VOL: 10 PIONEER COLLECTIONS
REMEMBRANCES OF EARLY DAYS
INDIANS AND AN INDIAN TRAIL– A TRIP FROM PONTIAC TO GRAND BLANC AND THE SAGINAWS
BY EPHRAIM S. WILLIAMS, OF FLINT
In the days past and gone, as we traveled from Pontiac to Grand Blanc and Saginaw, following the only road, the long traveled Indian trail, over the beautiful oak openings being burned over b the Indians, perfectly clean, and in June covered with beautiful flowers of almost all colors, it was like traveling through flower gardens-there could scarcely be anything more pleasant and beautiful. The openings were in gentle rolling swell, and from those you could look for miles in many places over the country, like looking through extensive orchards, and see deer, often in herds from ten to fifteen or twenty, feeding upon the acorns–nothing more beautiful.
Now the deer are killed or driven back, the beautiful openings cultivated converted into splendid farms, and more sad, the old pioneers of those days who toiled and suffered many privations of pioneer life, are almost all gone to their rest, but such is life.
Perhaps about half way, going towards the north, a few feet from the trail. Where some very singular tracks, or what resembled, tracks. The Indian legend was that an Indian warrior being shot on the brow of one of these ridges, ran down the slope, near the trail, making very long steps, or perhaps jumps, leaving deep impressions in the ground, the steps being from six to eight feet apart. Taking from seven to nine steps, then falling, his shoulder and hip made an impression in the ground. This was said to have been in some of the Indian wars, years and years before. These prints of feet and body were kept sacred by the Indians up to our day. They kept him free from leaves and clean for so many years they were worn down several inches. All Indians passing stopped and had certain ceremonies over them, and the young men would try and make the jumps from step to step. We almost always stopped and examined them. These steps and marks in the ground were preserved and kept as perfect as possible until the country became settled and made into beautiful farms.
A Mr. Brainerd, an early settler in the town of Grand Blanc, wrote a sketch of some of his pioneer life. He speaks of these steps (I quote his words): “When about half way to Pontiac from Grand Blanc a party of Indians were on their way to Detroit to engage in war. One Indian would not consent to fight on either side; of course he was shot. He reeled, and ran down the side of the trail, making nine tracks and falling upon his hip and shoulder. These were always called the “Indian nine tracks.” I have been on the spot several times, and tried to go through the performance for the novelty of the thing. The trail and steps were quite deep, and the nine tracks’ were all very plain to be seen in 1834.”
I will mention another incident of an Indian legend which Mr. Brainerd mentions. He says: “There was a hole dug and stoned up, about four feet deep, and two feet or more across, one mile from my place, on the bank of Thread river. Report has it that in 1812 the Indians took a white man prisoner at Detroit, and brought him out here, dug and stoned up this hole, then placed the man in it and burned him. The stones show the effect of fire. I have been at the place often; it could not have been dug for a well, for the Indians never take trouble to dig for water.”
Mr. Brainerd more than probably formed a wrong opinion of the stone well being made to burn a prisoner in. I think I can solve the problem more satisfactorily about the use of the well. I have seen many such places. The Indians dig them, stone the up, or throw stones in loose, then build heavy fires in the pit, heating the stones as hot as possible. They then fill the pit, over the heated stones, with a certain kind of roots, cover them over tight; the hot stones cook the roots, for several days, which prepares them for food. Some of these roots are very poisonous in their natural state, but after this cooking they make a safe and good food. This, I am satisfied from experience, was the use made of the well, instead of burning white men, as Mr. Brainerd says. I have eaten the roots spoken of, in the Indian camps, and they were very palatable.
Many of our early settlers formed very strange ideas of the Indian character, and their doings, which has caused so many strange notions about the Indians by the early pioneers, and many of them have been handed down to the present time. I quote again from Mr. Brainerd:
“In the spring of 1833, on the first Monday in April, we held the first township meeting, at the center of the town of Grand Blanc, at the house of Rufus Stevens. J.R. Smith offered a resolution: Resolved, that we call this township ‘Grand Blanc’ (carried). Norman Davison was now elected and Charles Butler, assessors.” (I wish to say here this Lyman Stow spoken of was the first postmaster in Flint. The mails were so small that Postmaster Stow carried the letters around in his hat and delivered them as he met his neighbors, and was looked upon as a great convenience.) “John Todd, Jonathan Dayton and Edmund Perry, commissioners of highways. The overseers of highways, district No. 1, George Oliver; No. 2, Jonathan Davison; No. 3, Norman Davison; No. 4, Ira Dayton; four districts extending to Saginaw. Fentonville, Lapeer and Pontiac. At this town meeting an amusing incident occurred. After the election was over one of the citizens being fired by the results of the day and a portion of whisky, mounted his horse and rode upon the stoop of the house to bid us good bye. The floor of the stoop gave way and precipitated horse and rider into the cellar; the cellar extended under the stoop. All these adventures helped to cheer the path of the pioneer.”
July 8, 1833, we held another election for delegate to Congress for the county of Oakland. Austin E. Wing received 42 votes, William Trowbridge one vote, Lucius Lyon, 12 votes. For member of the legislature, Thomas I. Drake received 51 votes. Grand Blanc bears off the palm of all towns in the county for her first town meeting and county officers of the day. Mr. Brainerd continues: “This year, 1834, has been one of pain and sorrow for the pioneer in this part of Michigan. The spring seemed very backward. Emigration had become so great among us it settled our part of the town fast; a good many log houses had to be built and I think it caused sickness. The houses were made of green logs, and in the summer the sap in the logs soured and smelled offensively in hot days. Living and sleeping in them I think caused much sickness, such as fever and ague and chill fever; a number died of fever this fall.”
