THE SEBEWA RECOLLECTOR Bulletin of the Sebewa Center
APRIL 2004, Volume 39, Number 5. Sebewa Township, Ionia County, Michigan.
Submitted with written permission of Editor, Grayden D. SLOWINS:
SURNAMES: COBMOOSA, COOK, WESSEL, CROSBY, POWELL, DEXTER, CAMPAU, GIBBS
MICHIGAN PLACE NAMES:
COBMOOSA, Oceana County: In 1885 the federal government and 54 Indian chiefs,
including COBMOOSA (1768-1866), signed a treaty by which the Indians gave up
their lands near Grand Rapids and Ionia for new lands here and $540,000 in money
and goods. In 1857, some 750 people, and in 1858, some 550 more, were
transported here by boat, and schools and a log cabin for the chief were built.
About three miles east, in a store operated by COOK and WESSEL, was the COBMOOSA
post office, opened December 10, 1866, with Daniel W. CROSBY as its first
postmaster. The post office closed February 7, 1878, but was restored from March
22, 1878, to June 13, 1916, when the store burned down. The post office was not
re-opened, but the area and its lake are still known as COBMOOSA (Post Office
Ionia’s Native American population was typical of Great Lakes natives, and when
the whites came they reacted in a typical manner, trading with skepticism and
humoring the whites’ strange customs. When the Europeans began to war over
rights to the Great Lakes region, the native nations took sides and fought with
the whites against each other.
Many great chiefs were glorified in these wars. One of his last chiefs in the
Ionia area was COBMOOSA. Several different stories have been related about his
life and exploits. Whichever stories are true, he was a popular chief of the
people along the central Grand River Valley for many years. He accompanied other
chiefs to meet with the white governments in Detroit and Washington to negotiate
treaties, and a monument stands near the site of COBMOOSA’S village, by the
floral building on the resent-day Ionia Fairgrounds. The native population at
the local settlement was estimated at 50 in 1830, and many other encampments
dotted the area.
There were only 28 white settlements in all of Michigan Territory in 1830, which
included what is now Wisconsin. Detroit was still a fort of logs an earth
surrounded by a cluster of wood-frame buildings. Chicago was just platted in
1830 and consisted of 12 families huddled along Lake Michigan. Even in 1844,
Joseph PRIESTLY POWELL passed up a chance to buy, for one yoke of oxen, forty
acres of worthless swamp, now called “The Loop” in Chicago, to purchase 160
acres of well-drained land in Ronald Township, Ionia County.
Samuel DEXTER had made money during the excavation of the Erie Canal, and headed
west upon it. He visited Louis CAMPAU’S trading post at present-day Grand Rapids
and staked a claim there and at Ionia, recording both at the same time at White
Pigeon in 1832. In May 1833, the 63 people of the DEXTER Colony left Herkimer
County, New York, for Michigan. Only 62 arrived, because little Riley DEXTER
died of cholera and was buried at the east line of Riley Township, Clinton
County, where PRATT Road crosses Muskrat Creek, just 30 miles out. For more than
100 years, his grave could be found marked by a blaze on an elm tree.
At Ionia the settlers purchased some of the bark-covered wigwams and the gardens
already planted by the native Americans. COBMOOSA’S people relocated several
miles downstream, gradually working their way to Lowell. It was from Lowell that
many were moved to Oceana County. COBMOOSA often came back to visit his
daughter, whose home still stands at 803 N. Washington in Lowell.
Sources for COBMOOSA story: “Michigan Place Names by Walter ROMIG, Wayne State
University Press. 1986.
BYRON GIBBS’ WORLD WAR II MEMOIRS CONTINUED:
On Monday morning, March 30, I started radio school. That same day I received a
letter from Chief Signal Officer with forms to fill out saying I may be
qualified for a direct appointment as a 2nd Lt.
We now had a new mailing address Company C, 126 Infantry, APO 32 c/o Postmaster,
New York, New York.
On April 2, 1942 was the first letter I was able to send home by writing “FREE”
in the place of a stamp. For the remainder of the war, no postage stamps were
necessary. Now I was in radio school each day 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
By April 7, radio school was closing and we were getting ready to move again. We
were on the range that day and Lt. REED said he would have his wife send my
camera home to mother. That evening we got on a train and were in motion by 9:00
By April 11, 1942, we completed a 4400-mile trip and were near San Francisco. We
saw some beautiful scenery especially in the Rocky Mountains. We traveled first
class in Pullman cars and meals in the dining car. We had gone through Salt Lake
City at night so we did not see much of it. We did see the prison, Alcatraz, in
San Francisco Bay. At the time it seemed fairly close to land.
