Tales from the Big Woods

October 13, 1865
Dear Grandma,
It is our third year here and lots has changed for the better. A man stayed here last night when the stage going to Traverse City stopped at our new house on State Road. He will be heading back South in a few days. But he said that he is from Ohio and that he would be glad to take a letter from me and get it to you. I was so excited to be able to write you again. Dad is 100% better and he and Ly are busy clearing the field to plant more crops. This year will be corn and potatoes. The potatoes grow so big here and are so good too. Ma makes potato soup for all the travelers who come through on the stage. Grandma, they stop at our house for the night. We get to see so many people and hear so many stories. And when Pa goes to Mr. Clark’s store in Sherman he brings back the funniest tales of what is happening all around us. I wanted to share some of those with you.
      Pa told us all about Mr. Durbin who lived about a half mile from the State Road. He had been away from home at work late, and when he arrived at the turn off to his house from State Road. About half way to his house a tree had blown down, the top falling directly in his path. When he went around and reached the treetop he thought he could pick his way around it and tell when his foot felt the hard path again, as everyone knows when you step on the path there is no sounds of breaking twigs or crushing leaves. Well, he did not find the path. He soon found himself back on the State Road. Finding where his path turned into the woods again, he followed it to the same big tree. It was so dark again that he carefully stepped around the top of the tree and tried to find the path again. He walked and walked, hoping to see a light from his home, when soon, to his great surprise, he was out on State Road once again. We laughed again. We know it is so dark in the woods, even in the day time that we know he could not find the path in the dark. Well, once again he found the path from the road. He slowly walked on it until he came to the big tree. He was thoroughly baffled and a little frightened, but decided to try it again. Then he carefully lifted each branch to crawl under it, and went over each large branch until he came to the trunk of the tree. Keeping the path directly under him, he climbed over the trunk until he was on the other side of the tree on the path. That time it got him home alright. Poor Mr. Durbin will never be late for supper anymore.
     Mr. Clark told Pa an amusing story of a new settler living eight miles east of the post office coming in one day for some groceries. Among other things he wanted a hundred pounds of flour, and when asked by Mr. Clark how he was going to get the things home, replied, “On my back.” Upon being told by Mr. Clark that his supplies were a little low, he told him he could only supply him with 25 pounds of flour. The man replied, “Huh! That would not make biscuits for breakfast for my family.” So, Mr. Clark gave him his hundred pounds of flour plus other grocery items. He watched the man walk away from his store surprised that he could carry all that weight being such a slight man. But carry it all he did. All the way through the woods eight miles back to his house. There is a man living in the county today who said that he would on more than one occasion carry a hundred pound of flour and several packages from Traverse City to Wexford County, more than 28 miles and would do it between sunrise and sunset. We found out his name was R.W. Updike. Mr. Clark said Mr. Updike’s reputation for truth was never questioned by anyone. And he can probably fight a bear if he needed to. The men call that “packing.” At one time or another, Pa and Lyman would have to carry a hundred pound bag on their back, but that would only be for two miles at the most.
Oh, and for another surprise, a Mr. Howard Mesick has been calling on me. Pa has given him permission to court me. He and Pa are both trappers and fur traders. But Howard owns a hundred and sixty acres of land right on the Manistee river. He also has built a saw mill and will supply Pa with all the lumber he can use, for fences and even a house. And Ma likes him because he is a Christian. He has already given a church the lumber for their meeting house. His kindness is spoken about all over the township. And he loves the Lord so much. Ma said she can see a wedding in the near future for me. I can only thank you for helping me to learn how to cook so good when I was a young girl staying with you. I could only hope that you could be able to attend my wedding. If not, I will always be your little Ellen.
We all love you,
Little Ellen