Michigan’s (Almost) Forgotten Trails

For several months, I’ve been kicking around the idea of starting a new book project.

Field Atlas to Michigan, Memoirs of hiking across the UP, reprinting all my articles previously published in newspapers, and a guidebook to Pictured Rocks & Hiawatha National Forest have all been contenders.

Originally, I was going down the path of taking my previously written articles and rehashing them as material for a Field Atlas to Michigan. But, I just couldn’t get excited about it. I was trying to cram an old article into a new format and it just wasn’t working. I was trying to connect Michigan’s history, with my articles, and giving the reader a place to hike a trail.

It was Christmas time when my brother, Timothy, showed me the grave of James Stevens, a Revolutionary War Patriot who is buried about a mile from where he lives and about three from where we grew up. I had no idea there were Revolutionary War Patriots buried in Michigan. I later found there are about 137 patriots buried in Michigan. Most came here as pensioners late in life. At this point, I started visiting cemeteries with these patriots thinking I could incorporate them into the book.

James Steven, Revolutionary War Patriot, buried in Arlington Township, Van Buren County.

Then, the epiphany. I was visiting Daniel Wilson, Patriot buried in Yorktown, a settlement on the south end of Gull Lake in Kalamazoo County. I discovered that Yorktown was near a long abandoned railway, stage line, and Native American Trail.

It hit me like a ton of bricks! Why not write about abandoned trails, their origin, their use, their downfall, and if there are any remnants, where can you find a portion to hike?

I had started a timeline of Michigan History, which included the explorations of French Explorers, British shenanigans, mining, logging, etc. During that research, I read quite a bit about Henry Schoolcraft, LaSalle, Marquette, Brule, Nicolet, Raddison, etc., finding their way across the Great Lakes & Michigan mostly using native american water and land routes.

I realized that most of the trails the explorers, road makers, railroaders, miners, voyagers, etc., used were of Native American origin. In addition, Native Americans accompanied, directed, advised many of the early explorers of trails and portages. When you look at a map of the primary & secondary Native American trails in Michigan, the map looks like a spider web there are so many. In addition, ancient portages used for thousands of years were pointed out the European Interlopers. We have a lot to thank our Native American neighbors.

Archaeological atlas of Michigan [by] Wilbert B. Hinsdale…
Author: Hinsdale, W. B. (Wilbert B.), 1851-1944.
Ann Arbor: University of Michigan press, 1931.

Today, I am working up a list of Native American pathways, portages, old stage lines, abandoned railroads, plank roads, and even abandoned motor vehicle routes. It is a huge list, to the point where I believe I can make this into a two-volume project.

For now, I will be concentrating on Native American Pathways & Portages (ooh, I just came up with that!) and how they shaped today’s hiking trails, water routes, roads & railroads. An aspect of this project will try to find signs of old hiking & portage routes, whether its an actual tread in the ground or if a currently in use trail/road/railway utilizes its route. Time–more like European settlers– have not been kind to old trails. Many have been plowed under, flooded, ignored, grown over, etc.

For example, a major Native American portage between the Great Lakes & Mississippi Watershed exists just south of the Michigan State Line. The St. Joseph River, when you paddle upstream from St. Joseph, you are paddling south towards its most southerly point in what is now South Bend. This portage has been used for centuries by Native Americans. French Explorers did not discover this and other portages on their own, they were told or shown by Native Americans. This knowledge transcended not only tribes but Nations. Their oral history is something to be commended.

Baker, George. 1897. The St. Joseph – Kankakee Portage.

At nearly the most southern bend in the St. Joseph, voyagers were to look for a beat down area on the west bank. At this point, they would portage up and over the banks then slightly downhill in a WSW direction to a massive marsh, known at the time as the Kankakee Marsh, which

cradled the origin of a tributary of the Kankakee River. This portage was perhaps 4-5 miles. This is a stone’s throw when you consider it links a traveler between two major watersheds. Since it has been used for thousands of years, it was a beat down path, as evidenced by the photo below.

