Northern Minnesota opened by lumberjacks

On Sundays in the lumber camps, one lumberman would perform the job of barber. In this undated photo at an unknown camp, the men all gather around to get in the picture and, perhaps, comment on the barber's work. It was not common for the men to take baths or showers very often while in camp, so use your imagination about the "odors" in this group of hardworking men!

The weather has taken us quickly into winter this year. The ground is frozen, lakes and creeks are putting on their ice coverings, and a little coating of snow gives us clues as to what critters have crossed this way. This is the weather that sent the lumberjacks into the forests over one hundred years ago.

Hooray that the mosquitoes and other irritating bugs are gone for the season! Hooray for the strong oxen and horses that could pull the heavy sleds across the frozen ground! Hooray for the cooks who kept hard working men fed! (If a lumber camp did not have a good cook, good lumberjacks would move on to a place with a reputation for feeding its men well.)

We never again will see those tremendous forests of white pine, oak, and other species of trees. You can visit a few small areas where, for various reasons, the lumber companies never cut down the original trees. Standing in those “cathedrals of trees,” as they are sometimes referred to, is to feel a little bit of what our area must have looked like before the large lumbering companies arrived here. Minnesota’s first major industry was the lumbering industry and it left a lasting effect on the landscape.

The following article was printed in the Hibbing Daily Tribune on August 10, 1968. Hibbing was celebrating its 75th Anniversary and the newspaper printed a number of stories about the town’s early years. You might want to put on another sweater or throw a blanket over your legs as you read about the lumberjacks!

~ Mary Palcich Keyes

Hibbing today is known all over the world for its iron ore, but there was a time when this vicinity was recognized the length and breadth of the United States for its timber.

Northern Minnesota was opened up by men who worked from dawn to dark for from $10.00 to $40.00 per month and lived on salt pork, corned beef, bread, and baked beans, with, on occasion, fresh meat when a moose or caribou was shot. Although there was some work for a few men in the forests in the summer, most of the men were needed in the winter. When the ground was frozen, that’s when the work would get into full swing.

The first lumberjacks came here from Michigan in the late 1880’s when Michigan began to be cut-over and more lumber was needed for America and Europe. Many of the later-day jacks came from Minnesota’ farming country to the south and west and from the wheat fields of North Dakota when harvest work was completed.

Lumberjacks who worked at the forest camps would recall how the snow would pile up against the camp’s buildings doors, so stepping out in the morning immediately made your feet and legs cold. The wind howling through the trees sounded like monsters. If the lumberjack kept moving he could build up a good sweat and his body would warm up – until he stopped. Then his sweat would freeze and his clothes would get stiff.

The late Richard T. Bailey, lumberman from Virginia, Minnesota, recalled the early days in 1953 when interviewed by William Trygg. Speaking of the era before the turn of the 20th Century, he said, “A camp with a hundred men was a big camp in those days. It was usually easy to handle the men. They came in the fall and they never thought about coming out of the woods until spring. If a man quit in the wintertime, you didn’t know what it was. There weren’t a lot of other jobs and just traveling someplace was a difficult process.

“They’d come out in the spring as a group usually. They’d collect their checks and head home. Those who came from the North Dakota wheat fields would migrate to the lumber camps for the winter, then head back west for the farming season.

“There were no unions, no restrictions. The men were hired and worked as long as you could keep them busy. The teamsters, who took care of the horses, would get up at 3:00 in the morning and the last teams would return to camp around 9:00 at night.”

Bailey also remembered riding the Alger-Smith logging railroad on the North Shore two days after President McKinley had been shot. (September 14, 1901)

“All of the lumberjacks in the car wanted to know about the murder and were discussing what they could do to the man that shot the President. They had different ways to killing him. One fellow said, ‘I think we ought to chain him to a pole where the mosquitoes are thick and let them eat him!’

