Michigan, My Michigan - (Descriptive and Reminiscent.) By W. R. Coats 1853

"The state of Michigan in the wealth and wide variety of its natural resources stands at the very head of the procession in America's United States; and of all sections of the entire world is best provided with every requisite for self-support and independent existence.

It’s climatic and soil resources; its mineral and timber wealth; its internal and external transportation facilities—everything measures up to the most exalted altitude.

True, our timber wealth has been drawn upon with wicked wastefulness, but it is not yet too late for conservation and reclamation.

Our state covers an area of 57,890 square miles, over sixty millions of acres of fertile soil; nearly equal in area to all six of the New England states, and four fold more capable in soil production and in mineral and timber wealth.

''The writer can hardly claim Michigan as his native state, as he was born in Ohio two years before Michigan became a state, but having passed fifty-eight years of his life in the state and fully participated in its marvelous development, he has come to feel very like an original Michigander.

"When I came to Michigan the greater part of the state was a howling wilderness filled with wild animals and wilder Indians.

There were then only 397,000 white people in the state, and these, nearly all, plain hard working people as was essential to the subduing of the wilderness, and paving the way for the advent of gentler hands and more cultured and refined minds.

Under the stress of these dominant elements our proud state has risen through the last seven decades from a population of only one-third of a million of crude pioneers to the lofty altitude of nearly three million of high grade, finished American citizens.

Our railway mileage has increased fifty fold and our material wealth in still greater ratio, while morally, educationally and socially our advance has been still more marked.

"It will perhaps be best for me to hark back to the beginning of my Michigan career and trace it consecutively along down to the present time, and thus spread out the whole picture before the reader.

In September, 1852, my father gave permission for my first long flight from my childhood home in Bedford, Ohio, in a trip through the lakes, rivers and straits from Cleveland, Ohio, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, near which I was to spend the winter with an older married sister, who was living there in the Wisconsin wilderness.

I started out from Cleveland on the steamship 'Wisconsin' on September 26, 1852.

As I went on the boat and through its gaudy saloons I stared in wide eyed wonder; it seemed like a dream-land palace to me; but we had not been long under way before these fairy-land dreams, all the romance and about everything else, was taken out of me by a violent fit of sea-sickness, so that after this I was decidedly 'off my feed' during the remainder of the voyage.

There was a full band of musicians aboard that played on the upper deck when approaching a stopping place, in the saloon at dining hours, and at dances each evening.

"At Mackinac Island I saw my first wild Indian.”

The government then maintained a garrisoned fort here, and at this time several thousand Indians from the northern Michigan tribes were gathered there to receive their annual allotment; the island swarmed with them, and their canoes were thickly drawn up along the shore of the straits as far as the eye could reach.

Next day we called briefly at St. James, the chief port of the Beaver Island group.

These islands lie about forty miles off the main land, northwest of the present city of Charlevoix and are now a part of Charlevoix county.

We did not tarry long, for everything was red hot there.

Down to the previous day, September 28, 1852, the Mormons were dominant in the islands under the rule of 'King Strang,' when the gentiles rose, killed King Strang and took the government into their own hands.

"We next stopped at Milwaukee, then a city of about 30,000 inhabitants, and a close rival of Chicago.

Down to the present time Milwaukee has increased over twelve-fold and now has 374,000 inhabitants, while Chicago has increased sixty-fold, to 2,200,000 inhabitants.

There was not a foot of railway in Wisconsin at that time, and I had to go from Milwaukee to my sister's in the country by stage.

My appetite was sharply returning after my long fast and I was watching out for something to appease my hunger.

Soon our stage stopped at a sort of wayside beer garden, and I found some pretzels and some large round balls that were called some kind of foreign cheese.

I did not stand upon ceremony but ravenously bit into the cheese, and oh myt Never before was I up against such a vile nasty proposition.

Even after the lapse of all these fifty-nine long years, I sometimes still fancy that I detect the vile odor of that cheese upon my fingers.

"Early the following spring I returned to my Ohio home, soon after which father sold out the old home, and with his family came to Michigan, settling near Grand Rapids, which was then only a small village with less than two percent of her present population.

There were no railways in those days, except in the southern part of the state, where the Michigan Central was in operation from Detroit to New Buffalo, on the west shore of the state; and a portion of its track was of strap rails.

"We came by rail from Cleveland to Kalamazoo, and from Kalamazoo to Grand Rapids by teams.

