Having been often urged by you to jot down for publication in your paper some of the incidents of the earliest settlement of Shiawassee county, and learning first by reading The Press that a society of old settlers had been formed at Corunna, before whom some interesting incidents were related, among which is a statement which needs correction, viz: that Mr. Allen Beard plowed the first land in the county, I will now comply with your request, commencing with the condition and size of the county at the time the writer, with a brother, settled in it over forty years ago. (I state from recollection principally).
The county was set off and named Shiawassee county about the year 1824, either by an act of territorial council or of Gov. Cass, perhaps both, and then comprised a territory thirty-six miles square, comprising its present limits; also the west tiers of townships of Genesee county, except the two north towns; the north half of Livingston, and the northeast quarter of Ingham counties. The same year, I believe, the county seat was located by commissioners appointed by the governor at the forks of Shiawassee river and named Byron, by Judge Dexter—the founder of Dexter, Washtenaw county—who had purchased the land and who paid all the expenses of making the location by the commissioners. That was the first land purchased in the county. Mr. Dexter subsequently put-chased a large tract of land at the present site of Shiawassee town, near the Indian village, She-shi-ge-masking, (soft maple place). This was the second land bought in the county. Judge Dexter subsequently informed me that he made this last purchase in view of a probable re-location of the county seat, as cutting off the two south tiers of townships would necessitate a removal.
In 1836, when Michigan became a state, Genesee county having been organized by taking another large slice from Shiawassee to form that county, Shiawassee was reduced to its present limits, transforming it from one of the largest to one of the smallest counties in the state, the west tier of townships having been reduced in width in consequence of the principal meridian line not having been run on scientific principles. It was a standing joke among early surveyors that the Frenchman who run the line was afraid of getting lost, and that had he run the ;ie far enough he would have got back to Detroit.
On the 2d day of April, 1829, my brother and myself, both then minors, started from our home, near Pontiac, Oakland county, to explore the country between the settlements and the Shiawassee river. Following an Indian trail most of the distance, with our rifles, blankets, a small tent and what provisions we could carry on our backs, the first night we encamped at the north end of Long lake, near Fentonville, then in Shiawassee county. We slept soundly, notwithstanding the night, to ears unaccustomed to the sounds, would have been made hideous by the howling and snapping of teeth of, one would think, a dozen wolves that had pulled down a deer within forty rods of us; some of them we heard trotting over the leaves within a few rods of us.
The next day we reached the Indian reservation of 3,000 acres on the Shiawassee river, Ke-che~wan-dor-goning, (Big salt lick), then called by the French traders Saline, and since called the Knaggs place. At this point we reached the trading post of Mr. Richard Godfrey, in charge of Mr. Benjamin Cushway, with whom we were ‘acquainted—a rude log house and stable covered with bark.’ The goods and furs were all packed on horses and Indian ponies, a great number of which the Indians then possessed. We were very kindly received and entertained with true French hospitality. The Indians had at that time a small summer settlement, a few apple trees and some small corn fields that had previously been quite large, but the annual inroads of sumac brush and the June grass had nearly driven them out, they not having any plows to subdue the grass. This was the summer residence of Wosso, the principal chief of the Shiawassee band of the Chippewas.
We passed down the river on the west side to near the present site of Vernon, crossed by wading ‘the river and met a large number of Indians moving out of their Sugar camps to their summer houses upon the river banks, in and near their corn-fields, about half way between Vernon and Shiawassee town. They had plenty of corn, potatoes and turnips, and the fish had already ascended the river, completely covering the river bottom on the ripples. They gave us boiled and roast fish, potatoes and turnips, also nice white maple sugar, urging us to stay over night with them. This was the 4th day of April, and the maple trees were in bloom.
The interval lands of the river and on the Maple river flats were green with what we then called sweet cicely, the cowslip and other early flowers, and the June-berry trees, or shad-bush, were in full bloom, the air was alive with flies and the hum of wild bees. The Indians also had an abundance of wild honey. Returning at night to the trading-post, we the next day went up the west bank of the river to a point about one mile above the forks, crossed on a tree we felled with our hatchets, went to the east fork and crossed on an old tree at the Indian trail, and back to the trading-post, making a short excursion west on the Indian trail to the Bennington plains and north to the Maple river. This completed our explorations, and we concluded when we became of age we would settle in this new and beautiful virgin forest. The vegetation and season appeared to be at least a month in advance of that in Oakland county, where we had already resided over ten years.
