Forest Fire Smoking

Emil Baur Gave Relief to the Indians at Ora Labora After 1871 Great Fire

Author Note: During the photo shoot of the Cabins of Ora Labora, I was given an overview of the research that the Pigeon Historical Society and the Woelke Historical Research Center have collected on the Ora Labora Colony. This one historical nugget details an event that the colony’s leader, Emil Baur, did after the colony dissolved.

Emil Baur - Ora Labora Leader
Emil Baur

In October of 1871, a great forest fire swept across much of the Thumb region, including the section of Michigan that included the lands of the former colony of Ora Labora. The colony was in the process of being disbanded, and the lands sold off, but large holdings remained, including some cabins and buildings. The colony’s benefactor and primary landowner, the Harmony Society, immediately sent $200 for distribution among the needy. The society’s agent, Emil Baur, wrote the following report to the society on November 29th, 1871.

“As to the relief funds how glad I was that it did not send the same to the committee because on my journey I heard of the needs of the people personally. When my needs were almost consumed, I was told of some needy Indian families. I had already left an order for a barrel of flour at the store for them but had decided to see and acquaint myself with their circumstances, hence made the journey alone.

Ora Labora Colony Lands for Sale - Emil Baur
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Although already tired, I found seven families in their wigwams all erected on our land. They were making baskets and tanned deerskins. Chief Niconveyshik spoke to me somewhat excited when he found that I represented the owner of the land in which he erected his camp. Said he, “100 years ago this was our property, my Father who was 125 years old lies buried here.” When I told him the object to my visit and then he could undisturbedly remain with his people, and that the grave his father should be kept in it in honor. His Brown features brightened, and he went from Hut to Hut, I found these heathens 30 years ago had belonged to a Lutheran mission but had been left to themselves.

They belonged to the Chippewa tribe at Sand Beach and we’re totally burned out, as was the game which of course is the principal source of livelihood, and so they came here nobody presented their damages, nobody cared about them. It is astonishing how heartless the Americans act to their red brother who seems no more consequence than the game in the woods. I soon had a procession on the march with empty sacks and when we arrived at the nearest store, I gave in your name each family representative 100 pounds of flour. In this way, I overshot the $200 by $14.25 which you will surely approve of which the greatest of pleasure. To friend and enemy, the Irish, Scots, German, English and so-called natives, at last to the real natives I proportioned it.

P.S. Said the Indians coming away from the store. “Geshhomnidi Eiai Gishhigon!” It can be interpreted means “Christ is in heaven.”

Ora Labora – A Lost Colony In Michigan’s North – Ora Labora known as “Christian German Agricultural and Benevolent Society of Ora et Labora” (Pray and Work), where it’s parishioners could combine work with prayer, and live according to the Methodist Church Discipline. Founded in 1862.

Ora Labora – A Lost Colony in Michigan’s North – Part Two – Part II of the Ora Labora story outlines the summer of 1863. The building is rapid and progress exciting in Michigan’s north. But the looming effect of the Civil War is about to impact this fledgling German religious colony.

Ora Labora – A Lost Colony in Michigan’s North – Part Three – Part III of the Ora Labora story brings us to 1864. The rapid growth of the colony was costly and the society needs funds to grow. It was time for drastic measures. The raging war in the south was turning in the North’s favor.

Ora Labora – A Lost Colony in Michigan’s North – Part Four
Part IV of the Ora Labora start during Christmas 1864. The Colonies funds and provisions are low and its leader Emil Baur is begging his benefactors for loans to make it through the winter. With the war in its closing days the colonist are hopeful.

Ora Labora – The Final Days Of The Colony 1866 – Part Five – Ora Labora’s final viable year as a religious colony in the wilderness of the upper thumb of Michigan was 1866. We reveal the final desperate attempts to keep it going.

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Michael Hardy

Mike Hardy is the owner of Thumbwind Publications LLC. It started in 2009 as a fun-loving site covering Michigan's Upper Thumb. Since then, he has authored a vast range of content and established a loyal base of 60,000 visitors per month.

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