HISTORY OF SHERMAN TOWNSHIP

by
Fred L. Kent
(about 1914)

     Forty-eight years have past since the first settlers blazed a trail from the haunts of the then dense wilderness of Sherman township; and as the pioneers are fast passing away, and soon not one will be left to give information that may prove of interest to coming generations, I have  taken it upon myself to write a brief history of the early days when we all lived in log houses, and no one felt above his neighbors.

     In this I have been aided by others who have furnished valuable information on the subject.  Thomas Burgess and Cyrus Dunbar, with their families, and Richard Amsbury, an old woodman who lived with Burgess were the first settlers.  Burgess and Dunbar came from Holland, Michigan, and Amsbury joined them on the road.  Burgess homesteaded the northwest quarte of section 18, and Dunbar the southwest quarter of the same section, and in the spring of 1866, moved their families over the trail from Millbrook north through Wheatland and Sheridan townships, Mecosta county, to their new possessions on the county line.  They were the only inhabitants of the township for a year or more; but they had neighbors to the west, in Sheridan township, Ed Strong and the late Henry Tanner and others having settled there at about the same time.  The first survey of the Ionia and Houghton Lake State road passed through this first settlement and swung around Six Lakes crossing into Isabella County at or near Sherman City.  It was the prospect of this new road that encouraged the pioneers to push ahead and secure homes in the wilderness.  When it was learned that the road would be built on a new survey, through Sherman, they prepared a remonstrance and dispatched Burgess to Lansing to present it to the authorities, and do all he could to prevent the change.  But E. Hall wanted the road to run through his pine lands, and E. Hall had money.  Burgess liked money, but hardly knew what it looked like since coming to Sherman.  So his old neighbors say he was tempted and fell, and the State Road that was for many years the main road of the township, and over which passed thousands of people who became the pioneers of many counties to the north, was built through the pine forests of East Sherman.

     In search of items of interest for this sketch, I called on the oldest living inhabitants of Coldwater township, at their pleasant home in Sherman City, James McKersie and wife, who have been residents of Sherman City for 42 years and of Coldwater township 47 years.  Mr. McKersie is old, and his eyesight is very poor, but his memory is good, and the stories he relates of the early days are interesting, truthful and instructive.

     He, in company with John Allen Tanner came from Westphalia, Clinton County, to Coldwater township in October, 1866, to locate their homesteads.  At that time there was not a white man in the township.  On the way they passed the cabins of Burgess and Dunbar in Sherman.  Returning to their homes, they worked in Ionia until November when they came back and built on their land, moving their families there in the spring of 1867.  While preparing to build they heard that Harry Brubaker had moved his family into the township and they struck through the woods to visit him.  They found the family living in a tent while the house was being built.  The night before their visit to Brubaker, Samuel Colley moved to his homestead on the town line.

     McKersie taught one term of school in what was known as the "Jimmie Johnson" school house, now the White, and left the homestead in 1872, to clerk for Amos Johnson in Sherman City, where he has since lived.

     It is impossible to give the exact date of all the first settlers, but between the years of 1866 and 1871, I believe I have the names of all who came.  Some only remained a short time, and some, a very few, are here yet.

     To the northwest corner of the township came Aaron Osborn, Joseph Taggert, John Lord, John Ralph, John T. Cahoon, David R. Hayes, Hiram Allen, A. F. Swem, Adam Souls, George H. Abbie, Alexander Miller, Joun Souls, and Daniel Flinn, (who lived with Adam Souls).  In the southwest corner; Layell Curtis, James Miller, Wm. Connor, John Kent, Wm. Darnell, Wm. J. Darnell, David Archy and Bellonger, who built the first hotel in town, later moved from near the river to its present location by John Beutler, Sr.   It was the only hotel between Millbrook and Farwell and did a thriving business for many years.  Henry Woodin was also in the southwest corner. He came in the fall of 1869, and in the summer fo 1870 commenced building the first sawmill, which was completed and the first board sawed on May 3, 1871.  He raised the frame of his grist mill March 25, 1874.  John Kent's was the first grist ground in the mill.