We had to spend one night in Kalamazoo and we put up at the famous old 'Kalamazoo House,' then an old wooden affair.

Perhaps an incident of that memorable night is worthy of place here.

It will certainly show the enterprise of some of the Michigan animal-life of those early days, and will prove the record bedbug story.

The hotel was crowded that night and three young men from Cleveland, one a newspaper reporter, had to occupy one room and one bed.

The room was large, the floor bare, and the bed a four-post wooden rail and cord affair, mounted with large straw and feather ticks.

Tallow dips were the illuminants of those days, and when our boys were shown to their room, they quickly disrobed, and crawled into the bed; but before sleep came it became evident that there were other occupants of the bed and the boys lighted up to investigate.

They found the bed swarming with bugs.

'Great Scott,' cries the boys, 'we can never stand this.'

After a little study one of them cries out, 'I have it boys, you clear the floor, clean out the bugs, and take the quilts and pillows and make a bed on the floor, in the middle of the room, and I will go out and get a bucket of tar.'

All this was quickly done and a circle of tar drawn on the floor around the bed and the boys crawled in again, leaving the candle alight to see what the bugs would do.

Soon as it became quiet, the bugs began to show up, but after trying the tar ridge all around and finding no opening, they all gathered on one side of the room, apparently under the lead of a gray headed veteran and seemed to be holding a sort of council.

Soon the veteran started up the side wall of the room with the whole mass following.

Upon reaching the ceiling, they crawled out to the center of the room and all let go and dropped down on the boys below.

'Holy Moses,' cries the boys, springing up, 'doesn't this beat the world?

What can we do now'?'

But soon they concluded to put a corresponding ring of tar up on the ceiling (surely that will fix it); and this they proceeded to do, the veteran bug leader watching curiously from below.

After the work was done, the boys went to bed again.

Soon the old bug leader, choosing a few of his followers, went up the wall again and out to the tar ring on the ceiling.

Examining it all around and finding no opening, the old fellow ordered his followers to let go and observing that they fell outside the breast works below, the old fellow came down in disgust and again all came together apparently for further council.

Soon the old veteran started for the old bed in the corner, followed by the entire mass, and mounting the straw tick, each bug pulled out a long straw and started for the boys again.

Reaching the tar ridge each bug pushed his straw across and had a safe bridge over and all swarmed over after the boys again.

'Hell'n Blazes, boyst Isn't this the limit?

We will have to give it up.

The Kalamazoo bed-bug is too much for us.'

"Next morning the reporter wrote up the matter for his paper under the heading, 'The Pioneer Bed-Bug,' finishing with this poetic refrain from a fancy leaf of natural history.

"'The Elephant comes from China.

The Kangaroo from Spain,

The Bed Bug comes from Kalamazoo.

But he gets there just the same.'

"Well we teamed it from Kalamazoo to Grand Rapids, and on October 15, 1853, settled in our new home in Byron, twelve miles from Grand Rapids; and Michigan has ever since been my home.

My work as a hydraulic and sanitary engineer has made it necessary to keep in close touch with all parts of the state; and this has afforded excellent opportunity for watching the trend of events, and keeping near the head of the moving procession.

"The advance of this northern part of the state has been especially noticeable.

Whilst I first found it a howling wilderness, filled with Indians and wild animals, now these are gone.

The wilderness has been conquered and turned into cultivated farms.

Every county has its public buildings and railway transport facilities, every township its legal organization; every school district its active schools; and every city and village its graded schools, colleges or universities, and all the land its daily rural mail delivery, telephones, and to a large extent interurban railway facilities thriving cities and villages abound.

In a word a high grade of civilization has taken the place of the semi-barbarous conditions of but little more than a half century ago.

The pure atmosphere of our liberal institutions has proven an irresistible attraction for the oppressed and down-trodden of all nations; and still further, from a sanitary point of view, the atmosphere and the natural scenic beauties of this Northern Michigan proves a restful haven and recuperative point for the invalids of all sections, so that tens of thousands of resorters swarm here every season to pass the summer months.

''Of course the southern part of the state being much longer settled, its people are more highly cultured and refined; but with her greatly superior natural resources, especially in the great staples of iron, copper and timber, Northern Michigan can maintain a swifter pace in the industrial race, and it is only a question of time when she will surpass southern Michigan in all the essential elements of industrial, commercial and social life.