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Early Reminiscences and Incidents
(transcribed by: L. Johnson)
There are many little incidents of early history that can hardly be expected to find their
way into a general history and therefore must seek a place in the little incidents that occur as
the days go by.
Going back to 1854-5, at the time that the very first settlers made their way into this then
dense wilderness of timber, we find the pioneers laboring under many great hardships and
privations. At first there were no roads, no stores, no mills, no postoffice, so that when the
first stock of provisions was exhausted there was no place near by where they could be re-
plenished. Maple Rapids, or Fish Creek, was the nearest and that was not less than forty
miles distant, and through the forest at that.
Thither were they compelled to go for some time for supplies, as well as for mail and to
mill. A journey over the trail at that time gave them lots of time for reflection and on one
of their tours Dan Brickley and John Stewart with one other, purchased a hand grinder with
which they could grind their corn into meal and their wheat and rye into flour. This mill
they rented to their neighbors for their use at one shilling per bushel. Some, either for want
of the price or for other reasons, did not use the pony mill, but resorted to a more primitive
manner of obtaining the same results, namely, by using a coffee mill, and William Payne and
John Fraser, being artists with a jack plane, were able to keep the family going by shaving
the corn from the cob with their jack plane (and this when Fraser had six hundred dollars in
gold in the house), and Charles Taylor made a trough out of a black ash log, fastened an iron
wedge into a hand spike and with that beat the corn into meal and the good wife made the
meal into what they called a black-ash Johnny cake. Who will say that the cake was not
wholesome, aye delightful?
Independence Day Celebration
Our first settlers were not all savages, for it is recorded that as early as March 25, 1855, in
a log house, the residence of Eber Hamilton, Charles Taylor preached the first sermon ever
preached in the county, and it is said that it was a genuine good old fashioned Methodist
In that same year the Fourth of July was celebrated at the house of William B. Bowen.
The next celebration of the Fourth of July was had in 1861 at the house at Salt River.
N.C. Payne was president of the day, Hon. P.H. Estee, reader, and Hon. Nelson Mosher,
orator. A pole was raised which was one hundred and twenty feet high and remained there
until the night of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, when it blew down. The
following ladies prepared a handsome flag and hoisted it themselves, to-wit: Mrs. James
Campbell, Mrs. D.D. Burham, Mrs. J.O. Bigelow, Mrs. James Wilsey, Mrs. William R.
Robbins and Mrs. P.H. Estee. There were present at this celebration about one thousand per-
sons, great and small, which would be about all of the people of that vicinity.
The perpetuation of the race as well as the peopling of a county is a matter of prime im-
portance and one worthy to be preserved in the annals of history. There has been some con-
troversy as to who was the first born in the county and we have investigated the matter quite
fully with the result that the first male child born was Adelbert Reynolds and the first girl
was Mary A. Fanning, born May 5, 1855, with a close second in Isabella Hursch, born in
June, 1855, and Isabella Campbell, born August 20, 1855.
The first marriage ceremony was performed by W.H. Stewart, a justice of the peace, who
received coon skins for his fee (how many he received is not stated) and the act was perform-
ed upon Daniel Robinson and Jane Foutch. On the same day it is claimed that David Foutch
was married to Agnes, daughter of William B. Bowen. The pace set on that day has contin-
ued ever since, with ever increasing celerity, until now we number from two hundred and ten
to two hundred and forty each year. This splendid showing in the line of domestic felicity is
a trifle marred by the fact that from sixteen to twenty-four divorces are granted each year.
And yet, to those who believe that no divorces should be granted, it may seem large; to
those who believe that mismated people should not be compelled to live together in perpetual
unhappiness, it is not so large.
In any civilized community of today the facilities for the transmission of news is very
much desired if not demanded. Therefore at an early date in the settlement of Isabella we
find this much desired object achieved by the establishment of a mail route from St. Louis in
Gratiot county to Salt River, in Isabella, and the establishment of a postoffice at Salt River,
with William R. Robbins as postmaster. The office was opened on the 8th day of August,
1857. About the same time Joel Drake, who lived near the northwest corner of Coe town-
ship, was made postmaster of a postoffice established there, called Wiota. Not long after
these were established the route was extended to John M. Hursh residence, just south of here
on what was then known as the Hursh farm; the office was called New Albany and J.M.
Hursch was its postmaster. Not long afterward the route was continued still farther north to
the Chippewa river where the village of Isabella City was located, where a postoffice was
established and F.C. Bebbitt made postmaster.
The first mail was brought into the county by a carrier on foot, and came from the south
through Gratiot county to Salt River, thence north and west to Wiota and on west and north
to New Albany and thence north to Isabella City and there stopped for several years.
