Saginaw County Michigan

Saginaw County History

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County HistorySaginaw City East & West Townships and Places  |  Salt Works  |  Lumbering  |  Coal  |  River Transportation  | Native American  |  Disasters




The early settlers of Saginaw, in 1834, as near as I can recollect, were as follows: The Messrs. G. D. and E. S. Williams, agents of the American Fur Company, Alpheus F. Williams, Thomas Simpson “alias” Lixaboga, Judge Davenport, Abram Butts, and two or three other families whose names I have forgotten. Albert Miller, now Judge Miller, of Bay City, and the late Judge Jewett lived two miles above, at Green Point. Judge Davenport had just removed from Grand Blanc, and had come down the Flint river with his family, in canoes, as there were no roads from Flint to Saginaw at that time. Judge Davenport commenced keeping tavern (the first one in Saginaw) in an old block house, on what is now the northeast corner of Court and Hamilton streets; it was a long building, built of logs, for the benefit of the soldiers in 1823, while they were building the fort. The entire attic was the sleeping apartment with a row of beds on each side, having a passageway through the entire length of the center, wide enough for persons to pass through until they had to go to bed first. Opposite Judge Davenport’s hotel was the old stockade fort, which comprised the ground on which the “Taylor house,” now stands and part of the block east of it. At that time it was quite and elevation, but has since been graded down for the purpose of building those beautiful blocks that now cover the spot. This was all that comprised the beautiful city of Saginaw at that time.

The ground where the city of East Saginaw now stands was then in a state of maturity, as it had been hundreds of years before. The Indians called it Me-te-Guab-o-Kee, meaning “the land to get hickory for bows and arrow.” At this time Bay City consisted of but one house. In 1835 a few more settlers came to Saginaw, among them James Fraser, Wm. Mosely, and some others. James Fraser went back to Detroit to purchase some cattle for his farm on the Tittabawassee, which he had commenced, and while driving in on foot between Flint and Saginaw, his cattle got wild and would not keep the trail. He chased them until he got tired, when he took off his coat, and after carrying it a while, and getting near the trail once more, as he supposed, he hung it in a tree in order to head off some cattle. In doing so he lost the location where he left his coat, and he could never find it. Mr. Fraser used to say in after years, when he was worth nearly a million, that “this was the greatest loss he ever had in his life, as his pocket contained $500. All the money he had in the world was in that coat pocket.” There was a great hunting for that coat but it was never found. Undoubtedly the wolves pulled it down and destroyed it. Here let me give some little reminiscences of early days in Saginaw, now Saginaw City. The old settlers used to get up several dances during the winter to while away the long months. When it was all arranged, then Mrs. G. D. Williams, Mrs. Judge Davenport, Mrs. James Fraser, or Mrs. Judge Jewett was apprised that on such an evening they would trip the light fantastic toe at her house. Then a boy or man was dispatched through the woods on an Indian pony some thirty miles to the residence of James W. Cronk to notify him that his services were required at the residence of Judge Jewitt, Judge Williams, or Judge Davenport, as the case might be, at such a time. Not but what there were other persons nearer by who could be got to play, but the old citizens of Saginaw were too aristocratic to have any one to play for them except it was their old friend and pioneer, James W. Cronk. When the time came you would see “Uncle Jimmy” (as we used to call him) put in an appearance with a fiddle-box under his arm and his rifle over his shoulder. These were the only parties he would condescend to play for, but when his old friends sent for him he was always on hand and no one contributed so much to the enjoyment of the evening as he.

James W. Cronk afterwards volunteered in the Mexican war and received a captain’s commission. He died some time after, together with his son, Norton, of yellow fever, at Vera Cruz, Mexico, deeply regretted by all the early pioneers, for none knew him or loved him better than they. He was a man of more than ordinary ability, and one of the most genial of companions, as well as a great favorite among the early pioneers. Peace to his ashes.

And now let me tell the reader about some of those parties who composed them; and also some incidents which had something to do with them. The American Fur Company had a small sloop called the “Savage,” which brought in goods to trade with the Indians, and other articles for the few settlers, and to carry out the furs. There was an old lawyer by the name of Major M------,who had been appointed custom house officer, and who lived in one of the old block houses inside the fort; I lived with him at the time and went to school, and did chores night and morning for my board. This little sloop of twenty-eight tons burthen would leave Detroit and touch at several points up the St. Clair river, where she would load in such goods as they wanted, among the rest some demijohns of very fine whisky, brandy, rum, gin, etc.

