Pioneer Sketch

Pioneer Sketch
of the Township of Handy

written by Ralph Fowler in his 69th year of his age

We were well surrounded by Indians, there being three winter camps near us, two on Section 10 and one on Section 2. There must have been as many as forty or fifty Indians in the three camps and had thirty ponies running in the woods. The question naturally arises, were you not afraid of the Indians? Never but twice.

The Indians had all been to Detroit, I think, to transact business with the government, and came to our place on the mail trail to Grand River and the western part of the state. They came along about the middle of the afternoon. I think there were some 50 or 100 of them with 50 or 60 ponies and lots of other fixings, the snow being five inches deep. Many of the sleds were made of deer skins by spreading them on the snow with the hair side down, filling them with all they could lay on and then lashing the load on the ropes made of basswood bark, passing them through holes made in the edge of the skin and over the load -- you would be surprised to see the amount they would pile on one skin. Then they would hitch a rope to the neck of the skin and then to the ponies neck, making quite a good running sled. Thus they came upon us; we had not seen many of them before and were somewhat afraid as they came in filling the house like a town meeting. We put on a big fire and let them work. They turned out their ponies and put their bells, which made theh woods ring with their jingle. Soon they began to cut poles and peal basswood bark and prepare their quarters for the night. They stuck stakes on each side of a large oak tree that we had felled near the house and tied poles near the top of these stakes, laying others on them and back on the ground, covering this with a kind of webb cloth, made of flags or rushes, for some fifty feet on each side of the log, and then built a fire the whole length, after which they spread down their bear and deer skins and blankets.

It looked very pleasant and comfortable, and after they ate their supper of venison, cold boiled squirrels and muskrats, they went to bed. It was quite a sight to us to see them fix up, each one of full size having his blanket, which was tacked in at the edge, over head and at the foot. In the morning, Okemos and his tribe, or those that were with him, went on to what is now called Okemos, the others, being a part of the old Shiawassee tribe, went into their three camps above named. This was the first time we were afraid of Indians.

There was one very old man with them -- some 93 years old as near as we could ascertain from marks and signs -- who was sick and had every appearance of having the consumption. His camp was pitched on section 2, northeast of John A. Tanner's log house. He finally died, and the funeral services were held for some time. He was a man of some note I should think, as other tribes came to his funeral from long distances.

After his death, they wrapped him in a clean white blanket and laid him in a little place divided from the main camp by hanging blankets around him. One of the old squaws set by him nearly all the time for each evening for four or five evenings after his death. They would play or beat their music nearly all night. Their musical instruments were of different kinds, one kind being made of red cedar, resembling a clarionet. This was split in the center and the hollow was dug out the size they wanted it, then creases were cut around it between the finger holes and it was tied together with the sinnows of a deer. Others were made by drawing a raw deer skin over a hoop, Others were made similar to our bass and tenor drums. They made a fearful noise and could be heard a mile or more.

They dug a grave about three feet deep and laid in some elm bark and covered the grave with round poles, some six inches in diameter, neatly notched together at the corners. About two feet from the head of the grave they set a post about three inches through and three feet high, on the side of which, next to the grave they cut a notch and painted above the notch the picture of a turkey and below that of a deer.

For some three weeks after the burial, some one of the squaws kept a fire, between the head of the grave and the post, made of sticks about six inches long and split fine, set upon the ends in round form. This fire was kept daily for that length of time. After the funeral, they climbed a tall beach tree to the very top and there hung their musical instruments, and let them hang there for four or five weeks and this ended the funeral ceremonies.

The second fright we had arose from the doings of a young man who brought whiskey into or near the camps to sell to the Indians. Early the next morning the Indians caught their ponies -- a thing they had not done for months past -- and came to our houses and demanded 'whiskey! whiskey! shemokemon whiskey! nischicheen whiskey!' Some of them seemed determined to search the house but we finally satisfied them we had none and away they went in search of whiskey. We soon found a keg of the young man's whiskey, hid in the brush, to which we applied the ax which ended the whiskey fright.

On the first of May, 1837, Mr. John B. Fowler and family, Ruel Randall and whife and John A. Tanner, then a boy, arrived in town, having came through Canada with ox teams. The first Sunday morn after the arrival of John B. Fowler, we strolled through the woods and came to a clear spot of about an acre where there was a large oak tree; we sat down under the tree and talked of our mother who had been a Methodist all her days. 'Right here,' my brother says, 'if we live long enough, we will have a Methodist church.'

