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The Reviews are in!
Here is where “Mesabi Pioneers” is at its best. The novel’s opening chapters give 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.
[W]here “Mesabi Pioneers” thrills is in its dramatic imagination of what people faced in the wilds of 1890s Mountain Iron, and how the mighty wheels of industrial commerce slowly crushed the spirits of the ambitious Merritt Brothers. Fiction, yes. But the spirit rings true. Knowing how it turns out in real life only enhances the reading of this book.
Scott Hall from KAXE, Northern Community Radio, loved the book. He discussed the novel at length with Jeffrey Smith on his morning radio show on October 14th. “It’s a wonderful book,” Scott told his listeners. “I’d recommend it to anyone.”
Mesabi Pioneers is the highly readable account of one of the remarkable achievements of the 19th Century: how a remote, tree-covered area of northern Minnesota became America’s greatest source of iron ore.
It is 1891. Arthur Maki, a Finnish immigrant known for his carpentry skills, has been hired by the persuasive and poetic Leonidas “Lon” Merritt to join an improbable team of American businessmen and European immigrants to find iron ore in the formidable expanse of dense pine woods in northern Minnesota. What follows is an extraordinary tale of both personal and technological achievement.
The novel brings the pursuit of iron ore to vivid life, illuminating the men and women, mostly forgotten by history, who built an industry, carved towns from trees, and created a rich culture that survives to this day.
Russell Hill—born and raised on the Mesabi Range and the grandson of Finnish immigrants—had a vision of bringing the story of the Range to a wide audience. The genesis of the novels came from his original idea of tracing the development of the Range culture, how in one generation disparate groups and cultures could bridge their unique identities and form a new community, one that both treasured the uniqueness of each culture, and used that uniqueness to form a new cultural identity.
Russell died in 2011, his story unfinished. His daughter, Cheryl Hill Gordon, determined to finish the project her father started, found Jeffrey Smith. Together, Jeffrey and Cheryl have moved the story above and beyond Russell’s original idea, building on it and crafting a story we both feel he would be proud of. It’s a story we think everyone should read.