There were hardly well ones enough to take care of the sick; those days were truly discouraging.
Mr. Brainerd says: “We had to send to Pontiac for all our groceries except a few articles. Soda for cake we made of cob ashes; our coffee is made out of burned bread; tea, sometimes out of sage leaves, and sometimes from sassafras root bark. Our sugar some of us made from our maple trees. Ginger we sent to Pontiac for, and often found it mixed with corn meal.”
I will now continue my course towards Saginaw. Between Grand Blanc and Flint the Indian trail passed over a beautiful rise of ground, which theIndians had cleared and surrounded with plum trees, which bore any amount of wild plums, red and yellow, the finest I ever saw. This spot was, perhaps, forty or fifty feet in diameter, the trail passing through nearly in the center of this beautiful, green grass spot, where all travelers, both white and Indian, stopped. The Indian always stopped, as it was a place of Indian worship. Beside the trail, nearly in the center of this spot, stood a very peculiarly shaped stone, perhaps four feet high, erected by the Indians as one of their idols or gods. They called it Bab-o-quash. They never allowed themselves to pass this stone without stopping and talking a lingo with their god and having a good smoke from the red pipe of peace and friendship. This was always a matter of worship, and conducted with much solemnity on their part.
As we journeyed to and from Saginaw we always arranged our time so as to stop, bait our ponies to the fine grass and refresh ourselves from our lunch baskets, which we always carried well supplied, we having a regular old fashioned pioneer sit down lunch party talk over, by telling some funny incident some of us had experienced. Talk of pioneer society meetings now a days! They are nothing to the enjoyment we took in those days, as I see it.
In the early days of 1823-4 Capt. Jacob Stevens located and built a log house in Grand Blanc, one of the first in the town, his son Rufus building the first. Looking about for stone for the back of his fire place (stone were very few and far between in those days), he came across the Indians’ Bab-o-quah, or their god of worship, loaded it on his stone boat, drew it home and placed it in the back of his fire place. All went well for a time, but at least the Indians missed their idol, Bab-o-quah, and were quite excited about the loss. Searching about, they discovered where it was. They at once appointed a delegation to wait upon the captain and insisted upon his returning Bab-oquah to its original position, saying to him that he had committed almost an unpardonable offense, and nothing would answer but returning the stone. The captain and family were a little uneasy, fearing some ugly fellow might do some harm. He offered to pay them to let him keep it, but no, never would they sell their fancied god, and he was obliged to take the stone from his fireplace and replace it where he found it, placing it in the same position, and at once. They named the captain from this transaction after the stone, Bab-o-quah, and he was known and went by that name as long as he lived and was known by that name throughout the land. The stone stood there afterwards until the land was purchased and made into farms. What became of it or who got Bab-o-quah I never knew, but presume some of the settlers got it and may have it still. If I ever knew the English of the word Bab-o-quah I have forgotten it.
I will mention another incident in this connection, which has just come to my mind. Sometime in the years 1836-37 or ‘39, I don’t remember which, Col. David Stanard located on a farm on the Tittabawassee river. Mrs Stanard and her daughter were in Pontiac with a double team on business. The Colonel wished we could bring his wife and daughter home with us. Mrs. Stanard applied to us at Pontiac, being anxious to get home, the winter being near its close. We said to Mrs. Stanard we feared we could not make it very comfortable for them, as we had about a load; she replied that she was anxious to get home, as it might be the last opportunity, as winter was about at an end. They would give us as little trouble as possible and could and would put up with all the inconveniences of the journey, having had some experience in settling in an early day on a farm near Pontiac, and keeping hotel in Pontiac in its earliest days. The Colonel’s family being old friends and neighbors, we were willing to make an effort to comply with their wishes. Mrs. Stanard and daughter were perfect ladies and some of the noblest women of those pioneer days, or any other days. We therefore decided to take them and do the best we could to make them comfortable. The first night we stayed with my sister, Mrs. Rufus Stevens, at Grand Blanc. We started early the next morning, in hopes to get to Saginaw that day, but the sleighing not being good, we had to go slowly, night coming on when we were at what was then called Bird Run; now called County Line, a railroad station and quite a village with fine farms surrounding. We drove up on to a little rise of ground that was covered with a young growth of pines; we cleared away the snow under the pines and laid down plenty of pine boughs for a bed fountain. We had plenty of bedding, Mrs. Stanard having provided for an emergency of this kind, and with our own blankets we were well provided. Making a good fire and keeping it through the night, we made the ladies very comfortable. They were jolly and enjoyed the trip very much. Mrs. Stanard got out the lunch baskets, which were well supplied, and prepared a fine supper, which we all enjoyed after a hard day’s travel. After the evening’s chat, all retired, brother and myself keeping fire. The ladies said they rested very well. Next morning after taking breakfast we went on our way rejoicing and arrived at Saginaw before night. Col. Stanard had but the one daughter, a splendid young lady, who in a after years became the wife of Morgan Drake, a lawyer in Pontiac, where they lived and died.
I often think how would the ladies of the present day like such traveling as our wives and daughters went through with and were abliged to, summer and winter, camping out at all times. There was sone pioneer life about this I think, yet they all enjoyed it, and had any amount of fun.
The Colonel died, I think, on his farm on the Tittabawassee river; Mrs. Stanard and daughter returned to Pontiac, lived and, in after years, passed away.
This Tittabawassee river in early days was called Tiffin river, named by the surveyors after Surveyor General Tiffin, of Ohio. The early settlers, not pleased with the name, changed it to the Indian name Ta Ta-tu-ba-war-say, the meaning of which is the river running around the shore–as it does make off around the Saginaw bay and Lake Huron.
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