“Some Traverse Heroes”

By M.E.C. Bates

[This story was taken from Along Traverse Shores, by M.E.C. Bates and Mary K. Buck, Traverse City: the Herald office, 1891]

We were sitting on Prospect Hill [ed. note: Prospect Hill is located near Glen Arbor on the Homestead Resort property] watching the sun go down, –my friend, the school teacher, and I.

I think in all this Grand Traverse region there is perhaps no finer view than that from Prospect Hill.  Before us lay Lake Michigan, its wide blue expanse stretching on and out as far as the eye could see, till it merged into sky at the horizon line, behind which the sun, a glowing ball of molten fire had just dropped, leaving all the west a golden sea.  Ten miles or more out but looking as if within rifle shot, lay the Manitous, like emeralds in a crystal setting.  Hitherward lie the great waterways for all the craft that seek the Straits from the westward, or the Lake Michigan ports and Chicago from the eastward.  Clear and distinct, near at hand, or so far away as to be only ghostly outlines, were the white sails of numerous barks bound up or down.  Two great propellers with black plumes streaming from their smoke stacks, saluted each other with short, hoarse whistles, as they passed between the islands and the mainland.  Far out, dim murky lines lying against the sky told of other boats bearing their loads of gay summer travelers to the great city “at the head” or to the pleasant resorts beyond the northern horizon.

To the southeast Glen Lake, a mighty mirror set in forest crowned hills, and two smaller lakes reflected as faithfully blue of sky and green of wooded slopes.  Thriving farms dotted the shores or hid behind the gaps in the forest walls cut by stalwart arms of the pioneers who here have hewn out for themselves happy homes.

From out Glen Lake issued Crystal River, rightly named, slipping away to the beach of yellow sand on the shores of old Michigan, stopping to coil itself into many shining loops, lingering under arches of fragrant cedar, where in the dim green light, in dark pools of ice cold water, speckled trout hide under ferny banks—out of the shadow into the sun, and then back into the shadows again,–under rustic bridges, past the old red grist mill and so down to the shining sands where the waves lap the shore with musical murmur.

From our lofty perch we looked down on the tops of a ragged fringe of scrub pines and oaks that lay between the sand of the beach and the base of Prospect Hill.

“I do not wonder you love your “home by the silver sea’, so well:” I said.  “The half was not told me.  This must be the true lotos land, –the land of dreams—the land ‘where it is always afternoon.’  I could stay here forever.”

“But it is not always afternoon,” she said, “nor are the days all halcyon summer days.  I could tell you stories of wild storms, of wreck and ruin,–yes of heroic deeds such as you read in books, and that thrill your soul with thoughts of knightly emprise till you sigh for the olden days when men were indeed men, not knowing that there are heroes still whom we meet in our daily walks, only our eyes are dim and we do not know them for the knightly souls they are.”

“So? Perhaps that is true.  Tell me a story of your Traverse knights.  A bit of romance in this dull work-a-day world will indeed be refreshing.”

She clasped her slender hands across her knees, and looked far out on the misty lake, while a thoughtful light came into her pretty eyes.

“I never sit here as we do this evening, and looking out over the great sand dunes of Sleeping Bear, but I think of one wild Autumn day when the schooner Phelps went ashore on the bar below

“It was a night in late November in 1880.  The wind blew in a gale from the southwest, lasing the water into foam, the great rollers coming in with almost two hundred miles of unbroken sweep.  The schooner tried to gain the lee of the Manitous, and at the same time shun the sand reefs of Sleeping Bear, where many a good ship has laid her bones.  Suddenly the wind shifted to the northwest.  The sky was thick with blinding snow and she began to drift at the mercy of the wind.  They dropped their anchor but it fouled; they drew it and tried again.  This time it caught; the ship swung stern shoreward and bow out, trailing anchor, and drifting slowly toward the sand bar.  The great waves pounded against her sides with terrific blows.  The deck broke away.  The rigging fell over the side, forming a network through which the water seethed and foamed, dashing the broken deck high above the prostrate spars only to fall in the black gulf below.  One by one the crew were overcome and perished in the freezing water.  Only three were left, crowded on the bow above the mass of wreckage—the mate, the wheelsman and a sailor, a boy of nineteen.  They clung to the frail support till the boy, impatient at the situation, crossed the awful chasm, and tried to detach a portion of the floating deck.  At first he worked manfully, then slower and slower till he fell freezing on the deck.

