from Provo Family History, by Birdie Villeneuve:
This was my father. Pa lived on the farm at Flat Rock as a boy. Then the family moved to Escanaba, where Grandpa had built two houses on the 200 block of South 6th Street. These were next to the Franklin School.
Pa graduated from high school and taught school three days at the Franklin School but did not have patience with kids, so he quit. Pa never did have much patience with children until he became a grandfather. Then he seemed to enjoy them.
In his late 20s he moved out to the farm in Stonington. His biggest interest in life was deer hunting. It was often said that he killed more deer than anyone in Delta County—not all legal. Venison was our main source of meat. The game wardens didn’t bother him too much. I guess they knew there were many mouths to feed and none was ever wasted. It was always shared with some of the neighbors, too.
Pa was an accurate marksman. When he was 72 years old he shot three bucks out of five that crossed the runway he was watching at one time, using only a peep sight on his rifle. That is where he died, out hunting. The doctor just looked at him with a flashlight and said it was a heart attack, but the undertaker said it was a cerebral hemorrhage.
My brother, Frank, found Pa out in his car in the field about 10:00 p.m. where Pa had been watching for deer. Pa had a habit of staying out until it was quite dark, so they didn’t start looking for him until then. Seven empty bullets were found in his car. Whether he fired at a deer or fired for help when he became sick, we don’t know. When ma used to scold him for staying out so late, he would say, “Well, if I die hunting, I’ll die happy.” Or “I’ll die with my boots on.” Both came true.
Pa did ‘commercial fishing’ for a living until I was five or six years old. A boat named the ‘Eli’ used to come up to the dock and pick up the fish. Until I was ten years old our transportation was mostly by boat, a 20-foot inboard gas-powered motor. The roads were bad so often that when we did get out with the horse, we had to travel the beach.
After he quit fishing, Pa and the boys started cutting pulp and post. They would pile them down by the bay. Sawyer and Stoll would come and get them with their tug-boat, towing them away in booms. These booms were logs that were fastened together end-to-end with bolts and chains to form a large circle. The pulp or posts were then thrown into the center and towed away.
When Pa was in his early 40s, he hurt his back working in the woods when a tree or branch came down on him. After that he did very little until he was 65 years old. Pa then started to a little woods work again cutting cedar and balsam boughs. Pa did a lot of reading and was quite a smart man. He was satisfied with only the bare necessities of life and had no desire to get ahead.
Our family had a few milk cows. We had our own milk, cream, and butter, and sold some cream. We had a few chickens and pigs, rose potatoes, and had a vegetable garden to supply us with food. The boys did some trapping for furs. The teachers usually stayed with us and paid room and board of $20 a month.
In the summer we all picked wild berries. Ma canned hundreds of quarts of berries, and also apples, pickles, jelly, etc. every year. We often rowed half—way out to St. Vital’s Island in the evening and fished perch with a cedar pole and worms, usually getting a good amount. The family often had fried perch and fried potatoes for breakfast.
We had over two miles to walk to school. The first years we had to walk through an Indian trail. One place we had to cross over a pond on a log that had fallen across it. We called this the ‘Little Lake.’
In spite of the distance we had to travel, we never missed school because of the weather. You had to be real sIck when you did miss.
Our school was a one-room, one teacher, and kindergarten through eighth grade. When you graduated from eighth grade you went to Nahma, Michigan to take your exams. Pa took the older children across in the boat. When it came to my turn, I got to ride in our neighbor’s, Mr. Pasi, in his Model T pickup truck, as his daughter ‘Dagni’ and I were the only two graduating that year.
There were usually 20-28 pupils attending the Papineau school. The year I was in first grade it shut down for lack of pupils for one year. We were transferred to the Bungalow School. It was about eight or nine miles away, the way the road ran at that time. Pa or my brother, Frank—who was in eighth grade at that time—drove us with the team of horses, using the wagon in the spring or fall. We used the sleigh in the winter time.
When winter came, Pa and the boys covered the sleigh with canvas, like the old covered wagons of pioneer days. We also picked up other children on the way. Lizzie Stone’s children, who were half-breed Indians, and the Tom Christianson children. For this he was paid $60 a month.
It was a terribly cold ride. Ma used to heat bricks in the oven and wrap them in quilts for us to put our feet on. It helped some, but not much.
The roads weren’t plowed. The snow was deep, and it was very hard on the horses. We lost two or three horses that winter. I remember one dropping dead on the way home from school from exhaustion. The horses were kept in a shed at the school during the day. If Pa drove us, he wouJd stay at one of the neighbors near school until it was time to go home. So it simplified things to have my brother drive.
