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Recollections of a Long Life 1829 - 1915
Chapter XI


THE signs of human habitation along the Menominee River when I first came to it in 1853 were few. The primeval forest, except for the small spaces cleared by the Indians and the early traders and lumbermen, came down to the water's edge; and the river, which has since been confined to narrower limits and a lower level by the dredging of channels and the improvement of the harbor, poured itself in flat volume out into the bay. The passage of larger vessels was blocked by a bar at the mouth of the stream and they were loaded or unloaded by means of smaller boats or scows while they lay at anchor some distance off shore.

On the edge of the bay on the Michigan side were probably a dozen huts occupied by white fishermen. On the site of the present city of Marinette were only three houses, one belonging to Dr. Hall, another to Queen Mannette of the Menominee tribe of Indians, and the third to her son, John B. Jacobs, one of the early traders. About a mile from the mouth of the river on the Michigan side was a large sawmill, erected by Dr. Hall in the forties and afterwards enlarged and operated by water power, and a boarding-house where the employees lived. On the opposite side was the mill erected by Farnsworth and Brush, all traces of which have since been obliterated.

Of the earlier history of the settlement few vestiges remained. Menekaunee, or Pleasant Town where the Indian band of Te-pak-e-ne-nee, the Night Man, had established a village many years before, according to tradition, had been reclaimed by the wilderness. Arrow heads and stone implements turned up with the soil on the site of the mill and boarding-house of the N. Ludington Company, which still bears the name of Mission Point, gave evidence of the fact that the spot had been the habitat of the red men who gathered about the mission and post maintained there by the government.

There were still many Indians in the vicinity, some of whom lived in huts near the river and in small camps farther up the stream. These were removed to the reservation in Shawano in 1856. For many years afterward, however, they came to the Menominee, some of them from great distances, for fishing and hunting. One band from the Straits of Mackinac camped on the island opposite the city of Marinette some time afterward and left their squaws there while they went up the river to hunt deer, which were very plentiful, and the trail from the north was kept worn by the march of many moccasined feet.

The Menominee fishing grounds were evidently guarded with some jealousy by certain bands of Indians who resented the invasion of others of their race. There was a tradition extant in my time that one chief who was foolhardy enough to encroach upon this territory was captured and minnows were forced down his throat until he died. "If he wants fish," his captors said, "we will give him more than enough."

Queen Marinette, the descendant of a daughter of Wabashish and a French trapper named Bartholomew Chevalière, was a capable woman, large of figure and somewhat advanced in age when I first came to the Menominee, who managed her business affairs with exceptionally good judgment although she retained many of the traits of her Indian origin. For a number of years she lived with John B. Jacobs, an English trapper and trader, who came from Canada.. Later her affection for him seems to have cooled, for he relinquished whatever claim he had upon her to George Farnsworth for a pipe of high wine, and shortly afterward returned to Canada.

By the first alliance she had a son, John B. Jacobs, a very shrewd and capable man of aristocratic bearing, who devoted his time to trading and gambling. By the second there were several children. From one of them, Jane Farnsworth, I purchased a portion of Marinette's property, fronting on the river and including a portion of the heart of the city of Marinette, for fifteen twenty-dollar gold pieces. From John Jacobs, the son, I also purchased some property, now lying well within the city limits. George Farnsworth another of Marinette's children, also a man of considerable capacity became quartermaster of the Thirty-second Regiment of Wisconsin infantry, largely upon my recommendation, during the Civil War and proved to be a very efficient officer.

Up to 1850 the timber resources along the Menominee had scarcely been touched and the extent of them was not even realized, but at that time they began to attract the attention of lumbermen and in the following decade and for some years afterward the river grew in importance until it became the greatest lumber-producing district in the world. From the few thousands of feet produced by the earlier water-mills the annual production steadily increased until it reached six and seven hundred million feet. The harvest of logs brought down with the drive in the spring extended for ten miles in solid mass along the river, and twenty-three steam mills pouring out lumber in an unending stream presented a pageant not unlike that which I as a boy had contemplated along the Penobscot from Oldtown to Bangor.

In 1855 a. number of Pennsylvania and New York capitalists, associated together under the name of the New York Company, erected at the mouth of the river a large mill which encountered difficulties during the period following the panic of 1857. The next mill to be constructed was that of the N. Ludington Company on Mission Point, the site for which had been purchased by Mr. Sinclair a number of years before. It began operations in 1856, but continued for only two months when it shut down because of the financial depression. When it resumed operations on May 15, 1858, it was under my charge. From this time development went on and eventually my brothers, Samuel and Robert, came to the Menominee at my suggestion and occupied important positions at the head of some of these many lumbering establishments.