After the organization of the county and the establishment of the county seat at Mt.
pleasant, several attempts were made to have the postoffice department establish an office at
the county seat, but without avail.
All such matters were sent to the congressman from this district, who was at that time a
resident of Saginaw. All such importunities were entirely ignored or sent to the nearest post-
office, which was Isabella City, and there pigeonholed. The time came when the congress-
man needed to be renominated or remain at home. He then became approachable and an-
xious, so much so that he made a visit to Mt. Pleasant to fix up his fences; but he found the
bars all down and no one to put them up or to keep them up if they were put up, and when he
went out to view the open space he found posted over the barway the following legend: “No
postoffice; no votes.” He took the hint and in a few days Mt. Pleasant was the proud posses-
sor of a postoffice and Milton Bradley was postmaster. The salary was small, but the accom-
modations great. Mt. Pleasant was happy over her new acquirement and the congressman
happy over the votes that he received.
Determined to be married
The first piece of land was entered November 28, 1851, by Aloney Rust. This piece of
land was not soon settled upon, but remained wild until 1860, when Aloney Rust sold it to
his brother, Ezra Rust. After the purchase of Ezra and in 1860, he desired to know what he
had gotten for his money, so he and a friend rigged up a team of horses, attached them to a
light two-horse wagon and, putting in their saddles and their provisions for a week’s journey,
they started for the woods. Arriving at the quarter house and not being able to go farther
with their rig, they stripped their horses of their harness, put on their saddles and started out.
After having been out for several days and on returning, they found that their wagon and
harness had departed. On making due inquiry, they learned that a couple from Isabella City
being over desirous to become married , had saddled a couple of ponies and started out in
search of a minister or justice of the peace who could relieve their distress; had found that
horse-back riding in a wilderness was not the most pleasant pastime so they unsaddled their
ponies, donned the harness of Rust, hitched the ponies onto the wagon, seated themselves
and drove for Midland. Arriving there in safety, they soon found the proper official, who
joined them for better or for worse. They then sent the ponies and wagon back to the place
from whence they got them and went on their way rejoicing. The wagon returned in good
season and Mr. Rust now tells the story with a good degree of zest.
Didn’t Relish His Bed
There are some ludicrous things that happen in a new and woolly country as this was in
the early days. There was to be a dance in a distant part of the county and at the appointed
time the merry participants began to congregate for the occasion. It so happened that it was
not a prohibition place and the spirits soon became over jubilant, so much so that one, at
least, lost himself to the pleasures of this world and became oblivious to time and his sur-
roundings, so the other spirits deemed it but proper that he be made comfortable and safe
from harm. In looking about for a suitable place, they discovered that it was hog-killing time
and that a large porker was lying just outside the partition of the dance hall, and in a place
that was convenient so that they might visit it occasionally and see that no harm came to
their subject. So they lifted the subject, carried him to the spot and there deposited him in-
side of the porker that lay with outstretched arms to receive him. There he lay till morning
dawn, when, on awaking, he discovered his place and companionship. Naturally he felt
humiliated and he resolved to have redress for the great wrong done to a human being. So he
started for a place where he could obtain the redress he felt he was entitled to. Arriving at the
office of the proper officer, he demanded in imperious and ineloquent terms for a warrant
for the miscreants who had humiliated him. The officer very meekly asked who it was that
he wanted the warrant for and his reply was neither elegant nor genteel, but still it gave the
officeer no ground to work upon and again he inquired who it was that he desired the papers
for, and again the party was abusive and gave the officer nothing but the vilest slang and
abuse and so much so that the officer lost his patience in the turmoil and, seizing a shovel
used for removing ashes from an old fashioned box stove, aimed a blow at the intruder,
which caused him to flee to his rig and escape toward his home. The officer, feeling the
dignity of his office insulted, swore out a warrant, put it in the hands of the sheriff and he
with a deputy started in pursuit of the fleeing offender. After a long chase, they finally coral-
led the culprit, arrested and brought him back to answer to a charge of a breach of the peace.
He was tried and convicted and fined twenty-five dollars. He paid the fine and departed a
Wiser if not a better fellow.
