Granddad Bell

by Manley Bell

Hodgeson, Mary (Dad’s Grandmother) - born Ireland and came to Bangor, Maine.

Ebenezer Curtis - Dad’s granddad - born in Nova Scotia

His dad came from Spain - Ebenezer came to Bangor, Maine.  He was a ship builder - met grandmother Curtis in Bangor, Manine and they married in Maine - Grandfather was a grand nephew of Major Rogers.

Al, Alvina, Bill, Ed, Jenny, Mame (Mary), all born in Maine, Dick only one born here.  He was the first white child born inside of Curtis Township, Alcona County.  At the outbreak of the Civil War Granddad Curtis came to Saginaw with first cousin Dan Rogers, leaving the family in Old Town, Maine.  He was a timber estimator.  They came from Saginaw in a canoe with a U.S. Army blanket for a sail.  They came from Saginaw to AuSable (where there was an Indian village) and went up the river as far as the North Branch (around Grayling), then they worked down towards Curtisville by selling estimates on pine.  He sent money to his family in Maine - was gone 8 years.  Then returned to Maine for his family.

Bill was born after he left Maine.  After he returned he got back in the night and Bill was in bed with his mother and when the baby woke up and found this man in bed with his mother he was greatly surprised.  Grandfather Curtis immediately return to Michigan with his family near Curtisville.  He packed groceries on his back from Tawas (40 miles).  Curtis Township and Curtisville were both named after him.

The family nose comes from the Spanish background.  Granddad Curtis’ daughter Jenny Dad Bell’s mother.

Joe Bell (Dad’s father) was born in Maine near Bangor on a little stony good-for nothing farm - they were not farmers.  His father didn’t have much gumption and he used to send Joe to town with a bag grain on horse back ot get it ground and to get a jug of molasses.  That is all they had to eat.  Granddad Joe Bell’s father was born in Maine as well as his mother.

When the Civil War broke out you could hire a substitute to go in your place if were drafted.  The Bell family was very poor and when a fellow offered Joe Bell $500.00 to go in as a substitute Joe, who was only 16, took the offer and gave the money to his folks.  He went to war and fought under Grant, was wounded on the foot once the shot through the hand in the Battle of the Wilderness when they won against Lee.  After he was shot in the hand it was days before he could get to the rear to get attention.  They took him to the hospital in Washington.  One man (nurse) took care of about 500 men.  They had no antiseptics.  They put a bullet in his mouth for him to bite on and sawed his arm off and threw it in the Potomac River.  It had decayed so much that it had to be taken off about four inches from his elbow, and the only thing that kept the blood poisoning out his arm is that it was full of maggots.  They kept the infection out.  After the war as many of the Civil War veterans as possible were sent to Michigan because of the lumber boom.  Most of the lumber jacks were from Maine (some from Canada) - all were good river man and lumber jacks.  Joe Bell came to what is now known as Curtisville and married Jenny Curtis.  From this union there were seven (7) children Ed, Joe, Manley, Kenneth, Faith, Fred and Dan (Jenny died when Dan was born).

Dad and Mother Bell met in Curtisville, Dad worked 11 hours a day for $1.00 lumbering.  Dad and Mother homesteaded across from the 2nd gate.  Lyle was born where the Bylers live now.  Alvin and Georgia were born on the homestead then they bought the present farm, approximately 46 years ago, and bult the big house where Grace and Arbutus were born. 

Major Rogers and his men took the Fort of Alpena without firing a shot.  The Captain of the Fort was out hunting and they took the fort while he was gone. (In the book Major Rogers life it proves more about the dates of the war fought here in Michigan and proves the relationship)

