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Northland

This is an excerpt from my Aunt Rosie’s book, Pioneer Potpourri. (Available on Amazon) She’s gone now but her writing still reaches out to today’s world. Please enjoy the varied skill of Rosalind Batterbee Bundy Westcott.

One March morning the flowers that lay beneath the leaves and the little seeds that had fallen the year before woke suddenly and decided they had slept long enough. “It is time to awake,” they said. “We must get out into the sunshine.”
“But,” said one timid violet, “what if we woke too early? Let’s send some hardy one ahead to see if winter is really gone.”
“I’ll second that,” spoke up Beth Lily. “We will wait.” So they sent Spring Beauty, which pleased Beauty very much. He liked being the first flower of spring, for he knew he received special attention because of it.
So Spring Beauty stretched his arms above his head and pushed his toes deeper into the earth. Up on his toes he stood, stretching and stretching until at last his tiny hands went right through the surface; at once he felt the warm sun. Throwing wide his arms he pushed up and up until he reached his full height. Then, turning quickly to face the sun and opening his eyes, he looked around.
Yes, there was Miss May Flower, hiding beneath her own leaves as usual, just waiting to be called. May liked to be up early too, but she just couldn’t wake until someone called her.
May is a hardy girl though, a true northerner who doesn’t go below the ground to spend the winter but pulls her own leaves over her head and goes to sleep while winter winds blow. Then at first call she stretches her limbs and wakes in a moment. So May Flower is always second to arrive in the spring.
A warm breeze fanned the cheek of Spring Beauty, turning the leaves and melting the last bits of snow they hid. “Wake up, everyone,” Spring Beauty called. “Wake up. Spring is come!!!”
At once May Flowers stretched their heads above their leafy covers to smile at the world, and the green tips of Adders Tongue and Beth Lilies began to appear. Buds swelled upon the trees and tiny new leaves peeped out. The impatient Wild Plum did not wait for leaves to form but burst immediately into a beautiful cloud of bloom.
As the last banks of snow on the slopes melted and ran down into the valleys, soaking the roots of plants and trees in the pastures and woodlands, the West Wind whispered softly over the earth and the old autumn leaves that lay in repose rustled in their beds.

The brook that chattered and gurgled so pleasantly in summer, took on a new and deeper tone as it rushed along, carrying away the debris of winter and taking great bites of soil from the edges of its banks. Rumbling and roaring along, it gained more speed and power as it neared the valley. To any one listening it seemed to be warning the world to keep out of its way.
As the flowers grew, each one bringing forth its own beautiful blossoms, the woods and fields took on a new life and beauty.

But the flowers were not alone, for many of nature’s children came scampering from their dens, and high overhead their feathered friends and enemies fluttered and flew.
Yes, spring had returned to the Northland, each segment in its own way. And all things welcomed the SPRING!

Moqua, an Indian squaw sat by her wigwam with her embroidery work while her husband’s moose meat lay in a pot of maple sap, cooking over the fire for supper. She became so engrossed in the project that she forgot to keep an eye on the food.

Finally Moqua’s husband, the Chief, returned home expecting a normal pot of roast moose for his repast, and found a new and wonderful gourmet food. His meat was surrounded by thick brown syrup. He was so delighted by this new creation that he informed his tribe that Kose-Kusbek had shown Moqua directly from heaven how to make syrup by boiling sap.

Soon Many Indians profited from her mistake. Using tomahawks and stone axes they inserted a piece of bark or a reed to convey sap into a container made of birch or elm bark. Later the filled buckets were emptied into a trough made of a hollow log and the sap was heated by fiery hot stones until the syrup was ready.

Pioneers quickly learned to make the syrup too. It was a great boon to their scanty larder. They used wooden spouts rather than reeds, caught the sap in buckets and boiled it in iron kettles.  They called it Indian sugar or Indian molasses.

One more story brought to you by my Aunt Rosie.  I would add to this lore a little tidbit that Aunt Rosie told to me about our own family. She said that when my grand-folks moved onto  a cut over lumber camp, (Camp 18) her mother (my grandmother) made maple syrup by boiling maple bark. I never tried it but it’s an intriguing thought. http://www.dawncreations.net

 

 Maple syrup is a miracle, you just go into the woods during the spring season, stab all those beautiful maple trees in the groin and the syrup spurts out of their trunks and into your bucket—— for free.  Of course you have to boil it down to make it fit your needs, but that is a small thing when the original product is so readily available without cost. Or is it?

My Aunt Rosie tells of her experience in her book, Pioneer Potpourri. This is the story in her own words.

It didn’t take much urging to get my son, Bob, to hitch up a horse and dray and transport the big black kettle, chains, spiles and pails over the hill and into a small valley. From this central position he could reach a number of sizable maple trees on the hillsides all around him.

