Michigan Historical Society Records, Vol. 8 - Annual Meeting 1885
by Ephraim S. Williams, of Flint.
HISTORY OF THE WILLIAMS FAMILY OF MICHIGAN
The Williams family dates back in the history of the British islands to a remote age. The name is of Welsh origin, and the descendants among the mountains of Wales claim to trace their ancestry back to the time of "Rodric the Great." king of Britain, about the year 849. Others claim that the family has descended from Brutus, the first king of Britain, 1100 years before Christ. The famous Oliver Cromwell is said to have belonged to a branch of this family. The earliest representative of the name in the American colonies is believed to have been Robert Williams, who emigrated from Norwich, England, and settled at Roxbury, Massachusetts, about the year 1638.
Among the noted men of this wide-spread family have been Roger Williams, the pioneer settler of Rhode Island; Colonel Ephraim Williams, killed at the battle of Lake George, in August, 1755; General Otho Holland Williams, a prominent officer in the American army during the Revolution; Hon. Charles K. Williams, chief justice of Vermont; Hon. Norman Williams, of the same State; Hon. Archibald Williams, of Quincy, Illinois, and many others prominent in the field, in the pulpit, and at the bar.
MOVE TO MICHIGAN.
My father, Major Oliver Williams, one of the pioneer settlers in Michigan, and of Oakland county, was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, May 6, 1774. He came to Detroit in 1808, established the mercantile business there, purchasing his goods in Boston, carting them overland in covered wagons to Buffalo, and shipping thence by water to Detroit. He ordinarily made two trips a year, on horseback, between Boston and Detroit.
During the winter and spring of 1810-11 he built, at the River Rouge, a large sloop, which he named the "Friends' Good-Will," and in the summer of 1812, just previous to the breaking out of the war between the United States and Great Britain, made a voyage to Mackinaw, acting as super-cargo. At Mackinaw his vessel was chartered by the government to take military stores and supplies to the garrison at Chicago, then a small military and trading post. She was also to bring back a cargo of furs and skins for the government and himself. The commanding officer at Mackinaw, Lieut. Hanks, furnished father with a box of ammunition, twelve stand of arms, and a non-commissioned officer and six men as a guard against Indians, who were then openly hostile, and it was known that war was imminent. Before his return from Chicago he was decoyed into the harbor of Mackinaw, which had in the meantime been captured by the British, they keeping the American flag flying over the fort, and they were made prisoners. His vessel and cargo were taken possession of for the benefit of the British government, on account of his vessel being under a government charter. The name of the vessel was changed by the British to "Little Belt," and it formed a part of the British squadron and was captured the next year by Commodore Perry on Lake Erie. At the time of the battle she mounted three guns. She was burned at Buffalo the following winter, having, with two others, been driven ashore by a gale.
Father was paroled, sent to Detroit under charge of British officers; was at Detroit at its surrender by Gert. Win. Hull, and, with other citizens, was marched through the province to Kingston as prisoner of war. In time they were exchanged. He then visited his family in Concord, Massachusetts and soon after returned to Detroit to look after his business and property, which he found scattered to the winds. Detroit and the entire frontier had been laid in waste. The most that he saved from the general ruin was his residence, on the corner of Jefferson avenue and Bates street, running back to Larned street, in front of St. Anne's Church, and twenty acres in the then called Bush, on Woodward avenue, somewhere about Winder street, all of which he sold when he bought his farm in Oakland county.
MOVE TO DETROIT.
In the fall of 1815 he moved his family from Concord, Mass., to Detroit. Mother and eight children, myself the oldest, then about thirteen born February 7, 1802), traveled with spring carriages, and their goods (what were necessary) in double covered wagons, to Buffalo, stopping at the Cold Spring Hotel, near Buffalo, kept by one Col. Miller. Buffalo, we found in ruins, it having been burned by the British. We remained nearly three weeks before passage could be obtained to Detroit. At last, the small schooner, "Mink," owned by Messrs. Mack & Conant, of Detroit, was procured, and under the care and kind protection of the late Hon. Shubael Conant, a particular friend of my father, we embarked for Detroit, where we arrived, after the very short passage of nine days. Our vessel was becalmed about one mile below the city, then at or opposite the G. Godfroy's tannery. Father, seeing the vessel, expecting us aboard, and passing on the road just at evening, hailed us, and enquired if his friend Conant was on board, and his father's family; Mr. Conant answered: "Yes." Soon father came on board and requested the captain to set us on shore, which he declined; but two of the children being sick, Mr. Conant requested the captain to do so, he assuming all responsibility, and we landed, and, with Mr. Godfroy's carriage and a cart, we were conveyed to our home, on Jefferson avenue.
-- Detroit a Strange Place.
We rode and walked up past the fort, whose frowning guns, pyramids of balls and strong stockade, with its heavy gates, were all new and strange to us. The people all turned out to see the Yankees, and as we passed along by the curious, one story and a half French houses, the women greeted us little ones with a kiss, saying: "Ah, to mon petit Boslinien!" We found Detroit a very strange place, walled in with high pickets, with three large, very heavy gates, and two regiments of United States soldiers lying in tents outside the pickets, on the rise of ground about where now stands the Detroit opera house, the Kirkwood, market, etc. The old fort also was full of soldiers. At each gate of the city stood a United States soldier on guard, and no one passed in or out without a password. The city contained probably only about five or six hundred whites.
Father opened a hotel and boarding house, raised a large gold ball for a sign, and it was known as the Yankee hotel, with the sign of a pumpkin. His house was over-run with eastern people, as the troops were mostly eastern men, many of them from Massachusetts, and father and his family became great favorites. We had many eastern boarders, to-wit: Mr. Thomas Palmer, Calvin Baker, Paul Clapp, Win. Brewster, Levi Cook, and Orville Cook and others. Levi Cook taught school in part of Mr. Thomas Palmer's store, which I and my brothers and sisters attended until he commenced other business.
As I have said, Detroit was a strange place. The old market stood in the centre of Woodward avenue, south of Jefferson avenue, with a whipping post at the northeast corner, where criminals were whipped for petty crimes, and sold for fines and costs to the one who would take them for the least number of days' work on the streets. I have often seen them whipped and gangs of men at work on the streets, often many with ball and chain, and made to work out their fines and costs of suits, instead of being a city or county charge. We boys had an old two-horse sleigh, with bar iron shoes (no cast-iron shoes then), and a dozen would often get on and ride down hill in the winter, going on to the river quite a distance.
There was no Atwater street then; the river came up to the rear of Mr. James Abbott's storehouse deep enough for boats and canoes to unload furs, sugar, etc., which was about half the length of what was then the Abbott block, where he lived and had the postoffice for many years.
The old Frenchman used to run the ferry with a large canoe until Mr. Ezra Balding [Baldwin] put on a scow and boats.
There were only three brick buildings--the Governor Hull house, that stood where the Biddle House now stands, the Government store house, and the old bank on the Major [Jonathan] Kearsley corner. I clerked it awhile in this building for Mr. Melvin Dorr, a dry goods merchant, who afterwards settled on a farm near Little Springs and was superintendent of the building of the United States turnpike to Saginaw, which was built six miles north of Flint city, one hundred feet wide. Father purchased all the fruits on the orchards on either side of Detroit river and put up many winter apples and made a large quantity of cider--one year packing two thousand barrels of apples and making seven hundred barrels of cider. Apples sold for twenty shillings and twenty-four shillings per barrel, and cider ten dollars per barrel for all he could make, most of which went to Ohio. I recollect I took ten barrels in a boat to Mr. Henry J. Hunt, merchant, for his use and he paid me one hundred dollars, (ten dollars per barrel) everything in proportion. Potatoes were two and two and a half dollars. Whisky sold for two dollars per gallon by the barrel. Butter, fifty and seventy-five cents per pound; roasting pigs, two and three dollars each; turkeys, from twelve to twenty shillings. All these things were brought from Ohio -- little vessels plying all the time in this trade, buying our apples and cider.
