As we left Munising our boat passed above the wrecks of nearly a dozen vessels,
the Superior , the Kiowa , the Smith Moore and others.
We did not pass over the final resting place of the Peter White
. But it was a close call. Who was this Peter White?
We've encountered him before while exploring
the Upper Peninsula. A poem by William Henry Drummond says, "So if
you want to know de state of Michigan/Very easy to remember-in case you
might forget,/Only two man make her go, 'cos ma fader told me so,/An wan
is M'sieu Pierre le Blanc, de oder Pere Marquette." Heady company for
a green young man from New York's Mohawk Valley. Born in the town of Rome
on Hallowe'en Day in 1830, White obviously had itchy feet fairly early on.
He arrived in Upper Michigan at the age of 15 and began working as a deckhand.
Falling off a stack of lumber one night he broke an arm and had to be moved
to Detroit, a three-day voyage. By the time a doctor looked at the arm it
had swollen so greatly that it was feared amputation might be necessary.
The sawbones thought otherwise and began a regimen of pouring whiskey and
boiling water on the arm every fifteen minutes for a whole day. This painful
treatment brought the swelling down and the arm was saved. Undaunted, Peter
White was soon back in action, accompanying engineer Robert J. Graveret
and others to the recently-discovered iron deposits near Teal Lake. He pitched
right in and helped build the dock at Iron Bay.
Then helped build another the next day, after the lake claimed the first
one. Adaptability is the keyword on the Great Lakes, and Peter White could
adapt with the best of them. He taught himself to drive mules, by trial
and error, calling out "Gee" and observing what happened, then
hollering "Haw" and seeing what that did. He also taught
himself to speak the Chippewa language. Quickly becoming a valuable member
of the ore teams, in 1852 he signed the bill of lading for the first shipment
of ore out of the Marquette area. He grew with the town and the industry
and in later years founded blast furnaces and public libraries, helped start
the local Masonic lodge and served in the state legislature. When he died
in 1908, Peter White had indeed helped make Michigan go. He may never have
had a town named after him, but a current local brew is called Peter White
And the non-shipwreck? The Cleveland Cliffs Iron Company named one of its
ore carriers after White. When the killer Lakes storm of November 1913,
swept southward, sinking 19 vessels, it caught the Peter White in
its fury. The captain was convinced by the mate to make a run for the safety
of Munising harbor. Just then sudden snow squalls destroyed visibility and
the captain screamed to the mate that the boat was lost. Then, just as suddenly,
everything cleared. The White eased through the passage and the Lakes
were cheated of one set of victims. Which just goes to show - you can't
hold a good man, or ship, down.
For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor
© 1999 David Minor / Eagles Byte
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