High Island Mystery

In the Cranbrook Archives Digital Collections, there are images labeled “Cranbrook Institute of Science: House of David Colony. ” I always wondered what they were all about and finally investigated. It all starts with a little island four miles west of Beaver Island in Lake Michigan: High Island.

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, “[High] island has an array of Michigan shoreline features and associated ecosystems that support a number of rare, threatened and endangered plant and bird species.” These include the endangered piping plover and the tern.

Robert T. Hatt (Cranbrook Institute of Science Director), Josselyn Van Tyne (University of Michigan / Cranbrook Institute of Science Trustee), and Ralph E. Morrill (University of Michigan) were on High Island on June 23, 1938, conducting bird and animal surveys. While there, they encountered the remnants of a once-thriving settlement. Hatt must have found it curious because he captured these images:

In a nutshell, High Island was home to a timber-cutting and potato farm operation run in 1912-1927 by the House of David, a religious sect based in Benton Harbor, Michigan. High Island was also home to several families of Odawa fishermen. Since 1940, the island has been uninhabited.

I checked Robert T. Hatt’s “Island life: a study of the land vertebrates of the islands of eastern Lake Michigan” (Bulletin No. 27, Cranbrook Institute of Science, 1948) which details the extensive study of the animals and birds of the island, but also remarks on the island’s history:

High Island is said to have been settled by the Mormons at the time Strang’s colony flourished on adjacent Beaver Island. More recently (1912-1928), the House of David . . . established a colony . . . here and developed the agricultural and forest resources. Most of the dwelling date from this period. At the time of our visit there were three Indian families in residence, and the men operated a commercial fishing boat. A Roman Catholic chapel was on the island and was in good condition, with the alter decorated . . .

Another interesting, and unexpected, find in Cranbrook Archives!

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Note: The House of David has a storied history, one better written by others:

Michigan ’s Siberia: The House of David on High Island” by Clare E. Adkin Jr.

The Last Days of the House of David” by Adam Langer

The House of David by Christopher Siriano

Naturalist & Photographer Walter E. Hastings

Often times in collections we discover materials that are unexpected, rare, or just plain fabulous.  The following images are all of the above.  Several years ago, when processing a set of negatives from the Institute of Science, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a set of photographic images of Native Americans, primarily Odawa/Ottawa from Leelanau County in northern Michigan.  They were taken by Walter E. Hastings (1887-1965) between 1928-1933.  Hastings was a naturalist, photographer, and lecturer, and was Michigan’s first conservation film-maker.

Capture

From “He Knows All About Michigan’s Birds,” Detroit Free Press, 12 March 1922

Hastings’s interest in nature began as a child when his mother put together a collection of stones, shells, and Native American artifacts for him with the hope that he might become a naturalist. Clearly, it worked!  His interest in photography began in 1918 when he received an inexpensive camera for Christmas from his boy scout troop. From 1921-1932, Hastings worked for the University of Michigan Museum as the “Custodian of Birds’ Eggs.”  In that capacity, he served as a collections manager, enlarging and arranging the collection, and took numerous photographs which documented the nesting habits of Michigan birds.  Employed as the photographer for the Michigan Department of Conservation from 1926-1951, Hastings was a pioneer of wildlife and conservation photography.

CISC3261

Johnny Willow Bird, age 3 yrs.  Taken at St. Ignace, Michigan, Oct 1933.  Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

 

CISC0078

Native American Campsite, Horton’s Bay, Michigan, Jul 1933.  Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

 

The Institute of Science has several Odawa/Ottawa and Chippewa objects, collected and donated by Hastings, from the same geographical region where the photographs were taken. It is likely that the photographs were donated to the Institute of Science along with the artifacts. The Institute of Science photograph collection was later transferred to Cranbrook Archives. The Walter E. Hastings collection is located at the Archives of Michigan (MS 88-27).

~ Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

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