The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Oswego Palladium (Oswego, NY), Saturday, Dec. 30, 1876

Full Text
Lake Pirates
A Reminiscence of the Days When the Mormons were on Beaver Island, Lake Michigan.

"The lakes have had pirates in their day," remarked a weather beaten hulk, and he rolled his quid to starboard as he cast a side long glance at three or four incredulous young fellows, who were seated with him around a ship-chandler's store, spitting on the hearth.

"You youngsters must not think because you can put two ends of a rope together, and steer a vessel within four 'points' of her course a bright starlight night with the north star to look at, that you're sailors and know all about the lakes and the schooners that have sailed them. When Bill Hayes, the Pacific pirate, sailed on the lakes he was not the only one who could steal a vessel or lure one on to a rock-bound coast. On the east shore of Lake Michigan were fellows who pretended to follow fishing for a living; but who, if the truth were known, made more by luring vessels on to the beach by false lights and robbing vessels and crews than they did by their nets and hooks.

For several years the followers of Joe Smith, the Mormon, lived on Beaver Island, Lake Michigan, and several vessels disappeared in that vicinity in mid-summer, and neither they nor their crews were ever heard from. It was said that the Mormons boarded becalmed vessels, murdered the crews, discharged the cargoes on the island and burned or scuttled the craft. Iron of a patter that could only have been of use on board vessels - travelers and such like, and pork and beef barrel-heads of a brand that Mormons never bought -were found on the island by sailors, and although an effort was made to ferret out the crime nothing ever came of it.

"In the fall of 1849 I was fore-the-mast in a little brig belonging to Buffalo. She was a trim little thing -she would serve as a yawl for the big hulks of today - clean and smart, but as wet as a muskrat in spring time. As we neared the Beavers on our passage to Buffalo from Chicago, we caught it stiff and hard from the 'northerd,' and although the 'old man' thought he could breast out the breeze, he found when we worked abreast of the island that the seas were too 'lumpy' for our duck, as she was making dives that would do credit to a loon. It was late in the afternoon, well on towards the edge of nightfall, and, as the sky threatened snow, if the wind held, the 'old man' concluded to go under the Beavers and let go our 'mud hooks' until the storm had spent its fury.

"We made our lee, luffed the brig' up into the eye of the wind, let go both anchors, 'paid' out chain, and soon the little brig was brought to a halt. After the canvas was furled, anchor watches were appointed and the rest of the crew turned in. About eight bells, midnight, Jack Stevens, who was on watch, shouted so loud that had we been mummies instead of men he must have awakened us. We did not scramble out very lively until the mate came to the scuttle and sang out: "Tumble up here, you beef eating, lazy dogs;" for we thought that Jack had fallen asleep and tumbled off the forecastle deck and was frightened. When we heard the mate, a big brawny fellow, with a fist like a sledge hammer, we turned out mighty smart.

On reaching the deck we could see by the lights in the Mormons' houses that the brig was drifting fast toward the beach. A couple of smart fellows (modesty forbids that I should name one of them, and not to be partial I'll say nothing about the other) ran nimbly up the fore rigging, and quicker than thought, cast the gaskets off the topsail, and, as the buntlines and clew lines had been let go on deck, rode down the topsail halliards till the yard was as high as the double reef, which had been tied outside, would permit the yard to go.

The jib was hoisted, as also was the peak of the mainsail, and when the canvas filled, the brig picked up her feet and clawed off the shore like a green turtle after a sunning digs back to the water. The cause of the brig's dragging was plain to be seen as soon as the matter was investigated. Both chains from the windlass to the hawser pipes were, instead of being taut as they should have been had the anchors been at the ends, lying on the deck. When we pulled in-board the ends of the chain we found that both chains had been cut not far from the bow with a steel saw - cut as clean and slick as though the links had been held in a vise.

It was evident that the Mormons had been at work and had it not been for the timely discovery of Jack Stevens we would soon have been ashore and murdered. We stood off and on until morning and then the 'old man' hove the brig to, lowered the yawl and went ashore to pry about and find the anchor if possible. He said nothing, he saw by the faces of the 'Latter Day Saints' that they were disappointed at the turn of things had taken on the brig.

The brig never recovered the anchors and soon after the 'old man' returned aboard we sailed away. The next season while on a schooner hailing from Ashtabula (I did not want to go on an Ashtabula vessel, for you could always tell an Ashtabula sailor by the canvas patches on his trousers, but had to or skip for salt water). I saw the same two anchors the brig lost the season before at the Beavers. I spoke to the 'old man' about it and he told me that he bought the anchors of the Mormons that spring. How did I know the anchors? Why I knew them by marks Tom Jones, a shipmate, made while sitting on them spinning yarns. Tom was a bouncing big fellow and he sat on the anchors so much that he marked them with hearts - canvas hearts he had sewed on the seat of his trousers.

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Saturday, Dec. 30, 1876
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Richard Palmer
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Oswego Palladium (Oswego, NY), Saturday, Dec. 30, 1876