A Brief Account of the Pioneer Settlement
of a part of Antrim County

By Allison Pinney

I dedicate this record in kind remembrance of my parents Mr. and Mrs. Curtis S. Pinney.

Top L to R Howard Curtis Pinney(Son), Herman Albert Pinney(Son), Allison Beebe Pinney(Son) Bottom L to R Laura Mabel Pinney(Daughter), Marian Elizabeth (Beebe) inney(Mother)( w/as yet to be identified infant) and Curtis Sherwood Pinney(Father) w/Hubert Smith Pinney(Son). Of note is Curtis's Civil war experience where he was one of 4 brothers from various NY regiments. Curtis was with the NY 154th and fought at Bull Run, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.

A puff of smoke on the horizon and all was astir at the railroad station at Walton Junction one day in the spring of 1874.

Several pioneer settlers were anxious to go farther north to their respective homestead claims, but had been detained at the station for several hours, because of no means of transportation.

They stood by the track and flagged the construction train of the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad. The train stopped but the conductor said he had no orders to take on passengers. So the station agent telegraphed to Grand Rapids for orders. A reply came for the train crew to take people on board and let them off at any pine stump they wished to stop at.

The United States Goverment had granted to the railroad company every other section of land on each side of the right-of-way, and for a certain distance, in land, each side of the right-of-way as an incentive for the company to build a railroad, which proved in later years to be a great means of transportation for both passengers and freight.

Most of the land granted to the railroad company was purchased by David Ward of Pontiac, who built the Detroit and Charlevoix railroad which extended from Frederic to East Jordon, as an, and quote, "Insurance for his valuable pine timber."

At one time Mr. Ward owned 96,000 acres of hardwood timber in the northern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan.

During the summer of 1873 my father had located a homestead of 160 acres of land; it being the Northeast 1/4 of Section 34 of Jordan Township of Antrim County, Mich.

He had done some chopping down of some of the big trees in preparation to clearing a place on which to build a log house the next spring. The only way he had of clearing the land was by chopping the trees so they would fall across each other, then build a fire on them, and continue to do so until the logs could be handspiked around together so as to finish burning them. Often several trees could be fallen in winrows and burned.

At first, I am sure, my father as well as other settlers chopped the trees that were about one foot through into the right length to use in building a house.

My father and mother, my two brothers, Herman and Howard seven and five years of age; my sister Mabel about three years old, also Grandmother Pinney, constituted the family for whom my parents were to carve and maintain a home in the woods of Antrim County.

Adjoining the homestead on the south side, a man by the name of Day had previously cleared a small place, about one acre of land and built a cabin near a small stream of spring water; but was not occuping the cabin and he told my father he could live in it until he could build his house. It was a great help, even though it was primitive in construction. There was an opening for a door, but no door. I heard mother say that at night she would place a trunk up to the opening, then move a dropleaf table over the trunk, then pile boxes or chair on top of the table. The ground was the floor.

During the summer of 1874 several settlers moved onto their claims, so they would help each other roll up logs in building their houses. Cedar or pine blocks of wood 16-20 inches long were split into shingles, or shakes, as the men called them were used in place of sawed shingles used in later years.

My father used a big blade 12 or 14 inches long with an up-right handle on one end. The lower edge of the blade was sharp, and the top of the blade was about 1/2 inch thick. The sharp edge could be held on the block of wood and the top part pounded and that way the shakes could be split. They were about 1/2 inch thick and when shaved fairly smooth with a draw shave, they made a good roof for their log buildings. The big blade was called a froe. There were no round steel nails in those days. Square cut nails from wrought iron were used.

My people got off the train about four miles north of the present town of Alba. The location was known as Simons. The homestead was about five and one half miles west. A trail or woods road connected the two locations. Settlers crossed the river on a pole bridge a few miles down the river from Dead Mans Hill.

The household goods, which were not many were moved in some way, I never heard how, to the west side of the river and covered with large slabs of bark for a day or two, until father was fortunate in hiring a man who lived between the location of Mancelona and Kalkaska to move the goods with his horse team to where they stayed while the house was being built. (My brother Hubert thinks the goods were covered at Simons a short time with bark.)

