Contributed by Jim Petrimoulx - July 2008.
Michigan History Magazine, Vol. 16, Summer 1932
A PIONEER WEDDING
By Josephine Tromble Greening
In Pine Ridge Cemetery stands the first monument erected in Bay County. On it is this inscription, “They pitched their tent in the wilderness and planted a vineyard, but their Father called them ere they gather the fruit. Erected to the memory of James McCormick and his wife, Ellen Garrett, by their children.”
James McCormick, his wife and twelve children, came from Albany, New York, and settled on the banks of the Flint River. Mr. McCormick bought the old trading post as a home for his large family, and a commemorative tablet now marks the plae where the post stood for many years the center of the contacts between whites and Indians in the Saginaw Valley. When the McCormicks came to Flint, the Indians were still being paid by the United States government in accordance with the treaty of Saginaw, and it was at the James McCormick house that the government agents came to meet the Indians. At stated intervals the Indians gathered there to receive the money due them. These pay days brought both traders and Indians from far and near. They were the only occasions in this frontier life when many people came together. Naturally they were regarded as festive days.
The subject of this sketch is Sallie McCormick, the daughter of James and Ellen McCormick, and we are introduced to her on one of the Indian pay days when she was about ten years old. She was greatly excited and was dancing about with her brothers and the Indian children, counting the canoes which discharged their passengers on the bank of the river in front of the house, and listening to the traders as they greeted each other. She and all her brothers spoke the Chippewa language with the greatest of ease, though it remained a meaningless jargon to their parents. One trader had not yet come, the Indians said, and the government agent seemed to want to delay the “paying off” until he arrived, so Sallie and her brothers were watching for him, peering down the river to be the first to get a glimpse of his canoe. Suddenly a shout went up from the other traders, “There comes Tromble on foot through the woods!” And Sallie saw him at the far end of the clearing coming from the dark forest into the sunlight. Tall and strong he was, and walking easily as though untired by his long tramp of thirty odd miles from the lower reaches of the Saginaw. Childlike she ran the length of the clearing to greet him, explaining breathlessly in Indian that all the other traders were there and were waiting for him. And though the fair blue-eye young Frenchman answered in the Indian tongue, his manner was not that of an Indian, for he smiled and thanked her and took hold of her hand so she could keep up with his long strides as they made their way around stumps and through huckleberry bushes to the trading post.
The Indians of the Saginaw Valley were like other Indians. With a government payment in sight they always discovered many desires and needs which they satisfied by buying from the traders on credit. When the actual pay day came, the money passed quickly through the hands of the tribesmen into the pockets of our pioneer business men, the traders. The young French trader, Medor Tromble, had come from what is now Bay City, where he had been the first white man to settle permanently and where he now lived with his brother Joseph, to collect what was due him from the tribe for the many things he had advanced to them through the long winter. Now the Indians were ready with their silver and gold; each adult member of the tribe for a little time has some cash. As payments were made to Tromble he stored the money in his several big pockets, meanwhile chatting and joking with his Indian clients with whom he was on the best of terms. Soon his pockets were full, and his pointed cap was made to serve as purse. Even then he had not room enough, and laughing, he took off both socks and filled them too with money. All the motley assembly was amused, and little Sallie was fascinated. She never forgot the tall Frenchman, towering above the Indian boys and men, with his bulging socks held high above his head, and good-naturedly daring the natives to take them away from him if they could.
A little later a white family settled near the McCormicks. They had a young son, and when her brothers teased her about the boy, saying, “Just you wait, Sallie, he will grow up some day and be a white man for you to marry,” she would reply with absolute conviction, “The man I am going to marry is the man who had his socks full of gold.”
There were no schools in Michigan then, and Sallie with no one but her brothers and the Indians to play with, bade fair to grow up a hoyden. So the next year, James McCormick made the long hard trip back to Albany with and her brother William to put them in school. By Indian trail they walked through the woods to Detroit where the children had to be fitted out with clothes. Then they took a sail boat to Buffalo, and from Buffalo to Albany they went by stage. The journey was just one trilling adventure after another to the backwoods children, although it took them nearly a month. The McCormicks had always been Presbyterians and schools had to be found which would bring the children up in the faith of their fathers. This being accomplished, James McCormick left his little son and daughter and made the weary trip back to Michigan, and Sallie and William stayed in the land of the civilization until she was seventeen and he nineteen. The banks of the Flint River and her Indian friends came to seem like a dream to the girl as she settled down to learn all that was expected of a Presbyterian young lady in the 1840's. But finally her seventeenth birthday came, and arrangements were made for the return home.
Her family in the meantime had moved to Lower Saginaw, now Bay City, and had purchased what is still known as “The Center House” on the corner of 24th and Water Streets, the first frame house as distinguished from log cabins to be built in Bay City. This house had been erected by Medor and Joseph Tromble as a center for their trade with the Indians.
With the incoming of the whites this business had declined greatly and the two brothers were now occupied with their extensive landholdings.
