They would have preferred gold. But the iron made them rich, too.
In 1865, reports of gold brought a rush of prospectors to the shores of Lake Vermilion. What they found, instead, was red earth.
Those who didn't go home disappointed stayed to develop one of the world's richest deposits of iron ore into an industry that would give rise to dozens of towns, help the nation win two world wars and create a distinctive piece of Minnesota's cultural fabric.
In northern Minnesota, the logging town of Grand Rapids has produced many legends: prize lumberjacks, such as Gunnysack Pete and Tamarack Joe, but also an adorable little girl who became famous for her ruby slippers.
Loggers came first, and that era is re-created on the edge of town, on the wooded grounds of Forest History Center. On a summer day there, it may feel 80 degrees and sunny, but really it's a freezing day in December 1900.
Miss Minnie the "cookee,'' or cook's assistant, is showing us around the logging camp under the baleful glare of her boss, Miss Rebecca. We walk by a giant rut cutter, used to make grooves in the ice roads for the logging sleighs.
The Iron Range never has been for anyone who didnt want to sweat.
Ever since iron ore was discovered on the shores of Lake Vermilion, this strip of Minnesota has drawn people who wanted to work.
One of the worlds richest deposits of iron ore lay under the forest, and waves of Finns, Slovenes, Italians, Swedes, Croatians, Poles, Germans and Serbs came to shovel it out.
For cross-country skiers, Giants Ridge has it all: Plentiful snow. Scenery. Sixty kilometers of groomed trails.
Best of all, it has chairlifts.
Alpine skiers arent the only ones who think downhills are more fun than uphills. Nordic skiers also like to put gravity on their side, especially those who are trying to learn how to skate.
It took plenty of sisu to settle Embarrass.
It's the consistently coldest spot in the Lower 48; arctic blasts blow up against the Laurentian Divide and pool over the township, which set a record of 64 below in 1996.
The soil is poor, allowing farmers to do little more than grow potatoes and raise a few cows.
During three days at Giants Ridge one January, I kept wondering: Where are all the people?
The sun was shining, the snow was ideal, and most schoolchildren still were on winter break. The handsome Lodge at Giants Ridge was giving discounts on its already low midweek rates, and kids could ski free.
All that, and no lift lines.