At first we were billeted in pyramidal tents similar to the type we had in Camp
Livingston. These tens had the old style sheet metal cone like Sibley store in a
sand box in the center of the tent. This stove could be fired with coal or wood.
We knew this was a staging area for over-seas shipment. Many were discarding
what they did not feel they could take with them. I bought a table top electric
radio for fifty cents. The case did not look new but it worked fine. I had room
in one of my bags for it. If it got so it did not work I would not lose much. I
ended up being the only one with a radio. At this location, we were fed
cafeteria style from one mess hall.
By April 15, we were in the Cow Palace and billeted in the horse stalls with
dirt floors. Here we were, now issued the new type helmets with liners.
By April 17, 1942, we had received about three thousand replacements in the
division to bring it to full strength. The location we were at reminded me of a
prison compound surrounded by barbed wire. We were not allowed to leave the
area. They wanted to make sure everyone was there when the order came to move.
In a letter to my mother, I had written the 1st Lt. Arthur BUSH was promoted to
Captain. Lt. George REED was second in command and was very well liked and very
The Cow Palace had dirt floors and it was very dusty. We were eating out doors
by the live stock pavilion. At this time we had a new address, APO #32 c/o
Postmaster, San Francisco, California instead of New York.
On April 19, 1942, we were on the ocean liner USAT Lurline but we did not leave
the harbor until April 22. The first two days at sea it was a little rough but
the rest of the trip the ocean was rather smooth. The group I was with was
billeted on deck in bunks four high so closely spaced you could not sit up. The
deck area we were at was like an open porch. It had a solid roof above and a
canvas lashed up for a wall where the ship rail was. We were not allowed to roam
around on the ship and stayed in our area generally unless we went to the dining
area. With so many on the ship we ate in shifts. As I remember, each unit had
their own time to eat. They may have had meals around the clock to feed
The dining room did not have the appearance it formerly had as a luxury liner
but the meals were good and we had chicken, turkey, fresh frozen vegetables and
fruit. In war time the liner traveled under black out conditions with no open
lights showing. Any washing or showering on the boat was done with salty sea
water. This always left you feeling sticky.
When we crossed the equator, there was a ceremony with Neptunus Rex Ruler of the
Raging Main and his court to initiate us as shellbacks. We received a little
green card to carry in the billfold to show we had crossed the equator. The
division photographer on board took pictures of the ceremony and we were allowed
to purchase reprints of the pictures which they could send home when we landed.
On May 6, 1942, I was promoted to Corporal while sailing across the Pacific. A
Corporal was the lowest noncommissioned rating but it did have some
responsibility as a Corporal was the second in command of a squad. It also meant
no more KP or work detail. It also resulted in an increase in pay and two
stripes on my sleeve.
On May 14, 1942, we arrived at Port Adelaide, Australia. There the army mailed
postal cards to our home addresses which said “arrived safely” and we signed our
Australia is south of the equator so the seasons are reversed with the winter
months being July and August. As we arrived, their fall season was approaching.
We were transported to Camp Sandy Creek that the Australians had set up for us.
There were a number of things new to us. First we had to adjust to a new
currency system, 1 L (one pound) equaling $3.26, 1/-(shilling) equal to 16 ½
cents and 3d (pence) equaling four cents. The shilling was about the size of a
quarter. The copper pence was nearly the size of a half dollar.
The Australian army kitchen struck me as unusual. It was a roof over screened in
area with a concrete floor. The stove was a steam boiler. All the cooking pots
set on the floor with a steam hose stuck in them to cook the food. All the steam
hoses going across the floor into bubbling cooking pots made me think of an
I remember one time early in our stay here having mutton stew dished out into
our mess kits when we were standing in a cold rain. The cold rain drops
congealed floating discs of mutton tallow that stuck to the roof of your mouth
giving a rather unpleasant sensation.
The Australian soldiers delivered unwrapped bread in the back of an army stake
rack truck. The bread had been baked without being put in a pan and it looked
like cobble stones about 8” in diameter. The Australian soldiers unloading it
treated it like stones. They walked on it and threw it off in a pile by the
kitchen like a pile of rocks. The bread had a hard crust but it was excellent.
The only building we had was a multipurpose corrugated metal roofed building.