When she arrived at the Saginaw, the old major would go aboard of this mighty craft with all the pomposity imaginable. When he would be going down into the little cabin, he would say in an authoritative way: “Nothing must be touched until I examine the cargo.” When the captain would give him a glass of brandy, he would return on deck and tell the owners “it was all right; no smuggled goods aboard.” One night the old Major said to me, “I don’t want you to go to bed very early to-night. Something will be left for me at the back door, and when you hear a knock, you and Amanda—the hired girl---go and get it and carry it up stairs.” Sure enough, about eleven o’clock we heard a knock at the back door, and on going there found three sailors with three or four demijohns of different kinds of liquors. So it was every time that little vessel arrived. The old Major got the same consignment until the close of navigation. I recollect counting, in the winter, twenty-one demijohns in the old major’s garret.

One would naturally ask what became of so much “good things?” I say good things, for it was the very finest quality of liquors. Well, I will tell you. Winter had come, and Saginaw had become isolated from the rest of the world, except by an Indian trail through the woods.

It was then that the inhabitants sought some recreation to while away the long winter months. A party would be given, perhaps at the residence of Judge Williams, Judge Davenport, James Fraser, Judge Jewett, or some of the other old settlers, and it was at some of these aristocratic parties that James W. Cronk was always the invited guest.

About four o’clock in the afternoon a sleigh would drive up to the back door of the old block house of Major M---, in the fort; the man knocked, I went to the door, when he said, “ I want a demijohn of whisky, one of rum, one of gin, for the party at Judge Williams’ to-night.’ I told him I had no authority---he must see the Major. “That is all right,” says he; “the Major furnishes all the liquor for the parties, and what is left is always brought back in the morning.” So I went over to the tavern and saw the Major, and he said, “Yes; only tell them to bring back what is left in the morning.” The next week there would be another party, perhaps at James Fraser’s, when that sleigh would come around again for its supply, the same as before.

They all knew how the Major got his liquor, and as they were all one family it was no more than right that it should be equally distributed to be enjoyed. So you can account for the number of empty demijohns in the Major’s garret.

Such enjoyment at parties I have never seen since; whether it was owing to the kindly feelings that existed among those few families, isolated from the world, or the good effects of that good old liquor of the Major’s, or everything combined, I am unable to tell. I am inclined to think it was owing to the kindly feelings that existed among those “early pioneers,” and will continue to exist as long as memory lasts.

Blackbirds were so plenty at an early day in the Saginaw valley, the farmers had to build scaffolds in their cornfields where the children would have to sit and halloo at the birds to keep them from destroying the crops. The writer hereof, when a boy, has sat many a day on a scaffold driving off the birds. They would come in flocks of thousands. The Messrs. Williams had a small field of oats behind the American fur company’s store. They had cradled it and were preparing to get it in to keep the blackbirds from taking it off when Mr. Williams’ brother, B. O. Williams, now of Owosso, Mr. Abbott of Detroit, and some other persons came to make them a visit, so the oats were forgotten, while the blackbirds came heavily reinforced that day to finish the oats. As they came by the store door some of the party proposed to see how many they could kill with one shot. Mr. Ephriam S. Williams had a fine large single-barreled duck gun, which he loaded with mustard seed shot and commenced firing from the store door as the other parties drove them from the oats. Mr. E. S. Williams fired ten shots and his brother, B. O. Williams, one shot, making eleven shots in all. After each shot the boys and all hands would pick up the dead and wounded and put them in a pile at the store. They gathered as the result of eleven shots, 545 birds, and for days after, in the road and at the edge of the river, there were hundreds that had crawled to the river for drink and died there. You may think this a good many birds, nevertheless it is strictly true.

About the year 1835 or 1836, and soon after the Saginaw county fair became organized, the board of supervisors passed a low giving a bounty of two cents per head for blackbirds. We had to present the heads to any justice of the peace, whose duty it was to destroy them and give you a certificate so that you could go and get a county order. County orders were worth in those days about fifty cents on the dollar, and that in store pay. Well, there was one old justice who lived in one of the old block houses inside the fort, and the boys used to take their heads to him. He was in the habit of throwing the heads into his back yard, after counting them, for the hogs to eat, instead of destroying them according to law. After the boys would get their certificate, they would ask the old justice if he would not go down to old Captain Malden’s and take a smile. This he was never known to refuse, when one of the boys who had kept out of sight, would slip into the old justice’s back yard, pick up the heads and put them into a bag, and by the time the old justice got back again they would have the heads at his door to get another certificate from him. The boys exonerated themselves by saying, as county orders were worth only fifty cents on the dollar, they had to sell them twice in order to get what the law contemplated they should have. The consequence was that this old justice got all the business in blackbird heads. I have not said that the writer was one of those boys, but at any rate he was death on the blackbirds.

Transcribed by Carol Szelogowski copyright © October 2004 all rights reserved.

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