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April 05, 1936 - Image 3

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1936-04-05

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The Chase S. Osborn Preserve,
Now Belonging To University,
Offers Potential Usefulness Tol
Students And Faculty Whom
Natural Beauty, Solitude, .And!
Historic Background flttract.





Right: A typical Indian house on
Sugar Island, now deserted while
the "brave" has gone to CCC.

(Copyright, 1936. by The Michigan Daily)
O N his left, a heavily wooded island
sloped away from the river. On
his right, the blue Laurentian Moun-
tain range stretched off as far as the
eye could reach. As his canoe paddled
by Indians fought its way upstream
toward that fabulously large lake
about which the Indians had told
him, this adventurous young mis-
sionary, Etienne Brul6, felt the threat
of unknown dangers lurking in those
He was right to fear them, for ten
years later, he was, it is reported,
eaten by the savages.
But then it was, more than 300
years ago, three years before the
landing at Plymouth Rock, that white
man first was known to have seen
Sugar Island.
Four hundred miles north of Ann
Arbor, the University's Chase S. Os-
born Sugar Island Preserve stands
in the St. Mary's River which passes
from Lake Superior to Lake Huron,
wealthy in natural beauty, historic
interest, filled with potential uses for
the University - and comparatively
unknown to the campus.
Now five years since it was given
to the University by former Governor
Chase Salmon Osborn and his son,
George Augustus Osborn, in October
of 1929, despite its striking qualities,
few know of it, and less than a dozen
members of the faculty have seen it.
Known to the Indians as "Sinsi-
bakato Miniss" (Maple Sugar Island)
this kite-shaped bit of earth preserves
for our age the flavor of the romantic
progression by which the Northwest

Indians would get trinkets and the
greatest single destructive force
known to their race - whiskey.
While the forests of Sugar Island
were diminishing, and the wild life
slowly was being killed off, farms
began to dot the island. The upper
part of the island, higher, with a good
clay soil, saw many prosperous farms.
but the lower part, swampy, stony,
was left for the Indians to grub bare
existences from.
Came To U.S. In 1843
Although ceded to the United States
after the Revolutionary War, Sugar
Island remained one of those indis-
tinct border posts still held by Brit-
ish fur-trappers, until granite-faced
Gen. Lewis Cass, later first governor
of Michigan, planted the Stars and
Stripes at the Sault in 1820. In 1843,
by the terms of the Webster-Ash-
burton Treaty, Sugar Island was defi-
nitely ceded to the United States by
a one-for-me, one-for-you policy. It
was in the same treaty that Isle
Royale was given to the United States,
for although it was much closer to
Canada, it was deemed worthless. In
fact, the whole Michigan area was
thought to be "an impenetrable
swamp, unfit for habitation," accord-
ing to the report of the surveyor gen-
eral in 1816.
Living on the island now is a color-
ful international assortment of races.
Of the 550 people on this 22-mile long
island, which is 7 miles wide at the
top end, the most interesting are the
Theirs is a tragic fate. Just as has
happened all over the continent, they
have been criminally treated by white
men, swindled out of their lands, and
introduced to a civilization through
the back-door by not-too-scrupulous
lumberjacks. There is a great deal
of controversy about the Indians. One
book about them, "Joe Pete," by Flor-
ence McClinchey, was written at the
University and its sympathetic but
realistic picture of Indian life has
aroused the anger of many Indians
who feel it is somewhat unfair.
As a race, the group is declining
rapidly. Tuberculosis and venereal
diseases are taking their toll yearly.
Most of the Indians are on relief
of one sort or another. Though in-
herently happy and optimistic, they
seem to live by a day-to-day phi-
losophy, never working while there
still remains a morsel of food, never
cutting wood until they have warmed
their shins on the last bit of wood
in the house, spending their money
quickly and generously in the few
minutes in which they have any. One
hears many stories of their stoic char-
acter and trustworthiness,but there
are others who testify that the In-
dians have learned our familiar
household vices of lying and stealing.
It is true, however, that their vir-
tues are those which they have re-
tained in spite of us, their vices are
our own; when we condemn them
for drinking, for shiftlessness, for ly-
ing. we do but indict ourselves.
Cheerful In Cups
The Indians drink -much and in-
discriminately. They will borrow to
the limit to get cheap whiskey; when
that is not obtainable, they drink
home-brew, or home-made mash, a
bitter fermentation. In their cups,
they are cheerful, and always gentle-
manly. Their celebration of New
Year's Eve has been described in a
previous article. (The Michigan
Daily, January 8, 1936). One is not
surprised at the high tuberculosis
toll when he sees the Indians throw
themselves down into the snow to
sleep off the effects of alcohol.
Their moral code is somewhat dif-
ferent from our own, although they
are, by their own standards, a moral
people. If a squad grows tiresome or
less useful, one changes, finds a new
one. The ceremony of marriage is
not held as of much importance.
When a man does take a squaw, for

