Menominee County History
The first settler in the Menominee district was Louis Chappee, a fur trader who built a post on the river in 1796. As settlement advanced the counties of the Upper Peninsula were laid out and organized by legislative act. Michilimackinac County, created in 1818, at first included most of what is now the Upper Peninsula. Menominee County was considered part of the "unorganized territory" until 1843 when it was organized as part of Delta County. This is confirmed by reviewing census records for 1850 and 1860. Menominee County was never considered a part of Marquette County. In the 1840 census--the limited citizens in the "county" were recorded under Chippewa County.
At the request of residents of Sault Ste. Marie a second county, Chippewa, was organized in 1826. In 1843 these two counties were reduced in size and four new counties were organized: Delta, Marquette, Ontonagon, and Schoolcraft. Marquette County extended through that area now known as Menominee County.
A resident of that part of Marquette County in the region of the Menominee River, In 1861, Anson Bangs attempted to organized it under the name "Bleeker", but that was rejected by the citizens. The name was that of Bang's wife before her marriage. When word got back to the residents of the area of what had been done, they were so incensed that they refused to go ahead with the formation of a county government. In 1863, Eleazar S Ingalls successfully organized Menominee County. The original county did contain portions of Marquette and the present day Dickinson county.
The Menominee are part of the Algonquian family of tribes. Most Algonquian tribes lived in the Northeast Woodlands and they had much in common including their languages. However, there were many differences from tribe to tribe, too. That is why Algonquian tribes are listed by their individual names. The Great Lakes Algonquians are divided into the Chippewa, Menominee, Ottawa, and Potawatomi tribes.
Wild rice, also known as Indian rice, once had at least sixty different names in the many Indian dialects. One of the Algonquian versions was manomin, meaning "good berry." A variation of manomin became the name of the tribe of Algonquians who lived along the western Great Lakes and who harvested large quantities of wild rice -- the Menominees, pronounced muh-NOM-uh-nee. Explorers and historians have also referred to these Indians by the English translation -- that is, "wild rice men," or Rice Indians.
Before first contact with European explorers in the seventeenth century, the Menominee [Menomini] people lived in a nearly 10 million acre area of lakes, rivers, and forests extending along Lake Michigan, roughly from Milwaukee into upper Michigan, and west as far as central Wisconsin. When the first white explorer reached the region -- the Frenchman Jean Nicolet in about 1634 -- the Menominees controlled the northwestern shore of Lake Michigan in what is now Michigan and Wisconsin.
[Additional information on the Menominee tribe is found under Native American Research at this site.]
Opening the Upper Peninsula and Menominee District
During its early years the Menominee district's biggest returns came from whitefish and lake trout. Fur trading also was heavily active. Following the fur traders came lumber operators who built a sawmill and dam in 1832 which resulted in Menominee becoming the greatest lumber port of the Upper Peninsula. Construction of the dam revealed additional possibilities: fish were so numerous that dip nets were used, and more than 500 barrels of fish were scooped up, salted, and packed each season.
However, commercial lumbering in Michigan was basically an industry that grew great in a time when it could hardly do anything else. The great years of this industry, roughly from the early 1840s to about 1910, were years of rising emigration from Europe, and they also were years when the territory from the Alleghenies to the Missouri River was filling up with towns and farms. These people needed farmhouses, barns, town dwellings, stores, warehouses, sheds, and fences, and to build them they had to have immense quantities of cheap lumber.
By 1860 tremendous quantities of logs were being floated down rivers to the sawmills at Menominee and Escanaba. Huge amounts of hardwood were also being cut in the Upper Peninsula to feed the charcoal kilns that were erected by the iron smelters. The Saginaw River was developed at amazing speed, and so was the Lake Michigan trade that faced west and south. The Muskegon became the country's great lumber river. Menominee and Manistique, Muskegon, Escanaba and Manistee, and a vast number of smaller places, became indescribably busy with fleets of schooners carrying boards, laths, shingles, and beams down to the Chicago docks and yards.
The great increase of ore production in Michigan was made possible by the discovery of two iron ranges. Government surveyors had reported traces of iron ore in the Ironwood area and near the Menominee River in 1850 and 1851. Lack of transportation facilities was the main factor in retarding the start of mining in these areas. With the coming of the Chicago and North Western Railway the Breen and Vulcan mines near Iron Mountain shipped their first ore in 1877, while the mines around Crystal Falls began production in 1882. Between 1877 and 1955 the Menominee Range alone produced 253,999,999 tons of ore.
The development of Michigan's lumber and mineral resources was speeded up by the needs of the Civil War. However, copper mining in Michigan predates the arrival of the first Europeans, but it was only after the western region of the Upper Peninsula was opened to American prospectors that copper was mined commercially. In 1845, Michigan produced 26,880 pounds of copper, obtained mostly from outcrop veins and surface deposits [primarily in Keweenaw and Ontonagon Counties]. Iron and copper brought such high prices during the Civil War that mines that previously had not been worth exploiting were able to operate at a profit. By 1913 Michigan ranked third among the States, producing refined copper valued at more than $21,000,000. As the industry developed, three separate iron districts were opened up -- the Marquette, the Menominee, and the Gogebic. Active operations in the Menominee district started about 1877. The third district was almost wholly undeveloped until 1884, when railroad advantages were secured for the entire region. The quality of these Lake Superior region ores is second to none but the famed Swedish ores.
Menominee was the largest lumber-shipping point in the Upper Peninsula until the supply of timber was exhausted in 1910, when other sources of revenue were developed, among them dairying. Today, Menominee County produces 2,000,000 pounds of cheese annually; its commercial fishing yields an annual return of $250,000.
- Driver, Harold E., Indians of North America, 2nd Ed., Revised. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1972.
- Native America in the Twentieth Century: An Encyclopedia, ed. By Mary B. Davis. New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1994.
- Waldman, Carl, Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1988.
- Bruce Gerber - Menominee history corrections.