Emma Toft: Stories
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Emma Toft was born in 1891 to Juleyanne (Panter) and Thomas Toft. She was the seventh of eight children (William - Olive - Mary - Thorwald - Samuel - Lucy - Emma - Elsie). The Toft family divided their time between a Baileys Harbor home and an area just northeast of town now known as Toft Point.

The following anecdotes were most likely hand written by Emma circa 1971 and then later typed out and edited by Emma’s niece, Virginia (Wilson) Johnson (daughter of Lucy). They have been edited again by Virginia’s grandson in an attempt to clear up confusing passages and sentence structure.

All profits from the sale of this book go towards the continued preservation of the Toft Point Natural Area.

 
 

The original road went into the woods behind the home near the little Cabin Woodsedge and on through the woods almost to the bridge. Some of it was not on Father’s land so he laid out the present road. We used the part of the Old Road, still open during the winter, for that never drifted. The town never put any time or money on the road as long as we owned it.

There was always a gate where you first get a glimpse of the house, for Father feared someone might get harmed if he was blasting in the quarry. Sometime after his death we had the road closed and a gate put at the line. What a blessing that was because we could keep it posted. There is a fork in the Old Road near the house. One comes out behind the barn and the other at the Cabin Woodsedge.

There were no trees on either side of the house when my people first lived there. There was a stoop in front of the two doors. There were several old stunted poplar where Cabin Juleyanne is built and a tall tamarack where the flag pole is. The maples were planted by my Father about sixty years ago and some of the evergreens.

During the winter of perhaps 1881 there was so much snow and evidently a northerly wind for a drift at the east door was so high it reached to the upstairs window. Mother related that William, then six years of age, watched a tree out of the east kitchen window. Every morning he checked to see if that pine was snow covered.

The large spruces on either side of the home were planted. The one nearest the barn was planted by Sam. Mother told it was a very small tree and it remained small for years as it was whipped around in the sand.

The north winds were so severe on the garden that a six-foot upright board fence was built east of the front of the house. On the west side was a smaller area with a high board fence for the flower garden.

One summer a botanist from the state of New York blew in. He was searching for rare plants and studying flowers. He stayed there with the crew of men, for feeding one more mouth didn’t matter. Mother, who seemed to love every plant, learned the names of many of our wild flowers from him.

Those days cattle ran free so fields and gardens had to be fenced in. I recall Dad telling of hunting the cows and having Old Prince the Newfoundland dog with him. If an electric storm came up, the dog returned to the house.

The cows wore heavy cowbells like the one that was in the men’s room. There was only one window in the room then and the long bench that is now on the porch was used by the men. Directly in front of the house was a low crib with a heavy plank leading to it and also on the side for the men to use for washing hands and face. The back porch displaces a lean-to that was used for a kitchen when the men were there. It was covered with shingles on the three sides.

The log barn was built in the autumn of 1881. The east end was replaced after the Armistice Day Blow, November 11, 1941. There was a large windfall near the east marsh. Heavy rains loosened the soil and a southwest gale with freezing temperature uprooted the trees. They were gleaned that winter and sawed into lumber in the big field. Some were used to replace the east end of the barn. There were lean-tos on the north and south side of the barn.

Some years later a severe wind felled more trees and they were saved. The place where the sawing was done in the field the sawdust is bright. I think because the trees were virgin and had very little sap in them it did not cause them to rot. The second sawing was done where the Old Road joins the present road. Trees that are gleaned and saved today, second and third growth, do not have white sawdust. It must be the moisture that makes them rot quickly.

The lime kiln was filled with stone with a terrific fire. Hardwood was used, dry beech or maple, and fired continuously for four days and nights. Then the stone would disintegrate when water was added. The lime was slacked, coarse sand was added, and they had plaster for homes, chimneys, and foundations. Also for between logs in buildings.