The older children always had milking, feeding, watering, and wood to bring in before and after school. When I was about ten years old, Pa and the boys piped the water into the kitchen. It was a memorable event. With a hand pump inside, we were in seventh heaven.
When our Grandma Provo died in 1924, she left each of her four children $5,000 each, plus several parcels of real estate. Pa received two houses in Escanaba; a garage which bakery trucks were stored in, plus a farm in Eustace, Michigan. He received very little, if any rent, at times for some of the property. He never pressed anyone if they didn’t pay. So he made little or no profit from this. The Hoyler Baking Co. gave him stale bakery for the use of the garage. Several bushel boys each week delivered it when they came to town. This was a help and saved a lot of baking, though most of it was only good for pig and chicken feed.
Our house was an old log house. Though it was solid, it was not very well chinked, so it was cold. Upstairs, where us kids slept, you could see your breath on cold winter mornings. So we didn’t lose much time getting dressed to get downstairs around the heater. Ma always got up early to get the fires and breakfast going.
I have never seen the abstract on the Provo farm, but have been told that it had been in the Provo family since 1812. At that time, one of the Provos received it from the U. S. government as payment for serving in the armed forces. More than likely the War of 1812. There was quite a few 4O’s to begin with. But as time vent on, the government reclaimed some because the owner had failed to pay the taxes or other reasons.
They say the abstract itself has quite an interesting historical story to it. Apparently, my ancestors had tenant farmers living there until my Dad moved there between 1900 and 1903. I remember our parents speaking of a Joe or Jim Plunket who lived there at one time. He had a horse that would swim out to St. Vital’s Island, then stay there until they went after him. They also told us of a man who lived there before Pa who was killed by his own set gun. Those days they used to set guns for deer. He accidentally tripped it and killed himself.
During the CCC days (CCC stands for Civilian Conservation Corps, a program by F.D.R. to create jobs for the young men and depression years of the 1930s. Pa sold two forties of the Provo farm to the Federal Government for $7.00 an acre. It became part of the Hiawatha National forest and still is.
After Pa died, Ma sold the biggest part of the Provo farm to a jobber named Henry Gustafson. Ma kept about a 15-acre parcel which was later divided between eight of us children who wanted lots there, and later built cabins on them.
On August 10, 1979, the Road K1, which turned into the Provo Farm was renamed Provo Lane 19 by the county. A sign to that effect is placed there.
A year after our Grandma Provo died, Pa bought our first car. It was a 1926 Model T Ford truck, brand-new for $600. The road was very seldom passable.
Most of the time we had to travel the rocky beach as far as Martin Bay.
Us kids riding in the back really got bounced around. Either way we took, we usually got stuck about three or four times before reaching the highway. We would all have to get out and pry and push. We usually arrived at our destination splattered with mud.
Sometimes when it got stuck too deep, someone would have to walk back home and get one of the boys to come with the team to pull us out. At times when the road was impassable, the truck had to be left two or three miles from home and walk out to and from it or use the horses.
Some yearly events were very special to us. When the circus would come to Escanaba, we would all pile in the back of the truck and Pa would drive us in to see the parade. Each summer there would be a farmer’s picnic at Pioneer Trail park. Free ice cream and pop was served. Ma would pack the rest of the lunch. We would go home full and exhausted and talk about it for days after. Some Fourth of July nights after Pa got the truck, we would go down the bluff at Stonington and watch the Escanaba fireworks across the bay. Sometimes a tent movie would come to Stonington. Pa would take our family and some of the neighbors to see the movie.
Before the days of the truck, we used to go blueberry picking with the horses for three or four days at a time. A big tent would be pitched for food and cooking kettles. A couple of the older children had to stay home to do the chores. The rest of us picked blueberries from morning until suppertime. It was fun until we had to come home and clean them all. We would clean the jars for Ma, and she would can maybe 200 quarts of them.
When our Grandma Provo lived, she always came and stayed with us during wild strawberry season. Most summers the strawberries were quite plentiful around the farm. Grandma Provo would pick with us all day. After supper she would dump them on the big dining room table, putting the kerosene lamp in the center. All of us kids would have to sit around the table and clean strawberries until we were blue in the face. They sure tasted good when winter came though.
Pa also did some trapping and shot a few bear. He caught some bear in traps too. Pa had a habit of starting something with alot of enthusiasm while it was new, but the novelty wore off just as fast and he never got finished what he had started on. Pa was very strict with us children. All he had to do was give us a dirty look and we knew what it meant. We didn’t dare defy him. Pa was a kind man though, bending over backwards to help neighbors or even strangers.