the period that he does live with her,
he is faithful and a good providing
husband. The women have had
their means of independent exist-
ence: they make wonderfully artistic
baskets, and it is from the splitting
of the bark with their front teeth
that there are unsightly brown
stumps in most squaw oral cavities.
There are practically no full-
blooded Indians left, and few of the
original colorful ceremonies remain.
In the spring, gathering in the maple

5 -

Below: The "Gan-
Jer," University cab-
in on the waterfront,
uilt to hold 8 to 10
students or workers.
It was originally built
as a clubhouse for
Governor Osborn.
[t includes ample
sleeping and cooking







Above: Map of Sugar Is-
land, shaded areas indicat-
ing University property.
Below: View of the channel
from the "Gander." Canada
in the distance.



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Above, tight: view of an Indian burying ground in the midst of the
forest. It is interesting to observe that each grave is surrounded by a
separate fence, either from ceremony, or to .keep the wolves away.

Governor Osborn's summer residence on
Duck Island. To the right is his concrete
fireproof library, containing 7,000 volumes,
manvo f them rare.

Above: Father William Gagnieur, last of
the Jesuits in the region. He has spent 40 of
his 79 years among the Indians, spreading
gospel and enlightenment.

ueozaey vi aeea.u ewe . d _r a

Former Michigan Daily man,
George A. Osborn, '08, editor and
publisher of the Soo Evening News
and president of the Michigan Press
Club, is co-donor with his father of
the Sugar Island Preserve.
was won. Originally occupied by Al-
gonquins (which included Ojibways,
Chippewas, Ottawas, etc.) and Sioux
Indians, the island was a popular
stopping place because it abounded in
wild life, was heavily timbered, chief-
ly with maple (from which sugar
could be made in the spring) and
because it is located in the middle of
the St. Mary's River which flows
swiftly and dangerously from Lac
Tracy (Lake Superior) to Lac Mer
Douce (as it was called by Cham-
plain because of its sweet water, now
known as Lake Huron) which is 21
feet lower. The Algonquins drove
the Sioux farther west -to the Da-
kotas - the Ottawas moved down
around Mackinac, and the Ojibways
and Chippewas alone remained.
A farmer, plowing on Sugar Island
30 years ago, uncovered a silver button
in an excellent state of preservation.
When polished, it showed the coat of
arms and lettering of Edward VI,
who died in 1471, 21 years before Co-
lumbus discovered America, and Up-
per Peninsula scientists are convinced
that the button was lost there soon
after Cabot found land in 1497. This
bit of evidence, together with the
remains of some mines along the
shores of Lake Superior, worked with
devices unknown to Indians, leads
to speculations that white men -
perhaps Basques --were in Michigan
before 1500.
Whether or not these speculations
are justified, it is certain that there
were white men on Sugar Island be-
fore Plymouth Rock. Its first ap-
pearance on maps comes on Cham-
plain's map of 1632, made from in-
formation gained by his aide, Brul6,
and it is clearly represented in the

