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Epedition to the Saginaw Valley in 1837.
Excert from Michigan Memories 1837-1887 by Bela Hubbard.
  • Transcribed October 2006.
    (G. P. Putnam's & Sons - The Knickerbocker Press - 1887)

    (Pages: 65 - 90)

    [Note : Read before the Detroit Pioneer, Society, Jan., 1872.]

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    A recent paper read before this society, living an interesting description of the Saginaw Valley as seen in 1850, suggests some incidents of an expedition into the valley, in which the winter of this had a share, thirteen years before. At the request of your president, I have undertaken to jot down some of my reminiscences of that journey.

    These, if they have no other interest, may serve to show the progress of enterprise and settlement in that region, and bring into contrast its feeble beginning and privations of the past, with its present abounding prosperity.

    In 1837, the State of Michigan, then in the first year of its young but vigorous existence, organized a State Geological Survey; but the scanty appropriation sufficed only to enable is projector to accomplish, during that year, a limited reconnoissance. This extended, nevertheless, to some degree, into the almost unexplored portion of the lower peninsula.

    Salt springs were known to exist, particularly in the vicinity of Grand and Saginaw rivers, and the few facts known of the rocks which constituted most of the coast lines, and made occasional outcrops in the interior, were sufficient to indicate the probability of the existence of coal and gypsum.

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    It was required, by the act establishing the survey, that an examination and report upon the salt springs should be made at the end of the first season.

    It is my intention to relate some of the incidents of a trip--or short campaign, if I may so term it--made in the fall of 1837, for the purpose of making an examination of these springs, and such other geological discoveries as might be made, in the country traversed by those great natural highways, the streams tributary to the Saginaws. The party consisted of four individuals: Dr. Houghton, the State geologist, and three assistants,--Mr. C. C. Douglas, the winter, and --a dog.

    The latter was no inconsequential member of the corps, and had, like the rest, his appointed duties to perform. Dash was his name; indicative also of his nature.

    This was before the day of railroads, although the young State has already projected its magnificent scheme of internal improvements, and for a considerable part of our contemplated route there were no highways but the streams. Our plan was to reach, by private conveyance, some point on the Shiawassee River, whence we could embark in a canoe and descend to the Saginaw.

    Loading into a wagon at Detroit our few traps, which consisted of a tent, provisions, an axe and a gun, in the afternoon of Sept. 13, 1837, we proceeded as far as Royal Oak, where we encamped by the roadside, in the independent mode common to immigrants at that period.

    To the writer the situation had the charm which youth always finds in novelty.

    I will not detain you with incidents, and will only mention the few villages through which we passed.

    Prominent among these was Pontiac. The first settler, Mr. Williams, came to this place in 1817 or 1818, with an

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    exploring party, among whom was Governor Cass. This whole region was then supposed to be an interminable morass, and so wild and dangerous was this expedition thought to be, that the party, before setting forth, took leave of their friends with all the solemnity befitting so grave an occasion.

    At the time of my visit, Pontiac was a pretty, businesslike place. It had been settled 13 years, but had just received incorporation by the legislature. It has always retained its bustling character, while growing rapidly from a thriving hamlet into a beautiful and well built city.

    The surrounding country seemed to our eyes far enough removed from the gloomy morass which wild imagination had depicted it, 20 years before. It appeared to me the most beautiful the sun ever shone up. It was of the character then beginning to be classed as "openings," characterized by a gravelly soil and a sparse growth of oaks and hickories. I speak in the past tense, because, though the rural beauty of the country is still unrivalled, little remains of the original character of the openings. This is a result partly of the process of cultivation, and partly of the thick growth of small timber that has covered all the uncultivated portions since the annual fires have ceased, which kept down the underbrush.

    Elevated 400 feet above Detroit River, broken into hills and knobs, which rise frequently 100 feet and more above the surrounding surface, with intervening vales and hollows, forming basins for lakes of the clearest water; in the midst of a park of nature's sole forming, inimitable by the hand of art, this lake region of Michigan deserves its celebrity.

    But at the period I allude to, no straight-fenced roads

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    shut in the highway, and travellers might wind at will through the superb natural park, trampling down only the flowers that in many places created glowing perterres; catching many a bright reflection from the limpid lakes, and sometimes stealing distant sight of a herd of deer, scarcely more wild than the peaceful landscape over which they roamed. Climbing a tree on one of the most elevated knobs, I had a view over probably the whole of Oakland County: seven lakes lay at my feet; on the north and west undulations, like heavy swells of the sea, and on the east a level plain, stretching to the horizon like an ocean' verge.

    Byron, in the south-east corner of Shiawassee County, was the termination of our wagon journey. The name had long occupied a prominent place on all the old maps of Michigan, -- at that time a decade was antiquity,--and held out to the newcomer the promise of a large and thriving village. The reality was disappointing. It possessed--all told -- mill and two houses.

    Fentonville, though of more recent origin, had out-grown it, and boasted a tavern, a store, and several frame tenements.

