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Posts Tagged ‘Detroit Purple Gang’

A Plethora of Towns in West-Central Michigan

Posted by graywacke on November 9, 2019

First timer?  In this formerly once-a-day blog (and now pretty much a once-a-week blog), I use an app that provides a random latitude and longitude that puts me somewhere in the continental United States (the lower 48).  I call this “landing.”

I keep track of the watersheds I land in, as well as the town or towns I land near.  I do some internet research to hopefully find something of interest about my landing location. 

To find out more about A Landing A Day (like who “Dan” is) please see “About Landing” above.  To check out some relatively recent changes in how I do things, check out “About Landing (Revisited).”

Landing number 2463; A Landing A Day blog post number 899.

Dan:  Today’s lat/long (N43o 40.577’, W85o 47.964’) puts me in west-central Michigan:

Here’s my local landing map:

Egads!  Thatsallotta little towns!

Here’s my streams-only map, showing that I landed in the watershed of the S Br of the White River (2nd hit); on to the White River (2nd hit); on to Lake Michigan (40th hit).  Of course, Lake Michigan’s water makes its way to Lake Huron, to Lake Erie, to Lake Ontario, and then, finally, to the St. Lawrence River (113th hit).

Although I landed in the woods (so a clear view of my landing on StreetView won’t be possible), I was able to put the Orange Dude pretty close:

And here’s what he sees:

I had the OD head south (to just south of White Cloud) to get a look at the South Branch of the White River.  Trouble is, here’s what he sees:

Hmmm.  You can see the problem – according to my StreetAtlas streams-only map, this should be the South Branch of the White River.  Oh, well . . .

So let me tell you.  At this juncture, I would usually say something like “I spent an inordinate amount of time checking out each of the small towns you can see on my local landing map.”  This statement is certainly true, but I feel like I have never spent as much fruitless time pouring over Wikipedia entries, looking for something.  Anything.  But, sorry west-central Michigan.  You are veritably:


However.  As you’ll see below, as I started actually writing this post, some of these apparently hookless towns somehow developed some at-least-quasi-hooks.  So, here goes:

White Cloud

From Wiki:

White Cloud (pop 1400) is designated a trail town by the North Country Trail Association.

The North Country Trail was wiki-clickable:

The North Country National Scenic Trail, generally known as the North Country Trail or simply the N.C.T., is a footpath stretching approximately 4,600 miles from Crown Point in eastern New York to Lake Sakakawea State Park in central North Dakota.   As of early 2019, 3,129 miles (5,036 km) of the trail is in place.

Here’s a map:

How about that.  I’ve never heard of this trail, but here it is.  Too bad it’s missing 1,500 miles . . .


From Wiki:

During the first half of the 20th century, it was one of the few resorts in the country where African-Americans were allowed to vacation and purchase property, before discrimination was outlawed through the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Called the “Black Eden of Michigan”,from 1912 through the mid-1960s, Idlewild was an active year-round community and was visited by well-known entertainers and professionals from throughout the country.  The list included Della Reese, Al Hibbler, Bill Doggett, Jackie Wilson, T-Bone Walker, George Kirby, The Four Tops, Roy Hamilton, Brook Benton, Choker Campbell, Lottie “the Body” Graves, the Rhythm Kings, Sarah Vaughan, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Dinah Washington, B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, Fats Waller, and Billy Eckstein.

At its peak, it was one of the most popular resorts in the Midwest and as many as 25,000 would come to Idlewild in the height of the summer season to enjoy camping, swimming, boating, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, roller skating, and night-time entertainment. When the 1964 Civil Rights Act opened up other resorts in many states to African-Americans, Idlewild’s boomtown period subsided.


Wiki notes that Morley is the hometown of one Maude Farris-Luse, “supercentarian.”  It turns out that Ms. Farris-Luse was born in 1887 and died in 2002, at the age of 115.  This puts her at #19 on the U.S. all-time list.  Interesting factoids:

  • Of the top 99, three (all currently 114) are still alive, and could threaten to move our Maude down the list a notch or two (or three).
  • Of the top 99, an amazing 93 are women!

Big Rapids

For some reason, Big Rapids doesn’t show up on my local landing map.  It’s located due east of my landing, under the “131B” highway label on my local landing map. 

Anyway, Big Rapids was featured in an April 2009 ALAD post.  From that post:

The significant town in the vicinity is Big Rapids. We’ve all heard of Grand Rapids, but Big Rapids? Well, it’s a decent-sized town (pop 11,000). It turns out that Grand Rapids is named because of rapids on the Grand River. Big Rapids is named because of big rapids on the Muskegon River.

I then quoted the town’s website:

The early history of Big Rapids [and in fact this whole area] was associated with the logging industry. The Muskegon River was used as a transportation artery moving logs downstream to the mills located in Muskegon. Swift currents near the City’s present location were referred to by early lumbermen as “the big rapids” and was adopted as the name of the City.

I closed that post with this:

I hate to admit it, but I can’t find much else . . .Oh well.


From the town’s website:

At the town’s organizational meeting in 1870, they wanted to name the township for the earliest settler and a Civil War veteran, John Smith.  But Smith was such a common name that the honor passed to Frank Everts as the next settler (and also a veteran) in the township.

Everts’ name was misspelled and that misspelling was allowed to stand.

Oh, come on!  The misspelling was allowed to stand!?!  Doesn’t say much for the English-language skills of the founders . . .

Evart has a classy website:

Great drone shot!  I wonder why all those people are on Main Street?  My guess is that the 4th of July (or Memorial Day) parade is getting ready to start . . .

Oceana County

I landed in Newaygo County (presumably named after an Ojibwe Chief, Nuwagon who signed the Treaty of Saginaw in 1819, which ceded more than six million acres of Indian land to the US government, “reserving several smaller tracts for Indian use in the ceded territory.”  I wonder how that worked out for the Indians?).

But anyway, west of Newago County is Oceana County, which includes the lake shore region.  From ReferenceDesk.com:

Oceana County is thought to be named for Lake Michigan, a freshwater “ocean.” However, some apparently have speculated that the name may be related to the title of a controversial 1656 book by James Harrington, The Commonwealth of Oceana.

I’m not buying that the county was named “Oceana” because of Lake Michigan.  Every settler in this area knew that Lake Michigan was not an ocean.  So that leaves the 1656 book.  Let’s check it out.

I found an article entitled “Commonwealthmen” by Clement Fatovic.  In it, he defines Commonwealthmen as “British political writers of the late-17th and 18th centuries who championed the cause of limited government, individual freedom, and religious toleration.”

From the article:

The 17th-century English republican James Harrington’s fictionalized Commonwealth of Oceana (1656) was a touchstone for many Commonwealthmen. Harrington argued that the independence of citizens ultimately depends on their ownership of sufficient land and use of their own arms. In order to prevent tyranny arising from abuses of power or concentrations of wealth, Harrington recommended a balanced or mixed, government of law, not of men.

[This sounds like the credo of the traditional conservative, except the part about concentration of wealth . . . ]

Inspired by these and other ideas found in Harrington’s work, Commonwealthmen generally opposed the establishment of a standing army; favoured the use of the secret ballot; supported the exclusion of privileged officeholders dependent on ministerial appointment; and advocated rotation in office, preferably through annual elections.

So there’s your choice.  Oceana County was named by a geographically-challenged uncreative nincompoop; or by an erudite, well-read, principled Commonwealthman.

Stony Lake

From a history of Stony Lake from StonyLakePropertyOwners.com:

Much of the early 20th century history of Stony Lake was documented by Shelby photographer Harlo Elliott, who sold his distinctive work as postcards, easily identified by an “e” with a circle around it, and his handwritten captions.

The card pictured here is a good example of Elliot’s eye for composition and subject, and for the beauty of Stony Lake:

OK, I must break in here, editorially speaking.  Sure, it’s a nice picture of a boat on Stony Lake, but where’s the sail?  Or the oars?  Or any visible means of propulsion?  And, it appears that the boat is just sitting there, not moving at all.  My guess is that the picture is posed – the photographer’s on the dock, and the boat was gently pushed off . . .

Back to the article:

Perhaps the most colorful character in Stony Lake history was Charlie Jameson, a Toledo grifter, rumrunner, bootlegger and racketeer who had ties to the notorious Detroit Purple Gang. He married a Shelby woman and built a cottage on the northeast end of the lake in 1922. He brought liquor across Michigan to Stony Lake and shipped it out from the channel on Lake Michigan to customers throughout the Midwest. Many stories are told about Charlie’s business sense, his fishing obsession, and his generosity to area residents.

So, ol’ Charlie was one of that rare breed of criminal:  a really great guy . . .

So what about the Detroit Purple Gang that Charlie apparently cozied up to?

Detroit Purple Gang

From Wiki:

The Purple Gang, also known as the Sugar House Gang, was a criminal mob of bootleggers and hijackers, with predominantly Jewish members. They operated in Detroit, Michigan during the 1920s and came to be Detroit’s dominant criminal gang, but ultimately excessive violence, arrogance and in-fighting caused the gang to destroy itself in the 1930s.

[Oh my.  I wasn’t aware of Jewish mobsters . . .]

Liquor became illegal in Michigan in 1917, three years before national Prohibition.  Henry Ford desired a sober workforce, so he backed the state law that prohibited virtually all possession, manufacture, or sale of alcohol starting in 1918.  Detroit is close to Ohio, so bootleggers and others would import liquor from Toledo where it was still legal.  Judges took a lenient view of offenders, and the Michigan prohibition act was declared unconstitutional in 1919.

In 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment was adopted, and prohibition took effect throughout the United States.  Canada became a major point for running alcohol products, particularly the city of Windsor, Ontario directly across the Detroit River from Detroit. This was partly because the Canadian government had also banned the use of alcoholic beverages but still approved and licensed distilleries and breweries to manufacture and export alcohol.

[Those pesky Canadians!]

Detroit’s immigrant neighborhoods were stricken with poverty like most major cities at the beginning of the 20th century, and some became breeding grounds for crime and violence.  For the most part, gang members were the children of Jewish immigrants, primarily from Russia and Poland, who had come to the United States in the great immigration wave from 1881 to 1914.  The gang was led by brothers Abe, Joe, Raymond, and Izzy Bernstein, who had moved to Detroit from New York City.

The Purple Gang started off as petty thieves and extortionists, but they quickly progressed to more violent crimes such as armed robbery.  They received notoriety for their operations and savagery, and they imported gangsters from other cities to work as “muscle” for the gang.

There are numerous theories as to the origin of the name “Purple Gang”. One explanation is that a member of the gang was a boxer who wore purple shorts during his bouts.  Another explanation is that the name came from a conversation between two shop keepers:

“These boys are not like other children of their age, they’re tainted, off color.”

“Yes,” replied the other shopkeeper. “They’re rotten, purple like the color of bad meat, they’re a Purple Gang.”

Their reputation for terror increased, and people began to fear them. Al Capone was against expanding his rackets in Detroit, so he began a business accommodation with the Purple Gang in order to prevent a bloody war.

For several years, the gang managed the prosperous business of supplying Canadian whisky to the Capone organization in Chicago.  The Purple Gang was involved in various criminal enterprises, such as kidnapping other gangsters for ransom, which had become very popular during this era, and the FBI suspected that they were involved with the Lindbergh baby kidnapping.

[Say what?  The Lindbergh baby kidnapping!  It just so happens that I live within a few miles of the scene of that crime, and featured the kidnapping in a marvelous ALAD post.  Just type Little Falls (that would be Little Falls, Minnesota, Charles’ hometown) into the search box.]

By the late 1920s, the Purple Gang reigned supreme over the Detroit underworld, controlling the city’s vice, gambling, liquor, and drug trade.

Wiki goes on and on, discussing the various nefarious goings-on with the infamous Purple Gang.  As mentioned above: “But ultimately excessive violence arrogance and in-fighting caused the gang to destroy itself in the 1930s.”  Back to Wiki:

The Mafia [perhaps you’ve heard of them] stepped in to fill the vacuum left behind.

Time to close this down, with a lovely shot posted on GE by Stephanie Craft of Indian Lake, just one mile SW of my landing:


That’ll do it . . .




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