SEBEWA RECOLLECTOR, Bulletin of the The Sebewa Center Association, Bulletin
Center Association, February 1974, Volume 9, Number 4
WHAT WAS THAT NAME AGAIN?
Since our mention of the name of the cemetery on Sunfield Highway near Grand River Trail in Orange Township as being “First”, it comes to our attention that it is more properly called “Matthews” Cemetery. Oftentimes the way such a place gets a name is less than formal and the name that finally settles upon it is determined by the usage of the surrounding population. A check of the 1875 Ionia County Atlas shows that the forty acres lying to the south of the cemetery belonged to L. First while the 90 acres across the road was owned by Barney Matthews. Consequently whichever name you choose to call the cemetery, you are in the right neighborhood.
Kohoutec a Dud
So says the headline as the recent much publicized comet headed for its long journey into outer space. Over expectation led to disappointment in the performance of the comet. A seeming lack of dust in the comet was what made it merely a dancing object in shakily held binoculars instead of an awesome display in the sky. But have a little patience! A showy comet has appeared on the average of every 10 years.
TWO VOTING PRECINCTS FOR SEBEWA TO TAKE EFFECT WITH THE FALL ELECTIONS
The special election set for February 18 and any other election that may be ordered in the first half of 1974 will be held on a one-precinct basis as have all other elections in this township. Beginning in the fall, the two-precinct system will be in effect and the Sebewa Center schoolhouse will serve as the voting headquarters of the second precinct.
MULES STOLEN AND RECOVERED
January 23, 1877. On Wednesday night of last week a span of mules on sleigh were stolen from Carter’s mill in Sebewa by a man who drove them by a crooked route toward Ionia. In the morning when a few miles east of Ionia, he overtook two men who got into the sleigh to ride. Shortly after they got aboard, the man driving the mules got frightened, dropped the lines and started on a lively run for the woods, since which time he has evaded the search of the officers. The two men drove the mules to Ionia and on ascertaining who they belonged to, returned them—PORTLAND OBSERVER
Note: Nathan Carter’s sawmill was on the northwest corner of Goddard and Clarksville roads. Nathan was the father of Mrs. Alden (Abbie) Coe.
RECOLLECTOR BACK ISSUES
By rerunning some of the early issues of The Sebewa Recollector we have on hand more than twenty sets of all the issues from 1965 in softbound covers. If you plan to have copies of this collection of material “for the children” or grandchildren. Price--$1 per volume for each of the 8 ˝ years covered, will get your order filled.
THE ENERGY CRISIS—WHERE IS IT TAKING US?
Although we see no autos stranded on the roadside for lack of gasoline nor frost covered windows for lack of heating oil, it is fairly obvious there has been some restriction of miles traveled, a slowing of traffic and many a home where temperatures are less than toasty.
When we made the count in these pages of all-night mercury vapor yard lights in the township, it slowly climbed to fifty and since has much more than doubled that. So far we have noticed only one such lamp that has been doused and that is pretty flimsy evidence that a trend toward energy conservation has started in that direction. If the energy shortfall (how these new words climb on our backs and become the smart thing to use!) is as genuine as the official reports indicate, we may again be a community that goes to bed in the dark.
CAVES IN MICHIGAN
The late Helen Martin, one time State Geologist, once published the statement that there are no known caves in Michigan. This was taking into consideration the sinks in the area west of Alpena where some of the giant holes in the limestone subsurface are open at the top. In the book “Visiting American Caves by Sloane and Gurnee we find one cave listed for Michigan. It is Bear Cave located four miles north of Buchanan. It has the distinction of having been used in making the movie “The Great Train Robbery” as the cache for the loot of the train robbers.
From the spread of “caves to be visited” on the map, there are concentrations of caves in Arkansas and Missouri, northeastern Alabama, western South Dakota, along the Iowa and Wisconsin boundary, northern Virginia, central Pennsylvania, south central Indiana and scatterings in Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio. Most of the caves are open to visitors for a fee during the tourist season. You scarce need to be told of Mammoth and Carlsbad.
WHAT’S NEW FOR THE COLLECTOR
The flea markets, garage sales and household auctions during the past few years have brought to light the trait inherent in people that was scarcely evident in generations past. To name it, it is a desire for possession of an article for something besides its original basic utility.
