They Walked on Singing Sands
By Georgia May Lollis1

There is not much to the technique of lying on the beach at Pentwater. Just drop down on your tummy. Then, with a burrowing, back-and-forth motion, scrooch your body down until no hard lump pokes into you and until there are enough hollows in the sand for you to be comfortable. Then lower your head on a crooked arm and listen to the nearby waves, while the cool breeze from the lake tempers the hot sun pouring over you.

Now the spell of the beach will lull you. It will enchant you. It will whisper that now there is no reason for you to hurry, or worry, or even to move. You breathe the good lake air and are happy under the deeply blue sky stretching endlessly above, with the big, beautiful Lake Michigan that so incessantly, so musically, sounds in your ears, with the warm golden sand under you and with the warm golden sun above you.

Lying thus, staring at the sand underneath your arms, with the sun jealous of the tiny shade made by your head, you see that the grains of the sand of our beach are not at all alike. Though the beach itself is lighter than the colors of the sky or the lake, its grains are each different in color -- gold and tan and white and yellow and brown and black and red.

Or peer out from underneath your arm to get a view of the beach at sand level. Now from lake shore to horizon seems but a strip of blue and moving water. Footprints in the sand take on a look of desert drifts. The little dunes close by conceal the hills on which the cottages stand and on them the tall coarse beach grass bobs gently in the breeze, a green and graceful pattern against the blue of the sky. Look too at far-away things like the lake's rim, the diminishing beach and hills far to the north and the endless reaches


of the sky above.

Just in lying on the beach, a keen awareness to the minutiae of Michigan comes over you. You are acutely conscious of every little thing about you -- the smell of the clean lake air, the smooth touch of a piece of driftwood, the clear call of a child playing down the beach, the beady eyes of a single seagull floating so deliberately close and yet so completely out of reach above you. Time itself seems to stand still as you lie on this age-old lap of the beach and, if you will listen to what it has to say, you will know it is in truth "murmurous with the footsteps of two thousand years" and more.

Likely this beach, except for the cottages and the wooden steps from the cottages to the beach and the pier to the south of us, is today just as it must have been thousands of years ago. The lake still responds to the sunlight, the wind, the moonlight and the lightning. The dunes have shifted but they are made of the same sand. The trees on the hills may have been broken and killed by winter storms, but their children are struggling for life in the same old places under the same old conditions. And even the crows in the dead pine on the tallest dune, the seagulls roosting on the pier, and the cliff swallows in their nests in the little dunes beside the lake could not be much different from their ancestors who called Michigan home.

Our beach is unusual in that there are no large rocks or stones and very few small pebbles on it or in the lake itself at this place. Gladys once told me, though I have as yet been unable to verify this, that the Indians called this white, pebble-free sand "saugatuck" or singing sands, for when it is dry and you walk on it it makes a warped, rubbing, singing sound.


It is not easy to walk on this dry, singing sand, especially with shoes on, for the sand gets into the shoes and soon lumps up inside, but it is pleasant to walk on it barefooted for then the sand gives easily to the pressure of the foot and makes one feel that he himself is an integral part of the beach.

After a shower, when the sand is wet and brown, it does not sing, and footsteps across the beach kick up the underlying dry white sand. After a heavy rain a crust will form on top and, if you are careful, it will bear your weight. After such a storm, you will find semicircle marks on the hard beach, to show how high the waves came in the storm. Footprints have been washed away. The castles and canals the children have made are swept away. The lake once again has put her beach in order. Now it is as if no one before you has ever trod here. Your prints behind you will be clean and distinct, a sharp heel cutting sharply in, the imprint of a rubber Sole reproducing itself clearly, or each toe, instep and heel of a bare foot leaving marks behind. Walking alone, you will have a paradoxical feeling that you are both an important focal point for all space and time, and at the same time that you are a most negligible, unimportant, infinitesimal speck in space and time.

It was Gladys who first told me about the old days of Michigan.2 She could not at the time have been more than nine or ten or eleven, yet this bare-footed, brown-skinned, curly headed girl was, I think, the best teacher I ever had.3 For often as we lay on the beach, resting after our play, she spoke wonderingly of those days when the Indians were the only ones who knew this beach. She wondered what the explorers had found here. She was curious too about the boats and lives that had been lost in storms on the lake. We ourselves had seen the relentless waves dash across the beach and


beat against the little dunes and we had tingled through many an electrical storm in the dead of night. So the very thought of bobbing, cork-like ships fighting on the untamed waves sent chills along our spines.

Again and again we talked about the long, greenish-looking wreck that lay like a monster just offshore in front of our beach and which on a calm day could be seen, sinister and forboding, under the softly tinted surface of the pale green water. Almost reverently Gladys talked of those paths in our woods, now overgrown by the big branches of full-grown pine trees, which we so often explored. She wondered what moccasined feet had made those paths or what runners had followed them and what were the messages they might have carried to their kinsmen in the next village.

To this day, I never walk in the woods but what, accompanying me, because of this little girl Gladys, is a host of friendly Indians, padding in soundles moccasins on the path in front of and behind me, Indian file, laden with Indian baskets, filled with blueberries which in our childhood sold for 10 cents a quart. And until a few years ago I believed "coureur de bois" were Indians running in the woods with Indiana telegrams.

Gladys also introduced me to lumberjacks for on the day we had hiked to the forest fire just north of the cottages, we had stumbled on an abandoned road that lay behind the hills. This, she told me, the lumberjacks had probably left behind. The incident is etched on my memory, for that day we had gone through burned-down woods and had clutched our dresses about us so they would not catch fire from the smoking stumps.

Time and again, in the warm sunshine of the beach, we wiggled our bare toes deep into the loose sand and wondered and dreamed and felt too, I believe, the presence of people who had once been here.


We sensed the drama of by-gone races. We seemed to hear in a way the forgotten voices of other years. We suspected an interesting and colorful past for our beach. Yet it was as if our connection with the spirit of that past was like a poor connection on a country telephone. We might strain our ears to hear, but the message was too far away and indistinct. We only heard the waves and the wind in the beach grass.

