From “ENTERPRISE”, Friday, March 17, 1922
Sketches of Isabella County early history compiled by Charles Taylor (deceased) of Chippewa Township and published in 1888; the writer tells of his own experiences as a pioneer.
“Isabella county was opened for settlement by what was called the Act of August 4, 1854, graduating the price of lands, and in September and October following, a general rush was made for the cheap lands. So great was the rush that it put one in mind of California days. The writer, William McClintock, and Lewis Piper wanted to explore the northern country and started for Gratiot, as the whole country was called at that time. We met a party that had been as far north as the Chippewa River Isabella county, and had a plat of towns 14N, range 3 west, which showed all the lands vacant except section one which was marked to George A. Coe. They offered to sell the plat at half price. We paid them and were assured by the leader of the company who appeared like an honest man, that if we did not go within about two miles of the river we would find plenty of good farming lands. So we took courage and pressed on to what was called Gould’s Shanty, seven miles from Alma. When we reached that place the next morning we found only one house but received a hearty welcome from the landlord and his amiable wife, whom we found in after days to be right persons in the right place.
We returned then to the land office in Ionia, reaching there October 18. So great was the excitement that it was of but little use to look the county over. We then went home and made preparations to occupy the lands we had bought.
Returning in January 1856, we found a number of settlers already located north of Alma. Taking the wrong trail north of the county line, we found ourselves on the south bank of Salt River and at the end of the trail. There being four of us, one turned surveyor, two had axes and the other acted as teammaster and after cutting our way for two miles, we came to what is now the section line that runs through Shepherd.
There was a trail cut north from there and we were thankful to find signs of civilization. After going a short distance we found a house and a family, the first sign of improvement we had seen in the county and I think the first house built. It still stands at this date (February 1888) on the farm of Monroe Kinter. The house was built by Eben Stewart. They were glad to see others coming and the men came out and gave us a handshake. It seemed a friendly greeting and a little surprising too that the first family we met should be a religious one. It was Saturday night and they invited us to come and hold a prayer meeting on the morrow. Getting to a little shelter, we made up our minds to stay there until Monday morning and went back and held service with them on Sunday afternoon. Three churches were represented; Methodist, Baptist and United Brethern. Monday we had two miles more of trail to cut to reach our land. Getting there about noon, we commenced to build a small cabin, about 7’ X 8’, for a place to shelter our families.
By that time a number of families had moved into the county, some had come November and December, 1854, into townships 13 and 14, North of Range 3 West, which territory was organized into the township of Coe in honor of Lieutenant-governor George A. Coe. The first families that came into what is now Coe township were: Patrick Roberts, Patrick Fanning, Daniel Brickley and Willard Stewart, and into Chippewa township: Eben Hamilton and Eli Hamilton, in 1854, and William F. Payne, Charles Taylor (the writer), William McClintock, Robert Gibbs, Andrew Childs, James Campbell, William Bowen, Patrick Murtha and others in 1855.
In February 1855, the Hursh family came into town 14-4, now Union Township and settled near where Mt. Pleasant is now (their house stood on Washington St. south of High) and in June, Henry Sherman came. The next were A. M. Merrill and Leonard Hawly.
Improvements were small, people chopping and burning the brush, planting in many places among the black logs. Crops did quite well and a variety of things were raised with no frost until September 28. But, previous to the corn getting ripe, bread was rather scarce with most of the settlers and the supplies they had brought in were about all consumed. At that time it was almost impossible to bring anything through Gratiot, for the trails were so cut up that it was a heavy load for a yoke of oxen to even draw an empty wagon. The writer had a crop of wheat “outside” but could get no one for love or money to undertake to come in with supplies. Ralph Ely of Alma had drawn in provisions till he could do so no longer, but to keep the people from suffering, he built a large boat out of two large pine trees and ran the boat to Saginaw and back on the Pine River until the river froze over which was about the first of January. In the meantime, the people were not idle, almost every art was devised to grind the corn. Some used their coffee mills, others made wooden mortars by hollowing the end of a log, some shaved it up with a jack-plane, others mashed it in a trough. Finally, a number bought a hand mill. They did not do the grinding a take a toll but, to get their money back, charged a shilling a bushel. The writer got it and ground a barrel of meal and felt very thankful.
