The history of the tri-city area (Saginaw, Bay City & Midland) goes back a long way - like hundreds of thousands of trillions of years ago. Back when the earth was formed, Saginaw and most of most of Michigan was covered with water, which was real deep and filled with creepy, yucky things. Then a little while later, it got hot out and the water started turning into steam, which is why the dinosaurs died because they all got cooked real good, and it was too bad no one was around to eat them, except for some little horse like animals that later became dogs and stuff.
After a little while longer, maybe a couple of hundred thousand years or so, Michigan looked the Elephant Man’s hand (see diagram A) with a couple of fingers chopped off. Michigan didn’t have any trees yet, just a lot of fuzzy green stuff called moss and lichens that would crawl around and sing old Kate Smith melodies. This stuff was everywhere! Later it evolved into trees and then the Michigan Legislature.
Then about, oh, 200 trillion B.C., man evolved from little, slimy, carp like things that lived in the waters covering that area we now call Grand Rapids. This took quite some time for them to evolve and develop legs, arms, heads, noses, suits, briefcases and wing tip shoes.
Over the course of another hundred thousand years or so, mid-Michigan slowly drained, turning from a vast sea filled with icky things to a vast muddy, sloppy swamp filled with icky things.
About 800 B.C. Indians from the south, probably somewhere around Mt. Clemens, migrated here, hoping to find hot food, comfortable shoes, and a warm place to go to the bathroom. They set up village along the edges of the swamp and quickly learned how to make use of their most abundant natural resource. Mud. They lived in mud shacks, wore mud clothes, used mud for currency, and eventually were the first to cultivate wild mud, which was their sole source of nutrition.
They lived quite happily like this until about the time the white man discovered America. By the 1600s, people who spoke French who were from a country called France began exploring this area. These people were called Frenchmen. When they saw the Indians living in mud shacks, wearing mud penny loafers and eating mud they laughed and made fun of the Indians. “Ho, ho! Zees eez fuhnee!” became a common phrase amongst the French settlers and explorers.
This hurt the Indians feelings and they considered butchering the French, but the French had guns, giving them a considerable advantage over the Indians whose only means of defense were mudballs and clubs made of mud.
After awhile, the Indians decided that the French were right and that mud was ‘outre’. They started filling in the swamp using anything they could get their hands on; birch bark, dried roots, old girl friends telephone numbers, and eventually made friends with the French and started eating quiche, snails, rich pastries and a variety of crepes. The Indians also shed their mud clothes, which had always been a nuisance to change anyways, and washing was almost impossible, and started wearing much more chic’ furs (which is why the French came in the first place) and discussing broad philosophical issues, mainly concerning the vintage of wines.
A little while later the English came. The English didn’t like the French, saying they smelled like snails, ate sissy food, and dressed like queers. The French didn’t like the English, saying they were selfish, egocentric, and not much fun at all.
This started a war, with the Indians taking the side of their now long-time friends, the French. It is still a point of debate as to whether this is why the French lost their hold on Michigan or not, since the only way the Indians knew how to conduct warfare was to sneak up on an opponent, and quickly grab their forearm with both hands and twist, which the French called ‘Ze Burne’ le Zavage’ or ‘Indian Burn.’
About this time, villages began springing up in lower Michigan, and the Indians got into real estate; but ignorant of amortizations and mortgage rates, soon lost everything. One of the first villages was Detroit, which was founded by the French, then taken by the British, then taken by the French again, and back by the British, and on and on. (This may account for the still prevalent atmosphere of schizophrenia Detroit is famous for.)
In the early 1800s, a Frenchman by the name of Louis Campeau built the first drive through trading post just off the Dixie Highway. The Indians and numerous white trappers in the area depended on Louis for important needs like food, gunpowder, underwear and socks, for which Louis traded in exchange for furs. Louis had a 10% markup, which probably explains why he became so rich so fast.
Louis lived to be 195 years old. At the age of 125, after having amassed a vast fortune, Louis took his Indian wife June (her Indian name had been “Little Twinkie Buns Who Sits By Great River and Stupidly Watches Carp Make Other Carp’ which was difficult to remember), his two sons, Beaujolais and Champagne, and moved to Zilwaukee (which in Indian meant ‘Bridge That Goes Nowhere’.