Seeking Justice Amid Difficulties
There was a time back in the sixties when a considerable number of families were on the
verge of starvation. They had lost what little of their crops they had attempted to raise and in
the spring they were compelled to subsist upon wild leeks and maple sugar, with but very
little of anything else. At one of these times there was a controversy between a couple of
these settlers, which they undertook to have settled in a justice court. The suit was brought
and came on for trial. The court was held in a small room in the old court house and pre-
sided over by a worthy justice who probably, before such honors were forced upon him, had
acquired the habit of taking a quiet smoke, ostensibly to brighten his intellect for the
occasion. Now if you have a very imaginative mind you can probably conceive of the delec-
table condition of the atmosphere of the room where there was no more ventilation than in
Noah’s ark, with a fair amount of heat radiating from a box stove fire, connected with the
breath of a room full of stomachs loaded with leeks and maple sugar gulping up gas, inter-
mingled with smoke from a much-used pipe, loaded with some costly tobacco, intermingled
with the fumes of the poor cigars of the time, you can appreciate the pleasure of one who
was obliged to undergo the ordeal.
Did you ever eat squab? Did you ever hunt squab? If you did not, you can hardly say
that you have feasted on the fat of the land in which you live. In an early day the woods
were full of the wild pigeon, and about 1870 they appeared here for the last time. Their roost
was in the east part of Mecosta county. Seeing the pigeons going and coming each day in
flocks of thousands, a party started from Mt. Pleasant and made their way west on an Indian
trail and road, following the line of the pigeons’ flight until they came to the roost proper,
where they arrived just before dark. It was an interesting sigh to see the thousands of birds
coming from every direction to their nesting place and to hear them swoop and swirl through
the branches of the tall trees, seeking out their proper home and family, bringing with them
the food gathered during the hunt of the day. Gathering a few squabs before it was too dark
to seek out the next, the party built a fire of sticks and brush and after cleaning the little
beauties proceeded to impale them upon sharp sticks and roast them in the fire until the scent
of the frying meat was to much for a famished cannibal and then they proceeded to devour
the delicious morsels. This was continued until all of the captured birds were dispatched,
when a bed was made on the ground under the trees where the pigeons were roosting, and
there they lay down for the night. All went well until about daylight when the buzz and whir
of the birds going out upon their hunt for food for themselves and their young became too
exciting for further sleep, for the hunters also must be up and doing in order to secure a
sufficient number of squabs for a breakfast, together with a few to carry home to their
families. This job was soon accomplished and after a repast such as a king might be proud
of, the horses were saddled and the home journey entered upon. All day the air was full of
the faithful pigeons on their pilgrimage for food. This roost was the last in this section and
substantially the last of the wild pigeon. For many years none have been seen migrating
north in the spring or south in the fall and today they are extinct so far as can be ascertained.
Who can tell the cause of their disappearance from off the face of the earth? We say extinct,
for the reason that the large bounties have been offered by several parties for the recovery of
a single pair of the once plentiful wild pigeon and so far as we are informed no one has
succeeded in furnishing any of those beautiful birds.
A Plucky Woman
On one occasion in the early sixties a young woman was left with two young children to
do the work at home, while the husband had gone to the front to fight the battle for freedom
and had left a patch of turnips and also a small field of potatoes to harvest. No help could be
had, so she was compelled to go into the field and pull the turnips and dig the potatoes with
the aid of the oldest boy, a lad of nine. They harvested the crop and then sold seventy-five
bushels of the turnips for twenty cents a bushel.
These were used by many o the families as their staple food. The balance was fed to the
stock, as there was no hay in the settlement at the time and the stock was compelled to
browse upon the brush and limbs in the woods. The hard work and exposure in the field and
in caring for the stock in winter caused a felon to appear on the woman’s hand and, after four
days and nights of intense pain and suffering, she started on starlight night for the doctor’s
house, some two and one-half miles away, following the trail through the woods, timid and
fearful of meeting some ferocious wild animal, as the forests contained at that time many
bear, some wolves, catamounts and occasionally lynx. Fortune favored the brave woman
and after a long tramp she arrived at the doctor’s residence about three o’clock in the morning
and she rapped at his door. He soon appeared, invited her in and after examining the hand,
probed it with a lance and relieved the pain and after applying some soothing applications
she felt relieved and started back to her little ones at home.
At another time, not long after the above incident, a family living in the forests of Isabella,
whose parents resided in western New York State, the wife learned that her parents had sold
their farm and were coming to Isabella. It was in the month of March and they had made
their journey by rail to the then village of St. Johns, some forty-five miles distant from the
home of her daughter, and, coming into the county by wagon over the corduroy and mud
roads of the country, on arriving were very much wearied and nearly exhausted so that it
seemed necessary that the old lady at least should have a good strong, soothing cup of tea.
