Page images
PDF
EPUB

would not be taken far from home. With all these reverses of the old pioneer he still forged ahead and we of to-day can hardly realize the trials that beset him. Look upon the country as it was seventy years ago when the hand of man had scarcely touched it and to-day with its fine farms, flourishing villages and cities with large manufacturing interests, fine schoolhouses and elegant churches.. We are amazed at the changes time has wrought.

EIGHTY YEARS IN MICHIGAN

BY P. S. RICHARDS?

My father was one of the advanced pioneers of the country, and cleared and put in fair cultivation two new farms in the state of New York, and four in Michigan, and died at the early age of fifty three years. In the spring of 1826 he and his family left the state of New York on the first vessel that left Buffalo. All went well until we got opposite the coast of Ashtabula in Ohio when a storm arose, and Capt. Gillet? being an old sailor, concluded to cast anchor, which we continued for twentyfour hours. Capt. Gillet said that he had sailed the lakes for twenty years and it was the heaviest storm he had ever encountered. Several times we gave up in despair, but God ruled the storm and we were saved, and after seven days arrived at Detroit.

After securing a house for the family for a short time, father went into the wilderness to locate some government land, which he did in the Township of Superior, Washtenaw County, four miles north of Ypsilanti. The next move was to get onto the land, and to go by land through a low heavy timbered country was not advisable, so they hired some men with a scow, [a water craft twelve feet wide and about twentyfive feet long,] and on this they put their goods and family and went down Detroit River eighteen miles and four miles along the western

Read by Dr. Gertrude Bangs at annual meeting, 1910.

*Captain Reynolds Gillet was born in Lynn, Conn., in 1797, his brother Shadrick in 1801. Reynolds early became a sailor and in 1820 had risen to the rank of captain of the schooner Red Jacket. In 1824 he owned the schooner Superior. During this time he must have been living in Detroit as his young wife Mary died there August 30, 1826, aged twenty-six. He was prominent in local politics and interested in lake commerce. In 1837 he owned the steamboats Detroit and General Brady and the schooner Mary Elizabeth. He was a member of the Convention of Assent which met at Ann Arbor, Dec. 1, 1836, was elected county treasurer and served two years from 1840-1843, was appointed deputy United States marshal for Michigan district. His home was on the northwest corner of Congress and Cass streets. Here he died Jan, 7, 1850, aged fifty-three years. His second wife was Charlotte Mack of Chautauqua Co., N. Y. She died Dec. 29, 1873. They had five children, William I., John R., Mary, Pauline and Charlotte. Buffalo Hist. Soc. Publ., V, p. 301; Detroit News-Tribune, Jan. 12, 1896, The Gillett Family.

shore of Lake Erie when they came to the mouth of Huron River. After seven days on this river they arrived at Rawsonville, the current being too strong to go any further; every night they would go ashore and camp, generally among the Indians who received them cordially and who would bring them provisions.

After arriving at Rawsonville, the next thing was to get on the land so they hired a man with a yoke of oxen. They cut down a crotched tree, cut off the branches the proper length and bored holes in the branches and put stakes in them and poles across, put their goods thereon and hitched the oxen to it. They had to hew off the butt end of the tree to get it in the ox ring, which was about eight or ten inches in diameter, then they drew it to the land that was to be our home, a distance of nine miles, the family going on foot.

The next was to build a log house, and they cut some small logs and put up a house, thirteen by seventeen, and finished it without putting a nail in it. This may seem strange to the present generation, but "poverty which is the mother of invention” and Yankee ingenuity will accomplish wonders. When they wanted to use a nail they would bore a hole and drive in a pin.

It was so late before they got their house so that they could get into it, that they could only get a little of the wood chopped off to get some seeds in the ground. They would cut down the timber, pile and burn the brush and plant their potatoes and sow some turnips where the brush was burned, but my! how those turnips did grow, they were monstrous, and the potatoes were not far behind them.

The inhabitants, though few in number, were very patriotic and concluded to have a Fourth of July celebration at Ypsilanti, which consisted of a few log houses, not a frame house there. There was on the west side of Huron River quite a large Indian orchard and in that orchard was camped about five hundred Indians and among the exercises of the day they had a war dance. They picked out fifty young warriors, dressed and painted them in regular war costume and they danced for two hours while my father drummed.

As time passed on, emigration came in quite rapidly and we soon had quite a settlement. About two years after we came here there was quite an excitement in our neighborhood over a bear that went into a neighbor's hog pen and carried off a hog. Excitement ran high and men turned out far and near and all met at our house. There were many good marksmen and many were the boasts that they would capture the bear. It was agreed that no one should fire off a gun unless he saw the bear.

My father was not much of a hunter and I don't know as he ever owned a rifle but he had a shot gun that would carry a ball quite well, so he loaded his gun and started off with his little dog Trip following him. He went one and one-half miles north-west and all of a sudden the dog started a vigorous barking and father stopped and saw a bear sitting on her haunches chattering at the dog. Father took aim at her heart and fired; the bear made two heavy leaps and fell dead. The report of the gun soon brought the crowd together and after looking her over they concluded she would weigh nine hundred pounds. While they were looking her over father started to get his team and soon came with his oxen and sled. He had one of those old fashioned sleds about ten feet long. When they got her loaded on the sled, her head laid over the roll touching the ground and her hind feet dragged on the ground back of the hind beam. He drew it home and they skinned it and had bear beef about the neighborhood for a long time.

There were a great many Indians about here and we soon got acquainted with them and learned to talk with them. One of them came quite often, generally about noon. One day he came in and as he stood with his back to the fire looking on the table he saw father take and eat a pickled pepper and he wanted one. As father was always generous he picked the best on the dish and gave it to him. He ate it and when he drew in his breath such groaning you don't often hear. “Oh die, die” he exclaimed and then he wanted some water and they gave him some and then it was "die, die more.” He soon left and that was the last we heard of him.

