Entertainment Passions

Ottissippi Ch. 6 continued, part 5

By Cheryl Morgan

OTTISSIPPI is written by local author – Cheryl Morgan. It is the New Native History and culture of Southeast Michigan and beyond that has been untold. It was inaccessible due to the complexity of the many tribes, governments, states, and boundaries. The history was hidden and scattered everywhere due to time and the many changes of names of waterways, peoples and places. It is the result of 4 years of intense groundbreaking research that clarifies and reveals what happened here and in the Northwest Territory. Now available in one volume! Non-fiction 643 pages.

BWHL will be sharing excerpts from OTTISSIPPI with the readers every other week. The book is available on Amazon.com/ottissippi.

It is available as an eBook with a searchable Table of Contents and in Print – paperback.

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Chapter 6 continued, part 5


The lumbermen were called woodsmen, piney boys, and shanty boys. After 1870, they were called lumberjacks.

Timber cruisers, or land lookers, would select the best land available and reserve it at the land office for their employers. Later, under the Homesteading Act of 1862, men were hired to claim a plot of 160 acres and stay on it until the timber was cut.

Crews would come in and build a camp, bunkhouse, cook shanty, dining room, and kitchen, the most important part of the camp. A grainery and barn were built. The first party of shanty men usually went out in November and located a site near the center of where the winters labors were to be carried on, always choosing a dry knoll in the immediate vicinity of a spring, lake, or brook. They constructed a log house and cut a road to the nearest stream on which the logs were to be floated down. The log house was sufficiently large enough to accommodate ten to twenty men. In the center, a raised place was built under the apex of the roof which apex let out smoke and let in the sunlight and the rain. Logs were used for seating, grass, evergreen boughs, sawdust, and straw were used for mattress ticking. Bunks were around the outside of the building. The log-cutting usually began in early December and continued until the ice broke up in the spring. Traders were never allowed to bring intoxicating drinks like whiskey, the men having no money to pay for it, as their contract was to be paid at the close of their engagement, the employer supplying food and other necessities in the interim. Whiskey was an essential element of backwoods life, a sovereign remedy for all prevailing ills. It also caused many fights and much damage in the little towns when payday finally came.

Many of the men were young bachelors. Lumber workers often joined volunteer regiments. The men were use to a rugged life and made good soldiers. There were a few women who worked as cooks or clerical workers. Lumber camps became hideouts for deserters and draft dodgers. It was a winter, cold weather job, many farmers went to the woods for the winter. Food was plentiful, if boring. Bread, potatoes, flour, rice, tea, beans, salt meat, pork, and game were the menu. Sugar, jam, fresh vegetables, and fruit were a luxury.

The men were up at 4 AM and worked until dusk. Their teams of horses and oxen were used to haul logs to the river. The horses were often kept in the same building. The loggers made ice-covered roads, the logs were pulled on sleds; they were extremely large loads. There were contests between rival camps to see who could stack the highest loads. The logs were taken to the banks of the rivers and piled 20 to 30 feet high to await the spring thaw, when the flooded rivers, streams, and brooks could float the logs to towns and markets. Many times, dams were built to create enough water to float timber. When the rivers melted, the logs were pushed into the swollen rivers and floated to the mills. At the mills, the logs were sorted into boom areas, each log identified the owner by a log mark on the end of it. The logs were sorted so each company’s logs were together.

The forest was so thick with white pine, there was no underbrush, and the sky couldn’t be seen overhead. Some trees were over 100 feet tall; a tree, less than three feet in diameter was too small to cut. Some trees were so large it took only four to build a good-sized house.

The growth of towns and cities were around mills. The settlers quickly spread – the land was easier to clear and farm. Timber theft was wide spread.

The work was dangerous and risky. Safety failures and accidents were common. Many were injured and killed. Many were killed by being crushed or drowned in raging rivers by huge sleds and falling trees. Nevertheless, the men were very skillful. Contests, specifically burling contests, were performed. Lumberjack shows were great fun.

The company store had all the necessities for the men: socks, gloves, heavy woolen Mackinaw coats and blankets, tobacco, and a few other items. The men often worked all winter to pay for their clothes and blankets. An old Jack supplied wood for the stoves, hauled water, did washing, etc.

In 1870, the men began to use saws to cut trees down, instead of chopping with an axe. They continued to use the axe to lop off branches and cut a wedge to direct the tree’s fall.

Many Indians worked in the lumber industry and boat building trade. Many would cross over from Canada to work on the American side. Judge Bunce had a group who lived nearby and worked for him. They were called Bunce’s Indians. Judge Bunce operated a trading post and sawmill business. He had Indians working for him at Bunce Creek and in Abbottsford, where he had two mills in now Ruby, Michigan.

