The History of Michigan (The 19th Century)



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The History of Michigan (The Early Years)

The History of Michigan (The 19th Century)

The History of Michigan (The 20th Century)




June, 1822

Officials summoned Dr. William Beaumont, an Army surgeon at Fort Mackinac, to treat nineteen year old French-Canadian trapper, Alexis St. Martin. St. Martin was suffering from a close range shotgun wound. The force of the shotgun blast had fractured two of St. Martin's ribs, removed a portion of his abdominal wall, exposed part of the left lung and diaphragm, and left a perforation in the wall of his stomach. St. Martin was a mess.

It took a year for his wounds to heal. The hole in his stomach never sealed but the surrounding tissue held the hole closed. Dr. Beaumont, being a typical person in the medical profession, was fooling around with St. Martin's anatomy when he found that he could push on the flap of skin in St. Martin's stomach and view the activities occurring inside. Why Dr. Beaumont found this so interesting is unclear but some historians assume that this was a form of entertainment since scientists hadn't invented television yet. The doctor began conducting experiments on St. Martin.

Alexis St. Martin didn't find the experiments nearly as interesting as Dr. Beaumont did. He frequently ran screaming from the doctor's office and disappeared. His actions were understandable considering the conditions under which the doctor was examining him. Since operating room lights were unknown at the time, some physicians assume that Beaumont used lanterns and candles to peer into St. Martin's stomach. This theory is further substantiated by St. Martin being known in trapping circles as "the one with no hair on his chest."

Dr. Beaumont fed St. Martin various foods and observed the process of digestion in the stomach. He found that vegetables were less digestible than other foods. The proof of this discovery can be seen in modern times by observing the foul moods of today's vegetarians. Dr. Beaumont also discovered that alcohol was a major cause of gastritis. He conducted the alcohol tests frequently because they were the reason that St. Martin kept returning.

Dr. Beaumont went on to publish a report on his research entitled Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and the Physiology of Digestion.

Alexis St. Martin lived to the age of seventy-six. His chest hairs never did grow back.

July, 1822

Ralph Lester Johnson, a vindictive trapper who worked for John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company, had a disagreement with Robert Stuart, Astor's company representative on Mackinaw Island. Historical references are vague about the cause and extent of the rift that developed between Johnson and Stuart but it evidently was enough for Johnson to seek revenge.

Johnson had heard of the exploits of nurseryman John Chapman who is better known in American folklore as Johnny Appleseed. Ralph decided to emulate him in a sinister way.

It was because of these events that the Michigan legend of Johnson, better known as Ralphy Thistleseed, was born. It is fact, though, that Ralph rarely planted thistles but was partial to blackberry brambles and rhus toxicodendron or poison ivy.

To exact his revenge on the American Fur Company and its employees, Ralphy Thistleseed formulated a plan to sow noxious plants throughout the territory. Michigan, in those early days, had its share of unpleasant greenery but Ralphy's work enabled some people to proclaim Michigan the poison ivy capital of the world.

Ralphy owned a small wooded farm of approximately one hundred and forty acres near Monroe. It was here that he nurtured his young, tender seedlings of poisonous plants. He collected manure from neighboring farms, built a large seed bed, and began growing numerous varieties of poisonous mushrooms from spores he'd collected during his wanderings around Michigan. Poison ivy remained his favorite plant, however.

Every spring, Ralphy Thistleseed set out from his farm and traveled to the far reaches of Michigan, planting seedlings along the way and sometimes collecting plants in places where he found an over abundance.

In the few years following his initial plantings, poison ivy cases increased ten fold at the American Fur Company. Officials also reported a dramatic increase in mushroom poisonings among their trappers. The hawthorn trees Ralphy had planted spread to the point where some woods were all but impenetrable. In his later years, Ralphy became obsessed with nettles and planted them along every river and creek he could find. It wasn't unusual for a trapper to crawl into the fort suffering from extensive bramble scratches, numerous skin rashes, and internal poisonings of various kinds. These injuries were sometimes fatal but usually only required months of treatment by a company surgeon.

