Before European exploration, Marquette was home to the Ojibwa people which still survive in the region today. The region went through the Fur Trading Era, along with missionaries of the Jesuits, which formed the first maps of the Upper Peninsula. After the American Revolution and the War of 1812, a series of treaties were made with the Ojibwa people for mineral rights and exploration. In many instances, the Ojibwa people kept the right to hunt on the land.
It was not until 1844 when William Burt, an American surveyor, found iron deposits near present day Negaunee that Marquette had the potential to become the Queen City of the North or even a speck on the map. Interactions between the Ojibwas and miners were friendly. The Ojibwa people helped to provide food and nourishments to the miners and taught them how to live in the harsh winters. Once iron and copper were found in the region, immigrants from Italy, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Cornwall, and France filled the mines with workers.
A Chippewa chief named, Charlie Kawbawgam, arrived in 1846 where he became the guide and mail carrier between L’Anse and other settlements throughout the area. Working closely with Peter White, a prominent figure in Marquette’s history, the two men became close friends. The Kawbawgam’s lived on Presque Isle and their grave is marked by a huge natural boulder.
Marquette or Worcester, at the time, officially became a village in September of 1849 with the arrival of Amos Harlow and members of the Marquette Iron Company. Worcester later became Marquette ten years later in 1859, and officially became a city in 1871, then Marquette county was created in 1843.
The city of Marquette does not have the pure iron deposits of other towns, but it does have over 24 miles of beaches. Shipping products by boat is still cheaper than by train, bus, or truck and back in the early 19th century, busses and trucks didn’t exist to carry thousands of pounds of ore to the rest of the United States. Marquette was and still the closest natural harbor from the mines in the Western UP to the rest of the world.
Since 1849, the town has continued to grow with only a few minor hiccups to set development back such as the Great Fire of 1868, which burnt all of downtown to the ground. But it only took three years to completely rebuild downtown and have it propel forward to what we see today.
Just because the UP is very remote does not mean it was immune to the world’s political problems. Because of the harsh climates and untamed wilderness, yoopers were prized recruits and draftees for wars. But it wasn’t just the people that the government sought from the UP, but the iron as well. It is estimated that 97% of the iron used for World War II came directly from the UP and through Marquette’s lower harbor. This caused watch towers above Graveraet High School and a military base at Pictured Rocks to stand watch for any enemy trying to sabotage production.
The history above is of course very brief and all information was researched at the Marquette Regional History Center. If you wish to see more in-depth history of any topic about Marquette please leave a comment below and check back frequently for a new posting.