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History of Calhoun county, Michigan : a narrative account of its historical progress, its people, and its principle interests (Volume 1) online

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is said, her relation to her former master was that of closest kinship.
We shall call her the "Beautiful Girl," for so she is remembered by those
who saw her. When the planter died, his son refused to recognize the
Beautiful Girl's manumission. He chose to hold his half-sister as a

In Kentucky, at this time, there was a fearless man who bore the
peculiar name, Wright Maudlin. His parents and his neighbors were
slave holders. His sympathies were with the slaves. Secretly he co-
operated with the Underground Railroad as a spy, scout, guide and con-
ductor. This gratuitous employment was extremely hazardous. Had
his neighbors discovered his activities, they would have shot him like a
dog. But he defied danger: "No bullet," he said, "will ever pierce
Wright Maudlin's skin."

It was this man who rescued the Beautiful Girl from worse than death
and brought her north, by the underground route, to Battle Creek.
Here she remained at the home of Erastus Hussey for a few hours. Pur-
suit was hot upon the trail. Although the poor girl was upon the verge
of nervous exhaustion — pitiably frightened by the danger of recapture,
and worn by the terrible strain of enforced and continuous travel — the
stay could iiot be long. After a few hours of rest she was disguised
as "an old woman and bundled into a top-buggy. With Wright Maudlin
dressed as a farmer and acting as driver, the flight toward Canada was

Again and again, upon seeing portentous clouds of dust approaching
along the road, the two escaped to the privacy of some friendly wayside
farm house. Maudlin had passed that way before and knew where
safety lay. At last as the outskirts of Detroit were reached, four mounted
horseiuen were observed following at a gallop. The Beautiful Girl
was instantly in a frenzy of terror. ]\Iaudlin turned to her and said:
"I have a knife in my belt. If you make any outcry I shall kill you.
I shall not permit you "to fall into their hands alive. " This violent threat
had the desired effect. The girl became calm. In a moment the horse-
men rode up — two on each side of the carriage — and peered in. This
moment was the crucial test of the girl's nerves. She uttered no sound.
Her sunlionnet shaded her face. The riders saw only an indifferent
appearing female and an old farmer. The latter pointed across the
fields with his whip and cried out in a high key: "Me an' the old woman
is out land-lookin'. Do you know of any good farms for sale 'round
here?" The horsemen rode on without answering.

As the carriage lumbered along Woodward avenue, a man on the side-
walk raised his hat and wiped his forehead with a white handkerchief.
This motion did not escape the watchful eye of Wright Maudlin. He
understood the secret signal. It meant: "I am a friend. Follow me."
No word was spoken ; no look of recognition was exchanged. The horse
and carriage moved steadily along down the street toward the water
front. Here their silent guide entered a boat-house. A moment later
Wright Maudlin and the Beautiful Girl followed him. A row-boat and
two oarsmen were in waiting. The girl was passed into the boat; tlie
rowers gave way with a will : the skiff' with its precious freight shot


toward Canada. Hardly had mid-streain of iIh- Drtroit livcr Ihcii t;ainctl.
before a body of horsemen galloped u\) to the hoat-lKuisc door — tlireo
minutes too late. The Underground Railroad had salVly dclivcrtMl tlie
Beautiful Girl to freedom.

Thus the great work was carried on during a (luartn- ol' a riMilury.
When services were needed, they were donated. When provisions were
required, they were contributed. No books of account were kept ; there
was nothing to be repaid. Contributions amounting to fortunes went
into the cause. Thousands of negroes were passed through I\Iichigan
into Canada — how many we may never know. No record was ever
made. Indifferent alike to the blame or praise of their own day, and of
the future, the heroes of the Underground Railroad were content to
accept tlie joy of their good work as that work's complete reward.

Calhoun County Agricultuke

Bu J. H. Brown

Agriculture in its most primiti\-e form was practiced by the first and
early settlers in Calhoun count\'. Even those sturdy pioneers who came
here from the eastern states had to do their farming largely by means
of the axe, spade and grub hoe. In their eastern homes they enjoyed
what they called conveniences and even luxuries. They used oxen and
horses and could plow fields of moderate size without constantly meeting
stumps and grubs in the furrow. But cultural methods in the earl.v
days were extremely crude in this new county.