If you follow the road to the rocks and then turn right, you find yourself going up a rocky ledge. When it levels off there were two log shanties there for families of married men who worked in the quarry. If you look carefully on the right you will find the raised boxlike showing where they were. Directly in front of them is a case like in the rocks that they used as their refrigerator. Many a time after a storm they had to search the shore for their salt pork and butter. The area where the shanties stood has always been known as the “Old Shanties”.

As you walk on you come to an opening with a view of the Fish Head Point. Just ahead a bit was a clearing the families used for a garden so that is known as “The Old Garden”. No signs of a clearing remain today.

For some years every summer a friendly Indian enjoyed that area. He had a dugout that he hid when he left at the end of the summer. One day when the chokecherries were ripe, he came and seeing a clump of chokecherries east of the house, he jumped the high board fence ate his fill and then was off in his dugout.

Some years later, he failed to return one summer and when the men were burning the marsh where the ridge is now in the head of the bay east of the Pickerel Pond, the dugout was found. It was at Mud Bay for many years in a fish shanty on the west side of the Little Point. The autumn of 1905, a terrific gale swept the shanty and little pier away, also the big pier off the rocks. All except one crib.

 

Cabin Thor was built about 1933. The beautiful stand of hemlocks just south of the house was killed by spanworms. They defoliated it late that summer and the trees never came to. Will and I cut some and Old Dolly, the horse, travoised them out. Then they had to be hewed. Thor complained that there were so many and his father told him to only look at the one he was hewing.

Cabin Juleyanne, named for my Mother, was made from balsam logs so they must be creosoted about every five years. Balsam does not weather like cedar. It was built in the late thirties.

Cabin Jeannie was built for the young chickens. When it was no longer needed for chickens, windows, inside lining, chimney, and a floor were added. My niece Virginia (Jeannie) Wilson worked here for many summers.

The “Kresten Thomas” nameplate in the house is my fathers name. He was known as Big Toft in Gundunlum, a small village near Alborg, Denmark. He was known as Big Toft in the pineries of Michigan so always used the name Thomas Toft, but he was christened Kresten Toft. His older brother Thor who lived in Albert Lea, Minnesota was afraid when Thomas ran the logs in the spring and called him the boy.

My father managed the quarry for some years before he married. An Irish couple, Mike and Ellen, did the cooking. Ellen tried to make bread but it always became sour so they had baking powder biscuits three times a day. She said the fairies took her luck away. Later, my dear Mother rarely made baking powder biscuits because Dad didn’t enjoy them.

Sometimes all went smoothly with the cooks but one never knew when Mike would be disappearing down the road with his belongings in a bundle tied to a stick and carried on his shoulder. Ellen would be pecking him with stones. Soon all would be forgotten and he was back until the next fracas.

The first years the family was at Mud Bay there was very little communication during the winter. Men who trapped or hunted passed through but women came so seldom the children were afraid of the men and clung to Mother’s skirts. Mother said she was never afraid of any man no matter how much of a scalawag he was.

My dear Mother taught us to kill nothing. She took the spider she found in the house outdoors and the large moth, or miller we called it, was picked up and freed out of doors.

When the boat came with scow to get a load of stone, she knew the cook would be looking for frogs in the ponds so she sent the three oldest children to chase the frogs out of the ponds, for the cook ruthlessly cut their hind legs off and left them to die. If you notice you will see spots lower than the other areas where the quarry was. They quarried until they ran into water. It was in those areas the frogs were hunted.

My people had a horse, Old Nell, to haul stone onto the pier for shipping. A two-wheeled cart was used. Then a track was laid and stones were hauled on the platform. The horse also took my people to the village in winter.

They also had a black and white Newfoundland dog and sled to take the children to school and haul provisions. The dog had to wear a muzzle and was put in a stall in the livery barn in the village while the children were in school.

The Baileys Harbor beach was where Ridges Road is today so rather than face the severe winds they drove on the first slough of the Ridges. That would be warmer and less drifted. Many a time Will had to carry Olive and Mary over the water during a storm near the creek where our road appears. During a blow, high water would flood that area.

