A paper prepared for the Washington County Pioneer Society and read December 7, 1874.
Note: Samuel Clements, Sr. came to the Territory of Michigan in 1825. Louis White (first Ypsilanti City Historian) copied the narrative from a typed copy in the possession of Harvey C. Clements of Ann Arbor. Samuel Clements, Sr. died June 16, 1866 and is buried in the Parker Cemetery, Lima Township. He was born August 12, 1780 near Seneca, Ontario County, New York. First marriage to Catherine Lacy on April 29, 1810. Catherine was born July 30, 1785 and after seven children including a set of twins, she died April 20, 1850. The Clements “took up” about 640 acres in Sec. 15, Lima Township.
We had, attached to our house, what we called an outdoor cellar, in which my Mother kept her milk, butter and provisions during the summer season. This cellar was by some means discovered by a large white dog belonging to an Indian camp about a mile away. A careful reconnaissance assured him that it was a good place to get milk of which he appeared to be very fond. For several successive nights my Mother complained that her cellar had been invaded by foragers and that such obstructions as she had interposed for the protection of the milk had been overcome by the marauders. She, accordingly, as is right and proper, appealed to my Father for protection and assistance. As it was then a time of profound peace my Father regarded such incursions upon the milk house as clearly against the dignity of the law and guaranteed rights of the people, and loading his shotgun with a double charge of buckshot, he volunteered in the service of the county to guard the door of the cellar. About nine o'clock in the evening the dog appeared and as he was boldly marching up to the assault my Father opened fire upon him. So unexpected and well directed was the fire that the foe was completely surprised and overwhelmed and beat a hasty retreat, mortally wounded. The outdoor cellar was from thenceforward a good place to keep milk but the old Indian owning the dog was greatly offended and vowed to kill my oldest brother whom he suspected of having killed his dog. This threat he twice attempted to execute but was prevented, once by his daughter, an athletic Indian girl who caught and held her father while my brother escaped; and once by his gun missing fire as it was deliberately aimed at my brother who got out of range before it could again be prepared and brought to bear upon him. About this time his own safety, growing out of a quarrel which he had with another Indian family, rendered his removal from that portion of the county imperatively necessary and he was thus prevented from accomplishing his murderous designs upon our family.
The county was, of course, in a state of nature and its fierce denizens undisturbed when we established our home in it. Some varieties of wild animals abounded. Deer were very plentiful. We could hardly go a mile in any direction without seeing more or less. I have counted fifty-six in a drove.
Bears were never numerous in our region. They were but seldom met in the woods and when met were always disposed to go away as soon as possible. There was, occasionally, a lynx and a wild cat seen but they were not plenty. Wolves, however, were abundant. For several years after our settlement it was a common thing to hear them howling around the house but so far as I knew they never offered to attack men. They were, however, often very bold, approaching near the house and attacking such stock as was exposed to them.
The night after we moved into our log house, our dog, a very large, noble animal, was greatly disturbed by an unwelcome visitor, one who showed him but very little courtesy. We finally drove the dog close up to the blanket-door of the house and took possession of some bones that were scattered about the site of the tent where we lived. The night was so dark that he could not be seen, though not two rods distant but he could be heard gnawing the bones. My Father put his rifle through the crack between the logs of the house and, guided by the sound of the crackling bones, thought, if nothing more, he would fire a salute in honor of our dog's nocturnal visitor. The ball took effect in the neck just behind the ear and stopped the gnawing and crackling of bones instantly. Taking a brand from the fire my Father rushed out and there lay, dead, an enormous gray wolf.
At another time, a few years later, my Father had a very fine calf in a little pasture within six or eight rods of the house. One morning when we went to see the calf we found nothing but bloody fragments showing that poor “bossie” had been visited by a very cruel stranger the night before, who was very fond of veal. But “bossie” was not long unavenged. For, gathering in the fragments and binding them together with a strong cord we attached a chalk-line to our end of the veal and the other in a trigger of a flintlock gun by the side of which two other guns, with open pan, were placed, all securely tied in their places, and each carefully aimed just above the veal. About eleven o'clock that night we were aroused by the simultaneous discharge of three guns and upon going to the place, we found a gray wolf of the largest size lying in utter unconsciousness beside the remains of his victim. The bounty on his scalp paid for the damage he had done.
