The Story of The Munroe Family's Arrival

This story is by Harriet Longyear, the sister of Marion Turner. It tells about how the family came to move to Mid-Michigan. It was published in the Mid-weekly State Republican, Lansing, Michigan in 1899. Also, we recommend "Saw Mills and Sleigh Bells: Stories of Mid-Michigan Settlers," Catalpa Publications, 1999, by Linda Peckham and Lori Ellen Heuft, aimed at elementary age students and available in area bookstores.

The story begins with Jesse Monroe, Harriet and Marion's Father Jesse Monroe, at the age of 21, left his native home, Pawlet, Vermont, to seek his fortune in the far west. He walked the whole distance, about 300 miles, till he reached the shores of Lake Erie. The rich lands, fine timber and bright waters of the lake had many attractions for the New England youth, who had no fears of toil and hardship, but believed the fortune he sought would come to him there sooner than from the sterile fields and rock hillsides of the Green mountains.

He soon entered volunteer service for the War of 1812, and was stationed at Black Rock for picket duty. He witnessed the naval battle in which the brig Adams and the schooner Caledonia were captured by the English, but recovered by our forces. In 1815 he purchased a farm of 125 acres, five miles east of Buffalo and five miles west of Cayuga Creek, on the south of Batavia Road.

February 5, 1816, he married Harriet Parker of Sandgate, Vermont. In March he returned to his farm, leaving his bride with her parents. He took with him two yoke of oxen. He cleared a part of his land and built a log house 22 by 32 feet. When this was finished be brought his young wife, then only 17 years of age, and together they established a home in this wild woodland. No small change was this from the house of comfort, culture and refinement she had left. But these pioneers brought with them brave hearts, full of courage and hope; and a few years of hardy toil saw their hopes changed to fruition and the "wilderness blossomed as the rose."

Their home soon became the stopping place for travelers, known as the "Half-way House," and added not a little to the increase of the growing family. A large commodious farm house replaced the log house, while spacious barns were filled, and numerous out-buildings gave the place the appearance of a lively little village. Nor was the house empty and silent, for six sons and daughters filled it with the music of merry voices.

Twenty years passed by. The forest gave place to cultivated farms and they found themselves surrounded by a foreign population and felt it no longer a desirable place to bring up their children, so the old home was sold and the husband and father again turned his face to the setting sun, and once more sought a new home in the "Far West." He was absent three months. Still undaunted by toil and hardship, as in youth, he had purchased a farm in the heart of the Michigan forest. He then returned for his family and in October, 1836, they crossed Lake Erie in the Steamer Robert Fulton.

The Family Moves to Michigan

He had hired three men to work for him, two of whom drove the horses, oxen and wagons through Canada. The family landed at Little, old, black Detroit, with which they were thoroughly disgusted, as they compared it to Buffalo.

Here they were obliged to remain a week, waiting the arrival of the little caravan, and searching for a large box of clothing which by some mistake had been separated from the household goods and sent to another warehouse. After a week the search was abandoned and they resumed their journey. The eldest son and four of the daughters (of whom the writer was one) were seated in the light buffalo wagon, one of the elder sisters carrying in her arms the little one of 3 years, while the mother, with her infant boy and one little girl were provided for in one of the large wagons. The heavy fall rains had rendered the roads nearly impassable, the wagons often sinking in mud over the hubs.

There were no bridges and we had to ford the swollen streams. The night of the first day found us but nine miles from the point we had left at an early hour of the morning. But nature gave some compensation for even such trials, for the autumn days were beautifully bright, the skies were the softest blue, with flecks of fleecy clouds. The trees were gorgeous with scarlet, crimson, and gold, while the earth was carpeted with mossy green and the russet of fallen leaves. We had many hardships before we reached the end of that long journey. But while we have not time nor space to recount many of these, we cannot fail to mention kindness and hospitality of the people all along the way. No matter how small or how poor the accommodations, they counted it no sacrifice to share their very best with the stranger who called at their door.

One night we were entertained at a log house where we witnessed a novel method of building a fire. A stone fireplace extended nearly across the end of the building; large stones were placed against the jambs and served as andirons. Great logs of wood were drawn up to the door. A yoke of oxen were then driven to the other side of the house; the doors being opposite, a log chain was fastened to the neck yoke between the oxen, then passing though the house was attached to one of the logs; the oxen were driven a short distance and the log thus drawn into the house. It was then rolled to the fireplace with iron crowbars. This process was continued until the back-log, fore-log and back-stick were in position; then the smaller material was filled in, and soon the great fire was leaping, blazing, and roaring up through the wide mouth of the stick chimney. The house was filled with a ruddy glow which the brightest coal stoves of the present day cannot equal for light and good cheer.

To those who have not known pioneer life, the stick chimney may seem almost an impossibility. Brick and lime were not to be had in a new country, but man's ingenuity never fails him, and in this instance all needed material was ready at his hand. Selecting small branches of suitable length, the ends were crossed so as to form square corners as in laying logs for the house. Our, though heavy, clay that has made farming so hard in many parts of Michigan here found a sphere of usefulness. The sticks were laid up with this clay as we now lay bricks with mortar. Sometimes the chimney rested on the ground and sometimes the stone fireplace protruded beyond the other wall of the house and the chimney rested on this. When all was completed a heavy coat of clay was spread over the inside, making it fireproof.

