Kipling’s Michigan Twins

by Thomas Pinney

IN 1895, when railroads were still being extensively built in the American west, and when the forest and mineral wealth of large parts of the country was just beginning to be exploited, the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste Marie railway (always called the “Soo Line”) was being cut through the virgin forests of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.As it happened, the General Manager of the railway, Frederick D. Underwood (1852-1942), was a devoted admirer of the work of Rudyard Kipling, and he indulged the privilege of the American railroad builder to name two stations on the route after his favorite author: Rudyard, Michigan, and Kipling, Michigan.

Kipling learned of this curious honor from his old friend and colleague on the Lahore Civil and Military Gazette, Kay Robinson, who had been traveling in the U.S. and had recently come from Minneapolis to Vermont to visit Kipling, then living at “Naulakha” near Brattleboro.Kipling at once wrote to Underwood to say that Robinson had just showed him a “folder of your R.R. in which appear the stations ‘Rudyard’ and ‘Kipling’.”

“Robinson”, Kipling went on, “tells me too that “Kipling” may some day have a great future before it in the iron ore way. This immensely flatters my vanity: and I write to beg you to send me a photograph if possible, of either ‘Rudyard’ or ‘Kipling’ or preferentially both. I shall take a deep interest in their little welfares. ‘Rudyard’ I gather is already a post office, but I have not heard of Kipling”

(Letters, II, 214).

Underwood had expressed his wish to have a Kipling autograph, and Kipling obliged by sending him a photograph with a set of verses, called “The Michigan Twins,” written on the back.The verses, he said, were “rather ornery doggerel,” but it was, he observed, “the first time I ever had to acknowledge twins on the spur of the moment” (Letters, II, 230).

The verses were published in the American Railway Age, 7 March 1896, but were never collected by Kipling. They run thus in the text printed by R.H. Harbord in The Readers’ Guide to Rudyard Kipling’s Work, VIII, no. 368, where they are misdated March 1889:



“Wise is the child who knows his sire”,
The ancient proverb ran,
But wiser far the man who knows
How, where and when his offspring grows-
For who the mischief would suppose
I’ve sons in Michigan?Yet am I saved from midnight ills
That warp the soul of man;
They do not make me walk the floor
Nor hammer at the doctor’s door –
They deal in wheat and iron ore,
My sons in Michigan.

Oh, tourist in the Pullman car,
(By Cook’s or Raymond’s plan)
Forgive a parent’s partial view –
But, maybe you have children, too,
So let me introduce to you
My sons in Michigan.


The Upper Peninsula of Michigan at its eastern end is the meeting-place of three of the Great Lakes: Lake Superior joins Lake Huron at Sault Ste Marie; 30 or 40 miles south, across the width of the peninsula, Lake Huron and Lake Michigan are joined at the Straits of Mackinac. The builders of the Soo Line must have hoped for the development of a profitable rail-and-lake traffic in the Peninsula, especially since the vast iron ore deposits of the Mesabi Range then beginning to be developed extended into the Upper Peninsula.

The town of Kipling lay at the head of Green Bay, on the northern end of Lake Michigan, and might reasonably expect to develop as a shipping point for iron ore. Thus Kipling’s remark that the town of Kipling “may some day have a great future before it in the iron ore way.” That did not happen; instead, the town of Escanaba, a few miles south of Kipling on Green Bay, drew all the Lake Michigan ore traffic to itself by virtue of a deep-water harbor.
Kipling, in fact, seems never to have amounted to anything as a town but remained a hamlet: the current population is only 300.
The few houses there today are quite decent, but the only visible enterprise is a small bar, the Kipling Bar: there is no town hall, no post office, no library, no church.
By one of those cruel jokes that history is so full of, the town of Kipling is now a mere suburb of the larger town of Gladstone, which immediately adjoins it on the south. Since the historical Kipling despised the historical Gladstone, this is not a turn of things that Kipling would have wished to know about.
The town of Rudyard has prospered more than its twin. It lies about a hundred miles to the east of Kipling, midway between the Sault Ste Marie rapids on the north and the Straits of Mackinac on the south.The nearest towns of any size are about twenty miles away in any direction, so that Rudyard has a clear raison d’etre as a supply and maintenance center for the surrounding countryside: much of that is forest, but there is considerable farming in the region as well. The current population is 500.
Rudyard is unlovely in the straggling, unplanned and mongrel style of American small towns, but it evidently has life in it. A few things are on the highway – a filling station, and a large credit union building, for instance.Then one turns on to the main street and is surprised to find it lined with beds of petunias in bloom, a work of genuine civic amenity. Some of the buildings on the main street have fallen into decay, but others – a bank, for example – are new and flourishing.  

There is a large feed store, a hardware store, a little shop combining gifts, a lunch counter, and a stock of liquor for sale. The railroad that was the reason for the town in the first place, and to whose manager the place owes it name, is still operating though not, apparently, very busy. The Soo Line no longer exists, but this section of its old line is now a part of the large regional railroad called the Wisconsin Central. Rudyard boasts a school, and a library, and at least three churches: Catholic, Presbyterian, and, one is pleased to see, a “Rudyard Bible Church.”

Among the new buildings of Rudyard one of the newest is the busy Rudyard Post Office. The postmaster, who kindly undertook to cancel our post cards by hand with a big stamp reading “Rudyard, MI”, told us that he did not get any inquiries about Rudyard Kipling’s connection with the place, though he had heard that people used to ask. The Rudyard library was closed on the day that we were there, so I had no chance to find whether Kipling is represented in the local collection.
So far as is known, Kipling never saw his “sons in Michigan,” as he called them. There is a small mystery about this matter, however.In 1922 the inhabitants of the town of Rudyard published a book of local history called Tales of Rudyard as Told by the Folk, n.p. [Rudyard, MI], n.d. [1922], and sent a copy to Kipling himself. In acknowledging it, he wrote: “I have not been in Michigan since a trifle more than thirty years ago, and in those days big stretches of the State were hardly settled up, and the trade at the small stores in Schoolcraft county, if I recollect aright, was nearly all barter. There certainly did not seem to be any prospect of hay for export in those days and it is hard to realize that all the lumber round you must be cleared by now. (15 January 1923: British Library).

There is no other record of Kipling’s ever having been in Michigan. His sole opportunities were his trip from San Francisco to New York in 1889, and the outward bound and return journeys from the American east coast to Japan that he made in 1892. There are gaps in the records of both these trips, so that we cannot positively say that he had not been in Michigan. Schoolcraft County, Michigan, mentioned in the letter of 15 January, is in the Upper Peninsula, adjacent to Delta County, in which the town of Kipling lies.But how he might have visited the Upper Peninsula is by no means easy to understand, for it lies off all the main rail routes, by which Kipling traveled.
Thomas Pinney, Claremont California, August 2000