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Recollections of a Long Life 1829 - 1915
Chapter IX


DURING the period from 1853 to 1857, when the country was on the crest of a wave of prosperity, I followed in the wake of expanding opportunity. Lumber was in demand everywhere. Prices were high, and the industry, which was in its infancy in the Middle West but a few years before, began to thrive and develop by leaps and bounds. So great was the need for men who knew the practical side of lumbering that during this time, and for several years before, I received numerous tempting proposals to take charge of properties at Muskegon, White Lake, Manistee, Marquette, even Oconto and elsewhere, all of which I declined. In most instances, however, I procured men who were able to measure up to the requirements of these places, many of whom were successful and became prominently identified with the communities which grew up around them.

Of late it has become the custom to accentuate even the measure of prosperity we enjoyed and, by way of comparison, to regard the high cost of living as a very recent development. Such was not altogether the case. Provisions were higher in the fifties than at any time since. My old account books show that the average price of pork was from twenty-five to thirty-five dollars a barrel, spring wheat flour from six to nine dollars a barrel, calico from twelve to fifteen cents a yard. The price of sugar was twice as much as it is at present and other staple commodities were proportionately higher. Most of the added cost of living arises from the addition to the list of household and personal supplies of articles which we regarded us luxuries and had no place in our manner of living but which, according to the extravagant view of the present time, are looked upon as necessities.

We did enjoy a decided advantage, however, in the low price of fish, which were very plentiful. In the forties and later there were several thousand fishermen, who used commonly Mackinaw boats, around Green Bay settlements, along the straits of Mackinac and in the vicinity of the islands in this region. The Narrows at the entrance of Bay de Noquette was a favorite fishing ground for trout. It was said that one Edward Light caught three hundred of them in a single day, fishing with a hook through a hole in the ice. Whitefish I have purchased for our lumbering establishments for two cents per pound by the ton, delivered at the company store. The supply of them in the northern waters of the great lakes appeared to be inexhaustible, but with the advent of pound nets they began to dwindle, until there is now but one where there were thousands before. Sometimes they were so numerous in the rapids on the Escanaba River that the mills were shut down to enable the men to make a catch. Trout also were abundant in the small lakes and streams, but they have decreased in numbers as the fishermen have penetrated the out-of-the-way places.

Mr. Sinclair having blocked my scheme of building the plank road from Negaunee to Marquette by the purchase of David Langley's interest in my logging outfit, which he doubtless conceived to be to my own advantage, I resumed again the business of looking up and entering pine lands, for which purpose he desired mainly to retain my services. Men who had the experience and equipment to do this were rare in the upper peninsula, and at this time the scramble for accessible timber was much more keen than it had been a few years before. The tracts most advantageously situated along the lower reaches of the rivers and streams emptying into Green Bay had been generally taken up and it was necessary to penetrate farther into the depths of the forests.

Searching out pine timber,— the hard woods and lesser growths were of little value,— and running a. line to ascertain the location was no small task. Most of the mill owners were hard put to it to find men to do this kind of work and to enter the land at the land office. The difficulty was increased by the unscrupulousness of the recorders employed by the federal government. It was the rule rather than the exception that the explorer who had undergone privation and hardship to find the timber, when he came to enter it at the land office was met with the statement of the recorder that it had already been entered. This, of course, was not true. The recorder had a list of willing "dummies" always at hand who were put down as the purchasers of the property, which was afterward sold at a neat profit to himself and his co-conspirators who supplied the money. The foundations of not a few American fortunes were laid in this reprehensible fashion.

About this time the State of Michigan had granted large tracts to the "Soo" Land Company for canal purposes, and it was the aim of Mr. Sinclair to look these over before the transfer of title was actually made. I hurried to the Menominee River to look over some lands and enter them at the Menasha land office,— the first to be entered in that region,-- and then to the "Soo" to look over those involved in the canal grant.