    At Byron we exchanged our wagon for a canoe, and commenced a descent of Shiawassee River.

    From Byron to Owasso, about twenty miles direct (but many more by the course of the steam), our way lay mostly through land more heavily timbered, but varied with openings and occasional plains. Through this part of the county roads had been opened, and settlements had made rapid progress.

    We were now to make our way by the aid of the current, but his meant not all plain-sailing nor luxurious enjoyment. The river was interrupted by numerous rapids,

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    of difficult if not dangerous navigation, and over these shallows we had to drag the canoe. As this necessitated getting into the water, we were provided with water-tight boots, that turned up to the thighs.

    At the approach of night a favorable landing was selected, and a new division of labor took place. While one cleared the spot and pitched the tent, another cut wood for the fire, and a third prepared the evening meal. Your humble servant, being installed into the ancient and honorable dignity of cook, had this duty to perform. Any one who has sweetened his food with the sauce of hunger knows how little culinary art is requisite to satisfy famishing guests. Indeed, a piece of fat pork, fried upon a stick over the camp fire, after hours of labor in the wilderness, is a morsel sweeter than any which the pampered epicure knows. To this standard dish our one gun enabled us to add such small game as we chose to take the trouble to obtain.

    But my position involved also a duty which might be supposed of less easy accomplishment; viz., the cleaning of the dishes. Fortunately, I was permitted to make free of the assistance of the fourth member of our family. Dash, being properly educated to this service, was not allowed his own dinner until he had thoroughly and impartially scoured our tin plates and sauce-pan; in which duty, I must do him the justice to say, he proved a skilful adept. Indeed, after long experience, I am prepared to recommend a dog's tongue as more effectual than any dish-cloth, with all the aids of hot water and soap. After this process, a simple rising in the clear water of the river constituted all the additional operation that the most fastidious could demand.

    Several years had passed since the extinguishment of

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    the Indian title to the lands of the Chippewas, who had claimed this part of the peninsula. But many and extensive reservations lined the Shiawassee and other of the tributaries of the Saginaw, and the natives has as yet felt too little of that fatal spell which falls upon them with the very beginning of the white settlements, to have abandoned much of their old habits.

    As we followed down the stream, memorials of the present and recent Indian occupation were frequent. Sometimes we passed huts, constructed of poles, and thatched with bark, but only a few squaws and children were visible. At one place on the bank were ten graves, over which a sort of tomb had been erected, built of logs. Trails were frequent, and on one of these we came upon a tree containing an Indian symbolic epistle. There were figures of men and horsed, but we were unable to decipher the meaning. At another place was a cache or pit for hiding provisions.

    Many of the Indian clearings stretched for several continuous miles, and many acres bordering the river were covered with the luxuriant maize,-- the chief cultivated food of the natives. These plantations receive the name of villages, because they are resorted to by the tribes at the periods of cultivation and harvest. But, in fact, these people had no fixed habitations, but wandered, like the Arabs--their Eastern cousins -- from place to place, in patriarchal bands, finding such subsistence as the woods and waters afforded, and pursuing the occupation of trapping and barter with the Indian traders.

    At this time, also, they were much scattered by the small-pox, a disease recently introduced by the whites, and which had proved very fatal to the aboriginal inhabitants of this part of Michigan.

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    Indian trading-houses were a frequent feature, that served to connect the wildness of savage life with the incoming civilization.

    Five miles above Shiawassee town was a, small Indian village, upon what was known as Knaggs' Reservation, and at a short distance was the house of a trader -- BeaubiÍn. Williams, the first settler, came here six years before 1831, and opened a trading-store, as an agent of that extensive enterprise -- the American Fur Company. A frame house had since been erected, and a few acres cleared,--the small beginning of one of those invasions of the Saxon upon the Savage which, in an incredibly short period, will leave the latter not even his grave.

    Shiawassee town, at this time, contained a dozen log cabins, and as many frames unfinished. One of these was of quite superior construction, and indicative of the era of speculation through which the country had passed. It was three stories in height, and designed for a hotel. The whole village was under mortgage, and was advertised to be sold at public vendue.

    Corunna, the country seat, we found to consist of one log house, situated upon the bank of the river, and occupied by a Mr. Davis, who, a year before, and soon after the organization of the country, had made an entry here. A steam mill was in process of erection. About twenty acres of land had been cleared and planted; and never did crystal stream lave a more fertile soil.

    Three miles below was "located" the village of Owasso, already a thriving settlement, containing a dozen log buildings, one frame one, and a saw-mill.

    With the exception of a few scattered settlers upon the plains, south of the line of the present Detroit and Milwaukee Railway, such constituted the entire white population of Shiawassee Country.

