Saginaw Keepers vs Michigan Log Tow Company

“U. S. Lighthouse Board & Saginaw River Light-Station Keepers vs. Michigan Log Tow Company”

A disagreement between Michigan Log Towing Company, U.S. Lighthouse Board and the Keeper’s (Decker and 1st Assistant Cotter) at Saginaw River Light-Station started to flare up on the 13th day of August 1894. This flare up was caused by Keeper’s making agreements between Log Tow Company, fishermen and doing all this without proper authorization by the Lighthouse Board. You also had the Michigan Log Tow Company abusing their land privileges under their present lease agreement. In order to subdue the situation and try and get a lease extension past the Board, S. O. Fisher from the Wholesale Lumber & Logs located in West Bay City, Michigan decided he needed to send a formal letter to the United States Lighthouse Board, Treasury Department located in Washington D.C. after he spoke with Walter D. Young.
S. O. Fisher stated he was contacted by Walter D. Young, owner of the Michigan Log Tow Company. Mr. Young has requested I compose this letter for your review and possible consideration. Mr. Walter D. Young is asking for a five year extension of his companies lease. I’m also making you aware of the lease terms, length of our present agreement and how much land is covered under our present agreement. Mr. S. O. Fisher seems to dwell on the usage of the land along the water front, instead of why the Lighthouse Board should granted the Michigan Tow Companies extension. I strongly urge you to extend the Michigan Log Tow Companies lease. Mr. S. O. Fisher reiterates why this extension should be approved. He also makes it clear on why the land is of great importance to our city’s growth. He also states Mr. Walter Young believes this extension will benefit everyone including the Lighthouse Board.

Fisher goes on and acknowledges: The fact still remains, prior to our present agreement there have been problems which you shouldn’t over looked. However once this new lease extension is in place, we feel very strongly the problems in the past should stop. We (Wholesale Lumber & Logs and Michigan Log Tow Company) also believe we shouldn’t have any more waterway obstructions that plagued our navigational community. As I understand it, the Corps of Engineers have expanded a large amount of the Saginaw River. This expansion should increase the amount of commerce that runs along our waterways. Mr. Young (Michigan Log Tow Company) is again asking for this extension and he has also made it clear he would ask for an even longer one after this agreement is ratified. As part of this new agreement we need you to cover the costs of our existing improvements. I’ve decided to highlight these two lines this, so you know we are serious about our request:
“As you know we have already made a number of improvements to your property. I’m again asking you to grant our request and I trust you will reply back within the week”.

A couple of days later the Lighthouse Board, Treasury Department receives a number of very formal letters from captain’s of shipping companies, tug owners, agents and others that have businesses along the shores of the Saginaw River.  On the next page is one of the original letters the Lighthouse Board received just after the Michigan Log Tow Company requested their 5 year extension.

We, undersigned vessel and tug owners, agents and captains, respectfully represent that we are familiar with the improvements made by The Michigan Towing Association in the front of the Lighthouse Reservation at the mouth of the Saginaw River, we are also familiar with the uses to which the same have been put during the present season and with the navigation of the Saginaw River in which we are very interested, and we respectfully represent that since the constructions of the improvements by The Michigan Towing Association, the navigation of the river has not been interfered with by logs at all and we regard the facilities for taking care of rafts at that point as a great aid to the navigation of the river.”
Letters received by the Board were signed by every ships captain’s, tug owners, agents and others that were associated with Saginaw River shipping community. The Lighthouse Board was amazed by the tight bonds and solidarity of all these individuals. The amount of mail received from those involved in this controversy made it very tough for the Board to ignore. On one side of the argument you have the Michigan Log Tow Company and many others telling the Board they know and are keenly aware of what’s going on in their tight logging community. In each of the letters received the Board was being told to ratify this extension. On the other side of the issue you have the Lighthouse Board. They understand the concerns of the community and the urgency in ratifying this agreement, however being a government body they chose to wait and review this matter further. As proof of this the Lighthouse Board lets this issue go unresolved for a very long period of time.