OUR FIRST SETTLEMENT
In August, 1831 we moved into Shiawassee county and settled upon land previously purchased of the government by my brother, A. L. Williams, (myself still a minor), the land adjoining the (Che-won-der-gon-ing reservation, and about two miles above Newburg, at a place then called by the Indians Pinda-ton-going, (meaning the place where the spirit of sound or echo lives). Some of the old Indians every year, in fall or summer, offered up a sacrifice to the spirit of the river at that place. They dressed a puppy or dog in a fantastic manner, by decorating it with various colored ribbons, scarlet cloth, beads or wampum tied around it; also a piece of tobacco and vermilion paint around its neck, their own faces blackened; and after burning by the river side meat, corn, tobacco, and sometimes whisky offerings, would with many muttered adjurations and addresses to said spirit, and waving of hands, holding the pup, cast him into the river and then appear to listen and watch, in a mournful attitude, its struggles as it was borne by the current down into the deep hole in the river bottom at that place, the bottom of which at that time could not be discovered without very careful inspection.
I could never learn the origin of the legend they then had, that the spirit had dived down into the earth through that deep hole, and by a propitiatory yearly offering they believed their luck in hunting and fishing on the river would be bettered and their health preserved. I will here add, that about this time we found the remains of an old Indian fort on the east bank above Newburg, on a high bluff. It was nearly round and: had a ditch on the outside, with mounds in front of the east entrance. This place, where we first settled, was subsequently called the Shiawassee Exchange. It was the first purchase made in the county with a view of actual settlement by the purchaser.
We started with ox-teams and wagons from Grand Blanc, now in Genesee county—where a sister, the first settler in that county, resided— taking two men to assist in putting up a log house. We bought pine shingles to form the roof, and cut out the road almost the entire distance, via Co-pen-ic-corning, an Indian village, reaching our location in the afternoon of the third day.
After lunching, we set the two men at work cutting logs for the house, my brother pitching the tent and cutting firewood for the night, myself engaged in preparing supper, when, upon looking up the hill we saw a party of about twenty Indians approaching us from the direction of the reservation, with painted faces, knives, tomahawks, and two or three guns, (fusees), probably not loaded. The band,was headed by Wasso, the principal chief of the Shiawassee and Wan-dor-gon-ing Indians.
They marched up in single file between us and our men, who were chopping timber, and Wasso, having a tomahawk and knife in his belt, imperious1y demanded in the Indian language to know by what right we were cutting his trees, at the same time ordering us to tell our men to stop. We explained to him that we were not trespassers, that we had bought the land of our Great Father, Ke che-koese-naw, (the President of the United States), and pointed out to him the line of their reservation, also telling him that we were the sons of Ponte-ock, (the name given ~ur father in 1819 by Kish-e-kor-co, of Saginaw), and that we were intending to establish a trading-post there.
He haughtily contradicted us, repeating his demand that we should desist from cutting timber, and peremptorily ordered us to leave. Seeing that our explanations were of no avail, I concluded for myself to make no further statement. He again repeated his demand, appearing to stammer with suppressed rage, which producing no effect on us, he at once advanced a step or two, saying, ‘Did you not hear what I said?” Receiving no answer he muttered, “If you can’t hear me, I will see if you can see me, at the same time with his moccasined foot kicking my bread, baking before the fire, into it. Not thinking it best to argue the case any further in the mood that this act had placed us in, and at the moment having in my hand a longhandled frying- pan over the fire, full of hot frying pork and venison, very nearly ready to serve up for supper, I quickly raised the pan and by a sudden turn emptied the frying mass with a hearty good-will upon the old man’s head and neck.
He, perceiving my intent, quickly drew his loose blanket-coat over his neck and head, thus escaping a hot bath. Not wishing to break my frying-pan, I instantly seized a fire-poker at my side, and before he could recover from his surprise gave him a whack across the shoulders and back that sent him to his hands and knees, following that up with as good a hit with the stick as I was capable of giving where naughty mammas used to spank good children, which sent him to the forward scramble down hill, not stopping to get up to a perpendicular until beyond my further reach.
At the moment of the first hostile demonstration by the chief, a rush was made towards us by several of the others. My brother, seizing a limb of the tree he had just cut off, struck at the nearest Indian advancing, the sharp end of the stick cutting a slit in the coat or blanket the fellow wore, as he jumped back to avoid the blow, and we both sprang towards the band with sticks in hand. Our two men ran towards us, and in about the time it would take a Yankee to say “Git out!” the whole band were making some tall walking back up the hill from whence they came. To say that we slept any more soundly that night than usual would hardly be believed. We had good guns and they were well loaded and freshly primed; we had a small spaniel dog, ever on the lookout; and we had a good sound sleep after a hearty laugh over the affair.
