Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.

ALBION’S GREATEST HUNTER

Morning Star, October 31, 1993, pg. 20

With the hunting seasons now fast approaching, numerous Albionites will be making their way into the woods of Calhoun and Jackson counties in search of the “big buck.” Hunting was commonplace to Albion’s pioneer settlers, as wild game was abundant in our area.

Hunting particularly was in the “blood-line” of one Albion pioneer family. The Billinghursts came to the Albion area in 1844, and settled on a farm in Sheridan Township west of Albion. The farm of Daniel Billinghurst (1810-1896) is still standing today on B Drive North, and is now owned by Starr Commonwealth. Billinghurst School was named after him.

Daniel’s brother William Billinghurst (1807-1880) was an expert gunsmith. He was an inventor as well, and was one of the first to make a revolving rifle. His target rifles were regarded as unsurpassed in accuracy and general perfection. He was also the inventor and patentee of the “Billinghurst Reel,” known to anglers throughout the country during the 1800s.

Locally, a son of Daniel Billinghurst proved to be Albion’s Greatest Hunter. He was Charles Hatch Billinghurst (1849-1946). Charles grew up on the family farm and attended Albion College for a few terms. At the age of 27 he went out west to “Buffalo Country” for what was to become two hunting trips, lasting three and four years respectively, from 1876 to 1883. His experiences took him to numerous western states, from Texas to Montana.

On his second hunting trip which began in September 1879, Charles teamed up with three other hunters, Dudley Nathan Hale, Hal Entrican, and Cooke rhea. During this four year expedition, Charles Billinghurst killed approximately 200 deer, 300 buffalo, 50 bears and some elk and beavers. He and his partners sold the hides in places such as Denver, Colorado, and Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Charles later wrote his niece, Eve (Billinghurst) Salter about his hunting trips, and wrote lengthy memoirs detailing his experiences in the wild west. These letters have been saved and have geen compiled in a manuscript assembled by Eva’s daughter, Jean Billinghurst (Salter) Rainsberger of Gainesville, Florida. The manuscript is now in this writer’s Albion History Archives, thanks to Mrs. Rainsberger and Helen (VanSickle) Murdock, both Billinghurst descendants.

In December of 1880 around Christmas time, the foursome hunters sold more than $1,000 worth of hids at Cheyenne, Wyoming. While there, they paid twelve dollars for twelve group photographs at one dollar each, to the photographer, D.D. Dare. This very historic photo shows the men in their hunting garb which was handmade by member Hal Entrican. We are presenting this photoraph here in our Historical Notebook, courtesy of my aunt Esther (Rathbun) Kulikowski, who is a Billinghurst descendant.

The diary stories are fascinating, and filled with action, adventure, and fascinating details. I wish I had the space toshare them with our readers, but space does not permit. One entry I found particularly interesting however. Despite the fact that these men were out in the wild west with its sparse population, the United States was becoming a “small world,” even back then. In the summer of 1881, Charles Billinghurst recalles, “Dudley and I looked for a job. We saw a sign ‘Employment Office.’ went in, paid a man one dollar to tell us where we could get a job at $1.25 a day and pay $4.50 per week for board. As soon as we stepped out onto the street, we saw a man with a team gathering up men. We might have saved that dollar. A man named Hughs had a contract grading a piece of railroad near Denver. We worked for him 3 or 4 weeks till we heard of a better job. While there one evening a man was talking. I thought he looked like a man I knew, and his voice sounded familiar. He said he had been out west six years. I turned in early. We all spread our beds on the ground. When Dudley came to bed he said the man said to him, ‘Your partner looks like a little fellow I used to know at Albion, Michigan named Charlies Billinghurst.’ Dudley replied, ‘That’s who it is!’ Freeburn Murray was his name.” Freeburn Murray (1852-1932) was a grandson of Levi and Lydia (Warner) Murray, who settled in Albion Township in 1832. Lydia Warner was a daughter of Albion’s pioneer building, Wareham Warner.

When Charles returned to Albion from his hunting trips, he married Cora Wolcott, and operated a 20-acre melon farm on 27 Mile Road just north of Tamarack School. He later moved to Albion, where he died at his home at 307 Irwin Avenue at the age of 96. At the time of his death, he was Albion’s oldest resident. One of his sons, Terry Billinghurst, died in 1988 at the age of 90.

There are still descendants of Charles H. Billinghurst in the Albion-Homer area today. Charles is the great-great-greatgrandfather of Bicen and Ion Hallahan, cross-country runnrs and seniors at Albion High School. Another descendant is my aunt Esther (Rathbun) Kulikowski, who is descended from Charles’ daughter Clara (Bilinghurst) O’Dell and her daughter Flossie (O’Dell) Rathbun.

Special thanks to Aunt Esther for supplying the precious hunting photo which was in Terry Billinghurst’s estate, given to him by his father Charles. We are presenting this photograph this week in our Historical Notebook, plus a “straight” photo of Charles H. Billinghurst taken in the 1880s by a local Albion photographer.

An excellent article about Charles H. Billinghurst appeared in the July 1942 issue of the AAA Michigan Magazine. We end with a quote from that article. “Charlie Billinghurst is only 5 feet 2 inches tall, and weighs a scant 90 pounds, but he has a grip like an Irish longshoreman, and he is very definitely an unforgettable individual. Charlie Billinghurst is just one of a number of highly unusual individuals you encounter when you leisurely explore Albion. Maybe it is because Albion has alot of history behind it--possibly it is because Albion was settled, and developed by strong-hearted individuals, or it may be that Albionites just have time for unusual vocations.”


December 1880 photo of the hunting group. (L-R): Dudley Nathan Hale, Charles H. Billinghurst, Hal Entrican, Cooke Rhea. Entrican made the outfits for the group out of the hides.


Charles Hatch Billinghurst (1849-1946), Albion’s Greatest Hunter

Next: THE CASS STREET BRIDGE


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