“As you continue to read this story, you will find out who is the real culprit in this ongoing controversy. You will also find out why Major Adams made a conscious decision to leave out certain details in a letter he sent to the Lighthouse Board in June 1897”
Procrastination by the Lighthouse Board enraged everyone along the Saginaw River. They were bound and determine to get their voice heard and after a few meetings they decided to hire a legal team to assist them with their demands. Members of the community met with Simonson, Gillett & Courtright (SGC) Attorneys at Law and voiced their concerns. The legal team decided to take on this case and went to work on composing a letter to the Appointed Corps of Engineers. On the 7th day of March 1895 another letter was received by the U. S. Lighthouse Board. Enclosed with that letter was another letter dated the 5th day of March 1895 from SGC. The Appointed Corps of Engineers received the March 5th letter from SGC and decide to forward it onto the Board.

 Simonson, Gillett & Courtright Attorneys at Law requested the U.S. Lighthouse Board ratify this new lease extension to the Michigan Log Towing Company without delay. As part of this new agreement we are also asking for the use of the water front property located on the Saginaw River Michigan Light Reservation. In their letter they also state they have been retained by the community and now represent the fishermen that were arrested after the fishing incident on the reservation. Documents show the fishermen were arrested for illegally fishing in the channel in front of the Saginaw River Michigan Light Reservation. According to the SGC this incident and subsequent arrests were caused by the Michigan Log Tow Company complaining to the local authorities they were in violations of an agreement set forth by them and Keepers of the light station.
Well let’s move on, here we have the Lighthouse Established, Office of the Lighthouse, 11th District, Detroit, Michigan and W. W. Meade, Commander, U.S.N, Inspector 11th District trading letters on the 6th day of February 1896. The subject of Commander’s Meade letter was:

“Charges against Keepers, Saginaw Range Lights”.
The Lighthouse Board ordered Commander W. W. Meade conduct a full scale investigation into this matter and the allegations against the Keeper’s at Saginaw River Light-Station. Meade complied with the orders given to him and came back days later with some disturbing testimony. W. W. Meade starts out by referring to his letter to the Board on the 18th day of January 1896, in which he talks about what has occurred at Saginaw River Light-Station. Commander Meade formally cited all the parties involved in this incident. His report stated the majority of the complaints were against Keeper George Decker. He also cited there were few minor allegations against 1st Assistant Keeper William H. Cotter.

According to Commander Meade, Mr. Mike Pelky made an offer to Keeper Decker. The allegation alleges that Mr. Pelky told Keeper Decker, he was supposed to give him a certain percentage of the fish caught from the Saginaw River. In turn Keeper Decker was supposed to give the fishermen the privilege of fishing along the shore front of the Government Reservation. According to Keeper Decker, he told Mr. Pelky, I don’t have the authority to make any such agreement with you or anyone else.  Commander Meade also stated Keeper George Decker and 1st Assistant Keeper William Cotter would set nets and disposing of the fish caught in the waterway next to the Saginaw Bay Fish Company. The allegation against both Decker and Cotter were in fact true and each of them made their collective decisions without prejudice.
W. W. Meade was applauded that Keeper Decker and 1st Assistant Keeper Cotter were both responsible for this despicable act. He also cited this alleged agreement was entered into without the Board’s written authorization. The facts also show this same type of verbal agreement was also committed during the 1895 fishing season. According to the people I spoke to, Decker and Cotter were both working with George Mattson during the 1895 fishing season.

Mr. Mattson was assisting the two (Decker & Cotter) of them while he too was fishing along the channel. Mattson stated he was paying for his share of what was caught, but the other two men (Decker & Cotter) hadn’t paid him for what they caught. Commander Meade also alleges Keeper Decker committed the same offenses during the present fishing season. Keeper Decker has agreed to a similar agreement with fishermen Messer’s, Brabo and Trudell. Commander Meade stated Keeper George Decker was given 60% of the fish caught for his services and the use of our nets.  What appalls me even more is both men are claiming these acts were done in hopes of keeping trespassers off the property. Both of them claim this agreement wasn’t made in hopes of making any extra money for the fish they caught.  Commander Meade is now even more frustrated by Decker’s and Cotter’s actions. He is trying to make sense of all of this and has multiple options on what type of actions should be taken by the Board.

