Harrison

A Divorce in the Country

Attorney: The child that was born, at the time was it born dead?
Plaintiff: Yes, just at that moment, but if we had help it wouldn’t have been born dead.
A: What did your husband say he was going to do with the body of this child?
P: Feed it to the hogs.
A: Did you object?
P: I was too sick.

Transcript of divorce proceedings
Circuit Court for the County of Clare
Harrison, Michigan March 28, 1922
Honorable Ray Hart, Circuit Judge, presiding

Lizzie Pom
vs
Anson Pom

For some people, the “good old days” on the farm conjures up a vision of mom and pop working together to raise a passel of little ones, bringing in the crops, going to church every Sunday and fending off evil bankers, clouds of locusts and an occasional tornado or hailstorm.

And sure, there were wonderful marriages among country folks that lasted for decades, Imagesometimes out of love, sometimes mutual respect and often out of need. But life almost 100 years ago was not always idyllic. In fact, in some households, life was sheer hell. Take the Pom family that once lived in Hamilton Township in the northeast portion of Clare County. (Note: Even though this case is in the court records and can be found in the archives of the Clare County Historical Society, I have changed the names.)

In March 1922, Lizzie Pom addressed the court concerning a marriage she wished to end from Anson her husband of 10 years, a husband by the way, who had disappeared years earlier. This is the way it happened, according to the court proceedings:

A: What time of day was it that he left home?
P: It was in the afternoon sometime.
A: Did he tell you where he was going?
P: No sir. Well he had said he was going to leave home and get some money to pay off the mortgage on the place.
A: On this particular day, did he tell you where he was going?
P: No sir.
A: Did he take any clothes with him?
P: No sir.
A: Did he change his clothes before leaving?
P: Yes sir.
A: Where?
P: The boy came from school and the cows were out of the gate and Floyd didn’t see why he didn’t put the cattle in the barn and feed them, and I says, “he must be out in the barn or out to the neighbors. I haven’t seen him since meal time.” So Floyd put them in the barn and there Anse had changed his clothes and left his old clothes.
A: You found his working clothes there on the barn floor?
P: Yes sir and when we went upstairs afterwards to see if his new clothes were there, there, they were gone. He had taken them through the window because we found a window that had been closed, open.
A: Did you ever get any trace of your husband from that time on?
P: No sir.

According to testimony, there’s had not been a happy marriage. Although the worst incident seemed to have been the time when Lizzie was pregnant and having a difficult pregnancy but Anson had refused to allow her to see a doctor. And on the night she gave birth and was very ill, he had still refused to even get up and it was only after she begged him to at least go to a neighbors for help that he had gone out at all. Even then, he stayed at the neighbor’s house until she had done all she could and the baby was dead and she had returned that Anson went back home.

At the time of the proceedings, Lizzie was probably in her late 40s or early 50s. This had been her second marriage. Her first had lasted 20 years and resulted in three children, two of which survived. Lizzie and her first husband had divorced and he had remarried within two weeks.  When asked the ages of her children by her first husband, Lizzie said she knew Floyd, who had been living with them at the time of Anson’s disappearance was now 21; however, she didn’t know the age of her daughter who was now married. And despite the problems associated with the first child in 1913, Anson and Lizzie had conceived a second that was born four months after Anson had left.  Her name was Myrtle. After Anson had left, Lizzie’s father- and mother-in-law had come to live on the farm, a farm they held title to. Lizzie had lived with them until they had both died. Now she was hoping to not only get divorced but take title to the farm, which included more than 70 acres.

Apparently, the Pom family had a penchant for running away. Anson had apparently run away two times before but never this long. And his brothers had both run away from their homes. One of them, Al, was gone seven or 10 years before returning.  Attempts had been made to locate Anson but no one had heard from him, not even his parent’s after he had disappeared from the barn.

The court talked to numerous witnesses and in the end, granted Lizzie’s wishes.

Note: My mother-in-law is a crack genealogist and I passed the transcript to her and asked if she might be able to find out what happened to the Lizzie afterward. She not only did that, but found out about Anson as well, including the fact that he was institutionalized for a time–something that was not too surprising considering the testimony.