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    In the early part of the season, during the progress of the geological survey, beds of bituminous coal had been discovered in the bank of Grand River, in Ingham and Eaton counties, and the rocks met with through the central part of Shiawassee -- belonging to the "coal measures"--gave hope of finding an outcrop. Prospecting was accordingly commenced by us at Corunna, but, with the slender means at command, did not prove successful. Yet sufficient was determined, from the character and dip of the rocks, and other indications, to warrant a recommendation to the settlers to continue the investigation. The result was the finding of coal at Corunna, soon after; which, though not of very remunerative thickness, has been used to considerable extent ever since.

    I will add, that the year's explorations determined the boundaries of the southerly half of the coal basin of Michigan. Its extent to the north yet remains a problem, to be solved by the hardy pioneers and explorers, who, for a few years past, have been at work so determinedly to bring into the markets of the world that rich and important portion of our State.

    A mile below Owasso we passed the last of the white clearings, and made our night's encampment within Big Rock Reservation, twelve miles below that village, and twenty miles from Saginaw.

    We had now entered upon the wild and primeval forest, extending in a solitude unbroken by any human sight or sound, except the cabin of the natives and the hut of the Indian trader, to the shores of the upper lakes. For the first time I was startled in my slumbers by the "wolf's long howl," mingled with the hooting of an owl.

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    Hitherto we had encountered at every few miles the cabin of some adventurous pioneer, for whom the forests had no terrors, but now we were alone with Nature. We could appreciate, in its full extent, the solitude, the boundlessness, the sublimity of this earliest of earth's offspring,--the grand, old, untutored forest.

    He who has only traversed woodlands where, at every few miles, he meets a road leading to civilized belongings, knows little of the sense of awe inspired by a forest solitude that has never echoed to the woodman's axe, and where every footstep conducts only into regions more mysterious and unknown.

    The woods of this part of Michigan comprised a very mingled growth. Oaks, not gnarled and spreading, as in more open lands, but at once massive and tall, and centuries old; the elm, that most graceful and majestic of trees of any land; the tulip or whitewood, magnificent in size and height above even the Titans of the forest; the broad and green-leaved linden; the clean-bodied beech; the saccharine maples, so superb in their autumnal dresses,--dyed like Joseph's coat at many colors; the giant sycamore, ghost-like, with its white, naked limbs;--these are the common habitants of the forest; with other kinds, each possessing its peculiar grace, and a use and beauty almost unknown in other lands.

    We had reached, too, the latitude of the evergreens, which from hence northward, to the farthest limits, become a distinguished feature of the Michigan forests, imparting to them a more wonderful variety and majesty. Many a towering pine, 150 feet in height, now began to lift its head above its fellow inhabiters, green through youth and age, through verdure and frost. In many places the desert gloom was deepened by the

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    dense and sombre shade of hemlocks, which bent their graceful spray to the earth, and almost shut out the light of day.

    We took the measure of a white oak that stood at the border of the timbered land and the openings, which I here note as worthy of record.

    It was thirty-five feet in circumference,--nearly twelve feet diameter.

    A very respectable tree to be found out of California.

    No kind of travel can be imagined more romantically charming than that of floating down the current of one of these large and rapid streams that water this portion of Michigan, piercing the heart of the trackless wilderness. The trees along the banks, instead of forming upright walls, exhibiting the naked trunks of the tall woodland monarchs, throw out thick branches to the sunlight, which bend gracefully to the water, as if to form a screen to the forest depths.

    Wild fowl are easily approached at almost every bend, affording an ample supply of fresh food without the fatigue of hunting, and at night the camp is made beneath the leafy arches, and lulled by the murmur of the stream or the roar of the wind in the pine tops.

    Descending now a wider stream, with a smooth and gentle current, we passed, successively, the mouths of these long feeders to the greater stream, -- the Flint, the Cass and the Tittabawassee, -- and on the 23d September were opposite Saginaw City.

    The last few miles had presented to our view the first irreclaimable marsh we had seen, and here there was plenty of it. The "City" occupied what seemed to be the only considerable elevation for many miles, being about thirty feet above the river.

    The paper read to you by Mr. Jennison gave so full

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    and minute a history of the settlement of the Saginaw Valley that I avoid repetition. I will only refresh your recollection, by stating that the general Government erected a fort here in 1820, and at the same time was established a centre of Indian trade, by the American Fur Company. The country had been visited by General Cass the year previous, and a treaty effected with the native chiefs, by which the lands of the Chippewas were ceded to the United States.

    The oldest settlement for farming purposes was made about 1829, and the present site of Saginaw City laid out in 1835. This was just before the height of that mad fever of speculation into which so many plunged wildly, and which built in the wilderness many prospective cities, most of them existing only in the privileged future or on paper plots.

    Saginaw was one of the few that had good foundation for its celebrity; though as yet there had been little realization of its dream of future greatness.

    My notes record that the city comprised nearly fifty frame houses, four stores -- one a handsome dry goods any grocery store, on a large scale -- two warehouses, and another in progress, a small church, two steam sawmills, and, in process of erection, a large edifice, to be called the "Webster House"; this already made a sightly appearance, being 60 by 80 feet. All were of wood. The stockades of the fort still remained; they were some ten feet in height, and surrounded about an acre. I believe that the abandonment of this fortress was occasioned by sickness among the troops, in 1824, three-fourths of the garrison being ill at once of the fevers of the country.