Today, this portage has been obliterated by urban buildup & ditching and draining of the marsh. There is still a ditch, one could portage this utilizing roads in the area, but the path is long gone. The Kankakee Marsh was over 500,000 acres in size and was drained in the latter half of the 19th Century.  The Blue Line is a “as the crow flies” representation of the portage route.

Google Earth: Accessed 30 January 2020

It will be stories like these I’d like to tell. Identify the trail, tell its history, find the trail if it still exists, and/or identify how its route has shaped our history.

Moses Clark, Patriot


I had to make a run to Grand Rapids the other day, and, had the opportunity to visit the one and only Revolutionary War Patriot buried in Kent County-specifically-The City of Walker. And he has a cool story behind how he ended up here.

Although the City of Walker originally started as Walker Township, organized in late 1837, there are reports of eight families living on the Township land before it was incorporated. Credit to the first European settlers of Walker were Samuel White & his wife Lydia, whom, with his family, settled on section 23, in 1836. He erected the first log house within the township, built the first frame barn, and erected the second saw-mill on Indian creek, on the north side of section 15. With their team of six oxen, they cut the very first roads into the unsettled wilderness. Other pioneer families in the Township are names such as Wright, Covell, Taber, Cordes, Hilton, O’Brien, Turner, and Edison. Many of these families still have descendants living in the City of Walker.

These names are common in the oldest cemetery in Walker, Brooklawn Cemetery. I parked on the side of the busy Walker Ave, watching many cars whizzing by. As the average driver zips by, they may notice there is not a driveway into the cemetery. There are, however, weathered and crooked gravestones, and several large trees. There isn’t a building on-site, nor a creek, either. There are noticeable gaps in between gravestones. All of which, in its entirety, demonstrates this is a very old cemetery.

One particular stone has a few adornments that make it unique to Kent County. Buried in Brooklawn is Moses Clark, a fifer who served in the Revolutionary War. In 1776, at the tender age of 16, he enlisted in Connecticut and served under the 1st Battalion, Connecticut State Regiment under Captain John Hart, and was discharged in Morristown in 1790.



In 1836, Moses Clark also came to Walker Township as a pensioner. His wife, Patty, and at least four of his children, Erastus, Martha, Sophia, & Charles, came here to farm the land.

Moses and Erastus had what most would consider a circuitous route to Michigan. From the Grand Rapid Press: “The fact he enlisted was no surprise. Public service was a family tradition at least from a 17th-century ancestor who was the first Secretary of the Massachusetts Colony. His own father was a Minuteman. What made Moses Clark unusual was his age. He was only 15 when he joined the fight for American Independence. Joe VanderMuellen is nearly 10 [years old] and shows no sign of running off to join the army. He stood before a weathered headstone in Walker’s Brooklawn Cemetery one recent morning reading the inscription: Moses Clark, Died January 2, 1844, Aged 82 yrs 3 mo.”

“Joe had heard of Moses Clark and knew they somehow were related. But only recently did he learn he is a direct descendant of the only Revolutionary War soldier buried in Kent County. “I knew he was related to my mom and me somehow,” said Joe, adding that “I feel lucky” to be the great-great-great-great-great-grandson of a man who served in the American Revolution. That war, Joe knew, had something to do with the reason we celebrate the Fourth of July. “The British wanted to control America,” he said, “and we didn’t want them to, so we went to war, and we won”.

“Moses Clark’s role in that victory, and the events that eventually would bring him to Kent County, began in May 1777, when he enlisted at his hometown, Lebanon, Conn. His father, James Clark, was a captain (later promoted to Major, then Colonel) who fought at Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill. Moses was a fifer, serving under Capt. John Hart, Col. Samuel Webb and Col. William Livingstone, according to military records. In those days, army musicians also sometimes assisted physicians during battle.

“Family legend has it that Moses, stationed at Valley Forge, sometimes sneaked into Philadelphia, where he played for dances, often attended by Gen. George Washington. He was discharged on May 31, 1780, at Morristown, N.Y., on the St. Lawrence River, military records show. He returned to Connecticut, where he married Patty BILL in 1786. His journey to Michigan began in the summer of 1805, when the family moved to Canada, just across the St. Lawrence from New York. The family took a step closer to Michigan in 1819, when they moved to the Lake Simcoe region north of Toronto, lured by word that the government was giving land to new settlers. But when Moses arrived, he found he could not agree to the government’s one condition: that he become a British subject and swear allegiance to the King. Instead, the family rented.

