The following is a copy of an article that was given to me (Ruth Mills), by one of my 3rd cousins. I believe it probably appeared in the Armada Times around 1928 or so (if you do the math), but I haven't been able to find the original article yet. I've made some notes at the end, as the man it quotes (who is a distant relative of mine) appears to be wrong about his own date of birth! But more on that later...

Impressions and Observations of the Journal Man

The following article was written by Fred LOCKLEY, in the Portland (Oregon) Journal, from a conversation with a man who at one time was either a resident of Armada or was acquainted with people living here, and some of the names will no doubt be familiar to some of the older inhabitants here. This was handed to us by Miss Elizabeth POMEROY.

Ten to twelve years ago my wife bought from an old man on Mount Tabor a bread board he had made. This old gentleman’s name was Lemuel Cheney Skellenger. A few days ago I met my old-time acquaintance, Mr. Skellenger, who seemed not to be a day older than when I had last seen him, ten years ago. I said to him “How old are you Mr. Skellenger?” He said, “I was 31 years old when I enlisted in the First Michigan Volunteer Cavalry in 1861.” “But that makes you 97 years old,” I said. “You have it right,” he answered, “I was born on December 8, 1830, in Ontario County, New York. Yes, I keep my room pretty neat. I am a good housekeeper. My wood-working tools are these on the table. I have not yet put them away. I make all sorts of handy kitchen contrivances out of oak wood, which I sell to housewives. Sometimes I think I am getting almost too old to work, but I don ’t like to be idle, and I have worked hard all my life.

“My father, William Skellenger, was born in Scotland. He was a Congregational minister. My mother’s maiden name was Mary Ann Bannister. There were eight children of us. I am the only one now living. In 1835 we went on a canal boat from our home in New York to Buffalo, on Lake Erie to Detroit. The distance was over 350 miles, and I remember the trip distinctly. I was much interested in the horses plodding along on the towpath, pulling the boat. There were a large number of locks. One part of this trip I remember with particular vividness was a violent storm. Part of the towpath caved off into the canal and the horses that were pulling our boat slid into the canal. I was afraid the horses would be drowned, but they managed to scramble up on the bank. We took the canal boat at Slab City, N.Y., and started for Macomb County, Michigan, on Lake St. Clair. At that time Michigan was the frontier, and the last part of our journey father had to cut a road through the timber. My mother’s father and mother, Timothy and Susan Bannister, lived on the place next to our’s. I was about six years old when I went to live with them. I had not been there long when mother died. My father married a widow with five daughters and one son. This widow’s son, Watson Lyons, served as county clerk of Macomb County for 20 years.

“When I was 16 years old – this would be about 1846 – I joined Wolcott’s circus. I had ridden ever since I was ten years old. I have always loved horses, and I understand them. My work in the circus was that of tumbler and bareback rider. The first winter I was with them we wintered at Alexandria, VA. We had six large wagons, each of which was pulled by a six-horse team. There were about 20 of us employed by the circus. We had a cage of monkeys, two hyenas, two lions, some camels, and other animals. In those days there always seemed to be a feud between the town toughs and the circus men. “Whistling Jack,” while not the main guy in our circus, was one who always led us in our fights when the town roughs attacked us. He was a powerful man, and he was almost as good with his fists as he was with a tent stake. Whenever he called out the signal every one of us answered the call, and we used to have some lively rough and tumble fights. We charged 50 cents admission to the circus. Reserved seats were 75 cents. A number of pickpockets, dead beats, and card sharps followed our circus. We of the circus despised them, but there was no way to get shut of them.

“Living in those days was cheap. Whiskey was only 3 cents a glass. Good cigars were two for a nickle (sic). Eggs were 5 cents a dozen, chickens 10 cents each, butter 10 cents a pound, Porterhouse or sirloin steak was 10 cents a pound and the butcher would always give you all the liver you wanted without charge. A beef shank cost a nickel.

“Before I enlisted I was going with the daughter of the Rev. Mr. Shearer. He was a Canuck and pretty cranky. One night I treed a ‘coon on the line between his place and my grandmother’s. I went to his house and asked him if he minded if I cut down the tree. At first he consented, and then changed his mind. He started to follow me to see that I didn’t cut the tree down, but I put out my lantern. A ditch had been dug right near where the two places joined. I picked up a stake and waited till he came along the path and then put it between his feet and tripped him. He fell head first down into the ditch. I reached down, grabbed him and pulled him out and said, ‘It’s a lucky thing for you I were here, or you would have drowned.’ He was so grateful that he told me I could cut the tree down and get the ‘coon. He said, ‘I want to thank you, Lemuel, for pulling me out of the ditch.’

“When the Civil War broke out I enlisted in the First Michigan volunteer cavalry. The Rev. Mr. Shearer’s daughter Adeline and I were engaged. She promised to wait for me till the war was over, providing I wasn’t killed. She wrote to me off and on for a spell, and then I didn’t get any more letters, and the next think I heard was she was married to one of the slackers that stayed at home. I felt pretty bad about it for awhile, but after a while I got over it. About all I remember of the incident now is that I wrote her a poem that went something like this:

Up in Armada when I left home,
Three years for to wander, a soldier to roam,
While I was gone, the one that to me was most dear
Was married to Everett, her name it was Shearer.
So up on the “Wildcat” of course she must go,
If she’d been true to me, she would not have been served so.
The varmints and owls will her greatly annoy,
Because she went and jilted her own soldier boy.

“I met her after I got home from the war, and she told me she wanted to wait for me, but things were so unpleasant at her house and the folks pestered her so to get married that she finally gave in.

[Here I’m missing part of the article]

“…years after the war, and then I came out West. I worked in the water department at Seattle for six years. About 30 years ago I came to Portland. I farmed a place near Sycamore for a while and later one near Sherwood. Still later I had a farm up Harney Hill in Clark County, not far from Vancouver. For about six years I worked on Mount Tabor.”

Sounds great, doesn't it? He's so clear about his dates...when he was born, how old he was in certain years...etc. The problem is, none of it agrees with any other sources I have.

I believe Lemuel Skellenger was only *87* when he gave this interview. First, the family Bible records that Lemuel's parents, Mary Ann Bannister and William Skellenger, were not married until 1832. Mary Ann was born in 1816, and even back then 14 years old would be a bit young for marriage...but 16 wouldn't. Second, Lemuel states that his mother died when he was still quite young...somewhat older than 6. Well, Mary Ann died in early 1849 (this from her tombstone), when Lemuel would have just turned 8. Finally, several census records indicate that Lemuel was born around 1840. Several of the older children were born in Michigan, then a few in New York (including Lemuel), then the rest in Michigan.

What I think happened is this: Mary Ann and William were married in 1832 in NY and migrated to Michigan and had several children. Then, for some reason the family moved back to NY for a short period of time. Around 1845, they moved *back* to Michigan, and it is *this* journey that Lemuel remembers...and somehow conflated it with the earlier journey, probably confusing it with accounts he heard of the original journey.

Also, I've never found any evidence that William Skellenger was either Scottish or a Congregational fact that conflicts with research done by other family members and the records in Ontario Co., NY.

So, the moral to the story (and a lesson I've learned) is...never assume! Even if your source seems unimpeachable, double check your facts with other sources...and always be open to new interpretations of the data.

However, I still think this is a wonderful source for the details of life in the 19th century, particularly what the journey from NY to Michigan was like.

This article was contributed by Ruth E. Mills. I would like to thank her for her contribution. We no longer have an email contact for her.

If you have any questions about Macomb Genealogy and would like to post your Macomb family information please contact me, Margaret Fallone

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