She didn’t know that tea in the wilderness was a great luxury. The daughter knew, however,
that her mother would expect it, but what could she do? There was nothing left, as it seemed
to her, but procure the tea. The nearest store was at Salt River, so she donned her bonnet and
shawl and started out for the beverage. It was a long journey to walk six miles and more in
the month of March, but she made the trip and returned with the article, made the tea and her
mother enjoyed it very much. She remarked that she thought that she must have some very
good neighbors that she should stay so long and visit, or else they must be a good ways off.
In the year ’61, I remember it well,
We came to the Michigan forests to dwell,
No signs that the white man had yet passed that way
Where Nature, most primitive, fully held sway.
First a few trees were felled and a small space was cleared
Where a little log-cabin was speedily reared,
With just one small window to let in the light,
And a wooden-hinged door that we made fast at night.
We brought with us bedding, a stove and some food,
And the axe—most important—our chief ally stood;
We were then young and healthy, with courage quite keen,
Though Indians and wild beasts were frequently seen.
The opening around us grew broader each day,
Letting in the blue sky and the sunlight’s bright ray,
Then the birds came to greet us and sing ‘mong the leaves
And build tiny nests’ ‘neath the cabin’s low eaves.
Other settlers came in and took up a claim
And the township received then its first legal name,
Which was Lincoln, and passable roads were cut through
Where each built his cabin and started anew.
Then the women found time to make calls—I should say—
Going oft in the morning and staying all day;
With knitting in hand they thought it no labor
To walk a few miles to visit a neighbor.
It may interest you to know how we made
Our pastry and puddings from things that we had;
But the maxim was just as true then as to-day
That “where there’s a will, there’s always a way.”
We made good mince pies without apples or meat,
And the elder bush furnished us berries to eat,
Baked in pie, with a few leaves of sorrel to sour it,
You would know it was good had you seen us devour it.
Our cookies and cakes would just take the lead,
Made of nice maple sugar and caraway seed,
Cut out with a teacup or fashioned by hand,
Our pioneer cakes were the best in the land.
From barley and peas nicely roasted and ground
A fine cup of coffee could always be found;
It wasn’t quite Mocha and Java, ‘tis true,
But preferable far to to-day’s Postum brew.
Some used the wild strawberry leaves for their tea,
And the white inner bark of the fragrant pine tree;
It’s medicinal virtue no tea can excel
And the use of it daily kept each of them well.
How well I remember our first home-grown foods—
Cucumbers and turnips grown there in the woods,
And tame, juicy berries, delicious and sweet,
We now had abundance of good things to eat.
If a wood-bee was planned all the men turned out strong
And women and children of course went along;
Each carried a basket or pail full of dinner
And made no distinction between saint or sinner.
But all joined together; and while the men worked,
We women just visited—never one shirked
In doing her share of the talking and greeting
That made of that day an experience meeting.
Well, times somewhat changed as the years rolled between
When fine farms appeared, and nice homes were seen,
And fashion crept in according to station,
And visits were made only by invitation.
Some even dropped out—I am sorry to say—
And became more exlusive, like some are today,
While a spirit of rivalry if not of strife
Drove out of our midst the old simple life.
There is one more experience I will explain
Though I never should wish to explain it again.
The time for the watch-meeting service drew near
To watch out the old and to greet the New Year.
I had never attended a meeting like this,
And thought it was something I ought not to miss.
Though, to tell just the truth, I didn’t feel right
In leaving my husband and children at night.
But a neighbor his wife and another dear friend,
Who had always accustomed themselves to attend,
He said they would call for me if I would go,
And so I decided I would not say no.
‘Twas a bitter cold night—with an old open sleigh
Drawn by oxen, and filled in with straw or with hay,
With blankets for robes to protect from the storm,
Which were quite insufficient in keeping us warm.
Then the slow pace began, for some three miles below,
To the Chippewa schoolhouse where we had to go.
It seemed we would never the meeting-place reach,
Or hear any sermon the good man might preach.
But we reached there at last, with no time to spare,
Quite chilled from the ride in the cold, frosty air,
The stove gave out warmth most grateful to all,
But no seats were provided except near the wall.
So I sat in a corner, a bench for a seat,
And the cracks in the floor gave no warmth to my feet.
‘Twas a small congregation with only a few
Who had rallied to aid in the work there to do.
I patiently listened to hear what was said;
They sang a short hymn, then the minister read
A portion of Scripture, and two or three prayed,
When the minister urged them to not be afraid
But to speak a few words some experience to give
And tell the friends present the right way to live.
Just then something ran down my shoulder and dropped
And out of my lap a poor famished mouse hopped.
Well the first exclamation I made then and there,
It wasn’t appropriate, was not a prayer,
And if ever I gave grateful thanks it was when
The minister said, “Happy New Year—Amen.”
--Mrs. Ellen Woodworth.