At that time they were still handling the logs with hand spikes.  The State of Mainer’s called this Hawn Beam lever. They slid their logs up the skids with these hand spikes rather than what we now use - a cant hook.  A fellow by the name of McCann invented the cant hook.  On the river drive they used long pike poles and hawn beam levers for driving the logs.  Then the peve was invented which was like a cant hook stick only longer, then thay inserted a spike into the end of the stock and then the blacksmiths made what they called the line peve.  They made to go over the wood - about four on the end.  They welded them together then they put a hook on them like a cant hook.  They built little cabins all along the river.  The drivers lived in tents and in the summer in these cabins was where they made these peve sticks.  Dad’s grandfather used to go up onto these places and work with what he called a crooked knife (a straight blade built built into the handle).  He fastened the blade in with fish line and beeswax and it on tight.  He was on the North Branch of the AuSable making these sticks (he carried his grub on his back).  He sat in this little cabin and whittled his sticks off and there would be a big pile of shavings.  One night he woke up and heard a hoarse grunting and groaning so he got a match and struck a light and these was a big bear trying to squeeze through the door trying to get into his food.  He lit the pile of shavings picked up his gun and shot the bear, put the fire out and went back to bed.  He killed the bear instantly.  When he was talking about this river he always called it 16 bears to the pound.  When he woke up in the morning he had to cut the bear up with his knife in order to get out the door.  When he got to the end of his route and he was well acquainted with the Indians up there and when he was coming back down the road with an Indian and his their canoe.  As they were coming out and went in the bushes and sat there for some time waiting.  Grandfather didn’t know what was going on.  Finally he asked the old Indian where the squaw went to and the Indian said: :ugh, getting pappoose.”  When she came out and got it in the canoe with the little papoose under her arm and picked up a piece of old dirty U.S. blanket and pulled out a bar of yellow soap and kept dunking the soap in the river water and washed the papoose in the river water and yellow soap then she rolled him up in the dirty blanket and the operation was performed.  Grandfather Curtis went on down to the North and West Branch and met his first cousin who was Dan Rogers.

The next day they were getting out of the canoe and pulled his pun out by the barrle and shot himself through the muscle on the arm.  GRandfather left Rogers there and went to an Indian cam and told the Indian what had happened and the Indian said.  “You stay here and I fix him.”  He was gone a long time.  When he came back he had a poultice and told Grandfather  to take the poultice and bind it around the arm then come back in three of four days for some more.  The old Indian wouldn’t let anyone go with him when he went after the makings of the poultice.  He got tired of waiting for the Indian every time so he followed him to see what he was getting.  He was getting roots off the rose willows that grew on the plains binding them up for poultice.  Rogers arm was never even stiff.  When they started lumbering here they they used oxen for lumbering their timber.  They didn’t think they could work horses into their skid, but they thought horses were only good for drawing logs to the river.  Some guy invented log sleighs - sleighs hooked together with cross chains.  That was so going around curves the hind sleigh would follow the curves instead of cutting corners.  They used binding poles to fasten the load down.  First they would load all their teams up the blanket the horses and when they were loaded drive them to the river.  Then they got wise and loaded the team  and then brought it back so there was a continuous stream and this way they hauled  many more logs.  The first camp that were built there were built like a fort.  The buildings in an oblong chinked and mossed on inside and plastered on the outside with scotch mortar, built all fastened together except on the East and these was a big wide door going into the courtyard which was used for storing provisions and keeping the oxen, etc.  One of these was four miles South of the farm.  We now call it Hopkins Fort.  Some of the old logs are rotted but the remains are still there.  They built their camps, Cook camps, eetc. all in the same buildings.  They had no stove and they built up a fire place about 6 x8 with logs two foot high and filled it with dirt and that set right in the middle of the camp.  That is where they built their fire, cooked all on kettles, salt port, beans, bread, tea and black strap molasses.  They cut out a big square hole in the peak of the roof for the chimney.  The first year Dad’s father was here after the war he worked in one of these camps.  When they rose in the morning their clothes would all be frozen.  The man who had the camp was called Pete Maja.  The blacksmiths those days made their horse shows and made nails.  The oxen took two shoes to every foot because of the split foot.  They had one of these in the beer garden in South Branch today.  They built their camps at any water hole. The roofs of those buildings were what they called scoop roof.  They put a big log in the peak, then cut cedar and split them and took a ship ada (Dad has one the his grandfather brought from Maine - a homemade one - it is called a ship Ada) took out the center like a big trough then put two down with the round parts down and open part up and one on top. Then they mossed the ends and cracks.