Those hand mills were all made of iron, costing from six to seven dollars. We went to Alma for them and I carried one home on my back as well as a few groceries and forded Salt River, which at that time was spread out very wide. There were no ferry boats or bridges and the roads were so crooked that it was a long distance to Alma and that was the nearest point where the least thing could be purchased.
The first store built in Isabella county was on Section 4, on the Chippewa River in Chippewa township by Langdon Bentley. Soon afterwards goods were brought in and sold by Peleg Wilcox, two miles south and a half mile east of Salt River.
Our nearest post offices were Maple Rapids and Fish Creek. A post office was established at St. Louis in 1856 or 1857 and mail was brought up to Salt River once a week by those interested. A boy was hired to carry the mail once a week three weeks out of four, the writer (Rev. Charles Taylor) volunteering to carry the fourth week. After some time, a post office was established at Salt River with William R. Robbins, postmaster, and we thought we were highly favored.
In 1856, the Indian Reservation was established and during the fall of that year the Indians moved into the county in large numbers. In 1857, the Indian mills were built 1 ˝ miles northeast of what is now Mt. Pleasant. Chippewa people turned out and cut a road through the forest to the mills and as soon as the gristmill was ready to work, a number of us went up with two wagons, two yokes of cattle to each wagon. We had to leave our teams on this side of the river and carry our grists over on the timbers of the bridge, there being nothing there but the frame of a bridge. This was not a pleasant job. The saw mill had been run a little and planks had been cut for the bridge, so we made up our minds that we would make the crossing safer and called for volunteers to carry the planks onto the bridge and soon made it so we could get over it all right. By night we got home from our first trip to mill, it being only seven miles, yet it had taken two days. Then we laid our hand mills away as one of the things of the past.
As soon as lumber could be got, buildings began to go up-a sawmill had been put in at Salt River, but the Indian mills were a great help to both whites and Indians. And soon the mills were quite a business place. F. C. Babbitt came there with a small stock of goods. And the firm did a big business with the Indians, who had large quantities of furs besides their annual pay to barter for goods. They also made a home market for about all the settlers had to sell for the Indians were not great producers but great on the chase. The woods were full of wild animals.
In April 1856, the first township meeting of Chippewa was held at the house of James Campbell. There was a large turnout, 66 votes being polled and electing William B. Bowen, Supervisor; P. H. Estee, Clerk; John Reynolds, Treasurer; Charles Taylor, William Middaugh and John Q. A. Johnson, justice of the peace; George Miller and Patrick Murtha, School inspectors.
The first wolf bounty certificates were made out in favor of Solomon Wolf who had quite a number of heads. At that time, there were lots of those animals and their howling could be heard day and night.
As our county was attached to Midland in 1857, many of us were drawn as jurymen to attend court in that city. The custom then was to have grand and petit juries and when we got into the courtroom we found the juries composed mostly of Isabella men. Our road to Midland was by trail on the north bank of the Chippewa River.
I attended the first term of court in Isabella county, held at the center of the county in 1859. Dr. Jefferies and others had purchased land on four corners and built a log house, which they called the courthouse and store, having a few goods to sell. They intended to have a town there and gave us to understand that the state had given them the privilege of stick the stake for the county seat right on those corners. But one trip to that place was enough for most of those who had to go and the idea originated that business could be done nearer home.
The first schoolhouse was built at Salt River on the east side of the river and after standing there a while it was moved to the southeast corner of James Campbell’s farm. The first school in the county was taught there by Carrie Kilbourn. The second school- house in the county was built in Chippewa and the first school there was taught by Julia Fraser. Wages paid, $1.00 per week, and board around the district.
The first white child born in the county was Mary Fanning on May 5, 1855. The happy parents carried the child on foot to Lyons to have it christened, that being the nearest point where a priest could be reached and over roads that were crooked and winding around on the highest ground, no bridges over streams and if one didn’t get in over waist deep, he was thankful.
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