2018-09-06 / Columns

Fortunes found in island timber, then on mainland


STEINER GARTHE worked as a woodcutter, railroad man, farmer, Leelanau County Supervisor, and in 1902, Judge of Probate, Leelanau County. STEINER GARTHE worked as a woodcutter, railroad man, farmer, Leelanau County Supervisor, and in 1902, Judge of Probate, Leelanau County. The following is story and photos are taken from Kathleen Craker Firestone’s “The Fox Islands North and South.”

Probably more people have been brought to the Fox Islands, Manitou Islands and Beaver Islands because of the timber than for any other reason. David Gladish in The Journal of Beaver Island History, Volume 1, says “Virtually all the islands have contributed to the logging industry in one way or another.”

The first recorded land certificate on South Fox was issued to Nicholas Pickard, who was born in New York in 1817. He took out a claim on the southeastern side of South Fox in 1850. This was just before the Mormon settlers arrived. Pickard had already established a wooding station when schooners could pick up cooking fuel, on North Manitou Island in 1846, and Manitou had the biggest wooding port of the islands of Leelanau County. At that time there were no white settlers on the nearby mainland, although boats traveling the Manitou Passage stopped at North Manitou daily. Pickard obviously found this to be a profitable business, extending his wooding operations to South Fox Island, and later to Leland and Northport.

His business “Nicholas Pickard & Company” was owned in partnership with Edwin Munger of New York. Munger was probably a financier of the company. When steamers on the Great Lakes were at their greatest number, between 1870 and 1880, Pickard was well equipped to provide cordwood for their steam boilers and cooking stoves. The hardwoods on North and South Fox, when cut into four-foot-lengths, made ideal fuel for the steamers when they stopped by. During most of these years, Pickard and his wife, the former Pickard, Nancy Buss, made their home in Leland and onRoe & North Manitou Island. Garthe Nicholas Pickard died in Leland in 1876, at age 59. His death was sudden, listed as a stroke, and his final inventory included “125 cords shipping wood on bank,” along with a propeller launch, a Mackinaw boat, wood-cutting tools and farm animals. In the property settlement, the name of Wilder appeared as an heir to Edwin Munger, who had died before Pickard. It is interesting to note that J. Wilder owned property on the north end of North Fox in 1851, at the time of the early Mormon occupation of that island.

Robert Roe, a sea captain, came from Ireland to New York to Beaver Island, and then arrived at South Fox sometime between 1859 and 1861. He bought property next to Pickard, to the north. Over the next 20 years, Roe bought and resold parcels of property as he cut the wood needed for his own wooding station. Roe sold a piece on South Fox’s northeastern shore to Alexander Sample and Alfred Scovil of Chicago. Scovil did not continue his involvement in the island property, and Sample and Roe combined their wooding businesses and bought additional joint property. Roe already had quite a business going before Sample joined him in his venture. Employees of Roe listed on the 1870 and 1880 Censuses for South Fox were William Chase from England, Francis Boyle from Ireland, Andrew Olson and Powel Johnson from Norway, James McGregor from New York and Josiah Boyce. Some of these men are listed as married servants of Roe, but their families were not living on the island. For their labor, wood choppers got 50 cents a cord for fourfoot lengths. One person could cut about a cord a day. The wood was then sold to steamers for $1.50 a cord.

Robert Roe also owned more than a mile of shoreline frontage along North Fox Island’s east side, which he registered in 1864. This was the best place on North Fox to operate a wooding station, away from the westerly winds.

Though a wood chopper didn’t get rich, his job could keep him alive until he found something better.

Steiner Garthe came with his widowed father from Norway to Michigan, in 1868, and found a job on the Leelanau mainland as a farm hand. He agreed to work for a year for $150, plus board and washing. Garthe claimed he got the board and washing but not the money. He thought he might do better as a woodcutter on South Fox Island and signed up at one of the wooding stations. His sister Mary went to the island with him, and they lived with another Norweigan, Ole Goodmanson. Presumably, Steiner Garthe received his pay, and experience helped him to clear some 40 acres around 1870, back on the mainland near Cat Head Point. From his first job as a farm hand, Garthe worked his way through woodcutter, railroad man, farmer, Leelanau County Supervisor, and in 1902, Judge of Probate. From such humble beginnings, many settlers in America left their mark as Steiner Garthe did. A common job such as woodcutter could be a steeping stone for an ambitious immigrant.

Perhaps some woodcutters weren’t so willing. Stan Floyd of Beaver Island and Charlevoix claimed that his grandfather, John Floyd, was shanghaied to South Fox to cut cordwood. According to the grandson, John Floyd arrived in Milwaukee after the Civil War and got a little drunk from celebrating. He woke up later on South Fox Island. It’s not known which wooding station John Floyd worked for; but he made friends on the island with Mary Palmer and her sweetheart Otto Williams. John Floyd was witness to their 1871 wedding and when Mary Palmer Williams became a young widow or was deserted by her husband, John Floyd married her in 1874. Henry Longfield, who probably was a woodcutter, accompanied Mary and John to Northport, where the marriage took place. After most of their children were born on South Fox, the Floyds were found to be living on North Manitou in 1880s, where Mr. Floyd, most likely, worked in one of the lumbering operations there. The family soon moved to Beaver Island, and descendants became part of that island’s community. Another of Roe’s woodcutters, William Chase, also married and raised a family on Beaver Island.

Marriage was on the mind of a friend of John Floyd. John Malloy, who was called “Buffalo,” was a woodcutter on South Fox with Floyd. Malloy was scheduled to marry a girl from Beaver Island, but it seemed that the tin, spring ice was slow to break-up, preventing travel by boat. Malloy said he would crawl if he had to, to get to his waiting bride. Stan Floyd related that Malloy kept his promise and did crawl much of the way across the melting ice between South Fox and Beaver Island, and the wedding took place on schedule.

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