American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

CURWOOD, JAMES OLIVER (1878-1927). James Oliver Curwood, born in Owosso, Michigan, was a popular writer of nonfiction, romance and adventure fiction, and scripts for silent films. Although much of his fiction is set in the Canadian* wilderness, his important early work is focused on Great Lakes* freighters. While working as a reporter for the Detroit News- Tribune, he met dockworkers, sailors, and ship captains. His frequent travel on freighters between Detroit and Thunder Bay at the western end of Lake Superior led to a series of stories and articles, including “Fourteenth Floater o’ Jacob Strauss” (1901), “The Wreck of the Winsome Winny” (1903), “Captain of the Christopher Duggan” (1904), “The Copper Ship” (1905), “The Lake Breed” (1905), “The Fish Pirates” (1909), and “Salvage” (1909). Most of these early stories relied on dialect and viewed Lake shipping as thrilling—similar to that depicted in popular stories of ocean travel— with romantic, long-haired women and adventurous men, mutinous crews, pirates* and smugglers, and sinking freighters. Fourteen of these early Great Lakes stories were collected in Falkner of the Inland Seas (1931). Curwood’s first novel, The Courage of Captain Plum (1908), was based on “King” Strang’s Mormon colony on Lake Michigan’s Beaver Island. His non-fiction work, The Great Lakes: The Vessels That Plough Them, the Owners, the Sailors, and a Their Cargoes (1909), includes maps, photographs, and a brief history of the Lakes.

Ed Demerly