    I can add but few to the list of names illustrious in the Saginaw annals, already given you, but I met there,

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    and I well remember, the Littles -- Norman and William P.; Hiram Miller and James Fraser, Judge Riggs, Mr. Watson and Mr. Lyon; -- men to whose energy and practical wisdom the valley owes so large a share of its prosperity.

    It has been stated that the mill known as Emerson's was erected in 1834. I have no recollection of any mill on the east side at the date I record, and the distinguished individual whose name it bears was, at that time, still delighting the happy citizens of Detroit by his curt and vehement eloquence. If three mills existed at Saginaw in the fall of 1837, they were certainly the only ones (with one exception) upon that river, as the "City" was the only settlement, if we except a few solitary cabins.

    Where now the busy and populous cities of East Saginaw, Bay City, Winona and Portsmouth, numbering their many thousands, stretch almost into a continuous village, for twenty miles below, where the clangor of a hundred mills mingles with the puff of steamers and the scream of the locomotive, and a scene of industry, enterprise and thrift is exhibited which few spots on this earth can rival, was at the period of my visit a solitude, resonant only with the grand, still voices of Nature. Beyond the settlement immediately about the "City," extended the untrimmed forest, as vast and almost as undisturbed as when, to the eyes of De Tocqueville, it was "a real desert."

    Having advanced so far with my narrative, I ought, perhaps, in the manner of story-tellers, -- though mine is no fiction,--to give a description of the personal appearance of my personages.

    Though nearly a generation has passed since the death of Dr. Houghton, no doubt most of those here

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    present well remember the peculiar characteristics of one not easily forgotten; -- his diminutive stature -- his keen blue eye, -- his quick, active motions, -- the strong sense and energy of his words, when dealing with matters of science, and his indomitable perseverance in carrying out his designs. They well remember, too, his love of fun, and his hilarious manner of telling a comic story. Of such he had a large fund, and a happy way of using; preserving a grave countenance until he got through, and then joining in the laugh with a peculiar cachination, so contagious as to be alone sufficient to set every one in a roar.

    He was no carpet knight of science, and on his geological excursions never flinched from hard work and exposure.

    On these occasions he usually wore a suit of gray, the coat having large side-pockets, and hanging loosely upon his small frame. The hands and feet were very small, but the latter were incased in boots that came almost to his thighs. His shocking bad hat was broad-brimmed and slouched, almost concealing his face, and his whole appearance was that of a battered, weather-worn backwoodsman.

    I remember meeting him a few years later, when his scientific mind and energetic body had unravelled the mysteries of the mineral region of Lake Superior, and when the new fame of that region had called hosts of scientists to those yet wild shores. He had just landed at Eagle River, fresh from one of his rough expeditions, and was immediately hailed and surrounded by men known over the whole land for their scientific learning, to whose figures and bearing his own presented a striking contrast. Yet these men bowed to his superior

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    knowledge, -- sagacity I might term it; and one of them frankly said in my hearing, that the little, rough-looking Doctor carried more true knowledge in his cranium "than all the big heads put together."

    I am the more reminded of the personal appearance of our party by an incident which occurred, on occasion of our return to Saginaw from a similar expedition, in the following spring. We happened to be there at the time of the marriage of a sister of Mr. Little, and were among the distinguished guests invited to the wedding. Now it chanced that one of the crops -- I will not say who -- had, with false economy, donned for the expedition a suit of old clothes, which proved to be unequal to the rough usage imposed upon them. When we reached Saginaw he was literally in tatters. A hole garnished each elbow; another became visible when either arm was raised. I have already alluded to the uncouth boots we wore. They were outside the pantaloons, and when not on river service, the wide tops were turned down from the knee. The soles had uncommon width, the rule which regulated surveyors' boots being that these shall project so far beyond the uppers that a mouse might run around on them.

    As the other members of the corps were in little better condition, -- none of us having a wedding garment,--we would gladly have tendered our regrets, but the persuasive words of our host were not to be withstood.

    When I say that we went, I shall only add, that although an apparition so unusual, among a company of well dressed ladies and gentlemen, might well have occasioned remark, the good sense and true politeness of our host and his guests saved us mortification, and left no cause to repent the venture.

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    As I have undertaken to describe the personnel of our party, I must not omit some further mention of its fourth member. Dash was of spaniel breed, and fond of the water. In the supply of our larder he performed the service of bringing to our boat the wild-fowl that we occasionally shot, and which was abundant in these waters. Nature had furnished him with capacious jaws, which no game could escape, when once within their grip. He had a habit of coming upon game with his mouth wide open.

    On one occasion, seeing what he supposed to be a bird floating, he swam towards it, with mouth stretched as usual, and making a grab, his jaws came together with a sudden and loud snap over a piece of foam. Never was dog more puzzled. He looked about with an air of great amazement, and returned, very sheepishly, to be drawn into the boat.