It may not be amiss to explain that we had resided in Michigan since 1815; that we both spoke the Indian tongue quite fluently, and our acquaintance with Indian character had taught us never to show fear in their presence, however great the danger, and to promptly resent an insult or an injury. The result showed that this act on our part gained for us the respect and lasting friendship of Wasso and his whole band, while those who had urged the Indians on, and by misrepresentations caused them to pursue the course they had taken, lost it.
Suffice it to say, that we completed our house without further molestation or interference, except from those pests of the forest, mosquitoes, that seemed anxious to get a taste of our real Yankee blood. We would gladly have rid ourselves of them as easily as we had of the Indians.
The first farmer and settler with his family in the county was Mr. John I. Tinklepaugh (brother of Captain Edward Tinklepaugh, commander of Vanderbilt’s steamship North Star, on board of which as passenger was our honorable Governor H. P. Baldwin, when captured in Domingo waters by the Alabama, Captain Semmes, during the rebellion). They moved into the county and on to section 24, town of Shiawassee, one mile above Newburg, in May, 1883, bringing five children, he previously having built a log house, cleared a small lot and plowed it on the river bottom land. This was the first land plowed in the county, at least two or three years before Mr. Allen Beard moved into the county. Their youngest child, three weeks old when they came, I was requested to name, which was done by calling her Harriet, after my youngest sister, adding a calico dress—a piece of which I am told she still retains.
The old couple, happy and in good circumstances, both over seventy-two years of age, are still living in Greenbush, Clinton county. The next spring after planting his potatoes, one Sunday morning when they had given to their children the last quart of milk, with what ground nuts, leeks and boiled leaves they could obtain, for breakfast, he taking his hoe to dig up some of the seed potatoes to eat, he was fairly driven off by his courageous and more hopeful wife, and compelled to go again to our trading post to try to borrow some more flour, of which we had already lent them nearly two barrels and some other provisions, and had then a very scanty supply on hand.
We willingly divided with him and sent him back to his brave wife with flour and some dried venison hams, after fairly forcing him to eat a hearty breakfast which he seasoned with his grateful, manly tears—we occasionally giving him a slap on the back to make him swallow; and thus we lived and joked together in early days, while keeping bachelor’s hall in the primitive wilderness.
Late in the fall of 1832 Henry S. Smith and a Mr. Cooley built a small log house just below Shiawassee town, on land owned by Doctor Raynale, father of Spencer Raynale, of Corunna. They brought a few goods and a barrel of whisky, endeavoring to establish a trading post with the Indians, but they did not succeed very well, however. In June, 1833, Mr. Smith brought his wife, a nervous and delicate woman, with five children. This was the second settlement. He was a blacksmith by trade and brought the first plow into the county. He was a genial, bighearted, social, good fellow, liked by every one, and of course his wife had to scold some, but it never hurt him.
They subsequently moved into the first house we built in Owosso, where he commenced the blacksmithing business. This spring, 1833, we took our furs, consisting of sixty-four packs, averaging one hundred pounds each, down the Shiawassee see to Saginaw in two large canoes or dug outs, about thirty-five feet long and four feet wide and lashed together—thus forming quite a craft, freighted with about $10,000 value. After twice filling by striking on the rocks and necessitating the unpacking of many of the valuable furs and spreading them out in the sun to dry, the weather being favorable, I succeeded with the aid of Mr. Truman Bunce (he and Charles Wilkinson were the first settlers in the town of Venice in the year 1837), and the Indians in opening a passage for our craft, only unloading twice to carry our boats and furs around driftwood in the river, we reached Saginaw after narrowly escaping the loss of several thousand dollars in damage to the cargo from heating after having been wet.
This year Mr. Beaubien had his family at Godfrey’s post on the Saline reservation; Mr. Godfrey also brought his bride to that place. Mrs. Godfrey was a lady of refined, cultivated manners, a frank, noble, intelligent woman. She only remained a few months, and her leaving was considered by all the settlers a great loss to the society of our small colony. There also came in the spring of 1833 to the county Mr. Hosea Baker and his son, Ambrose Baker. They purchased the land comprising the present site of Newburg. The father returned to Pennsylvania for the family and Ambrose remained and built a house under the hill, near a cold spring of excellent water, and in August the father returned with his family, consisting of his estimable wife and several daughters, some of whom were young ladies, who made the woods and river valley fairly ring with their merry voices, and gave the first vocal songs and religious melody these old hills and valleys ever heard. Some of them are still living, respected as they deserve to be, by those who have had the pleasure of their acquaintance. Ambrose was a big-hearted, good, clever fellow—too good to become wealthy—and was recently called to the land of the Pa-ne-mor. Of his many kind acts to early settlers there are now living witnesses. The family of Mr. Baker was considered the most valuable acquisition our settlement had received.