As we lay wondering, with the white clouds blowing by above, I think we solemnly though perhaps mutely pledged each other that some day, some way, we would find out about those "dim and mysterious ages of long ago."

For how could we have ever suspected, for instance, the story of Pentwater's marvellous beginnings?

Parenthetically, I should add that I use the term Pentwater very loosely. I do not mean Michigan, the state on the map, with its cities and forests and farms and villages. By chance our cottage was near Pentwater village, and hence Pentwater to my brothers and sisters and me has come to mean the sand and wind and sunshine and sparkling lake water of western Michigan, with all their whimsical moods and the unrestricted freedom that they meant to us. To others, perhaps to you, the proper combination of water, sand, cloud and mystic pines might well be in Leland, Manistee or Muskegon, in Bay View, Charlevoix or even the Chanaux.

According to the Indians, their world, and consequently our Pentwater, was created from a grain of sand. Michoban or Manitou, the great spirit, they said, was floating on a raft with the animals. Michoban wanted land brought up for a domain for men and beasts. So he asked the beaver to slip into the water and bring up land. After a long wait the beaver came up, breathless, but he


had not reached bottom. The otter then tried but when he returned to the raft, exhausted, he had not been successful either. Then the little muskrat volunteered to go down. All night they waited but he did not come back. In the morning they found his body floating on the water. The muskrat was dead but in one paw was one grain of sand and out of this single grain Michoban made the world.

This legend would likely have delighted Gladys and me, had we known it, but we would have tingled with greater excitement had we known the even more fantastic and wonderful story the geologists tell. We had no way of knowing then that our Pentwater had come into being only after tremendous travail, travail that lasted "uncounted millions of years." We did not know that a series of cataclysmic creations and destructions, countless recurrent surges and retreats of great ice masses modeled and remodeled the land, that from 24 to 30 times great sections of Michigan were alternately land and sea, that once, not Lake Michigan lay in front of where our cottages now stand, but the mighty Laurentian River which at different times flowed north and south, and that alternately epicontinental seas from the north and south invaded and deserted the Michigan Basin.

That it would take centuries and certainly a great Master Mind to create such perfection as our lake and beach were, Gladys and I could well appreciate, but how breathless would have been our excitement had we known the tremendous travail and centuries of chaos that had created them. On a blue and gold day the tranquility and beauty of the sparkling lake seem to belie the upheaval and chaos that created them. On a black and purple night when the jagged lightning flashes up and down the horizon like an enormous, venomous snake's tongue, when in those long lightning flashes one sees the boiling thunderheads roll black and purple above the churning lake, when the long breakers spill their white foam in the drenching downpour, when


every living thing, from man to little chipmunk, is probably crouching in terror in his own self-made flimsy dwelling, and when the tremendous ear-splitting thunderclaps reverberate without let-up, then the geologists' story of Michigan's embryonic experiences is much easier to believe and understand.

Glayds and I never dreamed of the existence of the Mound Builders or of dynosaurs, evidences of which have been found along these shores, but we did imagine a little of the war-like aborigines who inhabited the lake country when the white men came. However, we did, not know that the Indians who lived along the Michigan shoreline were called Michigamies and that in western Michigan the Chippewas, Ottawas and Potawatomies called themselves "The Three Brothers" or "Three Fires." The sole intent of their league was to maintain peace and define the regions in which each could hunt and fish. . .

In those days great fleets of Indian canoes making annual voyages from the Upper to the Lower Lakes, and war fleets with braves in paint and feathers were common spectacles. One of the greatest of these war fleets likely went past our beach when over 600 selected Iroquois braves paddled across Lake Erie, up the Detroit River, through Lake St. Clair, Lake Huron, the Straits of Mackinaw and up to the head of Lake Michigan where these adventurous navigators were utterly repulsed by the warriors of the Illinois.

Gladys and I did not know of that dramatic moment when the first white man, a young Frenchman, ventured to the land of the "Stinking Water" to visit the "People of the Sea." We knew nothing of Champlaign's dream of years to push on to our lake and find Cathay and of his disappointment when he could not make this trip.

"If ever anyone was greatly disheartened," Champlaign wrote, "it was myself, since I had been waiting to see this year what I had been seeking during many preceding ones with great toil and effort and through many fatigues and risks of my life."


I can appreciate Champlaign's keen disappointment at missing Michigan for, when my brothers and I were little, we had to wait two whole weeks of our vacation in hot old Chicago just because friends, who were building their own cottage and who had been using ours meanwhile, inconsiderately broke out with measles there. Through the toils and efforts and fatigues of a boring school year we had looked forward to Michigan and then had to wait until a seige of measles had run their course.

Our disappointment was over eventually but Champlaign never got over his, for he was destined never to see Lake Michigan. However, he did have the foresight to train young men by sending them to live among the Indians. Thus it was he who sent Nicolet between the ages of 20 and 30 to the Ottawa River. During this time Nicolet "underwent such fatigues as none but eye witnesses can conceive; he often passed seven or eight days without food, and once full seven weeks with only bark from the trees for nourishment."

Thus it was that in 1634 Nicolet with seven savages to paddle his paper-thin birchbark canoe came through the Georgian Bay, headed for the City of Peking, over a route as mysterious and unknown as the Sea of Darkness had been to Columbus. They hugged the coastline lest a sudden storm overwhelm them. At nightfall they landed and ate their meal of sagamite or Indian corn, hastily crushed and boiled, and to seek rest under the open sky or, in stormy weather, beneath their upturned canoe.

Near Green Bay, across the lake from our cottage, the natives sent forth a delegation to greet Nico1et, who was wearing a gorgeous embroidered robe of China damask, "all strewn with flowers and birds of many colors," that he might best impress the princes and merchants of China. The natives received him hospitably, and provided a feast of 120 beavers and ______ but no sooner did the women and chil-


dren perceive him than they "fled at the sight of a man who carried thunder in both hands, for this they called the two pistols that he held."

