History of GRATIOT CO., Michigan. Historical Biographical, Statistical

By Willard D. Tucker pub. 1913 Press of Seemann & Peters, Saginaw, Michigan




A few of the most noted-Others following by Townships.

Death by Fire

A young man named Geo. Lott, of Elm Hall, lost his life at St. Louis, night of May 24, 1877, being cremated by the burning of the village jail in which he was spending the night. He had been arrested on a larceny charge, by Sheriff Geo. L. Patch and was placed in the St. Louis lock-up for safe keeping over night, the idea being to take him to the county jail at Ithaca, next day. During the night the jail was discovered to be on fire, and, despite extraordinary efforts to extinguish the fire, it was burned to the ground, and Lott suffered a horrible death by fire. It was the supposition that Lott started the fire either by accident or design, and the coroner's jury so decided the matter.

The village lock-tip was an edifice constructed of plank and was located on the northwest corner of the public square opposite the place now occupied by the Union School building. It was a very unfortunate and distressing occurrence, and one for which it was a difficult matter to place the blame.

Boiler Explosion at Ithaca

1887, March 8, Ithaca-Three lives were snuffed out when the boiler in Wm. F. Thompson's butter tub factory exploded on this date; one of the worst occurrences in the history of the county, fatalities considered. The explosion came in the afternoon, and was without warning, presumably caused by low water. R. J. Norton, the engineer, was killed outright. He was from Ohio, and left a wife and four children. Orin Harvey, 16 years old, son of Mrs. Levi Armstrong, survived his injuries only about two hours. Charles Wilson, aged 32, lived till 8 o'clock the following morning. He was the adopted son of Henry P. Howd, and left a wife and two children.

Those injured more or less seriously were Emmett Pierce. Jas. Dixon. Luther Lord, Leonard Emmons and Jas. Logan. John C. Heslin and J. C. Naugle, though in the midst of the danger, escaped injury. A horse belonging to the mercantile firm of Nelson & Farber, and driven by Jun. Rosekrans, was instantly killed by a portion of the boiler striking him on the neck in its descent, after being hurled almost perpendicularly high in the air. The factory was located at the southeast corner of Main and Emerson Streets, but the force of the explosion was so great that bricks were hurled more than a block, breaking windows in the business places.

The building was erected in 1866 by W. W. Comstock, for a grist mill, and was so used till bought by Mr. Thompson in 1882 and remodeled into a butter tub factory and sawmill. Fire from the explosion partially destroyed the engine room and sawmill part of the structure, but the firemen were promptly on hand and, confining the fire to those parts, soon had it extinguished.


The coroner's inquest, conducted by Coroner J. H. DeMay, with jurymen J. H. Seaver, W. B. Scattergood, Wolf Netzorg, O. H. Heath, F. H. Horr and S. B. Heverlo, returned a verdict that the victims "came to their deaths by means of the explosion of the steam boiler in the tub factory of W. F. Thompson; that deceased came to their deaths in the manner and by the means aforesaid, accidentally and by misfortune, and not otherwise."

It may not be inappropriate to remark here, in closing, that the mill was repaired and enlarged, and did a thriving business for many years, and until the business was sold to Armour & Co., who removed to other quarters in the west part of town. The old building was put to various transient uses for several years and was then torn down, piecemeal, as it were, the last of it disappearing in the spring of 1913 to make room for the new residence building of Theron A. Goodwin.

Fourth of July Fatality.

The celebration of the National holiday, at Ithaca, July 4, 1887, ended with a catastrophe that brought death to one person and serious bodily hurts to several others. The big crowd had been satisfactorily entertained throughout the day and the fireworks were in progress, being operated from an elevated stand located on the north side of the Court House square. As the exhibition progressed a big skyrocket was "set off", the back-action rush of sparks ignited a lot of rockets lying on the platform partially covered with a blanket. An explosion followed, sending the rockets and rocket sticks flying in a promiscuous manner. Carlton Snedicor, son of C. Snedicor, of Emerson, was bit in the abdomen by one of the sticks and fatally wounded, living till about noon the next day. Robert Reed, of Newark, an old soldier, was struck on the hand and side by a stick, and several others were more or less injured. Young Snedicor was a fine young man, and the sad ending of his promising young life was sincerely deplored. It was said that no one was to blame for the accident as all the usual precautions had been taken to secure safety.

Gardner's Mill Explosion.

On June 25, 1890, in North Star Township, occurred the terrible boiler explosion that destroyed more lives than could be charged against any other single catastrophe in the county. Referring to the stave mill explosion of Frank Gardner in N6rth Star Township. Six men were killed outright or died within a few hours, and about 12 others were more or less seriously injured. The factory was located about one and one-half miles southeast of North Star Village on the south side of the Ann Arbor Railroad, at that time called the Toledo, Ann Arbor and North Mich. The mill employed 25 hands, had been in operation about eight years and was of much importance to the farming community in furnishing a market for timber, besides providing work for the force of hands directly employed. The explosion occurred at 2:30 in the afternoon. The mill was standing idle, temporarily, while a belt was being mended, when the shock came. Following are the main personal facts relative to the victims:

Frank Gardner, proprietor of the mill, so badly injured that he died about 10 hours after the accident. He left a wife and son, the latter aged 18, being in the midst of the danger, but escaped serious injury. Mr. Gardner was aged 46.


