Liberty Tanner Beardsley

(Grand Rapids Press, 19 October 1901)

Liberty T. Beardsley Lived When Michigan Was Young
Of Ottawa County's First Little Colony

Tramped Across Michigan Over Indian Trails in Five Days
When But Fifteen Years Old

Jenison, Mich., Oct. 19 - Living on a farm of eighty acres, two miles southeast of Jenison in Georgetown township, is the sole survivor of the little colony of pioneers who in 1836 erected the first log cabins and brought the first evidence of civilization to Ottawa county. His name is Liberty T. (Tanner) Beardsley. he is 80 years old and his present home has sheltered him for fifty-five years.

In 1846, ten years after coming to Ottawa County, Mr. Beardsley was married and moved with his bride into the modest log cabin, now replaced by a modern dwelling, there were no other inhabitants in the broad expanse of forests westward between his cabin and Lake Michigan. The struggling fifty families, comprised the population of Ottawa county.

Mr. Beardsley has a remarkable memory and can recite in detail every incident of pioneer days. He remembers the date of every occurrence of any moment, even to the day of the month, and his narrations of early life along Grand river are fascinating. He has held every office in the gift of Georgetown township except that of clerk and he refused that because he was "not good at figures".

Mr. Beardsley settled in Ottawa county in May, 1836, coming here from Otsego, N. Y., where he was born. The trip from Dunkirk, N. Y., to Detroit was made by steamer and arriving at Detroit, Mr. Beardsley set out afoot for Grandville. There were no railroads in Michigan and the only stage coach line out of Detroit ran to Ann Arbor. He trudged through the forests, following Indian trails, depending on the hospitality of the Indians and the few scattering settlers along the way for food and trusting to his strong legs to carry him through. Five days after leaving Detroit he reached Grandville. He had 27 cents in his pockets and was just 15 years old.

In Grandville Mr. Beardsley found ten families who had settled that year and were clearing up farms. An old saw mill occupied the site where is now located the Grandville Plaster works, the mill being run by Eli Yeomans, a half-brother of Mr. Beardsley and Isaac Allen. There were no highways, no means of communication with the outside world except by canoes on Grand river, and the Indians, who outnumbered the whites ten to one, earned many "shillings" carrying the settlers in canoes from one clearing to another.

The first boat to navigate the Grand, Mr. Beardsley says, was placed in commission in the fall of 1836. It was named the "Young Napoleon" and was propelled by long poles in the hands of six sturdy Frenchmen. They carried from Grand Haven the supplies in the way of provisions and clothing for the settlers along the river, who then numbered only four families between Grandville and Grand Haven. The following year the first steamer to ply on the river made its appearance - the "Governor Mason", the trial trip being made between Grand Rapids and Grandville on July 4. Mr. Beardsley walked to Grand Rapids in order to ride back on the steamer that day.

Mr. Beardsley' first position was that of a cook in the employ of Yeomans & Allen, who operated the sawmill. In the fall of 1836 he assisted his half brother, A. B. Yeomans, in clearing up a farm at Lamont, and in the spring of the next year he was sent in search of potatoes, then a great luxury. After a tiresome and unsuccessful tramp to Grand Rapids he found the vegetables at a settler's cabin three miles below Grandville and nine miles above his brother's cabin. he paid $3 for a canoe worth no more than two shilling, filled it with potatoes, and with the river full of floating ice he started home late at night. It was a perilous trip. Every moment the light canoe was in danger of being crushed. Sometimes the frail craft was to tightly wedged in between cakes of ice that its occupant had not control over it and had to drift with the current. He reached home at midnight happy over his escape and preservation of his potatoes.

Mr. Beardsley's only unpleasant experience with wild animals occurred in the winter of 1839. He left his brother's place on a visit to a settler two miles down the river. It was a winter night. The river was frozen over and he walked on the ice. When half way home a large, gaunt timber wolf emerged from the woods and crossed the ice just back of him. Mr. Beardsley's only weapon was a jack-knife, but he knew the wolf was too cowardly to attack him and was not alarmed until the animal began to howl as a signal for other wolves to join him. Mr. Beardsley quickened his steps and the lone wolf kept pace with him, all the time howling dismally for its companions. The signal was no answered, and when Mr. Beardsley reached the clearing where the cabin was located the wolf darted into the forest, and disappeared.

In the spring of 1837 a family names Stoddard moved in from Grand Rapids and brought with them a barrel of whisky. The Indians of the neighborhood were not long in learning of the fact and one day when Mr. Stoddard was away a drunken buck visited the cabin and demanded a drink. All remonstrances of the frightened woman who had been left alone was unavailing and she finally gave the Indian a flask of the liquor, upon his promise not to return. She knew the failing of the red tribe, however, and knew that he would return with others, and, as soon as he left she hurried down the river to the Yeoman cabin. Mr. Beardsley, Joseph Hill, Israel Harris and a fourth man named Derrin hastened to the Stoddard home and had not been there long when seven bucks and eight squaws appeared on the scene and demanded the entire barrel of "fire water". When refused they resorted to force and a pitched battle ensued, the Indians being beaten over the heads with hickory clubs until they were glad to retreat.

Mr. Beardsley's half brother, A. B. Yeomans, was the founder of what is now Lamont. he was the first white settler there and he named the place "Springville", because of the numerous springs in that locality. A Grand Rapids merchant was responsible for the name Lamont afterwards given the place, the merchant presenting Mr. Yeomans with a road scraper, then in great demand, for the privilege of changing the name from Springville to Lamont.

The foundation of Eastmanville, six miles below Lamont, on the Grand river, was laid by Mr. Beardsley and three other men who built the first two log cabins there in a single day. The first families to settle there were those of Dr. Eastman and a Mr. Hopkins. The settlers in 1836 and 1837, Mr. Beardsley says, suffered more for want of a variety than for a lack of food. All the flour was brought by boat to Grand Haven and carried up river and the settlers went for months sometimes without bread. There was plenty of fresh meat, the forests being alive with der. Many times Mr. Beardsley has stood on the bank of Grand river in the early morning of a winter day and seen a pack of famished wolves devouring the carcass of a deer the animals had chased upon the ice and killed the night before.

He also tells of the attempt made in 1836 to build on the east banks of Grand river near a point now traversed by Bridge street in Grand Rapids, what was intended to be the largest sawmill in the world. It was to be fitted with 160 saws. Immense walls of stone were built and a big force of frontiersmen were kept in the woods for months hewing out the timbers for the big structure. The project afterwards collapsed, but the walls stood and today they are parts of the foundations of big factories.

(NOTE: The Bursley Elementary School was land that was part of Liberty Beardsley's property.  How the name of the school became Bursley instead of Beardsley would be interesting to find out.  Liberty was born March, 1821 in Vermont and died 10 Jan 1905.  He was the son of Liberty and Catherine Beardsley.  His first wife, Mariah Scott was born 1817 in New York State and died in 1872.  They are buried along with many of their family in Georgetown Township Cemetery.  Liberty married second, Hulda H., who was born in 1836 New York State and died sometime after 1884. )

Transcriber: ES
Created: 16 Sep 2011