Joe Greaux, Peace Chief of the Woodland Metis Ojibwe Indians, shared how “the Indians worked in the logging camp on Black River and were located at what is now the Clyde Township Hall land on Vincent Road in St. Clair County, Michigan”. Many Indians and Black men worked in the lumber camps in Michigan.


The blacksmith was the local toolmaker and engineer, the dentist, doctor, undertaker, veterinarian, and surgeon. He was a horse dealer and usually held important offices in a village, camp, church, or magistrate. The blacksmith was at the heart of every country village, the Jack of all trades. Charcoal was used in the forge; it was homemade of elm and soft maple. Metal was heated to cherry red to white, and the fires were very hot. He would roll his tool, always turning to keep the soft bead on the tip. Sometimes the metal was dipped into water to cool it. Metals were mixed to make tools or other items with special properties. Hammers were used to form products of the forge. These items were made by hand and were called wrought iron.

Blacksmiths kept the horses healthy and made shoes, some having cleats or spikes for the icy roads. Blacksmiths were required to do almost anything. They made wagon wheels of split white oak and hickory and spikes for the wagon wheels. Aside from axes and saws, everything was made on the spot. Pans, nails, armor, chain, swords, every kind of tool, and other items of metal were the blacksmith’s craft, made, repaired, and invented. They were the forerunners of today’s modern engineering business.

Boom towns sprung up. Preachers were often ignored. The North was the Wild West, the Old West.

Sporting houses were at the edge of towns. They were an accepted part of life in the lake states, necessary to keep respectable females, safe from lustful men. Word of mouth was the advertising, and saloon fights were normal recreation in the woods towns. Many had their pay stolen when drunk. The loggers set their own rules.

There were practical jokes, brawling, brash towns, and lumberjacks. Some men followed a pattern of alternate toil and indolence, hardship and debauch. Some simmered down to start respectability. There were makeshift bars, a board across two stumps, a sawhorse, or barrel. There was a melting pot from all over the world. There was unspeakable whoredom, drunkenness and lawlessness were common. Many met an early death in an, unmarked grave.

The lumbermen left the piney a wasteland. The requirements of sawmill operators encouraged the rise of many machine shops and foundries. These men and shops were used to fuel the farm implement explosion, and fuel the auto industry. Blacksmiths, grist millers, saw millers, potash makers, woolen millers, shingle makers, carpenters, and cobblers were all part of the new settlements. The village store was a trading center for farm products. Barter was the way of buying goods.


“Z. W. Bunce was an early pioneer in St. Clair County, Michigan: a lumberman and Trader, and territorial judge.

Daniel B. Harrington, a gifted natural American, was here in 1819, soon after the territory was organized. He was always in the front of business and intellectual pursuits and did many great things to improve St. Clair County, Michigan. He was a land surveyor, fur trader, and lumberman. He well knew the forests”. MPHC, vol. 28

“Daniel B. Harrington’s sawmill was near the now west end of Holland Avenue on the Black River. He cut the timber to build a road north of the fort, now Pine Grove Avenue. He dug a ditch through the swampy lowlands of McNeil’s Creek, the forerunner of the canal later built in 1912, between Lake Huron and Black River. Jeremiah Harrington came to Michigan with his brother, Daniel, as fur traders. He worked for the government as a mail carrier in Ohio during the War of 1812. He and Daniel engaged in the lumbering business. His son, Henry, played with the Indian boys and learned their language. His farm was supreme for raising crops of potatoes and corn.

Ralph Wadhams was a lumberman, politician, raised prizewinning cattle, and was a business man and postmaster at Wadhams on the Black River. Ralph and Henry Howard bought the mill of Robert Smart in 1827 at Clyde Mills. Ralph was a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention. He was a supervisor of Desmond Township in 1835, then a large portion of St. Clair County.

David Ward, son of Nathan Ward, was the Timber King, a cousin of Eber Ward. He was a schoolteacher, then a surveyor for Joseph Campau and pine land cruiser, or looker, with his father Nathan. He became an expert, and it became his chief interest. He received a quarter of the lands he surveyed and explored, selecting the best lands. He was a Saginaw land looker. He was involved in bringing the railroad to Saginaw opening up the forests, of Ostego, Manistee, AuSable, Oscoda, and Northwest of Frederick. He also became a physician and surgeon. He was a cousin of Amasa Rust. He had a lifelong feud with his cousin, Eber Brock Ward. David Ward platted the villages of Ruby, Lakeport, and Brockway, and added to Port Huron.

Eber Ward, nephew of Sam Ward, was the Pine King and manager for Sam Ward, who later gave him a large inheritance. Eber built ships at Detroit and Marine City. Eber owned immense mills at Ludington, Michigan and Toledo, Ohio. Eber was involved in lumbering, banking, plate glass making, steel making, and railroad building. He owned land in Ohio and other Northern States.