Instead of the squint-eyed dwellers of Marco Polo's Tartary, Nicolet found only the skin-clad savages of Wisconsin, and thier hospitality did not atone for the revelation he must carry back that the fabled Indies still lay hidden somewhere beyond the Wisconsin shore of Lake Michigan.

The active, energetic friars and missionaries came then to Michigan and many of them were subjected to horrible indignities by the savages; they were burned slowly at the stake, their fingers gnawed off, their bodies stretched and tortured, red-hot coals put on them and their wounds torn open.

Then that famous pair, the intrepid Joliet and the kindly Pere Marquette, who located the Mississippi for white men, came. In Iowa these two were greeted by an Illinois chief with words of such dignity and beauty they should be immortal: "How beautiful is the sun, Oh Frenchmen," exclaimed the chief, "when thou comest to visit us." Incidentally, the feast which followed, the first in the state of Iowa ever recorded, began with a platter of corn-meal mush.

Joliet and Marquette traveled up and down this old lake a great deal. Marquette grew ill with chills and fever, so Joliet had to return without him. Marquette with his two French companions and a few braves waited the winter out, then slowly followed the eastern shore of the lake, headed for St. Ignace. They traveled by day and camped by night. Marquette was so feeble he was carried from boat to camp and back to boat again. Past our beach the sad little party paddled. Could they possibly have camped here where now we so gayly roast our marshmellows over an evening fire? Just north of our beach at the


mouth of the Notipekago River, the Indians built a rude cabin of bark in which they placed the beloved priest, and there he died.

The name of this river at Ludington in the Indian tongue meant "the river with heads on sticks." At one time a band of war-like Potawotamies came upon an encampment of Ottawas there and killed them. Then they severed the heads from the bodies of the slain Ottawas, and transfixed them on sticks along the lake shore, where the river joins the lake. There they stood grotesquely for many years, giving the strange name to the river -- the "river with heads on sticks." Today the Notipekago is called the Pere Marquette.

How could we have known about that conceited young man of eiminence and learning, Robert Cave1ier, Sieur de 1a Salle, who was of the supreme faith that he was destined to discover a water passage to China and Japan? Or of the Griffin which he built above Niagara to sail to China in? Indians came for hundreds of miles to see this "f1oating fort" completely rigged with two masts and a jib, decorated like an ancient ship of war with a flying griffin at her jib-boom and a huge eagle aft, armed with seven pieces of cannon and many muskets.

With a crew of 32 souls, and all on board singing the Te Deum Laudamus, the Griffin passed into Lake Erie, and while at the sight of the great water ahead the priests invoked the blessing of God, the first ship to sail the lakes bo1d1y headed into those "vast and unknown seas of which even their savage inhabitants knew not the end."

At Green Bay La Salle changed his plans, deciding to send the Griffin back with furs a party of missionaires and traders, who had been there a year, had collected. He watched the boat dip below the horizon and that was the last he ever heard or saw of his ship. Like so many other sturdier craft in later years, no sign or her was every afterward found. Did Indians board and destroy her? Was she lost in a storm? Did her crew mutiny and murder their companions and


later meet their fate at the hands of the Indians? Could she be lying imbedded on the bottom of the lake somewhere near our beach or have the winter waves beat her to pieces long ago and piece by piece has she been tossed upon the sands and used in the beach fires of irreverent souls that were born many, many years later?

Thirteen years later LaSalle reached the mouth of the Mississippi but ironically, coming on a later trip to the Gulf, direct from France, he could not find again the mouth of the river and so landed in Texas where his disgruntled followers murdered him and left the bones of one of the first white men to navigate and explore the coasts of Michigan and of the first of all white men to penetrate its interior, as far as is known, for the buzzards to pick.

Gladys and I didn't come close to dreaming of Michigan's glorious French heritage, a heritage that started before Plymouth, in Quebec, l608. We never dreamed of Nouvelle France which the explorers before the end of the seventeenth century had pretty thoroughly traversed and made known to Europeans by maps and descriptions. We never dreamed of the fur traders and the trappers and those colorful outlaws, the coureurs de bois with their blanket coats, deerskin leggings, crimson caps and sashes. Nor did we dream of the feudal system in Michigan.

Around Sault Ste Marie, Michilimackinac and Detroit, where the French had their earliest settlements, the country was overrun with gentilshommes who were ill-fitted by taste and habit for the life in the clearings. They could not labor or trade lest they lose thier nobility. They could only serve as officers in the army or hold political office. Their rank and station prohibited them from working but the females of their families were not affected, so that worked in the fields. Granting letters of nobility meant multiplying beggars.


Simple habitants or peasants could work and be well off however. The farmlands granted on the river north of Detroit were of the usual ribbon kind universal in New France. They consisted of three or four arpents in front by 40 deep. (an arpent was a measure of land, indicating the width of 192.75 feet.) This gave the farmer a front on the river to fish and water supply. Behind were orchards, meadows, fields of grain and farther were forests for timber and firewood and game. The houses were close to the river for protection from the Indians and for social neighborliness.

Nor did we dream of the constant stream of travel that traversed the state. One flotilla under Cadillac that crossed from Detroit to Niles consisted of 100 men in 25 big canoes and an Indian convoy. The voyageurs sang as they paddled and made their numerous portages. Might not some of these men from this same flotilla have paddled up our coast just to see our scenery?

The woods of Michigan in its primitive state were literally alive with animals. And from the beginning of the time when the white man found them, they proved an irresistible attraction to those adventurol1s spirits with no home ties who had come to make their fortunes in furs. The commerce in peltries was of no small importance. The Hudson's Bay Company, for instance, had absolute sovereighity over its possessions with the right to make and enforce laws. It became an empire with an imperial domain and it was followed by the establishment of the Company of the Colony of Canada, the Northwestern Fur Company and John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company which all operated around the lake country.