-- Families Return After War.
Many families who left Detroit during the war, returned in 1816. Governor L. Cass brought his family to reside there. The currency was mostly shinplasters and what was called "cut money"--that is, a Spanish dollar, for instance, was cut into halves, quarters and eights, which passed current for small change, and many times it was cut into nine shilling pieces, from one dollar. The troops were paid off for long back pay, and money flowed like water--everybody had plenty.
Many of the troops were discharged (times expiring) in Detroit and settled on farms in Oakland and other counties in the State. Being first-class eastern men, they made many of our best citizens. Lieutenant Chesney Blake resigned in Detroit, and afterwards became the noted Captain Blake, of the lakes, and finally settled on a farm in Oakland county. Colonel John Hamilton, of Flint, was discharged a sergeant in Detroit. I have seen all these men march Detroit streets, and lived by them in after years. Mr. Samuel Munson, father of Mr. Henry Munson, of Detroit, is now living at East Saginaw. He came to Detroit in 1816 or 1817, and tended bar for my father. Being about my age, we used to slide down hill together, on Woodward avenue.
We boys had a large skating park, of several acres, the water in the fall coming from the upper part of the city and flowing the low grounds in the rear of old Ste. Anne's Catholic church. This water ran out across Woodward avenue on Congress street, making its way to the river down that low ground, or valley. It was crossed on Woodward avenue by a bridge, perhaps three or four rods long, made of round poles and pole railing--the same as we were glad to make over streams and mud holes in the country, in the settlement of the same.
These places have been filled up by the improvements of the city, and splendid business buildings erected thereon. I have lived in the State ever since those days, and am astonished when I look in vain for our old play grounds. About where the old Michigan bank stands, there was in that hill a small fort open then to the river, where stood one or more guns and mortars, used for throwing shot and shell across the river during the war of 1812; there being the foundation of an old church and a burying ground in Jefferson avenue, we had to crook around to the south side of the street to get down street. I remember seeing this foundation and those bodies all removed and the street improved.
On the 14th day of August, 1817, President James Monroe visited Detroit and was received with public honors. My father was then city marshal, and was conducting the procession through rite city. Passing his residence on Jefferson avenue mother beckoned him, when he dismounted, went into the house, called Dr. Brown, next door to us, and in a short time a son was born to him, which was named James Monroe Williams. He now lives in Santa Rosa, California, has raised a large family, and is now "grandpa." His wife was a sister to the late Judge [Michael] Crofoot, of Pontiac.
-- Ship "Walk-in-the-Water."
The first steamboat upon Lake Erie, the "Walk-in-the-Water;" visited Detroit in the summer of 1818. She was a great wonder to the French and indians, in fact to us all, being the first I or any of our family had seen. I recollect one circumstance which I never shall forget. The steamer landed at what was then Wing's wharf, at the foot of Bates street, originally built by Henry Hudson and called Hudson's wharf. It was built on bents and planked over, about ten feet wide, running to the channel; at the end was a large pier, with an ice-break, laid of square timber and filled with stone, also a pier built in same way about half way, and carts could drive out there, turn round, fill their barrels with pure water and water the city. I have described the wharf; now for what took place. On the deck of the old "Walk-in-the-Water" stood Lord Selkirk, with cocked hat, English coat and breeches and buckles, talking with some gentlemen, when Hon. Austin E. Wing, United States marshal, walked up and arrested the lord for crimes committed against the Hudson Bay Fur Co., in the Hudson Bay country years before, and the lord and Marshal Wing walked up town together.
-- Venture to Oakland County.
In the fall of 1818, my father, Calvin Baker, Jacob Elliott, my uncle Alpheus Williams, and others, made a journey to Oakland county, on horseback. They had a French guide. Following the Indian trail towards Saginaw, they crossed the Clinton River at Pontiac. After exploring the surrounding country, my father selected three hundred and twenty acres of land in the vicinity, or upon a beautiful lake, which he afterwards named Silver Lake. After an absence of three or four days, the party returned. Their report electrified the staid, quiet inhabitants of Detroit, among whom the belief was general that the interior of Michigan was a vast impenetrable and uninhabitable wilderness and morass.
In the winter of 1818 and 1819 father started with his horses and wagon, provisions and tools, and three men for his new home, to build a house for the reception of his family in the spring. This was the first team and wagon ever driven to Pontiac, taking three days, cutting his road and bridging streams and bad places.
The few families then at Pontiac had packed their supplies on ponies or on their own backs. There were Maj. Todd, Orson Allen, son-in-law of Maj. Todd, and one other man and his wife all living in one (not large) log house.
Father's house was of hewed logs laid up very nicely, fifty feet long and twenty wide, one and a half stories high, with a shake roof.
MOVE TO OAKLAND COUNTY.
In March, 1819, he moved his family into his unfinished yet comfortable house and all commenced to make a farm among the Indians, flies, mosquitoes, snakes, wild game, and fever and ague. Father used to say, when asked if we had the ague, "Yes, we had a little about thirteen months in the year."
Our family suffered much from sickness, privations and lack of the comforts of life. Mother and sisters lived there six months without seeing the face of a white woman; then my aunt and her daughter made us a visit from Detroit, stayed with us a few days, helped us and cheered us up.
The summer of 1820 father raised and finished a large barn, 40×40, which was the first frame raised in Oakland county and which still stands upon the old homestead in a good state of preservation. I was one who drew the pine logs from a pinery, about one and a half miles from the old home, for the finishing and enclosing the barn. The plank boards and shingles were sawed and made on the place.
The Indians were kind and very friendly during our sickness, bringing us many luxuries in the shape of wild meat and berries of the choicest kind. We found them not bad neighbors.
The winters of those days were not much like 1885; no snow of any consequence until March, and then we got barely enough to enable us to get up our year's stock of wood. I have driven team to break up our land through the months of December. January and February, as we would now in May and June. We used three and four yoke of good heavy oxen, to plow the oak openings, among what we called the "nigger-heads" (the heads of the oak scrubs that had been burned off). I recollect the first field of wheat of about six acres we had; when in the milk the yellow birds commenced coming. The first we saw delighted us, but they increased and destroyed every head of grain, and we never cut a straw. This we thought rather rough, on the start.
Father kept a few goods and we boys traded considerably with the Indians, collecting a good many furs and skins, sugar, wax, etc., which we sold in Detroit, procuring in exchange many comforts we could not get from the new farm. Every spring while I remained at home I would take a load of furs, sugar, etc, to Detroit. I could not go direct, the roads being impassable; consequently I used to go by way of Mt. Clemens, taking two and three days, usually staying at Mt. Clemens over night with Colonel Clemens, going from there out to the lake and then down the lake and river road (this was a little like pioneer life). Often I had to stop, when night overtook me, (very few taverns, if any), with farmers who had nothing to eat but baked potatoes and milk, but who afterwards became fine farmers and leading men.
The road direct from Pontiac to Detroit became, after some travel almost impassable, so wet and muddy to any depth. Father purchased a corn mill, which was put up in a tree in the yard; the hopper would hold half a bushel or more. With two cranks we boys would grind out a bushel of corn when wanted, which gave us nice corn meal. The neighbors also came and ground their corn, and this proved a very great convenience to the neighborhood.
Deer and all wild game were very plenty. We boys became quite expert hunters. I hunted considerable, but for a long time could kill nothing, often having deer stand all around me, distant from three or four rods to ten, fifteen and twenty. I would take the nearest, aim and fire, but could not get one, although I was a splendid marksman--could hit the size of a quarter of a dollar twice out of three times at twenty rods. The trouble was, I was excited, and in sighting a deer I would see the deer's body, and, of course, I would fire above the deer. My younger brothers had killed many, and they laughed at me, to my great annoyance.