It took courage and determination back of days and months of hard manual labor to establish a home in the woods during those early days.

The pioneer settlers were young married people who were not thinking of automobiles, radios, television, and dozens of other things that we now enjoy and sometimes puzzle our minds. So in general it was pretty much hard work with very little play or amusement. A pioneer woman, Mrs. Benton Caukin, not many years ago, told me that one day in the fall of 1874, that she and my people were visiting in front of the log cabin which my people occupied. My father said, "I am going out here and call as loud as I can." And as a surprise to all of them, some land looker answered him. The neighbor lady said father looked very much surprised. He must have been prompted with a notion to dispel the quietness of a beautiful autumn day, when all nature seemed to be resting from the growth and activities of the summer.

I think that nearly three years of service during the Civil War, as one of the soldiers of General Sherman's army that marched from Atlanta to the Sea, fortified him with courage and stick-to-itivness in building a home in the north woods. Many of the early settlers stayed only a few years, then sold their land to David Ward. Perhaps they were wise in doing so.

The log house built was 16 x 24 ft., with two floors and five rooms, when finished was a comfortable home.

The early settlers were quite equally constituted financially. I can remember when I, a little boy, went to a neighbors, I noticed the upstairs floor consisted of poles laid quite close together and large pieces of bark laid on the poles. Bark peeled from large trees, elm or basswood, is thick and strong. Possibly two thicknesses of bark was used.

I know of only one frame house built in the neighborhood during those early days. The house still stands, built by Mr. Benton Caukin, and is occupied summers. The lumber was sawed at a mill in Wilson Township, Antrim Co.

During the first few years that my parents lived on the homestead some things occured that I wish to relate. One day my father sat on the pole bridge at the river and was eating his lunch. Two otters came swimming down the river and went under the bridge. I record this incident because of his early experience in traveling through the woods, and because of the interest I took, as a boy, in the account. At that particular time father was either on his way to or from the railroad. It is quite evident that during the summer of 1873, father did some chopping of timber on the claim of land so he went back and forth to the railroad.

Between the claim and the railroad there was only a trail, perhaps a little better than a blazed trail which means trees were blazed, the bark was chopped off in spots so one could go the right direction.

One afternoon father was on his way to the railroad. I always thought it was a cloudy afternoon and somewhere in the heart of the big woods he lost sight of the trail and was unable to find it again. One lost in the woods nearly always will walk in circles, and very often think they are going in the opposite direction from which they are. It was getting late when he realized that he could not find the trait. Next to hopeless he called as loud as he could. To his surprise and joy someone answered him. What a comfort what a blessing that voice in the woods must have been to him. As father had carried an army musket between two and three years during the war of the rebellion he seemed to have no interest in guns. He did not bring any gun or weapon except his axe. Lost in the big woods, yet he was provided for. Two land lookers camping for the night proved to be like the good Samaritan and shared with him their campfire and company at least. The next morning the path through the woods was found. My father asked the men if there was a farm or settlement near. They said not that they knew of. He told them that while he was trying to find the path he saw a big black dog. (I imagine at quite a distance.) They told him it probably was a bear.

In writing an account of the early settlers, and especially of their activities we must not forget to emphasize the everyday tasks and hard work that they had to engage in. Next thing after building a log house was clearing land of the timber in order to be able to plant a few potatoes and some corn, along with a small garden which altogether was a good help toward supplying food. Fortunately the ground being new was productive.

My father kept chopping the big trees, cutting the wood for use in the home. It took many cords during the long, cold winters.

Due to the fact that the house was surrounded by woods the snow did not drift, but piled up where it fell. The windowsill was four feet from the ground and my people said that one winter the snow was even with the windowsill so there was no way of accomplishing much of anything while the snow was on the ground.

The trees that we see now are small compared to the virgin timber. Many of the trees were between two and three feet through, so it required a lot of hard chopping in falling them, and that was only part of the task. They had to be burned which was slow with a lot of work attached to it.

