A friendship, a new frontier
May 30, 2007Editor's note: This is the first in a two part series on Capac's pioneer families whose roots have grown in the area for generations—the Tosch family and the Hunter family.
The men huddled close to the wood stove. Snow was coming in horizontally off Lake Erie. The work as lumberjacks and sawyers was suspended, for the wind and snow made their task too perilous on this day.
They talked of the 'Old Country' in Europe and of family left behind. The conversation turned to rumors of free land near a village in the wilderness called Capac, somewhere in a strange place called Michigan.
Two men who had become fast friends listened intently. Silently they took in the information and hoped it was true. One man was from Germany, the other from Scotland. The language barrier soon collapsed as they realized their goals in life were similar. Language and background would not deter their obsession to find adventure and flee the chains that held them down in the Old World.
The idea of free land that only required you to live upon it seemed too good to be true. William Tosch, the German immigrant, and Noble Hunter, the Scottish immigrant, decided to investigate the rumor.
Each had been in Rockton, Ontario for six years working in logging camps since arriving in 1853. Scrimping and saving their hard earned wages they had managed to pay passage for their wives and family to join them in 1856.
Looking at each other, the two men rose and moved away from the warmth of the stove to the far side of the room. In a heavy accent the German said, "Noble, we've been here long enough. Our families have endured enough. Let us go to this place called Capac and find out the truth. With your good English we should have no problems."
Quickly responding the Scotsman said, "Yes, William. It's long overdue. Come spring we will go and find this place.
Reaching their hands out, they shook on their pact to find a better life for themselves and their families.
The driving snow and cold wind ceased as spring enveloped the area. The frozen ground soon turned to mud and logging stopped until weather permitted.
Unwilling to spend the cost of passage on a boat from Hamilton, Ontario to Port Huron, Michigan, the duo kissed their wives goodbye and set out on foot. The trip was tough but proved no match against the resolve and determination of these two.
Arriving in Capac they secured the long desired property. Noble Hunter obtained 40 acres in Section 27 less than 1/2 mile from the fledgling village. William Tosch got his land grant in Section 26 and purchased an extra 80 acres nearby.
Examining the village closely, they found a hotel with livery, a store, and several houses made plenty of opportunity for outside income. Numerous lumber camps and sawmills dotted the area.
The land they received was swamp, but the soil black and rich. Draining was paramount but the potential was enormous and the long-held dreams of each was realized. The immigrants had a home and a country that wanted them. Even if it was wilderness, it was theirs.
Returning to Rockton the pair told all their fellow workers of the free land and the new village. Jubilation descended upon the lumber camp as more immigrants decided to follow the Hunter and the Tosch families to the land of opportunity.
It was decided that they would leave the following March with the income earned throughout the winter to help the transition. William, his wife and 5-year-old son Albert would walk with Noble, his wife Elizabeth and their children, William, 10, Elizabeth, 7, and Noble, 3.
|William Tosch’s son, Albert Tosch, who was age 5 when he traveled to Capac.|
The months sped by and anxiety built as the immigrants prepared for the trip. Warm winds of March brought spring, and the families, with only the clothes on their backs and what they could carry, set out to fulfill their vision of land ownership—something that in the Old Countries was only granted by birthright.
The swollen creeks and mud made the trip nearly impossible, but the will of these people to conquer and succeed was a force that even nature in its most violent form could not hinder.
Upon arrival in Sarnia the families secured passage on a steam powered side-wheeler. This part of their trip was short, but harrowing. Ice floes and gale force winds continually sprayed water which quickly froze upon contact with skin and clothing. The open decks offered little protection from the elements. Pointing their fingers the men stared at the strange flag that stood out almost straight in the wind over the just-founded city of Port Huron. The stars and bars of the United States welcomed and encouraged them as the flag flapped at its ends like fingers on an extended arm. Patriotism had bitten Noble and would call him again.
The steep banks of the river city were bustling as ships of all types unloaded cargo both human and material. Soot and ash filled the air as men worked to launch and land the vessels.
Young William Hunter told the younger Albert Tosch of the sailing ship that had brought him from England. At 5 years of age, Albert listened intently, for business and machinery fascinated him and would play a large part in the rest of his long life.
With the ship firmly secured, the families gathered their meager possessions. Cold and wet they disembarked and quickly huddled around a fire on the banks of the Black River, where they stood in awe at the activity before them. Ships from single- to triple-masted schooners were being constructed and the river itself was full of logs awaiting the mills. Business was booming in this country and it pleased the newly adopted citizens.
Now moving westward they found the slash trail and began the final leg of their journey. Walking below the towering white pines protected the travelers from the falling snow. Stopping near present-day Emmett for the night, they built a fire and nibbled on the hardtack and corn muffins they had purchased in Port Huron.
First light had the pioneers up and excited. Today they would make Capac even though the most treacherous terrain still awaited them. The swamps and bogs that encircled the new village were perilous. With the sun on their backs, they inched forward, moving north of what is now M-21, staying under the canopy of white pines along a ridge.
With wolves howling in the background, William Tosch pointed to the swamp due south and told his wife and son, "Our farm is over there. The Hunter's is in a mile further."
The families pushed forward. Securing a dugout canoe from an Indian, they paddled to their destiny. After arriving in Capac they rented rooms in the Northern Hotel and met with Judge Walker in his home. Then the newest citizens of America and Capac went to bed. Tomorrow they would begin a new life.
Noble A. Hunter diary
June 3, 1883
The first bright Sunday in a long time. I worked in the shop til eleven then went to S. school. In the afternoon I called on Dell.
June 4, 1883
I spent this afternoon sleeping, writing history for the 'Class of 83' and working. I managed to go to bed by 10 this evening.
June 6, 1883
This morning I received a note from Dell. I continued work on the 'Class of 83' prophecy.