Categories: Clare County, Harrison, Home life, Michigan | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Spikehorn’s Rabbit

It’s a mighty big bunny. Big enough to have a saddle and stirrups and big enough to hold most adults. But then this rabbit is associated with Spikehorn, a.k.a. John Meyers, Clare County, Michigan’s most famous (and eccentric resident) so it’s not surprising that this particular critter is not your usual run-of-the-mill rascally rabbit.

Every summer, from sometime in the 1950s to the early 70s the rabbit could be found in front of the Spikehorn place. Then it left Clare County until it was tracked down and purchased by Tom Sellers, author of the book, “Spikehorn, The Life Story of John E. Meyers.” The story of the rabbit’s recovery appeared in a story in the Clare County Cleaver in 2000 and appears at the end of this post.

The rabbit was really owned by Earl Heslet, who made his living selling instant

Earl Haslet astride his rabbit at Spikehorn’s Bear Den and Wildlife Park in Harrison in an undated photo taken from Seller’s book.

sepia-toned pictures to tourists in the days before Polaroid photos and looooong before digital photographs and the Internet made sharing of photos instantaneous. The rabbit was once white but between sun and dust from the road and dirt from the kids, the rabbit eventually turned brown was dyed the latter color.

According to Sellers’ book, Spikehorn allowed Heslet to use his property without charge to take photos of children astride the rabbit. By the time Heslet and the rabbit arrived on the scene, Spikehorn’s bears were no longer chained out front, so he needed a “hook” to bring people to his establishment. And while attracting tourists with a bunny (regardless of size) instead of a bear might have been a big step down for Spikehorn, he was enough of a businessman to know the huge rabbit brought in travelers and they, in turn while stopped, would spend money at his store (receipts in the summer could run as high as $2,000 a month!)

Melvin Brewer son of Spikehorn Park manager Wayne Brewer on the Spikehorn rabbit. Junior Crane is in the back. Photo taken from Spikehorn book by Tom Sellers.

Once Spikehorn’s place closed in the early 1970’s, Heslet packed up his bunny, hopped into his vehicle and out of town for good—until the rabbit’s recovery by Sellers. Now, the rabbit can be seen most Saturdays at the Clare County Museum at the corner of Dover and Eberhart Roads. This year, it even made a special guest appearance at the CCHS exhibit at the 2012 Clare County Fair.

Maybe someday, the rabbit will be restored to its former glory and kids can once again have their photos taken astride it. Well, maybe not restored completely, even today a white rabbit won’t stay white for long.

Spikehorn Saddled Rabbit Recovered
Article from the Clare County Cleaver
April 6, 2000 issue–

“He’s back. Back home in Clare County. The famous, fuzzy giant, saddled rabbit that for years welcomed visitors to Spikehorn’s Bear Den and Wildlife Park has finally returned.

Thousands of tourists made sure to have their picture taken astride this plaster-of-Paris creation that was recently rescued by Tom Sellers, author of the best-selling biography “Spikehorn, The Life Story of John E. Meyers.”

It seems the bunny has been quite popular since he left Harrison 30 years ago. He’s appeared in Vasser’s Centennial Parade, the Caro Pumpkin Festival and on the front lawn of a flea market 20 miles east of Saginaw, where he has wintered the manager’s garage.

“I was selling junk out front here, oh, had to be over 30 years ago, when this here feller pulled up and asked if I’d sell his rabbit,” said the long-eared creature’s keeper. “I told him that was plain impossible ‘cause my German shepherd would eat him!” recalled the elderly proprietor.  “Next thing I know he’s back with the biggest rabbit I’ve ever seen–and wearing a saddle to boot!”
The rabbit was originally owned by photographer Earl Heslet, who made his living selling instant “While-U-Wait” sepia-toned pictures to tourists here and in Texas during the winter. He sold out, camera and all, shortly after Spikehorn’s Bear Den closed at the beginning of the season in 1970.

Heslet’s wooden, black-hooded view camera is now a museum piece in Saginaw’s Castle Museum.