So many people have engaged in satisfying this desire that one generations’ junk and castoffs becomes the next generation of collectors stock in trade. Was it last week you cleaned out a drawer and threw away the old fountain pens and ink blotters? Collectors would have paid for them.
Apparently next in line to have collection value is the lowly clay drain tile. Heaps of plastic drain tubing awaiting to be entrenched in fields seem to seal the doom of that clay product. Who knows how soon the have-nots will be digging here and there for an authentic drain tile vintage 1890 for a valuable one?
The generation that is puzzled to know why an ink blotter was useful probably has no conception of the network of underground drains that make our township a highly productive agricultural area. When the pioneers came into the area, the only land useful for crops were the high grounds where there was natural run-off of water. Not until waterways were deepened and pot hole after pot hole was drained by tiling were extensive areas opened for field cultivation.
THE RAILROAD EXCURSION
Who has been on a railroad excursion? Most who have, now have their names inscribed on tombstones. From the 1870’s until the automobile began supplanting the railway as a means of personal transportation, the rail excursions were a popular form of travel and vacation satisfaction.
The railroads could afford to carry passengers at reduced rates if local organizations would fill their cars with people headed for a common destination and return. Sponsoring groups were many and as no other form of cheap transportation was available, the very word excursion attracted many takers. Often the accommodations and service were not first rate. Food might be scarce and the train might be side tracked for a better paying train; but the gaiety of traveling with many other people in a holiday spirit overcame much of that.
The Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia of 1876 was attended largely by excursionists. The Ionia Light Guard (National Guard) sponsored several excursions for that Philadelphia trip. The excursion described following was sponsored by the Methodist Church and had collected passengers from Greenville and several other towns on the line north from Portland.
October 31, 1876. A BIG SCARE - From The Portland Observer
A portion of the M. E. Church excursionists that went to Philadelphia three weeks ago had quite a scare on the way out. After the three sections of the train were joined together on the New York Central between Buffalo and Canandagua and when about half way between the two places, the train pulled in two, leaving the rear end, consisting of ten or fifteen cars, near the commencement of a downgrade. The forward portion of the train, drawn by two powerful engines, when released of half their load, sped on, and soon widened the gap between the two portions of the train.
The speed of the rear portion was at first slackened, but when the cars reached the downgrade the speed continually increased until the passengers began to think something was wrong. Mr. C. E. Goodrich was among the first to discover what had happened and rallying three or four men to his assistance, they began setting the brakes and soon brought the train to a standstill.
They had been standing on the track but a short time when a train hove in sight and the report was there was a train coming and they should be run into and it ran through the cars like wildfire. Then ensued a scene that beggars description. Passengers rushed out of the cars and many of the ladies scaled the fence at each side of the track and rushed frantically through the fields for a distance of 15 or 20 rods. Others were so terribly frightened that they were unable to run and could only cry piteously and wring their hands while one woman actually fainted away and had to be carried out of the cars.
No collision occurred, however, as the train had ample time to stop after discovering the obstruction ahead. The forward portion of the train, upon reaching the next station, discovered the loss and returned for the disconsolate excursionists.
SOME OTHER ITEMS FROM THE PORTLAND OBSERVER OF 1909-1910
October 19, 1909. The expenses for the year of operating the Ionia County Farm amounted to $6,689.00. The revenue from the sale of farm produce was $8,304.00 leaving a balance on the right side of $1,615.00. More inmates have been cared for than ever before, 73 being the total for the year. The greatest number at any one time being 55.
November 2, 1909. FLYING OBJECT UNIDENTIFIED. Several Howard City men, who have good reputation as to veracity, maintain that they saw a huge airship outlined against the sky to the north of Howard City Monday evening about eight thirty. They say that the reflections cast by the beautiful and unusually brilliant display of the Aurora Borealis in the north made it possible to catch a glimpse of the aerial machine as it swiftly sped through the higher air currents. For a moment it seemed as if the craft slowed down to change its course from easterly to nearly straight north, then vanished from sight. It was so high in the air that no light, if one was carried, could be seen.