“There was an old Irishman in the back of the car. The Alger and Smith Company ran a tough place. They never fed the men any fresh beef. It was all from salt pork, sowbelly, and corned beef, and they were called the ‘gunnysack line.’ So this old fellow says, ‘I’ll tell you what I’d do, if it was me. I’d take him up here and make him work three weeks for Alger and Smith!’ “

The lumberjacks got around more easily, moving on to other camps, as transportation to and from the camps got a little better with the building of roads and railroads. W.W. “Win” Remington, who came to Hibbing with his father and brother in 1900 at the age of 11, recalls hearing Al Power, a lumberman operating in the Hibbing area, saying that he had 900 men, “Three hundred coming, three hundred working, and 300 going.”

Some of the lumberjacks were steady sober men, and even church members, Remington recalled. Others wanted to cut loose whenever they got to town. “Some of them would give me their pay when they’d come into town and say, ‘Give me $50.00 and don’t give me any more no matter what I do or say.’ Later, they’d come back to me and want me to give them all their money. I’d refuse and they would yell, ‘It’s my money!’ Then they’d go to the police station and say I was stealing their money. The chief would say, ‘Ah, give him his money and let him blow it.’”

Some of the lumberjacks were homesteaders who worked in the woods in the winter and then spent the summers clearing land and “proving-up” their places. Those men tended to be more careful with their money

Memories of those early days were recalled and written about in March 1941, when the Remington sawmill in North Hibbing completed a cut of saw logs having historical significance. These logs, which Remington’s mill has converted into building materials, were dropped from the timber stands by lumberjacks as far back as 1893, with none of them having been logged more recently than 1920. These logs, Norway pines mostly, had rested at the bottom of Dewey Lake, north of Chisholm, having become waterlogged and dropping to the bottom after being placed in the lake preparatory to shipping by a dozen different companies which operated in this territory in the past.

A great many logs were cut and placed in Dewey Lake during the years 1894-1896, where they remained until the Swan River Logging Company built its logging railroad north of Chisholm. Early loggers were confined within a sleigh-hauling distance of a lake or a stream.

More than 2,550 logs, huge pines all of them, were removed from the Dewey Lake bottom by the Remington company, carted to the Hibbing mill by truck, and then sawed into lumber. These logs were cut by such famous names in the business as Thomas Shevlin, Weyerhauser, Bovey and DeLaitre, F.W. Bonness, Powers and Simpson, C.A. Smith, Mashek Lumber Company and others. The original owners of the logs were identified on the log ends by marks which served the same purpose as brands on cattle.

Those cold days and nights, those tough men and oxen and horses, those tall pines, are all a significant part of the story of Northern Minnesota.


Looking Back

The following items are taken from the Hibbing Daily Tribune or the Mesabi Ore, which are on microfilm at the Hibbing Public Library and/or Iron Range Resource Center at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm.


August 9, 1939

Come enjoy the Noonday Luncheon Special on Thursday at the Androy Grill Room. Barbecued pork spareribs, potato, vegetables, dessert, French rolls, coffee or iced tea—35cents.


June 6, 1944

The Vasa Lodge of Hibbing presented a musical talent program last Thursday at the Odd Fellows Hall. The welcome to members and friends was given by Gilbert Johnson, and community singing was led by Gilbert Johnson, accompanied by Mrs. E.W. Larson. Beverly Nordstrom played “Halsa Dem Darthemma” on the piano, and Georgia Johnson sang “John” accompanied by Mrs. E.W. Larson. More selections and songs were rendered by Chester Robertson and Harlan and Donald Roussee. Darleen Gustafson presented a tap dance and sang to the tune of “Paper Doll.” The singing cowgirl, Darleen Briggs, rendered several numbers. “Minuet in G” rendered by Dolores Gustafson completed the program. A lunch was served and a dance completed the evening’s entertainment.


January 12, 1949

An After-Inventory Sale is being held at the Ace Store. Card Table sets, table and four chairs, several styles and colors available, all metal, regularly $19.95, are on sale for $14.88.


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