The Spikehorn rabbit will go on display as the centerpiece of a new exhibit at the Clare County Historical Society’s Clare County Museum in Dover, five miles north of Clare. The museum will open for the 2000 season in early May.”

**End of Article**

Photos of Spikehorn

Spikehorn video

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Categories: Clare County, Harrison, History, Michigan, recreation, Travel and tourism | Tags: | 1 Comment

Gerrish and His Logging Railroad (Part 1 )

…Or How to Decimate a County in a Decade

Image of old railroad engine and trestleFellow Clare County Historical Society member Jon Ringelberg sent me a June 1878 article from The Clare County Press concerning Winfield Scott Gerrish, the first lumberman to purchase a railroad (locomotive, car assemblies, track, spikes, etc.) and bring them into Clare County for the express purpose of hauling timber out of the woods. Others had used trains before for that purpose, but not in Clare County. An excerpt of the article appears in the post following this one.

One of the things that makes this such a wonderful article is that it is a first-person account written and only a year or so after Gerrish brought his logging railroad to Clare County. And at a time the county was getting ready to experience an explosive building boom and population growth.

Gerrish got the idea of using a train while visiting the Centennial Exposition (World’s Fair) in Philadelphia in 1876. In one of the halls he saw a locomotive that ran on a narrow-gauge track, and thought it would be a good way to get cut timber out of his holdings that were located far from any river. (Rivers were needed at the time as they were really the only good way to transport logs to market or to major railroads.)

Whether Gerrish knew others had used a train for a similar purpose is not known. What is known is that the train arrived at the opportune time for Gerrish who was on the verge of bankruptcy. He was finding that the cost of cutting and transporting his timber holdings was higher than the revenue he was receiving.

Another factor was that the Pere Marquette railroad was laying track through the county at the time, from southeast toward the northwest. This meant it was now far easier to bring men and supplies into the county and to haul timber out of it.

Other area lumbermen initially scoffed at this train idea; however, they were just as quick to follow Gerrish when they found he was getting rich. Why did he make money? The railroad allowed Gerrish to cut and transport lumber year around instead of just during the winter months. That meant a steady and continuous revenue stream all year long.

Using trains allowed Gerrish to cut and haul logs from wherever he could lay track. And he was able to get them from woods to market in under a week, a marvelous feat at the time. Of course, there was an initial expense and delay before a train could run, since the locomotive had to be brought in, a railroad bed built, ties and track laid, and rail cars built. However, this work was generally done quickly and, in the case of the tracks, without regard to quality, since they were temporary, having to last just a couple of years, at best.

Map showing logging railroad beds

Many of the railroads that once covered Clare County. Green is used for major rail lines. Other colors show the beds of some of the narrow-gauge logging railroads. Map courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbrink.

So the logging trains came in and the trees came out. In his book, Michigan Ghost Towns, author Roy Dodge estimated that there were more than 300 miles of logging railroads in the county and traces of many can still be found.

So what did Gerrish and his railroad mean to Clare County? Within a decade, Clare County went from being a peaceful, quiet and beautiful tree-covered county to one filled with giant stumps, scarred landscape with farmers trying to scratch out a future in what remained. However, for one short period in history, thanks in part to W.Scott Gerrish and his railroad, Clare County WAS a bustling, exciting place to be.

Note: Some articles (including the Gerrish link above) claim Gerrish was the first in the world to build a logging railroad. He was not. They were used in other states including Michigan decades before.

Categories: Clare County, Harrison, History, logging, Michigan | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Every Picture Tells a Story–Some Are Incomplete

History is boring.

At least some teachers make it so by turning history class into a forced memorization of dates, names and places. So do parents. One of my closest friends refuses to visit a museum because, as a child (an only child), she was forced to endure day after day of museum visits during vacations. But history is much more than static displays. It’s the story of individuals told through their stories, their writings and their photos. Sometimes we are fascinated by what they tell us—and sometimes by what they do NOT tell us.

A few weeks ago, I was volunteering at the Clare County Historical Museum and looking through the photographs in its files. A few caught my attention and I wanted to share them along with a few thoughts.