There were, of course, great privations in those early days. But as I recur to them I can hardly appreciate them. We generally had enough of something to eat, enough to wear to keep us warm and a place to rest. Give a child these, all we really need, and it will be happy. We enjoy luxury in food, dress and houses, but these enjoyments are only temporary. Plain food, coarse clothing and humble dwellings satisfy the demands of nature and in the absence of luxury we forget our privations if we are as well off as our associates.
Bread, potatoes and salt pork were our staples of food. We had butter when we could make it for ourselves. Sugar was kept for company and did not enter into the ordinary family use. Of coffee we had absolutely none. Our tea was generally of sassafras or sage leaves. Our sauce was made by mixing about equal quantities of stewed pumpkin and cranberries without sugar.
By the time we had moved into our house, six weeks after our arrival, our provisions were exhausted. Detroit, distant then, going and returning eight days hard traveling, was our nearest depot of supplies. My Father, with my oldest brother, accordingly started the day after we moved into our house, for provisions and the remainder of our goods, leaving our mother and five children alone in our cabin in the wilderness with nothing to eat but some rusty salt pork. The next day after his departure, my Mother sent my two sisters to Dexter, four miles away with a little tin pail to borrow some flour for us to subsist upon until my Father's return. They brought back eight or ten pounds. This, though carefully eked out was soon consumed and we actually lived several days on salt rusty pork and cranberries which we gathered from a marsh near at hand, without sugar.
Our corn and a very limited supply of potatoes for our first winter were obtained at Woodruff's Grove, a point on the Huron about a mile below Ypsilanti, In the spring of 1826 we fitted out two canoes and floated down the creek into the Huron and thence to the farm of the late Col. Orrin White about three miles, for potatoes for seed and summer use. The canoes were poled up the river to Dexter and thence the potatoes were brought home by wagon. But the supply was so short that the utmost economy was necessary. We cut off the eyes of the potatoes in slices as thin as we dare and planted them while we saved the heart for family use. An incident occurred while my Father and brother were away, as just described, illustrating the feeling of neighborly kindness which prevailed among the people of those early times.
We had a large red ox that we used to call “Old Ben”. Well, in his eagerness for the tender grass which grew at that early season only on the marshes, “Old Ben” got mired and my Mother and the children were utterly unable to extricate him. To leave him there until my Father's return we knew would be fatal to him, and the only resource left was to send the little girls, already referred to, to Dexter for help. In due time two vigorous and athletic young men appeared and with the aid of rails used as levers and a yoke of oxen attached to a very long chain, “Old Ben” was placed on the ground and the young men, with the utmost cheerfulness, hurried back to their homes glad that they had done a neighbor a kindness.
As I look back to those early days and remember the genuine pleasure we had in our social intercourse and the eagerness with which we sought each others society, I cannot resist the conviction that the social sympathies of our natures are stronger in that condition of society than they are at present. It certainly appears to me that there was a greater cordiality among us than we find in our present social life. Upon this point I dare not speak too positively. I know the influence of advancing years upon our susceptabilities and sympathies. It may be that the differences which we notice and deprecate in this particular are in us and not in society.