Until the Finns moved into our area in 1922, we were three miles from our nearest neighbors. When the Finns moved in overnight it caused a big excitement, But the Finns wanted no part of us at first. They said all Frenchmen (they pronounced it “Renchmen”) were crooks. The men had been miners from Negaunee, Sock, and Marquette. They looked hard and wore shiny, homemade Finn knives on their belts to scare us. Believe me, us kids were scared and miserable. The kids wouldn’t talk or play with us at school. They would speak Finnish amongst themselves. They finally came around, as Pa wasn’t afraid of them. He would help them if they needed or wanted anything. After that, we soon became good friends and neighbors.
One time after we became friends, one of the men told Pa how they had planned to get us out of there by acting tough. This was John Sanpaka. He was known as Big John. Big John said they were glad now that we didn’t leave, as Pa was going to be ‘King of the Finnlanders’ or ‘Windlanders’ as they would say. Big John was a comical man and a lot of fun to listen to.
Only eight of the fourteen families remained there after a year or two, as it was tough sledding. The Finns started with the bare necessities to clear land and built some of their homes from hand-hewn logs, which they cut and hewed themselves. At first, several families lived together in a big house called the Papineau Farm. Some stayed in other vacant cabins until they got their homes built. The Finns were hard-working and very clean people.
The Finns were brought to us by some high-pressure land company. The Finns hadn’t liked mining, being farmers from their old country. The salesmen got the men drunk, then brought them over here and told them that the land could be theirs. The Finns were so happy just to own land, but it was mostly swamp and therefore unprofitable. Some of them had a hard time paying their loans. Others moved out because they couldn’t meet the payments.
At first we bad four miles to go and get our mail, so it was only picked up once or twice a week. After the Finns moved in, the roads got fixed a little better, so the mailbox was moved nearer. It was only two-and-a-half miles then to walk. Us kids would go and pick it up after school.
Many times we complained about our cold feet on winter mornings before we got to school. We wore lumberman-style rubber boots with low leather tops. They were no protection against the winter cold. When it was extremely cold, Ma would put a pair of wool socks over the boots, which helped to insulate them acme. This made for clumsy walking though. Even then, our feet got very cold after the socks got wet. We sure hated to come to school with those socks on! If we had a big snow storm, Pa sometimes would walk ahead of us, sort of dragging his feet to break a trail. When the road was passable with horses in the winter, he would bring us back and forth to school or pick us up when there was a bad storm.
When I was in the seventh grade, Dagni Pasi and I did the janitor work at school. We each received $1.50 a month for this. At night we swept the floor, cleaned the blackboards, and brought in the wood for the next day. In the morning, we got there early and made a fire in the old box stove that stood in one corner of the room. We filled the water pail which sat on a shelf in another corner of the room. In the beginning there was a dipper in the pail and everyone drank out of the same dipper. This changed when Charles Frollo came to teach. He told us that drinking out of the same dipper wasn’t sanitary. Then each of us brought our own cup, which we kept in our desk. When we wanted a drink, we would pour it into our own cup from the dipper. This was Charlie Frollo’s first teaching job. He was a capable teacher. We learned more from him than any other teacher we ever had.
Oops, page fourteen missing!
One sleigh ride I will not forget was when we went across the ice one night to a party at Joe Groleau’s house in St. Jacques. Pa was driving the team with eighteen of us on the sleigh (our family, our teacher, the Bungalow’s teacher, and some neighbor kids). Halfway across the lake, the team broke through the ice at the crack. It was probably sixteen feet deep at that point. Lucky for us that there was a long heavy tongue on the sleigh, which extended across the crack, and held the sleigh up.
Pa hollered for us to jump. The horse’s heads were just above water. The men believed that the chunks of ice stayed down under the sleigh, which is what held the horses up. The men then tried to get the horses out by pulling and tugging on the harness. The poor horses were struggling so hard and making no headway.
Then Pa took the whip and started to pound them mercilessly until the horse, Kate, finally made it to the top. Then they tied a rope to Bessie’s neck and Kate pulled her out. Us kids were just sick. As soon as they were out, we piled all the blankets we had on the horses, and trotted them back to the farm.
None of us had any desire to cross the ice after that.
When we were teenagers, we thought nothing of walking seven miles on a Sunday night to marshmallow roast that were held on Hinkens Hill. (This is where the fire tower now stands.) We would play games and sing around the bonfire. Most of the time we would walk back, but other times we got a ride as far as our nearest neighbors. That left us with two-and-a-half miles to walk on the dark, muddy roads back home.