I started out one morning early and said to myself, Now, if I get a shot, I will be calm and take time and take good aim, as if shooting at a mark, I will have no more fooling. I had not got out of sight of the house before I saw a deer about twenty or thirty rods from me. I took deliberate aim, drew a fine sight, and my deer fell. Then to get him home. I thought I could carry him on my back, as I had often seen the Indians do. So I fixed him, got him on to a log, and then on to my back, and started, but did not go far before I backed up to a log and let him off. After a little I started again, but it was no go. I was in sight of the house for which I had started. Such a looking object as I was! I had daubed myself from head to foot with blood and deer hair. Oh, how I looked, but I marched bravely home, for I had killed a deer.
The family were at breakfast as I went in. As soon as my father saw me he and my brother shouted, "He's killed a deer !" Mother, good woman, smiled and said, "Why, Ephraim, how you do look! Just look at your clothes." I said, "Never mind, mother, I have killed a deer." I was then over the buck fever and could kill a deer every time I fired on one. Father took his horse and wagon and we went and brought him in. We never spent much time in hunting, for we could go out an hour or two, morning or evening, and kill a deer.
Our lakes were almost black with ducks, spring and fall. We could kill a mess in five minutes near our house. I recollect father and myself crawling beside a fence leading from the barn to the lake, and, upon his giving the word, we fired together into a flock of ducks near the shore, and we got eleven large, fine, black-neck ducks.
An Indian family by the name of Wa-me-gan lived on the high bank near the house, and were a fine, friendly family. Wa-me-gan started out one morning a-hunting, went in north a few miles, when it commenced snowing. He fell upon an old bear lying under a turned-up tree. We supposed he found and wounded him, and the bear made fight. The old man defended himself, losing his knife and tomahawk in the fight. The bear struck him on the head, cutting gashes With each claw like a blow from a tomahawk, the thumb claw taking our one eye. We supposed this blow knocked him down, then the bear bit him through his legs and arms terribly, and left him for dead. The old man recovered, went a few steps, set his rifle beside a tree, sat down with his head on his bands and knees, and was found frozen dead. His sons found him, after one or two days' search. It had snowed several inches: his knife and tomahawk were never found. The sons followed the bear, but never found him. My brother and myself took the horses and sleigh, and, with his sons, brought him in. He was buried on the farm. This grave was always protected, and I presume it is to this day.
-- Trip to Saginaw.
In the fall of 1822, Mr. Rufus Stevens, his brother. A. C. Stevens, and myself went from Silver Lake to Saginaw on horseback, following the Indian trail. We found the two companies of United States troops in their tents, hard at work building the stockade and their winter quarters. We remained a day and returned. There was not a house from Waterford to Saginaw.
The winter of 1822–3. Colonel John Hamilton, Harvey Williams and myself each took a team and lead of supplies and provisions for the troops, Mr. Schuyler Hedges accompanying us to see the country. The soldiers had cut a road through the woods and pine windfalls for sleigh track. Going out we put all three teams on each lead to draw it across Flint River and up its banks. We slept on the south bank of Cass River, between two large fallen pine trees.
In the morning we were under about four or five inches of snow. It snowed all day. We arrived at Saginaw and crossed the river not until after dark, having traveled only about twelve miles. The soldiers took charge of our teams and put them in warm stables and we were ushered into good, warm quarters and fared sumptuously.
We left next afternoon and slept that night at Cass River, where we found a vacant log house. We got our horses into it and with rails we built a big fire in the fireplace and camped for the night. It was a very cold night. Our horses and ourselves suffered severely. Of that company I am the only survivor, the Messrs. Stevens, Hamilton, Williams and Hodges all have crossed the river, where we must all follow ere long.
-- First settlers in Grand Blanc.
My sister Caroline married Mr. Rufus Stevens and moved to Grand Blanc, Genesee county, in 1823, they being the first settlers in that town. In the fall of 1824, a party of eight young men and girls visited my sister, Stevens, traveling on horseback, there being no road, but only an Indian trail. Next morning we rode to Flint River, seven miles, (where the city now is), crossed the river on the rapids where the dam and mills now are; explored the surroundings, which were beautiful, being an open oak forest like an orchard. We could see for miles around, having been burned over, and could see the wild deer feeding on the acorns in from twos to droves of often a dozen. You may think this exaggerated but it is not, for they were as plenty as sheep. It was not unusual to see in the fall of the year, droves of twenty and even more. In those days we could not ride through the oak openings without seeing deer feeding on the rolling hills, in all directions. The oak openings were perfectly beautiful, being from June a perfect flower garden.
-- Militia formed in Pontiac.
In the year 1821 a militia company was formed in Pontiac, and vicinity. Calvin Hotchkiss was the captain. I hold a commission, as ensign, under Lewis Cass, Governor of the Territory, dated June 13, 1821. A regiment was afterwards formed, and I hold a commission as its adjutant, dated the 11th day of August, 1824. I think the above was the first company, and regiment formed in the Territory. We were well uniformed and equipped. Had a grand regimental parade every fall, in Pontiac. To have a parade ground, I engaged men and mowed off the brush and cleaned off the ground from Pike street to the river, on the west side of Main street, in Pontiac, where the Hodges House stands; Calvin Hotchkiss, colonel; David Steward, lieutenant colonel; Henry C. Brunson, major. We soon had three or four rifle companies, in full uniform, commanded by Captain John Hamilton, Captain Archibald Phillips, Captain John Hamlin, and so on. We used to have fine parades and any amount of fun. We also had one company of horse, about thirty strong, commanded by Captain Daniel Lyon.
-- My Parents Marriage.
Father and mother were married in 1796, in Concord, Mass. Mother's name was Mary Lee. They had a family of fourteen, ten boys and four girls. Father died in 1834. Mother died April 1, 1860, and in January, 1884, seven of those children were alive, six being of the eight that came to Detroit in 1815. Two died in California during the summer of 1885.
-- My Marriage.
March 13, 1825, I married Miss Hannah Melissa Gates, on her Grandfather James Harington's farm, near the village of Auburn, Oakland county. I built a log house on part of the old homestead, and lived there until I moved to Saginaw. My daughter Mary (afterwards Mrs. Hiram Walker of Detroit) was born September 25, 1826. We had a family of seven, of whom four are still living.
MOVE TO SAGINAW.
In 1829 I moved to Saginaw, our party going on horseback, I carrying my daughter before me on a pillow. My wife's sister and several others accompanied us. The first night we camped out at Pine Run. The next day we arrived at Saginaw, and made our home in the officers' quarters--a very comfortable place, inside the stockade, until I built on the corner of Mackinaw and Washington streets.
-- Start up Trading Post.
In 1828 my brother and myself commenced the Indian trade, under the firm name of G. D. & E. S. Williams, which we continued about twelve years, under the auspices of the American Fur Company, of which James Abbott, of Detroit, was agent. There were no roads. We had, with others then at Saginaw, to go on horses (or ponies) from Saginaw to Grand Blanc, some forty odd miles, and not a house or white family the entire distance, carrying our children before us. Often, from high water and bad roads to get through, we were obliged to camp out for the night, and so always went prepared for the emergency. Over bad places, swamps, etc., we crossed on fallen trees, old logs, etc., carrying our wives and children on our backs, while the men took the ponies through or around places almost impassable. We usually traveled in companies of a dozen or more, for mutual protection and assistance.
My oldest children, Mary and Olive, had only Indian children for playmates. The chiefs gave them Indian names, in token of their friendship. The wives and daughters of the chiefs, would take them to the pay grounds, and, under the direction of the chiefs, they would draw their share of money the same as, and with, the Indian children. We bought our goods for the Indian trade, and also for what little white trade there was of the American Fur Company, and sold them our furs in the spring.
-- Military Troops at Saginaw.
Perhaps it is well to give a short sketch of the city of Saginaw at this time. The government made it a military reservation, and troops were sent there in the summer of 1822, being part of the third regiment, U.S. troops. They were ordered there from Green Bay, for the protection of the frontier. They were under the command of Major Daniel Baker, and remained at this point about fourteen months. Here they lost some valuable officers, Lieutenant Baker, the major's brother, and Lieutenant Allen, and about a dozen men. This discouraged the major, and they were ordered by the war department to Detroit.