Ralphy Thistleseed disappeared on one of his treks during the summer of 1837. Friends assumed that he'd become entangled in some thorny underbrush of his own making and eventually bled to death.

There were many people who tried to emulate Ralphy including one frontiersman who specialized in spreading various forms of biting, stinging, and blood sucking insects in Michigan. Though he was immensely successful, his fame never came close to matching that of Ralphy Thistleseed and the man's name is lost in the pages of history. Ralphy Thistleseed's work is in evidence in Michigan to this day to anyone who dares to venture out past their backyard.

January, 1831

Mail service from the east to Detroit began with little fanfare. A letter took fourteen days to reach Detroit from New York. It can take much longer in present times and the theory is that the Postal Service may be using a slower mule.

April, 1835

When congress set up the boundaries establishing the Northwest Territory, the boundary between Michigan and Ohio was a line running due east from the southern most tip of Lake Michigan. No one was sure exactly how far south Lake Michigan extended and no one cared until Ohio became a state. The line, as it turned out was much farther south than Ohio officials had thought and Toledo actually belonged in Michigan. When congress admitted Ohio to the union, they also accepted Ohio's constitution, which moved the boundary north to include what came to be known as the Toledo Strip. Two years after Ohio became a member of the union, congress created the Michigan Territory and ignored the line stated in Ohio's constitution and moved the boundary south again. Toledo was back in Michigan. The governments of Ohio and Michigan didn't worry too much about the wayward boundary until the eighteen twenties and thirties when people began inhabiting the Toledo Strip in larger numbers. The residents of the strip considered themselves to be part of Michigan but officials in Ohio had different ideas about it.

The so called Toledo War began when Governor Stevens Mason of Michigan called for volunteers and organized a militia to go to the strip and enforce Michigan laws.

Stevens Mason became governor due to a series of historical coincidences. President Andrew Jackson appointed Mason's father, John T. Mason, as governor of the territory and John T. Mason appointed his son Stevens as territorial secretary. Old John T. got fed up with Michigan so he resigned and headed west. Under the law, Stevens Mason then became acting governor.

Andrew Jackson wasn't exactly happy with the younger Mason as governor so he appointed a man named George Porter as the new governor. As the dispute over the Toledo Strip was boiling over, George Porter died which made young Stevens Mason governor again.

When Mason sent the militia to the Toledo Strip, he ordered them to arrest anyone who was acting as an official of the State of Ohio. Mason's troops arrested a few surveyors and a couple of judges but the so called war didn't have much of an impact on either side. The only casualty of the conflict was a Michigan sheriff who was wounded with a pen knife wielded by a young man named One Stickney who was the older brother of Two Stickney. Evidently, the Stickney boys' parents didn't have much of an imagination. After the wounding, One Stickney fled into the interior of Ohio where the Michigan militia couldn't capture him.

Andrew Jackson fired Stevens Mason again and appointed another governor who freed the Ohioans who'd been taken prisoner by the Michigan militia. When Michigan became a state, the citizens voted Mason in as governor.

The Toledo War ended when congress suggested a compromise. In return for giving Ohio the Toledo Strip, Michigan received the upper peninsula. Some people wonder if it was a fair trade.

April, 1859

The Michigan Asylum for the Insane in Kalamazoo admitted its first patient. Archivists report finding secret documents that purport to show that the main reason for building Michigan's first asylum was to house state legislators. The secret papers reported that the iron cages erected at the capitol weren't reliably confining the lawmakers and they were escaping into the general population causing alarm among the citizens. A local sheriff spotted one woman galloping her horse down a rural road yelling, "The legislators are loose. The legislators are loose."

January, 1876

Some history professors purport that 1876 is the year that workers erected the first historical marker honoring the Jesuit Missionary Jacques Marquette. Other historians argue that no one constructed any marker, statue, museum, or building honoring Father Marquette before the twentieth century. Many scholars note that these same historians have trouble explaining the existence of the city named Marquette but so do most of the residents of Marquette.

