FROM THE ARCHIVES: Indian trails

From the Archives | Sandy Main

This week features the second of a three-part series based on reminiscences by Edward J. Jones published in the Greenville Independent in 1911.

Jones by that time had moved to Denver after living in Greenville for more than 40 years. Some details of his early life were reported in the Howard City Record in 1892 when he was running for probate judge, and were reprinted in the Independent.

“The Republican candidate for judge of probate, Edward H. Jones, of Greenville, is one of Montcalm’s pioneers, having lived in the county for more than 30 years, and is a man who has become widely and favorably known during that period.”

The article notes Jones was born July 31, 1834, at Niagara, Ont. His parents moved to Genesee County, N.Y., in 1837 and then to Jefferson County, Wis., in 1849.

“Here for several years he worked on the farm during the summer, and in 1852, when he was 18 years of age, commenced to teach district schools in the winter. In 1855 he entered Lawrence University at Appleton, Wis., and after two years became a student of the University of Wisconsin, where he remained the greater part of three years. Although he completed studies enough to entitle him to a degree, he left before graduating. For several years he was engaged as superintendent in public schools in the state of Wisconsin.

“In 1862 he came to Montcalm County. He was appointed county surveyor in April 1862 and has since been re-elected four times to that office; he has also been three times elected justice of the peace, and for several years has been a member of the school board of the city of Greenville. He is a member of the Methodist Episcopal church and takes an active interest in church matters.”

In his 1911 reminiscences, after describing the roads around the greater Greenville area, seen in Part 1 of this series, Jones went on to describe the Indian trails around the area.

“But there were other roads in the vicinity of Greenville, which were often traveled, roads which had never been worked, but became better as the amount of travel upon them increased… I refer to the Indian trails.

“One trail led up the river, on the east side, striking the south line of the city not far from the old brick yard. From this point, running nearly parallel with the general course of the stream it crossed Washington street near the present locality of the Catholic church, then continuing in nearly a straight course to the top of the high bank, northeasterly from the P.M. (Pere Marquette) depot, thence northwesterly across the bend in the river, striking the stream again about half a mile above the north boundary of the city. From this last point, after many turns, sometimes near the river and sometimes at quite a distance from its nearest bank, it led to Turk Lake, where in early pioneer days, the Indians had one of their favorite camping grounds. The writer has seen near the outlet of this lake vast piles of antlered deer heads which the Indians had heaped up as evidences of a successful season’s hunt. This trail continued around the south side of Turk Lake and thence in a northeasterly direction to the Dickerson lakes in the townships of Sidney and Douglass.

“This ‘Up River Trail’ was crossed very near the Catholic church by the Saginaw and Pentwater trail, the most conspicuous and interesting of the north Michigan Indian roads. Nearly fifty years ago this trail was quite distinct nearly all the way from Greenville to the township of Bushnell. Beyond this I never followed it, but I learned from some of the oldest residents of Crystal and Ferris that it connected the waters of the Saginaw with streams flowing into Lake Michigan.

“This trail crossed Flat River a few rods above the Washington street bridge at the foot of the Baldwin rapids, thence following a sag between Washington and Cass streets, passing in its course about midway between the Watson house and barn, thence across the ground occupied by the Cole store. Crossing Lafayette street it passed near the north side of the Eureka block. The block stands on the trail. Thence it took in its course points near the M. E. church and the residence of the late David Eliot; continuing in the same general direction until it struck the river, the bank of which it followed to the site of the Indian village located about a quarter of a mile above the site of the old Merritt mill. Its course was then northwesterly to Bass Lake, in the township of Spencer, and thence in a course which was pretty direct, but far from being an air line, to the point where Pentwater now stands on the shore of Lake Michigan.

“That portion of this last trail, leading from Greenville to Wolverton Plains was not only the most direct but by far the best footpath leading north and west from Greenville. It was not strange, therefore, that it was the route taken by nearly all who were going or coming between the Underhill mills and Wolverton Plains to and from Greenville. During the lumber rafting season the tracks of the raftsman’s boots were much in evidence along this trail.

“From the Indian village mentioned above, another trail led to the Ziegenfuss lake. Some portions of this trail were recently very plain in the wood lot on the Henry Satterlee farm west of Greenville.

“The brush fence was a device by which the Indian secured his game. The last one of these fences built in Montcalm County extended from Town Line Lake east of Lakeview to a point near the present site of Six Lakes. I saw this fence when it had been but recently built. The Indian, noticing that deer began to travel south in the late summer and early autumn, built these fences, running from northeast to southwest, or from northwest to southeast. Deer, if undisturbed, will not jump over such fences, but will continue to travel along the north side of them, looking for an opening through which to pass. The Indian, who has cleared a path on the south side of the fence, from which he has carefully removed all sticks and leaves, moves stealthily forward to meet the deer which is following the fence. In this way the Indian takes a large portion of his venison in his autumn hunt.

“From what has been written above it will be apparent that traveling in the county of Montcalm in the early ’60s, over such roads as those herein described, was far from affording the traveler any great pleasure or real comfort. But poor roads contributed only a part of the discomforts of such a journey.”

Next time: Part 3, Discomforts of early travel

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