Added July 2008. (Note: Paragraph "|subject|" reference added to ease identification.)
History of Bay County, Michigan, 1905, Augustus H. Gansser (Page 63-78)
Early Settlements and Settlers.
| McCormicks | Chief Ton-dog-a-ne | Marsac | Trombley |
The Chippewa chief, Ton-dog-a-ne, was then at the head of the band that had the Flint River bottom for its hunting ground, and the sage Indian took quite a fancy to the McCormick family. He often told the head of the family about the rich lands and boundless forests at the mouth of the Saginaw River. About 14 miles south of Saginaw there was a clearing of some 200 acres in extent, on which several government instructors had for years endeavored to teach the roving Indians the art of raising crops, among them being the late Capt. Joseph F. Marsac and Gassette Trombley. McCormick inspected the clearing and liked it so well, that in 1834 he purchased 640 acres from Ton-dog-ne, for 25 bushels of potatoes and corn each year for 10 years. So great was the confidence of these Indians in McCormick that his mere word sufficed to bing the bargain.
| Move from Flint to Lower Saginaw | J.J. Flood mill |
The family was moved to the new location in Indian canoes, and for several nights their only shelter was their blankets. Half a century afterward these pioneers recalled how cruel it seemed to them then, to be left alone and without a roof over them, in the great dark forest; especially cruel did it seem to the parents and older children who remembered their cozy home on the distant Hudson. A log house was built in the course of a few weeks, and in this the family lived until they came finally to Lower Saginaw, as Bay County was then called. The clearing was fenced in with rails cut from some walnut trees which grew in that sections, -- a rather extravagant waste of valuable timber, as measured by 1905 timber values, for now walnut lumber is imported from Cuba and Central America and resawed at the J. J. Flood mill on the West Side of Greater Bay City, which mill is especially equipped for that work.
| American Fur Co. |
In 1835, McCormick sold 1,000 bushels of corn from this clearing to the American Fur Company, which carried it in boats to the Indians of the Lake Superior region, in exchange for beaver skins. An Indian trail through the woods, and even that impassable part of the year, was the only means they had of communicating with the few settlers north of them, unless they came by boat on the river in summer, or over the ice in winter.
| early grist mill | New York |
A grist mill was sorely needed by these pioneers, and in 1835, McCormick went to New York, requiring 11 days to reach Albany, which was fast time in the days before the iron horse conquered space. He brought back with him a little grist mill, run by hand, with a handle on each side, which would hold a peck of corn, and would grind a bushel of corn in an hour! Other settlers had come to this end of Michigan in the meantime, and they would come many weary miles with their corn to use the primitive grist mill. That little mill was worth its weight in gold to the pioneers, and is worthy of a place in Michigan's pioneer collection.
| High water | Land speculator | Evil spirits |
This section of Michigan was overrun with land speculators during the 1835 and 1836, and many of them tarried at the cabin on the Indian field. A field bed, holding 10 to 15 persons, was made for their accommodation before the fireplace, and was seldom empty. The water along the valley was much higher in those years than now, and after every rain the river bottom trails would be lost to view. Several of these land lookers disappeared as mysteriously as some trades had done before them, and the valley was still held to be haunted by evil spirits. Undoubtedly these land lookers fell victims to the treacherous waters. One party investigating the county in 1836, which they knew was soon to be opened for settlement, was caught in one of these tempestuous rains. For miles along the shore of the Saginaw River they looked in vain for a camping place. When they finally found a spot that was high and dry, they crawled ashore utterly exhausted from hours of paddling against the strong current. Some hours later the waters began to rise, and shortly after midnight they had to take to their canoe, for their camping ground was covered with several feet of water, which was still rising. All night long they struggled against the current and the storm in their frail canoe, and all thanked Providence when morning broke and the storm abated. Since much drift wood was carried down stream, their escape from drowning was really miraculous.