    I will relate another anecdote, as showing how he improved in his scientific education. On a future occasion, being sent out for a wounded "diver," and not comprehending the resource of that active and sharp-witted fowl, on the dog's near approach the duck suddenly dived out of sight. Dash was in evident bewilderment, and unable to account for the sudden disappearance. But he was not a dog to be discouraged by so difficult a problem, and after the trick had been several times repeated, a glimmer of the true state of the case entered his canine brain. This accomplished, he was equal to the emergency; for when the diver again went down Dash followed, and both were for some time out of sight. But the dog came up victor, with the bird in his mouth.

    As it was in our plan to inspect the salt springs on the Tittabawassee, we had forwarded to Saginaw from

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    Detroit supplies of biscuit, relying upon the country for our pork.

    But none was to be had, and we were compelled to resume our journey as destitute of that important item as were the poor inhabitants themselves, who, with a large stock of merchandise, and the great name of City, were waiting the arrival of a schooner to obtain the common necessaries of life. It was to be hoped they were better off for intellectual food, for the place supported a public journal.

    Having obtained an order for a more suitable canoe and a guide, we bade temporary adieu to Saginaw (September 25), but were forced by a heavy rain to seek shelter at the house of a Mr. Gardner, a short distance above, where, fortunately, we procured a few pounds of pork. Here, at evening, a few neighbors dropped in, and we consumed the time pleasantly in tales of hunting adventures and fearful Indian murders!

    The next day found us at a village of the Chippewas sixteen miles from Saginaw. It consisted of a few lodges, mostly deserted, small-pox having nearly exterminated the band.

    At the forks of the Tittabawassee and Pine rivers we found several log cabins, one of which had been occupied as a trading-post. They were inhabited by half-breeds. A Frenchman, with his two Indian wives, occupied the trading-house.

    It was still common enough to find, along the shores of the great lakes and rivers, which had been so long the highways of those lawless rangers, -- the Coureurs de bois, --during the flourishing period of the fur trade, the cabin of a Canadian, who, with his Indian wife or wives and a troop of half-breed children, had completely adopted the native habits. He lived a half-vagabond

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    life, depending upon fishing and trapping, and sometimes finding employment as a voyageur.

    A fair specimen of this class was our guide, Pierre Gruet. Of mixed French and Indian blood, it was hard to tell of which character he most partook. Equally at home in the Canadian cabin and the Indian wigwam, he seemed to be acquainted with every individual of either race that we met, and had a world of talk to unburden, himself of whenever we passed a lodge or met a canoe. French joviality was in him united with savage wilfulness. Well enough when confined to his profession of guide and interpreter; as a worker, one American was worth a dozen of him.

    Opposite these forks of the river had been "located" the village of Midland*; but it was village without inhabitants.

    [Note : * Now a flourishing city of four thousand inhabitants (1885).]

    Ascending to Salt River, we completed such examination of the springs as the heavy rains of the season permitted. The year following, the State commenced a boring for a salt well near this point, but after a season's labor, with favorable results, the many discouragements attending the work caused its abandonment. Not the least of these was the necessity of sending to Detroit, with long delays and great expense, for everything needed, even for repairs of the augers. It was not until many years afterwards, and when along these vast water-courses populous towns had sprung up, that the conclusions of science were brought to a full practical test, by the establishment of salt wells on the Saginaw; with what success you are all familiar.

    I will only say, that in strength and purity the salt of

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    the Saginaw Valley is fully equal to the celebrated article so extensively made in Central New York; that it can be more cheaply manufactured; and, with the increasing facilities for market, is destined to be a very important part of the wealth of Michigan. Already Saginaw furnishes a supply one-half as large as the famous Onondaga.

    We had now penetrated into the wilderness, many miles beyond the most remote of the settlements of the Anglo-Saxon. Wild game was very abundant, but we had not the time nor means to pursue it.

    Besides deer, we had often seen along the shore tracks of the elk, and sometimes of the moose, -- an animal almost extinct. Occasionally an otter raised his head above the water, or plunged into it from the bank. We found fresh marks of the labors of the beaver, -- that most interesting creature, once existing hereabouts in immense numbers, and now quite hunted to the death. We had shot a snow-owl and driven an eagle from his eyry, and had been regaled with bear's meat, furnished us by the Indians.

    How lovely, to our unaccustomed eyes, did nature appear in these solitudes! The first frosts had fallen, and tinged the maples with yellow, orange and crimson; the beech was beginning to assume its russet coat, and the hickories their brilliant yellow, gleaming, in the softened autumn sun, like towers of gold! The river banks, densely wooded, and overrun by the scarlet ivy, were truly magnificent. In strong contrast with these brilliant colors of the autumn was the dark green -- almost black, in the shadow of the thick woodland--of the hemlock and fir, and amid which shone the white bark of the silver birch, and above all reared the verdant heads of many of lofty pine.