ASPHALT ROADS. The bituminous pavement industry started with the use of natural rock asphalt from the mines in Val de Travers, Canton Neufchatel, Switzerland. The mines were discovered in 1721. It was in 1849 that its utility as a road covering was first noticed. The rock was then being mixed for the purpose of extracting the bitumen contained in it for use in medicine and arts. It is a limestone found impregnated with bitumen, of which, it yields on analysis from 8 to 14 per cent. It was observed that pieces of rock which fell from the wagon and crushed by the weight of the wheels and under the combined influence of the traffic and the heat of the sun a good road surface was produced. A Macadam road of asphalt rock was then made which gave very good results and finally in 1854 a portion of the Rue Dergere was laid in Paris of compressed asphalt on a concrete foundation. In 1858 a still larger sample was laid and from that time on has been laid year by year in Paris.
February 8, 1910. Henry Kenyon, who has been on the farm of W. W. Merrifield in Sebewa for several years, will hold the biggest auction sale of the season Wednesday February 23 even eclipsing in size the big Moyer (Leon) sale of a few weeks ago. One of the features of the sale will be a big ox roast at noon in place of the usual lunch. Mr. Kenyon will kill one of the biggest steers in the place and the noon hour will be given to an old fashioned barbecue. A big list of horses, cattle and stock will be offered for sale, a detailed list of which will appear later in the Observer. M. E. Bower of Lake Odessa, auctioneer.
THE CARTER SNAKE HUNT. 5-24-10. The Carter Snake got loose when a traveling circus went through Barry Count about 30 years ago. The circus people remained behind for several weeks in an effort to recapture the star attraction of the show but without avail. The reptile took to the swampy land on what was then the Carter farm and in that way got its name. Every years somebody sees the big fellow stretched across the road sunning himself near the fence. The alarm is spread and the Carter Snake Association is called out. The members slip into old band uniforms outfits that were worn in the Civil War and every other comical contraption and hie to the swamp, armed with every known kind of weapon. Some people are unkind enough to say they don’t want to find the snake because that would end all the fun. Mr. Grensel says every effort will be made this summer to kill the big serpent.
THE WOODLAND INDIAN IN WINTER By William H. Thatcher
(This article is reprinted from the COFFINBERRY NEWS BULLETIN of the Grand Rapids WRIGHT L. COFFINBERRY CHAPTER OF THE MICHIGAN ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY. Mr. Thatcher lives in Grand Rapids and is a member of the Coffinberry Chapter.) By permission.
A great deal of information has come down to us in regards to the winter camps of the Indians of Michigan. Unfortunately, most of it is colored by the natural prejudice of the white man. For instance, we find the Indian referred to constantly as a dirty savage. This from a race that believed as short a time as a century ago that washing all over would weaken the body and shorten the life, and although the “dirty savages” took sweat baths at every opportunity, ending them by plunging into a lake or river through a hole chopped in the ice or by rolling in a snow bank.
As a matter of fact, the Indian pitied the White man because of his fear of water, laying it to the fact that water would damage the white skin. Also the White man was occasionally referred to as “sheecag nini” or skunk man because of his gamy odor.
The same holds true of the reports of the Indians starving through the winter. Undoubtedly there were many cases of starvation due to forces beyond the control of the Indian but by and large he suffered very little during the winter months. The earlier explorers seem to consistently ignore the fact that most of them would have starved had they not been fed by friendly Indians.
Even today, most people have only a hazy idea of how the Indians lived, especially during the winter months so in response to a request from our President, I will try to share my limited knowledge. It is limited because most has been passed from father to son and is necessarily hearsay evidence, but perhaps a little more accurate than the biased accounts of the White man.
The Woodland Indian was not only a hunter and food gatherer but was also, to a limited extent, an agriculturist. He planted and harvested corn, several varieties of beans, and also squash and pumpkins. Tobacco also was raised by some of the tribes. These products by no means took the place of the natural products of the forest, but formed a very valuable supplement.
To the Indian, life was a never ending struggle for food. Spring, summer and fall were a constant harvest from the first tapping of the maple trees for sugar to the harvesting of the nuts and acorns in the late fall. Then the winter meant a weary round of snares and dead falls for furs to keep them warm and for meat to supplement their diet.
Space will not permit even a list of all the foods available and used by the Indians, so for purposes of this article, only those that helped to make up their diet for the winter months will be considered. Even these will, of necessity, be abridged and their gathering and preparation only touched on.