| Wild-cat banks | Small pox | Cheif Ton-dog-a-ne | Judge Davenport |
That same winter the McCormicks suffered with hundreds of other pioneers, from the bursting of the financial bubble, and the crash of “wild-cat” banks. James McCormick sold his surplus corn to Saginaw parties for $1.50 per bushel, and the boys hauled it down in large, crude sleds on the ice. The corn was paid for in bills on the Flint Rapids Bank. When these bills were taken to Flint, it was found the “wild-cat” bank had failed the day before, and the pay for a whole year's labor hand been lost! That same winter the Indians were dying by hundreds from smallpox, and as few were well enough to hung or fish, they were actually starving. Chief Ton-dog-a-ne, sage warrior and friend of the pale faces, was among the first to cross the great river. Despite the loss of their entire crop of corn through the failure of the Flint “wild-cat” bank, the McCormicks gave liberally of all they had to the starving red men. Potatoes, corn, beans, pumpkins and squashes were pile up at the far end of the Indian field, so that the Indians could get them without endangering the health of the settlers. When spring came and the epidemic abated, the Indians showed their appreciation of the settler's kindness by giving him a lease without any renumeration for 99 years on the 640 acres he occupied. Judge Devenport executed the legal documents.
| Treaty | Henry R. Schoolcraft |
In September of that year the treaty was made with the Indians for their entire reservation. They refused to sell their lands, unless “the white man with the big heart” would be secure on his 640 acres, which they had given him in recognition for his help in their hour of dire need. Henry R. Schoolcraft, superintendent of Indian affairs, drew up the treaty, promising to secure McCormick's rights, but when the treaty was finally signed, sealed and delivered, that clause was found missing. In 1840 the government sold the tract, and the McCormicks were unceremoniously ejected from the land they had made productive through all those years of privation, toil, and danger.
| Lower Saginaw |
What was a loss to that pioneer family proved a blessing to Bay County, for in 1841 the McCormicks removed to their original destination, the banks of the Lower Saginaw. Undaunted by the vicissitudes of a long series of unfortunate events; disinherited by his father because he dared to choose his own help-meet: defrauded out of the earnings of many years of hard work by the dishonesty of friends whom he had trusted; driven into the wilderness with his infant children and frail wife to begin life anew under the most trying circumstances; and now, after carving a farm out of the forest in his old age, driven even from that forlorn hope by the strong arm of the government, for which he had done so much as an advance guard in the wilderness; such was the fate of this sturdy pioneer! But his spirits were undaunted and his energies still keen.
| Move to Portsmouth |
Aided by his energetic sons, Mr. McCormick once more moved them by river to Portsmouth, now the south end of Bay City.
| European immigrants | Unlimited Pines |
With a keen eye for business, the sturdy Scotchman looked on the majestic pines towering all about him, he listened to the stories of the unlimited pine supply of Northern Michigan, as told by the Indians and pale face traders. He conversed with late arrivals from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York and the East. He learned that a multitude were crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Europe, seeking a New World, where personal liberty was established, and great opportunities awaited the industrious immigrants. Cities were building up, and the wave of immigration was spreading resistlessly Westward. The political unrest in Germany and Central Europe was sending a most desirable class of people to America, and most of these were going into the interior, determined to create homes for themselves in the virgin forests and prairies. Building homes and warehouses required lumber, and here was as fine timber as the sun ever shone upon. Then here was the great river, yonder the broad expanse of the Saginaw Bay, an open door to the Great Lakes, opening an easy channel to the North and South, for the ships of commerce. With the eye of a seer he recognized the great opportunities offered by the lumber industry to this beautiful valley.
| 1st sawmill | Miller, Busby, Raby, Fraser | 1st lumber cargo |
He found an idle sawmill in the little settlement of Portsmouth, erected in 1837 by the selfsame Albert Miller, who had helped to bring Mrs. McCormick and the children to her husband in their first clearing on the Flint River in 1832. The boys of those years were men now, in the full vigor of hardy manhood, and brighter days dawned for the long suffering family. B. K. Hall willing sold his interest in the idle mill to James McCormick, for during those years of panic following the “wild-cat” bank failures and still wilder land speculation, there was no demand for lumber in the valley or out of it. The McCormicks placed the sawmill in running order, arranged to sell their output to James Busby, brother-in-law to the late James Fraser, of Detroit, for $8 per thousand, for clear pine, one-third down, the balance on long time credits, and started the machinery. Capt. George Raby, in the old “Conneaut Packet,” carried the first cargo of lumber out of the Saginaw River, containing 40,000 feet of pine cut by the McCormicks' mill. The sold clear lumber at the mill to the Trombleys and others for $10 in store trade.
| Lumbering trail balzers |
At such prices and under such conditions, the pioneer lumbermen could not amass fortunes, as did their successors in that line of business in the years to follow. These pioneers merely blazed a way for the generation that was to follow them. Well has it been said of them, that they came 20 years too soon to become rich. But in the fullness of time they had a work to do, for by their perseverance, privations, hardships and industry, this valley was opened to the world, and made to blossom as a rose.
