FROM THE ARCHIVES: Discomforts of early travel

From the Archives | Sandy Main

Reminiscences of the Greenville area as it was in 1862 by Edward H. Jones, one of the early pioneers of Greenville, continue this week in the last of a three-part series.

After living in Greenville for more than 40 years, Jones moved to Denver in 1905, from where he occasionally wrote to the Greenville Independent. One of the last was in 1917, when he was 82.

“I am feeling quite well,” he wrote. “Have seen considerable of the ‘wild and woolly west’ since I left Greenville, having spent several months in Wyoming. Here among the Medicine Bow mountains my eye has ranged over mountain and plains described in Owen Wister’s tale, ‘The Virginian,’ and I have visited old Fort Sanders, where Sherman and Sheridan met and planned some of their campaigns in the Indian wars.”

Jones died in 1921 at the age of 87. He was survived by his wife and two sons, William and Edward. He was preceded in death by his daughter, Edith.

The Independent in reporting Jones’ death said, “From an early day he was thoroughly identified with the business, social, and religious life of this community and the many friends here who recall his genial, kindly presence, regret his passing and extend sympathy to those near and dear to him, who still survive him.”

In his reminiscences in 1911 Jones described the roads and the Indian trails around Greenville and southwest Montcalm County, as seen in the first two parts of this series. He went on to say:

“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.
“The little mosquito got in his work and the little gnat which passes through the mosquito netting as easily as a cow can go through an open gate, just settled down upon you in clouds, each applying to your body his little flaming torch burning with Satanic fire. No clothing that has ever been devised can protect one from this torment.

“If in those days you wished to go to any point north of Greenville the best thing you could do was to go on foot; if, however, you had plenty of time or had more baggage than you could carry, you might go to Seaman’s livery stable in Greenville (the only one in Montcalm county), and for the sum of $5 per day charter the only wheeled vehicle of the establishment, an old buckboard with old Jim and Charley as the propelling power. As the ‘propellers’ were not a reliable span of ponies, the man who drove them often came to grief. The proprietor of this team seemed to understand their peculiarities and when ‘Old Jim’ showed an undue degree of coltishness the proprietor would announce in a loud voice that ‘Old Jim’ is going to run away and at the same breath order or advise all to ‘jump!’ Sometimes the driver was on the ground before the order was given and the lines were always disposed of so that he, the driver, was in no danger of being dragged under the buckboard. It was not agreeable for ladies to make so rapid a descent from the carriage, but the lookers-on saw a great resemblance, in those days of hoop skirts, between the lady making the jump for life and an aeronaut making his descent from a balloon in a parachute. As the livery stable was located but a few blocks from the hotel, where the rig was brought, the runaway was short, for Jim and Charley always brought up at their stable door.

“I was informed by women who had lived several years in the north part of the county that they had not been out of the woods since taking up their residence in the county. They described some of their unpleasant experiences on the road to their pioneer homes and were of the opinion that it would be some years before they would be able to obtain any real enjoyment in a trip to the settlements. But there were some people, even in those days, who were not backward in attempting to journey to any place in the county, far or near, to which a blazed track led.

“I was reminded of one of this class of sturdy men very often, not only in Montcalm county but in the counties of Mecosta and Isabella. In the latter county he was remembered as the one who brought comfort and aid to the sufferers during the famine days in 1859. In Mecosta county he was known as the Christian minister who had visited them in sickness and had given their dead a Christian burial. I need hardly mention the name of this good man who performed his labors, not for money, but for the love he bore to God and his fellow men. So often did I hear of the good deeds of Charles Spooner that I loved him before I had ever seen him.

“Among others whom I used to meet upon these trails and woods roads was Aaron G. Stockholm, who for several years was a deputy collector of internal revenue. I could not even guess what called a collector of the revenue tax into territory so thinly settled and where all seemed unable to pay more than their road tax; but I knew that the collector knew his business, and that he would leave no iota of his duty unperformed.

“Some years ago I prepared for the State Historical society of Michigan a map of the various Indian trails in your county. At that time l consulted with several of the oldest residents of Greenville and vicinity, among whom were Hiram Rossman, Lyman H. Pratt and William Morgan late of the township of Evergreen. In addition to what I had seen myself and what I learned from these pioneers I had some tracings made by F.H. French in the early days. Over some of these last I passed several times and found that they were laid down with a considerable degree of accuracy. But there were among the trails which I examined or among those reported to me none which seemed anything near as old as the one leading from Saginaw to Pentwater.”

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