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'John Beargrease' touring show coming to Wadena Jan. 19

"John Beargrease" will visit the Wadena City Library at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 19.

Many people have heard of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. The race is named after the Ojibwe mail carrier, John Beargrease, who was born in 1858, the same year Minnesota became a state. Beargrease grew up in a wigwam on the edge of Beaver Bay, the first white settlement on the North Shore. He was the son of Moquabimetem, who also went by the name Beargrease. His father was an Ojibwe leader who settled in the area to work in 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 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 lease 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.

Beargrease's team of four dogs could cover 30-40 miles a day. When the bells of the sled 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.

Using costume and props from the period, "John Beargrease" will be brought to life by a Minnesota History Player from the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. "John Beargrease" visits to Kitchigami Libraries and communities are part of the MN History Alive! Project. For the complete schedule of John Beargrease visits in the Kitchigami region, visit the Kitchigami Regional Library website at, click on Legacy Events.