January, 1881

The State Telephone Company, Michigan's first phone company to interconnect cities began operating. The young chief engineer for the new company was a genius named Linus Hopwood. Linus designed all the interconnecting circuits and, in a report to company officers, showed that he possessed a highly developed clairvoyant ability.

"The telephone system is now operational," he wrote. "We must take the utmost care that a telephone system never operates flawlessly, however. Such a flawless system would be the cause of unemployment for most telephone company workers."

Linus Hopwood then detailed some of his ideas and visions.

"To ensure maximum profits, we have to charge customers for items and services beyond our basic rates. For example, we could charge them for not having their name in our telephone directory. We'd make money above and beyond the savings in printing costs.

"I can see in the future that we'll have automatic telephones with rotary dials and pushbuttons with numbers on them. Since studies have shown that most people don't report wrong numbers to us, we can change the letters and numbers on the dials to Sanskrit and Roman numerals after a few years when our customers have become accustomed to the Arabic dials. This will increase the wrong number rate and also our profits.

"We should also consider a system where any number dialed will reach someone. This will increase the enjoyment children will have while playing with the telephone and our profits will go up in the meantime. I also foresee the day when there will be special numbers called exchanges that children may dial for their own amusement. These exchanges should have an easily dialed number such as 900 or XM, depending on the numbering system in use at the time."

When the company officials received the report, it was clear to them that they had an enormous asset in Linus Hopwood. They read the report aloud at a business meeting.

"In the future there will be many new devices invented," read the company president. "The most useful device to us will be something the scientists call a transistor. With the transistor we can invent the electronic telephone. It will be compact, it will be efficient, but it will self destruct anytime a lightning bolt strikes within a five mile radius of the device. If placed in an area where the air temperature falls below thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit, it will fail to operate at all. It will also come equipped with pushbuttons that, after three months of use, will randomly stick or fail altogether. All of the above features make this the ideal device for increasing profits in wrong numbers and new instrument sales.

"The last device I see in the future is an instrument called a cordless telephone. Our customers will not be tethered by a wire but can walk freely about their dwelling while conversing on the instrument. It will have all the features of the electronic telephone and the added feature where, with the proper equipment, the neighbors can delight themselves by listening in on the conversations from the comfort of their own homes."

The president of the new company glanced around the room and said, "That concludes Mr. Hopwood's report. Are there any comments or questions?"

The company officials were awestruck and, for the first time in their lives, speechless. Finally, they all yelled in unison, "Brilliant, absolutely brilliant," and applauded uproariously.

Linus Hopwood lived to the very old age of 115. He saw most of his recommendations and predictions come true. He might have lived even longer but at the onset of his coronary attack he dialed IX-I-I instead of 9-1-1.

July, 1894

Two lumberjacks, Harold "Logroller" Moore and Michael "Big Mike" Douglas settled in on the shore of Lake Michigan near Ludington for a long holiday weekend of partying and debauchery. Big Mike brought four bottles of Old Mindbender whiskey he'd purchased from the saloon in town. Logroller brought two women he'd rented at the local social club but had not paid for yet. A beach party began that was well into the wee hours of the morning when three workers from the local sawmill stumbled upon it. These unsavory characters tried to abscond with the two women and the last two bottles of Old Mindbender. A fight ensued that erupted into a free-for-all when other lumberjacks and sawmill workers arrived on the scene.

The local constabulary watched until the unrest had quieted down to a plain riot and then stepped in and arrested Big Mike and Logroller along with one of the women who, between the three of them, had sent fifteen people to the doctor with wounds ranging from broken noses to fractured skulls. When questioned about the fight, Big Mike and Logroller said, "They could have taken the women with our blessings but not the Old Mindbender."

This event was the start of a tradition that continues to this day. On any warm summer holiday weekend, a riot is likely to break out on the beaches near Ludington. Logroller and Big Mike couldn't have asked for a better tribute.

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