By 1827, less than a hundred years before we went to Michigan, the American Fur Company had 20 trading posts in western Michigan, and an independent trader, Louis Campau (The Indians called him Wa-gu-shee, the Fox.) also had posts at Muskegon, Manistee, Kalamazoo, Lowell,


Hastings and Eaton Rapids.

In the spring from 1050 miles around traders and voyageurs directed their canoes to Michilimackinac where they sold their skins and got outfitted for the winter ahead. Canoe caravans, fleets of mackinac boats and the sturdy French bateaux were laden with precious fur bound for the capitals of Europe. One by one the boats arrived to tally their year's take and after a few weeks in which the monotony of their lonely existence was relieved one by one the canoes and boats of the trading brigade departed, to scatter up the streams and over the marshes, to set their traps and take up their abodes in a country which in winter became desolate, hostile, grimly splendid, locked as it became in cold and buried in incredible snow.

France and England and the Indians and later the American Yankees fought bitterly for the soil of Michigan and one year, in 1781, even the Spanish, in retaliation for the capture of their fort at St. Louis, made a 400-mile winter march and captured the fort at Niles. So, theoretically at least, for a year the beaches of Michigan, our beach, lay under the protection of the Spanish flag. That year the waves rolled in just the same.

Past our beach went most of the freight and passenger traffic between Canada and the Mississippi Valley. Despatches for Quebec and Versailles, supplies for the French forts in the Illinois country, missionaries coming down from and returning to the St. Lawrence, Indian warriors and their ragged families, traders, trappers, adventurers, fortune hunters and reckless souls who had no other object than the excitement of exploration and discovery.

I like to think that now and then those early people on their own missions, dressed in their individual ways, more than once paused for rest or food on our beach. Traveling in birch canoe and bateau they


could not have been far from shore and it would have been but natural for them to have come ashore sometimes.

Perhaps LaSalle who traversed both the state and lake many times and his overly imaginative Hennepin whose travel accounts have proved so unreliable, lay once upon our beach-and rested. Perhaps Henry de Tonty, the man with the iron hand, had need here to rake hot coals from a beach fire or to rake some obstreperous brave across the face with the hook that served him as hand. Perhaps here some early trapper was eaten by the savages. No doubt at all that Captain and Mrs. Heald, who were wounded in the massacre at Chicago and who escaped from their captors at St. Joseph, went past our beach. It took them 16 days to make the 300-mile journey to Mackinac by canoe. Perhaps Henry Rowe Schoolcraft who "canoed down the dark rivers and along the wild shores" of both Michigan and Superior, gathered together and wrote down here some of the legends of Gitchee Gumee, stories of the West Wind, fables of the forests and the islands and the pine-lined shores.

Others too may have come or, if they did not, at least they were nearby leaving their mark on Michigan: Pontiac who once assembled his warriors at Saugatuck to plan simultaneous attacks on the British forts in Michigan: Little Turtle, Tecumseh, Anthony Wayne (At the decisive Battle of Fallen Timbers tribes from all over Michigan, from as far away as the Soo, participated.)--

The Great Lakes or, as the Jesuits called them, the "seas of the sweet waters," belong to the ages and the little doings of statesmen and politicians do not ruffle their eternal poise. It takes thunderbolts from heaven to disturb them. So it is perhaps not surprising that a certain document was first received in Michigan with a complete lack of sensation. In 1776 a party of white men and Indians came to


Detroit with a copy of the Pennsylvania Gazette, containing a declaration of the colonies of their independence of the mother country. This was evidently not very welcome news to the British Lieut.-Gov. Hamilton and it caused no stir whatever among the people of the settlement.

One wonders though if perhaps the scattered white population of Michigan might not have been somewhat more disturbed, even if their lakes were not, had they learned eight years later that Thomas Jefferson was proposing to partition the Peninsula into two states and name them Chersonesus and Metropotamia. One can easily imagine the dignified Jefferson, after a hearty breakfast at Montecello, sitting down before his great desk and, with a map spread before him, concocting fascinating names for states as yet unborn. The territory north of the Ohio, he decided, should be divided into ten states and names for these he proposed: Sylvania, Michigania, Chersonesus, Assenisipia, Metropotamia, Illinoia, Saratoga, Polypotamia, Pelisipia and, if you will excuse one ordinary name, Washington. Three days after the ordinance in which these names were proposed was presented to the Congress of the Confederacy the names were stricken out.

More disturbing to the inhabitants of the territory was the Toledo War in which the Territory of Michigan and the State of Ohio bitterly participated though bloodshed was avoided. by the United States government.... The disputed "Toledo Strip" was five miles deep at Indiana boundary and eight miles deep at the Lake Erie end, containing some 468 square miles. Both Michigan and Ohio wanted the strip because it contained the choice prize of Toledo which was to be the terminus of a waterway running from Lake Erie by way of the Maumee and Miami Rivers to the Ohio. Ohio laid her claim on an erroneous early map which showed the dividing line through the southerly tip of Lake Michigan to be farther north than it actually was. In the


and, Ohio, because of its greater population and influence as an established state, won over Michigan, a sparsely populated territory with no state status. Michigan lost the populated agricultural resources of the disputed Toledo Strip but as an appeasement was granted the unwanted and then-thought-to-be "worthless" Upper Peninsula which she did not want.

Michigan's first government under the Americans was that decreed by the Ordinance of 1787 which became the constitution of the Northwest Territory. "This Ordinance," says Utley, the historian. "has bean canonized in the hearts of the American people, as one of the greatest legislative acts in the history of this, or of any, people. Bancroft speaks of it as 'the Great Ordinance.' Chief Justice Cooley terms it 'immortal' and says that 'no charter of government in the history of any people has so completely stood the tests of time and experience.'

"It is one of the marvels of Providential guidance that out of a Congress almost in articulo mortis, consisting at the time of only eighteen members, with scarcely one distinguished name among them, so grand a combination of fundamental political principles, united in one legislative act, should have issued.