In the meantime, Messrs. Wright and Holbrook, of Nalima, were still desirous of having me take an interest with them, and after my return from Wisconsin it was my purpose to go to Nahma to discuss terms with them. The wind, however, was contrary and after waiting for some time in vain for favorable weather, I boarded my own vessel, the "Cleopatra," and went to Milwaukee. I wrote to Mr. Wright, declining his proposition, and recommended for the place Jefferson S. Bagley, a nephew of Mr. Sinclair and a very capable man, who took charge of the business. He arrived at Nahina with a number of men and women and winter supplies on the schooner ''Juliet Patten," on December 11, 1853. Because of the lateness of the season, and the lack of tugs to break the ice in the harbor, the journey was hazardous but was completed without mishap.

In October I left for the "Soo" to enter the lands for the N. Ludington Company. I went by rail to Detroit and there met Robert Graveraet, who played a conspicious part in the development of the upper peninsula as the agent for eastern copper interests, and who first pitched his tent in the wilderness on the site of the present city of Marquette. He informed me that a boat was to leave for the "Soo" the following morning on which I secured a reservation in the after cabin on the main deck. On the same vessel, the "Detroit," of the Ward line, the first party of workmen who were to dig the canal had, with their families, taken passage. They were all Irish. At this time the people of no other nation seemed to have acquired proficiency in excavation work of this character, and the emigrants from the Emerald Isle, who were especially adept in the use of the shovel, scattered over the United States, and other countries to a smaller extent, wherever construction work was being carried on. They built the railroads in France and in this country, dug canals in Pennsylvania and were exclusively engaged for the work about to be undertaken at the "Soo."

We ran into a gale on Lake Huron and were somewhat apprehensive, because the boat was old and said to be overloaded, but weathered the storm safely and arrived at our destination on November 3, when the first shovelful of soil was taken out of the canal, which was opened in September, 1835. One of my fellow passengers on this trip was Mr. Duncan whom I had not seen since I made the futile contract with him for the construction of the plank road.

After entering lands at the "Soo" I returned to Milwaukee, setting sail on the steamer "Garden City." This ill-fated vessel, running in opposition to the Ward Line between Chicago and the "Soo," was lost the following year between Mackinac and Detour, on what has since been called the Garden City Reef, in commemoration of the disaster. I remember my voyage on the boat with peculiar distinctness because of an incident which occurred at Beaver Island, where we stopped to take on wood.

This community had been established at an early day by the Mormons, at the head of whom was John Strang, a rather extraordinary figure in this period of Michigan history, known as ''King" Strang to his faithful subjects. The colony had removed some years before from Rochester, near Kenosha, Wisconsin, through which I had passed in 1846, to Beaver Island, where they were held in great awe by the people of the surrounding country and by mariners on the hikes, who believed that they not only followed a strange creed, but were guilty of outrageous if not criminal practices. This idea, needless to say, was without basis and was due to misleading and malicious rumors to which the yarn-spinning sailors, I have no doubt, added as they congregated about the stoves in their winter haunts when navigation was closed. The Mormons were really a hard-working and patient people who did not molest their neighbors; but the fishermen and wood-choppers who competed with them, some of whom were fugitives from the eastern states, were very bitter and spread reports that they had killed a number of persons and that one or two vessels said to have been wrecked in the vicinity of Beaver Island had really been seized by them, the crews murdered and the cargoes taken as plunder.

