A River, a Town, a County, a Mine, a Family
A number of readers have asked my opinion of Depuydt’s book RUMBELLION. Since it is characterized as “non-fiction,” I feel mandated to respond. Click here to read my review of the book.
Thank you for your interest in Ray Bisque's book entitled "Iron - A River, a Town, a County, a Mine, a Family."
Residents of Iron River, Michigan
The books are available through Angeli's Supermarket, the Iron County Museum and Central Arts and Gifts.
Books can be ordered directly from this web site for $17.00 plus $3.00 handling and shipping.
Rosalia and Constanty Zyskowski portrait by Olaf Hansen (1901).
|Click here for links to some of Ray's other books|
Since Iron was Published
“Maybe Nygard thinks he will get free, but why did he murder, I know why and so do Nygard. I ain’t a bit sorry for what I have said, I knew I was gona (sic) suffer for the words I did say, and I have been punished for the wrong I have done, I could have gone away and then Nygard would get free, I’m pretty sure, I could have gott (sic) money for doing ett to (sic) I know it, but I am not that low….”
below are the ads which have appeared in the Iron County Reporter
and the "Summer Fun Guide."
|Letters From the Upper Peninsula|
|First American Dollar|
|A Cabin West of Atkinson|
he Good Doctor
|A Mineral Property in Balance|
|Humor in The Courtroom|
|Michigan Supreme Court|
t-War Iron River
|A Murder Shocks Iron River|
|Note to Residents or Former Residents of Iron River|
personal correspondence to the author at: ray
at bisque dot com
There are thousands of stories linked to the history of Iron River, Michigan dating back to 1881. Many of these have been preserved in the writings of families and local historians.
Many have been lost to time. A new story has been documented through the discovery of detailed court records in the archives of the Michigan Supreme Court. It begins with the arrival of a Polish family in 1884. They endured the hardships common to immigrants of that time and were victims of betrayal by a trusted missionary priest and a group of local attorneys one of whom used privileged information in an attempt to take a new-found mineral fortune from them. The court transcripts document the words of the family, the rogue priest, and well known historic figures who played a role in the early growth of the Iron County and the village of Iron River. Among them Judge Richard C. Flannigan, E.P. Lott, the founder of the Iron County Reporter, Michael Kelley, owner of the first General Store, Vincent Drozdowski, a local farmer, Rudolph Ericson, a mining superintendent, Peter Michaels, a butcher, M.S. McDonough a local attorney, and many others.
In addition to the ordeal of their betrayal, the family lost members due to a diptheria epidemic, complications of childbirth, a mining accident, and finally an unsolved murder that triggered a manhunt unprecedented in Iron River.
The startling and sometimes puzzling revelations of court records, contemporaneous local events recorded in the local newspaper and other documents present the reader with an unique view of early Iron River and its colorful inhabitants.
One of the Poles had taken a
train to a small town in northern Wisconsin and seen giant logs “piled higher
and longer than trains.” The
finished lumber made from them was “as white and smooth as marble with no
marks from end to end and a house could be built with the lumber cut from two
Prospectors had found ores of iron and copper so rich that the “waste was less than the metal in them.” This sounded like an exaggeration but was indeed the case. In some instances the copper ore was actually pure native copper metal and many of the iron ores contained more than fifty-percent iron.
One of the older ladies wrote of berries so abundant that one could fill a water pail before breakfast and declared the potatoes and cabbage to be the best she had tasted. “The soil is good and easy to work when the rocks and stumps have been removed.” She had learned new ways to cook from the Swedes and Italians.
“There are blue lakes as big as the seas and they have no salt in the water. The streams wash over rocks in the thick forests and empty into bigger rivers that can carry logs and boats. In the fall the hills have color such as the paintings in the castles.”
First American Dollar (1884)
Constanty gave Rosalia $4.25 as he entered the kitchen and ceremoniously placed two dollars in the land box. He had earned his first American dollars.
There was always work to be had in the village. Purchasers of lots were required to remove trees and stumps and clear their own land. There were no prescribed hours for this type of work, it could be done at any time. Constanty would often be seen working after dark.
The first winter in Iron River was difficult. He worked during the daylight hours at cutting and clearing side streets and then did less arduous jobs in town after eating supper.
