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Beacon Archive

September 2002
PDF Version

A Visit to the Beaver Islands – September 19, 1879

from the Petoskey Record

A few days since, in company with six others, we left Petoskey for a trip to St. James on Beaver Island, on the little schooner Lookout. After several miles of pitching and plunging, rendering a passage across the deck a rather hazardous undertaking, the night came on pitchy dark and the breeze gradually died away to a dead calm. The Beaver Harbor Light was plainly visible ahead and to our right, while Skilagalee, was up far to the east across the stretch of waters. It was just past midnight when we passed the Lighthouse and tied up at the dock on the west side of the bay--the very dock where King Strang met his fate...at the hands of his own men. His people were scattered so effectively that only one still remains upon the Island.

Beaver Harbor is the second best harbor on the chain of lakes, being excelled only by Little Traverse, and as it is close to the regular track of vessels is well patronized. It is protected from all winds save a southeaster, which is not a prevalent one. The night the Lookout made the harbor 13 vessels ran up near the mouth and anchored under the Island's lee.

St. James, the capital of Manitou County, is situated on the harbor. The Lighthouse and Life-saving Station are on the east side, facing the lake, while the larger and ancient Mormon town is on the west side, facing the bay. It has a population of about 350, with the Island's population being between 1,200 and 1,500. On the east side, besides the Lighthouse acceptably managed by Mrs. Daniel Williams since the unfortunate death of her husband, the former keeper, and the Life-saving Station under the charge of Harrison Miller, is a boarding house kept by Joe Left, the store of Edward Smith, and several cooper shops. The manufacture of fish barrels is a leading industry here. On the west side are the stores of Boyle & Dunleavy and C. R. Wright & Son, the county offices located at various points of the village, the court, which is held by Judge Goodwin of the 11th district at the Boyle & Dunleavy store, and Mrs. Gibson's boarding house, which has the reputation of furnishing the best accommodations on the Island in the building that once housed the Mormon's print shop.

A new saw-mill has also been erected, and though not enclosed is now running. A run of stone for grinding grain is promised to be added for next season. Many of the old Mormon homes are nearly hidden from sight by a profusion of thick vines. King Strang's residence is still standing, but is out of repair. Two log-houses are at the rear, communicating with the main building through a covered way, and were used for his extended household.

Upon the exclusion of the Mormons, who were mostly squatters, the Island was taken possession of by hardy fishermen in the vicinity, a large proportion of whom were Irish. Encouraged by the success of the Mormons, they have put equal attention to the cultivation of the soil and the plying of the net and the boat. They are a rough and abrupt lot, but peaceable and well-disposed, and full of the most genuine and kind-hearted hospitality we have ever encountered. In spite of the isolation of their island home, they are happy and contented and seldom seek a change. They have earned the reputation of constantly being involved in broils and quarrels, but we are assured by a gentleman who is a county officer and has lived there for twenty years that the disgraceful rows which are frequently reported elsewhere are very rare occurrences in point of fact, and theft is virtually unknown. The people are devout Catholics and have been favored for 13 years with the ministrations of Father Peter Gallagher, who besides being a splendid specimen of physical manhood and a highly educated and cultured gentleman is broad and liberal in his religious views and ever ready to extend the right hand of fellowship to whomever he believes worthy of his confidence and friendship. He is devotedly attached to stock raising, and has some fine cattle; his cows are his pets, and permit themselves to be handled freely by him. Among others we noticed a splendid Burham cow who on very indifferent feed gives 30 quarts of milk a day.

The Island is 15 miles long by 6 wide, and has 3 organized townships: Chandler, Peaine, and Galilee. The land is well adapted to farming, and while the cultivation of the soil is far from thorough, the yields are excellent. The Island is well-supplied with water, with the inland lakes stocked with every fish but whitefish. Brook trout are caught in several streams and in the harbor. Cattle, sheep, and poultry are kept in large quantities, there being over 1,000 sheep at present. While money is not very plentiful, eggs, butter, and all varieties of farm produce abound.
Garden Island is but a short distance to the north. It is inhabited principally by Indians, there being about 40 families resident. A government school is maintained on Garden in the charge of Mr. Isaac Wright. The soil of the island is excellent, and the Indians on this and other islands in the group have good, well-tilled farms. High Island, sometimes called Little Beaver, is four miles to the west and also has a fine harbor with deep water up to the very foot of the bluffs which surround it. It is higher than Beaver, and except for Mr. Davlin, who carries on farming extensively and sometimes carries the mail across the ice, and the white men in his employ, is inhabited by Indians. A good threshing machine is located here, which is sure of ample use among these islands, Beaver alone shipping 7,000 bushels of wheat last year.
Beaver is mainly Democratic, although from the scattered condition of the islands and the few polling places a full vote is seldom registered. There is not a lawyer or doctor in the County, and the services of either are fortunately rarely required.


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