Meade tells the Board:
“There is no doubt in my mind that both of them are guilty of these grave misdemeanors and I have no other obligation or recourse then to recommend they both be dismissed from the Lighthouse Service, however  I’m reluctant to do so, because both of them have been good lighthouse keepers and served their respected station well. In my honest opinion I find their mistake no more than misconception rather than dishonesty.”

 It’s my understanding through a third party that each of them was given permission to fish along the Saginaw River by our former Inspector, however  I can’t find any supporting documentation to prove this agreement. I can’t honestly ask for leniency and I’m convinced that both of them were perfectly willing to obey a directive relative to fishing on the Saginaw River. I also find they have been or might have been given permission to fish the Saginaw River by our former Inspector. The only thing I can add is the directive to this point is only subjective. I feel we need to conduct an investigation into this matter and I feel it should be done by my office. Here again this was what I considered an open and shut case but the Board felt this needed to be looked at even further. In the defense of this government the matter was left unresolved for a little more than a year. Both Decker and Cotter were dismissed, but this matter was far from over.

  On the 8th day of August 1895 Major Adams receives a letter from our former Keeper George Decker. If you recall Decker was the former keeper at Saginaw River Light-Station and was subsequently dismissed because of his illegal actions while in charge of the Light-Station.
Mr. Decker tells Major Adams he has received a formal eviction notice from the Lighthouse Board. Decker has been told he must remove all his owned buildings from the reservation on or before the 31st day of January 1896. Former Keeper Decker requested that someone from Board look into this matter. The Lighthouse Board decides the best person to look into this is Major Adams. The Board tells Adams he needs to conduct a full investigate into the allegations stated in Decker’s letter. Major Adams reviews the allegations and a week or so later sends a letter back to former Keeper Decker.  Adams tells Decker the actions taken by the Board back in 1892 and 1893, have little or nothing to do with your present standing with the Lighthouse Board. Since your formal dismissal we haven’t experienced any trouble with the leasing privileges or fishing rights along the channel. You need to understand the Lighthouse Board has the highest authority in these matters and we have taken into account what has taken place since your dismissal. We feel our actions have put an end to all the troubles we have experienced on the reservation. We have also taken a serious look at this areas and the ongoing financial burden to the Board. The Board has decided that any building not owned by us must be removed from the reservation as soon as possible. Furthermore we have decided to sell off portions of land along the reservation that Board has deemed as surplus or not directly connected with maintaining the Light-Station. Collectively we feel the only choice you and your former assistant have at this point is to allow the buildings that you both own to remain on the reservation and pay us for the land they occupy or sell them to the highest bidder or move them off the reservation. Any of these choices would prolong the use of them during your term of service which runs out on the 26th day of February 1896. Considering everything that has occurred during your tenure with the Lighthouse Board and both of your dismissals, I feel it’s in both of your best interest to remove your buildings from the reservation at once. We feel this would benefit everyone involved in this unfortunate incident. I feel both of you should consider our recommendation carefully and move on this as quickly as possible.