First of the food available in the spring was, of course, maple sugar. Not until the first warm days started the sap to rise in the trees was the actual production of sugar started, but preparations for the labor had occupied the family groups for weeks before.
Birch bark vessels had to be made for the gathering of the sap, sleds and toboggans to haul it to the boiling place, large shallow troughs for the actual boiling and sugaring off and last, but not lease, numbers of birch bark mococks for the storing of the sugar. These varied in size from small ones holding perhaps a pound of sugar and intended for carrying on the trail or on canoe trips, to the large ones having the capacity of about forty pounds, which were intended for winter storage.
Sugar making was the one activity from which no one was excused. From the oldest member of the family to the smallest toddler everyone was busy. The trees must be tapped, the sap gathered and hauled to the boiling place where it was constantly watched as it boiled, the scum being skimmed from the top and the syrup ladled from one boiling trough to another as it thickened. Then as soon as it, as the Indian expressed it, “made eyes”, (which meant that small bubbles would remain below the surface as the mixture was stirred) it must be taken from the fire and beat with a paddle until it became creamy and thick. As soon as it reached the proper consistency it was poured into the mococks and allowed to cool. As sugar making was a family affair and the sugar bush was usually near the winter camp, the majority of the mococks were placed immediately in the winter caches.
No fear was felt at leaving the caches unguarded during the summer because until the White man taught them to steal, there were no thieves among the Indians. Besides the Indians were communists, all food being held in common so there was no reason to steal that which would be shared willingly.
The caches or food storage pits were dug five to six feet deep, lined with grass and filled with the foods to be preserved. Over the foods, which were packed in birch bark boxes called mococks, was piled a thick layer of marsh grass, another layer of cedar or spruce boughs and finally a two foot layer of earth carefully packed down. Over this was placed a heavy pile of brush to discourage the deer, which were in the habit of digging up a carelessly built pit.
As soon as the sugar making was over it was time to harvest the fish during their spawning run. Let me say at this time that fishing was very diversified, ranging from the spearing of sturgeon and suckers, in the Grand River area, to the setting of seine nets in Saginaw and Traverse bays and the netting of white fish from canoes at the Sault Rapids. But whatever the method, the purpose was the same; to catch and smoke enough for food for the winter.
Let us stay with one band or family group, perhaps Ottawas, whose main village was at the junction of the Thornapple and the Grand River, and who perhaps wintered in the area near Wabasis Lake. Such a band would probably head for the rapids of Grand River where Grand Rapids now stands, to take part in the run of sturgeon.
The rapids of the Grand River was one of several places in Michigan where the various tribes could gather on neutral ground, so not only the Ottawas but the Chippewas and Potowatomies as well would gather here to spear the sturgeon that came up the river from Lake Michigan.
The spearing of fish in the spawning run was always a gala occasion. The various tribes pitted themselves against each other and there was a great deal of rivalry as to which one obtained the greatest amount of fish, or which individual speared the largest one. The rivalry was always good natured because the fish, after being smoked, were divided between the various bands according to the number of individuals.
It must have been a fascinating sight to see the hundreds of nearly naked men and boys balanced precariously on saplings laid across the rocks or on the rocks thensleves, watching for the telltale gleam of silver that marked one of the monster sturgeon forcing his way up the turbulent rapids. About one man in six was a spearsman, the other five being there to help with the landing.
A fish would be sighted and the spearman would drive the heavy spear with all his force into the body of the sturgeon. If he was skillful enough to strike the fish just behind the gills and the spear held tight he could snub the fish with the braided rope of basswood bark which was fastened to the spear, long enough for the five helpers to grasp the fish, stun it with a stone axe and pass it to the women on shore who prepared it for smoking.
If the spearman was unlucky enough to strike the fish in the latter half of the body, it was almost impossible to hold it long enough for the helpers to grasp it. In this case, spearman and helpers usually took a dunking and were dragged down the rapids to the accompaniment of loud jeers from their fellow fishermen, and they were lucky if they even retrieved the spear. It was not a sport for weaklings for Nahma the sturgeon was often from six to ten feet in length.
In the meantime the women would split the fish down the back, remove the backbone, ribs and viscera, and separate the flesh into thin strips that were placed on a framework of green poles extending over a pit containing a smothered fire of hardwood, preferably hickory. About eight hours of smoking was necessary to preserve the fish which, when properly smoked, would keep indefinitely.