Mr. Aaron Swain and wife (the latter a daughter of Mr. Baker) also came at the same time and settled half a mile above Newburg. Mrs. Swain’s first born, a daughter named Julia, was the first white child born in the county. Mr. Swain and wife were social, friendly, intelligent people, universally respected and esteemed. Baker’s family had with them a boy named Alexander Stevens, now a resident of Bennington, I believe.
Hosea Baker had the first new land, a field of any size, broken up and plowed in the county. He hired a Mr. Lathrop to break up the fallow on the bench of land under the hill at Newburg, in the spring of 1834. Mr. Lathrop, also the same spring, had plowed a field for Mr. Wm. Black, on the old Indian cornfield below Shiawassee town. Mr. Black subsequently married a of daughter Mr. Baker and settled there, Mr. Lathrop having put up a bark shanty on the south bank of the Shiawassee river, few rods west of the railroad bridge at Vernon, where his poor lady-like, young wife fought the myriads of tormenting mosquitoes and doubly tormenting pests of the forests, the scarcely discernable gnats, until life must have become a burden and was nearly extinct.
They moved away in the fall, after a summer of great suffering, and we lost sight of them. That woman ought to be entitled to eternal happiness as a reward for that summer alone; and if the women who first settle in a new country like Michigan and endure the hardships attendant upon such acts, do not attain it as a reward for their sufferings and privations —then the chances of any man it has fallen to my lot to know through life.—in my humble opinion aren’t worth a red—that’s so.
Mr. Henry Leach, wife and three children settled in the county in the fall of 1833. He bought the farm known as the Van Aukin farm at Vernon village. He erected the best log house then in the county and also built for us in 1835, at the Shiawassee Exchange, where my brother then resided with his wife, the first frame barn built in the county.
The lumber was all drawn on wagons from Waterford, in Oakland county, that being the nearest saw mill. Let it be understood that the floors of our houses then were generally made by hewing plank out of butternut, ash and basswood. Mr. Leach was a mechanic and farmer; a hard working, driving, energetic man from the state of Ohio; always ready to take the laboring oar of life. He subsequently settled in the township of Sciota—removed there in 1836; cleared up a large farm, where his excellent and much beloved wife, a member of the Methodist church, died.
Their house was always open to visitors and strangers; to offer them pay for their generous hospitalities was considered by them little less than an insult. To them money was of no value except the means it furnished them of doing good, in aid of the poor, or in procuring the necessaries of life. Mr. Leach subsequently died in California from injuries received from a runaway horse.
1833.—This spring foreshadowed what was soon to awaken into life the vast forest between Shiawassee and the Grand river valley then unknown except to Indian traders, and a band of bogus money makers just established at the present site of Lyons, among whom were men by the name of Prentiss, King, Belcher and several others, the heavy bed pieces and screws having been floated down the Grand river from Jackson. These implements were afterwards found in the cedar swamp at that place, back of the house they occupied. Nothing but an Indian trail, in many places difficult to follow, existed between the Shiawassee and Grand rivers, and an old Indian settlement of a few families only, at DeWitt, Clinton county.
In the early part of May, Judge Dexter, with a colony comprising seventy three persons, some eight or ten families, arrived in wagons with horses, oxen and cows, at the Keth-e-wan-don-gon-ing reservation, en route for the present site of Ionia on the Grand river below the Genereau ford and trading post. Having in vain tried to get Beaubien to pilot them, Mr. Dexter, Yeomans and Windsor came to us for help. I left our planting, taking my blankets and small tent, and in six days landed them at Ionia, looking out the route and directing where the road was to be. This was the first real colonizing party we had ever seen—myself never having been farther than DeWitt (the Indian village). I then procured Mack-e-ta-pe-na-ce (Blackbird), a son of the usurping chief of all the Saginaws, viz: Kish-e-cor-ko, to pilot me past Muskrat lake and creek, and from there proceeded with the party.