Casting back over the past sixty years the picture of the growth of the lumbering industry on the Menominee and the gradual recession is not without its dark shadows. The woods I traversed in the search for pine timber have practically disappeared. From many acres from which the pine was stripped in these early days I have since cut the growth of hardwood. The stream of logs driven down the river is constantly dwindling and will soon cease altogether; and the pall of silence is drawing down about the mills, which have closed one by one. The epoch of which I saw the beginning and the expansion is now corning to a somewhat melancholy close. The days of lumbering are nearly ended.

Fortunately another epoch is beginning. Farms are multiplying and green meadows and fertile fields are reaching like the fingers of a hand into the blackened waste of stumps and underbrush left to mark the passing of the chopper, and the friendly soil cleared of one harvest is yielding bountifully another. The past with its tumultuous days of development, its toil and accomplishment, has gone, and the accounting made; but, the future looms big with possibilities and another half-century may see another tide of increase at its flood again.

At the time I began my career as a mill owner at Marinette, conditions were anything but favorable. The panic had brought business to a standstill. Very few men had much capital, and when the stress came many of those engaged in lumbering went to the wall. The depression that prevailed was well illustrated by a story told me by Dr. Hall at the time. When he was in Chicago in the forties during a period of "hard times," one of the men whom he had employed at the mill applied for his pay. Without regard to conditions he insisted that the doctor owed him the money and he demanded it forthwith.

"I am making provision to pay," protested Dr. Hall.

"I don't want provisions," said the Irishman. "I get all the provisions I want from you at the mill. I'll take money or nothing."

The predicament in which Dr. Hall found himself was common to almost everyone along the Menominee in the late fifties. The New York Company and the Ellsworth Company both failed, as Dr. Hall had failed earlier. The whole community was demoralized and the flow of commerce was stopped. As a basis of exchange some of the people accepted cattle, others tools. This situation was one that I had never been called upon to meet before. I and the people with whom I had been associated had always met our obligations promptly, and it was difficult to listen patiently to importunities and the stories of failure and misfortune addressed to me. Before the country had recovered from the depression following the panic, the war began and it was not until 1864 that conditions returned to a normal basis and the light of prosperity again dawned.

When we began the manufacture of lumber at Marinette in 1858, before the effects of the financial cataclysm had passed altogether, it was sold on the market at Chicago at from seven to eight dollars a thousand feet, scarcely sufficient to pay the cost of production. The stumpage represented a dead loss. The same grade of lumber to-day would be worth from thirty to thirty-five dollars a thousand. At the same time there was very little difference in the cost of sawing. What advantages have been gained and economies effected through mechanical improvements on one hand were offset by the lower wages and longer hours on the other.

Our mill at Marinette had been hastily erected and was in constant need of alterations and repairs, and at this time men competent to look after machinery were few. This condition necessitated my working at night, very frequently, and to avoid shutting down during the week - which would have added still further handicaps to those under which we were already laboring. I recall that on Monday morning a religious old man in charge of a lath mill, who had observed with distrust the changes I had made on the preceding day, protested against my working on the Sabbath and predicted that no good would come of it. Before the week had ended, he said, we would pay the penalty by an accident or break of one kind or another. The prophecy did not come to pass and the mill ran without interruption or mishap of any sort - somewhat, I believe, to his disappointment.

I stuck indefatigably to the task before me and, whether by good luck or skill, acquired no indifferent reputation as a millwright. At least, the mill was kept running. The lack of mechanics and men to file the saws was the occasion of much inconvenience, but this disadvantage had no marked effect on our production. Despite the improvement in mill machinery and the increased facilities for making repairs, the average output remains proportionately the same. The competition, as I have said before, rests with the logging. Two camps under the same conditions and with the same number of men will frequently show a surprising disparity in the number of logs produced. This might be due to many things, the disabling of horses by inefficient teamsters, bad management by the "boss," dissatisfaction among the crew created by men of a. certain class whom the sailors call forecastle lawyers,— in short, a variety of causes. Sawing, on the contrary, is largely a matter of mechanical precision.

