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Recollections of a Long Life 1829 - 1915
Chapter X


The responsibilities I bore at this time covered a much wider range than the mere direction of logging activities. In the camps and at the settlements around the mills, far removed from the communities where there was an organized system of local government, the superintendent. or "boss" was as absolute as the captain of a vessel on the high seas. He settled all disputes, maintained order, took care of the sick and regulated affairs generally. Nor was there any constituted authority upon which he could depend for the enforcement of his decrees. For this he had to rely upon his own resources.

The most important task was probably the care of the sick and injured. In Maine the medicine chest had been one of the indispensable requisites of the camp equipment, and Mr. Sinclair always had one at hand when he began operations in Michigan. Following his example I had become somewhat adept in treating illnesses and devoted much time to reading such literature on the subject of medical practice as was available. Sickness, fortunately, was rare but the men not infrequently injured themselves while working on frozen timber, many gashes being inflicted by glancing axes, and it. was necessary under these primitive conditions to act as surgeon by sewing up the wounds. These minor operations were performed successfully and every patient recovered as promptly and with as few complications as might be expected under modern hospital conditions.

From 1854 to 1858, when I was supplying all the logs for Holt and Mason at Little Bay de Noc, I employed one hundred and twenty men in the winter, besides the mill crews and women and children, and at White Fish, four miles from Masonville, more than a hundred men, besides women and children,—in all about one thousand persons. During these four years I lost only two men by sickness. One of them, who was inexperienced in the ways of camp life, worked only for a day when he was taken down with crysipelas, froze his toes while cutting wood for an hour and lost five or six of them. From this plight I succeeded in rescuing him and he was apparently on the road to complete recovery, except for the missing toes, when in violation of the instructions given him he ate a quantity of pork and greasy food which caused a protracted illness resulting in death. The only other fatal case was that of a young man who contracted an intestinal disease which did not yield to our rudamentary treatment.

My experiences in medicine and surgery did not end here. At Marinette, where there were doctors, there was more or less for me to do in the way of assisting at, if not actually performing, surgical operations, some of them amputations of a serious character. 1)r. Hall, one of time pioneer lumbermen of the Menominee, who came from Ithaca, New York, in the early forties, although not actively engaged in time practice of medicine, responded to the call of necessity and treated time sick and injured of the community as occasion required. He guided his course by the philosophy that the less the medicine the better for the patient and his surgical work lie confined to the unavoidable minimum. Oftentimes he said to me: ''I don't want to meet these people hereafter and have them tell me that I made cripples of them." Sometimes when men were severely injured we could not avoid amputation altogether, but we did as little as possible using, for lack of better instruments, carpenters' tools. The general conclusion I have reached as a result of these experiences is that much of the activity of doctors is superfluous and many of the operations they perform unnecessary. But that subject I leave for others to discuss.

Unaided I performed what was probably the first amputation in Marinette about 1860. One of the men employed in the mill at Menekaunee mangled his hand in the machinery and it was necessary to cut off the arm about four inches above the wrist. Dr. Hall was unable to perform the operation and it was necessary for me to act as surgeon. There was no aesthetic. The unfortunate victim of the accident was conscious all of the time. A tool chest afforded most of our instruments and the sterilizing apparatus of the modern operating room was unknown. None the less the patient came through the ordeal without mishap and lived for twenty years afterwards. There were a number of accidents of this kind necessitating amputation which Dr. Hall or I performed. We cut as little as possible and succeeded as well as a surgeon under modern conditions could have done.

It is certain, at least, that for the most part we did very well without doctors. In 1877, when the N. Ludington Company was constructing what was known as the Dow dam, near Amberg, Wisconsin, we employed sixty men. I invited Dr. Jones, of Marinette, to inspect the camp with iiie and, while we were eating our breakfast in three inches of snow without shelter of any kind, we discussed conditions and the health of the men. "There are sixty of them here," I said, "who have been at work for six weeks. During that time not one of them has been sick. Two jamed their feet without any serious permanent effects, but that was all. If they had been at the mill at the village where there were doctors and drug stores and newspapers advertising patent medicines for all kinds of ailments I have no doubt that at least three or four every day would have thought that they required drugs." Dr. Jones, possibly with some reluctance, admitted the truth of the assertion.