There were tables here where we could write letters and read in the evening. The
electric power for the lights was 240 volts. The light bulbs instead of having
the screw in Edison base, had a bayonet base like auto tail light bulbs. I had
the 110 volt radio I bought for 50 cents while in the U.S. and the company
barber had his 110 volt electric clippers. I knew each of these could be made to
work by putting the correct size light bulbs in a series to drop the voltage to
110 or close to it. On the first trip to town I bought some lamp cord, light
bulbs, sockets, and plugs. We ended up with a working radio and our company
barber was back in business.
While in town I bought a ten-shilling pocket watch ($1.63). I did not expect a
watch at this price to last long. It did operate for a couple of months though.
The works were much different and simpler than a conventional watch. I also got
weighed on a penny scale which showed my weight as 10 stones, 12 pounds. This by
our weight system was 152 pounds. I had gained about 5 pounds on the trip across
In town I noticed a number of things the Australians in Adelaide had a “cheer up
House” like our USO. Their comfort station for service men and women had a
cafeteria, billiard tables, reading room and hot showers. Most young women in
town I did not think knew how to use make-up very well. They tried to imitate
Hollywood. This applied to those under 20 mostly. Many Australians seemed to
think we met Hollywood stars back home on a regular basis and were surprised
that we did not.
So many fairly young women even in their 20s were reported to be wearing false
teeth. The reason for this I did not know. The Australians referred to us as
“Yanks” and to their own soldiers as “diggers”. Coffee we soon found out was
made with milk instead of water. Sometimes a liquid essence of coffee was used
instead of real coffee. I did not care too much for coffee made with milk. Pay
phones in town operated on two pence for local calls. Long distance calls were
priced on distance. One thing we did miss was there were no hamburger stands as
we were used to in the U.S.
So much was different. A civilian owning a radio had to buy a license to have it
in their home. Street cars were called trams. The tire on an auto was spelled
tyre. Gasoline or petrol, as they called it, was scarce and taxi cabs ran on gas
generated in two pressure cooker like affairs about 15 or 20 gallon size mounted
on the rear bumper usually. The cab driver had a small tank of petrol he used to
start the motor. As soon as the motor was running the driver reached under the
dash and shut off the petcock and the gas from the generator took over. If you
were going some place and the cab started to slow down the driver would stop the
cab, jump out and run back and switch to the other generator. He would then open
the spent generator and recharge it. I do not know what material he used. It was
something solid and I think some water was added.
The railroad passenger cars looked much different to us. They were wood
construction instead of steel. There was a running board on each side and you
entered a compartment from the side. There was no center aisle to go from car to
car. You stayed in the compartment on two seats facing each other. It reminded
me of how the old west stagecoaches were arranged.
The trams, as the street cars were called, are open on the sides and there was a
running board on each side. You entered from the side and had a good view as you
rode. The cost for a ride was small and I think a transfer was just one pence.
In the trip through town I noticed most homes had corrugated metal roofs. This
was the same, regardless of how expensive a home was.
At Camp Sandy Creek the showers and latrines were outdoors just surrounded by
burlap strung up. I do not recall any warm water and taking a shower on a cool
breezy day was a challenge. You did not stay too long taking a shower.
We slept in our pup-tents that were all lined up in a row. We laid cardboard or
what we could find on the ground then laid the blankets on top of the cardboard.
Sometimes we would use a raincoat as a ground cover. It was not always warm. One
time we had frost and a little ice form over night.
The Australians marveled at our Army Dental Unit that was able to set up and
start filling teeth within two hours after camp was established. Now that we
were overseas all mail going back home was censored by our company officers.
Usually Lt. George Reed did this and sometimes the base censor also censored the
letters. We could not write home much information. We could however send photos
home that did not disclose any military information. I sent home some pictures
of the ceremony crossing the equator. The second letter with some more of the
pictures was censored and the photos returned to me. Lt. Reed enclosed a letter
to mother explaining.
On June 1, 1942, new pay rates went into effect with a corporal now making $66
per month plus a 20% increase for overseas duty. That made a total of $79.20.
On June 14, 1842, I went to town with the supply Sargent to take in some dry
cleaning and purchase some things for the company. We priced a small battery
operated radio. The cost was about $70 in U. S. currency about twice the price
of the same thing in the United States.
We were able to buy cigarettes for 6d (eight cents) a pack and there was no tax.
When in town I bought a Kodak Jiffy camera on June 23, 1942. This was a folding
camera with a single shutter speed and some focus adjustment 5-10 feet and
10’-infinity. It had what was called a Twindar Lens and used size 620 black and
white Vericrome film. The price was 2-18-0 (2 lbs., 18 shillings, which in US
currency was $9.49). It took fairly good pictures but was not as good as the
camera I had in Camp Livingston. Now mother was mailing my good camera back to
The Australians had some double deck busses and I mentioned in a letter home
dated July 5, 1942, that I had ridden on one for the first time.