Notes From An Old-Time Diary
April 13, 1862.—Men to get dinner for and no bread in the house and no salaratus. So I
must send to the neighbors and borrow a little. So I send to the neighbors and receive the
distressing intelligence that they are entirely out and have no money to buy with. Then I
send to another and she says she has only a little and can’t spare any. Pretty soon in comes a
small boy and says, Ma wants to borrow some salaratus, your sieve and some salt; she says
she is all out and Pa can’t spare the time to go to the store. So I send the sieve and the salt
and console myself that I am no worse off than my neighbors. I am glad to know that there
is one thing that never becomes empty and that is the mending basket, so I console myself
that if I can’t do anything else I can patch.
Another Bright Spot In The Oasis
April 14, 1862.—It is sugar-making time and we sugared off today. Have made so far
one hundred and eighty pounds and expect to make at least fifty pounds more. It is of good
quality and is the only kind that we have or expect for some time to come. The sap is caught
in troughs which are made out of logs cut the right length, split in two and then hollowed out
with an axe to a sufficient depth to hold a pail of sap. The sap is gathered into pails and
carried to the boiling place by men or put into barrels, placed upon a sleigh and hauled to the
boiling place by a horse or team. There it is stored in a large tank until ready to boil. An
arch is made of sticks and clay laid up in an oblong manner, the walls plastered with clay
mortar; the boiling pan is placed on top of the wall and a fire built under the pan and contin-
ued until the clay is thoroughly baked, when it becomes as hard as a rock. The sap is then
placed in the boiling pan and a steady fire kept burning until the water is largely evaporated
and the product becomes syrup, when it is sugared off if it is sugar; if you desire otherwise,
it is bottled up as syrup. The process and the apparatus for converting the sap into syrup or
sugar is primitive and rude in construction, but it answers the purpose. It is all enjoyed by
young and old and when other sugar is not to be had it is a great blessing, especially as it is
worth one shilling per pound and can be used in trade for other articles of necessity in the
family. It also many times saves the silverware and other heirlooms from being disposed of
to purchase necessities for the family. It went quite a ways toward buying tea at two dollars
per pound, wheat, three dollars a bushel, calico, twenty to fifty cents a yard, hay thirty-five
dollars per ton, and oats one dollar per bushel.
St. Johns was nearest trading post and railroad and it took five days to make the trip with
an ox team and there were none other in the county, the freighters charging three dollars per
hundred pounds for cartage.
There are many bright places in a woods life and they were not wanting up here. In 1864
there was a quarterly meeting to be held at Nippesing church, or mission, so ten of the set-
tlers, five men and five women, procured Indian ponies and saddles and made a pilgrimage
to the church, following the Indian trail through the woods. Arriving, we found the building
packed to overflowing with Indian women and men, with Rev. George Bradley as their
preacher. The text has passed from my memory, but it was a good sermon, preached in
English and interpreted into the Indian by an Indian and, all in all, it was very impressive.
The singing was good and sounded peculiar to an ear that was not accustomed to the soft
Mellow voice of the native. All singing was in the Indian language and at the end of the
Preaching services the rite of baptism was administered to about twenty Indian babies and
two Indian women. English names were given to the babies as they were baptized. The
services over, we all mounted our ponies and filed home through the forest, very much
enjoying our day’s outing and the services of the meeting.
Early Settlement Of Isabella County
As early as 1851, Alony Rust located the southwest quarter of section 4, in township 15
north, range 3 west, and soon thereafter a few others entered lands, but none of them for
permanent settlement until about the 10th day of October, 1854, when Daniel Brickley, John
Stewart, Andrew F. Childs, James Wilsey, Daniel Childs, James Campbell, George Reasoner,
Charles F. Young and M.J. Hall entered each a quarter section of land under the graduation
act, at fifty cents per acre, for the purpose of settlement. Most if not all of them soon there-
after settled upon their purchases and began to improve the same.
About the first of November of that year, the first road was cut from the south line of the
county north to Salt River, at the center of section 9, by William B. Bowen, William Adams,
James Shephers, J.B. Walton, George and Dow Greenfield, William B. Bowen driving the
first horse team and wagon as far as Salt river. The next day Jacob Middaugh, W.W. Mid-
daugh and John Hendershot came over the same road with an ox team, and cut a road on
through to section 1 in the same township. These, it must be remembered, were but trails
through the woods, the country being covered with a heavy growth of hardwood timber, with
the usual concomitant of swamp, creek, high and low lands, underbrush and fallen timber, in
fact, nearly everything tending to make life miserable for the early settler.