At haying and harvest time father, and I presume others of the neighborhood went to southern Michigan and worked, and at one time worked in a lumber camp near the Manistee River for awhile, but the company failed in business so he only got an axe and a pair of leather boots for pay.

Mr. L. C. Handy kept a store in a log building at the present location of Mancelona. Father naturally traded there. Mr. Handy hired father to chop the timber on one acre of land where Mr. Wistler's hardware store, the bank, drugstore and other buildings are now located. The home was located twelve miles from Mancelona. Imagine, yes, I am sure a 25 lb. sack of flour was pretty heavy before he arrived home with it. In later years since I can remember I never heard father complain of the heavy loads he had to carry, or the hard work he did during those early days.

Hard work and little pay seemed to have been the order of the day.

About the third summer after my people moved into the woods, many families had located and established their homes. They proved to be good people who worked hard to build their homes. Had my parents been about the only settlers with so little to start building a home in the vicinity I probably would have hesitated to write this account, but I am sure they averaged well with the neighbors.

I wish at this place to refer to one family by the name of Vanwert who established their home about one-half mile north of the Pinney Bridge and one and one half miles south of father's homestead. He seemed to be some better fixed financially than most of the neighbors. He cleared 25 or 30 acres of land quite quickly, but in a few years sold his farm and timbered land to David Ward and moved to Alba, which was then being estab lished, where he owned and operated a store for several years.

I think it was about the time that Mr. Vanwert sold his farm that father mortgaged 80 acres of the 160 acre homestead and bought an ox team of Mr. Vanwert's. Some of the neighbors said, "Pinney will lose his land." By this time many settlers were located to the north, south and west of my people's home. Better roads were needed. All were clearing land the hard way. The ox team was a great help at home clearing land, and in plowing small pieces of land, when it was cleared. Some of the neighbors wanted some team work done. Soon some road work was to be done. In all the team proved to be a reliable and a wonderful help in many ways. In time the team was paid for and the mortgage released. The oxen could find a lot of feed for themselves when they not at work in the summer. Corn and small plots of hay were soon growing thrifty on the new ground; so old Cub and Bright had a good home. It was much easier to drag logs near by with which to build a barn.

According to what I was told while I was a young boy at home old Cub, especially, was a quiet, easily managed, but powerful animal, ready for any task that was required of him. It did not bother him if the children, my two older brothers and sister, sat on his back when he was lying in the yard. One day a man came along from Mancelona with two horses hitched to a heavy buggy. One horse was about played out. There is a large hill that the road extended over, steeper than it is now. Old Cub was hitched beside the able bodied horse and he helped pull the buggy up the big hill. During Grandmother Pinney's last sickness she wanted to see old Cub once more, so father led him to the house door where Grandmother could see him.

So far I have written concerning my father's activities in the early years in the settlement, but with no less regard for my mother, for she too nobly carried her part in the building of a home in the woods of Antrim County. I am certain she worked more hours each day than father did. During the evenings she would knit long woolen socks and mittens from double yarn, and too, there must have been a lot of repair work on the clothing. In those days the work in the house had to be done the slow, hard way as well as out of doors. There were no power washing machines, vacuum sweepers or refrigerators to help in the everyday work, and I wonder if mother did not sometimes go and pile brush and limbs onto the fires to help clear some land.

Once Grandmother Pinney wanted to go to a neighbor's, Charles Blanchard, visiting who lived one mile distance from home, so my older brother, Herman, about seven or eight years or age went with her. When they were within a quarter of a mile of the neighbor's Grandmother told my brother to run home that she knew the way. But some way she lost sight of the path and turned to the right and wandered into the big woods.

