Small in Numbers, Big in Influence

Tuesday, October 25, 2011 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Boxing in the Heartland, Day 11

Cassopolis, MI—  Just north of Indiana border, Cass County, Michigan, sprawls across fertile prairie land rife with immense cornfields in the midst of harvest.  An unassuming community of farmers and commuters, Cass County is a place where you can still drive your tractor and grain wagons down the main street of the county seat of Cassopolis (pop. 1,598) and no one will bat an eye.

Cassopolis, MI
The streets are lined with small businesses and humble homes, many decorated for fall or the upcoming Halloween holiday.  People are friendly and go about their routines with quiet abandon.

But driving along Broadway, the town's main drag, one discovers evidence that things were not always so calm in this quiet hamlet.  Splashed across the side of the downtown building housing Village Floral is a colorful mural depicting a night when local men, armed with clubs, scythes, and other farm implements, united to drive out intruders.

Kentucky Raid mural, Cassopolis, MI
Fueled by the passion of early Quaker settlers, Cass County in the early 19th century was a hotbed of abolitionism.  Many of Cass's Quakers had left the South to distance themselves from slavery and, when the opportunity arose, they eagerly provided aid and comfort to escaped slaves along two different routes of the Underground Railroad.

In this hospitable environment, an African American community soon developed in Cass County, built by both escaped slaves and free people of color. African American settlers in Cass founded schools and churches, were elected to township offices and served in many non-agrarian professions.  Then one fateful night in August of 1847, an armed band of 13 Kentuckians rode into Cass County bent on capturing former slaves and returning them to Kentucky.  The southerners broke into smaller parties and invaded various settlements, abducting escapees.

Word of the raid spread quickly, and  a crowd of 200 Cass County residents gathered to stop the Kentuckians.  A confrontation ensued in the village of Vandalia, and only the influence of the peace-loving Quakers prevented the crisis from escalating into violence.  Outnumbered, the raiders gave themselves up and were transported to Cassopolis to stand trial, believing the law was clearly on their side in the form of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793.

With the Cass County judge out of town, the Quakers brought in an abolitionist magistrate from a neighboring county, who found for the fugitives on a paperwork technicality.  The Kentucky raiders went home empty-handed but incensed and determined to strengthen the federal law on fugitive slaves.  A more stringent Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850, increasing the danger for both the freedom seeker and those who abetted their escape.  Authored by Henry Clay, this law became one of the primary vehicles propelling the nation into civil war.

Cass Countians today remain very proud of their historical involvement in the Underground Railroad, an effort based on mutual trust and respect among Quakers, free blacks, escaped slaves and other abolitionists.  Local societies have been formed to preserve this heritage with historical markers, driving tours, and such initiatives as the Kentucky Raid mural entitled Sanctuary and Deliverance.

  • On I-80 near Chicago, we drove over the amazing Thornton Quarry, one of the largest aggregate quarries in the world.  In use since 1924, the quarry is 1.5 miles long, a half mile wide and 400 feet deep.  A bridge carries interstate highway traffic over the mammoth pit.
Thornton Quarry (photo by Hanson Engineering)
  • At the Cassopolis post office today, I paid my debt to the Illinois Tollway.  After buying for an envelope, stamp and money order, my $1.00 mistake cost me $2.64, not to mention the recurring nightmares.
  • What happened next?  What would you do if you were driving on a divided highway and saw this sight up ahead?   Ever the epitome of calm behind the wheel, Ken didn't bat an eye.*

  • Pine to Fir:  Why are cedar trees such victims of mistaken identity in the Midwest?  Among letterboxers, anyway.  Unlike in Iowa and Minnesota, where cedars were referred to as pines, in Illinois and Indiana, we have found them at locations where fir trees were said to be.
  • Another claim to fame for Cassopolis, MI:  Ed Lowe, the inventor of cat litter, grew up in Cassopolis.  Before his invention, people kept their cats outside.  After the development and marketing of his Kitty Litter product, the popularity of cats as household pets grew significantly.  Way to go, Ed!  Cat lovers everywhere thank you.  (photo of Lowe and friend from Wikipedia)

  • Started in Joliet, IL; ended in Elkhart, IN
  • Miles driven: 212          (Trip total:  2,110)
  • States: 3 (IL, MI,IN)
  • Letterboxes found:  6           (Trip total:  65) 
  • Weather: Sunny, 47° to 58°
  • Gas:  $3.399 (Joliet, IL)
  • Tolls paid (IL and IN):  too darn many!
More Photos from Today

Historical marker in Vandalia, MI
Cass County Courthouse
Bristol, Indiana
* probably because he realized the truck was being towed