February 01, 2017It was just another day of checking the traps for Rob Sarka, 34, of Imlay City. Rob's been trapping for a few years now, mostly beaver and muskrat. It's a hobby for him and he takes great joy in just being in the outdoors.
Rob had no idea what he might find as he and his friend scooted along the northern Lapeer County lake by boat. It was early December.
Rare and historic elk antler on the seat of a boat after
a trapper found it on a
beaver lodge. photo by Author Photo.
As he swung his boat into place to check his next trap set, Rob reached for what he thought was a stick which was jammed in a layer of mud atop the beaver lodge.
"You never know what you're going to find on top of a lodge, sticks, mud, 2x4s, whatever isn't food goes on top of their lodge," Rob tells me.
What he found he could have never expected.
As he grabbed the stick, he noticed it felt heavy and didn't look at all like a stick as he held it up for further inspection. He turned to his buddy, Jason and said, "What do you think this is?"
"A deer horn," his friend replied, with a puzzled look on his face.
Rob, shaking his head, stated, "Nope it's not a deer shed, it's an elk shed! And it didn't fall off anyone's garage and end up here!"
"I thought I hit the lottery," he continues laughing.
It was indeed an elk antler, muddy, water-logged and discolored. An elk antler? The last elk have not been seen in Lapeer County since the mid-1800s or even earlier.
For generations, I suspect this elk antler has been dragged about by critters, eaten by rodents, stuck deep in the mud, hidden and forgotten by time.
The elk antler was found just north of Lum. It's entirely possible the antler Rob found on the beaver lodge could be 120 to 200 years old.
The area Rob found the elk antler was covered in marshes and swamps. Trappers and hunters came to the area for its abundance of wildlife, beaver, muskrat, waterfowl, squirrels, rabbits, whitetail, bear and of course elk. The hunters, trappers and pioneers came from Ohio to the south and from Saginaw to the north.
Did you ever just sit in a meadow, look over the landscape and wonder what it was like several generation ago? I suspect Rob had similar thoughts.
Rob's story inspired me to do a little checking on the history of southeastern Michigan and specifically Lapeer County.
Here are some excerpts from an article published in 1870 by the Atlas Publishing Company, titled 'The History of Lapeer County.'
"Lapeer at that time consisted of two hamlets separated by a tamarack swamp, where the wolves were wont to convene of winter nights, and make the woods ring with their dismal howlings."
I was mesmerized by the descriptive style of the time and was not able to get enough of it.
I learned from the unknown author that in the early 1800s two-thirds of Lapeer County was covered by pine trees, perfect for the growing lumber industry. Opening the door for scores of sawmills. Floating logs down the Flint River, Mill Creek, Black River and its tributaries were common sights. Towns grew fast and roads to Romeo and Rochester were cut. Lapeer, Metamora, Blacks Corners, Dryden, Attica and Imlay were places to make home. In the early 1800s the area grew from 71 people to over 800 in a very short time and 3,000 by the early to mid 80s.
The midsection of the county was covered by huge bogs, which were nearly impossible to travel other than by Mill Creek or Black River. And any movement by pioneers, trappers, hunters or surveyors was under the watchful eye of many Native people, who dotted the Thumb region from Saginaw to Port Huron and south to Ohio.
Mosquitoes were so fierce and so abundant surveyors were known to go crazy from the relentless noise and pestering. They could only do their work in the winter, so as not to be eaten alive in the summer months. Pioneers went to great lengths to avoid the dangerous and endless bogs.
Almont too, grew fast, and as the article explains was 'lousy' with black bear in the 1830s. Here is another excerpt none of us could have imagined.
"Bears were very abundant and Oliver Bristol had a rather exciting adventure with one near the site of the present Congregational Church. He was a cripple at the time, the result of a limb fractured some six months before.
He had fired at the bear, wounding and knocking it down. When commencing to reload he perceived the bear, a very large one, making toward him. He turned to run but his crippled leg failed him.
His only recourse was to reload. With a few of the liveliest motions he ever made in his life, he did so, and dropped the powder in the pan of his old flint-lock just as Bruin rose to receive him with open arms. But for the lucky shot that followed, the name of Oliver Bristol would probably have figured no more in this eventful history."
Rob went on to trap the beaver, which most likely dragged the elk antler atop the lodge.
"I suppose I'll have the beaver's pelt next to the antler I found somewhere in my home," Rob goes on to tell me.
It's a unique find and a piece of history few get a chance to feel and put in their hands.
"I know the antler isn't worth much, but I did enjoy a nice beaver rump roast," Rob says chuckling.
Rob plans to send the antler on to Michigan State University to have it carbon dated.
"I'm just curious, that's all. You just never know what you're going to find in the outdoors, more than you might suspect." Rob concluded.