In 1849 William Stanton brought his family across the frozen lake to an ice filled cabin on the west side of Long Lake next to Joel Plumley who had arrived in 1832. He was an unfriendly vengeful man. He had been known to set fires, cut tails of animals, and refuse to help anyone. He claimed Long Lake as his own and saw neighbors as intruders. His remarks when asked to help a starving family that arrived in the dead of winter; “Why should I if they are fool enough to come in the middle of December.” William Stanton’s daughter, Lavonia, kept a journal and this text was sourced from that journal.
At age fourteen, Lavonia married a local man named Benjamin Emerson. They moved on to the back section of the land left by John and Alice Boyden who had encountered Mr. Plumley’s wrath because they bought the land that he wanted. One day Alice went out to the back field and discovered that the man had set fire to their hay. That was the final straw. They packed up their belongings, moved across the lake, and built another house.
In the meantime, Benjamin and Lavonia Emerson (both pictured here) purchased the back lot of the vacated Borden property because it bordered her parents’ property. They were aware of Joel’s temper and though he had cut the tail on her parents cow one night, he had not done anything yet to the young couple. They began to clear the land, building a modest cabin, happy as two young lovers could be, but blind to what lay before them.
One would think that nothing could touch this remote community and these young lovers hidden away in the crags and crevices of these domed mountains, but war has long fingers. This war was a travesty that brought brother against brother; this was the Civil War, which threatened to divide the nation. One fine fall day as Benjamin and Lavonia were finishing their harvest, they spoke of the unspoken. Lavonia had heard about the war. She knew several men who had been called to serve and she prayed Benjamin would not be another one. However, in 1862, he was called, and. with tears and fears, Lavonia kissed the man she loved good-bye knowing that she may never see him again. Many nights, she sat alone in their cabin in the dark backfield writing to her Benjamin. Working hard helped relieve her of some of her fears. One gray morning the following spring, she was digging in the dirt preparing a garden. She was struggling with the rocks, thick tough tree roots, and the near impenetrable hardpan soil. She did not hear the man approach.
“What are you doing?”
Immediately, she recognized the voice. It was old Joel Plumley. Oh no, she thought, what is he going to yell about now. She stood up and faced him. “I’m planting corn.”
“Well, look here, Lavonia, you are planting those rows too close together. He took the hoe, made a few hills, and covered them. “That is the way to plant corn,” he remarked. She thanked him for his kindness. He mumbled, “You’re welcome, Miss,” and ambled back over the field to his place. That afternoon Joel came back with his oxen. He and Lavonia’s two brothers cleared the ground in front of her house and put in potatoes.
Then he left, entering his quiet childless home. For a moment, he thought of his son, Jeremiah, who was fighting in the Civil War. He did not know if he was dead or alive. Joel lit the fire, sat down, looked out his window, and smiled as he saw the lights of the Shaw house through his window.
Now, feeling the warmth of the fire and the soft light falling through the window, he realized that should this town have been only his, it would be dying with him in just a few years. The town would live. Long Lake would stay long after he was gone and then with one final thought, his dark eyes crinkled, his mouth turned up in that crooked smirk, and he proclaimed, “But I will forever be known as the first white settler to step foot in Long Lake.
From the pages of Conquering the Wild by Gail Huntley, www.gailhuntley.com
Photo at left of Jeremiah Plumley. Photos provided by Gail Huntley.