Typical of his age and generation was James McCormick. Too brave and stouthearted to let succeeding disasters daunt his spirits, the wilderness merely roused his best efforts. Obstacles were made only to be overcome. Life was work and work was life. Even in his declining years he was blazing the way for his children and children's children.
| Ellen McCormick | Mrs. John Malone | Pine Ridge Cemetery |
Ere we take up the thread of narrative and resume the story of the development of this county, it will be well to note the close scenes in the lives of these estimable pathfinders. For five years James McCormick assisted his sons in the sawmill, and then death hushed his sterling heart forever. His devoted wife, who had uncomplainingly left east and comfort behind, who had carried her children into the wilderness, given life to others in the crude log cabin in the valley, and raised and educated them all to the best of her ability, survived him by 16 years. She dispensed her hospitality in the old homestead in Portsmouth until 1854, when she gave up the duties of household and retired for well-merited rest and repose with her children. She died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. John Malone, in Taymouth, Saginaw County, July 22, 1862. Her life was like that of a bright star, illuminating the wilderness. Pioneer husband and wife sleep side by side in Pine Ridge Cemetery. Over their sepuchre kind hands have raise a suitable monument with the following inscription: “To the Memory of James and Ellen McCormick. Pioneers of the Saginaw Valley. They pitched their tent in the wilderness in 1832, and planted a vineyard: but the Master called them home ere they gathered the fruit!” An honest man is the noblest work of God!
| McCormick children | Trombley, Rose, Greening, Malone, Kenney |
The venerable couple had nine children who grew to maturity: Robert is prosperous farmer in Illinois. Joseph went to Kentucky in 1831, and later settled in Kansas, where he died more than 20 years ago. Sarah, the third daughter, married Medor Trombley, the Portsmouth Indian trader, on August 26, 1847, a year after her father's death. The wedding was a simple affair, in keeping with the simplicity of their lives and the times. They started housekeeping at once in the frame building, erected by Medor Trombley in 1835. Seven children came to their union, among them Mrs. L. F. Rose and Mrs. John Greening, of Bay City. Archibald L., the hero who gave his life for the Union at Kensaw Mountain, was the fifth son. Elizabeth, the second daughter, married Orrin Kinney, a prominent farmer and well-known pioneer of this county. They still reside in the family homestead on Cass avenue, surrounded by their children and children's children. Ann, the first daughter, married John Malone, of Taymouth township, Saginaw County, where they settled on government lands, entered in 1838. The youngest son, Andrew V. McCormick, the first white child born in Taymouth township (on December 30, 1836), went to Illinois in 1854, served in the Union Army during the Civil War, and later became a prosperous farmer in Kansas.
| Son James McCormick | spouse Jane Sheldon | Mrs. Edioni H. Bassett |
James J. McCormick, the third son, shared in all the hardships and toil of the family's home building in the Saginaw Valley. His rifle supplied the venison for the larder in the log cabin. He it was who transported the supplies to and from the homestead in the wilderness. Equally at home on horseback as in canoe, and knowing every Indian trail for miles around, he was much sought after as a guide by the land lookers. Born in Albany, New York, in January, 1817, he early evinced sound business judgment, and at the death of his father in 1846 he carried on the sawmill business in Portsmouth. While visiting his brother Joseph in Kentucky, in 1839, he met, wooed and won Jane Sheldon, who proved a fitting helpmeet during those pioneer days. She died in 1854. Two sons and one daughter (afterward Mrs. Edioni H. Bassett, her husband being at the head of the dry goods firm of Bassett, Seed & Company) survived her. Their eldest son also enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War, where he contracted an ailment which caused his death in 1867.