"On the day of its adoption only eight states were represented, three northern and five southern. Every state voted in the affirmative and 17 of the 18 members voted the same way....

"It is a complete working scheme of government for an area as large as an empire. It provides for the descent and distribution of estates, and a comprehensive territorial government of three departments, executive, judicial and legislative, the latter to consist of two branches, and until the legislature is organized, for the selecting and publishing of the laws; the creation and officering of the militia; the appointment of magistrates; the prevention of crimes and


injuries; the qualification of electors and officers; the organization of the legislative department; and the election of delegates in Congress.

"All this is temporary, and will pass away with the territorial condition; but now follows the great compact embodying the perpetual and imperishable principles on which these new states shall be builded, embraced in six great Articles:...

"Here we have religious and civil liberty, the writ of habeas corpus, trial by jury, Magna Charta, the English Bill of Rights, equal and proportionate representation, fostered education, good faith to Indians, inviolability of private contracts, a perpetual union, and the Declaration of Independence all rolled into one ordinanace. Very much of this was, within a few weeks, grafted into the Constitution of the United states by the convention then sitting at Philadelphia, and became a permanent part of the Supreme Law of the Great American Commonwealth." - Mich. as P.T. and State, Utley, Vol.II, Pp.78-82.

Glayds and I often contemplated the possibility of finding the drowned body of some unfortunate person on our beach but we never dreamed of seeing even in our imaginations the ravaged bodies of Cholera victims washing ashore where we sat. Nor of the ttagic scores of drowned immigrants, drowned on the last day of a long, long water voyage from Rotterdam. Nor the possibility of finding the bodies of murdered victims of lake pirates.

In 1832 the cholera epidemic, which had begun in central India, and spread by way of Terahan to Moscow to Warsaw and Hamburg, to England and to Buffalo, broke out on U.S. army vessels transporting troops to Fort Dearborn. At Detroit one ship was ordered away from the wharves as a pest ship.


At Fort Gratiot the Henry Clay carried the sick ashore, others fled the ship and scattered. Some lay down in the streets and died. Wnen the Sheldon Thompson anchored at Chicago, the doom was spreading through the cabins. Sixteen had died and been buried in Lake Michigan. In five days 88 more bodies were flipped into the water.

In 1846 a party of Hollanders sailed from Rotterdam for Michigan. Beyond the Straits of Mackinac a gale roared, pounding the Phoenix with long, gray seas. The ship went in to Manitowoc to wait out the storm. The sea went down and the wind quieted. So after midnight lines were cast off and engines began to turn. At four -- fire. The rescue boats were too late. Only 43 out of 250 were saved. That Sunday afternoon the steamer Delaware, making her regular run to Manitowoc, passed scores of floating bodies. Snow and winter winds struck Lake Michigan soon and so the bodies were never recovered.

In 1849 there were ugly rumors that crews of vessels had been murdered and their cargoes carrled off by Mormon "pirates" but the United states government tried the Mormons and they were acquitted in the end. James Jesse Strang, their leader, by the way was the only crown ed king in America. He ruled over the Mormons on Big Beaver Island, north or Pentwater, where he instituted polygamy and where he enjoyed a dual political life, rulng his people at home and representing them in a republican government in the Michigan legislature. Finally his own subjects shot him and, having done so, were treated like heroes and never tried. Strang left behind four pregnant wives, two under eighteen. Similarly fantastic is the turbulent history of King Ben and Queen Mary of the House of David at Benton Harbor and the quarter-breed Iroquois on the shores of Wisconsin who bamboozled the American public for a time into believing he was the Lost Dauphin of France.

By 1932, in spite of the fact that the Old Sauk Trail or the


great Chicago Road, now US 112, was practically impassable "covered wagons literally whitened its entire length," and the population began spreading into the interior.

Soon the merchants and promoters and land sharks began to arrive. Stages made daily runs. Inns were opened, crops planted, mills hummed as they ground grist or sawed lumber. Each year more and more sailing vessels appeared and on their decks wagons were crowded with wagon wheels lashed up and down their rigging. In each wagon was a family's past and the tokens of its future; beds and cradles, farm implements and kitchen goods, barrels of provisions and chests of clothing. The over-crowded decks swarmed with the new Americans in their wooden klompen, their wadmall and homespun garments. Many voices and a medley of tongues blended in the constant lake breezes.

The Erie, carrying immigrants, exploded and sank in fifty feet of water. Fourteen years later a salvage party towed the charred hull to shore and recovered a fortune in foreign coins: sovereigns and rubles, marks and kroner that crossed the Atlantic to buy Wisconsin and Michigan land.

Southern Michigan is dotted with settlements which were the result of a reform movement within the Dutch State Church in the l840's. After the potato famine in 1845 the Irish too thronged in and after an unsuccessful rebellion against the German monarchy, German "forty-eighters" came. Norwegians, Swedes, Cornishmen, Finns, Belgians, Slovaks, Italians, Danes, Icelanders, Roumanians, Russians, Scotch -- they 'also came to make Michigan what it is today.

With the coming of the immigrants the forests were felled and farms were settled. For fifty years the sall1ng vessels carried gra1n and fruit and lumoer. Day after day and year after year they went by. On clear days seen so plainly from our beach, on clear nights their lights


twinkling on the horizon under the stars, on foggy days and nights slipping past unseen.

Gladys and 1 always loved to be sent behind the hills to Mrs. Stockwell's for her wonderful golden bantam corn. She was talkative and eccentric and had a strange accent but our interest in her was not that perhaps in her earlier days sne may have been an immigrant sho nad come from across the seas. We Liked her because we could never surprise her without an old battered felt hat on, to find out if her bright red nair was or was not a wig. We liked her too because She talked to us about rattlesnakes and because she had a fat dog seventeen years old and a caged cardinal that in captivity had lost the color of its beautiful plumage. She had too three cats and a husband wno was never nome because he was a sailor all summer long on the lake. To us sne was just a Michigamie, like ourselves. Now as we lookK about the village we can more easily spot the Hungarians, the Roumanians and the Swedes wno, or their parents, must at one time or another have immigrated to Michigan.