Fred Tucker, aged 27, breathed a few minutes after being taken from the ruins. He left a wife but no children. His borne was in St. Louis.

Chas. Brown, the engineer, lived about four hours, when death claimed him. His age was 40 years. He resided at North Star Village and left a wife and three children.

Jay Brown, brother to Charles, the engineer. He lingered about 20 hours. He was 28 years old, and had a wife and two children living not far from the mill.

Hiram Goodwin, aged 17, son of Hiram Goodwin, living near the mill was instantly killed.

David Costello, aged 35, was killed upon the spot. He was a comparative stranger, coming from Wisconsin.

The names of the others more or less seriously injured are as follows Jas. Hull, Jas. Britten, Richard Britten, David Robinson, Cassius Conklin Eugene Conklin, Wm. Erb, Neil Holm, Mandus Holm, John Logan, Floyd Gardner, Wm. Ready, Jas. A. Thum, Jas. E. Van Epps.

The ruins took fire and everything combustible was reduced to ashes and, an account written at the time, goes on to say: "It required quick work on the part of the survivors to get the dead and wounded out from the debris and away from the flames. A large quantity of stave bolts was consumed. The dry-house, full of staves and the blacksmith shop further away were also entirely destroyed. The trucks are all that is left of two freight cars that stood on the sidetrack, loaded with staves and heading. Away over in the orchard back of the Gardner residence, and fully 20 rods from, the site of the mill, lies, spread out, one-half of the boiler. It is spread out flat. In reaching its present resting place it flew almost directly north struck a stave shed in its flight and knocked out a corner post, then struck on the ground and bounded clear over the railroad track, struck a

tie and then with another leap landed clear over the further fence, taking large limbs from an apple tree on its way. The piece of boiler is seven by fifteen feet in size. The other half took a westerly course and landed 20 rods away in a stave pile."

A coroner's jury attributed the ca-use of the explosion to low water. The mill was not rebuilt.

The David Strouse Tragedy.

An accident fatal to two people occurred in St. Louis, July 19, 1894 at the intersection of the railroad and Main Street, near the depot. David Strouse, with his wife and 12-year-old son were driving across the track and were caught by the east-hound train which came upon them without warning, at least without warning enough to attract their attention. Mr and Mrs. Strouse were both instantly killed, and the lad was seriously injured The unfortunate people were residents of Ithaca, and stood well in the community. The verdict of the coroner's jury had no censure for anyone.

Death in a Blizzard.

In the spring of 1901, Edwin Hutchinson, aged about 21, son of Wm O. Hutchinson, of Arcada, went west to North Dakota with a small party of St. Johns people, took up land for a farm and commenced improving it in accordance with the provisions of the homestead law. All seemed to go well until in February, 1902, his father received a telegram to the effect that Edwin had been lost in a blizzard that had swept over that western


country. He was supposed to have been in his hut during the storm but when the blizzard was over, neighbors failed to find him there or to get any trace of him. His father went immediately to his rescue, but after weeks and months of searching, failed to get any definite clue as to his fate.

Time passed on, and in the summer of 1903 the young man's remains were found 20 miles from his home, occupied at the time of the storm, a year and a half previously. The remains were identified by the clothing and some things remaining in the pockets. His money and watch were gone, which indicated that the remains had been found by someone previously, and robbed. The presumption was that during the blizzard he had attempted to go to a neighbor's, but had got lost in the storm and wandered to the place where he was found, and had died from exhaustion.

The case was a sad one and full of interest, enlisting the sympathy of all the people acquainted with the incident.

Tortured by Fire

Death by fire, July 22, 1901, was the fate of Mrs. Jacob Huffman, aged about 69 and living a mile southeast of Ithaca. She had been to town and was returning home. She was addicted to smoking a pipe, and it was presumed that having been smoking she had put her pipe into her pocket without properly emptying the fire out of it. Anyway, when within 40 or 50 rods of home she was suddenly enveloped in flames, her clothing having taken fire in some way. Assistance was near, and the fire was extinguished, but not until the old lady had received frightful burns. She was taken home and everything done for her that it was possible to do to relieve her, but she gave up the struggle at 9 o'clock that evening. She was a pioneer of the county, and was a woman of great energy and activity and with many friends, all of whom were shocked at the tragic circumstances of her death.

Lonely Death of Mr. Mey

Julius Mey, an old gentleman aged 75, residing on section 9. Pine River Township, met his death about June 1, l902, under peculiarly pathetic conditions. He had been to St. Louis on Decoration Day, and when he started for home with his horse and buggy it appeared that he became confused and took the wrong road and the wrong direction, for when he was missed and a search instituted which lasted several days, his horse was found in the eastern part of Lafayette Township, and further search resulted in finding his body and the wrecked buggy just over the meridian line, in Saginaw County, and a little distance from the road, in the woods, the indications being that the horse had wandered from the road upset the buggy, throwing the old gentleman out, and that his death resulted from the fall. The place is about 25 miles from his home.