We arrived at Beaver Island in the evening with only two or three passengers aboard. While we were negotiating for the purchase of wood, "King" Strang came aboard apparently to make a friendly visit. Captain Squires, who had heard the evil reports about the Mormons, had misgivings about their leader and was prepared to keep on the alert until he was out of sight. Strang, however, showed no disposition to leave in a hurry—very naturally, as he was waiting until the wood had been loaded. Two of us kept watch with the captain, and to break our vigil refreshed ourselves at midnight with roasted potatoes and buttermilk in his cabin. At that time Strang was still aboard. Captain Squires then decided to try a plan I had suggested to be rid of him. He bargained with the Mormon leader for twenty more cords of wood, and, having arrived at an agreement, said that as his men were tired and it was necessary to make repairs to one of the wheels he would not load it until the following day. Strang left the boat to make preparations and the captain stealthily slipped off his lines at three o'clock in the morning and headed for Milwaukee. Captain Squires, who had been in command of the steamer "Arrow," the loss of which on the Hudson, near West Point, in 1845 was one of the great catastrophes of the period, afterward managed the Madison House in Chicago for many years.

After my arrival at Milwaukee the N. Ludington Company entered into contracts with the Illinois Central Railroad for the production of square timber for the breakwater on lake front at Chicago. How much this improvement was needed can scarcely be conceived by those who know only the expansive stretch of parking and intricate web of railroad tracks faced by the huge buildings of Michigan Avenue of later years. Before it was built the waves driven by a northeast gale sometimes lapped the doorsteps of the houses, many of them wooden structures, which bordered this thoroughfare. The city, too, has since stealthily encroached upon the water. In 1848, at the foot of Lake Street, a point now far inland, we lost a vessel which was blown ashore on April 22, the crew saving themselves by jumping from the jib boom to the sandy beach. In other respects also, far from being the metropolis it has since become, it was not an attractive city. Planking took the place of pavement. High wooden sidewalks, necessities in view of the boggy nature of the soil, lined Randolph and other streets, and oftentimes when I drove from our lumber yard on the West Side my horse plodded through a batter of mud in sections where the din of traffic now echoes among the tall buildings.

The construction of the breakwater was an important undertaking measured according to the standards of the time. To carry the timber we built a vessel of special design, called the "Alexander Mitchell," at Port Huron, with ports so arranged that the timber could be hoisted into the hold. The brig "C. I. Hutchins" was also purchased and equipped in the same manner. At this time the "donkey" engine was unknown and horses were carried on the decks of vessels to do the hoisting, a very cumbersome arrangement, as might be imagined. In a gale, when footing was uncertain, the poor animals were thrown and lashed to the deeks, a practice which led to the use by sailors of the phrase: "Six men and two two horses before the mast." The donkey engine did not come into use until oil was discovered. William B. Ogden purchased thirteen of them at an auction at Corry, Pennsylvania, and sold them to contractors who used them for driving piles at Chicago and other ports on the lakes.

Some of the timber used on the breakwaters at Chicago, Sturgeon River and other harbors on the lakes we cut on Sand Point, the site of the present city of Escanaba, but the greater portion of it was taken from the forests along the Menomence River. The Company, after my return from the "Soo," had made arrangements for mc to take a crew of men to the latter region. We left Milwaukee oil vessel laden with supplies and arrived at the mouth of the river on November 11, 1853, at five o'clock in the morning.

I piloted the ship to its anchorage and after unloading the supplies and logging equipment went ten miles up the river and established the first camp. Later I established two more and during the winter of 1853 and 1854 directed the operations of eighty men who made timber thirteen inches square which was counter-hewed to twelve inches in Chicago. The minimum length was twenty-five feet but much of it was more than thirty and some sticks were seventy-five feet. In addition to directing the work of the timber crews and measuring timber I did much exploring. For twenty-five nights during the winter, which was un- usually severe, my brother and I slept in the open forest without shelter while on our expeditions. For three days during a cold wave the thermometer fell to thirty-five degrees below zero and at Green Bay city it was said to have been forty below. Three of my men were badly frozen.

After several months of hard work I took passage on June 13, 1854, from Menominee to Chicago, on one of the vessels, the "Alexander Mitchell," which was laden with square timber. On the same boat was Mr. Duncan, who had come down from Lake Superior in the latter part of March. He was dissatisfied with the progress of the work on the plank road at Marquette and, old as he was, had also conceived the plan of erecting a sawmill. We discussed both undertakings and reached an agreement,— a very satisfactory one from my point of view,— by which I was to take a very large interest in and to have full charge of the business. Assuming that the plan this time would be carried out I even went to the extent of making arrangements to send cattle, equipment and supplies, together with a number of men, from Escanaba to Marquette as soon as I had completed my work on the Menominee.

