BEFORE we begin the study of the facts connected with the early history of Huron County, let us glance briefly at some of the physical features of Michigan, which are -so intimately related to the soil formation of this section. For ages what is now Michigan was almost entirely covered by a great inland sea.
In the Lower Peninsula by drilling into the underlying rock for hundreds of feet there has been found layer after layer of soft rock formed by the detritus brought into the old inland sea by its rivers. Part of the time this sea had no outlet and was salty. This accounts for the layers of salt which are found in so many places in the Saginaw Valley. Much later this sea disappeared and the present Great Lakes were only river valleys.
Then still later came the great glacier periods which cover a great space of time. As these glaciers moved forward with slow but irresistible force they gouged out boulders from the rock, grinding them into smaller pieces, forming gravel, sand and clay. When the last great glacier had receded far enough to allow the water to pass out to the ocean the temporary lakes disappeared but left the present Great Lakes of which Saginaw Bay is a part. This bay has a coast line of several hundred miles in length and its shores lie 580 feet above the ocean's level. (1)
History of Bay County.
The land bordering its waters is generally low and sandy. In many places swamps surrounded by sand ridges are to be found. In the southern and central parts of the county the land is hilly and rolling. With few exceptions the soil is formed largely of lake drift and is very fertile.
The early explorers followed the shores of the bay and the sand ridges found there naturally gave the impression that all of the land was of this type and therefore worthless. Even as eminent an authority as Governor Cass states in a letter that "the country in the angle, between Fort Gratiot, (now Port Huron) and Saginaw Bay can never be of any importance." He was referring to the "Thumb" which now has some of the fittest farming land in the state. The Morse Geographies then used in the schools made similar statements, declaring the interior of Michigan an impenetrable swamp. What land there was between the swamps was barren sand and that it was not worth the expense of surveying. Such declarations naturally impeded the settlement of this section for many years. (2)
THE FIRST PEOPLE WERE TRAPPERS
The first people who came into the country other than the Indians were trappers and shingle weavers. Then later came the lumbermen who founded small settlements to carry on their various enterprises. Still later men of energy and courage with their families sought a home in this region that was without roads and with but few acres of tillable land and with impassable swamps and streams in many places. They laid broad and solid [he foundations of a progressive civilization while they lived in log shanties, cabins and houses the latch-strings of which were always out. They were ever ready to assist other settlers in getting a start and in cases of sickness their services were freely given, The adventures and hardships of these pioneer settlers (3)
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were many and varied. Some one has truly said, "That the pioneer was a child of progress. He looked up and not down; forward and not back. Behind him was the past; before him the future. His visions were of tomorrow. He foresaw hard work and hard times, blue days and weary nights, but he saw too in the dim future the town, the city, the county, the state, the schools for his children, the churches and fertile fields yielding their treasures of grain. And of these things he was to be a part and parcel."
Before the white man took possession of this section great stands of white pine covered the larger portion of what is now Huron County. There are about 80 varieties of trees native to Michigan and a large majority of these were to be found in this region. There were the white and Norway pine, spruce, cedar, hard and soft maple, smooth and shag bark hickory, tamarac, birch, hemlock, basswood, white and black ash, elm, oak, beech and numerous other kinds of the conebearing evergreen trees as well as the various varieties of deciduous trees that shed their leaves in the fall.
Besides these forests there were in many places great stretches of marshes and swamps with a dense growth of cedar and tamarac. As a rule the oak and hard wood were to be found upon the heavy clay soil; on the sandy soil the pine, hemlock and also groves of oaks. Beautiful shrubs, many of which have almost disappeared, covered the open spaces in the woods.
Along the shores of the Bay and rivers many kinds of wild fruit were found growing, such as plums, grapes, wild crab apples, red and black raspberries, strawberries and on the sand plains an abundance of huckleberries. To add to the beauty of the scene in many places were the wild flowers each in their season. The violets, trilliums, honeysuckles, lady slippers, the wild rose and the sweet scented trailing arbutus. Deep forests, open woods, prairies, swamps, the rivers and bay afforded
havens for the great variety of animal life found in this portion of Michigan. The waters of the bay teemed with fish and in the woods roamed the moose, deer, elk, bear, wolf, wild cat, lynx, and along the rivers were found the beaver, otter, muskrat and mink. Wild berries, seeds, insects furnished daily food for the bird life. On a spring morning the woods resounded with the music of these feathered songsters. Great flocks of wild pigeons used to almost darken the sky as they passed in their onward flight. Now that particular kind of pigeon is extinct. In 1868 men in the town of Sebewaing caught 16 barrels of these pigeons and sent them to the New York markets. The early settlers used to knock them down with long poles when their ammunition gave out. It was also a common sight to see flocks of wild turkeys in the woods, especially in the fall of the year. As late as 1875 the Anderson brothers in Caseville Township, captured 10 or 11 turkeys just where the Grand Trunk Railway now crosses their land.
ORIGIN OF NAME "HURON"
We find that Huron County was set off in 1840 and organized in 1860. It is situated in latitude 43 degrees north on the west side of Lake Huron and east of Saginaw Bay, being surrounded, as will be seen by reference to the map, by water on three sides, which has a medial effect upon its climate both as to heat and cold. It contains about 553,000 acres of land, mostly rolling with no abrupt hills.
The name Huron was derived from the word "hures" as used in the phrase "Inelles hures" (what heads) as applied by an astonished French traveler to the Wyandotte or Huron Indians on beholding their fantastic mode of dressing the hair. These Indians were dispersed by the Iroquois in 149. (4).