“In the blinding storm the day broke,–the hours passed on and it was not till afternoon that the wreck was discovered from the shore.  The alarm was given and soon all the inhabitants of the little village of Glen Arbor, a short distance up the beach, were gathered on the shore.  Some one ran for a team of stout farm horses and a huge pound net boat, a great, flat-bottomed affair, cumbersome even in mild weather, was moved from the fish houses down by the village.  It was a perilous venture, and he who went took his life in his hand, but in an instant a crew had volunteered.  Strong hands launched the boat.  Through the tremendous surf, half way to the wreck, and they were swamped, and their boat coast back like a child’s toy.  They were all ice and chilled to the bone, but soon they launched their boat again, four of the first crew going out, and a slender young fellow with nerves of steel and muscles of iron under his fair skin took the stern oar in place of the fifth.

“Again they battled with the waves, rising on the crests only to be hurled into the chasms.  They neared the vessel, reached the bow where the sailors clung, eagerly watching their movements.  The waves dashed against them, the wind roared around them, the snow blinded them, till human endurance could stand no more, and they were driven back, foot by foot.  The poor fellows on the wreck saw their rescuers leave them, and begged for help in the most piteous tones.  Reaching shore the brave men, wet to the skin and stiff with ice went for dry clothes, then once more made an attempt to reach the wreck, as it was certain the sailors could stand it but a few moments more.  This time they moved down the beach and started out obliquely with the tide.  Wilder than before, the blinding snow squalls beat upon them.  When almost at the wreck, fearful breakers, too powerful to pull against, drove them back in spite of their greatest efforts.  The cries of the sailors when they saw them lost ground were heart rending.  They renewed their efforts and soon were alongside.  They moved up to the floating mass of tangled rigging and loose boards, where they clung to a spar, thus steadying their boat, while one of the men, the mate, tried to cross the heaving wreckage.  He reached a long spar, and putting his arms around it, crawled painfully forward, while the waves surged and beat over him constantly.  At last he reached the boat and was helped in.  Next the wheelsman made the attempt.  He crossed a third of the spar then stopped and could come no further,–he clung helplessly with his bare hands and it seemed as if his life must be lost.  In the boat below, an old sailor from many-harbored Maine, rose from his seat, stepped into the jostling mass of rigging and wreck, made his way to the perishing man and brought him back in safety.  A few moments more and the surf was passed—the shore reached at last.

“All these brave men are the possessors of gold medals awarded them by the government at Washington, for their heroism.  Said I not well there are knightly souls who walk among us to-day?”

“I think, my dear,” I said, “that one of these brave Traverse knights was your hero.  Have I not guessed right?”

She glanced at me over her shoulder, half archly, half shyly, while a deeper flush rose to her cheeks.

“We must go home,” she said; “the dew is falling.”

We rose from our seats, and hand in hand, to help each other down the steep descent, took our way to the distant farm house, from one of whose windows a bright light shone out like a star to guide us on our path.


We can compare the account described in Some Traverse Heroes to the actual event as reported to the editor of the Grand Traverse Herald, November 27th, 1879 edition (The shipwreck occurred on 20, November of that year).  At the outset we can see that M.E.C. Bates got the date wrong: it was not November of 1880 but a year before.  There are a few other discrepancies—the wreck was discovered early in the morning, not at noon, two persons were saved, not three, and the rescue crew did not appear in an instant (it took a while to get two rescuers to risk their lives).

M.E.C Bates was correct when she said members of the rescue crew received medals for their bravery.   John Blanchfield, William A. Clark, W.C. Ray, Charles A. Rosman, and John Tobin were awarded Gold Lifesaving medals on April 8, 1880 by the combined agencies of the Coast Guard, US Lifesaving Service, the Lighthouse Service, and the Revenue Cutter Service.

Even with occasional errors in the telling, Traverse Heroes is included here for several reasons.  The description of the view from Prospect Hill is charming and reminds us of a panorama we can enjoy to this day.  The language M.E.C. Bates uses in her descriptions recalls the florid prose of the era.  It is refreshing to immerse ourselves in it as a change from our present style of rock-solid nouns and boldly stated verbs.  Finally, she expresses the lofty values of her day as she talks about knightly gallantry, even providing a glimpse of the modesty of young women of the time when they are confronted with the possibilities of love: Upon being found out for having a love interest in one of the rescuers, the teller of the tale displays a flush in her cheek.  The newspaper article itself expresses the editor’s opinion that the event reminds us of the “chivalry and knightly deeds” of old.   The framing of the story as a tale of gallantry in both article and story is probably not a coincidence: M.E.C. Bates was married to Thomas T. Bates, the editor of the Grand Traverse Herald.