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    As yet no lumberman's axe had sought to desecrate these glorious shades, nor the speculator to count the dollars that lay hid in the hearts of these mighty pines.

    But marvellous changes were in the not distant future. The traffic in lumber, in the region watered by the Saginaw and its tributaries, which had hardly its beginning a decade after the period I am describing, has in our day reached dimensions of which the wildest brain could not then have dreamed. The main river, for twenty miles from the city of Saginaw to its mouth, is lined with mills. Mainly from this source of wealth numerous cities have sprung into vigorous existence, and five hundred millions of feet of lumber are sent annually, by water and rail, south, east and west, thousands of miles.

    Michigan pine is in demand, even within the sound of the lumber woods of Maine and Pennsylvania.

    I recently visited Midland, not, as before, by the slow progress of a little boat propelled by hands, but in the magnificent cars of the Flint & Pere Marquette Railway, transported by the wings of steam.

    Where, in 1837, was laid the wilderness city of Midland, -- a site without an inhabitant, and approachable only by the river, -- now stands the busy, prosperous county seat. A railway connects it with Saginaw, and is rapidly bearing its iron-shod feet far beyond, and joining hands with those vigorous pioneers on our western coasts, that are rapidly pushing on to the Straits of Mackinac. A street of shops, hotels and public buildings, parallel with the river, forms the centre to a town which covers, scatteringly, a mile square, with its churches, mills and comfortable homes.

    I passed forty miles further on to the north-west. The scene was a revelation. We are accustomed to regard the railroad as a certain that follows in the wake of

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    man's progress. Here it is the pioneer, the precursor of civilization. It has pierced the heart of the hitherto unbroken wilderness; cutting for itself a narrow path, where, on either side, tall pines and other trees rise into a straight and lofty wall, admitting no prospect, except the narrow line of light that diminishes to a thread in the distance. No time has been allowed for clearings and the ordinary attendants of cultivation. These are all the follow. But saw-mills have spring up along its magic path, and line the road so thickly that, ford nearly the whole distance, I might count an average of two mills to every mile; and all this accomplished within little more than a year.

    Having accomplished our river explorations, we prepared for an expedition attended with some danger at that late season, for the month of October had come. This was a coasting voyage, from Saginaw to Port Huron, performed in the canoe which had been procured at the Chippewa Reservation. It was a "dug-out" of wood, thirty feet long, but so narrow, that, seated in the line of the centre, we could use a paddle on either side. In this puny craft we were to undertake, in the middle of autumn, a lake journey of 150 miles.

    We descended the Saginaw which then exhibited few indications of its coming greatness.

    East Saginaw had no existence. The village of Carolton had been plotted, four miles below Saginaw City and consisted of a two-story log house, used years lang-syne as a trading-post.

    Portsmouth contained a steam mill, four log cabins and two board shanties, lying just above high-water mark.

    Lower Saginaw -- now Bay City -- occupied somewhat

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    higher ground, and boasted a pretty frame office used as a chapel, and two or more log huts. It was an infant of one year. In preparation was the frame of a hotel, which, in accordance with the usual custom of the flush times, -- already sadly gone, -- was large enough to accommodate half the county.

    I must here mention a fact which I have never seen alluded to; viz., that we found at several places along the river, and sparingly on the Tittabawassee, apple trees. They produced agreeable fruit, and some were apparently of a century's growth. I will not speculate upon their origin; whether the seeds were brought here in the fruit, and accidentally planted, by the voyageurs and coureurs de bois, from the French orchards of Canada, or whether they have a date still more remote. It is curious to notice that some of the earliest travellers allude to orchards, then in profuse bearing, upon islands in the Detroit River. I leave the problem to the antiquary.

    Emerging into the bay we encountered, at the Kawkalin River, the last trace of civilized footsteps which we were to see for many days. It was a camp of United States surveyors, -- the Rousseaus, -- where we were entertained for the night, with all the hospitality which it is common to fine among those who dwell beyond the pale of "good society." Unfortunately for our appreciation of these good fellows, it subsequently appeared that the returns of these surveyors were so made-up and false that entire townships had to be re-surveyed by the Government. Corruption in places of public trust is not alone of modern origin.

    Memorials of the native inhabitants were still frequent. Upon a swelling knoll overlooking the bay, in the midst of a tract of country from which all the timber had been

    Page 86.

    burned, was a spot which seemed to have been dedicated to the evil Manitou. Here an altar was erected, composed of two large stones, several feet in height, with a flat top and broad base. About were smaller stones, which were covered with propitiatory offerings, -- bits of tobacco, pieces of tin, flints, and such articles, of little value to the Indian, as, with religious philosophy, he dedicates to his Manitou. The place had witnessed, doubtless, many an Indian powwow.

    In the interest of the scientific object of our tour I will here observe, that near Au Gres River we discovered, beneath the clear waters of the bay, a bed of gypsum. Subsequently, an outcrop of this mineral was found on the neighboring land, and has been long quarried with profit.