After building a tripod large enough to swing the kettle and to have a good fire beneath, he set up the fire shields and started tapping the trees. The trees were obliging and the sap was soon running and dripping merrily into the pails.

From that time on Bob was running too. It took all his daylight hours to carry the sap and cut wood to keep the fire going. We soon found that “sap was a-wastin’” if the fire was not kept constant day and night.

Sleep was a thing one did between piling on wood and pouring and stirring and skimming.

Seeing how tired he looked, I took one of the girls one night and we took a turn at it. I waded along the narrow passageways through the snow and fumbled in the dark for the full sap pails. When, finally, I finished carrying sap, I piled some of the wood he had left for me to use on the fire. Then I sat down near it.

The fire felt fine in front, but I soon found it a simple matter to broil one side and freeze the other at the same time. It was either that or keep moving, not only turning first my face and then my back to the heat, but also moving from side to side to escape the gushes of smoke which shifted with the wind every few minutes. By morning my pioneer instincts were as smoked and dried as pemmican, and I had a much greater respect for those who produce maple syrup in quantities. I no longer wonder why it is so expensive.

Aunt Rosie has passed now, and so has my cousin, Bob. But I shall always respect and love them for the heritage they shared with me. Take a look at her book on Amazon.com.

 

 

All day long the little train had traveled through the storm. Windows grew increasingly dark and small towns spread farther and farther apart. The engine became over heated and everyone aboard grew increasingly tired. Then at last the rugged little train chugged into the Cadillac yards and passengers disembarked, looking forward to a little exercise, a warm meal and a good night’s rest.

Among the passengers that day were Thomas Gould and his wife, Alice, with their 6 year old son Elmer. The family had left Mason, Michigan to settle on a homestead near the village of East Jordan. They spent the night in a local hotel and rose the next morning to find the streets and yards still blocked with drifted snow.

Nevertheless, the whistle blew, telling the passengers that the train was planning to leave on schedule.

So, carrying their luggage, the Goulds forged their way through the drifts, protecting little Elmer from the wintry blasts as best they could. Arriving at the station, they settled themselves in the coach and after much huffing and puffing, the little train was on its way.

It moved slowly forward, stopping many times to reverse itself, gather speed and ram its way through great banks of drifted snow.

Then, several miles out, it became obvious to the engineer that the little train was not going to make it. He returned to Cadillac, and again the Gould family found themselves descending the train steps, making ready for a night in Cadillac.

After a restless night the family rose in the morning to find the snow piled higher than ever, but the train whistle screamed its readiness to leave and the passengers hurried to get through the drifts and seated in the coach. Again that day the train returned to the station.

Finally on the third day the sky was clear. A most discouraged group of travelers gathered at the station. They boarded the train and sat back to watch, as smoke drifted past the windows, forming fleeting pictures that swirled against the snowy backdrop.
Suddenly the family felt more cheerful. Their ordeal was nearly over.

Later that day the little train pulled into the small town of Boyne City and the Goulds disembarked. They found an ox team to continue their journey, wrapped themselves in layers of clothing to keep out the cold, and started the long trip to their homestead.

For 2 months they stayed with a near neighbor by the name of Pryor, while Thomas built a home. He shoveled 4 foot of snow from the site and, despite the abundance of trees on his land, he had to bring in lumber from the town of Charlevoix.

Finally their home was ready. Thomas, Alice and Elmer settled into a typical pioneer life.

It was 1856 and 17 year old William E. Stephens had run away from home to join the Union Army. Being a mere youth with no wife or children, it seemed appropriate to assign him to the pony express. Thus young William found himself riding through unfriendly territory carrying the U.S. mail.

Many a day the young man raced through wild untamed lands with his leather pouch close at hand. Many a time he hunched close to his horse to elude the ever present threat from Native American weapons. Then one day an Indian arrow found its mark. William was disabled——shot through the hip, leaving a shattered leg and damaged internal organs. He found himself in a hospital in his home state of New York.

And it was there that William met the love of his life, Emma Wilcox. They say that pity is akin to love, and as Emma watched the young man struggle through painful hours of recovery, it brought a tenderness in her heart, and when William left the hospital he and Emma were married. Shortly thereafter they joined the land rush to northern Michigan.

It was thus that William and Emma found themselves in the deep woods with very little of life’s comforts. The area was covered with trees, and it was William’s job to fell those giants with only an axe as his helper——a dull axe at that. So despite his injured hip, William set out on a 60 mile round trip to Elk Rapids, planning to buy a grindstone and maybe some newspapers to catch up on world events. Of course the trip was more than a single day’s journey and the accepted practice was to find a cabin where one might spend the nights. William’s first stop was at the John Call homestead, about four miles west of the present site of Mancelona.

On the return trip William again spent the night with the Calls and then left early in the morning on the final leg of his journey home. He walked all day until he found himself on the bank of the Green River in the dark of night, looking for the log that served as a bridge to the other side.