The venerable' and beloved Dr. Pitcher, of Detroit, who was then assistant surgeon in the regular army, and had reported to Major Baker at this time, was in attendance upon the garrison. The event of withdrawing the troops tended to draw away attention from the Saginaw Valley, and retarded immigration.
The military reserve was purchased of the government by Samuel Dexter, of Dexter, Mich., for seven or eight thousand dollars. We rented the property of Mr. Dexter, and occupied it until we built up town, on Mackinaw street. Mr. Dexter often urged my brother and myself to purchase the property, which at one time he offered to us for seven thousand dollars. He afterwards sold it to Dr. Millington, of Ypsilanti, for $dollar; 11,000, who, in turn, sold it to Mr. Norman Little, for himself, Mackie, Oakley and Jennison, of New York city, for $dollar; 55,000--a nice little speculation in a short time for the doctor. Then commenced the building of Saginaw City.
"-- Governor Marcy" First Steamboat on Saginaw River.
In 1836 Mr. Norman Little came from Detroit, with Governor Mason, by the steamboat "Governor Marcy," the first steamboat that ever plowed the waters of the Saginaw River. The citizens all took a ride on the "Marcy" up the Tittabawassee River, above Green Point (which is the head of Saginaw River), a mile or two, got aground, and were most of the day getting off and back to the city, being a hard day's work instead of a day of pleasure.
-- The Financial Crisis of 1837-38.
The expenditures of the firm of Mackie & Co., of which Mr. Little was a member, in their efforts to build up Saginaw City, by the erection of various expensive structures, some of which still stand as monuments of their enterprise, amounted to a very large sum, and, followed so soon by the financial crisis of 1837-1838, it is not to be wondered at that trouble and embarrassment ensued, causing further active efforts on their part, at that time, to build up Saginaw City almost entirely to cease. Disappointed, but not discouraged, Mr. Norman Little turned his attention to the east side of the river, and in 1850 induced Mr. James M. Hoyt, of the old firm of Eli Hoyt & Co., of New York city, and his son, Mr. Jesse Hoyt, to become interested with himself, each one-third, in the site and business of East Saginaw.
-- First Steam Mill in Saginaw.
In the year 1834-1835 my brother and I (G. D. & E. S. Williams) built the first steam mill, with one saw, ever built in the Saginaw valley; and, I think, the first in the State. Harvey Williams owning one-third, he furnishing the engine and boilers. In after years it was burned down. My brother, G. D. Williams, built a fine mill afterwards, on the point opposite the first one. That was burned down. Then his sons built a first-class modern mill on the river, and it, with salt block and fixtures, still runs.
-- Indian Trade Business.
When G. D. & E. S. Williams commenced the Indian trade in 1828 we occupied the sutler's store, outside the stockade: and, as I have said, lived inside the stockade in the officers' quarters. We built the red store and occupied it as long as we continued trade. Reaume, a Frenchman and an Indian trader, (who was at that time, 1828, and at that point the agent of the American Fur Company, and was trading under them), and the Messrs. Campau had had personal difficulties of long standing, which had become an inveterate feud, creating unprofitable divisions with the Indians, amounting with them to fierce partisan hatred. The current becoming turned against Reaume, and his personal safety endangered, his store was kept closed too much of the time for him to continue a profitable agent of trade for the company at that post.
Judge Abbott, the company's superintendent at Detroit, selected the Messrs. Williams as the successors of Reaume, who became the owners of his entire interests in his Indian trade. The hatred had become so strong against Reaume by the opposition traders that they endeavored to and did set the Indians against the out-posts.
Dequindre, an active young Frenchman, clerk of the store at the forks of the Tittabawassee, was driven out of his store, by a very ugly Indian, called White Devil or Wah-be-man-e-too, White Devil taking possession with his friends, of the store, drinking and enjoying themselves until the employs came home from the woods: The clerk fled to Saginaw, got lost, and was frozen badly before he got in.
This was the state of things we found when we commenced the trade in 1828. The traders had become savage toward the Indians, and often abused them for little or no cause, which we had to put a stop to, putting in their written agreements if anything of the kind was done, without good provocation, they would be discharged.
-- Indian Trade Reestablished in the Fall of 1828.
In arranging for our winter trade, in the fall of 1828, we considered it very important to reestablish and open the trade at the Forks where the store had been broken up, that being a good business point, and it was thought best that I should go to that post. I consequently prepared to do so, with a good stock of goods for the trade.
I choose for my assistants, interpreter and runners, Jacob Gravenrod [Graverod], one of the best interpreters in the whole country, and the two younger Rays. Prudent friends endeavored to persuade me not to embark in an enterprise so evidently fraught with danger, but my own and the company's interest required the venture, and I, with my assistants, soon arrived at the post. The opposition store, with three men, was about sixty rods from mine.
The Indians in this section were, at this time, considered the worst and most dangerous in all the country, but about the best hunters and trappers of valuable furs, and it was a very important post to be maintained. I was successful in taking in a large lot of valuable furs, such as beaver, otter, martin, mink, fisher, bear, coon and muskrat and doeskin.
My men were absent from home most of the time gathering furs from the Indians; therefore I was alone and experienced many unpleasant affairs, a few of which I will relate. I soon gained the friendship of the Indians and they behaved well toward me and my men, only when put up to mischief by the opposition, who were half-breeds, and, being jealous of our success, could, with a little whisky, cause the ugly ones to give us serious trouble, but always, when sober afterwards, say they were sorry and ask forgiveness. It was necessary to have an Indian guide who understood where the hunters and trappers were in the interior. The opposition house had a very good one, who had been their guide for years and not good for much else.
-- Winter Surprise.
During the winter Gravenrod and myself, when about retiring one cold and snowy night, heard a "bang" on our outer door; soon again, another. We asked who was there; "bang" again, harder than before. We told him to go away or he would get hurt. "Let me in;" "bang" again. I picked up a hickory sapling about three feet long we had been using and crept carefully to the door, unfastened the inner door, unhooked the outer door (having double doors), and when the "bang" came again, threw open the door and sprang out. He ran, I after him, down toward his home, the snow being about a foot' deep. I came up to him in about twenty rods, struck him over the head with my hickory, and he fell into the snow. I gave him one or two good cuts across his thighs, and left him.
The next morning I left for Saginaw, on business, on an Indian pony, and as I was about starting, the fellow came in, painted black; said he was drunk and was sorry; said he was put up to it. I told him we wanted nothing to do with him, to go home and keep away from us, or he would get worse punished.
I left for Saginaw, and when twelve or fifteen miles on my way, I heard a slight noise, and, looking around, this fellow, with a shotgun on his shoulder, was trotting along behind me, looking black and ugly as possible. It gave me a little start, yet I knew he was a coward. I asked him what he was following me for. He said the clerk had sent down for some goods. I told him to take the front and trot ahead, and I kept him in the front the rest of the way to Saginaw.
On my return he came to the store, said he was sorry and ashamed of what he had done, wished me to forgive him, and, if I wanted him for a guide, he would leave the opposition and join us. Good guides were very scarce, and he being an excellent one, we took him. We found him very useful, and he remained with us ever after.
Indians are peculiar. If they feel they have been abused or punished undeservedly, they never forget it, and sometime will retaliate on you or your property; but when they deserve punishment for doing wrong, if partially drunk, they know it, and will invariably, when sober, come and say you did right; that they were wrong, and ask to be forgiven and to be friends, and they wild ever after be good friends and do anything for you.
This very thing is the cause of much of the trouble with the Indians in the western portion of our country. Government officers and traders misuse them, rob them of their reservations, their game, and often of their wives and daughters, at which they feel injured and abused. I often think they are not so much to blame, after all.
-- Fued Among Indians.
