1800 - 1850
By Mrs. Florence McKinnon Gwinn
Huron County forms what is called "the thumb of the Michigan mitten." It has a coast line on three sides, formed by the waters of Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay.
In the little village of Grindstone City, on Lake Huron, one of the earliest settlers if not the earliest was Captain A. J. Peer. Here at the very tip of the Thumb he quarried the first stone in 1834. The stones were used in building the pavements of Woodward and Jefferson Avenues in Detroit. It was 1836 before he acquired 400 acres of land including the Grindstone quarries. That same year he set up the works to carry on the business. In 1845 he located here and operated a water -power saw-mill utilizing for that purpose, the creek which runs through the place. He also spent many years of his life on the lakes, being owner of a number of brigs and schooners. It is worthy of note that the engine used in the manufacture of the first grindstones was the first ever built in Detroit and had been used in the first steamer that plied between Port Huron and Detroit. Captain Peer was the president of the first Pioneer Society organized in Huron County.
In 1838 two lumbermen, John and Allan Daggett, carried on operations at a place called Rock Falls. They also used a waterpower mill. Then followed Henry Whitcomb and soon after many fishermen and shingle weavers came to prey upon Uncle Sam's domain.
In 1839 a Mr. Luce built a saw-mill at Willow Creek now Huron City. Shortly afterward settlers began to come up the coast in small skiffs or often on foot.
The history of Sand Beach (now Harbor Beach) is interesting in many respects. Here John Hopson located in 1838. For a time he was engaged in lumbering with Daggetts. Later Mr. Whitcomb bought out their interest. The lumber which they manufactured was put on board of vessels which lay at anchor off the shore. In order to do this they formed cribs of the lumber which they floated out to the boats and loaded up. If no storm came up, they were all right; if it did, they were all wrong. The first goods ever sold in the county were brought here for sale by Mr. Whitcomb The shingle weavers were quite numerous at this point and a merry time they often had. They received a good price for their shingles and the timber cost them nothing. They appropriated that from the government. From the proceeds of the shingles they would send down to Port Huron, purchase a barrel of flour and a barrel of whiskey. Then they would have what they called "a high time," until the whiskey gave out, which it always did long before the flour was used up.
Once in a while the government inspectors would appear and scatter the weavers into the wilderness but this condition of affairs did not last long and in a short time the weavers would be back at work. Little thought was given to laws, in those times; for we find a man by the name of Cane engaged in the counterfeiting business. He built a log cabin and started a Mexican silver dollar factory. Later he counterfeited bills. The good natured pioneers never troubled him although they knew very well what he was doing.
The marriage of Duncan McCart and Mary Ann French was the first to be celebrated on this shore. The little daughter who came into the home of Mr. and Mrs. Allan Daggett was the first white child born in Sand Beach.
At the mouth of Bird's Creek on the shores of Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay was the village of Port Austin. Jonathan Bird was the first man to locate at this point in 1837. He was a patriot in the reform movement in Canada at that period and had to flee here for refuge. He built a log cabin and remained throughout the winter.
In 183S he built a water power mill on the creek which bears his name. This was the commencement of the heaviest lumbering business ever carried on in the county. One mill alone cut 120,000,000 feet for the eastern markets. During these times when expecting vessels they would build a bonfire on the beach or hang a lamp on the top of a cedar tree.
The caves along the coast at this place were used as a hiding place for fugitives from justice as well as for homes for the pioneers. Many children were born in them.
There were no roads in Huron County. Indian trails served for that purpose along the shore and the woods were traversed in many directions by the red man's paths. A man by the name of Hopson drove his steers and wagon over one of these into Sand Beach where he was engaged in gill-net fishing in company with William Underwood. This was the first wagon ever brought into the county.
White Rock was settled in 1848, a man by the name of Smith being the first settler here. This place was also the home of the fishermen and shingle weavers, who would remain for a time and then pass up the shore.
The first lighthouse was built at Point Aux Barques about 1847. It was made of stones collected on the beach of Lake Huron but the structure proved to be insecure. The keeper of the lighthouse was drowned and his wife took care of the light for a time. A man named Sweet succeeded her.