Although I did not acquire an interest in the Escanaba plant of the N. Ludington Company, now called the N. Stephenson Company, until 1858, I had supervision over it in a general way and frequently made trips from Mannette to observe the progress of operations there. The vicissitudes of travel between the two points, which bore heavily upon those not accustomed to the rigors it entailed, are illustrated in one expedition I made with Nelson and Harrison Ludington and a boy named Merrick, afterward a member of the tobacco firm of Spalding anti Merrick, of Chicago, during the latter part of January, 1854.

We started from Menominee in a double sleigh, the first to go north on the ice that winter. The snow was about twelve inches deep and the anchor ice had blown up in ridges in which there were crevices. When we were three and one-half miles north of Menominee, off what is now known as Poplar Point, the horse stepped into one of these crevices and broke his leg. The misfortune was a serious one. Harrison Ludington, contemplating it almost with stupefaction, exclaimed: "My God! The horse has broken his leg." In our plight the others were helpless and the burden of the mishap fell upon me. I killed the horse by striking it one or two blows in the forehead with an axe, threw the harness in the sleigh and started back for Menominee to bring a small Indian pony and more supplies. I suggested that in the meantime the others proceed on foot until overtaken. The walking was difficult because there was from three to six inches of water under the snow on the ice, and when I returned Harrison Ludington was waiting for me at the sleigh, while the others had gone only a few rods.

When we resumed the journey it was necessary for me to walk ahead to break a path through the untracked snow, exchanging places for brief intervals with Harrison Ludington. At noon we arrived at Cedar Point, built a fire and made tea. After a brief rest we headed for Cedar River, arriving at Norway Bay at evening. Cutting a way through the shore ice, which was very high, we found a deserted fisherman's camp, a small hut without windows. For fuel I cut away a part of the roof and floor, while my fellow travelers sat by commiserating one another. The chinks in the hut were stuffed with plains moss, which was very inflammable, but this fact I kept to myself.

When the fire was made I went to the bay and cut a hole in the ice, only to discover after much labor that it was too far inshore and that there was only sand at the bottom. My second attempt farther out was successful. After our meager meal I arranged beds for the others so that each had his feet toward the fire. My own was a plank. At midnight when I went out for fuel the air was clear and frosty, so frosty that an hour later I awoke to find my moccasins and stockings, wet from walking on the ice, frozen stiff. I thawed them out at the fire, and to run no further risks remained awake for the rest of the night.

We breakfasted at four o'clock and resumed our journey, arriving at Cedar River at eight o'clock. Here our troubles ended. From there Mr. Hamilton drove us to Ford River, where Mr. Sinclair joined us, and we went on to Escanaba without further mishap. On our return to Marinette, three days later, Alden Chandler accompanied us on his way to Green Bay, where he was to take the oath of office as the first postmaster of Escanaba. The Ludingtons went on to Chicago, glad that the ordeal, their only real experience with the wilderness, was over.

In this environment of hard work we had our diversions, especially on the Fourth of July and at Christmas time. On these occasions, now and then, there was a ball in which everybody joined and we danced as energetically as we worked. I have beside me the announcement of an "Independence Ball at John Quimby's new hall in Menominee, on the Fourth of July, '60," for which "the company of yourself and lady" was "respectfully solicited." The floor managers were John B. Jacobs (Queen Marinette's son) and H. K. Fowler, and the committee of arrangements representing the five towns along Green Bay were: "for Menominee, Jabez Hawkins, I. Stephenson, James Laughrey and Levi Odell; for Peshtigo, Anson Place and Levi Hale; for Oconto, G. P. Farnsworth and George C. Ginty; for Cedar Forks, S. Hamilton and M. Boyd; and for Escanaba, D. Langley and H. Shields." Those opportunities came so seldom that we made the most of them and danced from early in the evening throughout the night without pause until seven or eight o'clock the following morning.

Even this achievement was outdone on Christmas Day, 1838. We drove to the house of "Abe" Place on the Peslitigo road, arriving there about noon, took down the partition dividing the interior of the house, and, starting with a cotillon shortly before twelve o'clock, danced until nightfall. After supper we drove to Peshtigo, cleared out the large attic of the boarding-house, and continued our festivities until after seven o'clock the following morning.

In these days the charivari also was a recognized institution, and many a groom faced the ordeal of noise and by beating circular saws suspended on cords or ropes. The only escape from the terrific clanging was to "treat" the crowd in one way or another. Many times I was appealed to by the prospective bridegroom who sought a way of escaping from the ear-splitting serenade. The most enjoyable form of diversion, however, was an excursion to a neighboring village on the bay by steamer. More than once I took the entire community, men, women, and children, on board one or more vessels and set out on expeditions of this kind.


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