Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Guest Post By Jeffrey Smith, Author of Mesabi Pioneers

After dark the rain began.

Heavy sheets of cold, wet water dropped from the sky like the birds were dumping buckets from the tops of the trees. I pulled out my shell and zipped it up to my chin. In covering my head I accidentally covered my headlamp and stopped in the total darkness so that I would not trip over a rock.

For a moment all I heard was the falling of the rain, the rush of water over rocks and through the leaves of trees overhead. My feet squished in the mud and I felt the cool water seep down my legs and into my shoes.

Then I pushed my hood back so my headlamp would illuminate the trail again. From my waist belt I pulled a bottle of water and took a drink. Then I kept moving. This was mile 65 of a hundred mile run through the Massanutten Mountains in western Virginia. I carried water with me and a few small snacks, and wore modern running shoes that were lightweight and easy to change. In six miles I would come to the eighth of the course's fourteen aid stations where I would be able to sit down if I wanted, change out of my wet shoes, warm by a fire, eat some food prepared for me. Despite the struggle of running one hundred miles, I was being catered to like an oil tycoon on a luxury vacation.

In April of 1891, as I write in Mesabi Pioneers, five men left the Mesaba, Minnesota, railroad station and set out on a thirty mile journey through some of the roughest country in America. The air was still cold at night, and the trail, if it could be called that, was marred by both frozen earth and thick, muddy bogs. Rocks, often boulders, seemed to grow out of the ground. White pine and birch and ash trees grew so tall they blocked out the sun.

Views of Mesaba Station. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

Stumps marked where men had come before them, but the stumps were still so tall that the wagons could not move over them. Two or three times every hour one of the five men would take an axe to a stump. It was slow going.

Each man carried a pack that contained everything he would need to survive: axe, hatchet, knives, tin cup for drinking, perhaps a plate and fork or spoon, sleeping roll, layers of clothing to keep the chill from seeping under their skins. Their boots were made of leather and tied up to their knees. If the sole wore through or slipped off they patched it, or tied it together with more string.

They were lucky in that most of the food they were eating on their journey was loaded into the wagon. However, most men traveling on foot back then had to also carry a cook stove, a kettle for coffee, a pot or pan for cooking. They carried canteens for water, though some of them may have had leather water bags. These things weren't made of a lightweight plastic polymer. The stove was heavy cast iron; the axes made from hardened steel. To save weight they often made their own handles when they arrived at their camps.

At night, to cook, they needed waterproof matches to start a fire. There were no lightweight propane stoves. They found wood and chopped kindling. They might have cooked canned beans, or eaten dried venison they packed themselves. If they wanted something fresh they hunted for game. No one carried apples or fresh vegetables. If they were lucky they had eggs, but for that they would have had to bring along the chickens to lay them.

It was a struggle to travel that thirty miles, and even when they got to their destination there was no band to greet them. No beds to sleep in, no hotel, no hot shower. The campout continued, for when they stopped moving the work of living began. Building a home for shelter out of nothing but the trees that surrounded them.

As I continued on my journey on foot, I thought about those men, and the struggle they went through just to survive in the harsh environment of northern Minnesota. As the rain fell in heavier sheets I knew how lucky I was that my journey on foot would end after one hundred miles, but theirs, as chronicled in Mesabi Pioneers, would continue.

Publication Date: October 6, 2014
Lempi Publishing
Formats: eBook, Hardcover
238 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

In the early 1890s, a group of brothers discovered iron ore in the dense pine woods of northern Minnesota. Mesabi Pioneers tells the story of the immigrants who dug that ore out of the ground, who carved towns from trees, and who built new lives for themselves and their families.

Arthur Maki, a Finnish immigrant known for his carpentry skills, has been hired by the persuasive and poetic Leonidas “Lon” Merritt to join a crew of explorers in the forest. From this remote and formidable locale, Arthur must construct a camp and foster a community into which he can bring his wife and son.

The camp, which the Merritts call Mountain Iron, sits on what Lon believes to be a huge lode of iron ore. However, the rest of the world thinks the Merritts are crazy. While Arthur builds a camp with a Chippewa Indian everyone calls Charlie and a French-Chippewa fur trader named Richardson, the other members of the team explore the surrounding woods for more caches of iron. When a second lode is discovered at Biwabik, Arthur and the rest of the crew know the finding is real. And the iron mining world knows it, too.

As the mine gets deeper and mining operations expand, the camp crowds with a diversity of ethnic and cultural groups. Tragedy strikes in ways large and small. And it is from the ashes of destruction that Arthur finds the community he has been seeking.

Praise for Mesabi Pioneers

“…a refreshingly enjoyable read… Hill and Smith kindle complicated emotions, important questions and a driving curiosity about Northern Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range…The novel give(s) us a remarkable point of view, a vision of the Iron Range before it was anything like our modern understanding of the place. The size of the forest, the difficulty of travel, the majesty of the Missabe hills before they were opened up and moved like chess pieces: we see all of this in fresh prose.” -Aaron Brown, Hibbing Daily Tribune and minnesotabrown.com

“Hill and Smith pepper their story with some very good character development, plenty of sarcastic humor, and a good deal of research into a period never before explored in historical fiction. In their handling, the enterprising and occasionally cutthroat, bygone world of iron mining comes vividly alive. A strong debut installment.” -Charlotte Kirsch, Historical Novel Society

“A wonderful book. I’d recommend it to anyone.” -Scott Hall, KAXE, Northern Community Radio

“In Mesabi Pioneers, Jeffrey Smith has skillfully crafted a wonderful story that respects the historical facts while bringing the experience of these pioneers to life. This book is a steeped in the social history and physical geography of this region in Minnesota that played such a significant role in the economic rise of the United States. In a few words, this is good creative writing with an enjoyable style.” -James Dilisio, author Maryland Geography

“What a fascinating story, with finely drawn characters and compelling subject matter. The authors take us inside the hearts and souls of newly arrived immigrant pioneers, full of hope and promise, who accomplished extraordinary feats under dire circumstances; and the Native Americans who watched their homeland undergo such dramatic and irrevocable change. I highly recommend it.” -Kathryn Leigh Scott, actress and author, Down and Out in Beverly Heels


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About the Author


Jeffrey Smith began his love of letters at fourteen on a Smith-Corona electric typewriter borrowed from his father. He is a full-time writer, homemaker and stay-at-home parent in Berlin, Maryland.
Also an accomplished distance runner, Jeffrey has completed 16 marathons, seven 24-hour relay races, and multiple ultra-runs, including several 100-mile races. He blogs about writing, running, and parenting at rustlingreed.com/blog.

For more information visit mesabiproject.com. You can also follow Mesabi Pioneers on Facebook and Twitter.

Mesabi Pioneers Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, May 4

Blog Tour Kick Off at Passages to the Past

Tuesday, May 5

Guest Post at The Maiden’s Court

Monday, May 11

Review at Unshelfish

Thursday, May 14

Review at Flashlight Commentary

Monday, May 18

Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Tuesday, May 19

Guest Post at Passages to the Past

Wednesday, May 20

Review at Beth’s Book Nook Blog

Thursday, May 21

Review at Broken Teepee

Monday, May 25

Review at Griperang’s Bookmarks

Tuesday, May 26

Review at Book Nerd
Guest Post at A Literary Vacation

Thursday, May 28

Review at Just One More Chapter
Review at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More

Friday, May 29

Review at A Novel Kind of Bliss


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