The story is not yet told.  In 2014 timbers from a shipwreck were uncovered by low Lake Michigan water levels.  Were they remnants of the W.B. Phelps?  We don’t know for sure, but the location fits perfectly.

Richard Fidler is co-editor of the Grand Traverse Journal.

Timbers, possibly from the W.B. Phelps shipwreck. Image courtesy of Dr. Mark Holley, Northwestern Michigan College, 2014.
Timbers, possibly from the W.B. Phelps shipwreck. Image courtesy of Dr. Mark Holley, Northwestern Michigan College, 2014.

Union Street at the Bay: Two Views Separated by Time

Overview of the north Union Street bridge over the Boardman River taken from the tower of the Traverse City State bank. Steamer ”Puritan” on the bay, ca. 1910-20. Image courtesy of Traverse Area District Library, Local History Collection.
Overview of the north Union Street bridge over the Boardman River taken from the tower of the Traverse City State bank. Steamer ”Puritan” on the bay, ca. 1910-20. Image courtesy of Traverse Area District Library, Local History Collection.

Taken from third floor of the Fifth Third Bank building (formerly, the Traverse City State Bank), two photographs taken more than a hundred years apart tell us about the dramatic changes Traverse City has experienced with regard to its water front.  The older picture shows a waterfront dominated by industry and the railroads.  The original Morgan canning plant, looking like an A-frame, occupies space at the very end of Union Street.  The railroad station stands to the left, tracks running along the Bay in either direction.  Ramshackle frame stores line the east side of Union, north of the northern-most bridge over the Boardman River. 

View from Fifth Third Bank at 102 W Front Street, looking north. Image courtesy of the author.
View from Fifth Third Bank at 102 W Front Street in April 2016, looking north. Image courtesy of the author.

The recent picture startles us with its emptiness: no railroad station, no manufacturing plants, no railroad tracks.  Open space and parking lots take their places, along with an expressway (Grandview Parkway), and a marina, with slips unoccupied on this early spring day. 

Suitably, the Visitors Center replaces the train station, a change symbolic of how the Bay has come to be seen.  No longer was it regarded as a place to load and unload the stuff of industry.  Instead, it became a place to appreciate natural beauty in all four seasons.  But the capitulation of space to provide for the needs of automobiles poses a contradiction: Can the noise and fumes of cars coexist with the fragile beauty of the Bay?  City residents hold starkly different opinions.

“The Bar-B-Que” in Mayfield, 1934

This fun poem comes to us courtesy of the Kingsley Branch Library, where it resides in their local history and genealogy collection. We hope it gets you in the mood for May, also known as National Barbecue Month.

Rowell J. Blackhurst married into the famed Halladay family of Mayfield (yes, those Halladays), and remained a prominent fixture in the community, both in his professional career and philanthropic activities. He was also, clearly, a man of verse and a keen observer on human nature.

These guys are ready to party, beer and barbecue-style. Gentlemen sitting outside the Gibbs and Knight Mill office at Mayfield, 1906. Image courtesy of the Floyd Webster Historical Photograph Collection, Kingsley Branch Library.
These guys are ready to party, beer and barbecue-style. Gentlemen sitting outside the Gibbs and Knight Mill office at Mayfield, 1906. Image courtesy of the Floyd Webster Historical Photograph Collection, Kingsley Branch Library.

His poem is littered with clues that tell us about himself and the era he lived in. Let’s look at one in particular: Why would people in “the autumn of thirty four…thank God that they hadn’t starved to death?” No great famine befell our region during that time. My guess is that Blackhurst felt the nation’s suffering was waning after the stock market crash of 1929 and the Depression, even in rural Mayfield.  Or did the line refer to the end of Prohibition (which took effect in 1934), that unhappy time nudging some to near “starvation”? That might better explain the later references to the volume of alcohol consumed at the picnic.

With those national events framing the celebration the poet goes on to describe, one wonders at the seemingly thanklessness of some of the attendees. But, let’s be real. People have always had opinions, and that will continue, in good weather and bad.

Without further ado, our poet invites us to Mayfield for a good ol’ fashioned Bar-B-Que, with all of his neighbors:

“The Bar-B-Que

In the good old days of the pioneer,
Lots of whiskey and little beer:

Mayfield in 1901, when "Pine was King." Image courtesy of the Floyd Webster Historical Photograph Collection, Kingsley Branch Library.
Mayfield in 1901, when “Pine was King.” Image courtesy of the Floyd Webster Historical Photograph Collection, Kingsley Branch Library.