During this winter two parties of Indians came to the store from different sections, and of different totems, between whom a feud existed, of long standing. After trading their furs, they had a drink together, and began to talk up the old feud. Gravenrod, and myself made up our minds there would be trouble, and we must guard against it as much as possible.
There were about twenty, and they were outside the store. I proposed they should not come into the store, unless they gave me their knives at the door. Only one refused. I stood on the inside of the door, which, being low, one had to stoop a little. This one said he would come in, and I said he should not, unless he gave up his knife. He lowered his head to rush in, and I met him between the eyes with my fist, and he went to the ground. He jumped up and handed me his knife.
This man's brother was a chief, and a powerful man, called Chee-a-nin-nce (Big Man). The leading man from the other party was called As-see-nee-wee, one of the finest built men I ever saw. These two leading ones became the contestants, the rest of each party trying to prevent hostilities, and Gravenrod was doing his best to separate the two, as they had clinched each other. I stood by the door, in the rear of Big Man. Gravenrod, called to me at the top of his voice to pull Big Man back, for he had a knife and would kill As-see-nee-wee. I sprang and caught Big Man by the shoulders, and sprang back with all my strength, separating them, and we all came down upon the floor. Old Man, his brother and two or three more all had hold of the old man, his brother and myself holding him down, and it was all we could do, the old fellow roaring and frothing at the mouth with rage. He had dropped his knife. We got the advantage of him, so his brother could hold him. They told me to get a rope and we would tie him. Hearing this he begged us not to tie him, and he would give up and be quiet. Tying is something an Indian fears and looks upon as degrading.
While this was going on, Gravenrod got the others out of the store and started them off to their camps. It was now getting dusk. I spread some deer skins beside the chimney, in a corner, and his brother got the old man to lie down, and he soon got to sleep, and his brother watched him all night.
During the night As-see-nee-wee came to the door and asked Gravenrod to let him in, which he did. He was about sober. He came to my bed and said if I would let him have a knife, he would fix the old man so he would never trouble us again; if I would do so he would give me a big beaver skin, then worth about $dollar; 15. I said, "No, ain't you ashamed of yourself, you coward, To take the life of that good old man while asleep." He shook my hand and said. "You are right; let me out and I will go home."
In the morning they all met friendly, and soon left for their several homes. I have often thought how we barely escaped being injured. It was a terrible fight, bloodless, however. The winter passed without any more excitement.
-- More Trouble in Spring.
One pleasant day in the spring, while alone, I saw Mr. White Devil coming up from the other trading house apparently a little "set up," and I thought he would probably give me a call. I had not seen him all winter. I had kept a good hickory cane, about an inch in diameter, in the store in case of necessity, which I took in hand. White Devil came in, threw off his pack of traps and fixtures for his spring trapping, seated himself on a stool, looked ugly and about half tight. He raised his head and says, "Mis-shay-way," (my Indian name, meaning Big Elk), with an insolent and defiant hearing, which a half-drunken Indian only can assume, "give me some whisky." I refused. He placed his hand upon the handle of his tomahawk, drew his knife, and repeated the demand more fiercely than at first, and was met by another refusal as defiant as his last demand. He then sprang for me (I standing beside the door) with uplifted tomahawk and knife, aiming a blow at me which, if I had not warded it off, would doubtless have proved fatal. With my hickory cane, and keen eye on his movements, I took him on the side of his head and felled him to the floor, and being about to repeat the blow, the discomfitted hero begged for mercy. Getting up, after recovering from the stunning effects of the blow, I ordered him to leave the store, which he did and sat down in front of it in apparently deep thought, his head in his hands and blood flowing from his nose and mouth. After a little he called me to come to him, and expressed great mortification at the outrage he had attempted, and, to confirm his sincerity, promised that on his return from his trappings, if he had good luck, I should have all his furs except enough to pay his debts at the other store. I told him never to attempt anything again on me, for he would not escape as easily. I had no confidence he would keep his promise, for he had always been a fast friend of the opposition. But he did, faithfully, and became my fast friend, and would stand by my side in case of any trouble with Indians as long as he lived. I got about fifty dollars' trade on his return and all future trade.
He was a desperate fellow, had killed several during his time, and all the Indians stood in fear of him. He was finally killed. He and another hard case sat down opposite each other with a bottle of whisky between them, and commenced talking over their exploits, which was the best man, etc., exchanging drinks, until they drew their knives and commenced striking for each other's hearts, and White Devil was killed, and the other nearly so. White Devil is the same man who I have said broke up and took possession of the store the winter before I went in charge. This winter settled the question of quietly holding the Forks trading post during remaining years of trade.
-- New Stores Established.
During this winter's trade of mine at this post, my wife and daughter were with my father, on the old homestead, at Silver Lake. We established stores at River Au Sable, with a clerk and two men; one on Cass river, clerk and two men; one at Sebewaing, clerk and two men. We also commissioned several Indian women with goods to trade for us. Many were very good traders and collected many furs, and were usually very trusty and would render just account for every dollar.
-- Ship "Savage" for Hauling Goods.
My brother and I owned a small sloop of about thirty tons burden, called the "Savage," which plied constantly between Saginaw and Detroit, and many a time she was looked for with much anxiety, as often not a barrel of flour could be gathered in the valley. One spring, cranberries were very high in Detroit and Buffalo, and that spring there were any quantity on the Shiawassee low lands. We told the Indians we would buy all they would bring us. They went to picking, and we took the "Savage" and filled her full in bulk, after filling all our barrels and boxes. I think we had one thousand five hundred or two thousand bushels. She left for Detroit. I went overland.
Mr. Abbott told me there was a man from Buffalo buying all the cranberries he could. We sold him the entire cargo, delivering by the "Savage," at Buffalo, at two dollars and fifty cents per bushel. We bought about one hundred bushels of other traders at eight shillings per bushel. We thought this a very good little operation.
-- Legend of Sauk Spirits Haunting the Valley.
It has been mentioned that the ancient Chippewas imagined the country which they had wrested from the conquered Sauks, to be haunted by the spirits of those whom they had slain, and that it was only after the lapse of years that their terrors were allayed sufficiently to permit them to occupy the "haunted hunting grounds.
But the superstition still remained, and in fact, it was never entirely dispelled. Long after the Saginaw Valley was studded with white settlements, the simple Indians still believed that mysterious Sauks were lingering in their forests and along the margins of their streams for purposes of vengeance; that "Manesons,"; or bad spirits in the form of Sauk warriors, were hovering around their villages and camps and the flank of their hunting grounds, preventing them from being successful in the chase and bringing ill-fortune and discomfurt in a hundred ways.
So great was their dread that when (as was frequently the case) they became possessed with the idea that the "Manesous" were in their immediate vicinity, they would fly as if for their lives, abandoning everything, wigwams, fish, game and all their camp equipage, and no amount of ridicule from the whites could convince them of their folly or induce them to stay and face the imaginary danger. Some of the Indian bands whose country joined that of the Saginaws, played upon their weak superstition and derived profit from it by lurking around their villages or camps, frightening them into flight and then appropriating the property which they had abandoned.
-- Dried Sturgeon an Indian Delicacy.
There was a time every spring when the Indians from Saginaw and the interior would congregate in large parties for the purpose of putting up dried sturgeon, which made a very delicate dish when properly cooked, and was much used in those days by the first families of Detroit. We used to purchase considerable of it for our use. The Indians would select the best, flay them, hang them across poles in rows, about four feet from the ground and two feet apart, then a gentle smoke was kept under them until they were perfectly dry, then packed up in bales of perhaps fifty pounds each. Where they accomplished this was on the Point Au Gres (as it was then called). At a certain time every spring the sturgeon would come upon this point, which was very shallow a long distance out, and in the warm sun would work themselves to the shore until they would lie and roll like cord wood, perfectly helpless, and here the Indians would go among them and select the best. I have been on the point at these times and seen the performances. It was great sport. A little Indian will wade in to about a foot of water, find a big sturgeon (some are very large), strike a small tomahawk in his nose, straddle him; the sturgeon will carry him through the water at quite a speed, the little fellow steering by the handle of his tomahawk, not letting him go to deep water, and when he feels tired of the sport he runs his fancy nag ashore.
When their sturgeon was dry and often put up in bales for summer use, then poor, lazy, worthless Indians from a distance, having an eye to supplying themselves with provisions which they never labored to obtain, would commence, in different ways, to excite their fears that the "Manesous" were about their camps, until at last they would take to their canoes and flee, often leaving almost everything they possessed. Then the "Manesous" (the thieving Indians from the bands who had cunningly brought about the stampede for the sake of plunder) would rob the camps of what they wanted, and escape to their homes with, perhaps their summer supplies Of fish, and often of sugar and dried venison. I have met them fleeing as above; sometimes twenty or more canoes; have stopped them and tried to induce them to return, and we would go with them, as we were going by their camps); but no, it was the "Manesous." they said, and nothing could convince them differently, and away they would go, frightened nearly to death. I have visited their camps at such times, gathered up their effects that were left, and secured them in some one camp from destruction by wild animals. After a while they would return and save what was left. During these times they were perfectly miserable, actually afraid of their own shadows. It was nor alone on their annual fishing expeditions to the lake that these things occurred; similar scenes were enacted by their hunting parties in the forests of the Shiawassee and Flint, and at their summer camps, the beautiful inland lakes of their southern border. I have had them come from places miles distant, bringing their rifles to me, asking me to examine and re-sight them, declaring that the sights had been removed (and in most cases they had, but by themselves in their fright). I always did, when applied to, resight and try them until they would shoot correctly, and then they would go away cheerfully. I would tell them that they must keep their rifles where the "Manesous" could not find them.
At other times, having a little bad luck hunting or trapping, they became excited and would say that the game had been over and in their traps, and that they could nor catch: anything. Have known them to go so far as to insist that a beaver or an otter had been in their, traps and gotten out; that their traps were bewitched or spell-bound, and their rifles charmed by the "Manesous" so that they could not catch or kill anything. Then they gave a great feast, and the medicine man or conjurer, through his wise and dark performances, removed the charm, and all was well, and traps and rifles did their duty again. These things have been handed down for generations, and so through all the domains of the Saginaws their lives were made miserable by their superstitious fears; and they expiated the crimes committed by their ancestors against the unfortunate Sauks.
-- Strange Incidents Part of Indian Trade.
The Indian trade was attended with many strange incidents. Where there was opposition each party was on the lookout to get the advantage of his opponent in starting on expeditions for trade unknown to him, or, wherein it was thought they could not follow on, to get by the opposition's traveling posts so they would not know it. I started one bright, cold winter morning, about sunrise, for the bay and lake shore, with one man. We had an old style French cutter, with high back, loaded full of goods and provisions for the trade; the ice was fine, and, with skates on we shoved the sleigh before us. We were going with great speed down the river, when, about in front of where East Saginaw now stands, we found ourselves on new ice formed the night before, over an air hole. We left the cutter to save ourselves, on strong ice, when our cutter dropped into the river.
Our load consisted of corn, one two bushel bag of flour, a large bundle of dry goods, silver ornaments, etc., for Indian trade, a bundle of traps, hatchets, ice chisels, etc. We soon worked our load up to the strong ice and got all out, except the traps, etc., which went to the bottom. Our goods, being on top of the load with our blankets and provisions, were not wet. The corn and flour were pretty wet, and ourselves very wet.
The question was should we return (being only about a mile from home) or load up and go ahead? If we returned the opposition would take our place, and laugh at us, and get the trade we expected to get. We decided to go ahead. The ice being fine for skating we were not long going to the mouth of the river, and, running along the bay a few miles beyond O-kaw-kaw-ning (now called Kawkawlin) river, we drew up under a sand bank and evergreens where the sun came down warm. We made a good fire, dried ourselves, took a lunch and started on. Reaching an Indian camp, where we had a squaw trader, we left part of our corn and flour for her trade and what goods she wanted, and left and camped at the River Au Gres, making our day's run some fifty miles or more.
Next day we arrived at the River Au Sable, where we had a trading post. We had sold our corn and flour before we reached the River Au Gres, where we camped the first night. The cotton bag with the flour had wet in, and considerable flour stuck to it. I requested the squaw to dry it and keep it until my return. While at the Sable a heavy wind broke the ice up, in the bay and lake, making it difficult to get back, leaving to keep along the shore, we left our cutter, and with packs on our backs, made our way slowly homeward.
When we got back to where we left our flour bag we had about used up all our provisions, always depending much upon the Indians; but, the ice being gone, we found them very destitute, in some cases almost starving, as the lake Indians depended on fish for their living, going out a great distance to fish through the ice, often getting camped down for the night by a fire. The young men came in from hunting, but had killed nothing and they had nothing to eat. I asked the squaw if she had cleaned the flour off the bag that stuck to it, being wet. I supposed she had, she said she had not, thinking we might want it on our return she brought it forward, and it being heavy I told her to scrape the flour off and cook it up for our suppers. She was more than pleased to do so. I told her to cook it the way she could make the most of it. She made a large kettle full of Per-quish-a-gan-nor-bo, flour mush made about like our paste, only thin, so you eat it with a spoon. I asked her then to give it out to all her family. She gave us a good pan full, which made us a good supper.
This night was very cold and the following morning extremely so. I supposed our paste was all gone, but no, this good woman had kept a pan full for our breakfast, which she gave us hot and good. As we were about to leave and bid them good-bye the old father of the large family who laid in one side of the wigwam almost helpless, fumbled over his bags near him; he took out a dried fish, about the size of a medium whitefish, and addressed me with. "My son, this is a very cold morning, you have a very cold trip, you will find it very cold traveling on the ice on the other side of the point, you have nothing to eat and you will find the Indians on your route very poor and hungry, take this fish. It's the only thing we have left; I have kept it in case of necessity; this cold spell will make ice so my sons can go out and catch more; you will need it more than I." I thanked him and said "no." and handed it back to him, he would not take it but insisted I should do so. I cut the fish in halves and handed him a half, and told him I could not take it all from him; he accepted the half, and we shook hands and departed.
We soon crossed the point and found it as the old man said, severely cold and the ice slippery, obliging us to keep nearer the shore on the old ice and snow. We traveled until in the afternoon, it was so cold we could not stand it, and, seeing a smoke in the woods, we concluded to make for it, And take quarters for the night-. We found the women and children all out digging in about eight or ten inches of snow for acorns, which was all they bad to eat. These they boiled and made a kind of mush, which was not very bad. We took quarters for the night with them, for it was a long distance before we should find another camp.
About dusk one or two hunters came in with a large raccoon, and there was much rejoicing all around. They soon had him dressed and in the kettle, and, when cooked, the lady of the house kindly presented us with one shoulder of Mr. 'Coon, in a clean wooden dish, which was really more than our proportion, and, with our half fish, we made our supper. It was awful cold; they kept fire all night, still we could sleep but very little.
We started in the morning, without breakfast, traveled all day and until after dark, when I became about tired out, and told my man we must go in shore and camp, for I could not go much further. He thought the same. He said we must be near the Indian camp, where we left corn and flour on our way out, and just at that moment he said, "I smell smoke." and he gave an Indian whoop, and a dog answered. This was a cheering sound, so we rushed in toward shore, and soon arrived at the camp, where lay beside the camp a dozen or more fine, large, fresh trout the old man had just brought in from the bay. Oh, how good they did look! We never saw a more gratifying sight than when the woman and her two daughters met us at the door and welcomed us in (they were our trading women I spoke of). They had a nice, clean, warm camp. They soon laid down some mats and made a place for us. The old man said, "You must be tired and hungry." We replied, "Yes." I said, "I am almost dead."
