Vol. 1, pgs 18-27

In compliance with the invitation of the President, Hon. Albert Miller, and the recommendation of the Executive Committee, the State Pioneer Society met at Saginaw and proceeded down the river to Bay City, for a social reunion, on Wednesday, June 24th, 1874.

The steamer Dunlap was placed at the disposal of the pioneers, veterans, and their friends. About 170 persons embarked and glided down the river about 11 a.m. Appropriate music from Engles’ band added materially to the trip to Bay City, where hospitality is never stinted.

The oldest person present was John Todd of Owosso, a hardy and honored pioneer of 80 years. The youngest was John R. Bodman of East Saginaw, 2 ½ years old. May that “toddling wee thing, “ fifty years hence, in our rising capitol, tell the story of the first social reunion of Michigan Pioneers of 1874.

Most of the officers of the society were present at this reunion. Letters of regret from several persons who had expected to be there were read by the President, Judge Miller. One from Governor Bagley playfully alluded to his size. He pleaded a previous engagement to be present at Ann Arbor on that day. He said, “I know I am big enough to cup up and send half to each place, but I must object, and I feel that I must keep my engagement to the University, so that I can only be with you in spirit.”

In a somewhat different vein is one from Mrs. Sophia A. Gotee Jenny of Flint:

“Since we last had the pleasure of meeting, I have on several occasions attempted to write a chapter in the history of pioneer life, and as often failed, not from want of interest or lack of incident, but my heart has so filled with the tender memories of the past that I could not proceed.

“My first reminiscences is this, our adopted State, are of a numerous family of immigrants, of which I was a member; all were young, hopeful, and buoyant at the prospect of the future. The remembrances of to-day are of seeing them one by one waving their adieus and crossing the mystic river, until, like the ‘lone tree upon the prairie,’ I am left, and like it must soon be drifted down the river of time to be seen; but what matter

                          “If shadows lie low on the hill

                          If life’s throbbing pulse has grown suddenly still?

                          What sweeter hath life than in dying to rest,

                          With calm poising faith on His sheltering breast?”

In the letter form Thomas A. Drake of Pontiac, and remarks by Edwin Jerome, are graphically portrayed some of the perilous incidents of pioneer live. These, with a sketch of the life of “Uncle Harvey Williams,” read by Hon. C. D. Little of Saginaw, we give nearly entire. Mr. Drake’s letter is as follows:

“The celebration to which you so kindly invited me is one of no ordinary character.

“The early settlement of the Saginaw valley and the organization of our State government are subjects deeply interesting; and while I remember the one I cannot forget the other. There are few events more deeply seated in memory than my first visit to Saginaw. Perhaps it is wisely ordered that we cannot review the past without commingled emotions of pain and pleasure; thus we are preserved from the evil effects of satiety and despondency. The incidents of that journey, though many and important, are known to but few, - my traveling companion and associate, Commissioner Frost, who alone knew what occurred to us on that journey, has passed away, and I alone am left to relate our adventures. I trust, therefore, that you will forgive the egotism of this letter.

“On our way home the question of life and death was presented to us with little time for reflection.

“It rained very heavily while we were at Saginaw, and when Frost and I were ready to return, we were ferried over the river at Green Point by Jewett. We moved rapidly to the usual crossing on Cass river, the increased velocity of the water plainly telling us we could not cross at that place in safety. It was raining hard, and we made for the upper crossing, a mile or more up the river, where we found the river much narrower and the north bank quite elevated. There were a few deserted Indian cabins on the north bank, some of them made of logs split into halves or slabs. We unsaddled our horses and drove them into the river; they swam easily to the opposite shore, went out of the river and went to feeding. We hastily pulled down a cabin, took the timbers to the edge of the waters, and there formed a raft. We fastened the timbers as well as we could with our surcingles, laid timber and bank on top for a floor or platform, put our saddles, portmanteaus, and blankets on board, and having two of the poles we could find at any of the cabins, we shoved our frail craft into the surging water and both jumped on. The first push made carried us into water so deep we could not reach bottom with our poles, and down stream we went with the rapidity of a race-horse. Our poles were so slender they were of no use as oars. We applied all the energy we possessed, and so shaped the course of our raft that it came so near the south shore in passing on of the bends that I caught hold of the tops of some willows standing on the bank. By holding fast our raft swung around and brought us so near that my companion got firm hold of the bushes and we jumped on shore, neither frightened nor hurt. Our horses were soon caught and saddled, our trappings secured, and upon full gallop for Flint river, which we reached a little after sunset.