At that point a son of Mr. and Mrs. Dexter, a child about two years old, died of scarlet fever. This was a brother of Senator Dexter, now in the legislature. We buried the child by torch and candle light, in a box improvised by the party. Never shall I forget that scene. The whole family, and most if not all others in tears; the gray-haired sire, after inviting the heads of other families to lead the exercises of the mournful occasion, with tears streaming down his cheeks, read a burial service amid the sobs that nearly drowned his voice, in that deep, dark, gloomy forest—the gloomiest spot of the whole route. But there was no other recourse. The poor heart-stricken mother yielded up her youngest born, to be borne by sympathizing friends to the shallow grave prepared by torch light, to receive the tender frame she had so often and so lately pressed to her breast. But stern necessity knows no law.
I have assisted at many a burial, both at sea and on land—none ever seemed so solemn, so awful; none ever made so deep an impression on my mind, and I doubt if it is not the same with other witnesses of the scene. It rises as vividly before me today as immediately after its occurrence. I hope I may be pardoned the digression.
The road we opened was next year followed by others, and was substantially the present Grand River Road, through Shiawassee and Clinton counties, and was traveled for many years after.
Shortly after returning home I was employed by the United States to assist and give directions in a topographical survey of a military road from Saginaw to Mackinaw. After being absent four months we finally reached Mackinaw early in September. The party was under the control of Lieut. Poole, of the U. S. A. The country was not surveyed and was an entirely unknown tract—even the lakes had not been surveyed; and no white person, and perhaps no Indians, had ever penetrated it. The road was never opened. The party consisted of thirteen men.
Returning home in October I found a few new settlers had just come in: Mr. Josiah Pierce and family, the first county treasurer, also a Mr. John Smedley, Clark, Bovier, Z. R. Webb, Cornelius Miller and Judge Retan—one of the first county judges, I believe—composed the additions to the settlement in 1834. They settled in Vernon, near our trading post, and along the line of a new road we had cut out and opened for travel directly east through Vernon and Genesee to Copen-ie-cor-ning, where was then settled Mr. Wm. Gage. We opened the road without any aid for twenty-three miles.
Our county was then under the jurisdiction of Oakland county, and in the spring of 1833 the sheriff of that county came to our trading post to collect a license tax of six or eight dollars, which we paid; the French traders escaping because they lived on Indian territory, i. e., the reservation, over which the civil authorities had no jurisdiction. The sheriff traveled 140 miles to collect the tax. The next year we paid the tax in Pontiac to save him the travel. He seemed to consider our contribution a real god-send to his pocket. We, of course, were happy to keep him and his horse for the outside news he brought from home on his first visit.
In the spring of 1835 I left the county and was absent, except on an occasional visit, until the spring of 1837. During the summer of 1835 Mr. Banks, Vary, Philips, VanAukin, John Knaggs (a half-breed of French descent), and perhaps a few others, settled in the county, mostly along the Grand River road. During the fall and winter of 1835 and 1836 the first settlement was commenced at what was then known by the Indian name of Che-boe-wa-ting, or Big Rapids, of the Shiawassee—now Owosso. We had purchased the first land here in 1833, and Hon. Elias Comstock, having also purchased in the summer or fall of 1835, commenced an improvement near his present residence. We had erected a log house and sent Henry S. Smith, before mentioned, there.
During that winter the county seat was located by three commissioners, viz: Garry Spencer, a tailor, of Detroit, John Greenfield, a moulder and workman in a Detroit foundry, and Hon. Samuel Axford, of Oakland or Macomb county—the land on section 28, now Corunna, having been located by Col. Andrew Mack, of Detroit, at the land office in view of such a location. Mr. Mack had never then been in the county, as lie subsequently informed me.
During the spring of 1836 and the fo1lowing summer very large additions were made to the population of the county, extending from east to west along the Grand River Toad. Mills were built at Shiawasseetown that season. A large colony came under the lead of one Bacon, and a colony from Ohio.
The colony under the lead of Daniel Ball (father of Senator Ball, of Grand Rapids), came from Rochester, N. Y., and settled at Owosso, still known as the Rapids, Judge Comstock having already sent two families there, viz: — Overton and ____ _____. He also removed his own family there the next season. The following families: Phelps, Laing, Nichols, Hutchins, Rowe, Jackson, Sargent, Seymour, Wilkinson, Griggs, Castle, Dewey, Slocum, Flint, Roberts, Green, Cook, Harmon, Beard, Whitcomb, Provost, Ezra D. Barnes, Green, J. Barnum, Crawford, Cole, and many others, moved in during 1836 and 1837.
