Michigan in Books reviews Classen’s True Tales: The Forgotten History of the U.P.

True Tales: the Forgotten History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula by Mikel B. Classen.

Review by Tom Powers, Michigan in Books

Even Michigan natives who know just a little about the Upper Peninsula are aware of how unique it is geographically and historically. It is a beautiful, wild, rugged, sparsely populated peninsula full of unforgettable scenic wonders that is equaled by its unique and often strange history. This work by Mikel B. Classen is a great introduction to the often remarkable and memorable history connected to the U.P. that in all honesty weren’t forgotten by the general public. They are historical stories they never even knew about.

Among my favorite chapters in True Tales: The Forgotten History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is the account of the last stagecoach robbery east of the Mississippi which took place in the U.P. The robber called himself Black Bart and killed one passenger and wounded another. Then there’s the Great Lake pirate who operated all over Lake Michigan from his base in Escanaba.  I thought I knew all the relevant facts about the Ontonagon Boulder. I didn’t. It was a mass of pure copper the Native Americans worshipped, but the Hell with their beliefs. The boulder was transported to Washington where it was misplaced and lost for years. The boulder was the spark that lit the Copper Boom in the U.P. The author also writes of the prominent settlers to the U.P., throws in the odd shipwreck, and relates the story of a couple of castaways on Isle Royale. The two survived a winter on the island by eating bark, roots, and berries. The husband went crazy from hunger and his wife feared she was next on his menu.

Those who consider history boring need to read this book before doubling down on their misplaced judgment. The book is jam-packed full of interesting and arresting true stories tied to U.P. history.  All I can say is, another volume please.

True Tales: The Forgotten History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula by Mikel B. Classen. Modern History Press, ISBN 978-61599-636-0, 2022, $18.95.

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