When you go east to the rocky shoreline you will see some of one of the old pier’s runways. There were two and then a front across the two. The deep water didn’t need a long runway. On each side you see the small rocks. They were chips from the quarry. The wave action when there was high water has rounded many, though those farthest back are still rough. Some large quarried stones along the waters edge evidently came from the cribs where storms destroyed the logs.

All the quarrying was hand labor, pick axes, sledge hammers, and hand drills. Powder was used for blasting. Men were anxious for work, $1.50 a day with board and lodging. It was seasonal during the good spring weather, summer and fall. When the ship canal was put through at Sturgeon Bay that was a death knell to the quarry. Quarries opened in Sturgeon Bay which was so sheltered a boat could anchor for days and be in no danger.

When the quarry was in operation, there was a dug well in the sand at the southeast corner of the house. Also in the quarry there is a spot where there was cold water. There are rocks built up around it. Otherwise water was taken from the lake. No one would be able to use that water today. We have had two drilled wells. The present one was drilled in the late forties. I’m not certain but think it is cased in some fifty feet.

 

The log building with no roof in the woods on the way to the rocks was the ice house. No roof was used so the rain could dampen the sawdust and help keep the ice.

If the ice was thick enough and clear blue, we cut it in Mud Bay either up in the area off the Ridges shoreline where it was quite deep or to the east-southeast of the little reef off the Old Garden. Brother Will would check and find the depth and also the grade. It must be clear blue ice. Then with an ice plow and the team of horses, he plowed it each way so there were square blocks and an opening to put the slide in as the pond was opened.

One winter, a neighbor who had a summer residence in the head of the bay had someone put up ice for him but he needed more layers, so he asked Will if he would cut a certain number more cakes and a driver would come to get them.

So this clear windy morning with the wind in the northwest we drove to Mud Bay and out on the ice abreast the Old Garden. We had to open up the pond and put the slide in place resting on some cakes so as to make it easy to get out on the sleigh. Then we had to saw with the big heavy ice-saw more cakes loose for our load and the other man’s load. His driver was there with a team and sleigh. He just stood near his team and kept tightening his belt on his long overcoat. He never asked or offered a hand. When Will and I had a load, Will said, “Jump on, Emma,” and he gave the horses a clip with a whip and we were off.

When we returned for another load, the man was gone with his team and load. If he had been a real man he would have offered to help open the pond and load our sleigh and we would have helped him.

After the ice house was filled on a mild day in early spring, we started covering it with sawdust, both the four sides and the top. Then when late autumn came, one had to shovel all the sawdust out so it would be ready for another fill in winter.

Sometimes there was no ice formed in Mud Bay but the ice men would be able to plow it at Kangaroo Lake or Sister Bay. Then it was hauled by truck so much a cake. More than once I’ve helped shovel the road nine tenths of a mile so trucks would make it. I think we only had it from Kangaroo Lake once and then it wasn’t considered clean and pure. Would any water be today?

William, the oldest child, was with the men much, and before Mother realized it, they had taught him to chew tobacco and drink whiskey. He liked that but never learned to like beer. She was always trying to help him break these habits.

One day his brother Sam said to his Mother, “Maw, Will is chewing tobacco I saw him spit black.” So Mother asked Will what he had in his mouth. He put it in his hand. Then she asked what he had in his hand he dropped it and stepped on it. Then she asked what was under his foot and he walked away.

The whiskey was harder, for the men gave it to him on the side. Finally there was a temperate speaker, Old Jack Warburton, came to the village. Mother went and took Will with her. She took him up to sign the pledge and get a blue ribbon to wear. He kept the pledge for a year and then was so pleased with the result he continued to refuse it the rest of his life.

Mother told the men in the crew, when Samuel was old enough to be around, she would rather they slapped her in the face than give him tobacco or whiskey.

My oldest brother William was the first born so always seemed to accept much responsibility. He and his two sisters, Olive one year younger than he and Mary who was about two years younger.