On July 19, 1942, I received a letter from the office of the Chief Signal
Officer concerning an appointment as a 2nd Lt. This letter said to appear for an
interview May 29, 1942 in Boston. I immediately wrote back requesting an
interview near the present location of the 32nd Division APO 32 San Francisco
California the United States.
Lake in July we left Camp Sandy Creek in South Australia for Camp Cable located
somewhere near Brisbane in Queensland. Part of the Division went by truck, the
rest of us by train. The passenger coaches were wood construction with a running
board along the side of the car and doors on the side to get into compartments.
There were two bench seats facing each other. There no center isles in the cars
so you stayed in the compartment.
In Australia there were three major rail gauges 5’-3”, 4’3 ½” and 3’6” which
sometimes could mean getting off one train into another to continue in a
different state. We traveled from South Australia through Victoria then when we
got to the town of Albury on the border of New South Wales the rail gage changed
so we got on a train on a parallel track that continued through New South Wales
There were no dining cars and at meal time we stopped at a large railroad
station that had a big dining room with everything ready for us to eat. It
reminded me of the Harvey chain of restaurants along the railroad lines years
ago in the west.
Camp Cable in Queensland was not too far from Brisbane. It was located in a
wooden area that did not seem to have any town within walking distance. Training
there consisted of many long marches to get us in condition. I remember one nice
evening we heard there was a town several miles away and some of us walked
there. It was not much more than a cross roads with a tavern and a store. We
were able to buy a meal, eggs, as I remember, and some warm beer from a keg
sitting on the counter. Australians like that Bitumba XXX warm beer. They also
had for sale, half pint bottles of apple jack. I never got to drink this brandy
as it disappeared from my barracks bag when the bag was just in storage.
At Camp Cable we saw a number of wallabies which are a small variety of
Kangaroo. We also saw a rather unusual bird called the kookaburra. The
Australians called it the “Bushman’s Alarm clock” and some Australians referred
to its call as that of a laughing jackass. The name “Bushmen’s Alarm clock” I
think fitted it best, as it did serve as an alarm clock with its early morning
On August 23, 1942, I received my good camera mother sent along with 12 rolls of
620 film. This was the Kodak No. 1 Kodamatic I had purchased in the summer of
1941. The lens was f4.5-32 with shutter speeds 200-100-50-25-10-B-T and the
focus was adjustable from 3.5’ to infinity.
On August 30, 1942, there was a memorial service for Corporal Gerald O. Cable.
The first soldier in the division to lose his life as the result of enemy
By this time the allotment from my pay to mother was increased from $15 per
month to $40 and she was getting a Class B dependency allowance of $37 per month
of which $22 came from my pay and $15 from the government. That made a total of
$77 per month for her support.
On September 12, 1942, I received some more forms form Washington and took the
physical examination they requested in September 13 or 14 for the Signal Corps.
On Friday, September 18, 1942 we left Brisbane on a liberty ship headed for New
Guinea. A liberty ship was designed for hauling cargo and to accommodate troops.
A latrine was built along the starboard rail near the stern of the ship. This
was a wooden trough, lined with tar paper with a continual stream of water
running down it and going into the ocean.
Our field ranges were set up on deck and we ate using our mess kits and sitting
any place we could find to sit. We had canvas cots in the hold. There were
planks layed over the barrels below to form a floor. We thought these barrels
held aviation gas as we could smell gasoline faintly. On Sunday morning Chaplin
Dubbarly conducted service on the deck. I took a picture during the service and
several others on the trip.
On Monday Sept. 28, 1942 we arrived at Port Moresby and then were located at
Camp Maple Base near Tupulelei. It was fairly open there with few trees. Our
regular kitchen fly was set up and it was regular camp life for a while.
I remember a Japanese reconnaissance plane we called “Photo Charlie” that flew
over after dark on many nights. The search lights of the Australian antiaircraft
battery would come on and brightly light the plane which seemed rather low as I
could see each rivet in it and could plainly see the pilot wearing the leather
helmet inside the canopy. The antiaircraft battery would open up after night
with the same results. The Japanese pilot appeared to be not at all concerned
that the antiaircraft battery was firing at him. I think I could have hit the
plane by shooting at it with my 1903 bolt action Springfield but we were told
not to shoot as it would give away our location. I think on the first night
Photo Charlie flew over, they were burning boxes in the kitchen garbage pit.
