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.


Morning Star, October 25, 1989

With the hunting season 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 Albionís pioneer settlers, as wild game was abundant in our area.

Hunting, particularly, was in the "blood line" of one particular pioneer family: The Billinghurst 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 (1820-1896) is still standing today on B Drive South, and is now owned by Starr Commonwealth. Billinghurst School was named after him. Danielís brother William Billinghurst, was an expert gunsmith who lived in Rochester, N.Y. 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. A lengthy article about William Billinghurst appeared in the February, 1945 issue of "Muzzle Blasts," Volume 6, No. 6, published in Portsmouth, Ohio.

Locally, a son of Daniel Billinghurst proved to be Albionís greatest hunter. He was Charles H. Billinghurst (1849-1946). Charlie was born in Sheridan Township and grew up on the family farm. He attended Albion College for a few terms and at the age of 27, went on a seven year hunting trip which took him to numerous western states, from Texas to Montana.

Charles teamed up with three other hunters, Dudley Nathan Hale (a descendant of the namesake), Hal Anatricon, and Cook Ray. During this seven year expedition, Charles Billinghurst killed approximately 200 deer, 300 antelope, 300 buffalo, 50 bears, and some elk. Can anyone in Albion top that record?

This week in our Historical Notebook we present a photograph of Charles and his hunting companions, taken 100 years ago in December of 1880 in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Left to right are: Dudley, Charles, Hal, and Cook. Hal Antricon made all the outfits the men are wearing in this photograph.

The Hunting Companions

When Charles returned to Albion from his hunting trip, he married Cora Wolcott, and operated a 20 acre farm on 27 Mile Road just north of the Tamarack School. Later he moved to Albion, where he died at his residence at 307 Irwin Avenue at the age of 96 on October 1, 1946. His son Terry Billinghurst died last year (1988) at the age of 90. There are still Billinghurst descendants in the Albion-Marshall area today.

An article about Charles Billinghurst appeared in the July 1942 issue of the AAA magazine. We quote excerpts from that article: "The Billinghursts had freed their Calhoun county farm of rats and mice with the exception of a single smart rodent which sneered at traps and passed up poisons, even when dolled up with those foods dear to the heart of a farm mouse. That single mouse offered a challenge to seven-year-old Charlie Billinghurst, who, even at that tender age, knew the legends of Michiganís trappers and woodsmen.

Iíll get that rat!" promised young Billinghurst.

And he did--by use of a special trap which he himself planned and built.

Well, Charlie Billinghurst went on from trapping that mouse to trapping squirrels and woodchucks, and from trapping woodchucks he moved on to become one of the top-flight buffalo hunters of the Old West. Not only buffalo fell before Charlie Billinghurstís Winchester, but antelope and deer and bear. His bag for some seven years ranging from Texas northward into Montana, included more than 300 buffalo, more than 300 antelope; more than 200 deer, and some bear. Of the bear, he says modestly, "Bear were scarcer, and I got only about 50."

Billinghurst hunted that western country for more than seven years, dodging marauding Indians from time to time and more than once slipping out of a difficult situation brought about by cornered bear or buffalo. But he did accumulate skins, and, with the money from those skins, he came back to Albion, took up farming on the same farm where he had trapped the mouse--and became one of Michiganís best-known producers of fine melons.

But Charlie Billinghurst still thrills to the memory of his boyhood days of trapping along the Kalamazoo River and subsequent years in the west. Today he is 93 years old, but with a mind as clear as a bell, and is loaded to the Plimsoll mark with yarns of the Old West. The walls of his living room are covered with magnificent heads, and each head has its own story.

Occupying a place of honor on the living room wall is a time-faded photograph of four youngsters in buckskin garb, wide-brimmed hats, and carrying Winchesters. It is a photograph of Charlie Billinghurst and his hunting companions, one of them Dudley Nathan Hale, a relative of Nathan Hale of our history volumes.

Charlie Billinghurst has seen four wars, but has never worn a uniform. He explains: "I was a bit too young for the Civil War, and a bit too old for all the others."

But Charlie Bilinghurst is doing his share in the present world holocaust, for money from Michigan melons has been turned into a fairly sizeable stack of War Bonds!

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, as I recently explored it. Maybe itís 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 avocations."

Charles Billinghurst


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