On November 21, 1854, Joseph Roberts, Sr., his wife and children, Patrick Fanning and
family and Thomas Roberts moved onto the northeast quarter of section 10, township 13
north, range 3 west, being the first families that moved into the county. To them must ever
be given the honor of being the first families of Isabella county.
On November 21st of the same year, Daniel Brickley and John Stewart moved with their
families into the west part of the same township. From this time on settlements were made
in rapid succession. In December, John Hursh and Lewis Jenner cut a trail from Brickley’s
place to the farm on which the Norman school is now located, and on the 25th day of
February, 1855, John M. Hursh and family moved onto the place and formed the first nucleus
for settlement in this part of the county. About the same time John Fraser crossed the
Tittabawasee river, at the mouth of the Pine, and with two or three others cut their way up the
Pine to the old Indian mission, and then across to where he had purchased a half section of
land, it being, it being the south half of section 31, in the township of Chippewa. It took four
teams to convey Mr. Fraser’s goods and family into the county and he has the credit of build-
ing the first frame barn built in the county, which was built in 1857. He was one of the thrifty
farmers and soon had quite a tract of cleared land. He claims to have sold hay as high as
eighty dollars a ton, corn for one dollar and fifty cents per bushel., and wheat as high as two
dollars and fifty cents per bushel.
John Q.A. Johnson was another of the early settlers, having bought and settled in the town-
ship of Coe in June, 1855; he claims to have been the seventh person to have settled in Coe.
He was afterward a justice of the peace, sheriff and lastly judge of probate.
Rev. Charles Taylor was an early settler in Chippewa. He bought two hundred and forty
acres of land in February, 1855, and built a log house upon it for a home. It was located on
section 9 of that township.
Ransom Kyes was another of the early ones. He purchased two hundred acres in1855 and
settled upon it, cleared a portion and when the war of the Rebellion was the hottest he enlisted
and went into the army. He was afterward elected sheriff of the county.
George Atkin was another of the early ones. He bought under the graduation act one hun-
dred and twenty-five acres on section 6, in Coe township, and made himself and family a
home, where he resided until his death.
And so they came from time to time until the homestead law took effect in 1862, when
the tide of emigration was increased and the south portion of the county was soon taken by
The population of whites had increased from about seven hundred in 1860 to four thous-
and one hundred and fifteen in 1870.
The building of the Catholic church at Mt. Pleasant they had some very devout and untir-
ing men in their society and they delved in sunshine and in storm until they saw the last
shingle on the roof and the interior finished and furnished ready for its dedication. There
was one man in that endeavor who is entitled to more than a passing notice and that is John
Fox. He was untiring in his efforts to establish a church for himself and his friends and so
richly was he imbued with the spirit and so attached to the cause that he requested that, no
matter where he was when his time came to surrender to the Great Leveler of all man’s am-
bitions, he desired that his remains be brought to Mt. Pleasant and be interred in the sainted
grounds of his church and people. And when the message finally overtook him his kin,
knowing of his desires, brought his remains from a distant state and in all things met the
wishes and desires of his father. For this act of filial affection and regard for his father’s
wishes, he is entitled to much credit.
Wise township used to have almost any kind of a surprise in store for the people and
Occasionally a queer incident. At one time a couple came from a neighboring county, desir-
ing to become married, and went to Squire Robinson to have the ceremony performed, and
for pith and briefness we think this one is an example, being as follows: The Squire—“Join
hands; joined; will you have him? Will you have her? And how much am I to have?
Reminiscences By Irving E. Arnold
One of the old settlers at Mt. Pleasant and vicinity at and before there was any Mt.
Pleasant, and who is still living in the West, has this to say in regard to the early settlement
of this section. His name is Irving E. Arnold and some of the older of the few settlers now
remaining that were here in the fifties will readily recall him as one of the prominent men of
that time. He says he came here in 1857, at the time of the great panic, and remained here
for a number of years. He confirms the statement that there never was any sort of a court
house built upon the grounds selected for that purpose at the center of the county, but that
George W. Jeffries built a log house of sufficient size, say twenty by sixteen feet, possibly
sixteen by twenty-four feet and one story high. This building was occupied by Jefferies and
wife and also used for a court house, a hotel, store, county clerk’s office. Nelson Mosher had
a small stock of goods there and was running under the name of Nelson Mosher & Company.
This was the only building at the time at the center, while it remained the county seat, save
a barn. The office of register of deeds was also kept in this building.
Mr. Arnold was the first county clerk of the county and he used to go to the Center once a
week and do whatever recording and any other business that had accumulated in the interim.
He remarks that Mrs. Jefferies was not used to the primitive life and that at one time John M.
