In his own words: Marquette pioneer Timothy Patenaude Sr.

Early Marquette is shown in a photo taken from Ripely’s Rock in the Lower Harbor in 1857. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

Editor’s note: Timothy Patenaude Sr. was one of Marquette’s early pioneer residents. Born in Canada to a family with 10 children, he left home to begin working when he was about 14 years old. During the winter of 1897 he told his daughter Rose about his circuitous path to Marquette and his life in the new community.

“… I left [Niagara Falls] late in the fall of 1850 and went back to Buffalo and there got on a boat bound for Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. We came as far as Mackinac and the boat could go no further. I stayed at Mackinac for one week, then with another man engaged an old fisherman to carry us to Sugar Island in a mackinac [sic] boat about 12 miles below Sault Ste. Marie. The weather was very rough and sea high.

“At Buffalo, I had met a man and his sister who were on their way to join their brother, his name was Paymer. This man had to leave for Detroit and went there and contracted for providing boats with wood. As I said, the sea was rough and Paymer drank and lost control of the boat and landed us on a rock. His sister prayed all the time fearing that the boat would go under and her prayers, I know, saved us.

“Paymer wanted to leave us on the rock, but his companions nearly docked him and took command of the boat, the girl praying and she took his whiskey bottle away from him and threw it into the water. We drained the boat and put balsam boughs on the bottom of the boat and as soon as calm, put out again. Got in after lots of trouble with the ice, which was in cakes.

“Remained on the island for 6 months and chopped wood with nothing but white fish and trout to eat. Worked all winter for a pocket knife and smoking tobacco. Paymer would not pay.

“I left Paymer’s place, walking on the ice and came up to the ‘Soo’ from Sugar Island, jumping cakes of ice on the way. Only means of getting out as I had no money and was tired of staying there. At the ‘Soo’ at that time, 1851, the boats were carried on skids of timber. There was no canal. I worked at this for 6 weeks, carrying boats.

“Then I joined a gang of 20 or 25 men who were going to Ontonagon to open the Forest Mine, the first copper mine 13 miles up the river from Lake Superior. The mine was 2 miles from the river side. Provisions were brought up the river from the town of Ontonagon on a scow and then drawn to the mine by a young cow, 4 years old, which did all the packing or hauling for the mine all summer, even to carrying stoves. By winter there teams on hand to do the hauling [sic].

I stayed there awhile and then went to Eagle Harbor and Copper Harbor working at mining between times. During this time I was 4 months at Isle Royal [sic] working at mining. From Eagle Harbor I started to come to Carp River. There was a storm on the lake and the boat had to head for the “Soo” instead. The name of the boat was “Napoleon.”

“We started again and the boat drifted on the beach below Grand Island and we had to work two days to fetch things to the shore and float the boat, anchored it, put provisions again on board and at last got in to Carp River, landing near Ripley’s Rock. We helped to get two cows ashore by making them swim ashore. We got ashore in a row boat. This was in the year 1851, about 2 years before the burning of the forge. (Forge was burned in 1853.)

“The first thing I did when I landed was to play cards. I had $2.50 with me and won 4 months board, then gave up and played no more. I helped out the old Bay De Noguc [sic] county road and got over-pay from Peter White…

“I married your month the 2d of January 1856. She was Cecelia Derigo de LaPlante and had come to Lake Superior a few years before with her mother and sisters and brothers. Her father died while making preparations to move his family to the Lake Superior country. He had been with the Fur Trading Co. at the “Soo” and expected to make his home there, dealing in furs with the Indians.

“Your mother at the time of our marriage was housekeeper for the Rev. Father Duroc who married us. He was the first resident priest in this town. Your mother landed here on the 21st day of June 1854. Jacob Donipiere [sic], of Ishpeming, was one of the party. They came on the “Manhattan.” The place was called at that time “Carp River.”

“In the year 1854 there was commenced what was called “the plank road,” which was finished in 1856. I was given the contract for building the first mile and a half, beginning on the hill near the old Scales and extending up to Bancroft. Got the contract from old man Peck. I afterwards, in 1855 worked for Heman B. Ely on the railroad laying the track from the railroad dock up to Eagle Mills. The iron ore was brought down as far as Eagle Mills and then transported from there to Marquette by rail. I saw the first shipment of ore made from Marquette.

“There were no conductors in those days and I was head brakeman. On one trip the train jumped the track near old Reublins [sic], and I got squeezed and was laid up for 6 months and when I was well enough the company paid my salary for just making trips to oversee the work.

“I afterwards working in the railroad foundry for a number of years. Mr. Donkersley was Superintendent. While working here I was taken down with a fever which kept me in bed for a long time and away from work for almost a year. Mr. Donkersley would bring my pay to your mother. I went on the railroad again after a few years as foundry work was not good for me and I used to run the old M.H.&O. snow plow. My last work was as watchman at the old M.H.&O. depot which stood at the foot of the hill on 3rd St. below Washington St. opposite Werner’s Picture Gallery.”

Timothy Patenaude died April 1, 1908 at the age of 79. He was survived by his wife, Cecilia, and ten of their 11 children.


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