Township of Gaines -- Incidents of Early Settlement -- Interesting Incidents
Capturing the "Gull Prairie Wolf" -- The Red School House -- First Town Meeting
Gaines is situated tier of townships of Kent County. The first settler in this township was Alexander Clark, who located on section eight in the spring of 1837. He was joined in the following autumn by Alex. L. Bonck. Gaines at this period had little more to recommend her to the eyes of civilization, being nothing more ore less than thirty-six square miles of wilderness. Yet, to the hardy, enterprising pioneers her heavy forests of beech and maple, and, in some localities, pine and oak, an abundant share of bears, wolves, deer and wild turkeys, possessed a charm that captivated the enterprising settlers.
At this time the only thoroughfare within the limits of the territory of Gaines was a road known as the "Old Gull Road," running a zig-zag course from north to south. The line of settlement followed the course of this road, and to-day we find some of the richest farms on this line. It was afterwards straightened as the township became settled to correspond with the section lines, and became a stage route from Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo until the completion of the plank road in 1854.
Gaines, aside from her agricultural prospects, offered but little inducement to business men. Plaster and Buck creeks both rise near the centre of the township, but are too small during most of the year for profitable mill sites. There was, however, a small water mill erected on the latter stream about the year 1852, by Esech Burlingame, which is still running, and which cut the lumber for some of the first frame buildings in the township.
Most of the settlers of Gaines, as in usual, were poor, having barely means enough to enable them to purchase their lands of the Government for $1.25 an acre, get their families and household goods transported through the wilderness, and gain a foothold on their farms. But with persistent energy they set to work and the heavy forests began to disappear. It was soon found to be one of the richest tracts in the vicinity for agricultural purposes, and at the present date is one of the best in the country.
The first attempt at organization was in part of Paris in 1839, but in the year 1848 it was organized under the name of Gaines, and the first township meeting was held at the old red school house. The following law was passed at the meeting: "On motion of Orson Cook, it was voted that a tax of won dollars and fifty cents be raised for every wolf killed in the township."
Wolves were rather troublesome neighbors in those days, and the author of the motion probably owed them a grudge for their former depredations. Wolves made frequent visits to the early settlers, and would make the very earth tremble with their howlings and complaints to the intruders of their time-honored homes.
One occupation of the boys and larger girls of that day sed to be to fire the old stumps about the place in the evening to scare away the wolves. About the year 1846 there was a wolf who had her beat from this vicinity to Gull Prairie, in Barry County, and was known as the "Gull Prairie Wolf," who usually made the round trip once a week. The dogs would not molest her, and she seemed to care for neither man nor beast. She had been caught once in a steel trap, and all efforts to entrap her again were for a long time unsuccessful. Even the children, in time, seemed to distinguish her voice from other wolves, and were in the habit of listening for her on certain nights. She seldom disappointed them, and made night hideous with her howls. She finally killed four sheep in one night on the premises of Mr. Mesnard. Mr. Jones, who lived near, request the owner to leave one of the carcasses, which the wolf had partially devoured, and he did so. Messrs. Jones and Cook then held a council of war, at which they concluded to make one more effort to entrap her. Accordingly, two traps were set near the carcass. But on her next visit she contrived to remove the carcass several rods, taking care to avoid the traps. Another consultation resulted in more traps. Four were set, placing in the intermediate spaces small pieces of iron, which were left in sight, while the traps were carefully concealed. This time they outwitted her and she was caught in one of the traps. Early on the following morning Messrs. Jones and Cook took the trail in pursuit. They overtook her near Duncan Lake, caught her and attempted to bring her home alive, but the wolf acted so badly that they were compelled to abandon the project. They brought home the pelt for which they received one dollar, and ten and a half dollars in county and State bounties.
But the wolves and their allies, the bears and wildcats, have disappeared, and the township has become largely settled and improved. At the first township meeting only thirty-five votes were polled, but to-day her population is nearly two thousand. Thrifty farms greet you at every turn; comfortable frame cottages take the place of the log huts of the pioneer; good roads on section lines traverse all parts of the township; and from thirty-six square miles of wilderness she has grown in thirty-six years to the enterprising, thrifty agricultural town.
The first school was taught in a log house, erected by Mr. Clark about the year 1842. This, in a short time, was removed to give place to a frame building painted red, and known throughout the county as the red school house, which was succeeded, in 1863, by the present elegant structure on the same sight. There are ten school houses in the township, all comfortable frame buildings.
The society of United Brethren built a church on section twenty-eight in 1867, which, although plain and modest, is neat and tasty -- an honor to the association and an ornament to the community. It is situated on one of the most elevated points of the township, and can be seen for miles around.
The Grand River Valley Railroad runs through the territory of Gaines, and is now being a valuable aid to its progress.
The first township officers were: Peter Van Lee, Supervisor; James M. Pelton, Clerk; Charles Kelley, Treasurer; Joseph Blain, Josiah Drake and Robert R. Jones, Justices of the Peace; Foster Kelley and Abram T. Andrews, Assessors; Daniel Rice, Levi M. Dewey and William Kelley, Commissioners of Highways; R. Mesnard and A. T. Andrews, School Inspectors; O. Cook and Levi Cheney, Poor Directors; L. W. Sanford, J. E. Guild, T. Kelley and Daniel Williams, Constables.