Silver River Falls, A Family Treasure
Introduction-Art and the Silver River Falls
In Michigan’s Baraga County and the L’Anse Indian Reservation flows the Silver River, which cuts through northern forests and Slate bedrock in a series of beautiful falls. The cascade is easy to get to via the access site off of the Skanee Road north of L’Anse in the Upper Peninsula.
The painting “A Silver River Falls to Delight In” actually depicts the narrow chute just above the lower falls. The power and force of the river, even in summertime’s low water levels, is just as impressive as the main falls below it.
A Native Family History
Like the cold silver water that slices through the gun metal blue slate bedrock to form these falls, my family ties to this treasured spot also cut deep.
The L’Anse Sentinel states that my Great Grandfather Wesley Blaker, a Mississauga Ojibwe from Ontario before emigrating to Michigan, set up a yearly hunting camp near the Silver River falls.
My great grandfather was a very devout Christian and pillar of the Native Community but was arrested once for poaching deer along the Silver. He fought the charge in court but lost.
In 1941, my mother Elizabeth “Chiz” Matthews, moved with her family from the Blaker compound along Keweenaw Bay to a house built by the tribe right across the entrance of the Silver River Falls access Road.
Here is a 1945 photo of my mother, about five, with her Matthew siblings and parents in front of the Silver River home.
Chiz has shared many stories of living by the Silver.
For instance, walking barefoot in the summer along the access road to get to the swimming hole just above the falls, or picking berries while watching out for bear-an animal featured in a lot of stories.
Once she related how her older brother hid in the bushes by the road, shaking the vegetation and growling, sending my mother and other children shrieking and running for home, even though they knew it was probably their brother.
Below is another picture from the late forties or early fifties taken by my uncle Amos Whetung. Along with my mother on the lower far right, the picture includes my uncle Al to her left, Blaker cousins, and my great uncle Joshua Blaker.
I love the self-conscious pose of teenager aunt Myrtle looking downwards. The setting is just above the main falls.
Continuing the Traditions-Hunting and Fishing
I have visited the falls for as long as I can remember. We moved from L’Anse when I was 5 but whenever we came back to visit we usually stopped at the lower falls.
In 1973 we settled on “the Rez” and lived in Tribal housing in Zeba. Soon I was learning how to harvest the natural resources of the Silver River area from my uncles.
Whether in college, living in Marquette, or eventually living in Mid Michigan, I always came back to the falls.
Like my great grandfather, hunting and fishing are vital and continues to be a strong tradition for most of my family to this day.
As for myself, I don’t hunt and fish much anymore. When I moved downstate those activities have been slowly replaced with art and photography. Now visits to the falls are more for sharing the beauty with loved ones, art, birding, wildflowers, dragonflies, relaxation, and connections to the past.
More Recent Visits
Here is a photo of my son at the Lower falls, perched on a rock that many family members would have perched on, possibly since 1865.
He was up for the Baraga pow wow and made me proud that he would carry on the tradition of visiting the falls-without me necessarily present. The photo is in Mark’s collection.
A Risky Trip During the Pandemic
This past October, I drove to the Upper Peninsula with my stepson and wife because I felt compelled to visit my mother and sister, who had just recovered from Covid 19. Going to the falls was on the agenda. and a time to relax a bit from the stresses and risks of visiting relatives during the pandemic.
We arrived at the access site on a beautifully clear but cold day with some snow on the ground; we had to be careful traversing the wet and slippery slate. The above featured painting is based on the photos taken by my wife and myself.
I took a short super slo-mo video of my stepson standing by the falls.
I have no grandchildren yet but I if I do I will be taking them to the Silver River Falls. I think many families have spots like this, or a camp or cottage, that’s very special to them and to their family history.
I take comfort knowing that my relatives and maybe my descendants will continue going to the falls well after I’m gone.
I may not be around, but I hope this blog and my art will be there for people to enjoy and help them connect to the flow of their family’s treasured history.
- Purchase my featured original painting “A Silver River Falls to Delight In“
- Directions and information about the Silver River Falls in Baraga County (There are at least three Silver Rivers in the Western Upper Peninsula). A park permit from the DNR is required, except for KBIC tribal members.
- Read my blog “Walking the Grade” which is about my Uncle Matt Whetung and features the wilderness of the Silver River area