Hursh was at the Center and inadvertently spit upon the floor and straightway Mrs. Jefferies
proceeded to get the mop and water and clean up the muss, and it is safe to say that Uncle
John did not forget the hint. He confirms the fact that some of the Indians began to settle in
Isabella in 1856, that the Indian Mills were built in 1857 and that up to that time there was no
Indian settlement of any kind. He first located on the northeast quarter of the northwest
quarter of section 15, township 14 north, range 4 west. That as soon as the county was organ-
ized the agitation commenced in regard to the removal of the county seat from the Center.
David Ward owned two hundred acres of land at Mt. Pleasant and offered to build to build a
court house and donate five acres of ground. At that time A.M. Fitch, a brother-in-law of F.
C. Babbitt, was Indian agent and had acquired eighty acres of swamp land adjoining the
Indian Mills, so that Mr. Fitch joined forces with Jefferies to fight the removal of the county
seat, on the grounds that later he could remove it to the Indian Mills, and Mr. Babbitt, as
agent for Fitch, worked among the Indians for several days before the election. The Indians
at that time cast at least two-thirds of the votes in the county. Jefferies had some parties
working in Coe and a few in Chippewa, or, more properly speaking, Mr. Mosher had some
friends in the two townships and he was very highly respected by all. At that time A.M.
Merrill had a board shanty at the river crossing near the mill and Sam Smith lived near by
and Joseph Miser, then sheriff, and his family and William H. Nelson occupied the hotel and
these were the only other families there. Smith had charge of the mill and Babbitt was agent
for Fitch, at least for two Indian payments, so that he had quite an acquaintance with the
Indians. Mr. Ward took no active interest in the election for removal, leaving it entirely to
me. Cushway was Indian blacksmith, knew every Indian and spoke their language fluently
and as employee of Fitch worked against removal and for Jefferies and Smith for the same
reason. A. M. Merrill, who was township clerk, was also against removal, so it will be seen
that the combination against removal was quite formidable. The year previous I had built
four school houses for the government on different parts of the reservation, which gave me
quite a general acquaintance with the Indians. Jim Eastman was a merchant at Midland City,
and had been for a long time, and knew every Indian on the reservation and could speak their
language and was very generally liked by the Indians. The third day before election I saddled
my horse and about four o’clock in the afternoon started for Midland City, arrived there
about ten o’clock P.M., saw Eastman, and next morning we were on the road to Isabella. He
stayed until the afternoon of the election, when he returned to his home. His work was very
effective and I paid him an even one hundred for his work; Ward paid no part of it. It did
not all come out of my pocket, but most of it did. The polls were held at the office of the
township clerk and A.M. Merrill was the clerk and consequently clerk of the election. After
the polls closed, the board of election decided to postpone the count until the next day. I was
satisfied the plan was to stuff the ballot box. John M. Hursh, George Ferris, Jim Fleit and I
decided that we would watch the box until the ballots were counted. The Jefferies became
furious and finally ordered us away from the premises. Revolvers were displayed by both
sides. Well, we saw those votes counted, with the result of one majority against removal.
Coe and Chippewa carried it for removal by a substantial majority.
Mr. Ward surveyed and platted the town site and called it by its present name. Subse-
quently I resurveyed and platted the grounds and Ward at once built the old court house; I
put up the building, furnishing everything for the munificent sum of one hundred and fifty
Miscellaneous: The first dwelling house built in Mt. Pleasant was by Dr. E. Burt, after-
ward bought by William Preston. First child born was D.F. Arnold. First postmaster, or,
rather, postmistress, was Harriett Hursh. Mail once a week. First frame building, the old
In the spring of 1864, through the influence of George W. Lee, who afterwards became
Indian agent, Amos F. Albright came to Isabella from Livingston county, as superintendent
of Indian mills at Isabella City. After some correspondence with the Indian agent, D.C.
Leach, Mr. Albright’s daughter came to the Indian reservation to teach one of the schools.
There were, or had been, I am told, six in number. One was west of the government school
section, and was called the Bradley Mission School. There had been across the road, on
that is now the government school section, a Methodist Indian church and cemetery. At the
time of which I write the church had been burned.
A second school, five miles north of this, was closed at the time, as was the third, at Shim-
ne-con, now Nottawa. These two were later burned. A fourth, at Nippising, was in a flourish-
ing condition, as was the Mission school. Across the road was a very good Indian church,
Methodist, and around it were some, for the times, very intelligent and prosperous farmers.
William Smith, Doctor Chatfield and John Collins were some of the leaders.