“The move to Michigan was precipitated by the same rebel spirit that prompted Moses Clark to enlist. In 1837, Canada faced a rebellion in the Toronto area. Moses Clark’s son, Erastus, collected arms and ammunition for the rebels, hid them in a wagon beneath bags of wheat and headed for Toronto. One evening, about 10 miles from Toronto, he was halted by guards posted at a small tavern, according to Walker Historical Commission files. The guards planned to search the wagon but decided to wait until morning. During the night, Erastus escaped into Toronto with his wagon and later fled back to the United States. By 1838, he had worked his way west to Michigan and sent for his wife and children. They took up farming six miles west of Grand Rapids in what is now Walker. In 1842, Moses and Patty Clark moved to Michigan and lived with Erastus and his family in a cabin on what is now Three Mile Road.

“When Moses Clark arrived in Kent County, he was among the few non-native-American settlers. Grand Rapids still was little more than an Indian trading post, a fact that may explain why more aging Revolutionary War veterans didn’t settle here. When Moses Clark died Jan. 2, 1844, he was buried in Brooklawn Cemetery, just down the road from the family homestead. Two and a half years later, his wife, Patty, died and was buried at his side.”

His son, Charles Clark, died in 1839 at 49 years of age. He is buried next to Moses and his wife, Patty. This would give Charles the distinction of having the oldest grave in the cemetery. The cause of death is unknown, and it is uncertain if he was first buried elsewhere then moved here, or if he was the first to be buried at Brooklawn.


History on the cemetery is scant, as a fire at the township hall in the late 1800’s destroyed many historical records. Moses passed away in 1844, at the age of 82.

To this day, there are many of his descendants living in the area.

Moses Clark is yet another Revolutionary War Patriot who ventured late in life into the Michigan wilderness. Thank you for your service, Moses Clark.




Great Horned Owl

Although the Red-winged Blackbird may be the first recognizable bird to return in the late winter for its spring forays, there is another bird that is about to start nesting in the next few weeks. 

The bird? The Great Horned Owl, which is a permanent, year-round resident found throughout Michigan, although they are more common in the southern Lower Peninsula.  They get a head start, laying eggs in late January and early February, incubating them for about 30 days, hatching in the beginning of March.

This coincides with emergence of small mammals from their winter hiding places and from under the snow.  The owlets will remain in the nest for up to two months as their parents collect food.

As the weather becomes warmer, mammal babies are abundant and provide enough food to sustain the owlets through the spring and summer.  By fall, the owls are booted from their parent’s territory and fend for themselves.


Right now is probably the best time to hear an owl give an unsolicited call.  Just go outside about two hours after sunset and listen. Contrary to what you may think, Great Horned Owls are less likely to be found in large, dense forests.  They are mostly found in smaller woodlots surrounded by open areas. Hence, they are quite common in our area.

If you learn the call of a Great Horned Owl, amuse your neighbors by bellowing its call.  Great Horned Owls are territorial and they defend their turf by vocalizing. You’ll know if you are good if one calls back.  You are an excellent owl caller if one swoops over your head and you fall to the ground . . . its been known to happen!

Owl Prowl

Take a flashlight and a sense of adventure and take a night hike in Yankee Springs Recreation Area in search of owls.  Owls around here tend to nest in conifers, and white pines abound at Yankee Springs.

Try hiking the Long Lake Trail or Chief Noonday Trail.  The Chief Noonday has several open areas while the Long Lake Trail has many tall white pines.  Owls are rarely seen but mostly heard. Moonlit nights are best, as their silhouette is attainable if you keep your eye to the sky.

Two other owls are regularly seen in our area, the Eastern Screech Owl and the Barred Owl.  The Eastern Screech Owl is very small, it resembles a baby Great Horned Owl and lives in habitat similar to Great Horned Owls (which eat screech owls!).  The Barred Owl can be seen in the daytime and is found in heavily wooded forests along rivers. They give a distinctive “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all” call.  