When the plat was surveyed, the stump of the tree still stood, which was after the lapse of 15 year, and remembering the conversation of my brother and myself I marked the lots for a Methodist church and in about twenty years, the church was built on that site.

The first of June, 1837, Mr. Chas. Bush, Richard P. Bush and John Bush came from Panby, Tompkins county, New York. Charles P. Bush settled on the northwest quarter of Sec. 11, Rich. Bush on the southwest quarter of Sec. 1 and John Bush on the north part of Sec. 2, Handy.

During the summer, several other families came to town among whom were Alson Church, Alanson Knickerbocker, Seymour Norton and Samuel Conklin. Mr. Conklin was also from the state of New York and he and his wife on their arrival here stopped with Mr. Calvin Handy. They owned land on Sec. 18, in the west part of our town, and as we considered it no task to go five or six miles to a log house raising, and Mr. Conklin having followed the section line from the Cedar river to his land, and cut the logs for a house.

We started -- nine of us in number -- with two pairs of oxen, to draw the logs and raise the house. We followed the section line, which crossed the river where the railroad bridge now is. In going around some wet places on the section line, we missed our direction and got our oxen into the big swamp on section 17, got our oxen mired in the mud, got tired out -- especially the oxen.

We got back to the section line the best we could, not reaching his land. After the lapse of three or four weeks, we tried it again, and succeeded in reaching his house.

During the summer, Mr. Conklin shopped some three acres of land and sowed it to wheat, carrying his seed wheat from the Cedar river on his back to his place, a distance of some three and a half miles. In the fall of 1837, Mr. Handy with his ox team, brought Mr. Conklin's goods from his house to the river crossing above mentioned. The water was about three feet deep over the marsh. Six of us carried his things across, wading 40 or 50 rods in the water. Now how to get his wife across was a conundrum. Finally Martin W. Randall and myself took a board about six feet long, one at each end, set Mrs. Conklin in the middle, one hand on each of our shoulders, and carried her across. Mr. Knickerbocker came with his oxen on the west side of the river, and carried them to their place.

In connection with this history, I will relate a little incident, showing the wildness of the country and the difficult transit to the capitol west. During the month of May, Mr. Townsend, of the city of New York, coming from Detroit to our place on horseback, wishing me to accompany him to his land, located on section number 22, where the city of Lansing now is. I objected somewhat, knowing the wildness of the country and the distance, but he insisted upon my going. I told him I could stand it if he could, so we agreed to start and he went for his horse. I told him that he must go on foot, as there were no bridges, and no roads except marked trees and a trail. He remonstrated and said, 'You don't know anything about your own country.'

Then taking from his pocket some papers, he says: 'Look here; there are two villages between here and my lands,' showing me a map of Williamston and Okemos, with hotels, mills and mill ponds. I told him they were paper villages, as there were no hotels or villages in that part. This rather stumped him, still he was very anxious to see if he was so badly deceived.

He had on a pair of heavy, high cloth shoes. I offered him a pair of thick cow hide boots, but he refused them, saving he had the shoes made on purpose for the trip. We put some meat and bread in our pockets -- all we could conveniently carry -- and took the line of the Detroit and Grand River road.

Arriving at Williamston, I asked him to show me the hotel and mills. He says, 'Is it possible that people will thus deceive a man?' there being nothing there but a little shanty on the north side of the river, and that desolate. We sat down and ate a little bread and meat, and then started for Okemos, found nothing there but the camp of old Okemos.

We went on to Grand River, where the Cedar empties into it, arriving there a little before sunset. We found an Indian camp in the forks of the rivers, and made our way across to it by the help of their canoe. The old squaw, with whom I was somewhat acquainted, got us some boiled corn and venison, and a good cup of tea, of which I partook heartily. Mr. T. only drank a little of his tea and ate his meat and bread.

The squaw spread down two large bear skins and a white blanket, and says, 'Shemokemen sleep there,' and we laid down. About midnight, the wolves began to howl. Mr. T. soon got up and began to shake me, saying, 'Don't you hear those terrible animals?'

I told him to lie down; they would not hurt us, but he walked the tent, and looked out often to see if the wolves were not in sight.