Joseph saw to it that the family was warned about the spring breakup.
“Don’t plan on letting the women and children go to town when the jacks come out of the woods after thaw. Most of them are happy and just letting off steam but the whiskey takes over and there are fights and other bad scenes. It’ll take three or four weeks while they filter out of the woods, spend their money and move on. Last year they tore up the plank walks and made a bon fire on Main Street. You’ll notice some new women with painted faces in town when the jacks are here. Some of our businessmen want to get every dollar they can before someone else takes it.”
The two Poles stumbled their way toward the creek while Broz sang barroom songs and howled like a wolf. When they reached the area where Broz had lifted the doe onto a stump, the happy singer grew silent. The doe was gone, dragged off by a pair of wolves. He stood silent for a moment.
“Well at least we’ve got
the liver back at camp. Let’s go and cook it.”
Broz sang again as they made their way back to the source of the fragrant maple smoke that was drifting down-slope from the camp. Zig now knew some of the words and sang along with him. There was no one there to appreciate the woodsy duet. They entered the warm cabin, lit a kerosene lamp and removed their boots.
Broz greased the pan, added the slices of liver, singed them well on both sides, and covered them with the onions. After an ample application of salt and pepper he set the pan aside on the table. He poured the last of the whiskey and opened the last of the beers.
“Now the hunt is over.”
Let’s eat and get some sleep. He set the skillet on the hot stove and the room was filled with an aroma that got Zig’s attention. He brought out another loaf of Laura’s bread and two tired Poles ate like wolverines. Zig covered himself with a heavy wool blanket and smiled himself to sleep, wishing that his boys could have shared these days in the woods and that Laura could be there with him.
The Good Doctor
On an occasion when Zig took his ailing brother to Ammermann’s drug store to seek advice he encountered Dr. Frank Bond whom he had met when he delivered an injured work mate to his office years before. The doctor’s reputation in the community was enhanced by some of the surgery he had performed after well-known shooting events. In one instance he spliced the pieces of Jerry Mahoney’s tongue back together after a shooting incident in the saloon in Atkinson. In another he saved an Irishman who had accidentally discharged a 44-colt, blowing a hole in his lung and severing a rib from his spinal column.
Dr. Bond remembered Zig and was responsive to his concerns about his brother. After prescribing medicine, he volunteered to come to their home in a day’s time to check on Louis, suggesting that he should remain in bed. The doctor’s wife was present in the store. Zig recognized her as the lady who sang so beautifully at a festival event the year prior. She spoke to Louis and wished him fast recovery. Her name was Carrie.
Dr. Bond’s popularity and reputation led to his being elected as the president of the village for several terms. His wife was an accomplished singer and musician and admired by all of whom had the privilege of knowing the shy woman.
The suit was filed April 22, 1913 in Crystal Falls Circuit Court, the honorable Judge R.C. Flannigan presiding. The priest claimed to be the legal and equitable owner of the mineral rights and further claimed that he was induced to part with them and to execute a quit-claim by reason of “false and misleading statements made by the defendants.”
He claims to have said to Constanty back in 1895, “I will sell you but the surface and I will reserve the mineral rights.” Hearing those words, Zig turned red and cursed. Laura immediately asked for his forgiveness in Polish.
Zig concluded, “Those words were not said to my father. I was there. It’s the word of the priest against an old man who does not speak English. ”
Belden tried to calm Zig. “It will be the words of many people and the judges decision as to who is telling the truth. This will take some time.”
Place: Court house, Crystal Falls
Judge presiding: The Honorable Richard C. Flannigan
Case: Complainant Mtnarcyzk et al vs. Zyskowski et al, Defendants.
Humor in the court room. Excerpt from court proceedings demonstrating the humor of Flannigan when an attorney goes astray. Attorney for Complainant, M. J. Sherwood is questioning William H. Webb, witness for Defendants.
Sherwood. How often did you attend church while Father Mtnarczyk was in Iron River?
Webb. Well I couldn’t say exactly.
Sherwood. Did you attend church at all?
Webb. Yes I did at all, yes.
Sherwood. You were a regular church goer?
Webb. No, not regular, no.
Sherwood. How often have you been in church in recent years?
