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Early Days in Stanton

– this article appeared in the Stanton Clipper Herald January 25, 1935.

   To those people who have lived many years in or about Stanton, Simon (Legger) Chapin needs no introduction. We had heard that he was the first white child born here. The writer, with Mary and Carl Smith, called on Mr. Chapin the other evening in hopes that he might give us some definite information in regard to the matter. He told us that he believed that he was born first, but that the Camburn child may have been the first baby born right in Stanton, as the Chapin homestead was about two miles east of town. He told us many other interesting things about Stanton and in hopes that you will find them interesting, too, we are using them for our story this week for this column.

With Ox Team and Covered Wagon – As Told by Simon Chapin

   If we could look back over the years of an early fall day in 1863 we would see a pair of strong oxen pulling a covered wagon, with a cow tied behind, over the crude, rutted roads between beautiful forests of hardwood and pine, on their way from Marshall, in the southern part of the state, to Stanton.
   Philander Chapin was on his way here to take up a homestead, and with him were his wife, Elizabeth, and their children, Curran, about seven; Delia, five; Sam, Four, and Ben, about two years old.
   The journey was long and tedious in the jolting, swaying wagon, but the children watched the many birds and squirrels darting about among the huge trees of the forest and tried to catch glimpses of swift moving deer or clumsy bear, for the woods were full of game. Passenger pigeons flew over in large flocks and nested so thickly in the pine trees at night that one shot would bring down as many as twenty-five birds. Always there was the possibility, half fearful, half exciting, of passing an Indian camp. The Indians were friendly then, but had not always been so and many stories were still told of those unhappy days.
   The weary travelers finally reached their destination late one afternoon and camped for the night under a big oak tree where Otto Cummings’ drug store now stands.
   The next day they moved into a little log cabin owned by Elder Trowbridge and located where Russell Dales now lives.
   Winter was approaching and there was need for a stove and a large supply of provisions. Edwin K. Wood and a man by the name of Slade had a drug store here and also sold a few groceries, but they sold no stoves and their stock was so limited that father decided, a day or two later that he would make a trip with the oxen to Ionia for those needed things for the long winter ahead.
   The oxen were slow, the way long, and the deeply rutted road little more than a wagon trail among the tall pine trees, so in order to reach Ionia in the daytime, my father started out at midnight. He arrived safely, made his purchases, and reached home about midnight that next night.
   During the afternoon, while mother was alone with the children, a band of Indians came through the woods and camped across the road from them, and although they were friendly and did not molest them, mother was quite relieved to hear father drive into the yard.
   They lived in this log cabin about two or three months, then father took up a homestead claim two miles east of Stanton, made a clearing in the pine forest and used the green timber to build a house for us. The members of the Chapin family have lived on this original homestead, now known as the Rass Johnson farm (Mrs. Johnson being my sister), or near it, ever since.
   Like most shanty homes built in the woods at that time, it was little better than our chicken houses, if as good. But the woods protected them from the wind and they were hardy, strong people and used to few comforts of living.
   They moved into this house in the early winter and it was there that I was born one cold day the following March, thrived and have lived to see many changes take place during my seventy-one years here. It was in this same little house that I was born same little house that Simon was born in March 1864, my sisters, Malanda in January, 1868, and Ellabeth in May, 1869.
   There was no feed here to winter the oxen and the cow on, so father took them back to Marshall, making the trip on foot. Later we had cows and even after mother was old and feeble she insisted upon keeping cows.
   I drank milk and ate butter on my bread until I saw a cow and saw her milked when I was about five years old. I was sick and the doctor said I could take my choice of drinking it or dying, just as I darn pleased, and so I drank it fixed up in eggnogs and such like until I was better, and I have never touched it since.
   I remember that the cow I first saw milked had been led up here from the south part of the state (no railroads or trucks then) and how we children rushed out to see her as she was led into the yard. Previous to the arrival of this cow mother had to send clear over to Fish Creek to Joe Tissue’s folks for butter.
   The older children often went to town for mother, but I had never been allowed to go, much to my disappointment, as I was considered too young, but finally, when I was about five, mother said I might go too. It was summer, so of course we were barefoot and I had gone only a little way when I stubbed my toe and hurt myself so badly that I had to turn around and go back home; and so my first trip to town, for which I had teased so long, ended almost before it began.
   Mother and father used to warn us not to go into the big woods on the north side of the road, as we might get lost. Once Lafe Withey’s little girl strayed off into the woods and was lost. Withey lived back of the Dulong farm, and all the folks around there turned out that night to look for the little girl. She was finally found the next day, unharmed, asleep by a log and carried joyfully to her home.