Naturally she kept walking trying to find the path but she turned to the right enough so that she was going south instead of north as she wanted to go. Sometime during the afternoon, the neighbor came to our home. My parents inquired about Grandmother. The neighbor said she had not been at their home so they knew she must have lost her way. Father took his lantern as it was just a short time before dark. Grandmother walked south one mile, then looked for a big tree to sit down by for the night when she came to the woodsroad that led from our homestead east to Simons. Fortunately she turned to the right and before long, just as it began to get a little dark, she came out to the clearing. The following statement may seem queer to the reader, in case the person has never been lost in woods, however it is apt to occur to a more or less degree. Grandmother thought she had come to a neighbors 2 1/2 miles north of her home My mother said to her, "Mother have you got home?" Grandmother appeared bewildered. The next thing for mother to do was to hurry to the neighbors to let the men know that Grandmother had found her way home. Mother was young and from hearing her tell about it I am sure she ran most of the mile. She arrived at the neighbor's just as they were to go into the woods to try to find Grandmother. So again they were provided for.

Mother always enjoyed picking berries. One day the family went straight south of the Pinney Bridge one half mile. The old road led up over a very steep hill to a vacated clearing where black berries grew quite plentiful. They put the berries that they picked during the forenoon into a tub and set it in the wagon. When they came to the wagon ready to go home, the berries they had left in the tub were gone. Someone had rubbed black berries on one of the oxen's nose to make my people think the ox was the guilty one.

Between the dates of these unusual happenings there were months of hard work spent on the homestead.

I presume there were peculiar happenings that occured in each of the pioneer homes, but were never recorded. Soon after the neighborhood homes were well established the people were aware of the need of a school. One acre of land was cleared. It was located about 100 rods directly north of the Rockery Cemetery. The cleared land was surrounded by woods. A well built log school house served its purpose for at least 20 years. The building was ceiled and sheeted on the inside with matched pine lumber. One man Mr. Wylie, was a carpenter. He built. good serviceable desks of wide pine boards. I think the lumber was 1 1/2 inches thick. I well remember there was quite a long bench that always set under the blackboards. But one day that bench was used for another purpose. I can not remember why. Anyway, the teacher, Clyde Davis, a young man from Mancelona required another boy, Archie Brewer and myself (about 8 or 9 years old) to sit on the floor and put our feet up on the bench for awhile. I do not know at this late date how long, but I am safe in saying plenty long enough. To this day I have never thought that bench was intended for such a purpose as that, because it did not seem to work very good.

Now going back to the early days of the newly formed district I am pleased to be able to record that my mother taught the school the first year after the district was organized. She received $15.00 per month. The money must have been a big help. I remember she said she bought a heifer calf, which, in time must have been a good investment. One day at school mother let the younger of my two brothers (Howard) about 7 years old go out to play a little before the afternoon recess. He soon came back to the school house crying and frightened. He said he saw a bear.

The settlers located south of my peoples home, also built a school house, but it had long been vacated as I have previously stated the settlers sold their homes to David Ward and moved away.

During the first two or three years in the settlement the necessities of life had to pretty much be carried. Some one wanted to move a cook stove to one of the homes. Four men carried it a few miles on two poles. Someone had a barrel of flour. It was hauled over the woods road on a hand sleigh. It must have required at least two men to pull the load for some miles.

My people were located twelve miles from the present site of Mancelona and also twelve miles from East Jordan, eleven miles from Elmira and nine miles from Alba. After roads were built to the different places which consisted of a log store and perhaps a few settlers, quite often someone driving from one place to another would arrive at our home a little while before noon and would want to feed their team and get dinner and sometimes someone would get to our home toward night and and would want to stay over night. They were all willing to pay something for the accommodation so it was quite a help to my people. Not long after father divided the house into five rooms, the Bohemians began coming into the north woods. Once in awhile my folks would hear a rap at the door and would ask who was there. The answer would be, "Bohemian, can you sleep me?' They felt that it was safe to let him in. He usually sat by the kitchen stove and ate his lunch which he would have with him. Then he was told he would find a bed at the top of the stairs, which was no more than a ladder, until later father got lumber and built a good pair of stairs. Just as it began to get light the Bohemian would go to where their settlement has been since those early days.