Webb. Oh, I don’t attend very often. I go once a year to my duty, and then I go Christmas, and to funerals, and cases of that kind. I go to church when I get an opportunity.
Judge Flannigan ends the errant questioning with a question of his own.
Flannigan. “I suppose you go as often as Mr. Sherwood?”
Answer: “Oh yes, about as often as Mr. Sherwood.”
Supreme Court Hearings
What if anything did the Supreme Court judges say about the priest’s character?
How would they be able to refer to his questionable ethics and morals? There were four carefully worded passages.
…and it is quite evident that during his short pastorate in that parish (Iron
River) he was active in temporal as well as spiritual affairs.” (p. 219)
“After leaving Iron
River complainant changed his skies often, lived in many places, traveled in
many countries, and saw the customs of many men, during which time he engaged in
various activities at variance with his profession. (p. 227)”
And again on the same page,
after referring to the priest’s global travels, they add,
“…part of the time
occupied in his clerical calling, and at other times engaged in other things.”
Finally as will be seen in
the following pages, they judiciously infer that they believe the priest is a
liar. In referring to the priest’s open admissions of wrongdoing:
“…in the light of which his statement that he was never suspended from the priesthood taxes credulity (p. 231).”
In May of 1921 the auditorium of the Town Hall was the site of “a spectacular musical extravaganza” entitled “Springtime.” Announcement of the upcoming event was a topic of light-hearted conversation in the local saloons.
“Boys, the town is on the
skids. The Ladies Club has a campaign telling us where to spit and we’re about
to have a songfest with half of the population involved.”
The ladies of Twentieth Century Club merely requested that the men spit in the gutters and not on the sidewalks. Business establishments were asked to provide more cuspidors.
A ladies springtime chorus of no less than ninety local singers sang a dozen numbers accompanying a three-act play. Zig’s HURRY BACK saloon was one of sixty sponsors listed in the Souvenir Program. In spite of the fact that the phone directory that year included 600 listings, only seven of those sixty advertisers included a phone number in their ad. These phone numbers ranged from a single digit to three digits.
extravaganza reflected a post-war and post-epidemic attitude. The county park
commission was obtaining options on land along county roads and highways for
roadside parks. Sizeable tracts were acquired on Fortune and Chicaugon Lakes to
A Murder Shocks Iron River
When he began to openly speculate as to who might have killed Zig, he was met with harsh admonitions by John and others.
“Save that for another day, let’s help Laura and the kid’s as much as we can. They’ll find the bastard that did this.”
John ran about doing whatever he could to help. Laura’s sisters took over the kitchen and kept food at the ready for appetites that slowly returned. The children turned to them and sympathetic friends for support, slowly facing the reality of a future without their father. There would be a funeral and he would be buried beside Constanty, Wanda, and Louis.
The entire community was rife with rumor and speculation. The county had never seen a manhunt such as was mounted. Citizens were angry, frightened and indignant. The facts, as best they were known, would not be printed until Tuesday, three days later, when the next edition of the Reporter came out. Kleczka informed Gleason and the others who lived out of town. (Followed by the words of the article referred to above.)
Summer Fun Guide
Whether you are a resident or a visitor enjoying the unique ambiance of the Upper Peninsula in this millennium year, add to your pleasure with a copy of the new historic novel IRON. The author who grew up in Iron River has based this account on detailed court records retrieved from the archives of the Law Library in Lansing Michigan. While documenting events in the lives of his grandparents, it reveals the sordid life of a missionary priest who traveled the area before the turn of the century. An alliance between that priest and three prominent local attorneys was formed in an attempt to take forty acres of land from a Polish immigrant, great grandfather of the author. That forty acres became the site of one of the richest iron mines in the district. The family was forced to wait three years while justice was done, ending in a Michigan Supreme Court decision in 1915.
Local notables who participated in the court proceedings include Judge Richard C. Flannigan, Circuit Court Judge of Crystal Falls, E.P.Lott, an attorney and founder of the Iron County Reporter, Michael Kelley, owner of the first general store, Peter Michaels, Iron River’s first butcher, Rudolph Ericson, a mining superintendent, M.S. McDonough of the “Rum Rebellion” fame and many others. Their words are documented in detail.
