Lumbermen’s Poetry

This section contains my favorite poems about the lumbering activities in Michigan, especially in the Saginaw Valley and the Au Sable River region.  More will be added eventually.


The Lumbermen of the Cass [River] 

by Henry Dodge

The Cass River is a tributary river to the Saginaw River.  It runs from Cass City, in the thumb area of Michigan, through the towns of Vassar and Frankenmuth before it enters the Saginaw River south of the city of Saginaw.

How many of those pioneers, I wonder, are alive
Who used to lumber on the Cass in eighteen sixty five?
Over forty years ago, how fast the time it flies;
Since when we saw the teams go by that hauled the camp supplies.

And what a road from Vassar up to where Cass City stands,
Man cut the brush but the leveling-up was not of human hands;
And then those mudholes in the Fall the stoutest heart would awe,
One codfish and a Police Gazette was all a team could draw.

We have seen Bill Final’s team go by, McDermott held the lines,
Hubs in the mud, those were the roads we had in olden times;
No robin then in the early Spring would sing our hearts to cheer,
But when Final’s drive came out the Branch, we knew that Spring was near.

As time rolled on our river took its place in brightest ranks,
More lumbermen sought their fortunes in the pines upon its banks;
Dri Avery and the Miller boys each had their share of fame,
And many will refer with pride to Warren Malcolm’s name.

Bill Pinkerton and Baldwin and Tolbert had their share,
They each have drove upon the Cass, have known its toil and care;
Have worked all day out on the logs, and when darkness settled down,
All tired out they sought a bed upon the cold, wet ground.

At first they’d nought but hemlock brush to keep off rain and snow,
Then some got tents; this filled the cup of joy here below;
But how fast the news it traveled, ‘twas scattered far and wide,
When Tolbert built the “Wanegan” to float upon the tide.

When the rollways all were broken, the logs went far and wide,
But they bore their mark of ownership as they floated on the tide;
The Wyandotte mark of the Williams boys was known upon the drive,
And the Clover Leaf of Avery, and McGraw’s three forty five.

When the drive from out the branches to the forks came rushing down,
The boys would stack their “peaveys” to go and paint the town;
More whiskey was sold o’er Tennant’s bar to those drivers tried and true,
Than would take to float the biggest ship that sails the ocean blue.

In seventy-one the fire came; at night its lurid glow
Would light the heavens far and wide as it laid the forest low,
Then for ten long years the timber dried or rotted in the sun,
And then once more the fire came and lumbering here was done.

But where are they—those pioneers—where are they one and all,
Who farmed it in the Summertime and lumbered in the Fall?
They opened up the forest wild, let in the light of day.
And now their labor-hardened hands are mouldering ‘neath the clay.

But few are left above the sod and they are old and gray,
They are moving on to the Great Beyond and soon will pass away.
But they love to sit and tell you of the times they used to ass,
When they starved and froze but made a home in the forest on the Cass.

And those men who drove the river, that wild and reckless crew,
Are they now beside some mystic stream beyond the starry blue?
Are they standing on its border waiting for the drive to pass,
While they talk of when they lived on earth and rove upon the Cass?


The Stalwarts of the Pines
by James Stevens

“The Stalwarts of the Pines” was written especially for the Bay City Times in the style of a deacon seat ballad by James Stevens, author of ‘The Saginaw Paul Bunyan’ and other lumberman’s tales, in commemoration of the dedication of the Lumbermen’s Memorial in the Huron national Forest.  James Stevens was raised in Oregon and Washington and wrote several books about Paul Bunyan.  At the time of the dedication ceremony of the Lumberman’s Monument in 1932 he was visiting the Saginaw Valley area.  Stevens’ poem nicely captures the symbolism of the Memorial as represented in the three figures of timber cruiser, woodsman, and river driver.

Come all ye true-born shanty boys, wherever you may be;
Come gather on Au Sable’s bluff and listen unto me.
For I’ve a tale of Michigan, and how her glory shines
Up from the heroes of her youth, the stalwarts of the pines.

Of Cadillac and Clark and Cass grand praises have been told;
On all the pages of our past their virtues now unfold.
On many men of Michigan unwithered fame entwines;
Now yet another wreath she gives, to the stalwarts of the pines.

Oh, hark ye back to Jackson’s day and the time of Lewis Cass,
When the Western prairies knew no fruit but a wilderness of grass.
Whence came the homes the settlers built amid the prairie bines?
From lumbermen of Michigan, the stalwarts of the pines.

So sing the cruisers of the wilds, who tamed the Indian trail,
Who marched and mapped in summer’s smoke and winter’s icy gale,
Who blazed the land from Saginaw to lake-gemmed border lines,
Railroad and highway follow now those stalwarts of the pines.

Then on the cruiser’s lonely track the rugged axman strode . . .
Hear thunder crash from falling trees along the frozen road—
Hurrah, hurrah, ye shanty boys, the sleigh-haul roars and shines!
From stump to rollway skid the logs, ye stalwarts of the pines!

Then swap your felts for calks and swing a lusty peavy high.
Get down the logs, ye shanty boys, oh, fight ‘em through or die!
The Huron booms are empty there, and loud the headsaw whines;
So sack the shallows, break the jams, ye stalwarts of the pines.

That hero’s life is ended now, is gone forever more,
And silent rivers course their way down to the Huron shore.
The compass, ax and peavy rust, the bush, the briers and vines
O’ergrow the old time trails and camps of the stalwarts of the pines.

We see them here in giant bronze, that we may not forget
The glory of their service, the grandeur of our debt.
They won our land on stream and trail, so Michigan inclines
Her head in thanks and reverence to the stalwarts of the pines.