| Hall mill | McCormick, Birney, Marsac, Trombley, Miller |
The indomitable will and enterprise of James J. McCormick did much to develop the lumber industry of the valley. When he and his father bought the Hall mill in Portsmouth in 1841, everything was at a standstill. Most men would have waited for something to turn up. Not so these McCormicks. They went to Detroit and sought a market for the pine they had cut. At home the settlers had neither nor courage to erect new buildings. The McCormicks stepped in and put up buildings on longer term contracts, with the lumber they cut, their early customers including Hon. James G. Birney, and the famous Indian traders and interpreters, Capt. Joseph Marsac, Medor Trombley and Joseph Trombley. This pioneer sawmill operator bought Captain Marsac's cottage and a parcel of land by furnishing the lumber for a more palatial home for the veteran Indian fighter. The friendship which sprang up between James J. McCormick and the late Judge Albert Miller on the Indian trail to Detroit back in 1832, ripened into a business partnership, when in 1848 they jointly operated their little sawmill. None but the early settlers can know the ceaseless round of toil those men endured in cutting lumber in that mill. Both took their turns at the saw, and fixed up their books and other business matters when their other employees slept.
| Gold Rush | Alfred Goyer |
Then the gold fever swept over the land, and with thousands of others from every community in the country, and from every walk of life, James J. McCormick determined to “get rich quick” in the famous gold El Dorado of California. Having provided for the care of his wife and children, and arranged his business affairs, he bade them all farewell, and once more turned his face resolutely Westward. Having procured a team of oxen and loaded a wagon with the necessities for the trip, he ferried them across the Saginaw River on a raft of hewn timbers, in March, 1849, and started solitary and alone across the unknown continent to the gold fields of California. An old acquaintance, Alfred Goyer, of Genessee County, accompanied him part of the way. Later they met at a spring in California where they were watering their horses, but both had aged to, that they did not recognize one another until they spoke of their former residences. They shared each other's fortunes and misfortunes in the gold district after that, returning to the Saginaw Valley in 1851. Their experience had been identical with thousands of other gold seekers. Hardships and dangers were their portion and the reward fell far below expectations.
| McCormick | Webster Co. | Bay City mayor |
The hardy adventurer saved enough of the gold dust to begin the lumber business on a more extensive scale on his return, building a new sawmill near his residence, which he operated successfully until 1871, when he sold it to the Webster Company. In 1868 he erected the McCormick Block on Water Street. He owned considerable real estate. He was a member of the first Council of Bay City and was elected mayor in 1869. He had a wide circle of devoted personal friends. He was a 33rd degree Mason.
| Wm. McCormick | Salt | Albany, NY | Pine River | McLean, Miller |
William R. McCormick, the fourth son, was born in Albany, New York, August 16, 1822. He was 10 years old when his family made the perilous trip to the wilds of Michigan. For many years their only neighbors were Indians, and his only playmates were these red children of the forest. Their nearest neighbors at that time were Charles and Humphrey McLean, who lived 15 miles away, where Pine Run is now located. He often accompanied the Indians on their periodical hunting trips, and when but 15 years old was employed as interpreter and trader by an independent fur trading company on the Saginaw River. During the winter of 1837-38 he did chores for Major Mosley, who commanded the old stockade fort on the Saginaw, where he received such schooling as that young settlement offered. In 1839 he determined to see the world, so against his father's wish he started on foot for his brother's home near Vincennes, Indiana. He took the Indian trail to Detroit, then followed the corduroy road as far as LaPorte, Indiana, and finally reached his destination, footsore, hungry and penniless. Have satisfied his craving for travel and sightseeing, he returned to the parental roof in 1840. He accompanied his father's family to Portsmouth in 1841, where he assisted in the work in the sawmill until 1846. He spent a few years in Albany, New York, where he married Angelica Wayne, and then came back to the valley he loved to call his home. In 1860 a stock company was formed by Judge Albert Miller, to bore for salt. William R. McCormick was chosen secretary and general manager. He superintended the boring, and at a depth of 600 feet the flow of brine was struck, which has ever since furnished the raw material for one of the valley's leading industries. This was the first salt well in Bay County. For many years he was active in the lumber and real estate business. He shared with Judge Miller for many years the distinction of being the oldest living pioneers of Bay County. He lived to see Bay City grow from a settlement of two log cabins to a prosperous community of over 20,000 inhabitants, whose buzzing saws were heard around the world, wherever the product of forest and stream entered into the creation of homes and construction of ships.