The great age of lumbering in Michigan began shortly after the Civil War, though as early as 1830 "ttimber lookers" were buying tracts for as little as $1.50 an acre. At Saginaw over a thousand lumber vessels a month were tallied at the Genesee Avenue bridge and there were other thousands of craft in the 20 miles of river below. Vessels in the river held up land traffic for hours at a time. Night and day the commerce was moving, the scnooners, and steamers, the scows and barges, and long rafts of logs. Paddle wheels churned and towboats hooted and the echoes ran back from solid walls of lumber along the shores. A scum of sawdust floated down the river and to Saginaw Bay.

In the fog a keen-nosed captain could steer his ship into the


river by the sharp sweet sawdust smell. Genesse Avenue was a plank road followlng a crooked Indian trail. The first pavement in nearby Bay City was of pine blocks that floated away during the high water after a winter of deep snow. The duckboard sidewalks were of heavy planking and a plank road connected Saginaw and Flint, 30 miles paved with 3-inch clear white pine.

Muskegon was West Michigan's great lumber port though Pentwater, Ludington, Manistee and Charlevoix all wrote their names with lumber too. Their harbors were a forest of tall snips, hurrying away with the harvest of a denuded country. Their rivers and little lakes and harbors were choked with timber as far as the eye could see and around the water's edge, beside the giant sawmilis, stood vast board piles. Percherons, Clydesdale and Belgian horses, magnificent animals, hauled pyramids or logs down to the river landings where now the rotting pilings and moss-covered wharves alone attest to the one-time busy refrain of the giant sawmills. With 52 miles on Muskegon Lake, this city produced forty miliionaires.

Down the Big and Little Ministee Rivers in the eighties came some or the biggest log drives in all of Michigan. In 1875 11 million feet came down the Tobacco and 55 miilion feet down the Upper Muskegon.

Charlie Mears, a Chicago industrialist, deepened little Pentwater River, built a battery of sawmills and put up model boarding houses for the Swedish mill hands. He buiilt his own vessels, sending lumber to Chicago where he marketed it in his own yards. His daughter still lives in Pentwater and it was from her we bougnt our own lake frontage.


All winter long the lumberjacks lived in their lonely camps, tumbling from their bunks in the dark and groping in the frosty mornings for their calked boots and eating their sourdough biscuits and beans. They were rough men, who worked hard, living close to accident and death in the sprlng runs and log jams and yet with a gaiety of spirit that is preserved in song and story. In April "the red-sashed brigade" came in a rush like the logs in the rivers to the lumber towns to scuff and fight and skylark and spend their winter's wage like water. In plaid mackinaws, crimson sashes, tasseled caps, they swarmed over the towns and forgot the bitter winter ln the woods. the long days of work in frozen camps and the camp ringed round by desolation.

Many are the stories that linger yet over the swamps into which the loggers "let the daylight" and around the old lumber towns and many were the characters who lived their rough and hearty lives through this strange era in the lake country.

One logger's joy when well oiled was to stand in the center of Water street in Saginaw and bellow, "I am T. C. Cunnion , the Man-Eater from Peterborough, Ontario." He liked to go into a butcher shop and get a hunk of cow's liver, then go into the street, chewing on the bloody morsel, with his hands, face and shirt-front smeared with blood, giving his usual cry, "I am T. C. Cunnion, the man-eater from Peterborough, Ontario."

But T. C. Cunnion was felled finally by a lone woman who had stopped at a butcher shop with her baby in its carriage. She gave him a terrible blow across the face with her umbrella and he went down in a heap. After this graceless fall, this same logger hung out for a time in Bay City where he got free drinks for fighting bulldogs, fighting the dogs with hands and teeth, biting and growling the while.


In the field or entertainment the city of MusKegon probably had no peer. Muskegon of course was close by the "down" end of the Muskegon River, and when a man had finished his work on the drive, well -- there was Muskegon. Keen-nosed loggers claimed they could smell Muskegon booze as far upriver as Big Rapids, 50 miles away, and said they detected the first erotic whiffs of Sawdust Flats perfume at Newago, half as far. Muskegon's Sawdust Flats was a part of the city made by a "fill" and on it were six solid blocks, long blocks, of what a local divine termed "unspeakable sin." "On the Sawdust" was a term that meant a big time. One of the biggest was the memorable July Fourth in 1887 when a thousand loggers were entertained with free beer and dancing by what amounted to a convention of the sisterhood.

The story of Ludington is in contrast to this Sawdust City saga. James Ludington, a Milwaukee capitalist, who platted the town site publicly stated in 1867 that "so long as I can control the matter I will not allow a liquor saloon to live in the village that bears my name," and he had inserted in all deeds to town lots the condition that no liquors were to be sold on the premises.

At Manistee, however, on the Fourth of July open barrels of whiskey were placed in the streets, in which passers-by who were reluctant to imbibe were sometimes thrust head-first by the merry loggers. (Lake Mich. M.M. Quaife.)

Of all the lumber towns Seney had the blackest record of all. It was without peer a hell-hole where ears were chewed off regularly. Seney had grown quickly, like an ugly and poisonous toadstool. For seven years after its establishment in 1881, there was absolutely no pretense of law and little enough thereafter. Men there enjoyed trouble fully as mucn as they did liquor. For instance, the lovely Pig-Foot Macdonald and his gang needed little urging wnen they were offered $100 to clean out the warehouse which had been taken over by


30 imported women. They promptly attacked with vigor and joy. They slugged and hurled the men bodily out the door. When the screaming hussies started to claw and kick, the raiders slapped them down and towed them around by their long hair. Pig-Foot and his gang then destroyed the fixtures, tore the doors off the hinges and departed with sacks filled with bottles of drinking liquor. They accepted the $100, although Pig-Foot remarked that it seemed like stealing to be paid for an afternoon of pure fun.