PROGRESS OF SETTLEMENTS – IN SHIAWASSEE AND CLINTON COUNTIES
As stated above, the settlement extended west along the route opened by the Dexter and Ionia colony. In 1835 Capt. Scott located at the Indian village on the Looking-glass river, named after the Indian name Wab-wa-aw-Seepe, in Clinton county, and subsequently named the place DeWitt. He improved the road and induced others to follow. At the organization of Shiawassee county Clinton was attached to it, and both had one representative in the legislature. In 1836 speculation was at the zenith of its glory. Paper Town was in the hands of everybody, and, unfortunately for our county, the settlement attracted scores of speculators in wild land, much of the most desirable lands were taken up, and yery largely by persons not intending to settle upon it. The lands were bought one day for $1.25 per acre, and the next day held to be worth $5 by the purchasers.
As stated before, my brother and myself had previously purchased about two hundred acres of land where Owosso now is, being attracted to the place by its indian name, Che-boc-wa-ting, (Big rapids); and as during our travels through the large section of country our Indian trade had led us to explore, we saw a fine water power and beautiful plain on one side, while a dense forest and heavy timbered land were on the other, together with the central position it would ultimately occupy to the county whenever the eastern portion of the county was taken off. We even then suspected a new county would he formed, with Grand Blanc or Flint as its centre.
We located land at Owosso in the years 1833 and 1834, in view of founding a town, although we made no improvements until the fall of 1835, when we agreed with Mr: Henry Smith to build a log house there, that being the first building erected in the north half of the county. The next winter Judge Comstock, a scholar and Christian gentleman of the old school, erected the second log house on the left, or west bank of the river, where he now resides with his family, universally respected in his mature age by all who have the pleasure of his acquaintance.
During the fall and winter of 1835, we negotiated for the sale of the water power and a portion of the land at this place to a company formed at Rochester, N. Y., headed by Daniel Ball, who were to bring a colony, erect a saw and grist-mill, and assist in building up a town at the rapids. Mr. Ball located and purchased of the government two or three sections of land in the vicinity and south of Owosso. This was in the fall when he first came to explore, my brother, A. L. Williams, falling in with him and suggesting the place as affording good facilities for such a project.
LOCATION OF THE COUNTY SEAT
During the winter of 1836 the county seat was located on section twenty-eight, then recently purchased by Mr. Mack, of Detroit. I came from Pontiac with the commissioners, making headquarters at my brother’s house at our old trading-post. The late Hon. Jacob M. Howard and a young attorney of Baltimore, Md., named Churchman, with two or three others besides the commissioners, formed the party. We spent three days examining various locations and visiting the rapids, (Owosso), twice on different days. The second day, on returning to my brother’s, we found a boy courier with letters to Spencer and Greenfield who, after a long private consultation, asked my brother to describe to them where, on our route down the river, made the first day upon horse-back and upon the ice, all the way from the present site of Shiawasseetown, was situated section twenty-eight, carefully examining a map to see where that section was. (Mr. Axford had, upon seeing the rapids and meeting Judge Comstock there, expressed his opinion very frankly in favor of the place). The next day after the dispatches were received we again visited the rapids after going to the geographical centre of the county, and that day before they had seen section twenty-eight——except when riding rapidly down the river upon the ice the first day of our exploring—Mr. Garry Spencer and John Greenfield, both of Detroit., in my presence decided to locate the county seat on section twenty-eight, its present site. Mr. Axford told them it seemed strange to him that they could arrive at, such a conclusion before they had seen the land, and that he would go with them the next day and look at it, provided they could find it. At that time neither Spencer nor Greenfield had ever before been in the county, and I had been with them all the time in exploring. There was no road, and the Indian trail did not run within a mile of the river at that point. The next day my brother piloted the commissioners to Col. Mack’s land on section twenty-eight, where the location was made, myself returning to Pontiac the same day, fully satisfied that a great wrong was being perpetrated. It may not be amiss to say that every man in the county, a settler at that time, signed a remonstrance asking the governor to withhold his sanction of the act. Thus was located the county seat of Shiawassee county.
