Fort Wilkins’ wife talks about life in Copper Harbor

COPPER HARBOR — In 1869, Copper Harbor was a bustling little settlement, that depended on commerce for its livelihood. That commerce was threatened the following year, however, when the War Dept. decided Fort Wilkins would be de-garrisoned in August, 1870. Compounding that was the closure of the Cliff mine near Eagle River, from where many shoppers came to enjoy variety, as well as the scenery of Copper Harbor.

That is a matter of historical record, but Kate Holmes, a laundress, and the wife of a private posted at the fort in 1870, recently granted the Daily Mining Gazette an exclusive interview in which she shared her opinions of life in the fort and in the community the final summer of her three-year residence at the military post.

There are things she likes about life at Fort Wilkins, she said, and things she does not enjoy at all. First on her list is winters, particularly after the last place her husband was posted was in Louisiana.

“There, it’s very, very hot,” Holmes said, “and getting here in May, there was still some snow on the ground, (Lake Superior) had just opened up.”

Holmes, who is not relishing the thought of another winter in the area, said she feels isolated in the winter time, especially when the snow was so high. Carrying two wooden buckets of water suspended from a yoke is far more difficult when having to trudge through deep snow.

“There is separation from family,” Holmes said. “I still have my husband and and children, but I lose a sense of community being so far from family. I don’t have that so much here.”

Infrequent mail deliveries are another source of frustration, because that is the garrison members’ only connection to family and friends “back home,” she said.

“In the summertime, mails come every day or every three days,” she said, “it comes either by foot or by stagecoach. The stagecoach brings passengers up here nearly everyday, and he just brings it (the mail) to us.”

In the winter, however, mail is usually delivered every two months by sled dog, or on snowshoes, anyway he can get it to us,” said Holmes. “we get backordered books, and the officer’s wives have to wait for their fancy magazines, showing the latest styles and such.”