and surrounding areas.


By: Jane A. COWLES, Melva WILBUR and Paul WILBUR

and donated to the Shepherd Area Historical Society Apr 1980

by the authors.


Transcribed by Barbara Lesser - May 1999




     Isabella County, Michigan, was settled beginning in the 1850's. Before that, neither Indians nor white men lived in the area now called Coe township. Some of the earliest pioneers moved north from Gratiot County or other more southerly counties, choosing their land and erecting shelters before bringing their families.

     The actual first settlers were men named  ESTEE, BRICKLEY, BOWEN, WOOLSEY, CHILDS, STEWART and WILLARD. They arrrived about a month before the ROBERTS and FANNING families. There was a great influx of pioneers  until about 1855, when the goverment took the swamp lands off the market. People came from Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Virginia, among other places, to buy land at very low prices, from twelve and a half cents an acre to a dollar  and twenty-five cents, depending on the quality of the land. It was largely forest and swamp. "Taken up" land had to be recorded at Ionia, Michigan, some fifty miles to the southwest of Coe township, a journey that had to be made on foot.
     "Salt River' was platted by Elijah MOORE in 1866.It was named for the stream beside it, and consisted mostly of mills, blacksmith shops, and hotels to accommodate the lumberjacks who were clearing the area. The stream, Salt River, was larger then, and the lumber business flourished.
     People had to carry their indispensable food stuffs from St. Johns, MI by "shank's mare" via Indian trails until well into the 1880's. There was no trouble with Indians, whose homes were not being invaded. But the grandmothers of many people living today in Coe township had baked goods and milk 'borrowed' by hungry red travelers.
      After the railroad was built, business began to move toward the west. I.N. SHEPHERD built his home between the village of Salt River and the railroad, about half a mile west of the settlement. He owned the land, and also erected an entire block of buildings, anticipating the additional business the Toledo and Ann Arbor  railroad would bring. In 1887, a fire in "Salt River" was the final blow to the original  town and "Shepherd" came into being, named for I. N. SHEPHERD, owner of much of the land, whose foresight was thus rewarded.
     People living here between the 1850's and 1880's were either pioneers of the children of pioneers. The area with which these obituries are concerned is bordered on the east by Midland County, and on the south by Gratiot County.
     At first, when people died they were buried on their own property, near the houses occupied by their families, and the graves were crudely marked.  Most of the first graves have been entirely lost.  Many later deaths occurred in neighboring  towns - Alma, Mt. Pleasant, St. Louis, and Carson City, where the first hospitals were located.  Then, too, as settlers grew older, they tended to retire to settlements for companionship and conveniences.  Mt. Pleasant, the county seat of Isabella County, lies about eight miles north of Shepherd; Alma is about equal distant to the south, and St. Louis is a little east and north of Alma.
     Most of the obituries herein transcribed were taken from scrapbooks or newspapers cherished through the years.  We do not know how accurate the obituaries were, but there is great variation in the spelling of names, and sometimes two obituaries of the same person, published in different papers, do not agree.
     We take no responsibility for the accuracy of such news items. All we know is  that they were written, and since newspaper accounts are at best, only a second-rate source of genealogical information, those transcripts must be regarded only as clues upon which to build factual records. Nevertheless, "Lost in the wilderness" can be very frustrating, and small clues can be of great assistance in pointing the was to missing ancestors.
     We hope this collection of vital community concerns may help someone crossing time and distance in search of kin.
     We owe debts of gratitude to those who preserved the obituaries, and to those who lent them to us, and to the members of our families who were patient with our preoccupation in preparing these lists.  The ladies of other years who clipped and pasted such interesting stories of their neighbors, have both our gratitude and respect. 
*Editor's note: Please click on the letter indicated for your surname.


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