| McCormick's memorandum book | Pioneer Society |
For many years William R. McCormick collected data and relics pertaining to early history of Bay County. We owe much to his pen. Michigan owes much of its pioneer collection to his foresight and forethought. That the lives and deeds of his parents and family are so well-known and so well-preserved, is entirely due to his memorandum book, which gives to us the most exact and interesting review of pioneer life 70 years ago. His anecdotes of the early settlements and the Indians as he found them furnished one of the brightest chapters in the annuals of Michigan, and give to men and events in this rich valley their proper place and proportion. Space forbids recounting all of his inimitable stories and reminiscences. A few will bear repeating, as a fleeting glimpse into an eventful and yet almost forgotten past.
| Trip from Flint to Saginaw River/Bay | Col. Marshall |
In 1833, he accompanied Colonel Marshall on an exploring trip to the mouth of the Saginaw River and along the west shore of Saginaw Bay. Starting from Flint during the hot summer months, they soon struck a shallow spot in the river. A young Indian warrior helped them in getting their canoe around the low water, and the brave was given a swig of fire-water, which every pioneer carried in those days. They paddled 12 miles down the river and landed to prepare dinner. To their utter astonishment, ere long they perceived the self-same young Indian approaching their campfire. He told them he had come 12 miles to get another drink of the white man's firewater! Such was the craving for liquor which consumed Poor Lo!
| Swarms of Wild ducks |
Paddling down the river, they passed through great swarms of wild ducks, the ancestors of the flocks, when even now, in ever diminishing numbers, visit the shores of river and bay at certain seasons of the year. In the summer of 1833 the river was fairly black with them. A Chippewa Indian from the Wenonah village had 37 ducks, which he said he had killed with seven shots from a “squaw gun.” If that old blunderbuss did such execution one can imagine what would have happened had he used a modern repeating shotgun.
| Mosby House | Louis Masho | Leon Trombley | Kawkawlin River |
The first habitation they saw, after leaving the fort stockade of Saginaw behind them, was the log cabin at Zilwaukee, known as the Mosby House. Paddling swiftly with the current down stream, they soon passed the long cabin where the Indian squaw of the Frenchman, Louis Masho, and his half-bread children were fishing in the shade of a huge elm tree, where Bousfield's mammoth woodenware works are now located. Almost three miles further down stream they passed the log cabin of Leon Trombley, now the corner of Fourth avenue and Water street. They did not see another living soul until they reached the mouth of the Kawkawlin River, where an Indian trading shack was located, which was always a favorite meeting place of the redskins.
| Indian village powwow | Kawkawlin River |
Colonel Marshall participated that night in the big powwow at an Indian village on the Kawkawlin, where the pipe of peach made the rounds, wise old Indians “orated” in a language their guest could not understand, and where considerable fire-water was consumed and charged against future catches of fish and game by the reckless sons of the forests. Indian games were in order the next morning, and young McCormick enjoyed the sport and the honors with the best of the young bucks.
