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Mason County Memories


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History Columns are arranged by year of publication in the Ludington Daily News



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Wreck of the Rutter History Column Dave Petersen Last year we visited some of the history as recorded by Charles Wing before his death in 1920 and published in the Ludington Daily News where he was Editor. I recently ran across a couple of other old newspapers and one yielded this story of a shipwreck in 1878 written by Charles G Wing. "Late in October, 1878, the people of this city were on he shore of Lake Michigan all of one day in an anxious state of mind. A vessel hove in sight the previous afternoon with distress signal flying. The steamer John A. Dix undertook to tow her into port. The sea was rough and the tow line broke. "The tug Aldrich, Capt. Robert Caswell, got within hailing distance and found out the vessel was the J. H. Rutter, a large, new, three-masted schooner grain laden from Chicago, bound to Buffalo. She had been thrown with such violence by the heavy sea that her cargo of grain shifted to the lee side and she listed so badly as to be unmanageable. She authorized the tug to bring out a load of men to shovel her cargo back to an equilibrium. "Sometime in the evening when the Aldrich could get back into port and gather up a crew and return to the vessel with 40 or 45 dock wallopers the vessel was at anchor and the sea was becoming quiet. The men went to work and the tug was waiting alongside or within call till the job was done. "In the night the storm broke out again and the tug retreated into port. The fierce wind finally drove the Rutter nearer shore and across a sand bar so that she broke-her two ends under water and a little of her deck amidships was just above water. All hands took refuge in the rigging. The storm was so great as to throw the spray over most of them and the night was cold. "There was then no life saving station nearer than Big Point Sauble and no way of reaching that crew except to send word by a man on horseback. This was done. As soon as daylight showed the situation the wreck was in plain sight, not over half a mile from shore. But attempts to rescue did not wait for the arrival of the life saving crew from the Point. There were perhaps a dozen sail vessels in the harbor seeking refuge from the storm and the sailors of those vessels were dressed in oil skins and acting the part of life savers with the best boats available. "They could row a little beyond the mouth of the channel and the wind would each time carry them back to the shore to the north. One crew did finally reach the Rutter or so near that two or three jumped from the Rutter into the small boat. One of those who jumped was George Harbaugh. He missed the boat and was hauled into it from the waves. When the crew arrived from Big Point Sauble with a lifeboat hauled down on a wagon, they proved as helpless against the high waves as the sailors. A small cannon carrying a ball with a slight cord attached to it was fired to go above and drop the line across the vessel. It fell short. With the second shot the ball parted from the cord and passed beyond the vessel. The line was hauled back. There was felt to be too much danger as the people in the rigging were exposed to be hit by the cannon ball. Tug owners were urged to venture out but refused. The risk was that the high waves would lift the tug so high that the descent would hurl the tug against the bottom of the lake. The United States dredge then working here had a small tug of which James Cummings was engineer and Fred Kendrick captain and they both agreed that they would go out if permission could be obtained from the United States engineer's office at Detroit to take the tug out. "The telegraphing took considerable time and the sun was getting lower in the west when the little tug, towing Duncan Dewar's scow with the lifeboat hitched behind the scow moved down the channel. "When they got out from between the piers the waves were So high that they were alternately in the air and then completely out of sight. They held her nose resolutely against the storm until they did finally get out to the windward of the Rutter and then allowed the scow to be driven against the wreck when everyone jumped from the wreck onto the scow and the return to the harbor was soon accomplished. It was, indeed, a glad reception for the half frozen ones and a happy ending to the terrible suspense for the crowd on the shore. "The shore of Lake Michigan from the Ludington piers up to Lincoln was soon covered with corn and wheat. People took what they wanted. The Rutter carried 400,000 bushels. The establishment of the Life Saving Station at Ludington immediately followed this wreck. The station was completed in just about one year from the day of the wreck." If you have stories or photos you would like to share with our readers please feel free to contact me at 757-3240 or davep@blackcreekpress.com.

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