Very few of the old pioneers are now living. The present generation
has no adequate conception of the extreme hardships endured by the
majority of the first settlers in southern ilichigan. It is doubtful if
hundreds and thousands of the young men and women now enjoying
life on the improved farms of this county could make a living or even
keep body and soul together could they W translated back to the times
and conditions that existed lici-e \vlien the lirst real settlers came into
the wilderness.

And even the axe, spade and grub hoe were crude and more or less
awkward to handle compared with the fine tools of the present day.
The first farmers found plenty of need of the blacksmith and a few
of these old country shops are still left in the form of tumbled-down
shacks here and there by the road side. The first settlers generally were
farmers from necessity, no matter what their previous vocation had
been in York state or waj^ back east. The first thing needful was to
get something to eat. Some brought along sufficient to last for a spell
of greater or less duration, but the majority quickly looked for a place
to scratch dirt and put in a few seeds. And the much desired scratching
places or patches were nughty few and far between. In those days the
saying, "Root hog, or die," was literally adopted and practiced by
everybody who amounted to anj'thing.

There were some places in Calhoun county where the timber had
been burned and spots of more or less open prairie where settlers found
it less difficult to prepare a seed bed and grow a little wheat, potatoes


and a limited variety of ' ' garden sass. ' ' The oak openings were gener-
ally preferred as the soil was usually a heavy loam and easier to break
up. But it is a wonder today why so many pioneers selected the hilly,
stony, heavy timbered land in preference to the level openings that were
mostly heavy fertile soil and comparatively free from stone.

Some of the first settlers came here and started a home in the wilder-
ness, then went back east for their families. Some had wives and
gi'own children, while others left a young wife or sweetheart while they
got things started by clearing up a patch of ground on their claim and
then building a one-room log cabin. These cabins were quickly con-
structed. Trees of small size, from ten to fifteen inches in diameter,
were cut down near the site selected. They were straight and each
individual log extended the whole length or width of the cabin, except
where the doors and windows were located. There was usually but one
door and a small window made in a single opening in the center of the
front wall. Another door and window was provided on the back side
and frequently a window was set in each end. This was the prevailing
style or architecture and material provided for the first farm homes in
Calhoun county.

When the logs had been cut there were sometimes log rolling bees,
if any neighbors were within a few miles, and the plan of changing work
helped out wonderfully. The shanty raising was frequently less than a
day's work. The ends of the logs were notched enough so that the
cracks might be reduced to a minimum and these were usvially plastered
with "mud" enough to keep out the most of the rain and wind. The
roof was very crude, covered with "shakes," and the floor made up of
broad flat pieces of timber riven from the central portion of logs and
dressed down by a broad axe and adz. The puncheon floor and shake
roof was very common in the cabins of this county for years after the
first settlers came.

The biggest job the farmer had was to cut down trees enough to make
a clearing. It was hard work and many of the logs were rolled together
and burned as soon as they had seasoned out. There was no use for the
timber and it was destroyed on every farm and claim as fast as the trees
could be cut up and piled in big heaps with the smaller limbs and brush.
I can remember seeing hundreds of these piles burning in almost every
direction. As fast as a little clearing was made it was broken up with a
sort of home-made breaking plow, with possibly a straight coulter or
knife for cutting off the roots in line with the landside. The plowed
ground was very rough and it was slow and tedious work fitting any
sort of a seed bed with a yoke of oxen. The stumps, grubs and big
roots bothered all day long over nearly every square foot of ground, and
the strongest pioneer farmer was mighty glad when night came so he
could lie down and rest a few hours.

The first "harrows" were made of strips of hard wood bolted together
and iron teeth about one inch square were inserted. Both the A-shape
and square drags had to be made very stout to stand the catcliing of
roots and snags. The blacksmith had plenty of custom from far and
near and he became an expert in his line. With the crude tools, anvil


and forge of those ibiys farm tools wvix' coiistnicteil tliat aiT a woiuKt
to the present day blauksmith.