William saw that they were never late at school which was two and one half miles from our home. One dinner bucket served the three. Someone carried it to the bridge, that is the black top where it crosses the creek. Another picked it up and took it as far as the old yellow tree, a large balm of Gilead about half way to the school. The third one carried the lunch on to the school building. Returning home the same method was used. If something unusual appeared, two might pause to observe it but always someone had to be walking and the ones who paused must catch up.

The shoreline was where the road is around Baileys Harbor beach. The lighthouse keeper who lived in the upper range light dwelling had a son who was older than my brother Will. He made Olive carry his dinner pail. One evening going home from school she ran with the pail and swung it well so it went into the waters of the harbor. She said she heard the glass and spoon go but didn’t dare stop. He never asked her to carry a dinner pail again.

The lower light building was built on the shore. A pioneer woman, Mrs. Godfrey Nelson, told me the Indians had their tepee there. One of those Indians had his legs frozen to the knees so he walked on his knees and often stopped at their home for a loaf of bread when she was a child.

This same woman said they lived on salted fish and potatoes. She never wanted fish again but married a fisherman and always cooked fish for him when he wanted it.

The nearest neighbor, Ernest Bues and family with Fred Hendricks, was across the bay on the point. Mr. Bues had a small rowboat. He would row across the bay and then walk into the village of Baileys Harbor, two and one half miles, to do the shopping. Many times the water was so rough when he returned, my parents would beg him to remain but he never would and as they watched him leave, often his boat and he were out of sight in the trough of the seas but he always came up on the crest of the next wave.

Dad said Mr. Bues was the best neighbor. When Mr. Bues wanted to foretell the weather he looked toward the head of the bay with Jack Appel’s Bluff in the distance. That was his barometer.

After some years, a son-in-law went to the state of Washington on the Columbia River. He founded a home there and induced the Bues family to go. Mr. Bues tried to get Dad to go but never succeeded so sold his little boat for one dollar and before the farewell, each had a drink out of his whiskey jug as they sat on the stoop on the north side of the house.

The Bues family had their dwelling on the north point of Mud Bay. Their farm was quite some distance from there where the dwelling house is at the fork. They fished, made their own barrels in the cooper shop on the point, and shipped railroad ties and cordwood. Two children died there and four balsam trees mark the lot.

Many years later, a lighthouse keeper at Cana Island told people that the Bues family couldn’t count money and that they brought a basket of money for him to count. I just laughed and told him, men of that caliber who could earn and save money could count it.

One of the men had been in the Civil War so had clothes and a gun hanging upstairs in the log home. One day when all were away, an unbalanced man wandered in the house. When the family returned he was dressed in the uniform and wielding a gun. They had to injure him to get into their home.

One autumn, a sailor was washed overboard with part of the lumber cargo off of Cana Island. The following spring, a body was found on the shore off of the Old Garden. My Father sent Will, his oldest son, into the village to tell the town officers. Then when Will returned, his sail from his little sail boat was used to wrap the body. The town officers sent a man with a team and wagon. While this was being checked, Mother sent Samuel, the youngest son, to pick flowers for the sailor.

When Sam was older he knew he gathered branches of shadblow and a little flower in the woods around the Old Garden. In later life we found Calypso there and Samuel was certain that was the flower, for it blooms when the shad does. Did anyone ever have a more appropriate bouquet than that?

 

Two brothers, John and Joe Rank, fished out of Mud Bay. Joe had a log building on Fish Head Point and John, a squatter too, was just across the water. He too had a log shanty. That spot on the shore is always known as “John Ranks Shanty”.

Those days, sailboats were used. Sturgeon was so very plentiful. It was caught and only the fat was used for making oil. Mother said the fish were piled up like cordwood.

In the spring, when the northerners ran the creeks, a crude iron frame like the ribs of an animal on a pin that could be set in the prow of the boat and filled with pine knots lighted their spearing of the fish from the boats.

Those days, the water was so high that schooners wintered in the second creek. Today you can’t always get into the creek with a canoe.

