Coming Through the Wilderness

In these days of comfortable railroad cars and motor cars traveling smooth concrete highways, it is difficult to imagine the hardships endured by the pioneer traveler of a century ago. Mrs. Harriet Burton, a daughter of Joel Guild, 20 years of age when she came here, later described the journey of the Herkimer county emigrants from Detroit to Grand river. They had stopped at Detroit to buy cows and oxen and other supplies. Mrs. Burton then goes on to say:

"Every family had a wagon. From Detroit we went to Pontiac, where we stayed two nights in a tavern. The third day we went about ten miles and camped near a tavern, where the women and children found shelter, and the rest slept in tents. The next day we left the roads and went into the wilderness, with no guide except a compass and a knowledge of the general direction to be taken. That night, I think, we reached the cabin of a Mr. Gage, twenty miles from any other white man's habitation. Asmany as the small house would accommodate slept in it; the others camped. All were quite weary. Mr. Winsor, who was lame, Mrs. Winsor, with her sick girl, Rosalind, and the small children, rode. The rest of us walked and it was hard walking. After leaving there all had to camp out. Each family had a tent; the six tents were pitched together as on long tent, and every night twenty-three beds were made upon the ground.

At Pontiac Mrs. Dexter's youngest child, a boy, became sick with scarlet fever, and seemed to grow worse every day. But we could not stop, for our progress was slow and our supplies running short, so we traveled on to the Shiawassee, where we procured a guide. It was raining when we reached the Lookingglass river, and that night the little boy was so sick that his mother and Mrs. Yeomans, whose babe was but four weeks old when we started, and myself, sat up all night, holding umbrellas over the two little ones, and nursing them. It was late when we started the next day, and we only went about four miles before reaching heavy timbered land. That night the boy grew worse, and his mother and I sat up nearly all night with him.

Our provisions were nearly all gone, and we could not stop, but about noon Mrs. Dexter called a halt, noticing a change in the boy. Dr. Lincoln gave him some medicine, but in a few minutes the little sufferer was dead. We could not tarry, but went sadly on, carrying his body, and camped early; when my mother furnished a small trunk that had been used for carrying food and dishes, which served for a coffin, and by Muskrat creek, as the sun was going down, the little one was buried. A large elm by the grave was marked, and logs that were put over the mound and fastened there, to protect it from wolves that were plenty then in that vicinity. The only service over the grave was a prayer by Mr. Dexter. The mother seemed brokenhearted, and we all were grieved, but could not tarry there.

We had reached the point where we had to use meal that father bought at Pontiac for the horses, letting the latter pick their living as best they could from grass and twigs by the way. Each family had cows--in all fifteen or twenty. We made log-heap fires, filled a large brass kettle with water, placed it over the fire, stirred in meal and made hasty pudding which, with mild from the cows, was our only food. After reaching the timber land we girls had to rise very early and get breakfast for the young men, who would then start ahead to cut the road, and only came in when it was time to camp at night. At the end of sixteen days we reached Grand river at Lyons."


Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
Created: 16 January 2000