Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.

Donate
Topics
This content is made possible in part by the generous sponsorship support of The University of Minnesota.

Just in time for the race: the first Beargrease bio

Does it seem to take forever for your car to warm up in this weather? Imagine traveling a good chunk of the North Shore by foot and dog sled in the pre-global-warming days of early Minnesota, as mail carrier John Beargrease did.

Does it seem to take forever for your car to warm up in this weather? Imagine traveling a good chunk of the North Shore by foot and dog sled in the pre-global-warming days of early Minnesota, as mail carrier John Beargrease did. Sunday night and Monday morning, mushers in the annual Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon stopped their dogs at the Chippewa cemetery in Beaver Bay to pay homage at his grave.

Although Beargrease regularly carried 700-pound loads of words (newspapers traveled with the mail), he could not read, so he’d be amazed to know he’s the subject of a new book. St. Paul writer Daniel Lancaster has written the first Beargrease biography, “John Beargrease, Legend of Minnesota’s North Shore.”

“I am in love with the North Shore and I wanted to contribute something to it. I wanted to capture something of that spiritual essence which cloaks the North Shore,” Lancaster says.

He originally set out to write a children’s book, and to be sure, the wild tales of Beargrease rival that of Paul Bunyan. But as he delved into research, the book grew up. The book paints a vivid picture of life on the North Shore in early settlement days, including a fascinating portrait of the Ojibwe community in the area.

Article continues after advertisement

“I think anyone doing historical research experiences a strange obsession, a spiritual nostalgia, with the characters under investigation,” Lancaster says. “I became very familiar with the Beargrease family, sharing their joys and their sorrows, worrying along with them over the predicaments, friends with the ghosts.”

It’s said that Beargrease’s ghost leads the group of racing dogsleds. Would he also hover at a book reading? If so, he’ll be with Lancaster at Roseville’s Barnes & Noble on Thursday (Jan. 29) at 7 p.m. and in Minneapolis at Magers & Quinn on Tuesday (Feb. 5) at 7:30 p.m.