the Straits of Mackinac to Lake Superior in 1840. He found the territory above the Straits the toughest work he ever attempted. The swamps and heavy brush proved fatal to clothing. Burt wrote his wife that his ??Coat and Pantiloons are most gone.?? He asked his wife to make him another outfit out of the ??strongest kind of bedticking?? she could find. William Austin Burt, pioneer and inventor, was the leading surveyor in Michigan. He pushed west with his men and reached the Chocolay River in 1842. After the Chippewa ceded the rest of their land to the U.S. that year he continued to push westward. The morning of September 19, 1844 dawned clear and sunny, providing a perfect setting to demonstrate the value of the solar compass invented by Burt. He was only 52-years-old, but by mid-nineteenth century standards he was elderly. Half a century later, life expectancy still hovered under 60. As the survey party commissioned by State Geologist Douglass Houghton struggled up a hill south of Teal Lake on the northwest side of present-day Negaunee, the compassman with them hollered, ??Come and see a variation which will beat them all.?? The men gathered around the compassman and watched in amazement as the magnetic needle??a surveying party carried magnetic compasses with them in addition to the solar compass??bounced a few degrees south of west. ??Boys, look around and see what you can find,?? exhorted Burt. The men spread out on the lead surveyor??s command and came back with the ore specimens that gave birth to the iron industry of the Lake Superior region. The next day the solar compass was useless. Burt recorded an all day rain with cloudy skies in his diary entry for September 20. Indeed, a storm had moved into the Upper Great Lakes region. To the northwest, the schooner John Jacob Astor captained by Benjamin Stannard, made a stop at Copper Harbor to unload supply for Fort Wilkins and the fledgling copper mining operations in the area. The wind changed direction preventing Stannard from getting underway. Stannard thought he would be safe in the harbor, but then a gale arose and the Astor dragged anchor eventually blowing up on the rocks. She remained there at the mercy of the elements despite the captain??s attempts to free her. The remaining supplies along with the rigging and machinery were salvaged, but the John Jacob Astor became a total loss. The Astor was the first American ship on Lake Superior and the first American shipwreck on the lake, too. Back in the hills of the central U.P. Burt arose on September 21st to winter. He wrote, ??snow fell in the forepart of the day 3-6 inches deep.?? This early snow only reinforced the perception that the Upper Peninsula was a cold, hostile environment. A few years later, Philo Everett made the first mining claim in the ??Iron Mountains?? west of Marquette, not far from where Burt discovered iron ore. Everett complained how hard it was finding men willing to work in the rugged wilderness of the Lake Superior region. ??I found it difficult to hire men,?? he later recalled, ??because they were afraid of suffering with the cold, believing they would freeze to death in that cold region.?? Despite the unforgiving terrain, the cold, the snow and the hardships, the early Upper Michigan pioneers persisted. Their tenaciousness and endurance is the reason why we are blessed to live in one of the most beautiful locations in the United States.
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WLUC, Upper Michigan’s News Source provides news, sports, and weather coverage for Marquette, Michigan and nearby communities including Escanaba, Iron Mountain, Houghton, and many others throughout the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.