In other respects also we succeeded in getting on very comfortably without many of the institutions that are now considered essential to the life of a community. At Escanaba and Masonville for twelve years, until 1858, we had neither doctors, lawyers, nor ministers. Neither did we feel that we were suffering very much for lack of them except, possibly, the ministers. I believed then, as I do now, that it would have been an advantage, perhaps a consolation, to the people to have some one preach the gospel to them and to administer to their spiritual wants. Whatever their creed might have been their influence would have been for good.

Because of the lack of lawyers and the difficulty of resorting to ordinary legal processes for the settlement of private difficulties we were free from the burdens which litigation oftentimes imposes upon a community. There were no divorces whatever. What domestic disturbance arose it fell to the lot of the superintendent to settle. This summary method was much more effective than the modern remedy offered by the courts. I have no doubt that many families would have been dispersed and homes broken up - there was ample occasion for disagreement if the legal machinery of to-day had been available.

Fortunately it was not. The "boss" usually brought the refractory principals involved in the controversy together, scored them roundly for their misbehavior and threatened to turn them loose upon an unfriendly wilderness if they repeated the offense. Almost inevitably this treatment resulted in a promise to do better and the promise thus made was carried out. I have in mind one case which illustrates the effectiveness of this summary treatment,— that of an Irishman and his wife, persons of almost gigantic stature, who became involved in a quarrel. To end the fracas and save herself, the woman, with both eyes blackened, took refuge in my house. The husband, becoming penitent over night, came the next day to see her, but I told him as gravely as I could that the camp had been so aroused by his brutal treatment of his wife that it was bent upon giving him a coat of tar and feathers and that it would be well for him to hide himself in the woods for two or three days until the feeling subsided. He was thoroughly frightened and did as I suggested. In the meantime I took the wife in hand and by a process of admonition brought her to the stage of penitence and alarm over the non-appearance of her husband. In time she returned to her home where her husband joined her and for two years afterward they lived together in perfect serenity, models of domestic virtue.

There was another phase of lumbering at this time which can be understood only by those who have knowledge of the difficulties of keeping a mill in operation. We were far removed from the sources of supply and our equipment was meager compared to the establishments of the present. If a part needed replacing or repairs were to be made we had to rely upon our own resources. For this reason the blacksmith shop and the carpenter shop were an integral part of the establishment and a knowledge of smithing was almost essential to the superintendent who was at times called upon to forge chains, make axes and other tools, and shape broken parts. At Escanaba the company was fortunate to have as a blacksmith William Rogers, a man of many attainments outside his profession, who built the Flat Rock dam. I have known him to forge a knife in the morning, grind it and make a handle for it and shave the men with it in the afternoon.

For the more important repairs it was necessary to have machinists, who were in great demand. Two of the best of them on the upper lakes were Mason and Barber, who had come to Grand Haven from England by way of Canada. Both were exceedingly skillful in those days when it was necessary to work with a hammer and cold chisel, such machine tools as lathes not having come into use. Mr. Barber bought out the interest of Mr. Mason,—who was afterwards associated with Mr. Holt in the firm of Holt and Mason,— at Grand Haven and was able to retire within a short time with a considerable fortune which he enlarged in Chicago, where he was rated as one of the wealthy men of the city. He returned to Europe in 1858, with his wife and one child, to visit his home in England. On their return the steamer "Pacific," on which they had taken passage, was lost with all on board. His estate was dissipated not long afterward.

When I undertook logging operations for Holt and Mason I necessarily severed my connection with Mr. Sinclair. This I did with much regret, for I was mindful of all that he had done for me and how much my own progress had depended upon the lessons he had taught me. He was also sorry to have me go but there was no other prospect unless I continued to work for him on a salary basis, which I was not content to do. He and the members of his family, however, remained my steadfast friends. The agreement he had made that I should be given a farm and equipment was never carried out. Mrs. Sinclair volunteered to make good the promise after Mr. Sinclair's death, but I declined her offer.

Mr. Mason was an excellent millwright and his partner, Mr. Holt, who had charge of the lumber yard in Chicago, was a. very capable business man and they made a good combination but neither of them had had any experience in logging or in looking up timber lands. This was left to me. Having acquired considerable capital I contemplated purchasing Mr. Mason's interest in the firm and in July, 1857, made an agreement with him by which I was to pay one-third down and the remainder in one and two years. He was to give me a deed of the property and accept a mortgage for the unpaid balance. Arrangements having been concluded on this basis I took an inventory of the goods in the store and warehouse, made contracts with jobbers and started then to work in the woods. Likewise, assuming that the bargain had been struck, Mason proceeded to dismantle his home and brought his furniture down to the dock to take the last boat of the season from Masonville for Chicago.