Up in the northland — Pine was King —
But the head saws’ whine and the axes’ ring
Vanished the ruler, made him feel
The crushing pressure of steam and steel.
But Tide nor Time for none may wait,
And thirty two years roll by my gate.
From Past to Present — a step, no more —
Then came the autumn of thirty four;
Heard the Public with bated breath
Thank God that they hadn’t starved to death.
Now a Bar-B-Que was the general choice
Of a manner whereby they might rejoice.
So they bought a bull from a farmer lad,
And they dressed it out and brought it down
To the Public Grove in the old home town.
Then they hired a guy who was heard to boast
A thorough knowledge of how to roast
A bull, in a manner quite alright
To tempt a pernickety appetite.
The village portals swung open wide
To welcome the entire countryside;
With races and games and a dance and a show —
And a stand where the thirsty could quickly go
In order to aid the spirit of cheer
With an ice-cold bottle of Hi-powered beer.
And all forenoon on the autumn day
The local butcher slashed away;
Pileing [sic] up beef in a puddle of blood
To be washed down with coffee the color of mud.
But alas, and alack, it is sure hard to please
Such a throng as milled restlessly under the trees.
Some stood ’round and argued the critter was raw
While others were busily stuffing their craw;
Some stoutly maintained that the thing needed salt
But nobody noticed a shortage of malt.
Some said that to eat it they’d never be able,
That it would have been warmer left tied in the stable.
Politicians were clamoring loudly for votes
And the beer drinking public was feeling its oats.
The races, the ballgame, and even the show,
went off just as they were intended to go;
But the dance in the evening turned into a race
‘Twixt the hall in the woods and Baldy’s beer place.
But finally it ended as everything must.
Whether it be a success or a ‘bust’;
And though some maintained ’twas a howling success
Others decried it a miserable mess.
Some like it, some didn’t , it’s hard to say who —
For a great deal depends on — The Old Point of View.

-RJ Blackhurst, ’35”

Fine Art Comes to Traverse City

by Julie Schopieray

Traverse City has been home to many talented artists. Among the best known are William Holdsworth, Fred Noteware, Ezra Winter and Maude Miller Hoffmaster. In 1906 another well known artist purchased a modest house on Randolph St. and moved his family from Chicago, where he had established quite a reputation for his fine art work.  Oldrich Farsky, a Servian-born artist, received his training beginning at age fifteen, first in Prague and Bohemia, then in Belgium, Germany, Italy and Paris. Coming to America in 1888, he settled in Chicago and established a studio where, for over sixteen years he created his popular paintings.  He is best known for his landscapes, but also created portraits.  A life-sized portrait of General Sherman, completed in 1894, was for many years on display at the public library in Chicago.

The Czech-Slovak Protective Society building, Front Street, Traverse City, undated. Image courtesy of the author.
The Czech-Slovak Protective Society building, Front Street, Traverse City, undated. Image courtesy of the author.

Having studied extensively in Europe, he had been exposed to the best art in the world.  He spoke four languages, but struggled with English. During his time here, he found kinship within the large Bohemian community of Traverse City where he could easily communicate with those who belonged to the  C.S.P.S club on Front St. The Czech-Slovak Protective Society, a Bohemian fraternal organization, had been established in Traverse City in the 1880s.  Because Traverse City had an active lodge, the painter felt at ease with people who shared his heritage and spoke the same language.

In 1907 he  interviewed some of the Bohemian pioneers of Traverse City and wrote an article which was printed in the 1908 Amerikan Narodni Kalendar, an annual journal published in Chicago that featured biographies and stories of Bohemian immigrants in America. The article contained  the stories and photographs of Czech settlers who had arrived in the city as early as the 1850s. Farsky also provided illustrations for the article. It was translated into English in 1977 and distributed locally.

A Farsky original, untitled, 1890s. Image taken from online auction.
A Farsky original, untitled, 1890s. Image taken from online auction.

The people of Traverse City seemed fascinated by Oldrich Farsky and his art. Described as a modest and gentle man, even with his fame as an artist, he never showed any arrogance. “With all that he has accomplished, so retiring is the man that were one to meet him without knowing that is the artist, Farsky, one would never imagine that he was talking with a man who is known by his work on both sides of the water.” [E R 8-30-1910] He willingly and often shared his work with the community. In 1906, several of his paintings were put on display at the Carnegie Library on Sixth street. The exhibition included eight of his latest works.  “Sheep in a Stable”, “A Night on Lake Erie”, “Scene After a Rain”, and “Scene After a Storm” were among the pieces he shared for all to admire and many came to see them. Nineteen of his paintings were put display at the C.S.P.S. hall during the  Aug. 1908 fair and carnival where they drew hundreds who came just to see his work.

