Michigan Back Roads: Michigan’s Boot Hill Cemetery
If you’ve travelled across Michigan’s Upper Penninsula, you’ve probably encountered the Seney Stretch, a section of M-28 that has been described as the most boring stretch of road in Michigan. Oh sure, some have stopped to check out the fabulous Seney Wildlife Preserve. But leave it to Ron Rademacher, of Michigan Backroads, to “dig” a little deeper. Ron was a guest on the 95.3 WBCK Morning Show with Tim Collins.
Ron says that on the eastern edge of the preserve is the town of Seney, and while most folks just roll through on their way somewhere else, there is great history in this tiny crossroads. Seney has an old cemetery that was known as Boot Hill. While it didn’t become as famous as the one out west, it did become the final resting place of some of the famous and infamous. Many of those buried here were legendary characters, larger than life lumbermen and adventurers, who lived during the great lumber days of the 1880s and the 1890s. Some were travelers, stranded here, whose identity has been lost.
“During those rip-roaring years, this was one of the toughest and roughest towns in the world,” says Rademacher. “Tales are told of the fights, robberies, and killings that greeted the traveler. Characters like Leon Czolgosz, the anarchist from Alpena, Michigan who later assassinated President McKinley and P.J. “Snap Jaw” Small who earned his whiskey by biting off the heads of living snakes and frogs, left their mark here. “Snap Jaw” made it to “Michigan’s Boot Hill” after biting off the head of another lumberjack’s pet owl. Then there was “Pump Handle Joe” and “Protestant Bob” McGuire and “Stub Foot” O’Donnell, barroom brawlers of the most murderous sort.”
If you head straight south of town for a mile or so, you will come to the old cemetery, “Michigan’s Boot Hill”. Rademacher says “Lots of these fellas and many others were buried there. Most of the graves are still there, but only one or two markers have survived the passing years. Many were buried with no records kept at all. You can learn about those days by visiting the local historical museum, open all summer long. They have lots of artifacts and old records. You can find out about “Wiry” Jim Summers, “Frying Pan Mag” and more”.
Ron tells the story of another famous lumberman who survived his time in Seney, “Silver Jack” Driscoll. "Silver Jack," became a legend for his fighting abilities. A Catholic, Silver Jack would give a rough beating to anyone who said anything bad about his religious denomination. “His legend is large, from the Tittabawassee River to the Huron Mountains, and it is in those mountains where he claimed to have found a gold mine. After 1893 “Silver Jack” spent his last days in L’Anse, fighting, drinking, and brawling as always. When he ran out of money, he would head north into the Huron Mountains, a trackless wilderness that is still one of the most remote areas in Michigan. “Silver Jack” would reappear after a couple of weeks, resupplied with gold nuggets, and sometimes silver. He would hang around the saloons until he was broke, then head out again. Concerned citizens tried to track him into the mountains, no doubt concerned that he would twist an ankle or get mauled by a bear and need help, but he would always elude them. Soon he would be back with more nuggets. He never divulged the location of his mine and the secret of its location is now lost, just like “Silver Jack’s” final resting place.”
Tales of gambling, corruption, and even slavery brought the area known as the Ram's Pasture under investigation in the late 1800s. The stilt houses that were constructed due to the wetlands are gone, the gambling and drinking houses are gone but, the old cemetery and a museum are still there.
Directions: The village of Seney is at the junction of Route 77 and Route 28. The cemetery and the historical museum are just south of 28.