Some time after my arrival in Chicago, I went to see Mr. Ely, Mr. Duncan's son-in-law, who lived on Park Row, at that time the fashionable residence section of the city. He informed me that Mr. Duncan was ill but would see me some time during the afternoon. The visit was the last I paid the indefatigable pioneer. As I sat by his bedside he informed me that he had been obliged to abandon the project of building the mill because the land grant to the Northwestern Railroad, which had been changed from the western to the eastern portion of Delta and Marquette counties, had covered the timber he intended to purchase. He had written to me, he said, to this effect but the letter had never reached its destination. So ended my second attempt to transfer my activities to the Lake Superior region. Before I left Mr. Duncan expressed the hope that he would be himself again in a few days but, this did not come to pass. Although he lived for a number of years afterward at Marquette he never fully recovered from his illness and the projects he conceived were never carried out.

On the day after this visit, as I was about to leave for Milwaukee with my brother, S. M. Stephenson and two or three other men, Samuel Hamilton, the owner of the property at Cedar River, hailed me in the omnibus and persuaded me to remain over for a day. With him I went to the office of Holt and Mason, who owned the mill at Masonville, north of Gladstone, Michigan, and within the hour I had made a. contract with Mr. R.D. Holt, the Chicago manager of the firm, to supply them with all the logs required by their plant. They were also in need of some one to survey timber lands and on my arrival at Milwaukee I sent my brother with several men to Masonville for this purpose while I myself went on to the "Soo" to examine the maps at the land office to ascertain which lands were vacant and could be entered.

I returned to Chicago by way of Detroit for a consultation with Mr. Holt. The day of my arrival, July 7, 1854, was one not easily to be forgotten. It was marked by the death of one hundred and thirty-nine people, among them Mr. Ely, Mr. Duncan's son-in-law, victims of the cholera. The fear of the epidemic, which assumed the proportions of a plague, was upon us all and the city was overshadowed with gloom. For five years it claimed thousands of victims in the Middle West, taking heaviest toll of the towns and cities.

Three or four days elapsed before one of our boats left for the mills, during which time I remained at the Briggs house. When I did go aboard the vessel I became ill, having all the symptoms of the dread disease, and for the first and only time in my life I began to fear that the shadow of death was upon me. None the less I was not willing just then to abandon the struggle. The chances being against me I was willing to compromise with fate if it spared me until we had passed Death's Door so that I might be taken to Escanaba where my family awaited me and I struggled as valiantly as I could against the pain which beset me. A money belt in which I carried four or five hundred dollars in gold and which caused much discomfort I turned over to the captain. Crouching beside the bed in my cabin I gathered what little power of resistance remained to me to hold off what seemed to be the approaching end.

Not long afterward the pain diminished, the crisis passed and the illness disappeared almost as suddenly and unaccountably as it came. By the time we arrived at Masonville I was myself again except for the weakness due to the ordeal through which I had passed. Without tarrying to recuperate I put my knapsack on my back and went at once with my men into the woods. In two days I had regained my strength and worked so energetically at running lines that my companions were hard put to it to keep up with me. During this period my food consisted of pork and dry bread. For three months I continued my explorations for timber for Holt and Mason making rapid progress because of my experience and knowledge of the country.

About this time my operations were begun on a very large scale. In October I entered into a contract to supply logs to the mills on Day's and Rapid rivers and purchased all of the sleighs, teams, and camp equipment of Holt and Mason including thirty-three oxen and twenty horses and four or five dozen buffalo robes worth from forty to forty-five dollars a dozen, which were used in lieu of blankets.


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