Farsky  purchased a couple of small farms in the area where he tried his had at fruit farming, but his  main residence was a house at 904 Randolph St.  In the warm months, he spent many hours walking along the bay or in the woods looking for scenes to paint. “In company with his youngest daughter, many a long tramp has he taken in the woods about the city, the two finding the greatest delight in these walks. On several occasions they have walked the entire distance to Old MIssion, and return, and many choice paintings of the peninsula scenery were the result, which found ready sale in Chicago art houses.” [RE 8-30-1910]

Skilled in cleaning and retouching fine art, he was often hired to care for the collections of wealthy Chicagoans. More than once, he brought a customer’s entire collection of works by “the Masters” to his home for repairs, touchups and cleaning. One collection he worked on belonged to a man named Julius Franc and was reported to be worth $75,000 (in today’s money that figure would exceed one million dollars).

Farsky  traveled between Chicago and Traverse City regularly during the four years he resided here because the market for his work was greater in the city.   However, local physician Dr. Lafayette Swanton, was particularly fond of Farsky’s work. He purchased several including a scene of two peasant girls carrying their harvest and waiting by the water for a boat. The detail of the painting was described in the paper. One of the girls “is looking off over the water, and in her eyes there is an undefined longing for something, it seems that the girl herself does not realize just what is in her heart. She sees the boat, but she is looking for more than that, and it gives one a feeling of sadness as he studies her face…The detail work in this painting is exceptionally fine…it has been a labor of love with the artist, and every blade of grass, every flower, each ripple of the little river, speak for this.”  [ER 8-27-1910] Other Farsky paintings that Dr. Swanton purchased were one of a flock of huddled sheep in an enclosure, and the other of a young girl, the artist’s daughter.

Abraham Lincoln, Portrait in Oil, Odrich Farsky, 1909. Photo of Lincoln Oil provided by Adam Gibbons, teacher at Riverside Brookfield High School in Riverside, IL.
Abraham Lincoln, Portrait in Oil, Odrich Farsky, 1909. Photo of Lincoln Oil provided by Adam Gibbons, teacher at Riverside Brookfield High School in Riverside, IL.

For the 1909 Lincoln centennial celebrations, Farsky created two charcoal sketches and an oil portrait of Abraham Lincoln which were hung on display at the high school.  Farsky created the charcoal drawings on site. He set up his easel around 10:30 in the morning and finished them around 5 p.m. “He did not stop for lunch, and would eat nothing until the portraits were completed. “When we work, we do not eat,” he said.” [TCRE 2-12-1909]

Why Oldrich Farsky chose to live in Traverse City is uncertain. The area was well known in Chicago by those who came here in the summers to seek relief from city life. Perhaps he was at a point in his life where he needed a break from the stress of the city. Here Farsky found inspiration in the beauty of the hills and water. How many paintings were inspired here will never be known, but after his time here, he did move into creating more landscape paintings.  After only four years, in August 1910, Oldrich Farsky and his wife Beatrice moved back to Chicago. They remained in the Oak Park area through the 1920s where he continued to paint and hold exhibitions.  Around 1928,  they settled in Stevensville, Berrien County, Michigan, until Beatrice died in June 1939 and Oldrich only a month later. They are buried in the Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago.

Description of Abraham Lincoln, Portrait in Oil, Odrich Farsky, 1909. Photo provided by Adam Gibbons, teacher at Riverside Brookfield High School in Riverside, IL.
Description of Abraham Lincoln, Portrait in Oil, Odrich Farsky, 1909. Photo provided by Adam Gibbons, teacher at Riverside Brookfield High School in Riverside, IL.

Julie Schopieray is a regular contributor to the Grand Traverse Journal.

