May 16, 2007The 47-year-old man, Judge D.C. Walker, and his 14-year-old son Dewitt loaded the wagon with careful diligence. Their journey would be tough. The roads—non-existant—were ox paths heavily rutted from teamsters moving oxen loaded with lumber from the wilderness to the market in Detroit.
Checking the inventory the boy had loaded upon the wagon, it held a full compliment of modern farm equipment—plow, spiketooth harrow, one row cultivator, etc. Also 10 bushels of potatoes for seed and for consumption until the first harvest many months and much toil later. A barrel of beer capped the load, along with the family pet, a cat, securely placed in a box for his own safety. From what the young boy understood, nine lives may not be enough for survival in the wilderness.
The morning of departure the pair were up early. The older man set the yoke upon the beasts of burden. The younger placed the hoop around the neck and pushed upward into the holes of the yoke, placing the pin to secure it in place. Backing the beasts on either side of the wagon tongue, they were hitched and ready for the assault into the wilderness and the unknown.
The ever-ominous sky dropped rain mixed with snow and as far back as one could see to the western horizon, it promised more. Leaving the security of hearth and home the pair left the wilderness settlement of Romeo. Much like the oxen that would carry them and their earthly possessions, a team confident but apprehensive.
|Where Judge D.C. Walker’s journey ended, a village began. |
With a firm grasp the older man extended his arm and snapped it back. The crack of the leather whip awoke the animals from their slumber. Each stretched their neck and leaned forward, placing the yoke firmly into their shoulders. The whip cracked again over them and they moved forward within three steps in unison, each pulling its fair share.
With trepidation the boy turned around and waved to his mother. The senior partner smiled and nodded to the same woman, his wife.
The road east was corduroy and smooth for two miles. Turning north the road was constructed of planks. The swaying motion of the oxen as they hefted their load caused the wagon to jerk from side to side from the cracks between the planks.
Soon the well-greased hubs and bolsters squeaked. Four miles north the father bellowed out "Gee, gee" and the animals instinctively turned right. The well-traveled path about two rods wide was snow covered and looked as smooth and serene as the white capped trees. Within a hundred yards the true conditions were unmasked from their white sheath as mud reached the hub of the wheels.
Within minutes the bovines were breathing hard, steam rising from their backs and evaporating into the cold air. Suddenly the man yelled out "Whoa" and the oxen stopped as he commanded.
Turning to his son he said, "We have to lighten the load. We'll have to walk."
Stepping down, the pair sank into the mud almost to the top of their boots. After a few minutes of rest the oxen became antsy and were ready to move. Handing the whip to the boy the man said, "Dit, you tend to them. I'm going up forward to find the slashed trail."
As the man disappeared into the woods the boy cracked the whip and the beasts moved forward. Less than a mile away the man found the northern path into the wilderness. The trees were close together but the slash marks on them were no longer necessary—the ruts made the trail obvious.
Rain replaced the snow and made the conditions even worse. Standing at the trail the man yelled back, "This is the way." Reaching the spot, the boy bellowed "Haw, haw." As ordered, the animals turned left and northward onto the formidable trail.
As the obstacles and conditions worsened the man wondered if he was doing the right thing. He was a judge on a circuit furnished with a horse and ample compensation from the state of Michigan. Was the dream worth it, he wondered as he looked back at the boy in transition to manhood. Absolutely, he said to himself, a wide grin spreading over the doubt of his private thoughts.
By mid-afternoon they had reached Smiths Corner, stopping only long enough to rest the oxen and get a bowl of soup and some jerky at Sweet's Hotel.
Soon after resuming their northern trek the pair met a woman with a heavy bag slung across her shoulder. The lone traveler told them she was on her way to Romeo to the grist mill to get wheat ground into flour for her family. She warned the two of bears coming out of hibernation, that they would be hungry as all get-out.
"Where you from?" quizzed the Judge.
"A little homestead just north and east of Lesterville," the woman answered.
After introducing himself to the woman, she quickly replied, "There's a big need for a judge up yonder. The sawyer and teamsters and some of them Indians sure could use a little justice!"
Watching in awe, the boy wondered about this place he was going to—women unescorted lugging heavy bags through bear country. The mettle and resolve of these activities somewhat seared him. Slinging the bag over her shoulder the woman left saying, "Gotta get going. Want to get there by morning so I can get back home by tomorrow night."
Standing in the rain and mud the judge cracked the whip and forward motion began. Stands of cedar so thick that they were like an impervious wall soon broke into open spaces of cattails and reeds with tamarac trees reaching skyward.
Then appeared a bridge nearly an eighth of a mile long made of timber, and on the far side of that sat a two-story building with a sign out front. Approaching the bridge the oxen stopped. Even after hearing the crack of the whip the ever-loyal oxen refused to move. The judge quickly recognized the fear the bridge instilled in the animals and yelled, "Whoa!" Taking off his long overcoat he draped it over the animals massive heads. Blinded now, he cracked the whip and the oxen began to cross the span. Reaching the other side the man and his son were greeted by a man who called himself "Yankee" Locke, proprietor of the hotel. After securing and watering the oxen the pair entered the hotel, where the judge ordered a three cent shot of whiskey and a menu. The well-traveled man then told the others of his mission to start a village in the heart of the wilderness just north of there.
The rain turned to snow as the adventurers resumed their trek after darkness. No sooner had they left when the howl of wolves startled them. As they fnally reached the future location of the village, the bobcats hissed and shrieked. It was 5 o'clock in the morning.
The boy looked around in the chilly moonlight. What he later said met his eyes were just a couple of unpainted buildings made of rough lumber and a crossroad of ox paths. The journey was over but the arduous task of making a dream a reality had just begun. Capac the village had just had its first breath of life...
Excerpt-Noble Hunter diary
May 21, 1883
The wind blows a hurricane today and the weather is very cold. We had a flurry of snow in the morning.
May 23, 1883
The clouds disappeared this morning and we have had one beautiful day. Business was only moderate today. I dressed a fine veal this afternoon.
Email Doug at