Twenty years ago the region contiguous to Grand Traverse Bay, Michigan, was little else than a vast wilderness.
Traverse City, situated at the head of the bay, was but a village; indeed, it had but a faint semblance of its
present size and beauty. A few settlers had taken up homesteads here and there, and a considerable settlement had
started on what is known as the Peninsula, a narrow strip of land twenty miles long lying between East and West
Bay, about half a mile north of Traverse City.
But the tide of emigration had set in and ere long
those mighty forests were destined to give place to fertile fields and happy homes for thousands of pioneers who
had become disgusted with being crowded in pent up cities or towns of the older States in the East.
The lumbering interests had just begun to develop,
and offered a great incentive to take up homesteads, as they could work in the lumber woods in the winter, and
thus get something ahead to improve their claims through the summer. Thus, many a poor man had secured himself
a home, and today the face of the country had changed so much that one would scarce recognize it, as compared to
what it was then.
I have a medical friend residing near Silver Lake,
a beautiful sheet of water lying about seven miles south of Traverse City, on what is known as the "Old State
Road." This friend of mine moved to this region from the southern part of the state at about the time I am
speaking of, when the settlers were "few and far between," and taking advantage of the homestead act,
he secured a piece of Government land, where he now resides. He did not expect much practice at his profession,
nor did he wish to have, as he preferred hunting and fishing and the quiet of a country home.
Another thing that induced him to locate in a new
country was that he preferred to bring his family up on a farm, where he could give his boys (of whom he had three)
some employment that would be healthful exercise, and at the same time be making for themselves a future home.
He would help the boys some about clearing the
land, going, however, when he had a call in case of sickness, and little by little they removed the great forest
trees, till they soon had cleared land enough to raise nearly their entire living.
Not long since I was up in that region, and, of
course, called on my old friend, and made a visit of several days with him.
On one of our pleasure and fishing excursions on
Silver Lake, the conversation turned on the subject of wolves inhabiting the swamps of that region in the early
days, when the doctor told me the following interesting experience he once had with wolves in that region.
The North American wolf is naturally shy and generally
like all his congeners, is a great coward. He never attacks a man singly; indeed, a pack of them will never molest
a man while the least glimmer of daylight remains.
I once entertained the idea that they could be
scared off, no matter how many their numbers, that it only required a little pluck and a bold front to daunt the
hungriest pack of them and put them to flight. But I had a little experience with them one night which has radically
changed my mind in that respect.
I had been accustomed to travel through these wild
regions at all hours, by day and by night, but never had been in any way molested; nor had I ever had the slightest
apprehension of danger from the wolves that were known to infest the surrounding woods and swamps.
On the night in question I had been called to see
a sick child about eight miles from home, and it was near dark ere I got to my destination, consequently it was
quite late in the night before I started on my return home. It was in the winter time, and the night was exceedingly
frosty, but clear and starlight. I had not proceeded far on my homeward journey when, in passing through a swampy
piece of ground through which my road lay; I became aware that the clatter of my horse's feet on the frozen snow
had aroused a gang of wolves that were roaming the adjoining swamp.
I continued my journey, paying no attention whatever
to the howling of the wolves, until I came to a steep descent where the water from an adjoining spring had overflowed
the snow, which was consequently formed into a continuous sheet of ice all the way down the declivity. My horse
being smooth shod, I deemed it safer to walk. Accordingly, I dismounted, and taking the bridle rein in my hand,
endeavored to lead the way down the slippery path. Before, however, I had got half way to the bottom away slid
both my feet and down I came. My horse was so startled at the suddenness of my fall that he made a spring to one
side of the track, lost his footing and came down close beside me. In the spring he made when I fell, from my hand
being fast in the bridle, I was jerked back up the hill some distance with such force that when I recovered a little
from the shock, I felt fully persuaded that my shoulder was dislocated.
We both, however, gathered ourselves up as best
we could; and there we stood in no condition to protect ourselves from the wolves, should they see fit to attack
us; for, from the way in which my horse stood. I was afraid that he had suffered still more damage than myself.
I did not, as yet, have any fear of the wolves,
although I knew they were still following us, for I could clearly distinguish the howling of five or six of them,
apparently within less than twenty rods of us.
When the pain in my shoulder had somewhat subsided.
I examined it more minutely, and convinced myself that it was not dislocated, but the severe wrench had injured
it so much that I had no hope of making use of that arm during the remainder of my ride. As regarded my horse,
I was pleased to find that he still possessed the use of his four legs, although one of them moved as though he
were suffering considerable pain in it. Having contrived to get to the bottom of the descent, I again mounted with
extreme difficulty. I found on proceeding that one of my horse's hind legs was severely sprained, and I began to
entertain some fear, by this time, that the wolves meant mischief, for on looking back, I discovered three of them,
not a dozen yards behind my horse's heels, and a few rods further back were three or four leisurely trotting along
in the road. I gave an unearthly yell, and flung my left arm out to try and scare them back; they simply stopped
a moment, gazing at me with a hungry look, and then leisurely resumed their trot, and were soon almost within reach
of my horse's heels.