Nine years after the mineral fortune was assigned to the proper owners, the author’s grandfather, father of eight, was murdered during a robbery in the Boyington Hotel. That event set off the most extensive manhunt in Iron River history. A suspect who spent a year in Marquette prison was acquitted, leaving the murder unsolved. The author feels that the identity of the killer may be known to living persons or otherwise recorded in some fashion.
The startling and sometimes puzzling revelations found in records of the Circuit Court of Crystal Falls, Michigan Supreme Court records, contemporaneous local events recorded in the Iron County Reporter, and other documents including the files of M.S. McDonough, present the reader with a unique view of early Iron River and its colorful inhabitants.
Reader's Reactions to Iron
One of the most intriguing aspects of publishing a book is hearing the reactions of readers who have different perspectives. Readers in the family had similar reactions due to the strong common denominator of ancestors. Other perspectives, interpretations, and observations were stated as follows.
“My wife and I intend to return to Iron River and armed with information from the book we will see the area in a different light.”
J. and L. Cuda,
“It has been an education and a treat. Thank you for your sharing.”
J. Knussman, Seattle, Washington
“A good view of the history of our area as well as families known to us natives. One can surely become engrossed in questions and pleased when a mystery is solved.”
L. Williams, Iron River, Michigan.
“You should have entitled the book, ADVENTURES IN THE ARCHIVES.” J. Clark, Lansing, Michigan. Note:
This reader was enthralled with the information available in spite of the fact that I referred to documents that were lost.
“To my mind, you have recognized the man who planned the murder of your grandfather without overtly doing so.”
Preferred anonymous. Iron River, Michigan
This reaction surprised me and I hope that the interpretation is not common.
“I just finished reading your book and am writing a review for Knight Life…a family history that should be shared.”
S.D. McMahon, De Pere, Wisconsin
“The book could have been entitled CONSTANTY AND THE SKUNK. The priest was the pivotal character. You are right when you say that you couldn’t have invented such a character.”
M. Grainger, Boulder, Colorado
“I’m sure that you might have convinced a brewery to fund your book. On several occasions I was prompted to join the characters with a beer.”
“Give me a break! In a book entitled IRON you refer to a present resident of Iron River whose name is Steele Magnet!!”
(Acknowledgments section). J. Wagner, Billings Montana
“Judge Flannigan is my hero. It’s hard to believe that such a nice man had been a lawyer. It’s hard to believe that he mentored McDonough.”
M. Adams, Golden, Colorado
“You have woven a lot of historic events in Iron River into a true family story. Youngsters in Iron River should read this book but probably won’t until they’re older.”
E. Larson, Iron River, Michigan.
“At first I didn’t like the title, but after reading the book I see that it fits. Did you notice that The Iron County Reporter in reporting the murder of your grandfather, referred to his 'iron grip'?” Good job.”
L. Perry, Hodgson, Montana.
“A great story. I am now searching for Reimann’s books. Your book is a wonderful complement to them.”
J. Hill Iron River, Michigan.
“When we read IRON we drove to the old cemetery and viewed the graves of the family and McDonough’s grave nearby. We also found the William’s tombstone.”
D. Ciochetto, Iron River, Michigan.
“Someone should check the records (any records) in DeTour Michigan around the turn of the century. If the priest was in that small town for five years he must have left some muddy tracks.”
H. Ford, Arvada, Colorado
“Your great grandfather must have been a tough old bird. I liked his answers in the courtroom. The cover shows his character.”
Mervin Smith, Golden, Colorado
“I was unaware of the Klan activity in Iron River but found plenty of evidence in the book 'Frames for the Future.'”
S. Black, Marquette, Michigan
“I’d love to visit the courthouse in Crystal Falls, and see the portrait of Flannigan.”
M. Anderson, Wisconsin
“It’s too bad that the Boyington Hotel wasn’t preserved as a historic site. I guess it would be too big. At least they have the courthouse. Good story.”
Participant at the Iron County Museum session
“You sort of have two stories. One of your family and the other the story of writing the book. I have started writing a book and feel encouraged.”
E. Schaller, Missouri
“I am familiar with the Bernhardt’s efforts. You certainly have tied a lot of things together in a good story.”