the good odor of maple syrup boiling
filled the island, the old men would
remember when, in former times, the
tribe was strong and would tell leg-
ends of the past to the group gath-
ered about the fire.
One of the white women who has
lived on the island most of her life
tells of an incident which reveals
something of the Indian nature. She
was startled one night to hear a
knock on her door. An old Indian
came to ask her to take her boat to
summon from another island a squaw
empowered to baptize an Indian baby
about to die. This she did, and then
watched when, after the baby died,
they wrapped it in cloth and carried
it outside (the Indians have a super-
stition about keeping a corpse inside
a dwelling). From all over the Island
the Indians gathered and made their
preparations. Silent, they stood about
while the parents put the corpse of
the baby in a canoe, then got in
themselves. One by one, still silent-
ly, they formed a procession of
canoes, and then shortly before dawn,
pushed off in a single file up the
river to the cemetery in a hidden
spot on Sugar Island. Forgotten by
them, the white woman watched,
subdued, as they pushed off, in the
half-light of dawn, silently, with no
audible expression of grief.
A colorful figure and an import-
ant factor in the Indian life has been
white-haired, bony-faced Father Wil-
liam Gagnieur, who has been alleviat-
ing distress, spreading enlightenment
among the Indians on the Island for
40 years. Now 79 years old, he is,
the last of the Jesuits
in the region. Active
and busy still, though Dono
old and in frail
health, Father Gag-

dians as have white men in their Indians, who neither care nor under-
private dealings. stand.
Thus added to their humiliation Between the French-Canadians
as a racial minority are the ravages and the Indians there is the most
of disease on a broken, dying people. amity, and the greatest number of
The rest of the people on the
island are chiefly Finns and French- inter-marriages. Taken all together,
Canadians. the population of the island is on a
downward trend, having decreased by
Communism Among Finns 50 in the last 10 years.
The Finns were brought over to The financial situation has been
form a colony about 15 years ago. very acute, particularly after the
They are industrious people; their University was given the Osborn
farms are well-kept and prosperous, tract, for the Island lost $1,400 in
but their lands were for the most part taxes with which it had maintained
gained through evicting Indians for } schools and roads. After a colorful
non-payment of taxes. The oppres- election for supervisor some nine
years ago, when the man who gave
sion which these Finns had suffered the voter his last drink got the bal-
under in the old country, and per- lot, the Island went rather sharply
haps the difficulty of acclimating into debt, and has had a high tax
themselves here made them favorable bill since then. In a recent election
subjects for and carriers of a doctrine cleanup, it was observed that many
new to the island - communism. a man whose ballots had been coming
Theretare some among the Finns who in regularly had been dead for five
feel very strongly on the subject, and years and more. Of the 10,000 acres
perhaps their enthusiasm leads us to of cultivated lands on the Island, al-
conclude that unanimity exists when most 4,000 are non-taxable. Some
actually there are quite a few (White feeling exists among the natives
Finns) who are bitterly anti-Red. against the University for holding
The Finns hold regular meetings in land which is non-taxable, hence
their gas-lit labor hall, at which a causing the full burden of the roads
version of Marx is preached. The and schools to rest upon them. Ac-
meetings are orderly, sober. Odd tivities of the University, in building
though it is for farmers to incline to roads and making improvements,'
the left, here they gather each week have in some measure lessened that
and express themselves in demon- hostility.
strations and talks. On a tombstone This was the land which Governor
in the Finnish cemetery are carved, Osborn, who was given an honorary
significantly, the hammer and sickle, doctor of laws degree by the Uni-
emblems of communism. There is versity in 1911 when he was governor,
not much indoctrination among the has presented to the University.
Newspaperman, au-
thor, explorer, dis-
r Of The Sugar Island Preserve 2overer, hunter, stu-
dent and statesman,1
Chase Osborn has a
firm faith in "God's
"It is my belief that
this gift will be one
that will be of ever-
lasting benefit to the
University of Michi-
gan," Governor Os-
born stated at the
time of the presenta-I
tion. "Gifts of money
and of buildings and
of books will perish in
time. These lands,
than which there are
none more intereds-
ing in all God's
world, will be here,
amid their setting of
grandeur, for all