Descriptions of the manners and style of living among our first settlers, when cordial, sincere and in good taste, provoke a smile of amused incredulity at this day even among those of mid-life, who half know it to be true. I shall always remember the first visit from our neighbors and its incidents. It was Friday that we passed through or rather, by, Dexter as we were moving to our new home. The next Sunday morning there occurred in that solitary house in the wilderness a pleasant scene. Two young gentlemen, Captain Jerome Loomis and William Wightman, Esquire, timidly and deferentially approached two young ladies, Miss Hannah Cowan, afterward the wife of Russell Parker, and another whose name is now forgotten by the writer, and invited them to a pleasure ride on that beautiful morning to call on their new neighbors. With the usual blushing and heart-throbbing, the invitations were accepted. In the shortest time consistent with the circumstances, the most stylish and elaborate “turn-out” which the country afforded was at the door to receive the party. It consisted of a lumber wagon with the usual square box about twenty inches high. The seats were of unplanmed oak boards laid across the top of the box with an inch wooden pin through each end to prevent them from slipping off, and a yoke of oxen, broad horned and young. In this establishment, one of the young men acted as Jehu, perched upon his seat with a blue beach whip stalk about ten feet long and a lash to correspond, with his fair companion at his side, he gave the word of command, “go long”, and the party, all arrayed in their best, stated in high glee, promising themselves a day of unalloyed pleasure. But, Alas, for us poor mortals. Even the near future is hid from us, and 'tis well, for the dread of the coming future all present and prospective enjoyment. The party in due time, following the solitary wagon trail through the woods and over the plains, arrived safely at their destination and the time passed rapidly and pleasantly away and as the sun was gradually sinking in the west a black cloud appeared on the southwestern horizon and distant thunder warned all within hearing to prepare for a storm. It was then too late for our guests to think of reaching their home before the shower and nature seemed to care but little for the condition and wishes of men. The cloud swept around the western horizon to the northeast and thence turning to right it rushed upon us with fearful power in one of those terrible August storms which occasionally visit us. Our only accomodations were the tent and covered wagon already described. But the tent was too frail to bear up against the fierceness of the winds for a single moment. Hence, while I crawled into the covered wagon, I remember seeing my Father and the two gentlemen guests take their positions on the north side of the tent and by main strength hold it from blowing away while the ladies and smaller children huddled together inside and were thoroughly drenched by the rain which filtered through the covering. The rain continued until after dark so that our visitors, by force of circumstances, spent the night with us. This visit, though unpleasant in its close, furnished an amusing incident to which the parties afterward referred with pleasure.
Our social visits in those days were great occasions, especially with the children. They usually occupied an entire day and were participated in by the whole household, men, women and children. I will give a single one as an illustration of the spirits and habits of the times. It was determined that on a certain day we would visit our neighbors, Sylvanus and Nathaniel Noble, at the house of the former about four and a half miles away. Accordingly, in the appointed day, we all arose early and after doing our chores with extra care, giving extra food to the stock etc., we arrayed ourselves in our best attire, extemporized a box for our ox sled, filled it with hay in which we children nestled, and started, eight in number, drawn by a yoke of jaded oxen. We arrived about ten or eleven o'clock and such a visit, including two meals, as we had. The enjoyment I can remember but cannot portray nor will I attempt it. I have no such visits now, it may be may children do. All I can say is, they do not appear to have. We did not get home until eleven o'clock at night and that visit (the only one we made during the winter) with its sayings and doings, was food for thought and pleasure for months afterward. But those days are gone and the members of this society labored hard to hasten their departure. The same experiences which we had are being passed through by those upon our frontier but they will never return to this country.
We now deprecate many things, habits and customs which existed in society around us and sigh for the good old days which are gone, But none of us would consent to have time as a desolating wave, sweep away the improvements which have been made and bear us back into that condition for which we sometimes sigh. The fact is this country is just what we have made it and just what we have suffered and sacrificed to make it.
As we remember what it was and then realize what it is, with all its appliances for material, intellectual, social and religious progress; its system of railroads which brings a market and business and a social center within a few miles of every man's farm, its high schools in every village and its primary schools within easy reach of every home and its colleges and universities which are open and free to all; its numerous villages and towns in all parts of the state and its numerous churches which are scattered through the land, and then remember that by the blessing of God, we have done all this, for with our fathers, whose footprints are yet fresh among us, we were the only actors, our verdict upon ourselves must be, WELL DONE. We shall go down to the grave with the conviction that we have not lived in vain. The verdict of impartial history as it embalms the achievements of our generation must be, well done, Pioneers of Michigan, and our children will feel proud to tell of our triumph to their descendants.
We leave our children a good inheritance and if they are as true to their generation as we have been to ours, improving the condition of society in their day as much as we have in ours, he who writes the history of the next forty years will occupy a stand point greatly in advance of that from which we write today.
Northville, November 6, 1874.
(PART I of the Clements Narrative appears in May, 1982 “Gleanings”)