Great was the rejoicing when the McCormick young people actually arrived. The family could not hear enough of the world from which they had been cut off so long. They were impressed, too, with William's gentlemanly appearance and his buckled shoes, and Sallie they found was a dignified young lade in long full curls. From the Flint River came the Indians, the childhood friends of the brother and sister, bearing gifts after their kind, beaded moccasins of deerskin and mococks of maple sugar. Scattered settlers came in to make their acquaintance. For a time Sallie enjoyed the excitement of homecoming. Later she was unbearably lonely. She had made suitable friends of her own age in the East. She missed the civilized sights and sounds which had become part of her life. She missed her girl companions, her school, her church. Especially of an evening she felt desolate, no young persons coming in to see her, the forests shutting her in, no place to go but to the banks of the river. Every night she would sit by the river watching the sunset and the water, wondering if all her life were to be spent in this wild spot. One evening her reverie was broken by the notes of a flute. She jumped up in astonishment, and saw the player advancing toward her from the woods with a long easy stride she remembered well. Yes, he was no other than the man with the socks filled with gold. There was a slight pause of embarrassment as she realized she could not speak his language and he remembered they could speak Indian tongue. It was love at first sight. The banks of the Saginaw were no longer lonely to Sallie and she pointed out the beauty of the sunset in the musical Chippewa speech, and he countered with a compliment, the like of which a Chippewa maiden had doubtless never heard. And thereafter during the summer and fall, they sat at evening on the river bank and the Indian tongue proved an adequate medium in which Medor taught Sallie her French, and Sallie taught Medor his English, and when the beauty of the sunset was overpowering and thoughts lay too deep for words, there was always the music of Medor's flute, with the lapping of the water for accompaniment.
They were to be married when next Father Richard came to the valley and that would not be till spring as the good priest's flock was so scattered he could only make the rounds once a year. But this time he would come a few weeks early to that Miss Sallie McCormick, trained for six years in a good Presbyterian school, might be properly instructed in the Catholic faith so she would make a god wife for Medor Tromble. Meanwhile the French and English lessons went on, and Medor superintended the building of a home for Sallie, on the beloved river bank. Life had become interesting again for Sallie.
Winter was over at last and the wedding day was near. Everyone in the settlement was looking forward to the event. Medor went hunting and brought back three deer and four wild turkeys, and much labor it was to get the game ready for the wedding feast. On the beautiful May day set for the wedding, he arrived at the McCormick home with his flute and a great bouquet of “lady slippers” (wild orchids) for his bride, and he led by the bridle the only horse in the Saginaw Valley for her to ride on. The wedding procession started from the Center House on 24th Street. Sallie in a white dress sprigged with green and a poke bonnet lined with roses, was seated on the horse, and Medor walked beside her, holding the bridle. The McCormick relatives, and there were many, followed in an ox cart or on foot to the home of Captain Joseph Marsac, the government agent, on what would now be 40th Street. Here a rude altar had been erected and Father Richard awaited them. All the little band of pioneers were present and many Indians gay in their ceremonial eagle feathers surrounded the house. Chief Noc-chick-o-my and his three wives were much in evidence.
After the ceremony the procession returned to the house of the bride's parents where the tables were spread with saddles of venison, the roasted turkeys and much beside. During the merry repast there were speeches in French and in English, and Chief Noc-chick-o-my spoke at length in his own tongue about the Great Spirit and predicted a long and happy life for the wedded pair. An then came the preparation for the honey-moon which was to be spent at the home of Medor's brother Joseph, five miles down the river. The bride and groom could not tarry long with their friends for it was growing late and it would not be safe for them to be in the forests after night fall. Goodbye's were said and Sallie again mounted the horse and Medor walked beside her carrying his beloved flute and his rifle. They had to cross both channels of the river. Some rods below the McCormick house, an Indian with his canoe awaited them. Sallie dismounted, got into the canoe; the Indian paddled and Medor kept the horse's head in the right direction as it swam after them and to them to the middle ground. The canoe was carried through the trees and brush to the next channel and the same procedure was repeated. After that there were four miles of walking through the darkening forest. Wolves were barking and howling and other wild animials made their presence felt ere they merged into the clearing in which Joseph Tromble's house stood, but they had not been molested and Medor had not to use his rifle.
After the honeymoon they returned to the home Medor had prepared for Sallie and gradually it was furnished with things brought from Detroit in sailing vessels. The old house is gone now, but the eight huge cottonwood trees which they planted as small saplings the first year of their married life still mark the site. Now the Ward Veneer works stand there.
The prophecy of the old chief came true. Medor and Sallie had a long and happy married life and maintained a prosperous, comfortable home for their seven children, five of whom are still living. Their remains rest in Saint Patrick's cemetery and on the monument their children erected to their memory is the inscription, “And their children shall rise up and call them blessed. Sacred to the memory of Medor Tromble and his wife Sarah R. McCormick, pioneers of 1835 and founders of Bay City.”