Michigan Historical Collections
We find an interesting series of maps published in the Michigan Historical Magazine of July, 1918 which show the various names given to the territory now included in Huron County. The map of 1822 shows nearly one-third of the Lower Peninsula including the "Thumb" district, in Oakland County, which was set off in 1819 by a proclamation of Governor Cass with the addition of the lands acquired under the Indian treaty of Saginaw that same year. In 1828 St. Clair occupied the part that is now Huron County and also extended a considerable distance south of the present boundary line. In 1836 the "Thumb" is named Lapeer, and again in 1840 it is once more on the map as St. Clair, with only four counties bordering Lakes Huron and St. Clair. The other three counties were Macomb, Wayne and Monroe. In the maps of 1852-56 the territory is named Sanilac. Finally the map is given in 1860 of Huron County as it is today.
The principal rivers are the Cass, Pigeon, Pinnebog and Du Fill, or Sebewaing, as it is now called. Willow Creek also flows through a large portion of the eastern part of the county.
The soil being drift, composed of a mixture of clay, sand and gravel, is exceedingly well adapted to the growth of plants and fruit as well as the various grains. It is easily tilled, holds the moisture well and yet is sufficiently porous to allow proper drainage.
The land over which the Indian once roamed has now become the cultivated fields or is occupied by business houses, dwellings, churches and schools. To learn the story of those days of yore one has to delve into musty records and manuscripts of bygone years, for the actual pioneers, the first settlers of the county are rapidly passing away and with them we lose much of the history of the past and which it is important to preserve.
The homes of the settlers were built amid the stately old forest trees, Small spaces were cleared for
crops and the stroke of the axe and the crash of the falling timber echoed through the forest aisles. Progress was slow but steady. Every blow counted for improvement and stimulated hope and courage. The staff of life was generally coarsely ground Indian meal and lucky the family which had enough of it. Had it not been for the abundance of game many would have gone hungry. Men came into this county in many cases with nothing to aid them but courageous hearts and strong and willing hands. A hearty hospitality prevailed and the advent of a new family to settle in their midst was an occasion of rejoicing. Willing hands helped the newcomer build his cabin home and it was a common thing to exchange work in chopping and logging bees. The privations and sacrifices which necessarily come of such undertakings were bravely Met and endured. Among the obstacles to be contended with was the journeys to and from civilization. The routes lay through a wild and rough country. Swamps and marshes were crossed with difficulty. Long and weary days of travel were endured to obtain even the scantiest fare. it was impossible for the first settlers to support their families by agriculture for the
first few years and in this emergency the lumber camps and saw mills assisted in providing a livelihood for these people. Such was life in Huron County in the 50s and 60s.
We look back to the old times as hard times; and so they were. Full hearts and empty purses, hard work and plenty of it, shivering ague and wasting fever were the common lot of our early settlers, yet they had their share of good times too. The different schools of medicine let the pioneer kindly alone, said Governor Bagley at the first historical meeting in Michigan. The boneset and wormwood, pennyroyal and catnip that hung in every cabin were the drugs. The fashion plates did not reach the woods in that day and Jane's bonnet and Charley's coat were worn regardless of style. Questions that worry today never troubled the pioneer. Long before the advent of the white man we are told the Indians
would congregate in large parties along the shores of the lake and bay in the spring time to make maple sugar, which was taken later on and sold in Detroit.
THE FIRST WHITE MAN ON THE SHORE
The first white man we have any record of traveling around the shores of Saginaw and Wild Fowl Bays is Edward Petit, whose history is given by Mrs. B. C. Farrand in her sketch of St. Clair County in 1872. She states that Edward Petit was the first white child born in what is now Port Huron on February 7, 1813, in a log house built by his father near the foot of Court street. The chief amusements d Edward's boyhood days were those of the Indian, hunting and fishing. The Indians were very numerous and from them he learned the language. He was well fitted for his trade among them in later years. He began this work when only 15 years of age near the Sauble.
Mr. Petit had a post on the bend of the Cass River when in the employ of G. and W. Williams. On one occasion special interest, had been awakened by the failure of all the traders to find an encampment of five or six families of Indians who had been gone all winter and must necessarily have great quantities of furs. Party after party went out and returned without finding them. The head of the camp was Tawas, a cunning old fellow. Young Petit resolved to secure this prize if perseverance would accomplish it, and started out with provisions on his back for a week, together with articles for barter. He took with him as guide an Indian with one arm. The two started off and passed over to where Shebeyonk was situated, Here the Williams company had established an out post for furs in 1829, under the management of
Indian women. (4) Leaving this post they followed along the shores of bay and lake until they reached the present site of White Rock. Here they camped after building a bark lodge. Before morning a drenching rain set in and they had only one loaf of bread left. This, however, did not prevent them from renewing their search which was rewarded after a tramp of five miles. (5).
Tawas and his families were preparing to make maple sugar when they found them. These Indians had kettles of brass of all sizes which had been given them by the British Government. Undoubtedly it was one of these kettles that Robert Morse, of Bad Axe, found some years ago under an overturned root of a large tree on his father's farm in McKinley township. In the 50's, William Handy, digging out the basement of a house for William Rattle in Caseville, also found one of these kettles which his wife used for many years.
These Indians had selected this location where Mr. Petit found them for Hs fishing facilities. They were in almost a starving condition, having no food other than some moose tallow. Petit divided his loaf with them and purchased 500 martin skins for $1 each, which readily sold at $2. He could only take the best furs leaving the coarse ones for some other trader, On returning to the post on the bend of the Cass, Mr. Petit's employers quadrupled his wages. This incident occurred in 1831.
(4) The Fur Trader, page 139.
(5) Michigan Historical Collections.
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