Take the photo at left. What happened to the woman’s face at the upper right. Did a liquid accidentally fall on her (and only her) and did someone, in trying to remove it, ruin the photo or (as is more likely) was her face intentionally removed intentionally out of spite or hate. And if the latter, what did she do? There are four men in the photo and four women in the photo. Was she the wife of one of the men and was she guilty some horrible crime or greatly embarrassed him or the owner of the photo. Maybe committing adultery? We may never know but the photo intrigues me.

Old photo of two womenAnd then there is the photo of these two women. The one with the glasses and tie is attractive and has an air of authority about her. I see her as a manager of some type and proud of her role. Where did she work? And if she was a manager, did she only manage other women or men too? (Not sure if women in the 1890s were ever allowed to manage men.) Was she married? If so, when (and if) she had children did her work career come to an abrupt end and did she spend the rest of her days cooking and cleaning and raising children? Perhaps the other woman was her sister. Although well-dressed, she doesn’t have that professional “air” about her.  Was she more conventional? And if the two were sisters, were they close?  We may never know but the photo intrigues me.

Photo of two boys And here we have two boys. Brothers most likely, and maybe forced by their parents to get dressed up in their Sunday finest to have their photos taken. Maybe the first photos ever. Where they fidgety like many boys when it comes to photos? (And in those days one had to be verrrrry still during photos since shutter speeds were slow.) Were they the good boys they appear to be, or hellraisers? Once the photo was over did they tear off those (wool) clothes as fast as can be, or was dressing up natural to them? Who were they and what happened to them? We may never know but the photo intrigues me.

LumberjacksFinally, we have this photo of this group of men all fixed up. Maybe they were lumberjacks just arrived in town from a logging camp and had money in their pockets, and stopped for a photo before they cut loose.

Why lumberjacks? Look closely at the boots on one of the men. The hobnails help identify them.  (The protruding spikes easily dug into the bark making it easier for lumberjacks to walk on logs without slipping.)Hobnail boots

Maybe he wore the boots because they were the only footwear he owned. (One pities the woman who had to dance with him!) I figure after the photo the men left to hit the bars, gambling establishments and local “sporting” houses. How old were they at the time, and did they all survive to become old men?  Doubtful as the life of a lumberjack was a hard and dangerous one. Maybe they got into a fight (a favorite occupation of lumbermen) that night and one of them never made it back to camp, ending up instead in a pine box in a long forgotten graveyard. Or they were on their way to church.  We may never know but the photo intrigues me.

And with photos like this telling stories and asking questions, history, at least to me, will never be boring.

Categories: Clare County, Harrison, History, logging, Michigan | Leave a comment

I’m a Slow Reader (of Topography)

I have a bit of property east of Harrison, MI. As some of you may know, I have the remains of a couple of old buildings on my property. I have also found some artifacts while metal detecting around there. They include an axe handle, small railroad spike, broken horseshoes, metal straps for wooden barrels, bent square nails and even a broken piece of plow and what appears to be a broken section of railroad track.

One of the foundations I have I have known about for a couple of years; the second I found earlier this spring. Yesterday, I found one more, maybe two. I just don’t know for sure. Digging into one of them I found several bent wooden nails and some charred wood about a foot down. Maybe it was an outhouse since there is a rather large depression nearby. Maybe there is more to be found (bottles, trash) if I take time to dig there. I just don’t know for sure.

As far as I can tell, the dwellings, whatever they were use for, burned during one of the fires that roared across this property, 60 or even 100 years ago. I just don’t know for sure. I can estimate the time the buildings were constructed to the 1880s to 1900s or so. That’s because no one settled here until after 1880 and round nails came into widespread use around 1900 or so. In addition, there are a number of large trees on the property and in locations that make me believe that they grew after the area was abandoned. However, I just don’t know for sure.

This is a great time of year to be out and about the woods since the spring rains have washed some of last fall’s leaves off some of the higher mounds on my property. What I also noticed yesterday was what may be the outline an old road or railroad bed that cuts across the property near the foundations and parallel to an old stream bed. It’s a couple of hundred yards long.  What it is, I just don’t know for sure.