In 1690 Seney's rirst doctor reported he worked all Christmas day and night, treating the fighters who found their way to his office by following the red trail on the snow that reddened and broadened as the day wore on. That day the streets and broad sidewalks were literally swamped with fighting loggers and when a man was down his opponent jumped upon him with both feet, kicking and tearing at him with the eruel calks in his shoes. (Holy Old Mackinaw.)

Seney never had but a few hundred population but they made more stir than many cities. Stubb-Foot O'Donnell and Pump-Handle Joe were a committee that met all trains. They stood newcomers on their heads, snaking the silver out at their pockets. Stuttering Jim Gallagher put the mark of his hobnail boots on the face of any man who snickered at his speech. Snap-Jaw Small lived on the fees he collected for biting the heads off living frogs and snakes. He met his end by biting the head off a lumberjack's pet owl; the lumberjack knocked him out with a peavey handle. The best fighter in that town of hard cases was Big Jim Keane who was at last wounded in a fight and ran half a block with a sheath-knife in his heart before he died.

In Maine the loggers had said the Penobscot timber would "last until hell froze one foot thick"; they never thought they would be leaving Maine. Later they figured it would take a hundred years to clean up the last or the Lake States. Then, quite suddenly, about


1905, they got a shock. The lumber was gone and most of the loggers moved on to the timber states of the west.

There was zest in that trade that rose and fell in forty years and left echoes drifting over the lakes and over the swamps. Looking back now I believe it is quite possible that some of the lumberjacks who stripped the Michigan woods may still have been living in Pentwater when I was little. Certain it is that I have run across the name of our caretaker's father in a book on lumberjack songs. Then, of course, there was Mr. Sullivan, the carpenter who helped to build our cottage. My parents, I think, would have agreed he was a character though perhaps they might not have thought he was a colorful character for nis colorfulness was of a questionable hue. The day Mr. Sullivan laid the floor to the bathroom in our cottage he had with him a handy bottle and ever since, because of Mr. Sullivan and his bottle, the several times a day we must travel to and from that important room, it has been necessary on each trip for us to traverse four steps down and four steps up. That lower floor under the stairway, which could not easily have been ripped out, my parents felt, is an appropriate memorial to the shameless Mr. Sullivan and those steps a positive reminder of the evil consequences of too much drink.

Who knows but what Mr. Sullivan on that far-away day, remembering nostalgically the days of his youth as a jolly logger and feeling bitterly the fact that now he must saw and nail the boards which as trees he loved once to fell, found real solace and forgetfulness in his bottle of drinking liquor?


In those years the harbors were filled with the precise forest of ships' masts and the taut web of their rigging. There were beautiful craft and under their curving fantails they bore romantic names: Felicity, Northern Light, Evening Star, Valhalla, Zephyr, Silver Spray, Frolic, Seaflower, Magnolia, Dawn. Most of them had hard fortunes. Some killed their captains and mamed their mates. Men fell from aloft to their pitching decks and other men went overboard in the sea's fury. Good men died in their fo'c'sles and strong men limped down their gangways carrying the scars of struggle and with broken bones. Their cargoes shifted; they took the pounding of the sea and were dr1ven ashore in hard places. They knew danger and distress and violence as well as a fair wind and a gently dipping bow and the moon making white cliffs of their canvass on a summer night. They lost spars, listed, suffered collision on dark nights; they went aground and were lost. There were many hundred of them and they are all gone. But they had a grace and hardihood that men remember. A few of them left stories that were not forgotten, even after the big steam feeighters, bearing the names of directors of the steel corporations, took over the commerce of the lakes...

When the lumber trade reached its peak 1800 sailing vessels were on the lakes, five times as many as the big freighters that now carry the enormous commerce in ore, coal and limestone. No channel markers then, no aids to navigation, only an infrequent light at a harbor mouth, no government weather forecasts, no Coast Guard service helped the captains. So these masters and their crews developed a remarkable seamanship. They were skillful and resourceful. They sailed in fog and the blinding smoke of forest f1res, along ragged coats and upthrust islands,


through snowstorms and ice-menaced rivers. They did not always survive.

More than 350 sailing vessels were lost on the lakes. Hundreds more were beached on the sands or disabled after collision or cast up on the shores. One or these unfortunate sailboats was "our wreck" which still can oe seen on days wnen the water is quiet; it was carrying lumber and trying to make the harbor in a storm when it went aground. Many ended in mystery, sailing away and never appearing again. The old schooner crews had stories of underground channels that connected one lake with another... They had stories too of great winds that blew a snip out of one lake and into another. (- The Long Ships Passing, P. 66.)

Fire was the common hazard in the old wooden ships with their cargoes of grain, lumber, coal, tanbark, and in the early steamers with their ricks of fuel wood beside the pounding boilers. But there were even bigger blazes on the lake shores. Frontier towns burned like tinder. The board streets and sidewalks, the open frame buildings, made them terribly vulnerable. The very ground they rested on, built up of sawdust, slabs and refuse from the mills, was inflammable. The drying yards, with lumber stacked and open to the air, could quickly roar into acres of flame. There were always sparks from the big consumers and the straining boilers of the steam engines to start the disaster. Sawdust towns lived violently, with the rumble of logging, the snarl and scream of the buzz saw, and the tumult of the loading wharves. And mostly they died violently. A sawmill town could not expect a peaceful end.

Eighteen-seventy-one was a hard year for fire. The same wind that fanned the flames of the Chicago fire, spread fire in the dry


woods of Wisconsin and Michigan. On Sunday and Monday, October 8 and 9, the days When Chicago was burning, the forests along the east coast of the lake from South Haven northward were ablaze. The town of Holland was burned, and south Haven, Muskegon and other places were saved only by the desperate efforts of the townsmen. The woods were burning around Shelby, fifteen miles from Pentwater, and at Manistee the night and day of October 8 and 9 witnessed the destruction of the city. (Quaiffe. Lake, Mich., P.292-3)

Manistee was rimmed in a crescent of burning forest. Flame swept into the village and along the river until vessels were blazing beside the flaming wharves. The whole town crowded into one steamer, whose captain saw his way blocked by a burning bridge. He rammed the bridge but failed to break it. He reversed his engines and drew back for another try. Three times he rammed it before the burning bridge broke through. Then with smoking embers on his decks he steered for the open water of Lake Michigan.

