July 21 • 10:27 PM

Legends live on

Tosch, Hunter families still rooted in Capac

Tosch’s granary in downtown Capac.
June 13, 2007
Editor's note: This is the final installment of a two part series on Capac pioneer families whose roots have grown in the area for generations—the Tosch family and the Hunter family.

With little rest the families left the comfort of the Northern Hotel and went to their land grant properties to begin their new lives.

By summer's end, each family had secure quarters on their respective acreage. The Tosches has built a house and a barn. The Hunters, a log cabin. But draining the land became a monumental task. Water lay everywhere, only receding in the months of July and August.

The hope of producing their own food didn't materialize that first year and they, like everyone else, became dependent on the Indians for survival. Maize cooked in outdoor hearths into a bread, and venison became the main diet of Capac's first families.

Warm weather brought another crisis that the families found was often tragic. Summer chill or 'ague' struck indiscriminately, decimating its victims. Some succumbed in days, others survived but with organ damage that ultimately claimed their lives at a later time.

Ague, the North American form of malaria, was in the swamp water that surrounded the settlements in Berlin, Mussey and Lynn Twps. The only safe water came from the well at the Northern Hotel. Each family had to carry the water home and to those who lived a distance away, this was a very difficult task.

The Indians, they observed, were immune to this malady but were dying at a faster rate from colds and other common ailments. The settlers realized that it was they who were the carriers causing the deaths of their benevolent friends, the Red Man.

The spring of 1861 found the Tosches, Hunters and others planting crops they would need to sustain them. Also, any excess could be sold to the thriving lumber camps. Things were looking up. But events beyond their control would change the feelings of optimism. That "nasty little insurrection" down South, as they called it, had begun and Capac's future irreversibly changed.

Autumn of 1861 found William Tosch longing for more than farming. When opportunity called he sold the 80 acres of high ground in Section 10 north of the village. The property was covered in white pines and with demand rising due to the war, Tosch started a lumber business to augment his farming interests.

Noble Hunter struggled farming the swamp and supplemented his income by working for Baarstow & Preston Lumber Mill until a fire on July 4, 1862 destroyed the business.

Fearing the swamp water and exhausted from carry- ing water one-and-a-half miles around the swamp to her home each day, Elizabeth Hunter showed an independence uncommon to women in those days. Having just had a daughter and pregnant again, she paid a visit to Judge Walker. With their meager savings she purchased from him a new house on what would later be called Hunter Street in honor of her husband. Hiring a pair of oxen and a wagon, Elizabeth, with children William, Elizabeth, Noble and baby Mary Belle, all moved to town while husband and father was at a new job. Returning at dark, Noble found the cabin vacant. With admiration and respect for the wisdom of the woman he loved, he hurried to town to be with his family.

The "insurrection" created a demand for commodities. Prices on agricultural and wood products soared. The year 1862 was very good for the William Tosch family. Purchasing more land and timber, William expanded with the profits from his many ventures. He contracted with many ox drivers and teamsters and soon a steady stream of lumber and crops headed south to the growing industrial complex created by the war. The turmoil also soon created a manpower shortage as men enlisted to defend the young nation. William recognized the problem and contacted friends still in Canada and the Old Country, encouraging them to immigrate with promises of employment. Many answered his call and the fledgling Capac soon took on a German influence.

On July 15, 1862 Gov. Austin Blair issued General Order No. 154 directing the raising of six regiments of infantry for the war effort. One group of men were to be recruited from the counties of Livingston, Lapeer, Macomb, Sanilac and St. Clair, and were to be called the 22nd Michigan Infantry. This order allowed cash bonuses for a three year enlistment and a monthly stipend.