That’s because I am a slow reader of the land. I see the features but don’t “SEE” them. I don’t know what I am looking at when I am looking at them. That’s alfun but it’s also frustrating. What I need is someone who is good at this kind of thing and can tell me what I’m looking at and maybe where to do. And the clock is ticking because soon the sprouting vegetation will hide many of the features I’ve found for another year. Plus, a few mosquitoes have already started buzzing around and they take some of the fun out of wandering the property.

So if anyone knows how to read the land for signs of roads or foundations or knows of someone who can, please let me know. I want to know for sure.

Categories: Clare County, Harrison, History, logging, metal detecting, Michigan, Travel and tourism | 18 Comments

Railroad Spikes, Plates and UFOs (Unidentified Found Objects)

Rusty railroad spikes and plates for tieing rails togetherI’ve been out metal detecting the last week along some old logging railroad beds in Clare County and found a few railroad spikes, bolts and broken plates used to tie rails together. The objects were about 4 – 6 inches deep and were apparently left when the rails were torn up after the trees were logged and hauled away. Pulling up the rails and reusing the materials was a common practice from what I heard since saving money was important and leaving rails out in the middle of nowhere as a waste of it.

Image of old railroad engine and trestleFrom what I’ve read, Clare County may have the most old logging railroad beds in the state so there were a lot of rails to pull up and reuse. The large number of RR beds is not surprising considering it was the first logging railroad in the country when Winfield Scott Gerrish built a railroad into woods to help haul out the timber. Although the initial investment was high (around $300 a mile), it made it easier to get out the lumber. Gerrish’s fellow lumberman laughed at his venture when he first started but when they saw the huge return in his investment…well, they couldn’t build their own railroads fast enough.

So although the tracks are gone the beds remain and underneath them are a few treasures. It’s interesting to hold in one’s hand a spike that was last handled by some unknown logger more than 125 years ago. It’s also interesting to take a walk in the woods and stumble on a bed out in the woods. They are quite common once one knows what to look for.

Unidentified found objects on an old logging railroad bedAnyway, among the items I found were a couple of UFOs–unknown found objects–I call them.  The items are shown at left (click photo to enlarge) and are about an inch long. I originally thought they might be bullets but their shape is awfully strange for a bullet in that they would not be very aerodynamic. The bottoms, by the way, are flat but have a small circle in the center. If anyone knows what they are, please let me know. My plans are to donate the items to the Clare County Historical Museum for their display on the logging era. I also plan to hold a talk sometime this summer on logging railroads on one of the old railroad beds at Mid-Michigan Community College in Harrison. railroads and the logging era. (More information on that coming soon.)

While I am asking questions, I’d also be interested in finding out what the rules are about metal detecting on state land in Michigan. I found information on the DNR site about metal detecting in state parks but nothing so far about state land. While I know walking the rail beds is legal on state land I’m not sure about metal detecting, and want to know before I go.

Categories: Clare County, Harrison, metal detecting, Michigan, recreation | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

Spring is a Great Time to Find Some History

Spring has sprung early this year. Hard to believe spring peepers are in full chorus and butterflies are flitting around. Oh, and the mosquitoes are non-existent. So get outside and enjoy it. It may not last for long. And while you are out combing the woods, stay alert for history. With the snow gone and the spring vegetation yet to start to grow, the contours of the earth are easy to see. That means one might be able to see a discarded antler or maybe an old railroad bed or other remnant of the past.

For example, I was out walking my property today and I found the outline of a foundation. Now I’ve owned that property for eight years and I’ve walked that section numerous times but today was the first time I saw the outline of the foundation that measures about 10 foot square. That makes two I’ve found on my property. The first one I found a couple of years ago (well, to be honest, my neighbors noticed it). Last year, for the first time, I took a metal detector and explored in an around it and found some neat stuff. Here’s the post with some photos. I’m still not sure of the age of either but because of some square nails and horseshoes that turned up, I’d wager the foundations were from Clare County’s logging days (circa 1880’s). I will be out there again tomorrow marking the corners of the two foundations and looking for more.