evitable. If and when I pass through
that adventure of entering into a
new sphere of existence, there shall
remain a monument significant of my
earth-existence-significant in termsj
of perpetual value to our great Uni-
versity-certainly I should have cause
for satisfaction."
More than 3,000 acres of Sugar
Island now belong to the University,
with approximately eight miles of
shoreline. The University lands in-
clude some well-timbered lands, a
farm, two small inland lakes, and
Governor Osborn's buildings and con-
crete fireproof library with more than
7,000 volumes, many of them rare,
which Governor Osborn reserves the
right to use as long as pie wishes.
Wild Life Abounds
Of the 2,591 acres comprising the
main tract near the south end of the
Island, 86 per cent is well woodedI,
while the remainder is made up of
old clearings, grass and brush marsh-
lands, and burned areas. The forest
area is made up.largely of what is
generally called "second growth" of
large pole although a good portion
has never been heavily cut over and
there is considerable timber of saw-
log size. More than half of the tract
is mixed lowland hardwoods and con-
ifers in which soft maple, balsam,
fir, white birch, spruce and aspen
predominate. There is also consider-
able mixed upland hardwoods, with
white birch, sugar maple, yellow birch
and red oak. Other forest types
represented are the mixed hemlock
and hardwoods, white and Norway
pine, swamp conifer characterixed by
spruce, balsam fir and cedar, and low-
land hardwoods characterized by
black ash, balm of Gilead and elm.
The whole tract is remarkable for the
profusion and intermingling of tree
species of which there are 20 in num-
While the Preserve is well suited to
commercial forest production under
sound forestry principles, yet much
of it is too valuable for other forest
and wild land uses, including aesthet-
ic and recreational values, fish and
game and for specimen tracts for
study in a great range of biological
sciences. Most of the vegetation
that grows in northern Michigan is
to be found in these Sugar Island
lands. A collecting expedition of Dr.
William C. Steere of the University
botany department disclosed approxi-
mately 150 specimens of bryophytes,
including about 10 specimens never
before reported from this general
region. In the summer of 1935, Mr.
Frederick J. Hermann of the Uni-
versity Botanical Gardens staff re-,

Duck Island, for the peninsula. on
which Governor Osborn's cabins and
library stand.) It is Mr. Osborn's
observation that Duck Aland and
Duck Lake are visited by every bird
of a wild nature that is found in
North America. This includes even
pelicans, cormorants, the Golden
Eagle and other birds rare to this
As for fish life, the waters of. nd
surrounding the University property
abound in muskellunge, pike,- bass
and trout. Deer,kbear, moose, coyotes
and, in winter, timber wolves, fre-
quent the property, as well as the
smaller game animals.
Geologically, too, the land is
interesting. Here is the conjunction
of the lower Huronian and Drum-
mond limestone and the Potsdam
sandstone. The ripple marks of the
ancient Algonkian Sea are found in
the quartzite of the property.
It was this great abundance of
game, together with the scenic beau-
ty of the inland lakes, Duck Lake
and Sweet Gale Lake, which first at-
tracted Mr. Osborn's attention when
he was State Game and Fish Com-
missioner 40 years ago.
Thus far most of the University
work on Sugar Island has been in
forest research. Beginning with the
summer of 1930, the School of For-
estry and Conservation has carried on
a continuing series of technical stu-
dies on the Osborn Preserve togeth-
er with protection and some physical
improvement of the property. All
funds for forestry work have been
provided by the University's George
Willis Pack Forestry Foundation.
Prof. Willett F. Ramsdell, Pack Foun-
dation Professor of Forest Land Man-
agement, is custodian for the tract
and all activities have been carried
on under his general direction. Most
of the forest research program to
date has been conducted by Prof.
Leigh J. Young with the aid of stu-
dent assistants.
Tract Surveyed
Activities of the University to date
have been largely in the field of for-
estry and include a survey of the
tract and the preparation of a forest
type and cover map; an estimate or
cruise by species of all timber of us-
able size; various analytical forest
and tree "stand" and "volume"
tables; the establishment of research
plots to study forest growth and
yield; the study of the effects of cer-
ain methods of thinning and im-
provement cutting to promote the
rapid growth of valuable pulpwood
species; and a series of photographic
records at fixed camera points. Physi-
cal improvements have included the
ni fittin- of the TUniversitv's cabin.


nieur has been one of
the few redeeming
elements in the white
invasion. Through
his efforts, and those
of his predecessors,
chapels have been
built, and all the In-
dians are now Catho-
Many of the Indi-
ans are now leaving
the Island with their
families going up to
Eckermann, w h e r e
there has been esta-
blished a C.C.C. camp
especially for them.
Their scrubby farms
can scarcely support
them. They have


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