Tired to the bone, William was in no mood to stumble around in the dark, so he lit the newspapers and walked up and down the bank until he found the bridge. But the grindstone was now missing. Rather than lose the bridge again, William finished the trip and returned the next day for the grindstone.

By today’s standards William’s journey was a grueling experience, but those early pioneers took difficult times in stride. They were a tough breed who simply did what needed to be done.

******

This is another true story, taken from Aunt Rosie’s book, Pioneer Potpourri, which was written some 60 years ago when times were different. Why not go to http://www.dawncreations and take a look at the book, Pioneer Potpourri.

And by the way, Footprints Under the Pines which invites you to view life as it was in the lumber camps of the 1890’s is available as well. You may buy it on Amazon, at Gift and Bible in Lansing or agape booksellers in Jackson. Footprints Under the Pines may also be ordered in most bookstores including Barnes & Nobel or borrowed from the Library of Michigan.

Well, we went up north this weekend to find Death Hill. It was easy enough to visit the Scenic Landslide and Dead Man’s Hill; both are well marked. But no one knows that Death Hill exists, including personnel at the county offices. (That is to say, they didn’t know about it until Friday) We walked in and showed them the paragraph in Pioneer Potpourri that reads,

The East Jordan Lumber Co. found a good stand on a steep hill which later became known as Death Hill, found in Echo Township it is not to be confused with Dead Man’s Hill, located in the Jordan Valley.

And they became involved in the search. They called every office in the territory, sent us to the museum where we found some really good stuff and even called a museum that was closed for the weekend. But no one could find Death Hill.

We drove through Echo Township and saw some beautiful country, including some steep hills where one could certainly believe a logging team might lose their lives. Yet we found nothing.

In the end, we decided to give up the search and go to visit an old Aunt who lived in the territory and who is now residing in an assisted living facility. Ours was a lost cause.

Then as we visited, I told Aunt Alice of our quest and she said. “Well yes, I know where it is. It’s off of the road to Belair. (Yes, Belair, not Bellaire – We locals call the town Belair) At this point I grabbed my pencil and began to take notes. “It’s an old 2 track road,” she said. “And it’s kept open for hiking and skiing.”

So the next day, before going to the family reunion, we grabbed our map and headed out in the direction she’d given. We traveled the 2 track roads into the deep woods. Then we found the trail to Death Hill just as she’d said. We traveled deeper and deeper into the wilds and the roads grew more and more narrow and muddier and filled with potholes. In the end we came to a place where the county had made a roadbed across a fast moving stream out of broken rock pieces that were rougher than a corn cob. This is where we stopped. We’ll go back some day driving a truck that is designed to traverse such territory.

So we found the object of our search in the process of doing a kind deed.

Hmmmmm, I think there may be a moral there somewhere.

Settlement had only begun in Jordan Township, Michigan, when a new school was built near the Pinney Bridge, and children in the area found themselves in class. Then as the bright reds and yellows of the fall foliage began to wane and the days grew cool and dark, great billows of drifted snow covered the landscape. Children slogged through drifts up to their hips as they made their way to class. The only way to maintain roadways was to pack the accumulation into a hard mass.

But winters didn’t last forever and the snow melted, giving way to mud and slush. Yet the children made their way each day, tramping through the mire and often arriving home soaked and covered with muck.

Then as the days grew ever warmer, the bears awoke from winter slumber and began to prowl the forest in search of food. Thus the children might come in contact with old bruin. On these occasions they hurried to the nearest home or place of safety. It was not unusual for the times, however, and school went on. It was just one of those things it seems.

On one occasion a man named Mr. Staley shot a bear and was transporting him home with his horse and buggy, when he passed the school. Suddenly the children came streaming out the door to watch. The teacher had felt it better to allow the event than try to contain their fascination.

Sometimes the call of the forest made it very hard for children to remain in class, so on one occasion when the teacher left the room, the students climbed out a back window and skipped for home. The escape was a big thrill for the kids until the realization set in that they would need an excuse for their behavior. So they made a plan; they told the teacher that their cows had strayed near the school and they had gone to take them home.

Of course the teacher’s raised eyebrows left little doubt as to whether she believed the tale, but she did let them get by with the story. And many years later, when the kids had grown into adulthood, they still laughed with glee at their not so secret secret.

Dismissal time could be a problem in those early schools as well, for a clock was considered a luxury. The only furnishings might be a stove and several benches, so when the end of the school day came near, the teacher simply went outside to check the stake——a pole that had been placed in a strategic position in the school yard. When the shadow fell at just the right angle, school was dismissed. This method of telling time was called stake time.

Yes times were hard, but the people were a hardy bunch. Cold winds, deep drifts, prowling bears and lack of furnishings were taken in stride. Nothing seemed to dismay the sons and daughters of our early pioneers.