Soon, more white settlers came into the area and before long, a hustling bustling community developed. The federal government realized the necessity for protecting these brave, hardy but somewhat dimwitted pioneers not only from marauding bands of Indians selling magazine subscriptions, but also from themselves. So they established in 1830 something called a fort on the banks of the Saginaw River.
Called ‘Fort Saginaw’, it was closed after a short while due to the fact that in inimitable government fashion, the fort had been built over a nest of Giant Michigan Mosquitoes. During the summer months many a settler would come down by the river banks at dusk, their meager suppers of mayonnaise on rye and hard roll stuffed beneath their flannel shirts, and watch as the Giant mosquitoes carried off soldiers, dogs, cats and other livestock.
This was perhaps the greatest form of entertainment the settlers enjoyed, next to hurling sharp axes at each other, and they were very disappointed when the federal government sold the fort to an Ohio investment firm that moved the Fort out to Buena Vista and turned it into a mall.
It was also about this time that the white settlers finally discovered that trees covered about 95 percent of Michigan. The first white man to discover ‘Trees’ was the renowned and venerated Alfred Bismarck (for whom the bar was named after). Having left one of the more popular entertainment houses of that era, which was famous for employing scores of young women and teaching them a trade, such as how to mix a decent Slammer, Alfred walked directly into a tree, breaking his nose in three places.
After he regained his composure and zipped his pants up, he hurled some unprintable expletives at the deciduous growth and decided to cut the thing down. Not sure of what to do with it after that, Alfred sold it to an unsuspecting Gypsy, who promptly carved it into a gigantic mandolin.
Realizing the vast possibilities for these ‘Trees’ that yielded the fruit ‘Wood’, the settlers soon began taking off into the ‘Forests’ armed to the hilt with axes and saws, chopping everything down in their path.
‘Chop, Chop’ was soon heard throughout the virgin forest. ‘Chop, chop’ and a tree would fall. ‘Chop, Chop, Chop, Chop, two trees would fall. Soon, ‘Chop,Chop’,Chop’,Chop’,Chop’,Chop’ filled the air day and night, night and day, making it impossible for anyone to get a decent nights’ sleep.
This was the beginning of the Lumber Industry in Michigan.
It was also the beginning of the cities of Saginaw City and East Saginaw, which were originally founded at the mouth of the Saginaw River, which is now where the sleepy little hamlet of Bay City is situated. Due to the fact that there was till all that mud under the ground, plus all that sawdust that was beginning to accumulate, the two cities began sliding downriver at the incredible rate of 200 feet a day, giving every citizen the impression they were living in a Winnebago traveling at 300 miles an hour down I-94.
If not for the fact the Tittabawassee and Shiawassee rivers branched off, thankfully stopping the cities from sliding even more southward, the city of Saginaw today would be situated somewhere south of St. Joseph.
By the middle and late 1800s, several hundred lumber mills were located along the banks of the Saginaw river, turning out zillions of board feet a year. The two Saginaw’s were actually famous only for the sawdust they produced, which was used in bars throughout the United States. Wood was treated strictly as a byproduct, until one Elwood Corset (who doesn’t have a street named after him) invented the wood corset. Soon the Saginaw’s were manufacturing everything from planks to furniture to toothpicks. Someone even tried making wooden clothes, but they itched too badly, were subject to rot and the splinters were understandably intolerable.
Then something terrible happened. Someone forgot to tell the guys who went out chopping wood to stop for lunch. With frenzy, they tore through the woods like juggernauts, only stopping occasionally to relieve themselves. Pretty soon they had chopped down all the damn trees in Michigan.
Tragically, the Lumber Era in Michigan actually only lasted 4 weeks, 2 days and 9 hours.
This is the first installment of an excerpt of a part of a forthcoming booklet that is to be included in a future book by author Gross Stewart.
Included in the next installment will be such exciting topics as:
• The Tri-Cities during the wars: how we made bombs without blowing ourselves up.
• The Tri-Cities after World War I: Dullness in a new dimension.
• Culture in the Tri-Cities: What is was, where it came from, where it went back to.
• The Tri-Cities in the late 60s: The daring and bold move to put water in the Saginaw River!