Ontonagon County Michigan
Genealogy and History


Ewen, MI (1930s) - contributed by Paul Petosky

Ewen was a rough a town as any in the pineries. The town sprang from a humble seed. Its first building was a broken-down boxcar, cut in half, which which served as the town's rail depot. Homes and saloons and more saloons followed. The town's location at the intersection of the Ontonagon River and the Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic Railway made it a convenient supply center for loggers operating in southern Ontonagon County. By 1891 the town had six hundred residents, fifteen saloons, and on the outskirts several bordellos. County officials at first tried to keep the town clean. There were raids against the "houses of ill fame," and the proprietors and inmates were vigorously prosecuted Fire ravaged the town in 1893, burning most of it. The rebirth of the town also rekindled the vice traffic. A pimp and saloon keeper from Wisconsin named LeClaire moved into Ewen. Gambling dens and bordellos operated in the heart the town. LeClaire's prostitutes openly solicited in the streets; in the saloons he had a group of "bum prizefighters" who fronted as waiters but in reality shook down drunken lumberjacks. These toughs were accused of several robberies, but evidence was always lacking. The "respectable citizens" of Ewen were alleged to have to "submit to the most glaring atrocities," but there seems to have been some connivance between LeClaire and the local authorities. Ewen declined as a vice center after 1895 when logging in the area peaked. LeClaire and other toughs moved on to Hurley, Wisconsin, where the picking were richer.

Seney and Ewen were among the few pine logging communities to support a considerable saloon, gambling, and prostitution racket. Most towns could count on only a flourish of business in the spring. But Seney and Ewen were amid very intensive logging districts, and the towns served as vital supply and administration centers. In 1892, for example, there were thirty-one logging camps within five miles of Ewen. This meant that close to two thousand men were no more than a few hours walk of the town's earthy pleasures. A lumberjack bored with the usual Sunday regimen of washing clothes could hike into Ewen and Seney and blow off steam and still stagger back to camp before day's end. Yet as soon as the number of camps around the towns began to decline, the prostitutes and gamblers pulled out the number of saloons declined.

Typical of the tawdry tragedies was an incident was an incident in Ewen, Michigan. The shootist was Joseph Thomas, a nineteen-year-old lumberjack employed by the Nestor Lumber Company. After two months in the woods, the boy left camp and went into town to collect his pay. With a load of cash, he made the rounds from saloon to saloon, several times getting into fights and brandishing a revolver. After one such altercation, a friend of his, *Thomas Downey, went out to calm him down. But the lad was in a rage and he fired three times at his friend. The first two shots flew past his head. The third, however, tore into his chest, killing him within minutes. The townspeople, who had done nothing up to this time, chased Thomas intending to lynch him. They cornered him in the forest and only the arrival of the sheriff prevented vigilante justice.

Ewen, MI - Looking South on Main St. Before the Fire (1912) - contributed by Paul Petosky

Exerpt of "Deep Woods Frontier: a history of logging in northern Michigan By Theodore J. Karamanski

*Thomas Downing -- should be Michael Downey from information given to use by Pat Levy. She also adds this information on Michael - Michael Downey, b. 1854, Canada. Married Honora "Nora" Carey 9 June 1880, St. Mary Cathedral, East Saginaw, Michigan. According to the East Saginaw City Directories 1883-1887, he owned the Globe Hotel. The listing in the 1889 directory, shows he sold the Globe and is listed as a "woodsman."

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