G. Franquist, Iron River, Michigan
“I couldn’t help visualizing a movie and who would play the parts. Robert Redford comes to mind to play Constanty.”
L. Tracy, Golden, Colorado
“The story of the family in Iron River would make a great movie.”
Harold and Marcia Bernhardt. Iron River, Michigan
“There are only two pictures of Constanty in existence and probably no more than a few dozen people had ever seen them. You sure changed that!”
From a relative
“My brother and I read your book. It brought back many memories of our childhood in Iron River. Thanks for IRON.”
Doug Brown, Iron River, Michigan
“As a child in 1926 I had an “encounter” with the Klan. I was in the outhouse after dark on Christmas Eve when I heard the voices of people passing by. Looking through a peephole I saw Klansmen in white robes and recognized the voices of two of them. After they passed, dragging a huge cross, I ran to the house where we watched the burning on a nearby hill.”
“The book-signing session at the Iron County Museum sure had a lot of old-timers reminiscing. It was great.”
A. Hibbard, Iron River, Michigan
“I was touched by your story. I felt a palpable anger toward the skunk priest and the lawyer.” Re the Epilogue: “I opened a beer and drank a toast to you and Constanty.”
J. Velasquez, Montana
Note to Residents or Former Residents of Iron River
In documenting court records, newspaper articles, certain documents, and miscellaneous events, I included the names of many individuals and families other than relatives. All but a few were residents of Iron River. At the suggestion of an early reviewer I have listed all of them. They are included whether they were significantly or incidentally involved or if they are merely mentioned in a footnote.
Abbott, Fred H.
Angeli, Alfred and Elvira
Bond, Dr. Frank, Carrie
Boyington, Andy, Phil
Brzoznowski, Thomas, Amelia, Clements
Curley, John P.
Daly, John W., Anna
Dickie, James A.
Diedricks, Leonard P.
Eis, Bishop Frederic
Embs, William J.
Empson, G. R..
Flannigan, Honorable Richard C.
Franquist, Herb, Gus
Fritz, Bob, Luciano
Halzhey, “Black Bart”
Hauck, George L.
Jacobsen, Otto, Anselm, George
James (James mine)
(first name unknown)
Kleczka, John C.
Laing, Victor D.
Le Vernois, Moses J.
Lott, Edward P.
Lyons, John R.
MacKinnon, Donald, Alexander
McBurney, William D.
McRae, Judge Christopher A.
Minckler, Paul N.
Moyle, Robert E.
Mtynarczyk, W. Anzetin
Murphy, Fred F.
Otto, Florence T.
Person, J.J., Judge
Prawjieck, John, Adam
Rogers, Charles M.
Rosander, Reverend C.A.
Ross, Rev. Fred
Selden, William H.
Stuht, Arthur E.
Van Wagner family
VanOrnam, Earl J.
Waite, Thad R.
Webb, William H.
William P. Belden
Williams. Earliest gravestone found in cemetery. 1884
Winton, Wilbur H.
The Daily News, Iron Mountain-Kingsford Newspaper Article
'Iron' chronicles family land dispute, murder
By ALLYCE WESTPHAL
IRON RIVER - In 1884, at the age of 48, Constanty Zyskowski, with his wife and four children, left his native Poland for a new life in America, a life that promised an opportunity he, and many other immigrants of that era, would never have in their native land.
That new life, with its dreams, aspirations, opportunities and betrayal has become the topic of a new book, "Iron: a River, a Town, a County, a Mine, a Family," written by Constanty's great-grandson Ramon Bisque, now of Golden, Colo.
Bisque and his wife, Marie, recently spent two weeks in the Iron River area where the book has quickly become a "best seller" for local residents, many of whom were well acquainted with his family.
"It's most gratifying," said Bisque of the response to his book, which gives an historic account of his family's court case with a Catholic priest in the early 1900s.
"When you put something together like this, with all the emotions and everything, you don't know how it's going to resonate with people and 'wow' it has and it's just beyond what I would have expected." The book chronicles the family's life in Poland, the decision to uproot and move to a new country, the hope and fulfillment of owning land, the court battle against a parish priest and a local attorney for that land, and the murder in 1924 of Bisque's grandfather, Zig.