SETTLEMENT of OWOSSO
We had previously surveyed and staked out the village plat of Owosso, and we completed the contract with Daniel Ball & Co. while the commissioners were exploring. The next spring Mr. Ball brought on his colony comprising several families, among whom were Rufus Collier, Simon Howell, Don Carlos Griswold, John B. Griswold, (now a resident of Chesaning), Mr. Hopkins, Mr. Sweet and their families, Henry Crooks, Mr. Hilton and son, John Lute, (mayor of Rochester, N. Y., last year), Mr. Seagle and family also, (Mrs.Seagle gave birth to a son, the first child horn in the village and north half of the county; the old lady is still living with said son in the town of Woodhull).
Mr. Ball proceeded to excavate the present mill-race and erected the saw-mill, bringing much heavy gearing and machinery Via Saginaw and up the Shiawassee river. Few at the present tune can have any just idea of the difficulties to be overcome by such men in settling such a new country. The nearest grist-mills were at Pontiac or Dexter, and nearly all supplies had to be carted from Detroit.
The season of 1836 being very wet and cold the roads were almost impassable, and in October, the 8th, I believe—a heavy fall of snow occurred, breaking down much timber, obstructing the navigation of the river below Chesaning and filling the roads with timber and tree-tops. But the indomitable energy of Mr. Ball and his party knew no bounds, and they succeeded in bringing through their supplies and machinery, with furniture and the necessary articles of a new colony, so as to pass the winter in tolerable comfort. In the spring of 1837 my brother removed with his family to Owosso, myself returning to the county, and we united our energies to build up the town. We built a log house just in front of Dr. Barnes’ present residence.
The mosquitoes and gnats were terrible to bear. We built fires with rotten wood long before night to keep them away, bringing in pans filled to keep them out of the house. And I well recollect one night being in the chamber with two or three workmen, among whom, I think, was Mr. Wm. Newberry, a mechanic. We were nearly smothered, or choked to death from the effects of the burning of some capsicum, or red pepper. that A. L. had, in desperation, thrown into the fire, all of us in the chamber having to run for our lives. That quieted the mosquitoes and gnats, and came very near quieting us too. Does any one wish to know the sensation? Just try it.
During the summers of 1836 and 1837, quite a village had been built lip at Shiawasseetown and at Byron. Mr. Provost and company erected mills and the county received large additions of settlers both to the villages and surrounding towns. For me to attempt to give names of any considerable number of the settlers arriving in the various sections of the county would be simply a work of supererogation. There are now residing in every township then settled many persons far more competent than myself to furnish for publication the early statistics required for preserving a history of the progression made in each town.
Why will not some one or more of these men in each town do it? And if the men won’t, then ladies, to the rescue, and I am well assured that if you move at once in this direction, and give us the result of your experience in settling a new country, much will be preserved that will be invaluable to those who come after you.
But I must return to Owosso and its progress. During the fall of 1837 Mr. Daniel Gould, the first county surveyor, settled at Owosso; also Mr. A Griffith, the Chipmans, George Parkill, Hon. S. M. Green, the Findleys, and many other families. This summer the Northern railroad line was surveyed and located as a part of the internal improvement plan adopted by the state. The route was from Port Huron via Lapeer, Flint, Corunna, Owosso, Lyons, Ionia, and Grand Rapids to Lake Michigan; and during the years 1838—9 much of the line was chopped and grubbed out and considerable grading done at various points along the line, very little of which work has ever been utilized by the railroads since built, and except when occasionally used for a wagon road, the money thus expended by the state was thrown away.
We at Owosso— which had now been regularly named by the proprietors after consulting with Daniel Ball, Sanford M. Green and Elias Comstock—prefixed to the chief’s name Wosso the letter “O” thus making the name, as was claimed, more euphonious.
We found it necessary also to seek an outlet for the products of the county, as well as some means of getting goods to the place other than by the deep rutted roads from Detroit, Pontiac, and Ann Arbor. We then endeavored to use Shiawassce river, Mr. Ball & Co. expended several thousand dollars, my brother and myself adding three thousand dollars in two years, in removing obstructions of drift wood and fallen timbers, principally between Chesaning and Bad river, making a tow path along the bank, forming stone dams, and the many expedients necessary to render the river navigable to Saginaw.
To that work Messrs. Ball and Green devoted themselves, both working in the water beside their men from early morning till dark, tormented by mosquitoes both day and night. In prosecuting their work one of their foremen, Mr. John B. Griswold, greatly aided their efforts. To fail in this work we thought fatal to the success of settling our portion of the county, as the expense of cartage over wagon roads was ruinous to business men. We succeeded in rendering the river navigable for flat bottomed boats, and one boat was built called then a Durham boat, capable of carrying and did carry over two hundred barrels of flour at one cargo from Owosso to Saginaw. Several scows were first built with foot or running boards at each side for the boatmen to pole the boat up the river.