     Mr. Woodin was supervisor of Sherman several years and was widely known.

     In the southeast corner were Milo Dean and James J. Bennett on section 36.

     There were no settlers in the northeast corner

     The first township meeting was held at the residence of Cyrus Dunbar in the spring of 1869.  Wesley Ellis, who with his brother, Frank, were temporary residents of the town, was elected Supervisor; Daniel Flinn, Clerk; and John Souls, Treasurer. In the Spring of 1870, there were 12 votes cast.  John T. Cahoon was elected Supervisor.  When the writer came here in January, 1870, there was not a town road, and the state road had only been completed as far as Curtis Camps, now Woodin's Mills or Drew.  In those days there were three commissioners elected.

     John Kent was one of the 3 in 1870 but I am not sure who the others were.  They opened the road south of the Gibbs Bridge, nearly one and one-half miles to the "Ward Tote road", and west to Dunbar's and Burgess' on the county line tow and one-half miles during that year.

     In 1870 the population of the county was 4,113, and of Sherman Township, 134.

     In the fall of 1869, E. K. Woods, Giles Gilbert and Amos Johnson built a log store on the Sherman side of the town line at Sherman City.  Later, Mr. Johnson became sole owner and built a two story building on the present site of L. C. Mendel's store, which, on September 19, 1878, was blown to pieces by the cyclone which also carried away the school house and other buildings, doing $10,000 worth of damage.

     The first school house built in the town was in Dist. No. 1, Sherman, at Sherman City.

     It was a log building with shake roof and cost the district $225.  Wm. K. Gibbs was the contractor.  The first term of school was taught by Samuel Gettings, in the fall of 1870.  School officers; director, John T. Cahoon; Assessor, A. F. Swem; moderator, David R. Hayes.  The scholars who attended the first term of school were: Fred Cahoon, Charles Cahoon, Henry Swem, Lizzie Hayes, Clestia Hayes, Calvin Hayes, Royal Gibbs, Ansel Gibbs, Albert Gibbs, Adelbert Butterfield and Perry Butterfield.

     Lizzie Hayes, now Mrs. O. E. Kent of Weidman, is the only one left in the county who attended the first school, 44 years ago.  The first school house built in Dist. No. 2 was completed in 1871.  John Kent was the builder and received $80 for his labor.

     The first school officers were: director, Wm. Connor; moderator, Alexander Miller; assessor, Cyrus Dunbar; (Connor having moved away, James H. Tinker was director in the fall of '71).  The first term was taught by Miss Anna Ingerson of Allegan county in the winter of '71-2. (She is now Mrs. Ansel Gibbs of Barryton). The first scholars were Christopher Dunbar, Thomas Dunbar, Ettie Tinker, Alice Tinker, Amos Tinker, Ellen Tinker, Endora Tinker, Wm. Miller and Fred Kent.

     The first term of school in District No. 3, was taught in a small board house on the James J. Bennett farm, section 36.  A board school house built on the north west corner of the Bennett farm, which cost $300 was later used until the present house was built on the southwest corner of section 25.  I am unable to say who the first teacher was or the names of the scholars as none of the inhabitants of the district at that time are left in the township to tell the story.

     In district number 4 the first term of school was taught by Miss Addie Woodin.  The scholars in attendance were Jennie Burd, Luella Woodin, James, Hiram and George Smith.  A log shanty which stood on the farm now owned by Mrs. John Hine was used as the first school house.

     School district number 5 was organized in 1879.  Wm. J. Darnell and H. M. Goodenough built the firs school house for which they received $50.  The first school officers were: Director, W. J. Darnell; assessor, H. M. Goodenough; moderator, Winfield Bly.  The first teacher was Miss Maggie Ruxton, the scholars were: Marion F. Martin, Lyman and Sammie Goodenough, Wm., James, Elijah and Alvira Darnell and Charles Sutherlan.  District number 5 was divided between districts no. 2 and 4 several years ago.