Coming up the shore we find Walter Hume, after whom Hume township is named. He came here long before any other white man and made his home among the Indians. He also left Canada at the time of the Rebellion. It was the law in Canada at that period in case of war, that one man must be left at home to care for the family.
When the trouble broke out both Walter and his father were at home. The elder Mr. Hume was taken but by the time he reached London, Walter had fled to the United States so the father threw down his gun and returned to care for his family.
Walter had a narrow escape from the Canadian government officials when crossing at Port Huron. Indeed, his companion, a man by the name of Armstrong, had his arm shot off. This man was long afterwards the first sheriff of Huron County. Hume rejoicing at his own safety, sought refuge in the wilds of Huron and became the Daniel Boone of Hume township. In after years he married Mary Shilling, daughter of one of the early pioneers of Sebewaing township. One son was born to them.
In the southwestern part of the county we find the viilage of Sebewaing named after a tribe of Indians who lived there. The first white man to reach this place was the Rev. J. J. Auch, the township being first named Auchville in his honor. He came as a missionary to the Indians from a Lutheran church in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He found one house belonging to a half-breed named Charles Rodd. Mr. Auch built the second house of logs in 1848. His brother followed him in 1849.
Later a company of Germans all from Ann Arbor were landed by the steamer Julia Smith on "Lone Tree" island at the mouth of the Sebewaing river. This island has since been washed away. It was over three weeks before they could reach the main land. Through the efforts of Mr. Auch the Indians were induced to carry them over in their canoes. This little company did not feel very cheerful or secure when they did reach the shore for they had no roof to shelter them and the land was very low and swampy. In many places the water was several feet deep.
Such men are not easily discouraged however, and they began to select at once their land and build log cabins. At first they all spent their nights in one small log house. There were forty-five men, women and children so they were somewhat limited in space. Their provisions were brought from Saginaw in small boats. There was plenty of game, bear, deer and wolves on the land, and pike, pickerel and sturgeon in the bay near by. During this early period the mail was brought occasionally from Hampton, now Bay City. There were no schools until 1854.
Shebahyonk was the name of an Indian settlement a few miles away. Nock-che-ko-may was the chief. The tribe had bought land from the government in 1847 and settled on it. These Indians belonged to the Chippewa nation and were quite friendly toward the settlers.
Thus these heroic pioneers built homes in the wilderness aided by their noble wives. Often, without teams, they rolled up the logs and at night burned them, picking up the rubbish by the light of the heaps.
Here among the stumps they planted potatoes, their main crop; for often they would be for days without bread of any kind. Many and many meals they made on potatoes alone. I n those days the children gathered the butternuts and hickorynuts and stored them away in the loft of the old log cabin. In the long winter evenings many a pleasant hour was spent in cracking nuts and telling stories around the large fireplace which was to be seen in every cabin. Their surroundings were rude, their luxuries few, and habits simple but who dare say that life was not enjoyable for them?
In the year 1841, James Gallagher, a trapper, and John Waters. afterward Captain Waters, induced by the prospect of gain and having beside a keen love for adventure, resolved to coast along the shores of Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay on a hunting and trapping expedition.
It was the middle of September when they embarked in their canoe at Port Huron. It was a daring venture but these rangers of the woods and waters were fearless, and then, too, they had a genuine love for the occupation and never seemed to tire at the paddles or oars. For days at a time they would follow the winding courses of the rivers or penetrate the secluded retreats of the great forests in search of game.
Gallagher and his companion stopped at several points along the shore to hunt and trap, as-they came up the lake. They had secured a good share of furs by the time they reached that portion of the thumb where the village of Caseville now stands.
In the early dusk of an October evening their canoe glided into the mouth of the Pigeon river, whose banks were covered with a luxuriant growth of oak and pine-woods. The river was winding in its course, forming, as Gallagher expressed it, three horseshoes. After half an hour's paddling they reached the point-now known as the "rapids." It was too dark to go any further, so, finding a small opening in the woods, they concluded to land and form a camp for the night. After drawing up the canoe on the low bank, they soon had a comfortable camp prepared. A thick growth of bushes behind hid the firelight from any Indians who might be near, although such savages as they had met had been friendly. After supper they wrapped themselves in their blankets and were soon sound asleep.