| Indian story | Neh-way-go | Chief Red Bird | Chief Black Beaver |
| Ephraim Williams | O-sou-wah-bon |
Among the wise men of the tribe at this camp-fire was Neh-way-go, of the Tittabawassee band of Hurons. His wigwam was on the shore of Saginaw Bay, where the beautiful summer resort, Wenona Beach, is now situated. In his younger years this warrior had killed a son of Red Bird, a chief of the Flint band of Chippewas, who immediately demanded his life as a forfeit under the Indians' crude laws. Neh-way-go presented himself at the mourner's wigwam, and told the assembled warriors he had come to pay the penalty of his rash deed. Baring his bosom, he was thrice stabbed by the dead man's relatives, but non of the thrusts proved immediately fatal. Covers with his own blood he hurried back to his own people, when one of Red Bird's band saw him and gave him another stab in the back. In spite of his wounds and loss of blood, his faithful young wife managed to bind up his wounds and nursed him back to life and health. Indian usage was satisfied, but Indian hate never. While still weak from his terrible wounds, he visited the Indian trading store of the Williams brothers on the Saginaw River. An Indian runner brought these tidings to O-sou-wah-bon's band camped on the Tittabawassee, and that burly warrior at once started with concealed knives to finish Neh-way-go. Bold as ever, the wounded Indian refused to enter his canoe when ordered to do so by Ephraim S. Williams. When the avenging native arrived, the Williams brothers disarmed him, pushed Neh-way-go into his canoe and his wife paddled him home, despite his protests that he was no coward, and would meet the avengers. The following year, while hunting,he met the Indian who had stabbed him in the back after his summary punishment, and Neh-way-go promptly killed him. Black Beaver, a noted chief of the Chippewas, took him to task at an Indian payment-meeting at Saginaw some years after, and in the fight that followed, Black Beaver was killed. Colonel Stanard, commanding the army post, issued a warrant for New-way-go's arrest, but the Indian preferred death at the hands of his own people to arrest and imprisonment by the soldiers. He told Ephraim S. Williams, the Indian sage, that he would present himself for such punishment as his tribe might inflict, but he never would submit to be arrested, which was a punishment fit only for cowards! The killing of Black Beaver had spread quickly through the Indian villages and from them to the few white settlements. When the day for the solemn Indian funeral rites had arrived, all the Indians and white settlers in the valley were assembled on the ridge west of the river bank. The Indian's relatives were chanting the mournful funeral odes of their tribe, their faces streaked with black and white, symbolic of death and the life beyond in the happy hunting grounds. While the several thousand silent watchers were intent on the mysterious ceremonies, Neh-way-go came strutting in all the splendor of a warrior on the war-path. His knife and tomahawk were in his belt, and a flask of whiskey hung from his girdle. He was prepared for the long journey to the same happy hunting grounds to which he had sent Black Beaver. With solemn mien and majestic tread he came into the circle of mourners. The white settlers had provided a coffin for the dead. On this he sat, while he filled his calumet with kinnikinic, composedly puffing clouds of blue vapor skyward. Then he passed his pipe to the chief mourner, who scorned to take it. Next he passed his whiskey flask with the same solemn mien. This, too, was scorned. The he sat down, opening his hunting shirt and bared his bosom. After a few moments of intense silence he addressed the mourners as follows: “You refuse my pipe of peace. You refuse to drink with me. Strike not in the back. Strike not and miss. The man who strikes and misses dies when next I meet him on the hunting grounds!” But no one stirred. No one offered to kill him. Then Neh-way-go arose, replaced knife and tomahawk and whiskey flask in his girdle, and with the same solemn mien passed straight through his enemies, pausing only long enough to taunt them for being cowards! When young McCormick saw him near his wigwam on the Kawkawlin, he was an old and weather-beaten warrior, of ready wit and convivial spirits. Years after, he fell a victim to the implacable hate of the relatives of Black Beaver, being shot while hunting on the Quanicassee.
| Story of Lone Tree & Old Owl | Chief Ke-wah-ke-won |
On this same trip, Mr. Mccormick saw, for the first time, the “Lone Tree,” which was for years a landmark for the old settlers, and an omen for good among the Hurons. It was a vigorous ash tree, about two feet in diameter, standing solitary and alone in the prairie, where McGraw's prairie farm is now located. Canoeists on the river estimated by the tree they were two miles from Portsmouth and four miles from Leon Trombley's original log cabin in Bay City. In summer, with its rich foliage, and in wind amid the great white mantle of snow, it was alike conspicuous. And be it winter or summer, passing travelers invariably saw a large white owl perched in the tree-top. To the Indians this owl was sacred, and a pretty legend was woven about the tree. Often did the pioneers hear the orators of the Hurons repeat this legend, the most romantic inheritance left by them to their favorite hunting grounds of long ago. Ages ago, the exact number none could tell, a great and wise chief, Ke-wah-ke-won, ruled over the red people of this valley with love and kindness. When he felt that he would soon be treading the happy hunting grounds of the Great Spirit, he called his people together to bestow on them his last blessing, and to give them his parting admonition and advice. Amid the silent prairie, as yet untrod by the foot of the pale face, the clans were gathered, mournful witnesses of the last farewell of their brave and beloved chieftain. When he felt his pulse grow weaker, he lifted his voice calm and clear above the rushing waters of the stream at his feet: “My children,” said he, “the Great Spirit has called me, and I must obey the summons. Even now the tomahawk is raised to sever the last chord that binds me to my children! The guide stands at the door to convey me to the hunting grounds of my father in the Spirit Land. You weep, my children, but dry your tears, for though I leave you now, yet will my spirit bird ever watch over you. I will whisper to you in the evening breeze, and when the morning comes you will know that I have been with you through the night. But the Good Spirit beckons me, and I must hasten. Let my body be laid in a quiet spot, with my tomahawk and pipe by my side. You need not fear that the wolf will disturb my rest, for the Great Spirit, I feel, will place a watch over me. Meet me in the Spirit Land, my children – farewell!” They buried him in a lonely spot in the prairie, on the opposite side of the great river, with his face toward the rising sun. His last rest place was never disturbed by bird or beast. So had the Great Spirit ordered it.
