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Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
(218) 333-9819 customer support
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

The John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon is considered one of the most prestigious sled dog races in the lower 48, attracting mushers and spectators from around the world. It commemorates the life of John Beargrease, the son of an Ojibwe chief who delivered mail by dog sled along the North Shore in the late 19th Century. This year the 320 mile race along the North Shore will start Jan. 30.

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Beargrease was born in 1858, the same year Minnesota became a state. He 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.

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 thirty to forty 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, Beargrease was the link to the outside world for the citizens of the North Shore.

"Day or night, good weather or bad made no difference with John Beargrease; he was sure to arrive some time with the mail intact. When he reached his journey's end with his faithful dog team, they would all rest up for a short while and start the return trip, regardless of weather. Nature's wild wintry blasts had no terrors for faithful John." -- Willis H. Raff, Pioneers in the Wilderness.

Using costume and props from the period, Beargrease will be brought to life by a Minnesota History Player from the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. John Beargrease will visit Blackduck Jan. 25. A school performance will be held at 3 p.m. for the fifth and sixth grades and a public performance will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the commons area of the senior living center. Everyone is invited to attend the public performance, there is no charge for this event. Children of all ages, as well as adults, will enjoy this program.

Beargrease's visits to Kitchigami Libraries and communities are part of the Minnesota History Alive!

Project with funding from the State of Minnesota Legacy Arts and Cultural Heritage fund.

For the complete schedule of Beargrease visits in the Kitchigami region, visit the Kitchigami Regional Library website at krls.org, click on Legacy Events.

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Pioneer staff reports
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