   I have seen many Indians around here. One of their old camping grounds was on our homestead. They used to come down from Mt. Pleasant to sell their baskets and to pick the blackberries which grew so abundantly; big, juicy berries as big as your thumb. They would go from home to home, selling their baskets and berries and never stopped to knock. You would hear a slight noise in the room and turn about and find a big Indian standing in your kitchen. Some of them carried a paper (given them at Mt. Pleasant) stating that they were good Indians and not to be feared by the early settlers, whose little cabins or shanties were often far from a neighbor and whose women folks were frequently left along at home with the children.
   Once an old Indian by the name of O-ko-mo came to our house one evening and, showing his paper from Mt. Pleasant, asked to stay all night. He had a nose as large as boy’s fist and scared me half to death. I was just a little shaver abut I remember him. He carried a fife or flute with him, but I don’t remember that he played on it. Father let him stay all night and the next day he went on his way, much to my relief.
   Another time my mother was cooking a whole coon in the oven for our dog. An Indian walked in and asked her for some bones for his dog. Mother took the coon out of the oven and gave half of it to the Indian for his dog, but the Indian said, “Me eat meat; dog eat bone.” And it was bones the dog got all right for the Indian proceeded to devour the meat.
   One day, when I was going along the road past the farm now owned by Jack Willard, I saw a band of Indians camping on the south side of the road. They were eating soup from a hollowed-out log. Another day I saw them eating muskrats over by Muskrat Lake. Over on Gregory lake there used to be one of their boats, hewed out of a pine log.
   The Indians liked dogs and one traded my father a watch once for one of our dogs. The dog ran away from the Indian and came home. Father was sorry for the dog and decided he would keep her, so when the Indian came again for her he told him he could take the watch back as we were going to keep the dog. The Indian was angry and said he would throw the watch in the lake, so father let him have the dog and he took her away with him and managed to keep her that time.
   One Sunday some of the young fellows of our neighborhood were out hunting and decided to go over to the camp of a band of Indians nearby. When they saw our guns they didn’t like it and their old chief said “When me carry gun, me shoot buck.” His anger didn’t bother the boys much though. They were big husky fellows and able to take care of themselves anywhere, whether it was Indian or bears they were up against.

My First Bear

   And speaking of bears reminds me: One night our cow lay out and the next morning my brother Ben and myself were sent into the woods to look for her. Ben was about fourteen and I about twelve and, like any boy would, we decided to combine duty with pleasure, and so took along our muzzle-loading shotgun and our big Newfoundland dog. The trees were so thick that the bushes and undergrowth were always wet, but it was summer and we were healthy and tough and didn’t let a few scratches from blackberry bushes or wet going bother us any and so kept on our way through the woods, looking for the cow, until we came to a cranberry swamp on the back of the farm now owned by Watt Barker.
   There in the swamp was a black bear and our dog chased him up a tree. When Ben saw the bear in the tree he yelled, “It’s a bear,” and let go with the old gun and down came the bear! Well, say, you can bet your last dollar that two of the wettest and proudest boys in the state of Michigan dragged that bear home. When the men at Jim Hartman
’s mill heard about it some of them went bear hunting. They didn’t get sight of a single bear, which made us more proud than ever of what we had done.


   Jim Hartman had the nerviest, hardest fighting crew in the woods. Even the Colby crew couldn’t lick ‘em. The Hardy boys, Joe, John, Lucius and Ike, worked for him and could lick their weight in wildcats any day. Sometimes the crew from one camp would get to feeling pretty good and would start out to clean up on another camp. For the most part the officers of the law left them alone. They knew from experience that if they tried to arrest a man the others from his camp would take him away from the officers. The work the lumberjacks and rivermen did each day was so filled with danger that their Saturday night battles were to them little more than a football game would be to our boys now.
   At first the forest was so dense that it was always somewhat damp and we had no forest fires, but after the trees were cut away the slashings would dry out and often catch fire. Sometimes the fire would burn for days in the top of an old stub and then, during a high wind, spread to other parts of the slashings.
   There was a forest fire on the Hinds land one year and a man of the name of Rigsby was caught in it and was saved by running his fast horse ahead of the flames.
   In Stanton the fire-fighting equipment consisted of a hand pump operated like a handcar by twenty men on each side. The hose was dropped into cisterns filled during rainy weather with surface water and located near where the city park is, on the corner of the court house, and other places up and down Main street. I was there both times that a large portion of Main street burned.
   After we had lived here a few years there were lumber camps all around. Mill Mine and Half Moon lakes used to be filled with logs. I have played tag all over these lakes when there were filled with logs; and other lakes near here. Not all the timber was pine; there was quite a lot of beech and maple mixed with it, too. Hundreds of men were working in the woods and mils and some of them were “wild and wooly”.
   A circus came to town one day and its crew and one of the camp crews got into a free-for-all fight and one of the circus crew was killed.
   But not all the lumberjacks were like that, for many of the men who first came here with their families worked in the woods part of the time to earn money to buy those things needed at home. The men who had horses could always get a job. Horses were at a premium and were very scarce, compared to now. If a man had a good team he was considered well fixed, for almost everyone had oxen. These horses had to be strong, intelligent and well trained. From the time I was fifteen my big interest has been horses. I’ve broken lots of them, seen them go all shapes in the air, come down on their backs and any old place. Some mornings when the pesky old car won’t start I wish I was back with a bucking bronco again. I’d be getting some place at least, not just sitting in the dooryard.