He owned an island in Lake Superior and had a huge silver mining and smelting business. For fifteen years, the island was the world’s greatest silver mine. He then went into the ore business and was a chief promoter of the canal at St. Mary’s Falls at the Sault Ste. Marie. He entered the steel making business, making railroad rails and sheet metal, having plants at Wyandotte, Michigan and Chicago, Illinois. He owned controlling interest in six of the greatest iron companies.

He was a pioneer in the iron and steel industry, and the giant of industrialists of the Northwest. Eber died of apoplexy – stroke, or heart attack – on a Detroit street in 1875. Eber’s daughter Clara married a Prince Joseph De Caramen-Chimay of Belgium. Eber Ward was once the wealthiest man in the United States” (D. Mitts, 1968, That Noble Country, pg. 122).

“Emily Ward was the sister of Eber Brock Ward, and she was endowed with a great ability in business principles and management of money. She was responsible for much of his phenomenal success. She ran a school to educate young women at Marine City, now the Library. She was a kind, generous, courageous woman, one of the most notable pioneers of the St. Clair River District” (Mitts).

“Sam Ward was a great trader, bringing supplies into the wilderness. His floating bazaar of merchandise was a welcome sight. He owned a sawmill, was a farmer, and owned a large fleet of both passenger and cargo ships. He was also a ship builder at Marine City – Newport. Sam platted the village of Newport and was postmaster, and also operated a trading post and general store at Belle River, now Marine City.

Marine City was the center of shipbuilding, by 1910, 210 vessels had been built there” (Mitts, That Noble Country, pg. 197). “There were many other shipbuilding yards all along the St. Clair River, from Swan Creek to Lakeport on Lake Huron.

Heavy duties on import and export and a monopoly of trade promoted smuggling. There was much pirating and smuggling on the waterways” (MPHC, vol. 28, D.C. Walker).

Black River is 73 miles of main stream, and there are 118 miles of major tributaries. Dams were built at Ruby on the Black River and at Croswell. These dams block fish migration, keeping walleye and sturgeon from prime spawning grounds. The river is yet cleansing itself of debris. Bald eagles are once again frequenting the area above the valley. There are 89 species of fish in the Black River. There are 96 dams on the Huron River, 79 on the Clinton River, and 63 on the Rouge River.

The Strait of the St. Clair River, the Detroit River, and the St. Lawrence Seaway are the busiest waterways on earth. Steamers and sail vessels pass through the Strait of the St. Clair River every four minutes, day and night.

There are 6,000 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes.

“Pirouges (large dugouts), Mackinaw Barges (Batteaus), and Durham boats which had flat bottoms and a running board along the whole length of each side, the crew walked on while poling the boat. These were used in early trade. Sails were used when the winds were fair. Petiager was a boat made from a tree trunk hollowed out, often provided with a plank bottom, the trunk being split in two halves, each of which was made to serve as one side of the boat” (Askin 1, pg. 238).

“During the British occupation, boats were built at Detroit. Between 1774 and 1782, nine vessels were built and launched at Detroit boatyards for defense and trade. They were from 18 to 136 tons burden” (Parkins).

“The first boat other than the Indians’ vessels, canoes of all sizes, was the Griffon in 1680, with LaSalle and Hennepin aboard. LaSalle was granted a monopoly on trade of the Mississippi for five years; the Jesuits incite war and try to ruin him” (Metis Timeline, info/metis.aspx).

“The Miller salt well was a great source of wealth. Mack and Miller had a distillery on Harsens Island” (MPHC vol. 4). Aura Stewart was a distiller on Harsens Island.

“100 million acres of land was given to the railroad companies in the U.S. for free. Much swindling, scheming, and profiteering was involved. Wild fraud and monopolies bled the people” (The Peoples History).

“In 1878, on the St. Clair River, 37,188 vessels of all kinds passed through. The Strait of St. Clair and Detroit Rivers were the only route of travel for the immense commerce of the great chain of Lakes. The St. Clair River is one of the finest and safest harbors in the world” (Jenks).

Next time we will share Excerpts from Chapter 2, A Sense of Place, Waterways, Ste. Claire, Walpole Island and Boundaries. It will be followed by Chapter 5 Disease and Epidemics.

We will then return to Chapter 7 Part I: The French, British, English and Americans. Followed by, Chapter 7 Part II: Forts, Indian Captives and American Biography. These Chapters are very lengthy.

I hope you are enjoying the journey. Cheryl



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This book came about after a visit to the library where I could not find local Indian History. I grew up in the St. Clair and Black River area of Michigan, fishing on all the area waters with my father and brothers. I loved books, libraries, horses and puzzles; I was not a tech person. I love to cook, garden, travel, and camp. I was determined to find and share the truth. This has been a difficult journey in every way. I give you, the reader, the truth and blessings I also reaped. Cheryl Morgan

Cheryl Morgan lives near Port Huron, Michigan with her husband Tom and dog Fred.

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