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Negaunee pioneer: Medard Gauthier

An early painting of Teal Lake by Edwin Schrottky, not long after Gauthier's arrival in Negaunee.

At the time of his death, Negaunee pioneer Medard Gauthier was the city’s oldest citizen in both age and in length of continuous residence. When he died on December 22, 1923, he was 90 years old and had resided in Negaunee for 66 years.

Medard was born to Antione and Sophie Gauthier on Sept. 29, 1833 in St. Michel, a small hamlet south of Montreal. The nearest school was five miles away, leaving little opportunity for his education.

He would never learn to read or write.

He was only 7 or 8 years old when he began working and by 16, he was ready to set out on his own. Around 1849 or 1850 he crossed the border into New York State and found employment in a brickyard near Troy.

Somewhat later Medard went to Black Book, New York, where many Canadian families had settled. In the winters he went into the forests to cut wood for the making of charcoal, returning to town in the summers to work in the charcoal pits. (At the time charcoal was made in pits, the mound-like stone kilns such as the one recently rebuilt by the Iron Ore Heritage Trail came into fashion some years later.)

Medard Gauthier, from his obituary in the Negaunee Iron Herald on Dec. 28, 1923.

While in Black Brook he met Elise Gadaous and they were married in 1853. Looking for a way to support his family and drawn by the recent discovery of iron ore in the Lake Superior district, Medard arrived in Marquette on October 17, 1854. Gauthier went to work for Amos Harlow, possibly at his sawmill. Medard’s family joined him in Marquette and June 7, 1857 they moved to Negaunee where he found work at the Jackson Mine.

Fairly quickly he returned to his prior occupation as a charcoal burner, making charcoal for the Pioneer Furnace. In later years, he would recall that the usually timid deer would come to the vicinity of the charcoal pits during “fly time” and stand in the smoke for hours at a time, to enjoy protection from the pests.

When operations at the furnace were suspended, Medard switched occupations yet again, finding work with the Marquette & Bay de Noc Railroad. He started as a track laborer but was soon promoted to section foreman. The railroad provided some stability and he worked there for a dozen years.

When he left the railroad, Medard turned his attention to farming, purchasing ten acres in the eastern part of Negaunee, directly opposite the old cemetery. He continued to till the property with good results until it was sold to the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company as part of the formation of the Maas Mine. The funds from this sale were enough to purchase a new home and “keep him comfortably all his life.”

In his later years, Medard liked to talk about the early pioneer days in Negaunee, although his recollections were in French as despite his many years in the United States, he never fully mastered English. He was known for his clear memories of dates and other particulars.

He often said that if people now thought Teal Lake was beautiful, they should have seen it as he did upon his arrival from Marquette- the forests which encircled it untouched by the woodsman’s ax, and the mirror-like surface of the water teaming with the birds from which it took its name.

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