Tactics of Pigeon Hunters: Passenger Pigeons in Benzie County, 1880s

Dear Readers:
This follow-up article to one published in our March issue on Passenger Pigeons was inspired by the following correspondence your editors received from an admiring reader:
“I thoroughly enjoyed your recent article on passenger pigeons.  Since the topic isn’t discussed very much I thought I would seize the opportunity to share some of my notes on the topic.
A unique source (locally) is a personal history, “A Brief Sketch of the Life of Charles B. Slyfield,” that resides at the Benzie Shores District Library, with copies of it held at the Benzie Area Historical Museum.  Mr. Slyfield’s history is thirty-some pages and covers commercial fishing, tug operations, the history of Frankfort, and his dog Hero in addition to pigeon hunting. ~ Andy B.”
Naturally, our regular contributor Stewart McFerran took to this new resource with a renewed vigor on the subject of Passenger Pigeons. Charles B. Slyfield (1854-1924) was a fisherman and lighthouse keeper at Frankfort, in addition to a hunter.  ~ Your editors at Grand Traverse Journal

by Stewart A. McFerran

Smith Bennett, Passenger Pigeon flock being hunted, from "The Illustrated Shooting and Dramatic News", 3 July 1875.
Smith Bennett, Passenger Pigeon flock being hunted, from “The Illustrated Shooting and Dramatic News”, 3 July 1875.

About the first of May we pitched our tent and set and baited the traps. Father had hired William Salsgiver and his net to work with us as he was an expert pigeon trapper. The pigeons nested up river about five miles and would fly just as soon as day would break. The first flight would be all males. Then about 7 a.m. the females would start and keep it up until about 10 a.m.

Father rented 40 acres of marsh land on the South side of the Betsy River where there was situated a salt spring and pigeon marsh where the pigeons would assemble in great numbers to eat the muck and drink the water.   (A Brief Sketch of the Life of Charles B. Slyfield,  published in 1912)

Needless to say a slaughter of passenger pigeons ensued. However, these observations from Slyfield’s younger years bring up some questions with regard to the extinct bird. Why would they “eat the muck”? Was there some sort of larva or invertebrate that was nutritious within the muck? Or was there a mineral that the birds craved?

The segregated flights from the nesting ground to the feeding ground is in itself a fascinating detail.

In addition to nesting habits, Slyfield provides detail on their cross-lake roosting and feeding habits: “Old hunters and sailors tell me that great numbers of pigeons had their roost in Wisconsin and flew to Michigan each morning to feed on Michigan beechnuts.” By his reckoning, as the pigeons flew at a speed of I believe 180 miles an hour, they could cross the lake in 20 minutes. [Note: the fastest bird is said to be the white throated needletail which can attain a speed of 105 mph in horizontal flight]

Readers of Slyfield’s biography can appreciate the detail he offers about the pigeons, and we realize this deep understanding of the pigeons’ habits were also just the thing that allow hunters to exploit them in such a shamelessly unsustainable way. Certainly, as Slyfield includes the Passenger Pigeon extinction event in his memoir, he must have realized by the end of his life what it meant for the ecology of the region. Details of ecological relationships that Passenger Pigeons had are fascinating.

Another Benzie County native, author Bruce Catton, also wrote about the tactics of Passenger Pigeon hunters, some years after Slyfield’s death:

Men caught birds alive by fastening big nets to the tops of springy saplings, fastening the nets close to the ground, baiting the area and then springing the trap when the birds came to eat; it was said that a single trap would catch from three to five hundred pigeons.

James St. John, Stuffed male passenger pigeon. From the Field Museum of Natural History collection.
James St. John, Stuffed male passenger pigeon. From the Field Museum of Natural History collection.

The new theology has borrowed, without credit, one of the fundamental planks in the old religion: despite his disclaimers, man stands at the center of the universe. It was made for him to use, and the best and wisest men are those who use it most lavishly. They destroy pine forests, and dig copper from beneath the cold northern lake, and run the open pits across the iron ranges, impoverishing themselves at the same time they are enriching themselves; creating wealth, in short by the act of destroying it, which is one of the most baffling mysteries of the new gospel.

Before “sustainability” terminology was coined and in common use, Catton wrote about “the mysteries of the new gospel” in his 1972 memoir Waiting for the Morning Train. This, in my view, makes him not just an important writer of history but an unappreciated environmental writer.

We may not be able to watch the majesty of a cloud of Passenger Pigeons in the sky today, but the vivid descriptions Slyfield and Catton survive on as a record of their existence, even if questions about their muck-eating remain unanswered. Hopefully, their writings also provide a sobering reminder for those who would abuse our Region’s natural resources.

Copies of Mr. Slyfield’s biography are available for review at the Benzie Shores District Library, and for sale at the Empire Area Museum. Copies of Bruce Catton’s Waiting for the Morning Train are available for checkout at the Traverse Area District Library.

Stewart A. McFerran is an outdoor enthusiast and regular Benzie-area contributor to Grand Traverse Journal.