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With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches
of Some of Its Men and Pioneers.
Published 1882 by H.R. Page & Co., Chicago

The soil of Manistee County is mostly alluvial, and the result of glacier action, with many boulders from rocks of all ages, and even drift-copper and iron is occasionally met with; but no bed rocks crop out, nor are there any caves or cliffs, or any ancient masonry work; and no sculpture slabs or carved images have been found in this region. There are no earthworks, to any great extent, in the county.

Only a few traces of the Mound Builders have been found, and this subject has been pretty thoroughly investigated at different times.

Near the west end of Bear Lake were found traces of the Mound Builders, and in the Spring of 1877, the largest of these mounds was opened by A. Bowen and others. This mound was near the west end of the lake. It was twenty feet in diameter, seven feet high, and had a lesser mound attached to it on the east, all well defined. In the trench or ditch from which the dirt had been taken around the larger mound, was a tree about two feet in diameter, and other trees were on and around the mound.

The lesser mound was well defined. It was opened and thoroughly searched, but nothing besides ashes and coal from a wood fire was found.

A shaft was sunk in the large mound, and an opening made from the lesser mound nearly through the large mound, and the whole opened to the bottom. The balance of the bones of two small-sized persons were found in an advanced state of decomposition, and some of them had entirely disappeared. The skulls and larger bones were in a tolerable state of preservation, but, like most mound remains, indicated a low order of intellect, and medium-sized persons. There was nothing beyond the bones found of any note, except the remains of fire. There was a strata of charcoal and ashes very evenly distributed over the mound, about two feet below the surface. The remains were buried on the surface of the ground, with heads to the east, and the mound raised over them.

One of the skulls was thick and well developed in the region of firmness, destructiveness, etc., indicating a man of much will, vitality and animal power, while the other is totally unlike it in these respects, and was recognized at once as the skull of a woman, making it probable that it was man and wife, well advanced in years, that received the honors of such a mound.

These mounds were unquestionably the work of a race of people who inhabited this continent long prior to the advent of the Indian race; but who they were, whence they came, or the manner of their disappearance, may never be known.

In the Fall of the year shell-mounds were found near Cushman & Calkins mill, in the First Ward of the city of Manistee. These were examined by Hon. S.W. Fowler, who had also examined the mounds at Bear Lake. The shell-mounds, a score or more in number, were laid bare by drifting sands, and in each of them was found pieces of pre-historic pottery, one piece of which was from a pot or vessel at least two feet deep, and ornamented with a notched edge and various figures. At one point were the remains of two skeletons, bearing a striking resemblance to those found in the mounds at Bear Lake, in size, general appearance and apparent age. Some stone tools and flint arrow-heads were also found in these mounds.

The shells were larger and heavier than any found in the lake, and the remains of the fire indicated that clams and other shell fish were cooked at places where the shells were most numerous.

In June, 1879, Mr. Fowler wrote a letter to the president of the Smithsonian Institute, at Washington, in response to a request, and in that letter said:

"There have been no extensive shell heaps found, except at one place. Near the mouth of the Manistee River, and between that and Lake Manistee, on the north side, near the little lake, the drifting of the sand has revealed several acres well covered with shell heaps, reduced, by the wear of time, to pieces by the pearl part of the shell.

"There are evidently thousands of bushels of these shells, and several mounds have been opened in that vicinity, with usually a few of the larger bones, as skulls and thigh bones, in each mound. Pieces of pottery and a few flint arrows have been found in the mounds, and pieces of pottery are abundant among the remains of the shell mounds.

"There are several at the west end of Bear Lake, some twenty-five miles up on the north bank of the large Manistee River, and one has been found on the Sable River, twelve miles south of Manistee Lake. I have assisted in opening several, but have never found anything but the skulls of one or two persons, and badly decayed bones, in any, except near two shell piles, and there were pieces of pottery, etc. One at Bear Lake contained only the decayed bones of a small man and woman. I have now in my possession the skulls taken from this mound, and some other bones and skulls from different mounds. So far as I can judge, the Mound Builders were undersize and a very low order of intellect. Of the stone age we have several specimens of the stone ax, found in this vicinity. One of these is ten inches long, three and a half inches across the bit, and weighs five pounds. It is blue granite, and is the first specimen I have ever seen.

"The pottery was evidently made on a sort of grass braid or cloth, and some pieces denote large vessels.


As a general rule people of the older localities are apt to look upon frontier communities, and especially lumbering  districts, as being barren of all culture and refinement. The too common impression is that while the backwoodsman may be honest, he must necessarily be rough.

There is no one thing more noticeable among the people of Manistee County, than the high standard of intelligence and morality that has always been maintained.

The early settlers had a liberal proportion of New England blood in their veins. They were born into Christian homes and reared in a land of churches and schools. They came to this new, wild country, not because a frontier life was congenial to their tastes, but to better their fortunes. It was no easy task for them to leave the pleasant companionship of neighbors and friends, and the precious privileges of churches and schools, for the solitude, hardships and deprivations of the wilderness. But they brought with them the life lessons they had learned, and their strong wills would soon  restore some of the privileges they had left behind. They knew that the great forests of Michigan had no depths that could hide them from the all-seeing eye of the Great Father; and that in the rude life of the frontier, they need not surrender  their aspirations for better things. Hence it is that we find in the records of these early settlements, the early introduction of educational facilities.

The track to the homestead was cleared, the cabin built for the shelter and comfort of the family, and then the school was established. A public library was not far behind, and facilities for public education and moral training might years ago  have been found in the rude settlements of this remote frontier, that would put to shame many a populous village in well settled localities.

The first Sabbath in this wild region did not pass unobserved. The family Bible was brought out, and the truths upon its pages shown as resplendent as though read amid the most elegant surroundings. Sometimes, by the camp-fire, before even any shelter had been provided better than the evergreen bower, the handful of settlers gathered to listen to some "man of God," who had chanced to pass this way, and their hearts strengthened for the trials and hardships that were to come. As the population of the township have increased, and the inhabitants prospered, facilities for education have been improved. The homes are bountifully supplied with books, newspapers and periodicals, and other evidences of intelligence and refined taste. The schools of the county are of a high order, and churches numerous and liberally sustained. The general sentiment of the county is strongly in favor of sobriety and good order, and efforts in behalf of temperance and all moral reforms have been vigorous and constant.

Once familiar with the characteristics of the people, it is not so much a matter of surprise to find everywhere an air of thrift and general prosperity. All improvements are substantial, and the people already here appear determined, not only to make this their abiding place, but to induce others to come in and improve the opportunities which the county still affords.

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1882 History of Manistee County

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