In the morning, we got some more corn, venison and tea. We found we were on Mr. T's land, it being the north half of section 22. By this time, he was not so very particular about lines; his land had nearly lost its value. We started for home, concluding to take the trail on the north side of Cedar river. We traveled until setsun; came to an Indian camp some three miles east of Williamston, and stayed over night with the Indians, and got home the next day about noon.

As we entered the house, Mr. T. threw off his coat and hat, and said, 'Mrs. Fowler, give us something to eat, for the Lord's sake, and I will go to bed.'

She did so, and we went to bed and slept till the next morning. He got up in the morning and says, 'Mr. Fowler, if you will give me government price for my land, on ten year's time, it's yours.'

His toes were out of his cloth shoes, and he was generally used up. He did not come to see his land again until the capitol was located at Lansing, then I think he sold it to Bush, Thomas and Lee for $9,000.

The years '37, '38, '39 were enthusiastic years for us. The state having been admitted into the Union in the winter of '36-'37, and an appropriation of land from the general government of 5,000 acres for the completion of the Detroit and Grand River and the Detroit and Saginaw roads, which the government was then at work upon, and the great system of internal iprovement instituted with the $5,000,000 loan, the Central and Southern railroads, and the notable Clinton and Kalamazoo canal. The line of said canal was surveyed through our township, which, together with the newcomers, gave us great hopes and anticipations.

At the arrival of newcomers, we all made it a point to make their acquaintance as soon as possible -- anxious to know all about their teams, wives and children, and their money, as well as their dogs; also their skill with the axe -- and some had to know which was the best man to at square hold or pulling stitches; also the grit and speed of their dogs.

Our ever respected and ever remembered Charles P. Bush had a greyhound called 'Soap,' which he brought with him. Mr. J.B. Fowler had a bull dog, raised by our friend Mr. Wells, now of Howell. He was brought from Geneseo, N.Y.

Soon after Mr. Bush came to town, he came over to Mr. Fowler's, and several of us were there. He had his dog with him. The dogs soon began to bristle and growl. All who had the pleasure of knowing Mr. Bush can realize how quick he was to notice the growl of a dog. He says to Mr. Fowler, 'You had better look a little to your dog; my hound is a fighter, and very sharp bitten.'

Mr. Fowler says, 'Never mind; he is not worth much; let them work.'

Soon the battle began, and the hound handled the bull dog with seeming ease. Mr. Bush remarked that it would be better to take them apart, as the hound had whipped two such bull dogs at one time in Ithaca; but Mr. Fowler said let them go; if his dog could not take care of himself he ought to be killed.

Soon the bull dog began to play his part, and got a dead hold on the hound, and closed his eyes. The result was that the hound soon began to cry for help. The bull dog was choked off and the hound went for hom, yelling lustily. Charles stood for a moment, then said, 'By jiminy, boys, this is the first time that hound was ever whipped.'

We must leave the pedigree of the bull dog with Dr. Wells.

Our township had so populated that during the winter of '38 we organized and called it Handy, after Calvin Handy, the first settler. Our town then numbered 14 voters and we had a blacksmith shop, the first in the town, kept by Elizer Tucker.

The first officers of the township were Ralph Fowler, for Supervisor; John B. Fowler and Wm. Benjamin, for Justices of the Peace; Howell H. Briggs and Dennis Conrad, for Commissioners; Richard P. Bush, for Town Clerk; Ruel Randall, for Constable and Collector.

The first wheat crop was threshed upon the ground and winnowed in the wind, in the fall of 1837. Mr. Calvin Handy started for mill and went to Ann Arbor or Dexter with his oxen and put in his bell, ax and auger, with quilts to sleep upon. He followed tracks and trails, and at night, there being no settlers upon the road he turned out his oxen and slept under the wagon. At the end of five days he came back and we all had a feast of Michigan wheat biscuits.

From '38 to '40 were years of hope and prosperity. Newcomers were slowly adding to our number. We done most of our logging by bees, logging from 10 to 20 acres per day. During the years of '41 and '42, the State Legislature made a small appropriation of lands from 5,000 acres for the completion of the roads above mentioned, and were expended by Mr. Mullet of Detroit, in opening the road from Fowlerville to Lansing for the first time. This gave us additional hopes and our town now numbered about 60 voters. Mr. Adams desiring to see the fulfillment of his predictions at this point came with his compass and surveyed 19 lots, locating them on three of the four corners of the said village, free of charge.