|Lone Tree, Owl, grave | Poem by Mather | McCormick kills owl | Horace Greely |
In the course of time, a tree arose over the grave, and spread its branches over it like a protecting wing, and in that tree lived a beautiful white owl, which the Great Spirit had sent to watch over it. So long as this “Lone Tree” stood, and the owl watched over it, the Indians of the valley would thrive and prosper, but when the sacred owl would depart, their tribes would become scattered, and their race pass away. A great flood in 1838 lad bare the roots of the tree, and covered the prairie for miles and miles with water, killing all the trees that had withstood previous rampages of the Saginaw. In 1837 the Indians gave up by treaty their last great hunting grounds in Michigan. During that very twelvemonth half their number were killed by smallpox, and their tribes became weak and scattered. The dead ash tree stood for several years longer, the white owl still keeping it vigil over the grave of Ke-wah-ki-won. In 1841, James J. McCormick came with his father's family to the wilderness of Portsmouth, as we have narrated. He knew nothing of the legend centering about that “Lone Tree,” and the big white owl perched ever in its decaying branches. While out hunting ducks on the river shore and marsh, he shot and killed the owl. A few years after, the tree was prostrated in a storm, and the last vestige of it soon disappeared. With it disappeared the Indians. They lingered for a time about their old haunts, where once they had been undisputed masters. But the colony of pale faces was growing stronger, game was become more and more scarce, and Poor Lo must retreat further into the Northern wilds. About 1840 the Philadelphia Evening Post published a poem on the “Lone Tree” and its messenger from Manitou the Great, watching over the weal and woe of the Indians of the valley of the Sauks, written by Miss Mather, daughter of a prominent pioneer of Flint. Hon. Artemas Thayer, of Flint, was enjoying his bride and two friends, including Miss Mather, his wedding trip, on the ice and snow covering Saginaw River, from Flint to Portsmouth, when they saw the “Lone Tree” and the far-famed white owl. Shortly after writing that poem, Miss Mather died while visiting at the home of Hon. Horace Greeley, in New York.
| Mound Builders | Relects | Museums | Smithsonian |
William R. McCormick delighted to repeat these weird Indian legends around his cozy fireside in after years. He was also indefatigable in gathering the relics which were found in large numbers in the sand hills and mounds of this part of the State. The oldest frame house in Bay City was built by the Trombleys in 1835, and in 1842 this was purchased by William R. McCormick's father. It stood then in a broad clearing on the western slope of extensive mound, and is to-day the venerable old Center House on the corner of 24th and Water streets. In those mounds the McCormicks found many skeletons, much broken pottery of strange make, stone knives, stone axes, stone arrow-heads and stone spears. Most of the relics in these and other mounds of this valley were presented by Mr. McCormick to the State Pioneer Collection, to museums all over the country, and to the Smithsonian Institute at Washington.
| Mound lost to progress |
In company with kindred spirits, who loved to search these unexplored river banks for traces of other races, and for relics of a forgotten past, he search through every nook and corner of this county. A review of their findings cannot fail to interest even the layman. He was a confirmed believer in the theory, that this valley was at some prehistoric period the advanced position of the mysterious race of Mound Builders. He saw these mounds in a state of nature 70 years ago. He saw them plowed over, dug up to admit foundations for larger modern buildings, and a few sand ridges carried away bodily for building purposes.