     The first term of school in district number 6 was taught by Miss Sadie McCombs, in an old log house built by Walter Lyon on the farm of Jesse Thompson, in 1881.  Richard Alderman was director, Wm. Thompson assessor, and Mr. Dimond moderator.  A log school house was built on the farm, at this date, 1914, occupied by R. D. Ellsworth.  A few years later the present Darnell school house was built on section 10. The first scholars to attend school in this district were: Edward and Frankie Alderman, Eva, William, Ida, Lillie, and Edith Thompson, John and Dell Rodgers.

     The resident ministers of early times were: A. F. Swem, Alexander Miller and later Elder Burret.  Sunday School Organizer Densmore of Greenville organized the first Sunday School, in district no. 2, in the early seventies.

     The earliest inhabitants of the township now living here (1914) are: Mrs. Margaret Darnell, Dailey Darnell Sr., Mrs. Lizzie Goodenough, wife of Elmer Goodenough, who came in 1868; Oscar E. Kent, who came in the fall of 1869; Dell and Fred Kent and Mrs. Ida M. Shook, wife of John Shook, who came in January, 1870; Mrs. O. E. Kent and Mrs. Millard Pennington, who came in the winter of 1870.

     James H. Tinker and John B. Tinker came in 1871.  The former was treasurer and supervisor for many years; the latter, clerk and justice both died many years ago.

     Of those who came in 1871 Mrs. Margaret M. Tinker, Wm. Tinker (son of John B. Tinker), Mrs. Retta Tinker (widow of Amos J. Tinker), Endora Loree (daughter of James H. Tinker) are all that remain.  Of those who came in 1872, Andrew L. Lawrence is the only survivor.

    From 1870 to 1875 but few came, and many moved away.  Then the tide changed, and in the next five years many new settlers moved into the township; among the number Thomas Doyle, Winfield Bly, William , Jesse and John Thompson, Richard ALderman, John Burd, Walter Lyon, George Waight, Samuel Pridgeon, John Beutler Sr., John Hine, J. H. and E. B. Denslow Sr., Joseph and Stephen Losey, F. D. Woodard, David and Charls Carr, David P. Mecum Ms. F. Sherman, Will Sheldon, H. M. Goodenough, Stephen Morey, H. D. Smith, John H. Putman, Philander Brand, George Engles, Dan Loomis, Millard Pennington, Asa A. Smith, John Gatehouse, Wm. Miller, E. D. Adams, Samuel Kirvan, Wm. K. Gibbs, Frank Harrison, Martin Elliott, Andrew C. Divine, Silas Wright, Frank Rodgers Sr., Chas. Gardner, R. H. Garner, A. W. Konkle, David Pruthero, L. J. Beebe, Wm. Cox and Wm. Brooks.

     Of this number 16 are dead, and many gone to other parts.  We expected to state that E. M. Holsted had voted at the earliest election of any living inhabitant of the township at the present time, but his death on the 19th day of July, 1914 leaves that distinction to Adelbert S. Kent.   Oscar E. Kent is the next who voted.  Mr. Holsted voted in the spring of 1871; the others were here previous to that date but were not old enough to vote.

     There are 2 log houses still standing that were built in 1869, and are the oldest houses in town, one on S. Kirvan's place, near the town hall, a cedar house in good condition.  The other on John V. Kent's place, half a mile south of Horr, in poor condition.  The former was built by Alexander Miller, the latter by John Kent, Sr.

     It has only been about 20 years since the road was opened on the line north of Horr.  The angling road across the flats was about the worst mile of road in the state for many years.  It was a mail route from Sherman City south, and yet it always remained a disgrace to the town.  The people finally made a bee and chopped the road out on the line, and it has been graded and is now a good road.  The writer is guilty of the following which appeared in the Enterprise many years ago. It described the condition of the road very well if it has no other merits:

        On a Sherman City street an old man was seen
        His locks they were silvered, his form it was lean.
        Long, long years ago he started from Horr,
        Sherman City he knew he could walk in an hour;
        But he slipped on a root and down in the mud
        He sank out of sight in the bottomless road.

