Gerrish and His Logging Railroad (Part 2)

…Or how to Decimate a County in Under a Decade

Here is an excerpt of an article from the June 1878 issue of the Clare County (Michigan) Press concerning Winfield Scott Gerrish and his logging railroad that was mentioned in a previous post. Note: Red line indicates approximately location of railroad.

“But the object of my present raid into Clare County…to visit Gerrish’s lumber camp, near Lake George, said to be the headquarters of the most extensive lumber operations conducted by any single individual in the known world. The principle camp is about 15 miles northwest of Farwell, and to make that distance at this season of the year over a road, which scatters all over the country and has no bottom to speak of, requires both physical and mental ability of no mean order.

Luckily our little party…secured a span of ponies, somewhat larger than rat terriers, and a light single-seated buggy, which afforded ample room for one to ride comfortably in the middle and one to walk comfortably on each side.

Both buggy and ponies, however, deceived their looks and passed over, around, and through mud holes safely, which might have swallowed a heavier outfit from sight, and we reached our destination in safety, without getting more than a mile or two out of the way at any one time.

One would suppose there should be no difficulty in following a road through the woods over which a locomotive has passed in search of a railroad, as there did over this January last, but when he reflects that the winding path has branches for every hill and camp, and that a man might travel for hours–or possibly all day–on the wrong road without meeting any one to set him right, the probability of a stranger finding any given camp the same day he strikes out for it will be seen to be very small. We were especially fortunate in reaching the headquarters camp in time for a good square dinner, which was served up in a manner that would do credit to many a hotel.

The camp was started in 1870, and with its cluster of log shanties, blacksmith shop, railroad buildings, etc., it looks very much like a busy and permanent village, The little lumber railroad which passes through it and is the pioneer railroad of that kind, is now about 13 miles long and strikes the Muskegon River about 18 miles above Evart and about 40 miles below Houghton Lake.

It was begun in September 1870; the first locomotive arrived November of that year, the second in November 1877, and the third in January 1878, The first two were “poled” up the Muskegon on rafts from Evart, and the last was run through the woods from Farwell, feats in engineering, which the old-fashioned lumberman ridiculed as impossible. The main road has four switches, two train dispatchers, and a telephone running its whole length, by which the engineers receive their orders at each switch, and the trains are run with the regularity of clockwork.

Each locomotive draws thirteen cars, and is kept running night and day, the three trains putting into the river 24 loads every 24 hours, or about 400,000 feet a day. Three men run each train, three remain on the river bank to unload, and 16 to 18 remain at the skidways to load, Each crew is on duty 12 hours, when it is relieved by a second crew for twelve hours, and so they alternate the season through, no train being delayed for meals or any other purpose. Over 50,000,000 feet have been put into the river over tills road this season, and from present appearances the cars will be kept running all summer.

This road has several branches which are run off to one side or the other, as the convenience of skidding and loading logs requires, while the main branch is being steadily extended. By fall, it will probably have reached the old State road, about six miles north of Farwell, when the depot of supplies will be moved to that point, and the plank road, which already runs nearly half way out from the village, will be extended to the proposed depot. This will lessen the cost of supplying the camps, which is now very great, to about one-third or one quarter what it has been. How much farther the road will be extended remains to be seen.

Mr. Gerrish already owns some 11 or 12 sections in the township, and is steadily adding to their number. There is doubtless standing pine enough within range of the road to keep it running a dozen years yet.*  There are a work in the camps about 400 men and 70 teams. During the winter there were nearly 700 men and about 225 teams. The sales of logs and lumber from the logs put in the past winter and spring, and those now on the skids, to be put in this summer, have aggregated $105,000. This is exclusive of Mr. Gerrish’s operations at Houghton Lake, where, in company with John L. Woods, of Cleveland, he has put in some 14,000,000 feet this season, and will put in 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 feet more. He also has other camps and investments in the lumber business, including a large steam sawmill at Muskegon, but the figures above given are enough to vindicate his title of being the largest operator in the business.

And here I should like to introduce the blue-eyed, flaxen-haired, athletic young man, still on the sunny side of 30, who employs so many men and so much capital in a precarious business so successfully, but personal allusions are distasteful and I forbear. Scott Gerrish has spent his life in lumber camps, and there is no part of the work which he cannot do as well himself as the employee who does it under his direction. Many stories are told of his remarkable industry and physical endurance; how he threw the champion wrestler of the camps at collar-and-elbow election day; how, after an arduous day’s work he is accustomed to sleep in his cutter at night while his horse draws him from one camp to another, and how, without overcoat or mittens, he rather enjoys weather cold enough to freeze the horns off a cast-iron ox. He has evidently an iron constitution and a capacity for both physical and mental work found in but few.”

* The writer of the article, as well as Gerrish and others, vastly underestimated the time it would take to cut the pines and other valuable timber. Basically, the county was bare within a decade and the county was soon to go into an economic decline.

Categories: Clare County, History, logging, Michigan, Travel and tourism | Tags: | Leave a 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

Railroad Talk and Nature Walk is Over. Now Gangsters?

Group gathered to listen to Carl SchaafA couple of weeks ago, I went on a railroad talk and nature walk at Mid-Michigan Community College in Harrison. And for once, I didn’t go seeking solitude. In fact, for once, I would have been very disappointed had I been alone out in the woods. The reason: I was hosting a hike on behalf of the Clare County Historical Society and Friends of Clare County Parks & Recreation. Thank goodness people showed. About 30 of them. The turnout was mostly the result of a press release that ran in the Clare County Review and Clare County Cleaver. Both papers were nice to print the piece I wrote. The Cleaver, in fact, ran it twice.

The people, ranging in age from around 6 to 81, turned out on a beautiful Saturday morning to walk the nature trails and former railroad beds that can be found on the MMCC property. One gentleman, Carl Schaaf, brought along a number of old logging items he had found and purchased and gave an impromptu lecture before the hike. He was very knowledgeable and I was grateful for the information he gave to group, myself included.

Trails and railroad beds at Mid_Michigan Community College in Harrison

Trails and old logging railroad beds at Mid-Michigan Community College

I scheduled the hike there because it’s one of the few places in the county a person can easily walk along a couple of old railroad grades. One grade appears to have been the site of a relatively major line that hauled passengers from Clare into Dodge City about 16 miles to the northeast and back. And the other…well, I frankly don’t know what is was for or when it was built. I assume it was an old logging railroad grade that ran either about the same time or maybe even earlier (or later) hauling timber out of the woods. While the grade between Clare and Dodge appears on maps and has the date the tracks were commissioned and decommissioned, this particular grade does not. This smaller grade starts near the larger one and then just peters out into what is now a field on the college property. I once took a metal detector out into the field but didn’t find anything of value, either monetarily, cultural or historical so I’m not sure the field had anything to do with the railroad.  While most of the two-mile hike was on the Old stumps. May be from logging era or may be from a 2nd cutting about 50 years ago. college’s level and mowed trails, I did veer off trail to a section that takes one out  along an elevated earthen trestle to some giant stumps. Only two of the walkers were unable to make that part of the hike.  (The college also features 10 miles of biking trails through the woods and, as I found, those are not mowed OR level.)

My plans are to do another event of a historical nature, although I’m not sure what this next one will be. I understand there is now a Scout camp near Lake George that once was the vacation home of the Purple Gang. It even has an underground tunnel that was used as an escape route. However, it particular history is one of which I know very little. I’ve heard tell that a number of gangsters came up to Clare County, some like the Purple Gang were out of Detroit, while others came by way of Chicago. Although they came from different directions, their goal was the same: To escape the heat. Not the high temperatures, although that may have been a factor, but to get away from the attention of the local constabulary (i.e. the cops and G-men). The only gangster story I know the one of the lawyer who was gunned down in the Doherty Hotel in downtown Clare in the late 1920s. It’s a story told in a serious of newspaper articles posted in a back hotel hallway.

So if anyone knows about the gangsters of Clare County, please let me know. I will trade you some Clare County railroad history for it. One last thing, the best time to do a railroad hike is in the spring. While we had a great time, seeing the railroad beds can sometimes be difficult in the high brush and when the mosquitoes are a’buzzin and a’bittin.

Note: This post was written before a movie about The Purple Gang in Clare County produced by was released in August 2012. The movie is supposed to be released on DVD copies should be available locally.

Categories: Michigan | 1 Comment

A Civil War Monument 118 Years in the Completing

ImageIt was great to see the Civil War monument in Cherry Grove cemetery finally completed and rededicated this past Memorial Day. It was also wonderful to see the large turnout of people of all ages.

The monument was originally dedicated on May 30, 1994 before a large crowd. Sadly, the monument was dedicated in an unfinished state. The Women’s Auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic—the G.A.R. was a fraternal organization comprised primarily of Civil War veterans who had fought for the Union– raised money for the monument by hosting 10 cent suppers. Although they raised enough for the foundation of the monument and the granite base, they did not obtain sufficient funds for the granite soldier that was to stand atop the monument.

And so the monument remained unfinished for 118 years.

In his book, Michigan’s Timber Battleground, written several decades ago, author Forrest Meek took time away from telling the story of Clare County’s history to put in this plea:

“[H]ave we, the heirs to these brave and courageous people, fulfilled our obligation while that monument remains incomplete? Should we in this generation finish their task or don’t we have an unpaid indebtedness to their memory. Could we complete that memorial in Cherry Grove Cemetery, thus showing to ourselves that we have not forgotten? That is our challenge! What is our response?”

Finally, Clare County can respond to Forrest and especially to those who served in that Dedication of Civil War Monumentterrible war they were not forgotten. While our indebtedness can never fully be repaid, our conscience can at least be a bit clearer now that the monument has been finished. We applaud those who pushed for its completion and funded the work.

Note: There are 83 Civil War veterans buried in the Cherry Grove Cemetery.

Categories: Clare County, History, Michigan | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Becoming a Better Reader of Topography

I had a neat couple stop by the house last Sunday named Al and Gail (I am not including their last name since they have not given me permission to do so). This couple has wandered much of Clare County looking for–and frequently finding–old logging railroad beds that are fairly abundant in the county. They even put together a map (at left). The actual map is on display at the Clare County Historical Museum. The museum is open from 1 – 4 p.m. Saturdays now through October

I invited them to my home and property because I have what looks like foundations on my property and the remains of a possible road, and wanted a better idea of what it is I am looking at. By the way, when I say foundations, I mean rectangular dirt mounds, some of which contain square nails. There is no concrete or block on the site, which indicates the area was inhabited sometime around the end of the 19th century, which was the time logging camps were around.

Well, it was a wonderful visit. Not only do I know have a better idea of my land, but they also took me on a quick tour of the surrounding area and pointed out about 5-6 old railroad beds I didn’t even know existed although I pass by them nearly every day!

As to my property, Al pointed out that what I though was a creek bed was really a shallow man-made canal that allowed water to flow out of my pond. Back a 100 years ago or so, my pond was part of a large lake about a mile long. The canal was used in the winter by horse-drawn sleighs transporting logs from the forests that once surrounded my property.

Al also pointed out about six man-made structures on my property and speculated the site was probably the location of a small logging camp and then perhaps a family cabin stood there afterward, since there is the remains of a garden plot on the property. Eventually everything burned in a fire since the stumps that remain show burn marks and digging into the structures reveals some charred wood about a foot down. However, since nothing remains standing and time has eroded many of the individual sites, leaving only pits and mounds of dirt it’s hard to determine what was there, and what the buildings were used for.

So far, metal detecting has not turned up anything conclusive. One spoon and a couple of broken horseshoes, barrel hoops and lots of scraps of metal are among the things I’ve dug up.

However, Al’s conclusions help explain why I found the remains of a plow (for the garden) and a section of heavy sleigh runner (for hauling logs) buried in the muck of my pond. See my earlier posting for more information.

I’ll continue to investigate but perhaps not until fall. For now, the mosquitoes rule the site. Additionally, the vegetation is growing up making metal detecting more difficult. So I will return in the fall. In the meantime I will dream of hidden riches–or at least a hidden coin with a readable date. Whether I find of don’t find anything really doesn’t matter. The fact is, it’s all pretty cool.

Categories: 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

Rules for Clare Bank Employees — 1909

The following rules were found in the book “Clare Remembered 1879 – 1979,” published by the Clare Area Centennial Committee. Citizens bank stood on the corner of Fourth and MeEwan and operated for 70 years ,beginning in 1908.

