Camp Martin Johnson History Part One by Martin Johnson


I was dreaming, dreaming of a place up north in the woods where there was a beautiful lake. I never had any desire to go South, East, or West — only North.

After two or three days I went back to Marquette. One of the hunters went with me or I would not have been able to find my way through the woods and over the mountains. I did a few oil sketches, mostly on “Dead River” and then went back to my old home in Sparta township and made portraits for three years. A boy friend got consumption and his doctor said that the only hope for him was to go camping among the pines. He induced me to take him up north. So in 1889 I brought him into Lake County and we camped near where my home came to be. We should have left the train at Peters Crossing but through some mistake of the man who directed us, we were carried on to Manistee, crossing 25 miles north. Next morning we took the train back to the water tank on the little Manistee River, but had bad luck at the river where we camped but it rained all the time. As soon as the weather cleared I struck out across the country to find Bass Lake or the Saubel Lakes. I found the Saubel Lakes in the afternoon and next day brought the young man, Herbert Bromen, and we camped a few days until I got our supplies packed in. At that time lumbering operations were at their height, and Peter’s headquarters were at Saubel Lakes, with a crew of 100 men. In a few days, we moved to Loon Lake, where we camped the rest of the summer. At that time Loon Lake was surrounded with virgin pine which was in its beauty, wonderfuly majestic, the tall dark forest for miles around darkly solemn. At that time Lake County was one of the richest counties in Michigan but it is poverty stricken now, all through selfishness. If it had not been for selfishness, this county could have been as rich today as it was 45 years or 50 years ago. If the lumber men had cut only what was ripe and protected the rest from fire so it could have kept on growing, that would have kept them lumbering as the timber grew up. People want to get rich quick, make their pile and have what they call a good time. It is selfishness that spoils our lives and blinds us to the beautiful things of life. The things which alone can make up a happy and contented life for us. If it had not been for the fires or the cut-over land there would have been lots of timber yet. The state should have started reforesting years ago. The first night we camped at Loon Lake we had one of the worst thunder storms and cloud bursts I have ever seen, with continous lightning from all directions. It was impossible to sleep and towards morning Bromen asked me what I thought of this. I said I thought it was rather damp. The water was rushing all around us but it was lucky that we had our tent on a little knoll or we would have floated away. Many trees went down during the night and in the morning every other telephone pole and sometimes two or three in succession were shattered along Peter’s telephone line. It was the wildest night I have ever seen. The water had risen four inches in the lake during the night.

After we were well settled at Loon Lake I started to find Big Bass Lake. In this oak and pine forest it was pretty thick and dark; one could not see far ahead but I finally found it. I came to where the school house now stands and started to walk around the lake, but I could not see more than a small part of it at any time. I did not know that the lake was as big as it proved to be. I started walking north but when I had gone a little way I came to where the timber had been out and there the walking became extremely difficult. Fire had gone over and fire wood had grown up as high as my head. It was then shedding its down and filled my eyes, nose, and mouth with its soft, flaky, white wool. It also concealed the logs and brush underneath and made walking more difficult. At that time they did not cut the hemlock, or oak, or anything but pine and the other timber lost its support and was hurled in all directions. Here and there a big jumble of trees interlocked branches with weed and blackberrie briar all interwoven so it took from one and a half to two hours to go from where the school house now stands to where my house is now located.

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