So go outside and take a walk and look around you. Even if history is not your bag it’s still a great time to be out in God’s soon-to-be-green earth.  Enjoy!

Categories: Clare County, Harrison, History, logging, metal detecting | 1 Comment

The Surrey House in Harrison, Michigan

Plans are underway to reopen the Surrey House in Harrison if grants can be obtained to purchase and renovate the building. The goal is to take the historic two-story building that most recently housed a restaurant and bar and turn it into a mixed-use facility to help grow retail businesses. Tenants could include a small restaurant and community kitchen, and possibly several hotel rooms and a spa, according to an article in the March 1, 2012 issue of the Clare County Cleaver.

The Middle Michigan Development Corporation, a private, non-profit economic development organization responsible for the industrial and technological development of  Clare and Isabella Counties, and the Small Business Initiative Council, an organization that seeks to foster entrepreneurial activity the county and create an atmosphere that is inviting for business growth are assisting in the project.

The city of Harrison agreed to the project including taking title to the building as long as the city would not be under any financial obligation if grants do not cover the costs involved. The Surrey House has been closed since January 21011.

This is an ad that appeared in the Clare County Cleaver not long after the Surrey House reopened.

The building was constructed around 1880, a time when Harrison was booming thanks to the logging industry. Trains pulled into town on a daily basis bringing lumberman, storekeepers, families and even criminals like the infamous Jim Car (one of the most despicable men Michigan has ever produced), and taking lumber back south to construct cities in Michigan and in the Midwest.

The building was originally called the Lockwood House and served as a boarding house and restaurant during the logging era. Later renamed the Ohio Tavern and then the Colonial Hotel,  it was bought by two Flint businessmen in fall of 1945. At that time it was remodeled and renamed the Surrey House, according to an article in the June 13, 1945 issue of the Cleaver announcing the reopening. (There was no reason cited in the article for the name change.) Changes at that time included a Colonial porch constructed on the west side, two available entrances and “Beautiful sleeping quarters are on the second floor all remodeled rooms with splendid beds and cleanliness that is bound to please those seeking lodging.”

Rumor has it the building is haunted by a small boy that prowls the rooms upstairs. While his is a restless and sometimes mischievous spirit, it is not an evil one. Moving items from one location to another or opening closed doors is about the worst a waitress at the restaurant told me several years ago.

It will be nice to see the building reopened for use by more than just restless spirits.

Categories: Clare County, Economy, Harrison, History, Jobs and the economy | Tags: | 3 Comments

Clare County Michigan History in Photos

I added a video to You Tube, well, basically a slideshow that consists of old photos. Most of them show the cities of Clare, Harrison and Farwell. The show lasts about 6 minutes and music in the background. The photos are primarily from the collection Forrest Meek gave to Mid-Michigan Community College. Here’s the link to the show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTX84V-VZfM

Categories: Clare County, Harrison, History, Michigan | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Best Well Digger in Clare County

Paraphrased from the story of the same name from the book “At Ease With Col. Sharp,” by Dale Sharp.

Who knows if this story about the well digger, Oliver Gosine, is true or not?  Oliver lived until the ripe old age of 101 and some of his stories and exploits were recorded in “Ticket to Hell, A Saga of Michigan’s Bad Men.”  Its author, Roy Dodge, reported that Oliver used to work for saloonkeeper and brothel owner Jim Carr, who was one of  the most dispicable people this state has ever known.  Dodge also wrote that Oliver cut ice during the winter in Harrison’s Budd Lake.  However, Dodge doesn’t mention anything about Oliver’s well-digging prowess and it’s not mentioned elsewhere as far as I know.  Now Oliver is also known for a tombstone he built for himself complete with a mirror.  The tombstone can be seen in Harrison’s Maple Grove Cemetery.  And the mirror, well, that’s another story and the subject of another post on my blog.  This particular story, true or not, is about Oliver, well digging and a horse.  I hope Col. Sharp, wherever he is, will forgive me for rewriting his story and publishing it on my blog.

bucketIn the spring of 1889, Harrison was still basically a lumber town but homesteaders were building and claiming the land in the area.  The conversion from lumber to farming was just beginning. Jim Carr, undoubtedly the most despicable person to ever live in Clare Countywas history.  It was a fresh time and Oliver Gosine was the best well digger in Clare County.