    Some islands lay several miles from shore, upon our approach to which, immense numbers of gulls, that had here their secure retreat and breeding-places, wheeled about us, uttering loud cries. The young ones were easily caught, and we found a few eggs. Here also sport of an unusual kind awaited us. In the waves that broke among the boulders along the shore, sturgeon were gambolling. So intent were they upon their play, and so ignorant of man's superior cunning, that, springing in among them, after a vigorous tussle we threw one shore, with no other aid than our hands. It stocked our larder for several days, with its varied of meat, -- fish, fowl and -- Albany beef.

    Of our further voyage, until we rounded Point Aux Barques, I have nothing to note, beyond the usual adventures and delays that attend mariners in so perilous a craft, upon the treacherous waves of Saginaw Bay. The toils of the day were compensated by the sweetest of

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    slumbers, when, having supped on pork and hard bread, wrapped each in his blanket, we fell asleep beneath the soft influence of the Pleiades.

    At the point alluded to the coast is iron-bound, affording no harbor, and being thickly wooded with evergreens, its aspect was forbidding and gloomy. Add to this, that the waves are incessantly lashing the rocks, which receive the whole fury of the sea, whether the wind be from the lake on the right or the broad bay on the left. This action of the waters has caused channels to be worn through large masses of the friable sandstone, which, tumbling into the lake, form small islets.

    In doubling the cape, the voyageur is struck with the singular appearance of two projecting masses, detached from the main, and covered with timber. They bear close resemblance to the bows of vessels, with the hulls exposed down to the keel. The bowsprit and sides are nearly perfect. They are about 50 feet in the beam, and 16 to 20 in height. Nature seems often to delight in such mimicry of the works of man. The name which was bestowed by the French, at an early day, continues still significant of the mimic resemblance.

    Near White Rock, on the Lake Huron coast, 50 miles from its outlet, at the boundary of the then surveyed portion of Sanilac County, we found a settler, -- the first we had met since leaving Saginaw River. Mr. Allen had been here three months, and, with five hands, was erecting a saw-mill on a dashing little brook that had nearly swamped us in entering. He had no neighbor, but the mistress of the house informed us they had been all summer in expectation and promise of the settlement at White Rock City of 200 families.

    The annals of this place constitute one of those chapters

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    of romance, of which the records of 1835 and 1836 are so replete. Before the rage of real-estate speculation was at its height, and all through that wild fever, we had known of "White Rock City."

    Maps, executed in the highest style of the topographic art, -- displayed in hotel bar-rooms and other public places, where congregated the thousand seekers after the fortune that courted the happy possessor of valuable lots and water privileges, -- had announced its unrivalled situation and advantages. They depicted the magnificent harbor, at the month of a large stream, into which steamboats were entering. Saw-mills were converting the forests into houses. Around the Public Square clustered a Court-house, churches, and other public buildings, not omitting the inevitable Bank, and the air of prosperity which pervaded the place was evident at a glance.

    Auctioneers had sounded its praises, and struck off its lots, at popular prices, to eager buyers. None of the rising cities for which Michigan had become famous had so wide a celebrity, and distributed stock so liberally.

    And now we were to see, with our own eyes, this western marvel, or at least its ruins.

    A large white boulder in the lake marked the entrance, and gave name to this modern Karnac. We found the entering river. It hardly admitted our log canoe. Harbor there was none. Churches, houses, mills, people, -- all were a myth. A thick wilderness covered the whole site. Excepting Mr. Allen, it was 40 miles to the nearest inhabitant. Where the Public Square had been depicted stood several large beech trees. On one of these we carved the names of our party, who were thus registered, for the benefit of future visitors, as the first guests of the "White Rock Hotel."

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    It may serve more fully to show the adventurous character of our expedition, if I close this narrative by some detail of our last day's experience, -- perhaps not a very unusual one in canoe navigation. It may serve, too, to illustrate the risks incurred by our daring chief; sometimes too rashly, and, alas! one too often!

    On the night of October 11, we encamped 22 miles from Fort Gratiot, and congratulated ourselves on the near conclusion of our journey. For this there was reason, as our provisions were gone and the weather was stormy. Here a hard wind detained us a day, and the morning succeeding showed the waters risen several feet, and rolling in huge breakers. To proceed by water seemed impossible, but there was no travelled road to Black River, and our provisions were exhausted. For several days we had been on rations, and our poor canine friend, who at the outset could not eat duck meat, was glad to swallow a wing, -- feathers and all. A council of war decided to trust once more to the boisterous waves, which our frail craft had hitherto borne us over in safety.

    Raising the boat upon rollers, we packed in tent and bags -- the latter now heavy with "specimens" -- so arranged as to make three partitions, established Dash in his place, while the rest took each his station.