August 7 found the recruiters in the village of Capac standing on the hotel steps speaking into a strong wind of the virtues and need to defend the Constitution against the rebels who would dismember and destroy the United States. Capt. John Alkinson of Port Huron and First Lt. Jefferson J. Wilder of Capac, under the command of Major William Sanborn of Port Huron, pleaded for help in the war effort and for President Abraham Lincoln. A 35-year-old patriot listened intently. The cash bonus and monthly income could only help his family and their financial difficulties. As the officers talked to the crowd through bullhorns, Noble Hunter looked up at the flag flying over the Northern Hotel. Erect in the wind, the ends like little fingers were once again beckoning him to come forward in the country's hour of need. Quickly raising his right hand, he saluted the flag and enlisted for three years in Company C, 22nd Michigan Infantry.

On Sept. 20, 1863 Noble Hunter was on western front fighting under General Rosecrans of the Army of the Cumberland. The ill-planned invasion of Georgia had turned into a rout. General Thomas was order-ed to hold Snodgrass Hill at any cost to allow the Army of the Cumberland passage back across the Tennessee River to the safety of Chattanooga. The impossible task fell upon the 22nd Michigan.

The cool, crisp autumn air brought back many memories as William Tosch prepared for the fall harvest. He thought of his friend Noble, and a chill went through him. Would he ever see him again? It had been four years since their arrival to the wilderness village together. How he longed for the war to end and for the return of his ally.

Mortally wounded with a gaping hole in his chest and right arm shredded, Noble, the pioneer patriot, was now a prisoner of war. He had been captured during the fracas but the 22nd Michigan Infantry had held their position on Snodgrass Hill, sustaining more than 80 percent casualties. The Army of the Cumberland had been saved. Later, these troops, under the command of U.S. Grant and W.T. Sherman, along with the Army of the Potomac, would take Atlanta, march to the sea and encircle Robert E. Lee's troops to end the war.

An October 1 prisoner exchange allowed Noble to die peacefully on Moccassin Point, thinking of family and friends, under the red, white and blue flag that had given him and many others their first real taste of complete freedom.

In the fall of 1869, William Tosch suddenly became ill and died. With both men now gone, their values and dreams took on a new dimension through their children.

The Hunter siblings, Noble, George, Elizabeth, William and Mary (inset).
Continuing in the lumber business, Albert Tosch took the reins of the family business at 15 years of age. He also was to start a grain elevator, taking advantage of the new railroad. He married Ida Proctor.

Minnie Tosch married a pioneer and farmer, Fred Hartwick. She spent her life on the farm they had and passed away in 1962.

William Tosch II was also a farmer. His land was in Sections 10 and 16. He was to die prematurely from a common wilderness disease.

At 12 years of age William Hunter quit school to provide for his family. His resume is long. He worked for the Downey Sawmill and started a butcher shop which he sold to the Waltz's in 1900. He was also postmaster, village president and one of the founders of the First National Bank of Capac.

Elizabeth married John Kilbourn, who was a successful mechanic for the railroad that was built in 1867.

Noble Hunter I farmed, worked his way through Ypsilanti Normal College, became a school teacher and then superintendent of schools in Capac. He then started the Capac Journal. He married Adell Allen of Allenton.

Mary Belle married Henry Smith of Allenton, who was a carrier of the U.S. Mail between St. Clair and adjoining counties.

George, born after his father left for the war, worked in his brother's butcher shop, became a barber and was the first full-time fire chief of Capac. He, like his brothers, was involved in all phases of local government. He was to marry Mildred Burk, daughter of another pioneer family.

The Tosch and Hunter families are still rooted in Capac and the surrounding area, the Tosches six generations and the Hunters, eight generations.

Although William and Noble had no idea of the impact that their decision of more than 150 years ago around the woodstove would make on the Capac area, their vision is still with us today. The descendants of these two men helped to shape Capac into a model of decency that the long ago rippling flag still calls out to.

Excerpt-Noble Hunter Diary

June 13, 1883

I did not receive a note from Dell this morning as usual. She is coming to the lodge this evening. I will take her my letter and use a kiss for a stamp.

June 18, 1883

The weather keeps going from bad to worse, we had heavy rains today. Business at shop good, collections and sales amounted to $17.75.

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Assistant Editor
Castle Creek
07 - 21 - 19
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