It was just breaking day when Gallagher awoke next morning and on looking out was amazed to find that they had encamped in the midst of an apple orchard. On the ground and on the trees about him were fine apples. He could scarcely believe that his eyes were not deceiving him.
"Wake up, John," he called, excitedly to the other trapper, "we are in the middle of an apple orchard."
"Nonsense, Jim, you're dreaming," responded his companion, as he came hastily out Waters was as much surprised as Gallagher had been at the sight.
They feasted on the ripe, luscious apples and on their return, loaded the canoe with the fruit, from the sale of which they realized a goodly sum. Who planted these trees? That question has never been answered. They have always borne the name of the Indian apple trees, although the Indians disclaim all knowledge of them.
In later years the land on which they were planted became the property of the late Thomas B. Woodworth, long prominently connected with the political affairs of Huron county. State Senator Fred Woodworth is his son. Strange to relate Mr. Woodworth was born in New York on the very day that these trees were discovered
The first settler, in what is now the village of Caseville, was Reuben Dodge a native of Maine, who came from Detroit with his wife and three daughters, Sarah, (afterwards Mrs. Moses Gregory), Mary and Susan. They entered the wilds of Caseville township and built a small log cabin at the mouth of the Pigeon river. Here they made a living by hunting, fishing and trapping. He killed the only moose ever seen in the township near where the Maccabee hall now stands. He. had a fierce encounter with the great creature before he succeeded in killing it. This adventure is given in a story (written by Mrs. Gwian) and was published in the Michigan Farmer a few years ago.
His wife and children did not see any white people, other than their own family for over four years. The first white child born here was their son, Reuben Dodge, Jr., who is still living.
The settlers who followed them came up the shore by the way of Point Aux Barques following the Indian trail along the beach. There were a number of Indians about here at this period belonging to the Chippewa tribe. They were generally peaceful and frequently exchanged visits with these early pioneers bringing them gifts of venison, bear meat and in the spring maple sugar. They caught the sap in troughs made of birch bark and boiled it down in large brass kettles. These kettles had been so long in their possession that even the memory of the oldest Indian was taxed in vain when asked to give an account of how they obtained them.
My brother, Robert Morse, found one of these kettles in a fine state of preservation on his father's farm after one of the great forest fires. A large tree had grown over it and no Indian had camped in that place for over sixty years. It evidently had been hidden there from the position it occupied when found. Maybe its owner was killed in one of the fierce battles that occurred between the different tribes over 250 years ago. There are several great mounds around Caseville where those killed in battle were buried after these conflicts.
A small brass kettle was found by William Handy in one of these places many years ago.
Near one of these mounds on the shore of the bay the ground is a dark red in color. Tradition says it was caused by the blood of the slain but we of today know it was colored by the burning of the camp fires.
This sketch would be incomplete without mentioning the name of James Duffy, who helped to make the first grindstone at Grindstone City and in 1848 came to Caseville. He also helped to build the first steam sawmill in the county. His name is associated with all of the earliest improvements. He was justice of the peace from the formation of the township until his death two years ago at the ripe age of ninety-nine years, being the oldest justice in the state at the time of his death.
The town was first named Port Elizabeth in honor of Mr. Rattles' wife. He represented Leonard Case, of Cleveland, who owned many hundred acres of land near the Pigeon river. The first wedding was that of Sarah Dodge and Moses C. Gregory and the first funeral service was conducted by George Cleaver. J. W. Kimbal carried the first mail into Caseville from Port Austin.
There are many interesting incidents connected with the later history of the county and Caseville that are worthy of mention.
Many of the heroic men who entered Huron County in their prime have passed beyond. The number remaining who can relate the history of the first days of settlement is yearly growing less. It is fitting that a record of their lives and deeds be made now to be handed down to the future generations for information and instruction.
Note: Much of this history has been obtained from the pioneers themselves and the Indians who lived here. I am also indebted for information to the Huron county album, in my opinion the most correct record of early times we have.—Author.