During the coming years things began to change somewhat; it began to appear certain that our hoped for canal would fail to be built. All kinds of produce went down, and no sale for nothing could be obtained, even the staple wheat.

For the purpose of giving you some idea of the condition of affairs from 1841 to 1847, I will now give you some of my experience. During the years 1844 and 1845, by John A. Tanner and others, besides myself, there was raised 4,500 bushels of wheat upon our farms. I bought a threasher and threshed the crop on the ground, cleaned and stored it the best we could, but there was no market for wheat. I had two pairs of horses and when ever I could get any loading back from Detroit, we went with wheat and stored with Wm. Newberry.

We finally had delivered 400 bushels of wheat, and in the fall they began to buy wheat at 44 cents in 'St. Clair' and 50 cents in 'Wildcat' money. No doubt many remember the many wildcat banks, so called. Finally sold for 44 cents per bushel in 'St. Clair' money. This bank had stood all the wildcat pressure and was considered the best bank in the state.

The night before I left the city, the St. Clair went down. I sold my money for 50 cents on theh dollar, thus netting me 22 cents per bushel in Detroit, with the expense yet to be deducted.

This state of things made rather blue times. The balance of crop we sold in Howell to Bush, Harman & Hewett, for 35 cents per bushel, delivered. You could not sell the best fat cow in town for live dollars in money.

During these years, everybody sold out that could and our town almost depopulated. Some left their lands, some went back to the state of New York, their former homes. Sixteen families went from our town to Norvavoo, Ill. and joined the Mormons. Our people had the fever and ague and other fecers and many of our friends died, and we were generally discouraged, still we had the Sharone, besides the bank of Shiawassee. This latter bank would have been one of the big guns of theh 100 'wildcat' banks had it not been that their bills were badly executed, with a lever attached to a big stamp; that their promises to pay could not be read nor theh representation of characters and its face distinguished -- they could not be determined between a monkey and a wildcat.

The bank of Kensington also made a mistake which very much lessened the value of her circulating medium; some of the village lots in the village of Kensington which were pledged as security for the bell holder lay along the bank of the Hurton river and it finally appeared that many of them through some mistake had been appraised, (and became a part of the bank funds) as high as 500 dollars each, some of them not having enough land upon them clear of water to build a house upon, consequently this bank with hundres of others failed. Still with this sad and depressing state and condition of things, our hopes and energies were somewhat revived, knowing the time had near arrived when the constitution of our state provided for the permanent location of the state capitol.

We could hardly expect that it would be taken from Detroit and placed in Lansing, yet he had learned to hope against hope. Feeling that justice and the great interest of the state would locate it at Lansing, knowing such an event would greatly add to the interest of our town, we put all our efforts to work for the accomplishment of said obtain.

Now in this connection, we will enumerate some of the first events and improvements connected with our township. The first steam saw mill that was built here was in the years '46 and '47, on Section 18, by Mr. Spafford and others. The first frame barn was built by Elijah Gaston, on Section No, 1. The first framed house was built by Richard P. Bush, on Section 12, in the year 1853.

The first log school house was built in 1839, on Section 11. The first frame school house was built in the years 1843 and 1844, on Section 11. Mr. Calvin Handy owned the first oxen and cow in the township. Mr. Martin W. Randall the first team of horses. Mr. Alonson Church the first hog. Mr. Peter Mitchell the first hens. Mr. Ruel Randall bought the first cat of Mrs. Walker, of Farmington, for 50 cents, and brought it to town.

Chas. Fowler was the first white child born in the township, in the year 1838, in the month of June. The first death was in the year 1838, it being Mrs. Ruel Randall. The first sermon was preached by the Rev. John Cosort, a Methodist, in the year 1839. The first saw mill built in Fowlerville was in the year 1849, by Mr. Russell Fuller, of the state of New York.

I donated as a site six acres of land where the mill now stands and boarded the hands gratuitously, and the people of the township scored and hewed the timber for the frame gratis. The man getting sick of the mill business, owing to a disappointment in marriage, sold the same to me and I completed it.

The first grist mill was built by Messrs. Fish & Palmerton, in the years 1855 and 1856, I donating the land for the same.

In the spring of 1849, Mr. O.B. Williams and myself went on the line of the Detroit and Grand River road and solicited subscription for opening said road from Fowlerville west. The improvements made by the small appropriations of lands nearly 10 years before, and the road being but little traveled, it had in many places grown up to brush and became impassable.