Gosine was kept busy digging wells.  People literally stood in line to employ him.  However, the only way Oliver liked water was mixed with a little bourbon.

One May morning in 1889, Oliver was getting ready to dig a well for a homesteader when the sheriff rode up and asked Oliver to stop what he was doing and dig a well for the county jail.  Apparently the well at the jail had just about gone dry and they needed a well pronto.  In the interest of the village’s welfare, Oliver took on the job.

The way Oliver dug a well went something like this: He would dig down the first six feet by hand.  Once he had a hole six foot wide and about the same deep, he would take a large bucket and toss it down into the hole. Now the line was secured to Oliver’s horse, Old Gray, with a long rope.  Oliver would climb down into the hole, fill the bucket with sand, climb in the bucket, yell “git up” and then slowly he and the bucket would be taken to the top as Old Gray moved slowly away from the hole. Oliver would unload the bucket and repeat the process until he struck water—usually 18 to 30 feet down.

Things apparently went well on this dig until the third day.  It was then Oliver struck a rock. Deciding dynamite was the only way to deal with the problem Oliver had Old Gray “git up” to pull him and the bucket out of the hole.  Oliver then commenced to walk over to Hughes Brothers Hardware and bought himself five sticks of the explosive, a blasting cap and a couple feet of fuse. Going back into the hole he packed the five sticks under the stone, tamped it all down, lit the fuse, climbed into the bucket and yelled up at the horse to “git up.”  Well, nothing happened. Oliver yelled louder and still the bucket and he remained unmoving in the hole as the fuse burned closer to the dynamite meant to blow the rock to smithereens.  In a state of panic, Oliver dove out of the bucket toward the rock, crawled over to the fuse and pulled it out at the last second.

A couple of hours later, one of the local judges was walking home and spied the horse standing half asleep at the top of the hole and Oliver at the bottom of it fit-to be-tied.  The judge led the horse away from the hole bringing the bucket up. When the bucket and well-digger reached the top Oliver lit into the horse with a litany of expletives in two languages (Oliver also knew French).

The judge went home not too much afterward swore he heard a gunshot but passed it off as routine in this rural community.  The next day walking to work he noticed a large crowd around Oliver’s not quite completed well. He peered over the edge and saw Old Gray standing at the bottom, blood dripping from its head and what appeared to be a boot print on its rump.

Sheriff Thompson was summoned, and although the evidence was circumstantial Oliver was arrested for cruelty to animals.

It apparently took two days to put the horse in a sling and pull it up the 20 feet from the bottom of the well, apparently none the worse for wear despite its wound.

As to Oliver, he went to trial.  Although the boot print on Old Gray’s rump matched the one Oliver wore and the fact Oliver had a derringer in his pocket that the sheriff sniffed and announced that it had been fired, Oliver was found not guilty by a Judge Green.  Rumor had it that Green was beholding to Oliver since the latter had taken the rap for illegal pike spearing  while Green hid in the bushes.

Anyway, the next day Oliver and Old Gray were seen heading off toward Leota for some fishing. The next morning Oliver returned alone–and on foot.  When he was asked what happened, Oliver said that Old Gray had just stopped in the road near Jed McCord’s place, rolled over and died.  Oliver said Jed offered him $5 for the carcass to feed Jeb’s hounds, and he took the offer.  “Now gentleman, what would you have done?” Oliver would ask with a twinkle in his eye.

By the way, the story doesn’t say whether Oliver ever finished that well at the jail.  However, it does say that on the day Oliver reported that Old Gray had died of “natural causes”  Jed recalled hearing a gunshot. You can draw your own conclusion.

Categories: Clare County, Harrison, History, Michigan | Tags: | 6 Comments

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