In that strange remembered autumn of 1871 there were many dramas on the lakes. One of them is the story of Menominee. From Green Bay and the Bay de Noc the woods stretched north over a wild country, marked only by tote-roads, a few scattered logging lines and an occasional sawmill settlement. The summer was a hot, hazy season, with brush fires burning in the cut-over sections and miles of slash smoldering beside the newly completed railroad lines. An occasional shower kept them from spreading, though there was not enough rain to put them out. As autumn came on, the ground baked dry and the fires grew larger. Still it was not alarming. Forest fires were no novelty. People got used to hazy sunsets and a sharp smell in the air. But when September passed with a succession of hot, windless days and not a drop of moisture, the weatherwise old settlers began to look puzzled. There had never been a season like this before.


During the first week of October, Menominee's narrow harbor was glassy still, under slow-drifting curtains of smoke. Schooners groped in to anchorage, and before they became visible there was the sound of sailors coughing on their decks. At midday the sun was a dull coin that men could stare at steadily; there were no stars at night. Rumors came down the river of inland camps wiped out in a sudden spread of fire, of people standing all nignt in the streams, of farmers walking over their blackened fields and eating potatoes that had baked in the ground. Squirrels, rats, rabbits were in the cisterns with men. On the roads racing cattle and horses, deer and wolves were fleeing together across the dry swamps.

Work in Menominee went on. People scanned the sky thinking of a long, deep autumn rain. Menominee was in the end saved but Peshtigo had gone up in the smoke, with 700 dead in her burning streets and drowned in her river. Fire swept in so fast people were cremated. One man buried 11 children and grandchildren. Six days after the fire a heavy body crashed to the ground from high in a tree. Someone probably had lost his head and had climbed the tree to get away from the fire... For many months that year fire smouldered underground. That winter smoke came through the snow.

How could that little-girl Gladys and that even littler-girl me, followers of nothing more profound than the "Little Colonel" series, have ever dreamed of Pentwater's glorious past? How could we have even dimly heard the chanty songs of those roistering Frenchmen of 300 years before, advenurers of whom some even still lay in the rotting hulks of their vessels out in the middle of our lake somewhere? How could we have suspected that the Orient once was supposed to be just over the horizon from where we baked our youthful skins? How could we have imagined the tragic drowning of the brave and hopeful


immigrants, of the carefree sailor boys whose bodies may have once washed ashore where now so many years later the waves slapped at our feet? How could we, with the clean smell of the sunshine in the lake air in our nostrils, have been able to catcn even the faintest whiff of the dense pine smoke of lumber villages and of pine forests burning some forty or fifty years before?

The days of the painted and feathered savages are gone now. Only a handful of laconic and placid Indians remain in Michigan and, if they would, like their ancestors, boil and eat the whites, at least we do not know it. The days of the French explorers and adventurers, the trappers and traders, the Jesuit fathers who explored the "seas of the sweet waters," are gone too, though in the northern part of Western Michigan relics of the French missions and, some say, even apple orchards wnose seeds were brought by those intrepid fathers still remain. Only a name left here and there remains to remind us of those hardy, venturesome French. Little Point Sablee to the south and Big Point Sable to the north mark the curve of our beach and are still, as they were when the French paddled past, little and big points of sand to mark the terrain and guide the water travelers.

Gone too are the British redcoats, the French habitants, the first immigrants, the timber lookers and the loggers. Cherry and peach trees now grow where once the forests were felled. The stumps of the forest have been burned or blasted away. The sailboats have sailed into oblivion and the old wharves mostly are rotting in the channels whicn each year get more and more choked with sand and moss. Sawdust Flats in Muskegon now is a beautiful memorial park, built over the old swamps, on filled-in land. Ribbons of cement wind up and over the rolling hills and tourists overrun the state.

Yet still on our unchanged beach, Gladys and I meet sometimes,


on the glacial drift beside the melted ice fields in the Michigan Basin, beside the water which Champlaign once erroneously supposed to have been the Stinking Water, in the state that might have been Chersonesus. We watch the setting sun color the sands with shades ot lavendar, pink and rose, and, as we listen to the ceaseless susurrus of the waves, which break so gently on the shore, we know indeed that others have been here before us and we are sure that those others still walk with us on our beach of the golden, singing sands.


1 Georgia May Campbell Lollis [1901-1991], daughter of Campbell Park founders George Alexander Campbell [1869-1943] and Luna May Jameson [1869-1940]. GMCL was a graduate of William Woods College (AA), Drake University (BA), and the University of Missouri (Masters in Journalism). She wrote this paper in 1949 for presentation to a women's club in Indianapolis, Indiana. She previously wrote "Michigan Minutia" and later wrote "We Walked on Singing Sands" (about 1965), both about Campbell Park in Pentwater, Michigan. Neither of these papers is on-line. return

2 Gladys Fawley [1897-1988], daughter of Campbell Park founder George B. Fawley [1868-1959] & Azema E. Klum [1869-1965] of Chicago, Illinois. Mr. Fawley owned furniture stores in Muskegon, Michigan, & Michigan City, Indiana. Gladys attended the University of Chicago and in 1929 became a professor of geography at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. At least one of her papers is available on the internet: Henry F. Becker & Gladys Fawley (1936), "Some Exercises in Geography Study Techniques for College Freshmen," Journal of Geography, volume 35, issue 8, pp. 317-326. return

3 "She could not at the time have been more than nine or ten or eleven..." This would place the two girls' conversations in 1906-1908. This range of years is probably too early since their parents and others from Chicago purchased the land for Campbell Park in 1907 and built their cottages soon thereafter. In any event, Gladys was four years older than Georgia May. return