After living here four years, father sold out and bought some wild land two miles east of Ypsilanti village. Here he commenced in the virgin soil and soon had land in a fair state of cultivation. Nothing worthy of note occurred until the fall of 1832, after the close of the Black Hawk war. One day I was looking to the west and I saw ten or fifteen men coming and one in their midst about head and shoulders above the average of them. I soon learned that it was the celebrated Indian Chief Black Hawk, whom they had captured in the west near the Mississippi. Not wishing to harm him, they brought him to Detroit, then to New York and on to Washington to see the big guns there, and he said "white man too much for Indian” so they sent him home.

In the fall of 1832 the Territorial Government of Michigan caused the survey of the Detroit and Grand Rapids turn pike and in the spring of 1833 father sold again and purchased 240 acres of government land on the line of this road. During the summer he put up a log house and plowed some land for wheat and cut some marsh hay, and the last of August he started for his new home with two yoke of oxen and wagon, a horse and wagon, and my sister, thirteen years old, to do the cooking and myself for her company and two young men to help him with his work. On the way he took a heavy cold and when he got there he turned out his teams and went to bed. For three weeks he was unconscious of his situation and when he was able to know we were in almost a starving condition. What to do we did not know as not anything could be bought here and after a consultation father and mother concluded the only thing they could do was to send me back to the old home to get what I could in a bag. So I saddled my horse and started. I was only nine years old. I had to go twenty-five miles and an almost dense wilderness before me with no road, only a few marked trees and a few wagon tracks for a distance of about seventeen miles before I came to a traveled road. I went through, got my bag filled and the next day returned without any accident.

It was several weeks before father could do much work and he did not get any wheat sowed. It was late before he got his house fixed for winter. But time passed on, emigration came flowing in and on the 25th of November he hung out a sign for a hotel. Here it was that I became acquainted with many of the early inhabitants of Livingston County; among the names I remember were Kinsley S. Bingham and Joseph Lovee of Green Oak and S. B. Noble of Brighton, also Mr. Evert Woodruff who came into the township of Brighton in the spring of 1833 and owned a mill between Kensington and Brighton, and F. J. B. Crane, who built the first frame house in Howell; also the Thompson family who built the first mill in Howell and Amos Adams, a surveyor by profession, and family; William McPherson, the Scotch blacksmith and many others whose names I do not remember. In the winter of 1836-7 the Legislature of Michigan passed a banking laws so easy for people to start a bank that the State was soon flooded with bank paper and money became so plenty that property rose to enormous prices and many good, honest farmers were influenced to take bank stock, among them my father. He took five shares in the Kensington Bank and mortgaged forty acres of his farm as security. The bank failed and it was reported that the stockholders were holden for the whole outstanding circulation. They were badly scared and many of them sold their farms and moved to other parts of the country. If they had stayed on their farms they would not have been injured for the whole concern was pronounced unconstitutional. Thus went the Wild Cat Banking Law. When the excitement of the Wild Cat Banking Law had passed and the money business had found a solid basis there was a great reaction in business and prices dropped almost out of sight (except merchandise). Immigration ceased to flow in and labor dropped to a mere pittance. You could hire good help for $8.00 and $10.00 per

3 This was a bill to organize and regulate banking associations and was passed with the approval of the governor March 15, 1837. See Vol. II, p. 111, this series paper by Gov. Felch.

month. Wheat fell from $2.00 a bushel to three shillings in one year and pork from $9.00 to $1.50 per hundred lbs., and prices were slow to rise. I have drawn flour from Michigan Center to Detroit a distance of seventy-five miles for twenty cents a barrel and cut and split rails for fifty cents a hundred and as late as 1846 I cut four foot wood for twenty-five cents a cord. In the spring of 1838 my father sold again and bought another piece of new land in the Township of Leoni, Jackson County, where he toiled and labored for seven years and was gathered to the reward of his labors.

I have said considerable of the doings of my father and I would be very ungrateful if I did not say something in honor of my mother. She was my father's equal in every respect; in energy; ambition and perseverence. We children were destitute of foot-wear and my mother took some wool of Lewis Cass, who was governor of Michigan Territory for eighteen years, and carded, spun and knit one-half, for the other half, which she knit into stockings, the first we had in Michigan. Mother was a woman of great ambition and besides doing her own work she did considerable for others and in 1835 she wove over 700 yards of woolen cloth for her neighbors. She lived to a good old age, eighty-eight years.

As for myself, I have but little to say though I have seen considerable of pioneer life. I have heard the wolves snarl and growl on our door steps. I have seen a great deal of sickness, whole families lying prostrate on beds of disease, and have helped to bury the dead, when two of us carried a coffin a mile, dug a grave and buried the body.

One of the hardships of the young was going to school. In all new places it takes several years to get school districts organized and schoolhouses built, but for present purposes they would have a bee and put up a log house, put on a roof, chink it on the inside and mud it on the outside, put in windows on each side and one end, lay a floor of some rough boards and put a door in one corner and the house was ready. The furniture consisted of a row of boards for writing tables on each side and one end, some slabs for benches and at one end the fire-place, with a wooden shovel in one corner and six or eight blue beech whips in the other corner. I have been to school in just such a house and the children came three and four miles to attend it. The last term of school I ever attended I walked four miles morning and night.

In the spring of 1856 I purchased 196 acres of heavy timber land in Cohoctah and built a good log house. In the spring of 1860 I moved on to it and have made a good improvement on it. Twenty-three years ago I gave it up to my son to work and he has built him a good house, but I dwell in my old log house where I expect to live until I am called to a better mansion above.

« PreviousContinue »