Spiders gather poison where bees gather honey: Aftermath of the Mataafa Storm

“The public is apt to run to extremes.” One of the many quotes from the Sky Pilot of the Great Lakes, Reverend William H. Law I ran across in my research for the book that shows not much has changed in the past 100 years.

This particular quote comes from an article in the Duluth News Tribune, Dec. 8, 1905 in the wake of the Mataafa disaster.  If you are unfamiliar with this particular event,  I would point you to a great book on the subject, “Luck of the Draw- The Mataafa Story” by Robert M. Abrahamson. Suffice it to say the disaster was one of many wrecks caused by a storm that occurred on the Great Lakes on November 27-28, 1905. Rev. Law happened to be in Duluth during the storm, later writing first-hand accounts of the many wrecks and the bravery of the U.S. Life-Saving crew in their efforts to save as many sailors as possible.

In the aftermath of the storm, which took the souls of 36 and destroyed or severely damaged 29 vessels, the public in trying to make sense of the death toll lashed out and criticized the local life-saving crew, the same crew whose selfless acts that day saved many, for not doing enough.

We see these reactions even today when events happen that are hard to grasp. We, the public, tend to take the easy road when grappling with complex events that are beyond our control. It is easier for us to assign blame to any one particular component of the overall event than to accept the reality that these events can be and most-often are the culmination of many factors that may or may not be within our control. Even when they are within our collective means to control, we still tend to choose the easy path of assigning blame rather than striving to correct the issues to prevent them from happening again.

Rev. Law, in seeing the injustice being dealt the brave crew of the Life-Saving crew rightly determined that this should not stand and took it upon himself to set the record straight:


Duluth News Tribune, Dec. 8th 1905
Duluth News Tribune, Dec. 8th 1905


W.H. Law of Detroit Says They Did Everything Possible.

“Familiar with the duties of life saving crews by 20 years of service among the life savers along the chain of lakes from the Big Sandy at the foot of Lake Ontario to Duluth and acquainted with every captain in the service, l declare without hesitancy that the life saving crew of Duluth heeded well the call of duty in attempting to rescue the crew of the steamer Mataafa, nine of whom perished from exposure on the wrecked boat a few feet from shore a week ago Tuesday night.”

So spoke W. H. Law of Detroit, Mich, last night. He is a missionary to the lighthouse keepers, life saving crews, their families and the fishermen on the islands of the great lakes. He witnessed the Mataafa disaster and has come to the support of the life crew with an answer to adverse criticism of the manner in which the crew confronted danger.

“The public is apt to run to extremes,” he said. “It is like a strong inexperienced boy who knows not his own strength and is difficult to control.

There is a disposition on the part of a number of well meaning- men women to criticise the life saving crew, but they are to be pardoned as they know not or the seaman’s or life saver’s life.

“Although Captain McLennan and his men were not on the scene until some time after the boat struck, they are blameless. They were on duty the night before and were three miles away with their heavy apparatus rescuing the crew of the steamer England when notified or the Mataafa‘s distress.

“Even had the crew been on the scene earlier in the afternoon it is doubtful whether the nine men who lost their lives on the stern of the Mataafa could have been saved. The heavy seas made it impossible to fasten a line even if the life saving crew had succeeded in shooting one over that part of the ship.

“The exhausted life saving crew walked three miles to the wreck and when they arrived and for hours after, a surf boat was out of the question as no boat could have lived in the waves which scaled the stranded vessel and cut lite lines to pieces on the jagged rocks.

“It is well to consider the combination of circumstances which contributed to defeat. Spiders gather poison where bees gather honey.”

Follow John


John Kotzian was born in Rogers City, Michigan located on the shore of Lake Huron and raised some 30 miles away in Hillman, Michigan. He is the great-great-grandson of the “Sky Pilot of the Great Lakes”, Rev. William H. Law.

His passion for the Great Lakes and its history grew from the stories handed down through both sides of his family about Rev. Law’s travels and relatives lost in the sinking of the S.S. Carl D. Bradley.

He currently resides with his wife, Kimberly, in Brooklyn, MI.
Follow John

Latest posts by John (see all)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.