John Beargrease, born about 1865, was the son of a minor Anishinaabe chief by the name of Makwabimidem, but Beargrease is best remembered as the winter mail carrier between Two Harbors, Minnesota, and Grand Marais, Minnesota, during the last two decades of the 19th century, well before roads existed along the North Shore of Lake Superior.
Beargrease and his sled dog team delivered mail and needed supplies to residents along this route; he was the settlers' connecton to the outside world, braving storms, brutal cold, volatile and shifting shoreline ice, and wild animals, to keep a regular schedule up and back along the 100-mile stretch of terrain under these dangerous conditions.
Today, his legendary dog sled runs are remembered and celebrated in the annual 411-mile John Beargrease Dog Sled Race, but his importance to the residents of the North Shore should be remembered as more than a dog sled race--rather, it was a lifeline and much-needed connection to the greater community of Minnesota. Today, this memorial sled dog race can encounter very cold and brutal conditions, but more often now there is a question of whether there will be enough snow to safely run the race, with race start dates shifting to maximize weather conditions similar to the shifting ice often encountered during Beargrease's mail runs along the Lake Superior shoreline.
John Beargrease died at his home in Beaver Bay, Minnesota, in 1910. Personally, I think there should be a U.S. postage stamp memorializing this man.
~Deborah Newcomb, Minneapolis, MN
John Beargrease was an Ojibwe mail carrier along the North Shore between Two Harbors and Grand Marais. His many years of service and delivering mail in all kinds of weather conditions--by foot, dogsled, horse and canoe led to the legend of John Beargrease. There is even a well-known sled dog race named after him.
~Edward J. Maki, Jr., Silver Bay, MN
Mailman along the North Shore. He delivered mail in any kind of weather.
~Mitchell Preusse and Nick Maki
John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2007, the John Beargrease Sled Dog race has been an Arrowhead tradition since 1980. It has spawned many mushing sled dog drivers/racers/personalities, who have gone on to have a major influence in international sled dog sports.
The mushers and the history of sled dog sports in Minnesota had their organized beginnings in North Star Sled Dog Club, incorporated by Minnesota State Statutes in 1969.
The John Beargrease race takes its name from the Ojibwe man who, in the late 1800s, delivered the mail along the North Shore with his dog team. The race commemorates his courage and endurance and has come to be associated with one of the toughest and most exciting sled dog races in the lower 48, drawing competitors and spectators alike from throughout the USA and the world.
~Sally OSullivan Bair, Duluth, MN
Neither snow, nor rain, nor sleet, nor a balky sled dog team
Since 1980, the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon has attracted competitors and racers from the United States and around the world. Beginning in Duluth and running 400 miles along the north shore of Lake Superior to the Canadian border, the Beargrease is one of the longest, most grueling race routes outside Alaska.
The race takes its name from an Ojibwe mail carrier named John Beargrease, who was born in 1858 and grew up in a wigwam on the edge of Beaver Bay, the first white settlement on the North Shore. John was the son of Moquabimetem, who also went by the name "Beargrease," a leader who settled in the area with a small group of Ojibwe to work at Beaver Bay's sawmill.
The U.S. Congress ordered the beginning of mail service from Superior to Grand Portage in 1855, but service was spotty--if the lake was choppy in summer or icy in winter, the mail didn't make it through. The Beargrease family came to the rescue--first the father and then the sons picked up the job. John Beargrease and his brothers began covering a regular route between Two Harbors and Grand Marais in 1879. Occasionally, they'd make the trek all the way to Grand Portage. They completed their route at least once and sometimes twice a week, with a load of up to 700 pounds of personal mail, packages, and newspapers. In the summer, they hiked along the shore, sailed, or rowed a boat. In the winter, they made the trek by dog sled.
John Beargrease's team of four dogs could cover thirty to forty miles a day. When the bells were heard in the distance, people gathered, not only to receive long-awaited news of friends and relatives but also for reports of ice conditions, snow depths, and other vital information. For decades, until his death from tuberculosis in 1910, John Beargrease was the link to the outside world for the citizens of the North Shore.
"Day or night or good weather or bad made no difference with John Beargrease; he was sure to arrive some time with the mail intact. When he reached his journey's end with his faithful dog team, they would all rest up for a short while and start the return trip, regardless of the weather. Nature's wild wintry blasts had no terrors for faithful John."
Willis H. Raff, Pioneers in the Wilderness
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