Storyteller: Dave Rogers

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Michigan History Tours and Presentations

A lonely boy about age 11 stood on the bank of the Saginaw River near a tall oak tree spreading its branches and dancing shadows from its leaves over the ground sloping gradually to the placid waters.

A strange feeling came over the boy—of course it was me—that morning as the fog drifted away; something had happened here, I thought, but what? It was an eerie awakening to the power of history. Later I found to my surprise that this was the site of the last encampment of the Chippewa Indians in my home of Bay City in 1865. The Indian camp filled the riverfront for more than a mile, according to an eyewitness.

Townsfolk feared a massacre and sent a delegation: the Catholic priest from a nearby parish, the mayor and a venerable pioneer. “No, we’re just here to receive our annual treaty payment,” said the Chief, in a story related by George W. Hotchkiss that is part of the Bay City collection in the Bentley Library at the University of Michigan.

That knowledge was the start of my lifelong interest in history, one that has led to finding, and writing about, the French-Canadian lumberjack, Fabian Joe Fournier, who was the model for the Paul Bunyan legend and one of the world’s best known folklore figures. The 1993 book “Paul Bunyan: How a Terrible Timber Feller Became a Legend,” was published by Historical Press L.L.C. in Bay City.

Another local history book, “Ghosts, Crimes & Urban Legends of Bay City, Michigan,” documented some of the incredible stories of this town that is filled with lore from its days as the world lumber capital when 100 mills crowded the riverbank 12 miles south to Saginaw.

Michigan State University Press published the most recent work, “Apostles of Equality: The Birneys, the Republicans and the Civil War,” in 2011. The forgotten hero of the book is James Gillespie Birney, abolitionist who lived in Bay City a dozen years, 1841-1853, and brought religion, education and culture to a frontier village populated mainly by Indians and French Canadian fur trappers. Twice a Liberty Party candidate for President, 1840 and 1844, Birney was the first Michiganian to seek the office.

Four sons and a grandson of Birney entered the Union Army in the Civil War, and only Maj. Gen. William Birney and Capt. James G. Birney IV survived. Maj. Gen. David Bell Birney, a hero at Gettysburg and Chancellorsville, died of disease during the war as did Maj. Fitzhugh Birney and Capt. Robert Dion Birney.

Tours and presentations by D. Laurence Rogers have sprung from this background. Bay City Ghost and Cemetery Walks are the most popular, along with step-on guide bus tours of the historic homes and buildings of Bay City. Presentations include Michigan’s role as the abolitionist wellspring of the Republican Party, tales of the ill-fated Sauk Indians massacred in the mid-1640s by rival tribes, Bay City’s maritime heritage that saw 888 ships built 1787-1977, and the roots of Paul Bunyan legends.

Contact

D. Laurence Rogers
4659 Dale Ct.
Bay City, MI 48706
(989) 686-5544
dlaurencerogers@gmail.com

 

Historical Society of Michigan 5815 Executive Drive Lansing, MI 48911
Email hsm@hsmichigan.org | Phone (517) 324-1828 | Fax (517) 324-4370

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