A few days after Decker reads the letter sent by Major Adams, Keeper Fred Beland writes a quick memo to Major Adams. I have received noticed that Mr. Decker has recently engaged in removing his building from the reservation and I’m requesting some sort of guidance from you in this matter. Major Adams never replied back to Keeper Beland.
 A few weeks later Commander of the United States Navy, Inspector 11th Lighthouse District writes again to the Lighthouse Board. The Commander tells the Board he now find himself caught up in this ongoing mess and is now dealing with Mr. William H. Cotter, the former 1st Assistant Keeper at Saginaw River Light- Station. This new reprisal was caused by a letter he received from the Lighthouse Board on the 6th day of February 1896. It seems former 1st Assistant William H. Cotter is claiming that all the profits that were received by Keeper Decker and himself were legal. I also don’t feel I violated any verbal agreements between us, the fishermen or logging company. Mr. William H. Cotter feels this was a fair practice while he was assigned to Saginaw River and the Board wasn’t justified in his dismissal. I also feel this was a joint partnership between former Keeper Decker & I. The Commander confirms that everything you stated is true, but under the guidelines of the Lighthouse Board, this agreement wasn’t approved or sanctioned by Board. You and former Keeper George Decker were dismissed for your acts and no matter how it’s expressed our decision in this matter is final! I would expect you to honor our decision and not pursue this matter further.  

 Fred Beland, Keeper Saginaw River Range, Essexville, Michigan wrote another letter to Major M. B. Adams, Lighthouse Engineer Detroit Michigan sometime in November 1897. Sir, once again I’m requesting some guidance in the matter I relayed to your office almost seven months ago. I am sad to say since I haven’t received any type of formal response from your office, I’m left to my own discretion. Since my last memo to you some of the cottages on the reservation were sold. These cottages were sold just after my last correspondent was sent to your office for review and guidance. On my own I decided to go around and inquired who the parties were that purchased these cottages. I was told by several individuals the Michigan Log Tow Company paid for the land and the cottages. I had my 1st Assistant George Barkley travel to Detroit, Michigan in January and I told him to come and see you about the sale of these cottages. Since I didn’t receive your reply until the 22nd day of February on my original questions, those cottages were moved to the northwest corner of the Michigan Log Tow Company and close to the breakwater. I went out on my own and demanded they stop these moves until I heard back from your office.  As I inquired further into this matter I was told our former Keeper (George Decker) sold the buildings to some representatives from the Michigan Log Tow Company. Again I’m asking your office for some assistance in this matter and again I’m asking for a very quick response. Here again we see Keeper Fred Beland left in the weeds and without any type of guidance or response from the Board or Major Adams. Even though Keeper Beland was left holding the bag by the Board, Major Adams was working on his own type of response to  Michigan Log Tow Company.
C. E. Young, Treasure of the Michigan Log Tow Company sent a letter off to Major M. B. Adams on the 29th day of May 1897.

“Sir enclosed is check number 1549 for $500.00 drawn from the Bay City Bank for our rent of the water front of the Saginaw River Light-Station Reservation.”

This enclosed payment covers our use of the waterfront property from the 1st day of May 1897 to the 1st day of May 1898. Again we are looking to renew our lease for three more years beginning on the 1st day of May 1898 and ending on the 1st day of May 1901. Our hope is you or the Board will get back to us soon.  As a separate item not related to this payment, please be advised that the breakwater requires a considerable amount of repairs. We are asking your office or the Board to make the necessary repairs in a timely manner. I was asked by Mr. Young to inform the Board we would like to remain where we are for one or more years. We are asking you to acknowledge your office has received our payment and forward on our request. Major M. B. Adams responded back to Mr. Walter Young owner of the Michigan Log Tow Company on the 1st day of June 1897.  Sir, my office has received your payment and I’ve personally reviewed your request. I’ve sent your payment and request to the Lighthouse Board in Washington D.C.  I can’t see any reason why the Board wouldn’t grant your lease renewal.
Well things didn’t go the way Mr. Young had hoped. On the 2nd day of June 1897, Major M. B. Adams did send the Michigan Log Tow Company’s payment and a very short memo to the Lighthouse Board. Adam’s tells the Lighthouse Board, he has deposited the $500.00 credit in the First National Bank of Detroit. He also notes the money was credited to our miscellaneous account for the use of the waterfront property beginning on the 1st day of May 1897 and ending on the 1st day of May 1898, however he fails to transmit Mr. Young’s request to renew their lease for another three years. Why this important fact was left out, is a mystery at this time, but if I had to guess, I believe this was Major Adam’s way of dealing with the Michigan Log Tow Company.
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