It is 1891. An improbable team of American businessmen and European immigrants hunt for iron ore in a formidable expanse of dense pine forest. Fighting isolation, harsh winters, and mosquito-infested summers, they find it. What follows is an extraordinary tale of both personal and technological achievement.
Mesabi Pioneers 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 lasts to this day.
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.