The fishing continued day and night as long as the run lasted. At night the banks of the river would be lined with flaming torches of pine knots and birch bark which, together with the fires built between the smoke pits, enabled them to continue with their labor.
If it was a fascinating sight to watch the daytime fishing, the nights must have been doubly so. It is hard to imagine what it must have looked like, with the eerie light of the fires and the flickering torches, the smoke from the scores of pits drifting across the white water of the rapids, the flash of silver as a monster sturgeon was landed and the gleam of hundreds of bronze bodies as the men gaily risked their lives to obtain food. No wonder the Sturgeon Dance was the greatest tribute the maidens of the tribe could bestow on visiting warriors.
In the meantime other families and bands were busy on almost every stream in lower Michigan doing the same thing, catching and smoking fish. Although the fishing on the other streams was neither as picturesque or dangerous as the same occupation at the rapids of the Grand, the great bulk of their fish harvest came from the smaller streams.
The smaller fish were split down the back, the entrails and bone removed and were hung belly up astride rods placed over a slow fire. Oak, maple, birch or any hardwood was used, hickory being preferred where it was available. Suckers, for some reason, were usually smoked over a fire of poplar.
After the harvest of smoked fish was completed, the Indians began to make ready for the planting of corn, beans and pumpkins. Squash was also planted to a limited extent but this was seldom prepared for winter foods. All through the valleys of the Saginaw and the Grand and their tributary streams and through most of the central part of lower Michigan, the women began to work the ground and prepare the seed for planting, while the men busied themselves in the building of canoes, the making of bows and arrows and the weaving of nets for the fall fishing on Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay.
The growing of corn, beans, pumpkins and squash was strictly the women’s business. No man was allowed to enter the fields where the crops were growing for fear of blighting the growing things. He could help in the gathering of the harvest, but in no way must he interfere in the planting or the cultivation. Our ancestors believed that as woman was the producer of life, she alone should be responsible for growing things.
The farming, if it could be so called, was conducted along the flats of the river, in open places in the woods and in the Muskodays or meadows where some old beaver dam had once stood. The method was both simple and effective. The ground was carefully loosened and all roots and plants removed from an area about five feet in diameter and the earth carefully heaped into a hummock from twenty-four to thirty inches in height. In the very center were planted five grains of corn. In a circle about a foot outside the corn were planted the beans, and still lower down the hummock were planted the pumpkin and squash seed.
These hills were from ten to fifteen feet apart and the ground between was undisturbed, the weeds and grass being allowed to grow naturally around the hummocks. Only the tops where the crops were growing were weeded and worked. As a consequence, the vegetation held the moisture and protected the young plants until they had taken root and at the same time kept the soft earth from washing away. In addition, the hill could be kept free of weeds without the necessity of stooping or kneeling. To this day the white farmer refers to “hills of corn” and “hills of beans” without knowing the term originated in the actual “hills” built by Indians.
No stone tools were used in the Woodland Indians’ farming. Pointed digging sticks and a sort of narrow spade made of green hardwood with its edge hardened by slowly roasting it over a bed of coals, were almost the only tools used. In some places where stones were plentiful, a ring of stones was placed around the base of the mound but in most places no stones are found.
Small wigwams were built on either side of the patch were where the younger girls stayed during the growing season to protect the young plants from the ravages of deer and other animals.
After planting time and while the crops were growing, the entire group engaged in gathering the wild fruit and berries, and drying then for winter use. While every type of edible fruit was gathered and eaten in season, the great bulk of dried fruits and berries were huckleberries, thornapples and wild cherries. Strawberries, red and black raspberries, blackberries, wild plums and partridge berries were gathered in profusion but did not lend themselves to drying. Huckleberries and wild cherries were dried by spreading them on sheets of bark placed in the sun or in cloudy weather, before a fire. Thornapples were prepared by quartering the segments on thin cords of basswood fiber. These strings were festooned from tree to tree or hung inside the wigwam. These dried thornapples were especially good stewed with fresh bear meat.
Cooking the thornapple either fresh or dried was accomplished by placing them in a closely woven bag of basswood bark. When cooked, the pulp was squeezed out through the meshes of the bag, the seeds and skins being held inside. The bag was then thrown away.