A little wheat, oats, corn, buckwheat and potatoes were grown on
almost every clearing, and a small garden patch near the house furnished
a good living for the pioneer farmer who was a hustler. Some of the
shiftless settlers would have starved had it not been for their wives or
neighbors. Very often the settler's wife did more work, in doors and
out, and was the mainstay of the family, no matter how inany babies
came into the home. In those early days it was a common thing to see
the women folks doing the hardest kind of work clearing up the land
and breaking up the soil. They took an active part in cultivating the
growing crops, this laborious work being done mostly with a crude and
heavy hoe or pick-axe.

The farmer's wife was frequently an adept in handling the scythe
and grain cradle. There were plenty of grub roots and stumps in the
way and it was very slow work getting over an acre of ground. On
nearly all the clearings there were yokes of oxen and women learned to
guide them around by using the "haw" and "gee" formula, aided with
a good stout whip-stalk, lash and cracker. In fact, it would have been
impossible for the pioneers to have succeeded in conquering the wilder-
ness of Calhoun county, had it not been for the "women folks."

For juany years there was little elTort to make money by growing
wheat to sell as the leading crop of the small farm clearings. It was
mighty hard work to get enough to eat sometimes oif from these small
patches, but the pioneer and his family stuck to the .job through thick
and thin until more and more acres of the claim was cleared of timber
and brush. A few had horses, but a single team and one yoke of oxen
made up the motive power on even the largest farms in some sections of
the county until the time of the Civil war.

The wagons were more or less substantially made ; quite heavy
gear, and narrow tires were the rule. The old territorial road through
Calhoun county and other main roads were almost impassable in places
in the spring and late fall. The low places across marshes and each
side of many small streams were sometimes filled in with logs and brush
before hauling on dirt and gravel. It was an almost daily occurrence for
one to get a wheel stuck in a deep mud hole, and the narrow tires made
such holes deeper. But even in those days some good roads were built
by the pioneers.

Each township later on was divided into road beats and put in
charge of a pathmaster. Road beds were made by plowing a backfurrow
from each side into the middle of the road. Prom one to a dozen teams
would plow all day on a mile or half-mile strip and the center of the
track would sometimes be left very high and narrow. Each team, wagon,
plow and man would count a day's work, and any present-day labor
iinion would have been pleased with the extremely short sessions of the
farmers each forenoon and afternoon on the job, with connnittee meetings
under a shade tree and in fence comers every half hour, more or less.

As the years passed by the farms gradually increased in number
in various sections of the county. ;\Iore ground was cleared and wheat
became the principal crop. Settlements and villages had grown rapidly


into towns and there was considerable demand for all farm products
for home consumption, with the exception of wheat. Long before the
Civil war it was a common daily occurrence in the late spring, during the
fall, and for weeks at a time, to see strings of teams and wagons loaded
with twenty to twenty-five bags of wheat waiting at the elevators to un-
load. The wheat buyer frequently was the biggest and most important
man in town. He stood on the corner and watched the loads coming
in on the main roads. Sometimes he had no competition and would
pay a little less than the wheat was worth in the market. When there
was a good demand for wheat and prices were going up, with two buyers
in competition, it was interesting to stand on the street and watch tho
loads come into town. Sometimes they would be met several blocks out
and two buyers would .jump on the same load. This kind of a per-
formance delighted the owner of the wheat, for he knew he would get a
little more money than he expected when he left home. Sometimes
the two buyers would agree on a price and hold it down for the day,
thus forming the first sort of a "trust" and stifling competition. The
farmer usually started for town with his load of wheat ^vithout even
knowing what the prevailing market jDrice for the day might be. After
delivering the first load he would sometimes contract for several more
at a stated price.