If you can find an audio recording of a Great Horned Owl, pick a spot and play about thirty seconds then listen for several minutes.  It is important to note that the wild owl sees you as an invader. Once you get him to hoot, don’t play the tape again unless it’s been five minutes or more since you last heard him.  You don’t want to scare him off his territory and possibly abandon its nest! This little trick is best done in the fall, when they are done raising their young. 

Daniel S. Wilson, Patriot


In my recent travels, I had the opportunity to visit Yorkville, located just off M89 between Augusta and Richland, to visit Daniel Wilson, Revolutionary War Veteran.

Most Revolutionary War Patriots buried in Michigan came to Michigan late in life either on a Pension or Land Grant. They mostly came in the 1830’s and 1840’s in order to begin a new life as a Michigan homesteader.

But not Captain Daniel Wilson. In 1834, at the age of 74, Wilson made the trek from New York to visit his daughter, Ursula. It just so happens Ursula and her husband, Tillotson Barnes, were the first settlers in Ross Township a year earlier. This settlement, at the outlet of Gull Lake, was named Yorkville by Tillotson. Tillotson built the first sawmill, grist mill, and tannery on his 80 acres on the south end of the lake,

Born in 1757, Daniel S. Wilson served in the Revolutionary War, in the state troops from Connecticut. Wilson had enlisted with the state militia in June 1776, a month before the Declaration of Independence was signed, and served under his uncle, Capt. Amos Wilson. He took part in the defense of New York City before being discharged on Dec. 25, 1776. He volunteered again in the summer of 1777, helping defend Westchester County and then taking part in the pivotal Battle of Saratoga, where an American general, one Benedict Arnold, earned the country’s admiration for the unexpected victory. After the war, he ran a grist mill and continued to serve in the militia, rising to the rank of captain. He applied for and received a pension for his service in 1833, after his wife, Sabra, and children Daniel, Sarah, Andrew and John had all died.

While visiting, Wilson developed an illness and passed away. Needing a place to bury his father in law, Tillotson created the first cemetery in Ross Township, to give Captain Wilson his final resting place. The cemetery is perched over Gull Lake, and provides a lovely view. Unfortunately for Barnes, he passed away in 1835 and is interred there as well.


Yorkville had a post office until 1939. It was a station on the Detroit, Toledo, & Milwaukee Railroad, which ran from Dundee, through Battle Creek, to Allegan. It started operation in the 1880’s, well past the death of Daniel Wilson. The nearest station, known as Richland Junction, was just west of Richland. With the demise of rail travel, it’s amazing that this railroad was active for so long. It ceased operation in the 1960’s.

Today, the Yorkville Cemetery is perched over Gull Lake. It affords Daniels, Tillotson, & the others buried here a spectacular view. A large, oak tree, probably 300 years old, shades a part of the cemetery, which is still active today.

Thank you for your service, Captain Daniel Wilson.





Amos Ingram (Ingraham), Patriot

My 11-year-old son and I visited Amos Ingram (Ingraham), Revolutionary War Patriot who served under George Washington.

In 1836, Barry was the least settled county in the southern three tiers and Irving only had one resident, a single man, a Mr. Bull.

In the spring of 1838, there came to the township William W. and Velorous Ingraham, two brothers, from New York, and upon section 34, made a clearing. By summer, they were ready to receive their grandfather Amos, father Frederick, and brother Orrin, all of whom then became residents of Irving. Frederick Ingraham had bought a place on the hill just east of his son William’s farm, but all lived at first with William and his family, he is the only one of the sons who married.

While living there, Amos Ingraham died. He passed Aug. 11, 1838, of “chills and fever” (probably malaria) and was buried on the farm. He is the first person of European descent to have died and be buried in Irving Township.

His body was removed some years later to the cemetery after State Road was built (a stagecoach line that ran from Battle Creek through Hastings to Grand Rapids), and interred in 1846. Local historians write that “He was a good man”, and proud to be a soldier in the Revolutionary War. He talked of forced marches by Washington of up to 70 miles a day.

Thank you for your service, Mr. Ingram.