Constanty's dream when he came to this new land was to someday have land of his own.
With the help of the new Polish priest in town, Constanty realized his dream of land, a 40-acre parcel. When ore was discovered, the priest claimed the mineral rights and his claim was supported by a local attorney. At the time of this purchase, Bisque's grandfather, Zig, or Zygmund, was in his early teens. Later, Zig became a prominent businessman and civic leader. He was murdered in 1924, apparently the victim of a robbery attempt. But the ensuing investigation raised many questions regarding the murder, including the possible involvement of the Ku Klux Klan. The book's overwhelming popularity in the Iron River area kept the former Iron River resident busy with book signings at several spots. "I left out a lot of details from the records, and I thought I still had too much. Apparently not. I guess the thing that gets us is that people have said 'I don't read books, but I read it.' We've heard that a dozen times," said Bisque.
"Not only 'I read it' but 'I couldn't put it down and I don't read books,'" said Marie.
The timing seemed right to put his family's history to paper. That, and the discovery of the actual court records of the trial, prompted Bisque to write his story.
"My age was the first thing," said Bisque. "When you can see less from looking ahead than you can see by looking back, you reach that point where you look back. You want to look back, and then, of course, it was triggered by the discovery of those documents as I report in the book.
"And once I found those documents, it was compelling. There was no way of turning back," said Bisque. "All of of sudden, I had 598 pages of court proceedings that had the verbatim, translated words of my great-grandfather. They were his words; there they were ignorant, illiterate immigrant, and he was all of the above, but he wasn't dumb". "So, anyway, the impetus came from being old, finding these documents and wanting to pass it on to my kids, especially."
Assisted by his wife, who read through family letters and documents, the project took off "and we couldn't stop," said Bisque. "I knew in a vague, general way that something had happened in the courts, and that somebody tried to take the property away from us. But I knew nothing of the details. My family never, ever, ever, not one time said anything against that priest or the attorney. I never heard anything from them. I had to find it all in the records."
During the three years of research - "I didn't work on the book exclusively, obviously. I was doing three/four other things" - Bisque and his wife went through all the letters, photos and documents until, like a jigsaw puzzle, the pieces started fitting together, he said. One of the most touching chapters in the book is the Epilogue where Bisque and his great-grandfather, whom he never met, have a heart-to-heart talk about so many things one generation might wonder of the other. "I was thinking about ending the book and, I guess, it didn't take me very long to write that chapter. I think I just sat down and wrote it. There was no research involved and I just thought what kind of things would we talk about, and just wrote it. "After I wrote it, I wondered how people would react."
Sales of the book have been unprecedented, Bisque has been told, especially for such a small area like Iron River. The book, out since the first of August, has been averaging about 100 sales per week, he said. Part of its success may be due to second- and third-generation Americans whose ancestors faced similar hardships in this new land.
"Several have said that," said Bisque.
"We were really surprised when some of our neighbors in Colorado read it and had good reactions, and they don't know where Iron River is," said Bisque. "I didn't think anybody away from here (Iron River) would connect, but they have," he said.
"I thought I was complicating the book by jumping up to the present and back in the book, but people didn't seem to mind that." At one point, Bisque considered titling the book, "Constanty." But he found himself using the word "iron" over and over.
"Iron is an ore, iron is a metal, and then it became a place, and I thought it described the people," said Bisque.
It all started, he said, with the river, "then there was the town, then the mine was discovered, and an 'iron' family. They were tough cookies," Bisque said of his family.
The dream of owning his own land and to be able to work for someone of his own choice, that's what kept Constanty going throughout all the adversity that ensued.
"What kept that in his gut, what gave him that strength at that age," Bisque said. "Like I said, at the end of his life, to say 'I'm getting out of here. We're going to start a new life.' That was a big step - an 'iron' will."
Copyright © 2000 The Daily News Iron Mountain-Kingsford, Michigan. Reprinted with permission.
Printing Error - Please read page 275 (ignore last period) and then page 274. No text is missing, however, the order of the text is incorrect.
"Iron - A River, a County, a Town, a Mine, a Family" copyright © 2000 Ramon E. Bisque, all rights reserved.
Modified December 02, 2008