We laid down and the women took off our moccasins and leggings, which were frozen on our feet. They were cleaned off and hung in the smoke for morning use. The girls pounded some corn, and soon a kettle of hominy was cooking, with a kettle of those beautiful trout, and a cake of bread baked in the ashes. "You bet" we had a feast and plenty kept warm for breakfast. Never could any one be more kindly treated and cared for. We were now a good hard day's walk from home. I was not used to such marches and it was very hard for me. My man could stand it better, being an old traveler for years and used to it.
The next morning we started for home, both with pretty heavy packs on our backs. We soon entered the mouth of the Saginaw River, where we found plenty of snow. We arrived home about sundown and all were glad to see us.
-- New Year's Day Dinner and Recall Good Times.
This was New Year's day and Mrs. Williams had gotten up a New Year's dinner for all, my brother, his wife, and the men, expecting me home. After washing, changing clothes, and a general cleaning up, we sat down to a splendid table and happy home and happy New Year. We should not have had as hard a trip but for the ice breaking up.
I always had pleasant trips every spring in a birch canoe, going as far as Thunder Bay (where I suppose Alpena is now situated), gathering furs along the coast and bringing home the store and men from Au Sable. They also had a large bark canoe and we usually had them both loaded, their capacity being two tons each. Often we could only make the river and run up as far as where Bay City now is, where we would make our camp on an old Indian camping ground, not being able to run the river in the night.
-- Indian Camp Stories.
The Indians are peculiar for telling stories, and delight in listening to others from the traders. They will lie, smoke and tell stories, which are very long, half the night. When we get camped down with them for the night, a chief, perhaps, or the head of a family, will say, "Well, come, tell a story," as they call it, art-soo-kay. They usually begin and make it mostly as they go on.
One I heard told, was as follows: He commenced to explain how the beaver came by his large, fiat tail, and the muskrat by his round one. He said: "Originally, the beaver had the round tail and the muskrat the flat one. The beaver was at work, building his dam across a small stream, for the purpose of forming a small pond to live in. After cutting his timber and brush, floating and placing it in his dam, and getting it ready for sand and gravel, he could not contrive how he should transport his sand and gravel, to make his dam water tight. While in this state of mind, a muskrat came along, with his broad, fiat tail. examining the beaver's works. lie inquired how he would get his sand and gravel for his dam. Beaver said he had been thinking it over, and thought perhaps they had better exchange fails for a time, or until Mr. Beaver could finish his dam. Muskrat having no particular use for his fiat tail, consented to accommodate his friend beaver, and they exchanged. Beaver went on and carted sand and gravel on his fiat tail and finished his dam. Then muskrat wanted to trade back, but beaver, finding it just what he required for his work, objected to changing back, and beaver being a large, stout fellow and muskrat a small one, the latter stood no chance to contend with beaver, and so they have always remained to the present time." This story relates to many facts of the beaver's life which my friends are acquainted with. Their working in past years--remains of their dams--are to be seen at this day in very many places in our State, showing their wonderful ingenuity. When they are at work, building their dams, they keep an old, experienced beaver as sentinel on watch, and upon the appearance of anyone, or hearing any strange noise, he will strike his tail upon the water in such a manner as to give a loud sound, upon which signal all disappear in an instant and remain until the watchman, by another signal, notifies them all is right again, and they go to work. If an Indian discovers the beavers at work, and has ever so good an opportunity to kill one, he never fires upon them, fearing it may break up their work. He prefers co trap them in a quiet way. The Indian first discovering their works claims them as his own property, and preserves them from year to year, only catching a few each year, as he may require, to pay his debts, in case he has bad luck otherwise. No other Indian ever presumes to set his traps without the owner's consent. Somehow, they know if an intruder has trapped their game, and soon find out, through the traders or otherwise, who it was, and demand pay for what they stole, unless otherwise satisfactorily settled.
The following is another story they often tell: "The animals called a convention, to meet at a certain time and place, to consult upon grave matters for their mutual benefit. After being called to order, a chairman chosen and many big talks made in great confusion, the turtle arose to make a few remarks, in answer to what had been said by some of the members of the convention, when he was called to order by the skunk and others. The turtle became displeased, and withdrew from the convention in disgust, and leaving, he was followed by Mr. Skunk. Turtle being followed closely, and much annoyed by his pursuer, he ran up a tree, getting out of the way of the skunk, and soon the convention broke up, and the turtle came down and went home." They will spin these stories to a great length. I have thought we have some modern conventions, with troublesome skunks in them. I think this must suffice for stories, although I could give you many more. You already have the Ne-war-go affair. I would like to give a few instances of the Indian cures which I have witnessed. The old chief speaker, O-Gee-Maw-Ke-Ke-To, was the head chief and business manager of the Saginaw Indians. He was stabbed across the body so the lower part of his liver came out about an inch. The conjurer or Indian doctor said he must die unless a piece of his liver was cut off and cooked and eaten by him, which was done and he was cured and lived many years. Another fine man and splendid hunter, at one of their feasts (on the ground where East Saginaw stands), became intoxicated as well as the rest. He rolled against the fire, and being unconscious one side of him was literally cooked; the flesh came off his side, leaving his ribs bare, and his thigh and arm to the bone. No one supposed he could live but a short time, but they went to work and cured him, and he was able to hunt and carry a deer on his back. They caused the flesh to grow over all the bones perfectly. He lay on his back six months before he was able to get up and about. I often visited him, and the whites rendered all the assistance and little necessities they could for his comfort. I suppose our doctors would call that patent-medicine treatment. It was done without the drugs of the present day. Their medicines were all taken from the woods and the ground. It was perfectly wonderful to see the cures they would perform.
Another one was the case of a young married man, whom I knew very well, living near us, at Green Point. He was in the woods, a short distance from his camp. He cut down a tree for a coon, and, in falling it, somehow caught his foot as it fell, so fast that he could not extricate himself. Night coming on, he unjointed his ankle and crawled home. He was cured and lived to good old age, and was an excellent trapper,--going in his canoe.
-- Spring Trip to Forks Store.
I went one spring with a canoe loaded, and three Indians, with supplies for our store at the Forks. The water was very high, flooding the settlers on the river bottoms. Mr. Whitney was one flooded out. He was at Saginaw when I left, and wished me to look into his house and see how things were. Mrs. Whitney was at a neighbor's, on the opposite side, on a high bank. We ran up to the door, opened it, and found the floor afloat, about three feet of water in the house; their dog and cat on the floating floor. We took them in the canoe across the river, to Mrs. Whitney, and went on our journey.
At another time a sudden freshet raised the ice, which was a foot thick, from the shores. It being necessary to get supplies to the store at the Forks before the ice broke up, we laid timbers from the shore, on to the ice at Saginaw, got a loaded pony and sleigh on to it, and I went to the Forks, stayed over night, covered up the pony, and fed him in the sleigh. He stood on the ice all night. We took the load off on poles, laid from ice to shore. Next day we loaded with furs and returned to Saginaw, not getting off the ice the entire distance, some thirty miles or more.
-- Small-pox Deadly to Indians.
Small-pox broke out among the Indians and the poor creatures were frightened and fled in all directions; a great many died. Although some of their villages were only a few miles from Saginaw, there never was known one of them to expose a settler on the river and come into town. We had several men who had had the smallpox; they ventured to take supplies to them and the citizens joined and would send a canoe load every day to the nearest families. I went to the Forks in the summer after, in a canoe (this was the only way we traveled). I found two Indian persons partly buried in the sand at the water's edge, where they had crawled down to drink and died there. The settlers turned out, upon being notified, and buried them. Some were found dead in their camps, when their friends had fled and left the sick to die.
-- Appointed Saginaw Postmaster by President Jackson.
I was appointed postmaster at Saginaw by President Jackson and held the office several years, until the spring of 1840. I built the first postoffice with boxes. I was also elected register of deeds and county clerk. I procured the first record books for deeds and also record of mortgages and had them approved by the judges.