The road was in bad condition for a horse to make
any speed and more especially so with one with a sprained leg and I found it was impossible to leave the wolves;
so I made up my mind to quit my horse and ascend the first tree that appeared favorable for such a purpose. It
was not long before such a one offered, and, permitting my horse to go loose, I was amongst the branches of a large
beech tree in a few seconds, and quite out of reach of my hungry pursuers. I never doubted for a moment but that
they should continue in pursuit of my horse which I thought would be able, now that he was relieved of his load,
to make his escape.
But to my surprise I beheld no fewer than eleven
large wolves come around the tree on which I had taken shelter, and instead of pursuing my horse, took up their
positions and quietly awaited my coming down. Although I had no wish to descend under such circumstances, I was
fully aware of the fate that awaited me should I be obliged to remain until morning in my present situation.
The cold was intense; and although I was comfortable
dressed, I knew it was next to impossible for me to remain there through the night and not freeze to death. The
situation was anything but pleasant. I gawked down upon the upturned faces of my hungry assailants and I saw plainly
by their movements that they meant to entertain me there the rest of the night. I tried to think what I might do
to scare them off. If I but had my trusty rifle, I thought and plenty of ammunition, I would soon clear a path
through them; but as it was, I had nothing except a small pocket knife, and that was of no use whatever. Then I
thought of fire, for I was already getting quite chilly. Suddenly the thought occurred to me that I had noticed,
before leaving the back of my horse, that the tree in which I was espoused, had a dead top, and glancing quickly
upward, I saw that as much as fifteen or twenty feet of the topmost part of the tree was dead and bare. It occurred
to me at once that I could set fire to that portion of the tree and thus save myself somewhat from the effect of
the intense cold.
To think was to act, and having plenty of matches
with me, I immediately ascended the tree till I came to the dead portion of it, which I found sufficiently dry
to ignite. Feeling carefully around the old dead body, I soon discovered that it was hollow, at least a part of
the way up, and thrusting my hand in the opening I was delighted to find it nearly full of dry leaves and other
I at once applied a match, and to my intense satisfaction
I soon had the flames writhing and curling about that old dead body until it produced such a heat that I was forced
to climb down a little. But the warmth was genial to my body, and I began to feel more comfortable. I was obliged
to work with caution among the branches of the tree, for each awkward move of my right arm caused a pain to shoot
On descending the tree to get a little away from
the head of the fire, I cast my gaze down for the first time since I had conceived the novel plan of building a
fire in the old dead tree top to ascertain what my besiegers were doing. To my surprise I saw nothing of them beneath
the tree; but casting my eyes a little way down the road, I beheld them huddled together gazing at the flaming
tree top in a dazed sort of fashion, though failing to comprehend the new foe. The old tree top was now all ablaze,
and was throwing a bright light far out into the surrounding gloom.
I was wonderfully elated at the unlooked for result
of my unique plan of keeping myself from freezing to death, for I saw that the wolves were becoming terribly frightened
at the momentarily increasing brilliancy of my fireworks. I felt that the climax was near at hand, for I saw with
pleasure that the old tree top would soon burn off at the point where I had started the fire, and would necessarily
go crashing to the ground. I observed the way that it would fall, and, getting upon the opposite side, I crawled
as far out on the large limb as I deemed save and anxiously awaited the result.
Not long had I to wait. Suddenly the dead top of
the tree gave way, and with a tremendous crash went tearing through the lower branches, throwing shower of sparks
and branches directly towards the now retreating wolves.
I scrambled down to the ground as hastily as my lame arm would permit and yelling at the top of my voice seized
a firebrand and swinging it aloft I started after the now thoroughly frightened wolves.
It was a ludicrous sight to see those cowardly
whelps scramble as if for dear life at the top of their speed; for in their fright they frequently ran afoul of
each other and tumbled indiscriminately in the deep snow. Soon, however, they disappeared from my view, and turning
about I now made vigorous strides towards home. It was something like three miles to the nearest settler from the
scene of my adventure. When I arrived at his house I saw by the faint flush in the east that daylight was near
at hand. The man was already up and had a cheerful fire, for which I felt exceedingly grateful, after my walk in
the crisp morning air. He was greatly surprised and incredulous at the narration of my night's adventure.
Upon arriving at home I found that my horse had
preceded me, and had created considerable fear in the minds of my family, for the boys were just upon the point
of starting in search of me.
That night's adventure caused me to change my views
regarding the innocuousness of wolves, and ever afterward the howling of them in the distant swamps brings with
a shudder the recollection of how near I came to making a supper for them.