“Our business to Saginaw was to locate the seat of justice for that county. There we found Judge Dexter and engineer and surveyor Risdon platting the city of Saginaw. Dexter approached the commissioners with his skeleton map in hand; one of the lots he designated as courthouse lot, and very abruptly informed them that if they located the site for the seat of justice on that lot he would donate it to the county, and would give to each of the commissioners one lot, perhaps two. Our other associate was satisfied with Dexter’s proposition, and from that moment till we left I think he looked at nothing but the lots Dexter proposed to give him. I felt inclined to treat Dexter’s proposition with contempt, and for a time Frost agreed with me and we looked at other places.

“There was then an uninhabited forest where East Saginaw now stands, and it was said that the whole country, after getting back from the river, was a morass and uninhabitable. However, we resolved to inspect it for ourselves. With Jewett for a guide, we traversed the country up and down the river, and from the river back, until we were satisfied we had found the best place for a court-house. Besides Jewett, there was with us that day a man by the name of Joshua Terry of Pontiac. Frost and I fixed upon a site, and drove a stake to indicate the spot selected. We took measurements from different points on the river, with such bearings as would enable one to find the identical spot, and agreed to meet the next morning and make our report. I went to Jewett’s shanty at Green Point, and Frost went to the fort, as it was called, where he would find our other associate. The next morning, to my surprise, I found that Frost had been overcome, demoralized and had actually signed a report locating the site on the lot selected by Dexter. Through the love of whisky entertained by Frost, and the love of gain by the other commissioner, the county-seat was located at Saginaw. I was then a member of the Legislative Council from Oakland county and all the lower peninsula north and west of it, and with pride I endeavored to extend and uphold the interests of my constituents, the pioneers of Oakland, as well as those of the beautiful valley of land of Saco. I have with deep solicitude and great pleasure witnessed the untiring exertions of the pioneers and the marvelous growth and prosperity of the county be considered the center, was the home of the deer and the red man; its deep forest were then unmarked by the steps of the paleface; most of it was beyond the pale of civilization. And what do we see now? Towns and cities adorn the land; railroads traverse the country in every direction; its rivers are utilized for highways of commerce and travel, and as resistless motive powers for manufactories; its forest are receding before the blows of the axman, and being converted into articles of commerce and wafted away thousands of miles for improvement or ornament in distant countries.

“Above all and beyond all, on the 24th of June, 1874, the pioneers of the State propose to inaugurate and to carry into execution a celebration of the anniversary of the organization of the State Government. All hail, pioneers of Saginaw! Long have you suffered and gloriously have you conquered. May you long enjoy the rich reward with which your labors are crowned. Receive the congratulations of an old pioneer.”

Another interesting reminiscence from Edwin Jerome was listed to with much pleasure. Mr. Jerome said:

PIONEERS OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN: - I am happy to meet you on this our first social reunion in this flourishing Bay City, standing upon grounds sacred to memory, and on which forty-eight years ago your relater camped and slept.

In the latter part of the summer of 1833 I enlisted in the war department, commanded by Col. Anderson, then a resident of Detroit, to assist in a cost survey of Lake Huron, under the immediate direction of three cadets from West Point –- Lieut. Heintzelman, since a general and distinguished soldier in our late fratricidal war, as our leader; Lieut. Poole, second in command; Lieut. Lee, third or junior commander, commissary, George Moran of Grosse Point; government hunter, your venerable and much respected townsman, Capt. Francois Marsac, the crack of whose rifle, aimed by his keen eye, fed the stomachs of the party with some two hundred wild duck, four bears, several deer, a number of raccoons, etc. yet the speed and hardy endurance of the caption’s body and limbs were inadequate to the task of capturing a moose, whose keen eye, ear, scent, and fleet foot successfully evaded a hard day’s chase. Among the privates in the Yankee mess were myself and six others, Henry Snelling, Mr. Cowles, - a nephew of Col. Anderson, - Mr. Jacobus, and three others whose names I cannot recall. In the French mess were 14, making a total of 26 souls, counting Lieut. Poole, whose whereabouts we never learned. Our field service commenced on the shores of Lake Huron, a few miles above Fort Gratiot, at the then northern terminus of the government land survey of Michigan. Speaking wholly from a forty-one years’ memory, I shall omit any attempt to describe minutely the majestic forests, romantic spots now dotted with cities, the marble rocks found on the beach, det.; but will note the fact that our pioneer party made the first survey of the pearly little stream, took the soundings of the noble harbor, and the beautiful site of the far-famed city of White Rock.