As he was about to leave he submitted to me, much to my amazement, what was known at the time as the "Chicago cut-throat contract" by the terms of which if a payment became overdue one became a tenant at will and forfeited all that had been paid up to that time. Reminding Mr. Mason of his agreement to give me a deed and accept a mortgage for the balance I refused to sign the contract. He admitted that such was the understanding but gave as an excuse that some years before when he had sold his property at Grand Haven he had been obliged during a panic when he was badly in need of money to wait for the payments for two years and did not wish to place himself in a similar position again. "I refuse to sign that contract," said I decisively. Equally unyielding he carted his furniture back to his substancial house and the boat departed for Chicago without him. Again did my plans to enter into large fields of activity as a mill owner come to nothing.

In the meantime changes had taken place in the ownership and management of the business of Sinclair and Wells at Escanaba. In the winter of 1850 Harrison and Nelson Ludington, under the firm name of N. Ludington and Company, who had maintained a lumber yard at Milwaukee in which Mr. Sinclair and Mr. Wells were interested, purchased the controlling half-interest in the Sinclair and Wells Company which, in 1851, also became known as the N. Ludington Company. In the following year they opened a lumber yard at Chicago, which I helped to establish, on Twelfth Street and the South Branch, subsequently removing to a tract of land on Twenty-second Street.

In June, 1855, Mr. Sinclair under stress of an illness which affected his mind, withdrew from the business entirely and retired to Janesville. This marked the end of his rather remarkable career. In a fit of melancholia he committed suicide on the farm near Janesville in October, 1855.

In 1856 the N. Ludington Company, in addition to their property at Escanaba, erected on Mission Point, on the Menominee River, another mill, which was operated for only two months when the panic of 1857 turned the business world into a shambles and it was closed down.

Neither of the Ludingtons nor Daniel Wells, who remained in partnership with them, had the slightest knowledge of the practical side of lumbering and about the time I was negotiating with Holt and Mason they approached me with a proposition to take charge of their mills and an interest in the business. It was my judgment at the time that the Holt and Mason Mason enterprise offered greater opportunities and I declined their offer but aided them to the extent of securing David Langley as superintendent of the mills at Escanaba. The discussion of these affairs required my presence in Chicago where, for the first time, I was able to indulge myself without stint in the delights of the drama. For thirty-six successive nights, excepting Sundays, I went to the theatre and gave myself up unreservedly to the enjoyment of the tragedies of the period, which were much more satisfactory, to my mind, than the frothy comedies and melodramas of the present day.

The crash of 1857 brought the prosperity of the preceding few years to an abrupt end. Failure followed failure, business became stagnant and a period of "hard times," which was to endure for several years, until the shadow of the Civil War began to pass, followed. Many people suffered and I myself had to endure a period of enforced idleness. Reverses bore heavily upon those who possessed what might be regarded as fixed capital. Rather than feed them I slaughtered twenty oxen, receiving little or nothing for the beef, and sold a number of horses, of which I had many, to my brothers who were logging by contract. Others I let to various persons for their maintenance.

Despite our disagreement Mr. Mason and I remained good friends and went to Green Bay together from the North on the ice with our teams in February, 1858, and thence to Fond du Lac where we boarded the train for Chicago. About. March 1, I returned with Harrison Ludington, afterward Governor of Wisconsin, who contemplated starting the mill at Marinette. We remained here for a day or two for the purpose of making an arrangement to buy out the interests of Messrs. Kimball and Brown, who were associated with the Ludingtons in the ownership of the property and who also knew little about the lumber business.

Our negotiations failed at this time and we went on to Escanaba and Masonville covering eighty-two miles in a single day. About a week later we returned to Mannette, purchased from Mr. Brown his interest and secured his promise to use what influence he had to induce Mr. Kimball to relinquish his holdings also. In the meantime I returned to Masonville. On May 1, after assisting my brothers in driving their logs out of Day's and Rapid rivers, I went to Marinette with my sailboat, took the steamer to Green Bay and went by way of Fond du Lac to Chicago to complete the negotiations.

This we did successfully and I became the owner of a. quarter interest in the mill, personal property and lands of the N. Ludiugton Company. With Mr. Ludington I returned to Marinette and took charge of the property on May 15, 1858. After more than a half-century, fifty-eight years, I am still where that venture brought me.


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