From Chesaning a horse was used to tow the boat, occasionally jumping the horse on to the bow of the boat to cross him over the river when the bank afforded better facility for the tow line. Let it be remembered that in 1839 the state had abandoned the railroad and we expected no other outlet soon.
In 1838 Messrs.. Ebenezer (now Colonel) Gould and David D. Fish had established themselves as merchants at Owosso, really the first merchants here, although Ball & Co., and my brother and myself had kept some goods in a log store previously, and said Gould and Fish aided in the river improvement and navigation enterprise.
Dr. S. W. Pattison came to Owosso from Fentonville in 1839, being the first physician in the county that practiced medicine. Dr. Roberts had previously settled in Perry, but turned his energies to farming—being one of the first settlers in that township, a man of intelligence, possessing a well cultivated mind. Previous to this time we had occasionally sent to Flint Or to Fentonville for a doctor, we always being provided with what physicians were then all armed with: lancet, turnkeys for extracting teeth, the grand panacea for all diseases, to-wit: calomel, jalap, Peruvian or Jesuit bark, quinine, castor oil, Epsom salts, opium and Dover’s powders, and the woods furnished the cure for ague—boneset.
When we commenced trade with them our field for collecting furs comprised Oakland, Livingston, Ingham, Eaton, Clinton, Shiawassee, Genesee, Lapeer, parts of Tuscola, Saginaw, and Gratiot counties.
The various bands all belonged to the Chippeway or Saginaw tribes.
In 1819 they had by a treaty held at Saginaw, generally called the Cass treaty (General Lewis Cass acting as commissioner in behalf of the United States), ceded to the government all the land they claimed in the lower peninsula, except an occasional reservation, the Indians reserving the right to hunt and fish until such time as the land was settled. We found them scattered over this vast primitive forest, each band known by its locality, or by the name of their chief. They subsisted chiefly by hunting, although all had summer residences where they raised corn (mindor min), potatoes, turnips, beans, and sometimes squashes, pumpkins and melons. They were hospitable, honest and friendly, although always reserved until well acquainted, never obtrusive unless under the influence of their most deadly enemy—intoxicating drink.
None of these spoke a word of English, and they evinced no desire to learn it. During the spring and summer they visited friends and relatives at a distance, and had horse and foot races, with wrestling and jumping matches; some were fond of games and betting, but this was not indulged in by the best families.
I believe they were as virtuous and guileless a people as I have ever lived among, previous to their great destruction in 1834 by the cholera, and again their almost extermination during the summer of 1837, by (to them the most dreaded disease) the small-pox, which was brought to Chesaning from Saginaw, they fully believing that one of the Saginaw Indians had been inoculated purposely by a doctor there; the belief arose from the fact that an Indian had been vaccinated by the doctor, probably after his exposure to the disease, and the man died of small-pox. The Indians always dreaded vaccination from fear and suspicion of the operation.
The Asiatic cholera in 1832 did not reach the interior of Michigan, but in 1834 it seemed to be all over the country, and was certainly atmospheric as it attacked Indians along the Shiawassee and other rivers, producing convulsions and cramps with death after a few hours. This began to break the Indians up at their various villages; the white settlements becoming general, and many persons selling them whisky (then easily purchased at the distilleries for twenty—five cents per gallon) soon told fearfully on them.
When the small-pox broke out in 1837, they fled to the woods by families, but not until some one of the family broke out with the disease and died; when they hastily threw some earth over the body and fled to be again smitten at the new encampment.
Thus whole villages and bands were decimated, and during the summer and fall many were left without a burial at the camps in the woods, and were devoured by wolves. I visited the village of Che-as-sin-ing (Big Rock village) now called Chesaning; and saw in the summer camps several bodies only partially covered up, and not a living soul could I find except one old squaw that was convalescent. We afterwards sent some flour and other provisions to the few that remained. Judge Dexter, of the village of Dexter, gave me ten dollars to assist them to flour. Most of the adults attacked died, and it is a remarkable fact that no white person ever took the disease from them, although in many instances the poor, emaciated creatures visited white families while covered with pustules and scabs. Thus passed away these once proud owners of the land, leaving a sickly, depressed, and eventually a begging, debased remnant of a race that a few years before scorned a mean act, and among whom a theft was scarcely ever known. I do not think I possess any morbid sentimentality for Indians; I simply wish to represent them as we found them; what they are now is easily seen by the few wretched specimens left around us.
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