On October 20th, 1880, the schooner Ebenezer had come for a load of stone. They would telegram so a crew would be ready to load quickly. Someone from the village would deliver the message at a good price. Always a keg of beer would be under the stairway so the men could have a treat.

William told how he tried to like beer so he could be like the men. When they were busily loading the boat he used a bottle to siphon some beer and tried to like it but never could acquire the taste so felt he was not one of the men.

When the Ebenezer was loaded, the skipper went to Baileys Harbor to see if he could round up an extra man. He and the cook were alone on the boat. He left the cook aboard her. The terrific storm, the Alpena Blow, hit and the cook panicked fearing for his life so he pulled in the anchor chain.

When the captain returned, the vessel was high on the rocks. The water was so high that the Little Point was an island. A boat was floated across where the lime kiln is to reach the schooner.

The captain almost lost his mind when he returned and viewed his vessel. The commotion made Mother ill too.

The potato wooden masher, wooden knife box, and molding board that have been used ever since were there. Some of her oak planks came ashore in 1952 when we had very high water. I used them for picture frames.

One day when the crew was working in the quarry, someone spied a person on the far end of Fish Head Point. The stranger would walk out into the water until it became too deep and then return to the shore.

Finally my Father sent a man to see what the man wanted. He said he wanted to go to Pittsburgh, to the other point across the bay. Father told one of the men to take him to the bridge where our road entrance is, show him Baileys Harbor and tell him that was Pittsburgh.

The next morning when some one came to the quarry, the man was sitting on the bridge playing with his vest. He evidently sat there all night.

 

Dad loved the water and the forest and somehow he could never see it slashed down as most loggers did. Before the 1900’s the rest of the Point had been cut over twice. Then those same greedy eyes looked at that stand of pine and connived to find flaws in the survey.

Allen Higgins, who was clerk of circuit court then, advised Father and the other party, John Rottman, to compromise and select a surveyor. Surveyor Brown of Green Bay was chosen. In the meantime, Dad had a Mr. Gunther who owned much land in Egg Harbor and had worked as a surveyor come and check lines.

Surveyor Brown had spent much time looking for marked trees for a corner near where our road hits the black top. One morning he announced he had dreamed about it and walked right to it. He said he often dreamed about corners. The survey came out in Father’s favor so there was a lull.

Then sometime in the early 1900’s the man who started the trouble died. The day of his burial his oldest son stopped at our home and said he was going to start the ball rolling. He cut down a pine near the road that skirts the big field. That was at least one half mile from the disputed land so Father’s attorney told him to ignore it.

Later, the younger son was near the Little Bayou. He witnessed a freighter burn off Mud Bay. He was an employee of U.S. government in Milwaukee Harbor. He managed to get on the witness stand regarding the burning of the ship. He also lost his job because of that.

But that survey action upset Dad and he died from a stroke October 25, 1919. Then all was quiet again until one evening in August the sheriff served papers on Mother at our Mud Bay home. My oldest brother Will represented us. W.E. Wagner, an attorney in Sturgeon Bay, was chosen. After the hearing a change of venue was asked for by the plaintiff so a judge from Green Bay was appointed. So well do I remember him saying to the plaintiff, “You’ll get all the land you wish but not the kind you wish.”

The verdict dragged on and on finally word came. We had lost the case. Mr. W.E. Wagener wanted Will to turn all the papers over to him and he would appeal the case. But Will thought if the attorney couldn’t convince one person, how could he convince the large number in the supreme court so he wished to try another attorney and took all evidence to attorney Thomas Sanderson.

Then there had to be more surveying. Starting at a point in Baileys Harbor, a meander line was run along the shore to Mud Lake Creek. I was a flag woman, how well I remember. Surveyor Holliday, who had done much surveying in this area for Ferdinand Hotz and Parkinson, worked here with a French man named Freybug who worked in northern Wisconsin.

The verdict, in our favor, from Wisconsin Supreme Court came in 1925. So in the end honesty and integrity won. That autumn, Sam and Will cut the south and west lines from Lake Michigan to our gate six feet wide and we have maintained it so.

 

 
 
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