Fish Boat Lost


By Bill Ballard, As Told By Enos Swenson

At the turn of the Twentieth Century, Lake Michigan's Manitou Islands were populated with families of loggers, farmers, fishermen and the Life Saving Service. Some time in the 1950s, Enos Swenson wrote his experiences in a 1908 storm down in one paragraph that was twelve pages long. These are Enos' words, but my punctuation marks. I have only arranged the story in chronological order. Many years ago, my friend, Ralph Roberts was given a copy of this letter by its original recipient, Al Wescott of Glen Arbor.


In 1908, Pat Huey wanted to go partners with my dad and go fishing. They would take Dad's boat and put an engine in it and go fishing out of Crescent on North Manitou Island. Well, the deal was made and they went to work on the boat. This was early summer, and in October trout season would be open.

The spar and sail came off and a cabin was built over the open space, except 2 1/2 foot on the back end was left open. The boat was 25 feet long and 9 feet wide and a draft of 1 1/2 feet of water.

Pat went and got an engine. It was a Duefree motor 12 horsepower. The Duefree Motor Works didn't last but six months and we never found out why. The engine was nice when it ran but it didn't always run.

The boat had to have a name on account of the fishing license, so it was called Hurry Back. But it was in no hurry to come back. It was after the season had opened up and they was in a hurry to go and set nets.

First Mom said I couldn't go, then she let me. Pat told his wife she didn't need to go, but she jumped in the boat saying "no man was going to tell her what to do" and we were off. This was about 1 pm on 20th of October 1908. The nets were set and we should be back by 4. But there was a big fire on the eastern side of the state on some cut over land, and a strong wind came up from the east and it blowed the lake full of smoke. It was thick like fog and you could not see far. The compass was going round and round in circles. It was dark and the motor took a rest.


No light along and no anchor. There was nothing on the boat but a dead motor and 4 people. They could not get the thing to go. My mother walked the beach all night with a lantern in her hand. The hole settlement was down on the beach. The Lifesaving Station took their boat on a wagon across the island and went looking for us. The wind was getting stronger and stronger. I slept until daylight and then was sea sick. The boat was getting throwed around, and by the end of the day we had all of 30 foot waves to ride.

My dad and Pat was out in the back trying to bail out water with a pail. One man could stand up alone and bail water. So the other had to help to hold him. My dad was out there bailing water day and night. When Pat wasn't there to help hold him he would tie himself fast so he wouldn't get throwed overboard. My dad and Pat never slept or rested.

The boat had a seat on each side of the inside. I laid on the lee side and Mrs Huey laid on the other side. We both had to hang on so we could hold our bed. I was ten years old and as sick I was, I did not worry the hole trip and I was not nervous. I was too sick to know anything I guess. Mrs Huey got throwed from her side to my side. We all thought she was gone to pieces. But she was all right. That happened two times and them times the wave went right over the boat, and left a lot of water in it to be bailed out.

We left on Monday afternoon. At 1 AM Thursday morning there was a landing ahead of us. How was we going to land in that storm? The Hurry Back was the best there was in a sea boat and she needed every inch of that. Right then there was a thunk on the back end of the keel and Dad said we struck bottom. It was enough light left we could still see each other. My Dad and Pat took a look outside and came back in and said "we can see land." My Dad went out and jumped overboard and came back and said "I will carry you over so you will not get your feet wet. It is only a few steps to shore. Give me that rope and I will tie the boat to something so it won't get away." Pat and his wife got in the water and we walked to shore.

Pat thought of a fire first thing and he felt around and found one half a wet match but he made it and had a good fire in a short time. That night we seen a lighthouse and it was blowing its fog horn. We stayed by the fire and I slept 'til morning. We stayed by the fire that day and again that night.


The next day, Pat wanted to get a lot of wood in a pile and put fire to it when it got dark. My dad said "I will go along the bank close to the water and see if anyone lives here. I will be back by dark." All day Pat was working on his pile of wood, and Mrs Huey helped, to. My help wasn't much but I done what I could.