Living Conditions

   Many of the men used to hunt and trap for a living. My father has sold as high as three hundred dollars’ worth of furs at one time. One mink pelt brought ten dollars.
   We boys used to go out into the woods and dig ginseng and sell it to Edwin K. Wood. Sometimes we would make three or four dollars a day, which was considered good pay those days.
   As the trees were cleared away we planted good gardens and later had chickens, too. For meat we had venison, pork and pigeons.
   Father and the older boys used to make shingles by hand, using a rave or froe. Mr. Henry Hinds used to bring out a load of provisions and take back a load of shingles. Mother made all our clothes out of “Kentucky Jean” cloth and lined them warmly with outing flannel for cold weather. Those first years we could buy wool yarn, but no wool cloth. Didn’t have rubber shoes or boots either. It was like walking into the house to walk into the big woods; the trees broke the wind and made it warmer there.
   We made candles at first and later used kerosene lamps.
   Practically all those first houses were made without lath or plaster. My father died when I was about seven and for a time we lived in a big old barn of a house where Harry Lane’s home now is and nearly froze there. I doubt if a furnace could have kept it warm. The bread used to freeze so hard that you would have to chop it with a hatchet, if you didn’t thaw it out first. Often as we slept our breath froze on the bedclothes.

Medical Care

   At first the early settlers were their own doctors. Many a child was born with only the husband or a neighbor there to care for the mother and baby.
   Almost every home kept a bottle of Hofstetter’s Stomach Bitters handy and used it for nearly every human ailment.
   If we needed glasses we fitted them ourselves from a selection displayed in some jewelry store. I don not remember ever having seen a child wearing glasses during my early youth.
   Our first doctor was Dr. Lewis, who was followed by Dr. Ranney, Dr. McLean, Dr. Bachman, Dr. Corey and others as the years passed by. Dr. McLean took care of me when I was very ill with spinal fever. My legs were drawn up until I lay in bed almost on my head. I was about nine or ten years old, and after I had recovered I was going along with some boys on one of our many trips into the woods and was having hard work keeping up with them, as I was quite lame. Gus Hall noticed that I was hobbling along at the end of the line and called out, “Hey, wait a minute. Let’s wait for ‘Legger’.” And from that day on I was called Legger Chapin and some people do not know what my real name is.


   When I went to school we didn’t say we were in this or that grade, but said we were in the first or fifth reader, just as the case might be. I guess I spent about as much time getting out of or into mischief as I did learning my lessons.
   I went to the first little primary school located where the Methodist parsonage now stands and had Miss Bennet and later Miss Hattie Gardner for my teachers. Mr. Crowell was the superintendent and was called “the Professor”. Our teachers used to punish us by sending us to his office to sit and confess our misdemeanors.
   This was more of a pleasure for me than a punishment, as Mr. Crowell’s folks and my folks were close friends and he used to let me ring the bell that was the signal for classes to pass. But one day I got fooled. Our teacher was sick and Miss Bell Smith was taking her place. We got to throwing paperwads around the room and Miss Smith sent a complaint up to the professor. He came in and sternly said, “Who threw those paperwads? Raise your hands.” He never had hurt me much, so along with some other boys I raised my hand. Well! Were we surprised when he straped us good with a piece of rawhide! Usually we just got our hands “ruled.”
   We used to have chapel each morning and one day some one told the teacher that I had been noisy during that period. As a punishment she made me lean over, stiff legged, with my fingertips touching my toes. Even a limber eleven-year-old boy will get tired of such a position after a few minutes and so I straightened up and refused to lean over again. Up to the professor’s office I went again. Wish I had a dollar for every time I was sent there.
   A few of the boys and girls who went to school with me were Dick, Hank and Mell Childs, Bob Bostwick, Will Tichener, George Tichener, Will Holcomb, Leslie Vaughan, Fred Vaughan, Edith Willett, Genevra Willet, Vera Jennings, Melvina Hodges, and the two Oppenheim girls, whose father had a store here.
   Now some of these boys and girls are grandmothers and grandfathers of other boys and girls, while many have passed away.
   If I could save something of the olden days for the boys and girls of today, I think it would be the feeling of neighborliness which was so predominant at that time. One person was as good as another and each would do anything he could to help the other.

Article contributed by Stanton area resident Judy Hardy

If you have additions or corrections please contact Paula Johnson
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