| Excavations | Lafayette bridge | Bay City Brewing | Mayor Jackson |
One of the highest elevations in Bay County is the mound or ridge at the east approach to the Lafayette avenue bridge. In 1905, we find on it the massive buildings of the Bay City Brewing Company, a hotel, livery stable, the venerable old McCormick homestead, and, on the northern spur, the palatial home of Ex-Mayor George D. Jackson. The elevation comprises about two acres. When William R. McCormick first saw this conspicuous landmark just 70 years ago, he found timber all about it, with the exception of a duck pond in the rear of the mound, about an acre in extent. In excavating for the massive brewery, Indian skeletons were found four to five feet below the surface, while five feet deeper down were found skeletons of another and apparently an older race, buried with oddly-formed burned pottery and quaint stone and copper implements. Some of the implements show that this strange prehistoric people had the art of hardening copper, and of working in metals. Unfortunately these skeletons had crumbled away to such an extent, that a touch, or a breath of air even, left nothing but a dust heap. In grading 22nd street, through the north end of this mound, three skeletons of very large stature were found at a depth of 11 feet, with large earthen pots placed at the head of each sarcophagus.
| Circular mound | C.J. Smith sawmill | River fill |
A large circular mound existed for many years near the C. J. Smith sawmill in the First Ward of the West Side, about 100 feet in diameter and from three to six feet above the level of the surrounding meadows. Old settlers found many strange stone weapons and other implements by grubbing around in this mound. It was leveled down and the dirt used to fill in part of the river front, hence every trace of it is lost.
| Circular mound on Birney's property | J. Morgan Jennison of Philadelpia |
On the property of Hon. James G. Birney, at the west approach to the Michigan Central Railroad bridge, was another similar mound, but much higher than the Smith mound. The skeletons were much better preserved than any of the others, and the skulls were quite unlike those found in Indian graves. One well-preserved skull, with a circular hole though the forehead, made by some sharp instrument, which undoubtedly caused death, was presented by Mr. McCormick to J. Morgan Jennison, of Philadelphia. Some boys found an exquisitely worked canoe, of silver, about five inches long, with the ends dipped in gold. A kettle made of copper, wrought into shape by hammering, having no seams, was also found in this mound, and placed with Mr. Jennison's collection in the State Capitol.
| Another mound dug by Charles Jennison |
Another mound was a half mile south of this one, and several skeletons were dug from its side by Charles E. Jennison, one of the few pioneers of those days still living in Bay City. Copper kettles and other implements were also found in this mound.
| Fitzhugh mound | Artificially built mounds |
A half mile further south we find, even to this day, one of the most commanding views of the river. Early settlers found a spring of water here, clear as crystal, and just shade enough to make it an ideal camping ground for the Indians. Here, according to tradition, was the main portion of the Sauk tribe when they were wiped out by the confederated tribes. Here they made their most disparate stand against overwhelming numbers. And here their conquerers, the Hurons, would assemble all their tribes in the State for their perennial feasts, dances and councils. The main elevation covered three acres, and, like the McCormick mound almost direct across the river from it, there was a deep depression southwest of its abrupt sides. Down in that depression the soil of clay loam mixed with black sand. North of the mound is a ridge of yellow sand, but the mound and the slope on its northern face were of the same soil as the facings of the mound. This led the explorers to conclude that the mounds were built artificially ages before the white race came to this country. Railroads dug up this mound for ballasting purposes, and the village authorities of Wenona cut a street through it, so that little remains of the original mound as the early settlers found it. During these excavations in this Fitzhugh mound, many relics were found, showing conclusively that it had been built by a strange people many centuries before. Among numerous skeletons were found quaint ornaments of silver, broken pottery, some of it with primitive ornamentation, together with the usual large number of burned stones and stone weapons.
| Artificial mounds |
The forts were very identical, usually from three to six acres in extent, with walls four to eight feet high, and 10 to 12 feet across at the top. The form of the mounds indicates that they are largely artificial, and with the primitive tools at the disposal of those ancient people must have required years to complete. The best proof of their construction by a human race is the depression near each hill or mound whose soil corresponds in each instance with the top dressing of these mounds, although the original surface soil is of entirely different composition. Then their general plan and character show clear that there was method and system in their work. Michail Daily, the old Indian trade, Capt. Joseph F. Marsac, the much-traveled Indian figher and explorer, and others, who often visited the Rifle and Au Sable rivers, reported a number of similar mounds and fortifications along those streams and their tributaries.