Clare Citizens BankCitizens Bank of Clare — Rules for Employees       
March 10, 1909

  1. Office employees will daily sweep the floors, dust the furniture, shelves and counters.
  2. Each day fill lamps, clean chimneys, and trim wicks. Wash the windows once a week.
  3. Each clerk will bring in a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s business.
  4. Make your pens carefully; You may whittle nibs to suit your individual taste.
  5. The office is will open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. daily except on the Sabbath, on which day it will remain closed. Each employee is expected to spend the Sabbath by attending church.
  6. Men employees will be given an evening off each week for courting purposes, or two evening off a week of they go regularly to church.
  7. Every employee should lay aside for each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden upon the charity of his betters.
  8. Any employee who smokes Spanish cigars, uses liquor in any form, gets shaved at a barber shop, or frequents pool or public halls, will give us good reason to suspect his worth, intentions, integrity of honesty.
  9. The employee who has performed his labor faithfully, and without fault for a period of five years in our service, and who has been thrifty, and is looked upon by his fellow men as a law abiding citizen, will be given an increase of ten cents per day in his pay, provided a just return in profits from the business permits it.
Categories: Clare County, General, History, Jobs and the economy, Life, Michigan | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Indian Artifacts in Utah and Michigan’s Indian History

Looking down on the plain and stream bed from the ridge. Stones in foreground were part of a dwelling.

My brother lives in Utah and each time I visit him I stop on some private land not far from his home and look for potsherds and arrowheads. The property was apparently home to a small community of Native Americans several centuries ago. It’s a nice piece of property with  a ridge and southern exposure. About 30 feet below the ridge is a small plain and stream bed. On the ridge are the remains of six or seven stone dwellings. Now the stones (about a foot in diameter) are scattered around the ridge or have slid down the slope.

I could spend hours looking for these artifacts. I find the time relaxing and, at the same time, thrilling. Relaxing since there is no time constraint. Thrilling since finding means I can hold something in my hand that was made 300, 400 maybe 500 years ago. Who made them, I wonder? Was it a man or woman? What were they thinking as they worked? Were they as relaxed as I am or were they worried about invaders, the weather or starvation? What was their life like? What ultimately happened to them as individuals and to the community they lived in? One can picture them sitting on the ridge in front of their dwellings looking down at the stream as they worked, turning clay into pots or flint to turn it into weapons or tools.

A look across the ridge.

I don’t keep what I find. I used to do so but now the fun is in the finding and holding, not the holding and keeping. So I pick the items up, look at them, then toss them aside and walk on. Plus, it’s not like the artifacts are rare. There are literally thousands of fragments lying around the two- or three-acre site, and most of what I find is not larger

Just a few of the items (potsherd and flint) found on the ridge or that are sliding down to the plain. Note the black paint on the one pot sherd. Only a few of the pieces show evidence of having been painted.

than a dollar coin, although sometimes I do find the remains of a clay pot several inches in diameter. Any complete or nearly complete pieces were probably scrounged by others over the intervening centuries. I leave the potsherds because there is little I can do with them. Additionally, leaving them means maybe others will be able to the same fun I have. Oh, and the property I am on may be open to visitors but that doesn’t mean what is on the site is anyone’s property to take, and I’m not about to push my luck and find out.

However, what if I were to find a complete bowl or a complete arrowhead on the site? What then? Would I put it back–or would I keep it?  Do I have ethics but only to a degree? Am I like the women in the joke who, when asked by a man if she would have sex with him for a million dollars, thinks about it before saying yes. When asked by the same man if she would do the act for a dollar instantly answers no and then asks in disgust, “What do you think I am?” To which the questioner responds, “We’ve already determined that’ now we are just quibbling over price.”

In Michigan, our Indian history is not so obvious and not as abundant. I’ve always wanted to find evidence of early Indians but never have. That’s not surprising. First of all, mid-Michigan didn’t have the large number of Indian communities that one finds in the desert southwest, and the remains of any communities we had are either buried many feet below ground or have been plowed over.

In Clare County, for example, there is little evidence of permanent communities. Archeological studies have found sites but most were temporary in nature and most have disappeared over the intervening centuries. Same with Indian mounds. There are still a few mounds in Missaukee County but none in Clare that I am aware of.

And so I continue to search for artifacts in both states. The finding is easier in Utah but obviously, Michigan is closer. While I hope to find a complete pot or arrowhead in either state maybe it’s best I don’t. After all, I enjoy the thrill of the find.However, maybe it’s best I don’t have to find out what I am.

Categories: Clare County, Michigan, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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