The dried berries, with the exception of those used in making pemmican were packed in birch bark mococks and kept for use during the long winter months. It is evident that the additions of these berries to the diet as well as the custom of drinking tea made from spruce tips and birch buds was the reason that the typical white man’s disease, scurvy never bothered them.
Pemmican was made by boiling meat, preferable bear meat, until it was literally cooked to a mush. This was then thickened by stirring in dried berries and maple sugar. The pemmican was then placed in bark trays and dried. It was good eaten as it was or in the winter it could be cooked in water and the resultant soup thickened with dried pumpkin.
Some of the corn was harvested and eaten when in the milk. It was cooked by soaking the ears, husks and all in water and then roasting them in a bed of hot coals for about one half hour. When the charred husks were removed, they provided a feast fit for a king as anyone who has ever eaten “roastin’ ears” can testify. This period of time was also the occasion for the Green Corn Dance, a festival that lasted from three days to a week and which was the great social activity of the year.
While ripe corn was allowed to ripen on the stalk for seed, the greater part was gathered just as the kernels began to harden. This was boiled in the husk for half an hour or so, then the husks were stripped back and braided, with the ears attached, into long strings that were hung in the wigwams for drying.
While the ripe corn must be exposed to the air to prevent sweating of the ears and consequent mouldering, corn prepared and dried in this manner will stay sweet and keep indefinitely when buried in the food pit.
Beans were allowed to ripen on the vine, and threshed by spreading the vines on sheets of bark and letting the children dance on them. Then the straw was tossed in the air from shallow baskets, allowing the chaff to be blown away and leaving only the beans.
Pumpkins and sometimes squash were prepared for winter use by starting at one end and cutting then into a long spiral strip. These strips were dried over a fire and when dry were broken into convenient lengths and stored in the pits with the corn and beans.
I might mention at this time that the first thing to be harvested was the dried silk from the ears of corn. This was carefully powdered and was used as a flavor and thickener for soups and stews. It has a pleasant taste that is hard to describe.
Both squash and pumpkin were eaten fresh by being placed whole in the coals and roasted and eaten, seeds and all. They were also boiled with meat into a thick stew.
When the corn crop was deficient, acorns from the white oak tree became an important part of the winter diet. The acorns were gathered and cooked and when dry were also stored in the food caches. When used they were pounded in a potagon or mortar made of a hollowed out stump or log. Then they were placed in water and the shells which floated to the top were skimmed off. The pulp remaining was washed two or three times to remove the tannic acid and then the pulp was either baked in thin sheets or used to thicken soup.
Of course hickory nuts, walnuts, hazel nuts and so on were gathered and used just as the white man uses them. Also when the wild pigeon came by the millions to feed on the beech mast, the men would snare and net them by the hundreds. Their crops, being full of beech mast were carefully removed and the nuts added to the winter store.
The breast of the wild pigeon as well as that of the wild duck was cut into thin slices and dried and smoked. It was not only a great delicacy but also a valuable food as an enormous quantity of the bark-like tidbits could be stored in a very small space. A deer bladder full of those mixed with maple sugar and parched corn could sustain a hunter or warrior for days while on the trail.
This is not an exhaustive list of the foods used by the Woodland Indians. It does not even cover all the foods stored for winter. For instance, in areas where it was plentiful, wild rice replaced corn to a large extent. Wild potatoes were dried and stored as well as a number of other roots and tubers, but I think enough has been written to show that the Indian was in no danger of starving during the winter months.
Remember, also, that seldom were the pits opened before February, the Hunger Moon having arrived. Under normal circumstances enough corn and so forth was stored in the wigwam itself to supplement the meat brought in from the snares and deadfalls of the trap line. As all animals and birds were considered edible with the lone exception of the wolf, there was usually plenty of meat during the early months of the winter. However, as I have related elsewhere, in the latter part of January and the month of February all game seems to disappear and what little is found is unfit to eat. A deer, for instance, after feeding on hemlock boughs will turn the strongest stomach. The partridge at this season is also so rank that even the smell will nauseate a person.
I believe I have shown that under normal conditions and barring the loss of stores through some catastrophe, that the average band of Indians could survive a normal winter in good condition.
THE SEBEWA RECOLLECTOR
Last update September 14, 2013