Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Keweenaw Peninsula :: Fort Wilkins

Sunday, August 7th - - It was an extremely cloudy and overcast day on Saturday with a forecast of rain in the afternoon. The rain didn't materialize until Sunday morning but I spent a leisurely day Saturday getting caught up with everyday tasks – grocery shopping, laundry, etc. And, of course, working on the computer and writing blog posts. You not only learn to take advantage of the “good” days (the pretty ones with blue skies and sunshine) but also the “bad” days that are somewhat dreary and sometimes a little depressing.

Sunday morning I headed northwest, catching US 41 and following it all the way to the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula and stopped at Fort Wilkins Historic State Park for the night. The further north I drove, the nicer the weather got. The rain stopped and the sun came out. Blue skies returned.

In the 1840s when the copper rush took place the US Government built Fort Wilkins due to a concern with possible disorder and violence amongst the miners and local natives. The Army built 27 structures, including a guardhouse, powder magazine, seven officer's quarters, two barracks, two mess halls, a hospital, storehouse, sutler's store, quartermaster's store, bakery, blacksmith's shop, carpenter's shop, icehouse, four quarters for married enlisted men, stables, and a slaughter house – all to house the operations of two full-strength infantry companies. Several of the original structures still survive while others have been reconstructed following archaeological excavations.

It was an interesting self-guided tour. Apparently they have costumed interpreters on-site during some periods of the summer, but not while I was there! However, there are plenty of informative displays all around that provide a good deal of information.


The Officer's Quarters and another building reflected in the old glass windows of another building.


I thought it was interesting that the four buildings housing the married enlisted men and their families were outside the gates of the fort!


One of the other things that I thought was really interesting is that they displayed copies of original documents – some census records, muster rolls, etc. and they have documented the lives of most of the men who served at Fort Wilkins!

This graphic, with reflections abounding, tells the tale of the soldiers stationed at Fort Wilkins. Wouldn't it be neat if one of your ancestors had served there?

In total, two hundred seventy-one enlisted men served at Fort Wilkins between 1844 and 1870. Records for all but ten have been found. What became of these soldiers after they left here?

  • One of every twelve died in the army – half of them from natural causes.
  • One of every ten serving here in the 1840s was a battlefield casualty in the Mexican War.
  • One of every nine enlisted men to serve here left the army by desertion.
  • Less than 4% (one of every twenty-six) re-enlisted.

More photos of Fort Wilkins via Google Images.

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