In 1886 and 1887 Potts started a railroad up here.  The headquarters was were McKinley is today.  That was quite a city at that time.  They completed the railroad in 1887 and after they got in the full swing these was a million feet of logs and over that road to Oscoda and AuSable every 24 hours.  Dad can remember when the river was full of logs the year around.  What we now call Flat Rock was Flat Rock Siding.  The original Flat Rock is North of that place several miles where the river runs East and West.  It is a flat high rock and can only be seen when the dam is down in Mio.  It used to be almost one-mile  above where it now is.  The jams against that rock moved it down river that much.  Dad still knows where the rock is.  The kids used to watch the trains ooging in and out and there was a time when one was not either coming or going.  Dad says he knows about this rock because he worked the river seven days with a crew of men getting a log jam off that rock.  At that time we had a bunk houses.  One for the cook and rear men to live in and the other one for the jam crew.  There is still in some swamps what they call a log crew trail.  There is the remains of one in the Van Horn swamp.  The Van Horn place is a stopping plce for the river drivers before they got the scows.  In the early days when they first started lumbering where they toted all the supplies in to their camps from Tawas with horses, some four horse teams, some two horse teams.  They had to have places to stay overnight and to eat at noon and they had places call Half Way houses.  There was a block house and Sand Lake that was a Stopping House.  When they call block house then was a hewed log on both sides.  The houses were a half day apart.  Then there was a sod place.  T.F. Thompson and his wife built on the banks of the South Branch of the AuSable River and that was a full days travel and the tote road cam by the high rollways.  We still use it today and it is called Thompson Trail.  The buildings the Thompsons built of log had 27 rooms in it.  They were both big people and had to have their bed made to order.  They had, amoung others, tow boys named Henry and Tom.  The lumbermen built a dam a the Thompson farm.  T. F. Thompson was a big powerful man.  He could take a potato in his hand and it would run through his fingers when he crushed it.  Tom (his son) was here to see the folks about ten years ago.  The man that owned the Golf Gas Station in Whittemore, Grahm was a young fellow at the time and did chores for the Thompson,  He is now up in his 80’s.  His boys deliver gas to the folks today.  It was a half day’s trip from the Thompson farm to waht we call Curtisville.  This tote road came up to the Wilber Creek went down the cut and had a short turn at the bottom of sand, and for a year the first post office was here.  There stood a big hemlock tree three and four feet through.  Dad’s grandfather bored holes into the tree up and down, then took a chisel and chiseled a big slot in there and as the teams came down they stopped and put the mail in the slot in the tree and people would pick up their mail up there.  The tote teams picked the mail up there and took it back to Tawas and mailed it.  People and money was so scarce that Dad’s mother would take a flour sack and slit it and that what they wrote theri letters on.  There was a stopping house right near there of big hewed logs.  A man by the mane of Stanley built it and a man named Cody lived in it then Bamfield’s They would start toting stuff along in August with teams because there was so much snow in the winter they couldn’t get through and they had to have provisions together in the fall.From Tawas to Curtisville was 40 miles.  They toted as far as 50 and 60 miles.  On the South side of the river from Roscommon to McKinley the first locamotive came in on sleighs and another on a raft in the river and the rails was brought with teams from Roscommon.  The timber was taken down and dumped in the river where McKinley is now.  That town is what they called a soft end and the west end (by Kal O’Brians Saloon) was what they called the hard end.  Cal O’Brian has the tavern there.  He was one of the best log roller on the river.  He could roll a beer keg across the river and back and never get his feet wet.  He drank very heavy.  As lumbering began to slack off so did O’Brian.s money.  One day his wife jumped all over him because he drank so much and the money was getting so low so one night he went out with a couple of other men and dug up a keg of money.  Two years ago Das was in Mio in the Doctors office and he met an old lady there that knew him when he was a kid.  She was raised at what we call McKinley.  Her name was Finch.  xHer father was a store keeper in the old days.  The last big drive down the AuSable was in 1911.  Harp Hayes was the one that took the drive down the river.  The first railroad came to the rive at Flat Rock.  It was a pole road with timber laid down and 2 x 4’s spiked on the top.  They had what they called rustle cars, they were connected together by what they called a “rooster”, along timber about 8 x 12.  Flat Rock valley was one of the first roads.  They would load them up and push them and let them run down to the river then would have to haul them back up with horses.

When Uncle Dick and Aunt Mame went to school they went 9 miles to school up by what we call 9 mile creek.  That was the first school house here.  They boarded them up there and they came home at the end of the week.  Colegoves was the name of the stopping house where they stayed.  A young fellow worked at Thompsons all winter and in the Spring when they got done and went to settle up with the boy Thompson was going over his book and he got down toword the last he said - so much for whiskey and even though the kid didn’t drink he still had to pay his share of the whiskey.  What we now call South Branch was then called Thompson’s Station.


A tote road is what supplies were hauled on.  A logging road is what they used  to haul their logs to market.

The main tools they had to work with were:

Hawn beam lever ‘(iron wood handle spike), Moss Dock (a rake with a long handle which they used in mossing the roads and logs in a cabin.  The roofs were made by hollowing out logs and laying them.

They did not have log slides to haul logs on.  They used a shanghi (a long solid sleigh) they drew the logs to the river with horses and skid with oxen.

Granddad Bell drove 4 oxen.

Dad Bell used to make the caskets.


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