Leaving this capacious harbor, so well stocked with defensive boulders, we soon arrived at and successfully doubled that rough, rocky, small-caverned cape, Pointe au Barques. Leaving the broad expanse of Lake Huron, we entered the extensive bay of Saginaw, whose dangerously rough seas have been recently brought to mind by the perilous voyages of fishermen, and the sacrifice of those six noble-hearted men from Alabaster who sacrificed their lives in the attempt to rescue those fishermen. This brought to mind with singular clearness one of the most perilous scenes of my life. On our arrival at Pigeon river we crossed over to and made a survey of Charity Island, but unfortunately left a small cur dog in the woods, belonging to Lieut. Poole. The next day I was detailed with four others, and with two day’s provisions, in a yawl boat to rescue the dog. We proceeded about fifteen miles, propelled by our muscles applied to oars, under a clear, calm sky and placid waters. On approaching the cove-sided island, we were reminded of our errand of mercy by the dog leaping in the air, running and capering; with joyous yelpings he leaped into the boat. Just at this moment a light vaporing shadow flitted away from the spot the dog left, and it has been a matter of serious speculation whether it was the shadow of Lieut. Pool’s soul flitting off. We immediately set out on our return with the brightest prospects and a full spread of canvas; when about eight rods from shore we suddenly encountered a southwesterly gale, and twice attempted and failed to come in stays with a view to regain the island. On the third endeavor our mast cracked about half off near the foot, and the sail dipped water, bringing us in stays double quick, with an ominous sheet of water pouring over the side. By a great and despairing effort with our weight on the upper edge, our sail lifted from the water and our craft righted. Hats and shoes were vigorously piled in bailing, and as soon as possible our oars were put in motion and the boat headed for the island, a quarter of a mile distant, and we in a direct line into Lake Huron; after an hour of the hardest struggle for the life we found ourselves nearing the island, on which we were glad to encamp for the night. The next day we placed our little craft before the gale, and one hour and ten minutes sped us safely into camp. I can bear ample testimony to the turbulence of the waves of Saginaw bay in rough weather. While on this passage I stood holding on to the mast, while in the trough of the sea nothing but the sky could be seen to the front or rear at an angle of forty-five degrees. On looking at the white-caps chasing in rear, apparently to engulf me fifteen or twenty feet beneath its crest, my hair pulled fearfully and my heart seemed leaping from my body.

Passing over the minor incidents in the progress of our work, from the encampment at Pigeon river to the Saginaw river, we finally pitched our tents on or near the site of your enterprising city, and took observations for nine successive days of the sun crossing the meridian, to determine the latitude and longitude of the mouth of this capacious river, your relator each time noting the exact second from an excellent chronometer.

Now, when I ride in the cities of the Saginaw valley in palace cars on first-class well stocked railroads, or ride up and down this river in a noble steamer, beautifully furnished, viewing in surprise the almost continuous line of cities along its banks, the immense lumber yards and salt works, the memory of 1833 and 1836 leaps forth and asks, did all this spring from chaos? Then forbidding sterility, extensive marshes, deep bayous, and sturdy forests prevailed to discourage a settler. In those early years your water-lines of river, bay, or lake were familiar: I traversed the Tittabawassee and its branches, Chippewa and Pine, Bad river, Cass, Flint, and Mishtegayoe, exploring their forests, selecting their choicest timber and finest lands. And now, my old co-laborers in the woods and fields of Michigan, wishing you a long life and joyous end, I say adieu.


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