        He passed through to China where heathens abide,
        But the roads were far better than he left on this side.
        And though the people were odd he liked their ways
        And decided to stay there the rest of his days.

        But when he grew old he thought he'd find out
        If the people of Sherman had fixed that mail route.
        When told that the road was still at high tide
        He said, "God forgive them" and lay down and died.

     Charles Taylor of Coe is the author of some interesting county history written for the Northwestern Tribune in 1888, from which I take the following: "Isabella county was opened for settlement by what was called the act of the 4th of August, 1854, graduating the price of lands, and in September and October following a general rush was made for the cheap lands.  At that time, January 1855, a number of families had moved into the county, some had come in November and December, 1854.  The first families to move into the township of COe, were Patrick Roberts, Patrick Fanning, Daniel Brickley and Willard Stewart.

     "The first store in the county was built on section 4, in Chippewa township, carried on by Langdon Bently.  Soon after goods were brought in and sold by Peleg Wilcox, 2 miles south and a half mile east of Slt River, now Shepherd.  In 1856 our first township meeting was held at the house of James Campbell, there was a big turnout and 66 votes were polled.  The following officers having been elected;

     "Supervisor, Wm. B. Bonen; clerk, P. H. Estee; treasurer, John Reynolds; I. P. one year, Chas. Taylor; two years, Wm. Middaugh; three years, John Q. A. Johnson; full term, Willard Stewart; school inspectors, George Miller and Patrick Murtha.  This was the first in this county, held at the center of the county in 1859.  Dr. Jeffries and others had purchased land on four corners and built a log house which they called the court house and store.

     "The first school house was built on Salt River, on the east side of the river.  The first school in the county was taught by Carrie Kilbourn.  The first white child born in the county was Mary A. Fanning, born May 5, 1855.  Charles Taylor was the first Justice in the county, and his first official act was to marry Eli Hamilton and Elizabeth Sutir in 1856.  What has been considered the hardest times were during the years of 1858, 1859, and 1860.  During the summer of 1858 about one half of our crops were destroyed by squirrels and other vermin.  Every place was alive with them and it was as sight to see them so busy carrying away wheat and corn.  In many places they even took the potatoes out of the hills and left us the smallest half.

     "The years of 1859 and 1860 were years of frost.  In 1859 the frost extended over a large portion of the northern states.  But very little was raised that season.  The year 1860 was but little better.  Some may inquire how did we live at that time.  Well, some dug roots or what may be termed ground nuts in the woods and ate leeks and about everything that could be eaten.  There were some who lived that way for months having but a small portion of bread."

     When we consider the hardships endured by the pioneers of the southeast portion of the county, the pioneers of Sherman had much to be thankful for.  Heavy lumbering operations were carried on her for years, and work was usually plenty at good wages; but the people depended on working in the woods too much, and clearing an farming were neglected.  When the lumbering was done and the hard times came, they were ill prepared for it.  All then turned their attention to improving their land.

     For many years Farwell was the nearest shipping point.  Then Blanchard, and finally Remus.  The writer sold rye in Remus for 22 cents per bushel, and it had been as low as 18 cents a few days previous.  Eggs sold as low as 7 cents per dozen; butter 10 cents per pound.

     Since the railroad reached the village of Weidman in 1894, the surrounding county has improved very fast.  The logging bee and dance of early times are seldom heard of now, for the log heaps are burned, their ashes are scattered, and fields of corn, clover and potatoes cover the ground where the forest stood.  The pine stumps are disappearing, and highways are being improved.  Homes are provided with telephones; 300 families are connected on lines centering at Weidman.  Automobiles are finding their way to the homes of farmers.  There are five churches in the township, four school houses, and a wide awake village on our eastern border is the home of the Weidman Messenger, a local newspaper of merit, that makes weekly visits to nine-tenths of the homes of the township.  Surely the pioneers who felled the trees and cleared the land, or the pioneer business men who built a village of 400 inhabitants, and made a market for produce, have not striven in vain.

     We only regret that all who endured the hardship of early days could not have lived to enjoy the advantages of today.

 2003 by Donna Hoff-Grambau
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED