Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Saginaw pioneer comes to life during special program

by Janet I. Martineau
Kyle Bagnall as Ephraim Williams
A Saginaw pioneer comes to costumed, first-person life on Wednesday, May 2, when the Nurturing Nature series presents “Ephraim Williams, Pioneer Fur Trader.”
“When Ephraim and his brother, Gardner, lived in Saginaw, they were very involved with the growing town,” says Kyle Bagnall, who assumes the persona of Ephraim during the 7 p.m. program at the Green Point Environmental Learning Center, 3010 Maple.
“Ephraim was the first clerk of Saginaw Township, the first postmaster of Saginaw and building superintendent for the first Saginaw County Courthouse. His daughter, Julia, was one of the first white children born in Saginaw. His brother was the first supervisor of Saginaw Township and was elected the first mayor of Saginaw in 1857. And 1834, the Williams family built the first sawmill in the Saginaw Valley.”
And that does not even include the earlier family history connected to the War of 1812, which marks its 200th anniversary this year.
Thee manager of historical programs at Midland’s Chippewa Nature Center, Bagnall is no stranger to the Nurturing Nature series. He has presented three living history programs as Michigan explorer Bela Hubbard in various phases of his life.
He was intrigued to do the same with Williams, Bagnall says, “because of his fascinating life story at the end of the Michigan fur trade era and his involvement in the earliest era of settlement in the Saginaw Valley. This is one of my favorite periods of Michigan history, and I can’t think of a more fascinating family to bring it to life.”
Bagnall researched his script through Williams family contributions to the “Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections.” Published between 1876-1929, this 40-volume collection is a vast repository of pioneer reminiscences, biographical sketches,  memorials, and the proceedings of local pioneer societies.
As the story goes, Ephraim was born in Concord, Mass., in 1802. His father opened a trading post in Detroit in 1808,  and his ship was captured by the British at Mackinac Island during the War of 1812. The entire Williams family moved to Detroit in 1815 -- when Ephraim was 13, the oldest of eight children.
Ephraim and his brother arrived in Saginaw in 1828, as agents of the American Fur Company. They were responsible for the company’s trade and dealings with Native Americans for the entire Saginaw Valley, including posts at Midland and Sebewaing and along the Cass and AuSable Rivers. 
“During this program, I portray Ephraim in the year 1840, as he is closing up fur trading in the Saginaw Valley,” says Bagnall.  “My historical dress consists of reproductions from the period, typical for a fur trader in the Great Lakes region. I also use a variety of furs, an 1823 map reproduction, a knife, tomahawk, and other typical trade goods of the period.”
Ephraim eventually moved to Flint and was elected mayor in 1861.  He died in Flint 1890, at age 89.

Nurturing Nature is co-sponsored by the Friends of the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge and the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, Admission is $2 at the door.

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