During ''war times" the farmers of Calhoun county had plenty of
excitement in selling wheat in Battle Creek, Marshall, Albion and other
points where there was a railroad station and elevator. Wheat took
big jumps in price and reached three dollars and over on certain days of
the greatest activity in this cereal. A telegram would sometimes reach
the wheat buyer after he had opened a bag, inspected a handful and
made a "bid" to the farmer. The farmer would have his eye opened
all the time and could generally tell how the price was going by watching
the buyer as he glanced over the telegram. Before that bag of wheat
was tied and laid down on the road the owner might be offered from five
to fifteen cents per bushel more than the first bid made when the bag
was lifted on end

Those were strenuous days for the farmers of this county and manj'
pages of this history might be devoted to the experiences of the pioneer
farmers and the street wheat buyers There were all sorts of tricks in
vogue or tried by a few on both sides. Short weights were claimed
by the farmer frequently, and occasionally the elevator man would find
a heavy stone rolling into the hopper. Later on farmers began buying
scales and then weighed the wheat at home. This was a most desi^ble
plan and soon stopped much of the complaint regarding shoi't weights.
And yet there were some farmers who became "tired" of weighing at
home and let the scales stand in the corner and rust. These were the
farmers who were always complaining "bout siithin or other" going
wrong with everybody but themselves.

There are many hundreds of acres of land in Calhoun county today
that are practically worthless for farming purposes, same as elsewhere
in Michigan. Swamps and "catholes" are plenty in places and they are
well distributed in the various townships. Others have been drained
in the years gone by and made available for growing certain crops.


Some of this kind of land is now the most valuable of all and is worth
one hundred dollars and more per acre in the market Measures have
recently been taken to drain a large section of low land in the northeast-
ern portion of the county that will ultimately increase the value of that
land in the neighborhood of nearly a million dollars.

It was a gradual change from wheat growing as the leading farm
product to that of dairying. Wonderful yields of wheat were grown
on the hundreds of fine farms in the county from before the war until
about 1880. The general plan on many farms before that time was to
"summer- fallow" at least one field. This was usually well covered with
a good growth of red clover, sown the year previous. Soon after planting
corn the plow would be started in the clover lot. Frequently it took
two teams, or one span of horses and a yoke of oxen, to haul the walk-
ing plow through heavy clay loam soil and turn under the rank growth
of clover. The knife coulter later gave way to the little plow or
".jointer." This was first bolted to the beam and cut a shallow and
narrow furrow in line with the landside of the plow. The effect was to
cut and turn the sod and clover over enough so tliat all trash disappeared
under the furrow as it laid over on, and against, the preceding one.

The summer-fallow was plowed before commencing the wheat harvest,
if possible. At odd spells the plowed ground was harrowed and culti-
vated alternately until seeding time in September. If the ground be-
came very weedy sheep were turned on, as nearly every farmer kept
some sheep in those days. It was during that time that the spring
tooth harrow appeared. The wood frame was of a V-shape and the
flat spring teeth were fastened on the under side with steel clamps and
short bolts. Before this implement appeared the summer-fallows were
cultivated with a tool made in Battle Creek and very popular in those
days. There were several kinds on the market and a nice clean fallow
depended on the thorough use of one of these tools. Some had rigid
legs and breakages were frequent on stony ground. At seeding time
the summer-fallow on many Calhoun county farms was the pride of the
owner. The ground would be thoroughly compacted underneath, while
the surface soil was very smooth and mellow. Not a weed could be
found and the drill hoes deposited the seed at just the right depth. There
would be plenty of moisture and the seed would germinate and show
green sprouts above the surface in less than a week, sometimes. The
tap root and laterals would all remain in the upper two inches of soil
and there would be no danger from the upheaval by frost the following
spring. Under other conditions of seed bed treatment the tap root
would go down several inches and he broken oi¥ by freezing and thawing
of the upper layer of soil.

After 1880 wheat growing began to decline in this section of the
countr.v. The yield kept diminishing from (various causes. Dairying
was beginning to increase rapidly on the farms around the larger towns
and cities and corn gradually becanw the leading crop in order to more
cheaply feed the increasing herds of cows. From that time to the
present the acreage and yield of corn has increased until now corn is
"king," instead of wheat, in southern Michigan.