Mr. Mey was a pioneer of Pine River and had the respect of all who knew him. He had been a resident for about 49 years. having settled in 1853 on the farm he owned and occupied to the time of his death.

Three Dead at Crystal Lake

July 31, 1903, one of the most distressing casualties that ever happened to Gratiot County people occurred at Crystal Lake, Montcalm County, the


popular vacation resort for so many Gratiot County people. A row boat, overloaded with ten people-two men, five women and three children-was swamped in about eight feet of water at the end of the pier which extended into the lake. All saved themselves, or were saved, excepting three. Miss Myrtle Debolt, of Breckenridge, aged 20, her aunt, Miss Ethel Debolt, of Saginaw, aged 30, and Lura, aged seven years, daughter and only child of School Commissioner Charles F. Pike and wife, of Ithaca, were drowned in spite of all efforts to save them. Though the bodies were soon recovered from the water, all endeavors to resuscitate them proved unavailing.

This was a sad ending to a happy week of recreation. Two amiable, intelligent and esteemed young ladies, in the prime of young womanhood victims of a strange and heartless fate. Nothing could be more saddening unless it might be the cruel fate of the innocent child, the idol of her parents and the pride of many relatives and friends.

Arcada's Death-Dealing Cyclone

On the 11th of October, 1912, at a little before midnight, a cyclone, local in its nature and in its destructive work, visited Arcada Township, and left its mark in ruined buildings and orchards, dead and maimed farm stock, and one dead human being-Mrs. Ermina S. Bowman, a lady 70 years of age, widow of Edward D. Bowman, who died March 30,1910.

Wreckage of Bowman Building Photo 

The Bowman farm is on the southeast corner of section 9. The storm came from the southwest, and seems to have dropped down and paid its respects to a strip of country a few rods wide and two miles long, doing much damage to property, as already stated. Mrs. Bowman, her son, E. F. Bowman, and a hired man named Earl Everson, were in their beds when the storm demolished the house. All three were carried with the wreckage of the house 80 or 100 feet from the starting point. Mr. Bowman was considerably bruised and lacerated; his mother, Mrs. Bowman appeared to


have been killed instantly, as she was quite dead when found by her son within a few minutes, her neck being broken. The hired man was practically uninjured.

Mrs. Bowman had been a resident of the county and on the same farm for a period of thirty-five years, and was very much respected. Her tragic death was mourned by a large circle of acquaintances. She left three sons and a daughter.

Disappearance of Ray Naugle

In November, 1912, the people of Ithaca became greatly interested and concerned over the fate of Ray Naugle, who suddenly and mysteriously disappeared from the face of the earth, apparently, from the wilderness regions of the Upper Peninsula, where he had gone for a hunting vacation. Mr. Naugle was a young married man about 28 years of age, only child of Mrs. Margaret Naugle, so well known as the leading saleslady in Henry McCormack's department store; and the young man himself had for many years been employed as clerk in the same establishment. The strange-disappearance not only claimed the excited interest of the people of Ithaca, but of the entire county, as well, and the case became of general interest throughout the state, as the facts became known.

On the 25th of October, 1912, Mr. Naugle, together with Nathaniel Johnson, of Newark, and George Mikesell, of Pompeii, both men considerably older than Ray, left by train for a hunting trip. Arriving at Newberry, they went about 12 miles into the woods northwest from that city. It is a wild and rough country, with extensive swamps, here and there a lumber camp, and the settlers far apart.

On Friday, November 1st, the men were hunting and when night came, Mr. Naugle failed to return to camp. He was last seen in the afternoon by Mr. Johnson, and at that time he was following the trail of a deer that the two had started up. The trail led into a swamp, and by agreement Ray started one way around the swamp, while Johnson went the other

That was the last seen of the young hunter. As told by Johnson and Mikesell, they hunted for Naugle all day Saturday, notifying all whom they encountered, of Naugle's disappearance, and on Sunday notified the authorities at Newberry. But though the officers, with hundreds of searchers scoured the country for miles in all directions, for days and weeks, not the slightest trace of the lost man was ever discovered. His relatives here in Gratiot, as well as other friends, went to the scene of the mysterious disappearance, and made every effort to solve the mystery, offering a reward of $500, but without avail.

Various theories to account for the mystery are held and advanced by individuals, but none of them have anything more than bare supposition as a basis. Possibly the theory most generally accepted, is that which supposes an accidental shot, by some hunter mistaking Ray for a deer and then to cover up the hideous blunder, a hasty but strangely effectual burial of the body. The theory that he may have wandered into a swamp and sunk to his death in a quagmire, might be the true one or that he became lost in some thicket not penetrated by the searchers.

Whatever the details of his fate may have been, the fact of his death seems hardly to admit of a doubt. A fate deplored by a host of friends: a sad affliction to his bereaved family.

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