At the close of the day of travel we reached the log cabin of Mr. Laing on the present site of Laingsburg. The house had no floor but the beaten ground. A new house was in process of building and the men and boys of both families took possession of this for the night, while beds were spread on earth floor of the first for the women and children. Mrs. Laing, fearing the mother with her baby could not rest, with typical pioneer hospitality, gave up her own bed, climbed the ladder and laid down under the low roof.

The men and boys, having no beds, were unable to sleep and amused themselves by howling like a pack of hungry wolves. The next morning Mr. Laing apologized, saying, with a twinkle in his eyes, "You must excuse my men; I have fed them wolf meat so long they can't help howling."

Our next stop was with Captain Scott, who had built a large double log house in which to entertain travelers, where now stands the hotel of DeWitt. Here we passed the night, and the next morning removed to Mr. Ferguson's, one mile distant, where arrangements were made for women and children to remain till suitable arrangements could be made in the new home. The men went on to what is now called Eagle. They were obliged to cut a road through seven miles of forest before reaching there with the teams. The site selected for the house was an elevation sloping gently down to the brook which wound its way through all the farm, and whose clear, pure waters should supply not only the needs of the family, but to the adjoining lands.

Settling in Eagle, The First Year

A claim was soon made and the building commenced. The sound of the ax and falling timbers drew the attention of the nearest neighbor, Mr. Shoff, (whose home was one mile to the west), while looking for his cattle seeking food in the forest. He came at once to see what it could mean and was surprised and pleased to find a house going up so near by; then noticing the unusual dimensions, 18x22 feet, he exclaimed, "Why, man, are you going to keep a tavern?" The answer was: "Wait till you see my family, and you will not think this is too large." In eight days the house was enclosed, covered, and a floor laid, and the family started out to complete the journey home.

At Anthony Niles' we made our last stop. Here we found Mr. and Mrs. Beers, newcomers like ourselves. The kindness and attention of Mrs. Beers to the tired little ones soon won for her a warm place in our hearts, and the acquaintances thus begun ripened into lifelong friendship.

There is a bond of sympathy between strangers in a strange land which cannot be realized or fully understood by the dwellers in our crowded cities. The journey which could now be accomplished in a few hours had occupied four weeks, and when at last we reached home we were weary enough to desire rest. But the time to rest had not yet come. There was work for all our busy hands to make things comfortable for the winter which was fast approaching.

Our nearest neighbor on the east was Mr. Niles, seven miles away, and on the west, with the exception of Mr. Shoff, already mentioned, was at Portland, five miles distant. North and south of us stretched the unbroken forest. Only a few weeks had passed when the road commissioners cam through blazing the trees for the State Road from Detroit, passing in front of our house. This was a great joy to us all, as it seemed to open the way out into the busy world beyond.

At Portland, Mr. Bogue kept a small variety store, but there was not a mill nearer than Dexter, and Ann Arbor for supplies. Potatoes, $1.50 per bushel; flour, $9 per barrel; port, $20 per barrel; and we paid $20 for two quarters of beef.

Friendly Indians often visited us and we were always glad to exchange venison and wild game for anything we had to give them. Father spent nearly the whole winter in journeys to Detroit, Dexter, and Ann Arbor, to procure supplies. Our family consisted that year of 12 people, and grain for the horses had to be brought from a distance. The journey to Detroit and return occupied two weeks, and by the time he reached home the last load was exhausted, and next morning found him on the road again. It was now midwinter, and the clothing in the lost box was greatly needed, when to the glad surprise of all, father returned from Detroit, bring it with him. He had found it in a warehouse he had before failed to examine.

The wood choppers were bush-clearing the land and timber, of great value today, was rolled upon the log-heaps and burned to get it out of the way. Birdseye maple, walnut, butternut, curly maple, cherry and many another trees of a century's growth, having no market value where there were no saw mills, were sacrificed in the flames, and the ashes served only to enrich the earth. By early spring, sufficient land was cleared to begin planting and sowing grain, and the hope of the coming harvest brightened the prospect for the future years.

Those were the days of toil in the home as well as in the fields, but they were not without their pleasures, which were enjoyed with a zest unappreciated by those who know not the blessings of labor. There were singing schools, sleigh rides, and parties to which young people were invited. These young people for the most part came from the east, bringing with them the culture, refinement and education which made their society agreeable to all. There were few musical instruments, but nearly all were good singers, and were not afraid to hear their own voices but shared happily in songs and chorus. There were no churches, but Sabbath afternoon was usually spent in musical entertainment. The fist school in this neighborhood was in the home of Mr. Shoff, and taught by his son Savillian. The next summer a small log school-house was build half way between Mr. Shoff's and our house, and my sister Marian, now Mrs. Turner, taught the summer school.

My father was once asked why he left a good home in the east for the forests of the west, with so much of hardship and toil as must come into a pioneer's life. He replied: "I wanted to keep my children together, and there was no room for so many there. I have accomplished what I undertook. My four sons are all settled here adjoining the old farm, and my five daughters are not more than 17 miles away." Few of us can lay down the burden of life feeling that we have reached the goal at which we aimed.