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Log Marks Activity - Lesson Plan

Background Notes

Loggers cut Michigan's white pine during the winter. Men and teams could work easily among the trees when the swampy forest ground was frozen. They piled the logs on the banks of rivers to wait for the spring thaw. When the rivers were swollen with water from the melting snows, the loggers floated the logs to the sawmills. The logs of many lumber companies floated together to the sawmill.

Owners used a heavy marking hammer to mark each end of their logs with a special design, a "log mark." The log mark let everyone know who owned the log. The log mark was first used near Muskegon in 1842. Each owner registered his mark with the county government. Log piracy was one of the earliest types of "industrial" crime in Michigan. Log thieves sometimes waited for the spring log drives and pulled choice logs from the river. They cut off the log ends and remarked the logs with their own mark.

Objectives

  • Students will be able to explain the purpose of the log mark during 19th-century log drives.
  • Students will be able to tell how log marks were applied to logs.
  • Students will be able to describe the various parts of the designs of log marks.
  • Students will design a personal "log mark."

Michigan Social Studies Curriculum Content Standards

This lesson presents an opportunity to address, in part, these standards:

  • 3.1.2. CIVIC PERSPECTIVE: Describe consequences of not having rules.
  • 2.3.4. GEOGRAPHIC PERSPECTIVE: Describe major kinds of economic activity and explain the factors influencing their location.

Materials Needed

Michigan log marks (copy for each student or drawn on poster or chalkboard); pencil and paper; optional: 1/4" craft cork and wood blocks or potatoes cut in half; knife to cut own log mark design for stamping; stamp pad or tempera paint.

Directions

Ask students to examine the different log marks used by Michigan lumbering companies. Discuss the different designs used: words, initials, symbols, figures, and combinations of these. Discuss ways in which log marks in Michigan and cattle brands of the west were similar. How were brands applied to cattle? How were marking hammers used to emboss log marks in the cut ends of logs? Compare and contrast log piracy and cattle rustling.

Ask students to draw their own personal "log mark" using pencil and paper. Is there a special design related to their name, personal characteristics, or favorite things that would have a special meaning to them?

Optional: Have students transfer the "log mark" design to 1/4" craft cork and cut out. Glue the craft cork to a wooden block. Permit students to stamp the design on their papers using an ink pad. Or, have all students stamp their designs on one large piece of Kraft paper to make a classroom poster. Each design may also be cut into the cut side of a potato, then stamped using tempera paint. Supervise any use of knives carefully.

Questions for Discussion or Research

  1. Why did lumbermen mark their logs?
  2. What different designs do you see in the log marks?
  3. What meanings might the designs have had to the lumbermen who owned them?
  4. Why should the log buyers purchase logs from the honest lumber company rather than from the log thief, even though the thief might sell the stolen logs for less money?
  5. Why might we still find ends of logs with log marks from the 19th century in or along Michigan rivers? (They were cut off and left there by log thieves.)

At the Museum

  • Look for the log marking hammers. What symbol is on the end of each?
  • Find the log mark display. What might some of the designs have symbolized?
  • Watch the 13-minute program in the "Lumber Baron's Theater" about Michigan's lumbering era to learn more about how shanty boys lived.

Vocabulary

  • Log mark: Design composed of words, initials, symbols, figures, and combinations of these stamped into the end of a log to identify its owner
  • Piracy: Robbery

References

  • Allen, Clifford (Editor) (1941). Michigan Log Marks. (Compiled by the Workers of the Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Michigan. Out of print, available in some libraries.) East Lansing, MI: Michigan State College.
  • Foehl, Harold M., and Hargreaves, Irene M. (1964). The Story of Logging the White Pine in the Saginaw Valley. Bay City, MI: Red Keg Press.
  • Maybee, Rolland H. (1988). Michigan's White Pine Era. Lansing, MI: Bureau of History, Michigan Department of State.

Some Michigan Log Marks

Some Michigan Logmarks


Other Lumbering Activities

How Large Were the Logs?

The white pine trees found by the first loggers in Michigan were hundreds of years old, tall and straight. Most trees grew 80-120 feet tall with a diameter of three to four feet. But loggers reported finding some trees as tall as 150 to 200 feet. The diameter of the trunk of these trees was five to seven feet.

Cut Kraft paper (tape several pieces together if necessary) to represent the cut end of a five foot or wider diameter white pine log. Draw circles on it to represent the tree rings. Tape the "log end" on the wall with one end at floor level. Have students stand next to the log and mark their height on it.

Discuss the length of time needed to grow trees of the size of Michigan's original white pines. Learn ways today's loggers are trying to cultivate renewable forests for long-term use and enjoyment.


Rivers and Watersheds

Give each student a map of Michigan and/or project a map on the classroom screen. Trace and highlight the following rivers and watershed areas:

Upper Peninsula

Menominee/Brule/Paint/Michigamme/Sturgeon/Little Cedar Rivers
Ontonagon River
Escanaba River
Manistique River

Lower Peninsula

Cheboygan/Black/Pigeon/Sturgeon Rivers
Pere Marquette River
Thunder Bay River
Muskegon/Little Muskegon Rivers
Boardman River
Black River
AuSable River
Betsie River Basin
Manistee River
Saginaw/Tittabawassee/Shiawassee/Flint/Cass Rivers
Grand/Rogue/Flat/Maple/Looking Glass/Red Cedar/Thornapple Rivers

Discuss the settlement of towns and cities along one or more of the rivers. How does the river help you understand the settlement pattern? Find out which towns had sawmills.

Contact the Michigan Historical Museum.

Updated 08/06/2010

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