Two miles north of this, at one time, there was, I am told, a school, held in a log building
and in charge of the Lutheran mission. Mr. Meissler, a German missionary, taught there and
wrote a dictionary in the Indian language. It is my impression that this school was discontin-
ued at the log school house and held in the school house two and one-half miles south of
Nippising or about half way between it and Isabella City. This was the school Miss Albright
Had in charge in 1864 and 1865. There was only one north of her and that was Nippising.
A small band of Lutheran Indians held services in this school house, once a month, and
were in charge of Ma-cha-ba, a very eloquent Indian speaker. There were among the school
books one of Indian and English words. Phillip Gruett attended this school very little; he
had spent one year at Fort Wayne, at a Lutheran Mission school, Mr. Meissler having sent
For these reasons I think it probably that there never were but five schools. In 1864 there
were but three open, I think, “The Mission,” “The Nippising,” and the one Miss Albright
taught. This was considered the largest and most turbulent, though it is only fair to say that
there were only two pupils whoever made any trouble and they attended but a very small part
of the time.
The five frame school buildings were built on government contracts, by Irvin E. Arnold,
and contained one school room and three or four living rooms for the teacher. The house and
cookstove was furnished the teacher in addition to the salary.
In 1864 the Mission school was taught by Maria Hines, of Lansing. She resigned her
position in 1865. The school was later taught by Miss Nellie Weldon and by Miss Addie
The Nippising school, in 1864, was taught by Miss Law, who resigned the following
I think that Miss Susan A. Foy, of Trenton, came to Isabella as a teacher to the Indians,
though which school, the Nippising or the Mission, I do not know, but think it was the
Mission. In 1864 she was married to I.E. Arnold, and lived at Isabella City. She, however,
Afterwards taught in both of these schools.
Miss Albright succeeded a Mr. Brooks and took charge of the school the first week in
September, 1864. After she left the school it was, I think, closed for a time.
Some years later it was taught for a time by a half breed, or his white wife, by the name
of John R. Robinson, he acting as Methodist missionary at the same time.
It would seem that even at that time the tribe on this reservation was growing less in
numbers, as witness the two closed schools; a treaty looking to the stopping of the annual
payments and giving the Indians deeds to their lands, or so many of them as were competent,
was then being discussed.
Miss Albright was present at one of the council meetings, when Mr. Leach, the agent, and
a committee of three gentlemen from Washington, of whom Doctor Arnold was one, were
laying the matter before the Indians, Charles Rodd, a half breed, acting as government inter-
In 1865, I think, Mr. Leach resigned as agent, Mr. Smith, his secretary, taking his place.
In 1866 he told Miss Albright that the schools were to be closed. Acting upon this statement,
she engaged to teach a six months term of the White school at Isabella City.
His plans were evidently not carried out as promptly as he expected, as the schools were
carried on for a number of years after, more or less regularly.
The school building in which Miss Albright taught has been remodeled and is now a
comfortable farm house, owned by Joseph Ray. The one at Nippising was burned. The old
church is still standing as a barn on the farm of Mrs. Thomas Carroll and I am told that the
Mission school is now used as a stable by Mr. Barnard.
Mrs. Captain Mosher
Early Educational Facts
It is worth while to note some peculiarities of the old school system and some of the part-
ies that participated in them. Away back in the sixties there was a superintendent of schools.
Albert Fox was superintendent as early as 1866. John B. Young in 1869 and C.O. Curtis in
1871. The office was abolished in 1875, and after that each town was a law unto itself as to
Then came the county school board, consisting of three members, one of which was elec-
ted and served as school examiner, Fred Russell being the first and T. Knox Jeffords next.
S. J. Jamison was, in August, 1890, elected secretary of the board of county examiners, this
being the title under which the executive officer administered supervision of the rural
schools. Mr. Jamison was the last of the examiners to act under this title, for during the year
of his incumbency of the office the Legislature changed the title to commissioner, and Mr.
Jamison was elected to the same office under the new title, hence was the first commissioner
of schools for Isabella county.
For many years the educators and teachers of the state had advocated that the rural schools
be classified and graded and enough had been said to arouse the opposition of the farmers,
who thought such a classification meant added expense. One of the first duties of the new
secretary and commissioner was this innovation and, while he met with determined opposi-
tion before the end of the first year, every child in the rural schools had been classified, a
complete record of the classification of every school made, and Isabella county could boast
of the first classified and graded rural schools in the state.
Mr. Jamison held the position until 1893, when Mr. Bellinger was elected and held it until
1897, when he was followed by Orin Burdick and he by H.A. Graham in 1901, he holding the
position until 1907, when E.T. Cameron, was appointed and still holds the office, having been
elected in the spring of 1911.
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