-- Fishing for Wall-eye.
In the spring of the year, in high water, the ice being gone, the wall-eyed pike would run up the Saginaw in great numbers, running on to the Shiawassee meadows which were over-flowed for miles, from three to six feet deep. One beautiful warm spring morning, Major William Moseley and myself proposed to go up the Shiawassee River about four miles and have a little sport, spearing in the evening by torch-light. I took a large canoe, one man, our lunch basket, blankets, etc., expecting to stay over night. Arriving at the Indian camps the water for miles was like a mirror in the hot sun. We went out a short time and found the water alive with fish. We speared a good many, with much sport. The Indians proposed if I would buy the fish they would all go out and spear enough to fill our canoes. I agreed to do so, and in an hour or two they came in alongside my canoe. I would count the fish, taking each Indian's name and number of his fish on a pass book. We loaded our canoe, and I engaged two others, loaded all, and got home before dark, when we set men to work cleaning and packing for market. Next morning, the result of our day's sport was thirty barrels, then worth and sold for five dollars per barrel. These fish were in schools and the water black with them. An Indian stood in the bow with a spear, while one in the stern would hold the canoe still on one of these schools and the spearsman would fill his canoe, often bringing up three and four fish at a time, averaging from three to six and eight pounds each. We used to take a good many with seines in the Saginaw, opposite the city, but it was not a success, there being so much sunken floodwood.
-- First Griss Mill at Owasso.
Daniel S. Ball and Hon. Sanford M. Green built the first grist mill at 0wosso, Shiawassee county. I think they purchased the mill site from my brothers, A. L. and B. O. Williams, of that place. Our sloop "Savage" brought the mill-stones and all the machinery from Detroit to Saginaw, Judge Green and a gang of men, with much hard labor and vexation of spirit, boated it up the Shiawassee, to Owosso. The judge is still well, residing at Bay City, and is judge of that district. These were pioneer days in earnest.
-- Trip to Silver Lake and Pontiac.
In the winter of 1830 I left Saginaw, in a cutter, for my father's at Silver Lake and Pontiac, with Mrs. Williams and daughter, whom I left on a visit until the summer of 1830. Mr. Louis Moran, who carried the Mackinaw and Sault Ste. Marie U. S. Mail from Saginaw to Detroit once a month during the winter months, accompanied us. He had Mrs. Antoine Campau, who was going to Detroit for a visit with her friends until spring. We took the ice up the Cass River, and on one of the rapids my sleigh broke through, letting the water into cutter enough to wet our clothing, lunch basket, my wife's and daughter's feet and lower part of their dresses, and our robes some. We got out into strong ice, got the water off as well as we could, and I wrapped their feet and clothes up in the dry part of the robes and blankets, and, finding the ice unsafe, we made our way through the woods for the road, and got as far as Pine Run, within about twelve miles of Flint, where we camped for the night on an Indian camping ground. We found part of an Indian camp of barks, which we placed so as to break off the wind, and, with a good fire, we passed the night, Mr. Moran and myself keeping a good fire all night. I dried all I could of our wet effects and had them dry for wife and daughter in the morning, for the rest of our journey, arriving at father's that day. Several times on leaving Saginaw in the spring for Silver Lake, I went with the family up the Flint River, in a canoe, rather than by the road through the woods. At that time of the year, on account of high water, the road was almost impassable. It took two hard days' work to make the journey to Flint, the river being high and very rapid. I had the assistance of two or three Indians to work us up.
-- Viscous Swarms of Mosquitoes.
In closing up Our business every spring, before leaving for Detroit to sell our furs and prepare for the next winter's trade, I had a good deal of writing to do. The mosquitoes were so annoying, I would set a table in the middle Of the store floor, with a kettle of smoke under it, and write until almost blinded. My eyes would get so sore I could scarcely see for some time after, but this was the only way we could write. They were so bad, tire only way in the morning, going to the river for water, when twenty or thirty feet from the river, to shut eyes and mouth, run, dash the pail into the river, fill it, and run almost for life. By eight or nine o'clock P. M., the cattle and horses would come rushing from the woods for the clearing, where we kept large smokes for them--they would be covered black with mosquitoes and blood. We had to enclose our beds, windows, doors, and even the fire-place with millenett, if not they would come down the chimney and fill the room full. I never saw anything like it. As we cleared and made improvements, they fell back, and in a few years they became less troublesome.
-- Trade Bounty.
The first winter after commencing trade, in 1828, we put up five packs of muskrat skins, 500 in a pack, making 2,500, and this was more than the traders had been in the habit of putting up. The last year of our trade, at the end of twelve years, we put up fifty-six packs of 500 each, making an annual increase up to 28,000 muskrat skins, in those days worth from twenty-five to fifty cents each. All other furs increased in proportion. Martin skins--we only took in the first year about 400 or 500. They increased annually, until we took in from 1,500 to 2,000. They were worth from one to two dollars each. I left Saginaw in the spring of 1840 for Pontiac, where I went into business. Times changed and I did not make it a success.
MOVE TO FLINT.
In the fall of 1849 Mr. Hiram Walker established a grocery store at Flint, under a Mr. Wright, who had been a clerk some years for Mr. Walker, and who, towards spring, got homesick and wished to return to Detroit, and said he could not stay any longer. The store was doing a good business, and Mr. Walker did not want to withdraw the store. He proposed to me to go to Flint and take charge of the store, which, after our talking the matter over, I concluded to do. I was then living in Detroit, and Mr. Walker and wife and daughter (now Mrs. Theodore Buhl), boarded with me. The first of April, 1850, I left for Flint, to take charge of the store, managed it several years and had a large trade. In 1852–3 I built a three-story brick block, finished off a store, and in the rear a postoffice, the first one in Flint with drawers and boxes, and this was the first three-story brick block in Flint. I was appointed postmaster by President Pierce when he was elected, and held the office for eight years, until the election of President Lincoln. During that time I was elected mayor of the city of Flint, where I have since lived and have seen our city grow up from a wilderness, without a single house, to a beautiful city of ten thousand inhabitants.
-- Recalling Changes Along Saginaw River.
I used to camp on the river bank where is now Bay City, with over twenty thousand inhabitants. East Saginaw, from a wilderness to a city of equal population, Saginaw City to ten or twelve thousand, and several smaller towns, in fact, the whole Saginaw Valley is almost a city its entire length. It seems almost like a dream when I look back to its primitive state and now see the cities and railroads running in all directions, and the country covered with beautiful farms. Genesee county, I think, is one of the finest agricultural counties in the State of Michigan. When I first went to Saginaw we were a part of the town of Pontiac, where we had to go to vote and transact our town business. The first white child born in Saginaw was my daughter Julia (now Mrs. Charles Hascall), born September 9, 1833. The second female child was Mary Jewett, 1834. The first male white child was William Williams's son, born March 12, 1834.
-- Recalling Years as Postmaster at Saginaw.
When I was postmaster at Saginaw the mail was first carried by Joshua Terry in a valise, most of the time on his back; it used to come to Flint in mud wagons, and often through the Grand Blanc woods the passengers would get out and with rails pry the stage wagon out of the mud, rarely arriving at Flint before l0 or 12 P. M., and often we had to sit up all night for it, to distribute and make up the mails for Saginaw to leave early in the morning. It is very different now. The mails from Saginaw to Mackinaw and the Sault Ste. Marie were carried on the backs of half breeds, or on dog sleighs. I have put up ninety pounds of mail matter, leaving out all books and heavy newspapers. A man would carry that weight on his back, besides his snow shoes, blanket, provisions, hatchet and tin cup. Several times I took my man and goods and went with him as far as Thunder Bay collecting furs. I was astonished to see how easily he carried his lead. All his provisions were parched corn pounded fine and Indian sugar, mixed with cold water and drank. He said he could travel farther on that than any other, even pork and bread.
I remember some other little incidents of my early days in Saginaw, and of Indian peculiarities, which I will, try and give some other time.