As dairying increased it was found that the fai-incr wlio kcjit cows


must produce the largest possible quantity of the best quality in order
to maie the greatest profit. And the milk must be secured at the least
possible expense in production. Naturally, under these conditions, the
leading dairy farmers of the county found that the silo was a valuable
adjunct in securing the best and cheapest succulent feed the whole year
round. Fifteen years ago there were about a score or more silos in
the county, while now they can be counted by the scores in every neigh-
borhood and township.

At the present time there are not enough of many of the various
Mnds of farm products grown in Calhoun county to supply the demand at
home. Our products are more diversified now, and yet the farmers
must hustle, study, plan and secure greater yields from their farms to
furnish our own population enough to consume in the years to come.
The cities and villages are increasing in population and the country
residents are decreasing in number. Each acre of Calhoun county must
be made to produce more than ever before, and there are some farmers
who are accomplishing this mueh-to-be-desired result. Intensive farm-
ing is being studied and practiced in spots. Smaller farms are now
more in demand as help is difficult to secure and the farmer and his
family are doing more of the work with their own hands with the aid
of the latest and best modern farm machinery.

Wonderful changes have taken place all through the county during
the last fifty years. Fine farm houses and barns can be seen on the
great majority of the farms along every highway. Years ago trees were
planted along the roads and on the lawns, and it is a pleasure now to ride
in an automobile and view the landscape in every direction. Many of
the farm homes are finer than the average city residence and are supplied
with the various modern improvements that have been found to make the
country home convenient, highly enjoyable and even luxurious.

When the farmers ride into the city with their horses and carriages,
or automobiles, it is difficult to distinguish them from city business men
on the streets. Their wives and children dress as well and make fully an
good an appearance as the city lady. The sons and daughters on the
farms of Calhoun county are securing a better education in the schools
and colleges than the young people in the city. In the years to come the
farmer and his family will continue to rank well with the city resident
and both classes will intermingle in a social as well as a business waj' more
than ever before.

Roads and the Improvement of Roads

It is now almost one hundred years since General Cass as Governor
of the Territory began to interest himself and the people in the ques-
tion of roads in Michigan. That sagacious statesman saw that if the
interior was to be reached, settled and developed there must be some
semblance of roads. It is greatly to the credit of Governor Cass that
he succeded in accomplishing so much in this respect during his admin-

The first road surveyed through Calhoun County was ordered by the
legislative council of the Territory of iMiehigan on November 4, 1829.


The survey began ""in the Chicago road at or near the inii of Timothy S.
Sheldon in the township of Plymoutli in the village of Wayne, thenee
west on the most direct and eligible route through village of Ann Arbor,
by Samuel Clements, to Grand River where the St. Joseph trail crosses
the same and also through the Cohgwagiac, now spelled Goguac, located
in Battle Creek township, and Grand prairies, thence westerly on the
most eligible route to or near the Paw Paw to the mouth of the St.
Joseph River, Michigan." The Commissioners to establish the road
were Seeley Neale, of Panama, afterward of Jlarengo township, Calhoun
County, and Orrin White, of Ann Arbor and Jehial Enos, of Grand
Prairie of the Kalamazoo. In March, 1831, the legislative council ap-
proved the survey and established the same as a public highway.

In 1832 roads from Battle Creek to the mouth of the Kalamazoo
River and from Blissfield to IMarshall were laid out and established. The
Commissioners on the second survey were Isaac N. Swayne, Sidney
Ketchum and Isaac E. Crai-y.

In 1833 a road running from Jackson, then called Jaeksonburg, via
Spring Arbor, Homer. Tekonsha, Burlington and on through the south-
west part of the State was established. In the same year a road was laid
from ^larshall to Grand Rapids and one from Marshall to Coldwater
and one from Hillsdale, via Jonesville, to ]\Iarshall.

From the early surveys to the present time, every improvement upon
the Indian trail with its long detours over the line of least resistance:
every betterment of the blazed track of the surveyor which led by short-
est route across unbridged streams and almost impassable morasscp
every bridge put up ; every causeway built and every mile of corduroy
laid ; every valley raised ; every hill lowered ; in a word, every improve-

Online LibraryWashington GardnerHistory of Calhoun county, Michigan : a narrative account of its historical progress, its people, and its principle interests (Volume 1) → online text (page 15 of 74)