    Thus appointed, we ran rapidly out into the water, leaped aboard, and pulled from the land. The launch was neatly effected, but danger was ahead. Encountering the breakers we at once shipped a sea, which completely filled the foremost division. This was occupied by the Doctor, who cried, "We are swamped." But a pail stood ready to each hand. The Doctor bailed while the others pulled stoutly on their paddles, and we were soon beyond the breakers. Return was now impossible. The temperature

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    was at freezing, and we received a ducking from many a white-cap that chilled us to the marrow. Our little boat was a morsel for the waves, and when one of those huge swells--the three sisters, as sailors call them--lifted us up, we seemed hurrying inevitably to the shore, and when it receded its crest concealed everything but the sky and the watery horizon. We could not raise sail without danger of running under, and many a wave-crest must be beaten back with our paddles, and our pails were seldom idle.

    But "the longest day will have an end," and after five hours endurance, wet, exhausted and hungry, we landed at the light-house. Thence we descended to Black River, two miles below, where the village of Port Huron was in the second year of its infancy. From here a steam-boat conveyed us to Detroit.

    Thus ended our adventurous journey, "by flood and fell." I have only to add, that if my long-drawn gossip has contributed to your entertainment, or given any clearer impression of the Michigan of 34 years ago, it will not have proved altogether idle.

    Related Pages & Notes

    Michigan & Great Lakesy 1835
    (Click to enlarge.)
    Maps at this time were very rough estimates based on information accumulated from travelers of an area.
    Bela Hubbard (Self-portrait):
    Bela Hubbard was born at Hamilton, New York, on April 23, 1814. He moved to Michigan shortly after completing graduate school in 1834.

    In 1837 Hubbard was appointment as the state's assistant geologist, a position he held for three years. In 1842 he joined the bar in Detroit, specializing in real estate. He continued his interest in geology, and was a founding member of the Association of American geologists and naturalists. In addition, he was president of the Michigan agricultural socieyt and a member of several other associations.

    He authored many technical papers and pamplets, many of which were published as a collection in his book, "Memorials of a Half Centery" (New York, 1887)
    Dr. Douglass Houghton:
    Douglass Houghton the Michigan's first state geologist after it joined the union of states in 1837. He also named the first professor of geology, mineralogy, and chemistry at the University of Michigan in 1839.
    Dr. Houghton was born in Troy, N.Y. on September 21, 1909 and died on October 13, 1845. He was married to Harriet Stevens of Troy, N.Y. in 1833, and they resided in Detroit, MI.
    Gov. Lewis Cass:
    Lewis Cass served as a brigadier general during the War of 1812, afterwards he was appointed governor of the Michigan Territory in 1813, a position he held until 1831, when he resigned to become Secretary of State under President Andrew Jackson. He also servered as Michigan's representive in the U.S. Senate from 1845 until 1848, when he resigned to run for President of the U.S. His lifespan was from Oct. 9, 1792 to June 17, 1866. His place of birth was Exeter, N.H. and his burial place is Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit, MI.
    People Referenced
    Cass, (Gov.)
    De Tocqueville,
    Douglas, C.C.
    Fraser, James
    Gruet, Pierre
    Houghton, Douglass(Dr.)
    Little, Norman
    Little, Wm. P.
    Miller, Heram
    Rigges, (Judge)
    Subjects Referenced
    American Fur Co.
    Apple orchards
    Au Gres river
    Bay City, MI
    Big Rock Reservation
    Black river
    Byron, MI
    Canadian French
    Carolton, MI
    Cass river
    Chippewa Indians
    Chippewa Reservation
    Corunna, MI
    Dash (dog)
    Detroit & Milwaukee Rwy.
    Detroit, MI
    Detroit river
    Eagle river
    Easton Co., MI
    East Saginaw, MI
    Fentonville, MI
    Flint & Pere Marquette RR
    Flint river
    Fort Gratiot
    Grand river
    Indian memorials
    Indian traders
    Indian village
    Ingham Co., MI
    Knaggs' Reservation
    Lake Huron
    Lake Superior
    Lower Saginaw (Bay City), MI
    Midland, MI
    New York
    Oakland Co., MI
    Owasso, MI
    Pine river
    Point Aux Barques, MI
    Pontiac, MI
    Port Huron, MI
    Portsmouth, MI
    Royal Oak, MI
    Saginaw City
    Saginaw river
    Saginaw Valley
    Salt river
    Salt springs
    Salt wells
    Sanilac Co., MI
    Shiawassee town, MI
    Shiawassee Co., MI
    Shiawassee river
    Small pox
    Straits of Mackinac
    Tittabawassee river
    Webster House (Saginaw)
    White Rock, MI
    Winona, MI
    Internet Resources
    [Library of Congress]
    - Full text to MEMORIALS OF A HALF-CENTURY by Bella Hubbard (G. P. Putnam's & Sons - The Knickerbocker Press - 1887)
    Biography of DR. DOUGLAS HOUGHTON.
    [Library of Congress]
    - Reference to specific histories on MICHIGAN.
    [Michigan State University]
    WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.