About the second or third year, after a dozen or more families had their homes well established the neighborhood wanted some kind of entertainment along with so much hard work. They decided to have a picnic. I think perhaps they had more than one as time went by. One account I wish to relate at this time is to illustrate the idea that the settlers had to practice as a means of economy. The idea was to make use of what they had at hand.

My mother's people living in New York state sent some used clothing. Mother made a little suit of clothes for each of my brothers. At a picnic a man that did not know the boys asked whose boys they were that were dressed so nicely.

Sometime after Mr. Vanwert here-to-fore mentioned sold his farm and established a store at Alba, he let my people have goods to sell on commision. A mail route had been started between Alba and East Jordan. My people had the post office. So the neighbors came to our house for two purposes. A man carried the mail from Alba to East Jordan and returned once a week.

My people kept groceries, not a big variety in those days, also some shelf cloth. Soap came in long bars. In molding the long bars places were formed to show where to cut the bar for usual length bars. Someone wanted a bar of soap and mother tried to cut the long bar. The knife hit something hard. It was found to be a fifty cent piece. Seems it must have been lost in the soap before it hardened. The store and postoffice was a nice help to the neighbors. They were saved walking several miles.

During the years 1887 and 1888 my parents built a nice frame house. It was completely finished. 400 feet from the house nearly at the top of a big hill was a spring of cold water. The water was piped into the house. A 20 gallon tank was placed in the pantry with an overflow pipe leading from the top of the tank to the cellar drain and a faucet in the kitchen so there was fresh running water all of the time.

The house was comfortably furnished. Mother had been sewing carpet rags for several years. She dyed a lot of them the desired color and then had them woven into carpet for the house (just 90 yards).

Many acres of good productive land and a good comfortable home with ample provisions was the result of years of hard work and careful management. December first 1900 my people moved to East Jordan and lived there the remainder of their lives.

There was a family by the name of Thomas that lived on the north side of the river and one half mile west of the bridge. One day Mrs. Thomas came to the store and post office. Usually the children came, a distance of two and one half miles. Sometime during the afternoon Mrs. Thomas went home. That night just before dark my people heard terrible screaming in the woods south of the home. Father said, "I believe that is Mrs.Thomas. She probably lost her way going home. I better go and find her." The family persuaded him not to go. Mrs. Thomas arrived home safely some hours before night. I have been told of four different accounts of people hearing panthers during those early days.

About three and one half miles north and east from the homestead are two or three lakes. A family, (Frank Brewer) lived near them and one day another family (Wm.Wylie) living about one half mile south sent their young boy over to Mr. Brewer's, on an errand. Soon after the boy had started home Mrs. Brewer said she heard a panther. She followed the boy until she was sure he would get home safely. I am thankful to be able to say that I never heard of anyone in lower Michigan being attacked by a wild animal. Those fierce beasts seem to be afraid of man at a distance in the daytime.

With the help of the team a few acres of land was cleared on which corn, hay and wheat were raised. Twelve miles was a long distance to go to a store,and carry home a sack of flour. For some reason my mother at one time, ground corn with a little coffee mill and made Johnny Cake.

When the wheat ripened it was gathered into bundles and threshed with a flail. It was then taken to Advance to be ground into flour. It was a long distance for the oxen to go, and too, father had to wait for the wheat to be ground, so it took the most part of two days to make the trip, but what a help it must have been to have their own flour. My brother Hubert, now living near Flint was born Aug. 14, 1885. I was born Sept. 8, 1879.
By this time the many homes were well established and little farms were being cleared. I immagine the building of homes in the woods of northen Michigan was something like the Pilgrims building homes so long ago on the rock bound shore of New England, in America the land of promise.

How thankful we should be for the courage and ambition of our fathers and fore fathers, and to show our sincere appreciation we should remember "The Sermon on the Mount", obey the two great commandments, and recognize by deed the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man.

This wonderful account of the Pinney Family of Antrim County was provided by
Gary R Byar, descendant.
We thank him for his contribution to the Antrim Co., Michigan Genealogy pages.

If you would like to contribute your family tree or history to the Antrim pages, please write to
Margaret Fallone

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