We got in dry goods and subscriptions some $600. There were extra town meetings called along the line of the road in the towns of Leroy, Wheatfield, Phelps and Meridian, and there was raised in each town from $200 to $250. The bridges were built over the two cedars and the streams west of the Meridian line. Mr. Williams commenced at the Meridian line with three hands and two pair of oxen and I commenced at Fowlerville with the same amount of help. We cleared the brush and bailed the wet and mirey places. We worked between two and three weeks and met near Williamston.

This was done in order to get the mail route changed from the north route to the line of the Grand River road, which first named route ran from Howell to Okemos, north of the north bend of the Cedar river leaving Fowlerville and Williamston off the line several miles. Mr. Seymour, of Lansing, myself and Geo. Curtis, of this place and K.L. of Howell, put on the line of the Grand River road a stage from Howell to Lansing -- out one day and back the next.

We left no man to go the old route for want of money or low prices. We run this stage over one year. It consisted of a pair of horses and a lumber wagon. After we had accomplished our boject and got a post office at Fowlerville and Williamston, we sold out and settled up. I kept a man and team on the road over one year; I lost one horse that cost me $125, and owed the company $10 -- I came off far the best of any one of the company.

This was during the year 1842 to 1847, and during those years, our town continued to settle very rapidly and we had from 80 to 100 voters.

The plank road from Lansing to Howell was in contemplation, there being one from Detroit to Howell already commenced. This road was commenced in Lansing in the year 1849 and completed between the years 1852 and 1853, this improvement created a great interest in our town. I took the job to furnish the plank from the Cedar river to Howell - 1 1/2 million feet. They were sawed by Samuel G. Palmerton, who then had bought the mill and still owns it. They were delivered on the road by Levi Munsell and Jeremiah Nichols, for 75 cents per thousand feed from Fowlerville to Howell.

The plat of Fowlerville then consisted of 19 lots as above mentioned. A store was built on the corner by myself where the store of Glenn & Co. now stands and forms the east part of the same. It was occupied by the plank co. for the years 1852 and 1853, then by the Hon. Josiah Turner, and was the first store in town.

Mr. Amos Adams having taken a seeming interest in this place, came on and added a new survey of a plat of 40 acres, and says to me, 'You give to any one who will build a respectable house, each alternate lot,' which was done. The plank road being finished at this time from Detroit to Lansing, it became one of the most busiest thoroughfares of the state, lined with teams from end to end.

With a four-horse coach each way twice a day, frequently carrying from 16 to 20 persons, our village began to grow and our town commenced to rapidly populate.

Mr. C.T. Powers and B.P. Vealy came from Brighton and built a part of the Reason House -- they frequently had from 15 to 20 teams, and sometimes more to stop all night and their collections usually ran in the mornings from $35 to $50.

This state of things was of short duraction, as the building of the Detroit and Milwaukee and the Jackson and Saginaw Rail Road shut the travel from our plank road as suddenly as the closing of a door.

Several years of dull times and hauling produce from 25 to 30 miles to Rail Road towns, together with our rebellion, all helped to injure our progress. Soon after the close of the rebellion commenced the contemplation and successful building of our present rail road and many of the towns along its line, as well as Handy, will remember their anxiety for its consummation when called upon to pay their taxes for several years to come; yet today our town is rapidly progressing and increasing in wealth and population.

Now in conclusion, my old friends and pioneers who with me have braved the wilds and hardships of this county, endured the perils and privations consequent in the settlement of a new country, let us remember that where we now stand rehearsing these incidents, half a century ago, no echo answered to the voice of civilized man, where for ages the majestic forest trees undisturbed had waved their heads and clasped their hands, where the merciless savage freely roamed and the wild beasts found a happy home.

However wonderful indeed now to behold on every hand the work of a civilized and enlightened community, to see the face of this fair county beautifully adorned with fine orchards, splended barns and magnificant homes. Now if we have opened the way for the consummation of such splendid results, may the fruits of our efforts be duly appreciated by those who have succeeded us and a priceless inheritance be ours in the land of the blest.

With the hope that our country may go on prospering and to progress, we leave it to those who shall continue the work we so thoroughly began, with the aid and blessing of that Divine Architect in whose hands the destinies of all things are dependent.

The End