The Saga of the Thomas Friant



By Herbert J. Coleman
Duluth News-Tribune, Sunday, January 4, 1953


Thomas Friant

The Thomas Friant, originally built as a passenger steamer in 1884.


They still talk about the trip of the tug Thomas Friant around Bayfield and Cornucopia.

In these days of comparatively balmy weather on Lake Superior, and the striking lack of ice, fishermen ponder the value of a few more trips to net some winter fish.

Nine men had that in mind on New Year's Day, 1924, when they boarded the Friant at Bayfield. It was a co-operative deal between the boat owners and the fishermen.

The Friant was a sturdy craft, owned by Capt. Einar (Shine) Miller and Halvor Reiten, of Bayfield. field. Sherman Bolles, Ashland was the engineer.

Four of the fishermen were Jones boys from Cornucopia - Thomas, Charles, George and Emory. Rounding out the crew were Andrew Hanson and John Anderson.

Six days later, they were rowing for their lives in sub-zero weather.

Trouble started when drifting ice captured the tug off Bark Bay, near Cornucopia. She was locked in an unrelenting grip.

Captain Miller, hoping for the best, decided to wait out the ice, rather than abandon the ship. That night, a breeze whipped up.

One of the Jones boys awakened Miller and pointed out that the tug was again under way along with the entire ice field. But movement of the ice was too much for her hull. A floe smashed a hole in the hull, letting water in under the coal bunkers. The crew could not make repairs from inside. Slush began to fill the bilges.

So Emory Jones, who now runs a fishery at Cornucopia, dove through floating ice. He carried a blanket and planned to stuff it into the break. But the numbing water forced him to retreat.

By this time, the Friant been blown northward. Nine miles off Two Harbors, Captain Mils gave the order to abandon ship.

He counted heads in the lifeboat, and found one man missing. Pulling back to the sinking tug, Miller shouted for Andrew Hanson.

Hanson, brandishing a poker, peered from a hatchway. In his words, he had been having "the time of my life" killing rats as they raced from the bilges.

With Hanson aboard the life boat, the men pulled for Two Harbors. Fighting weather and seas all the way, they rowed for nearly 10 hours. The older Joneses, Charles and Thomas, refused to leave their oars for relief from the younger men.

At one point, Captain Miller fired flares. But residents of Larsmont, near Two Harbors, thought the lights were fireworks from the south shore, since shipping had long-since closed.

The men hitched a ride to Duluth from Larsmont and boarded a train for Bayfield. The grueling trip failed to slow down the Joneses, though. To a man, they walked from Bayfield back to Cornucopia.

Loss of the Friant was a bitter blow. The owner's investment had gone to the bottom, along with the fishing equipment of the Cornucopians. It was everything they owned.

At best, it was a momentary setback. That summer the entire crew was back fishing again.


Thomas Friant

LAST PORTRAIT . . . The perils of winter fishing on Lake Superior are vividly illustrated in this picture of the tug Thomas Friant, locked in the ice near Cornucopia some 29 years ago. She sank two days after the picture was snapped by her skipper, Capt. Einar Miller, Bayfield.


Posted to the Web on March 17, 2008,, for educational purposes only.