Someone grabbed a Jerry can to put out the fire but the can had gasoline instead
of water and it caused quite a flare when gasoline was pored in the pit.
While at Camp Maple Base, I remember one time going to bottles inlet. There I
took pictures of the coconut palms and we found a mango tree. One time we went
swimming in the ocean. There were swells that were 4 feet or so high but no
breaking waves. You were lifted by the swells then in the trough a rather
At Maple Base there was a constant hot wind off the ocean and many flies. The
flies would just circle around your head. It was sometimes a problem while
eating to keep the flies out of your mouth.
If you had hot tea in your mess cup it was necessary to blow across the top of
the cup then drink through your teeth to keep the flies out of your mouth. Flies
would often light and drown in the hot tea.
The Red Shield which was the Australian Salvation Army gave us some writing
paper and envelopes. This was very much appreciated as finding something to
write on was difficult. Sometimes I wrote on paper some rations came in. I do
not remember ever seeing any Red Cross representative; maybe that is why so many
of us after the war were so willing to donate to the Salvation Army. It was the
little things they did that we really appreciated.
Sometimes in the evening at Maple Base we would have a movie which would
suddenly stop if we had “Photo Charlie” fly over. In the same letter early in
Oct., I told mother I had seen Capt. Bob HARRIGER whom I knew from school days
in Clare. Bob HARRIGER was stationed at the airfield near Port Morsby.
In a letter home dated Oct. 7, 1942 I said I had sent home a money order for a
little over $30.00 so we must have been paid the first of Oct. In that letter I
had said that before learning Australian, I sold the 50-cent radio for IL (one
pound was $3.26). Other information in the letter I received a letter from
Washington saying I could be interviewed for a commission as a 2nd Lt. in the
Signal Corps at the forward echelon of the Signal Corps located in the Presido
of San Francisco. I replied at once that I was now in New Guinea. I knew there
was some interest by the Signal Corps as they had tried to contact me at each
We had a lot of spare time at Maple Base and we would make silver rings by
tapping on the edge of a shilling to make it flare out. This took many hours
then we would whittle out the inside with a jackknife. I made one for Gertie and
also one for mother. It would take a couple of days to make a ring this way. The
finished product looked like a wedding band except it was silver.
On Oct. 22, 1942, I wrote that we received some writing paper from the
Australian Comfort Fund. They also gave us an olive drab handkerchief, hand
soap, tooth paste, and a wash cloth. All these items were very much appreciated.
We had heard on the news that New York City had gone five days without meat so
the military forces could have meat. We thought from the looks of things they
must have all gone without corned beef those five days as we were getting it.
In many letters I mentioned the constant hot wind and the flies. It was hard to
write a letter with the wind blowing and it was so hot.
The Japanese advance from Buna overland toward Port Morsby had been stopped by
the Australians and the Australians were now forcing them back toward Buna.
Early in October the Second Battalion of the 126th Infantry started overland
from Port Morsby to join the Australian effort on a different route that was no
more than a native path through the jungle and over the rugged Owen Stanley
mountains. This was an area where motorized vehicles could not go. Nothing could
go that could not be carried by an individual infantry soldier. The travel on
foot going single file was very difficult. Any resupply was by air drop and this
We now knew soon the 1st Battalion of 126th Infantry would be getting into
action. We were told we would travel with only a light pack, no blanket, no rain
coat, not even a mess kit. We could take a spoon, a shelter half, a mosquito
bar, a small bottle of quinine pills and a small bottle of iodine for treating
water in the canteen. I had a small cloth pouch with a razor, extra blades, a
stainless steel mirror and soap. Our extra clothing had to be left behind at
Maple Base in a barracks bag.
On Sunday Nov. 8, 1942 we had an open air church service which I think everyone
attended. The rest of the day we were preparing to move. We received two days
canned C rations and two emergency fortified chocolate bar rations each ration
was for one day.
We wore the green fatigue uniform and I carried a full cartridge belt and two
extra bandoliers of ammunition and a 1903-WWI bolt action Springfield. There was
a canteen and cup and a first aid packet on the cartridge belt. I also had a
bayonet and a home made bush knife I had purchased before learning Australian.
In my pockets I had a stub of a pencil, a small note book, a jackknife, a
billfold and an olive drab handkerchief. I of course wore the steel helmet with
On the morning of Nov. 9, 1942, we went to the Wards Fields near Port Morsby.
(To be continued)