Pat said "He killed a snake and some people eat them when they are cooked. I will skin it and clean it up and cut it in small pieces if someone will care to eat it."

I said "I would try anything." So Pat found a can in the boat and put the pieces in some water and put it on the fire. When it was done Pat came and gave me the can and said I could have it all and made good use of it. I never tasted any thing so good in my life.

It was almost dark Pat carried the small fire over and got the big pile going. It was all dry wood and it went up with a roar and sky high. Pat said "There, that will bring out something" and it did. My Dad came out of the bushes with a basket of eats.

My Dad said "It was an island and they called it Detroit Island about five miles long and two miles wide." He was on the other end and found a place where was a woman at home. He told his story and had some eats and she filled a basket. She said she was a housekeeper for two fishermen and they were out and when they got home, she would send them right over. We were so glad to see that food. I had an apple. Pat had 1/2 an apple, and got real sick.


Just then, a sailboat full of men with Walter Olson came up from the Lifesaving Station on Plum Island. They had seen Pat's fire! We was ready to go and Mrs Huey happened to think of the basket of eats and it was empty???

When Pat got sick I didn't let the food go to waste and took it back of a cedar bush and cleaned up on the works, drank up the milk and ate up the rest of the apples. Well, I stayed out of her reach and later, she had forgot.

The next morning (on Plum Island) was lots of things to see and hear. The were having laughs about me eating all the food in the basket. The storm had been very bad and we had been reported gone for good. All the boats on the lake, big and small, were in harbor or in shelter for the storm. Except two lumber barges loaded with lumber was missing. Crew and all was gone.


This place we landed was called Death's Door, Wisconsin. It was so full of rocks, and rocks as big as houses out a long ways from and under the waterline and so close to each other I could not see how we came through alive. But we did and the boat came in front end first. It was a low place in the sand in the side of them rocks about 100 feet wide and 200 feet long and with the boat only drawing 1 1/2 foot of water it went right in to the other end and stuck fast to the sand bottom without a mark on it.

The captain of the Station couldn't get over us landing in there with the boat. He said "No human hands could never steer a boat in through them rocks. They said it had been lots of boats lost on them rocks and out there in the water and no boat has ever sailed through there and lived in a storm. The station boys said one time a boat of 200 Indians went wrecket on the stones and every one drowned and was buried on that end in the sand.. The only place that had sand was where we campt, it was a small acre and the rest was all rock.

They were teasing us about sleeping and walking on top of them dead Indian bones.

The men from the Pilot Island Life Saving Station had seen our fire, too and came over with their gas boat and towed it to Plum Island. This one had a one cylinder Kahlenberg engine standing on end up and down. It was 5 foot tall and flywheel 4 1/2 foot across. It was a 6 horsepower motor. When the boys got the Hurry Back out in the water, one of the boys gave the motor a turn and it went. They could not find anything wrong with it.

My dad and Pat put in a call to Crescent for money and clothing to come back on and a boat to go with the Hurry Back. Mr and Mrs Huey was to take the big boat back. They did not like our Hurry Back no more.

Oscar Smith and Ed Fisher came from North Manitou Station. The left 4:00 a.m. Monday morning and arrived at Plum Island about 10:30 am and 1:00 pm we headed for Crescent. The Hurry Back motor worked fine and before dark it was having bugs. So they tied a rope on Hurry Back so Smith woulden lose it in the dark. When it took its rest, it was dark and we was 10 or 12 miles out.

We landed at Crescent, the beach was all lit up, everybody was there with a lantern in their hand and had a fire on the beach. Fisher and my dad had to get the gas out of Hurry Back as Smith had used up all of the gas towing Hurry Back. He had 12 miles to go yet to get home.

Posted to the Web on May 4, 2008, for educational purposes only.