Shepherd and Maple Syrup was it destiny?

It seems that Shepherd/Salt River and Maple Syrup were destined to become one. Back in the early 1860′ s, the Shepherd pioneers collected sap from the abundant Maple trees in the area. Since there were no stores in the general area in which they could buy sugar, candy, or syrup, they boiled sap and made their own.

The sugar products from the Maple trees were taken to larger cities such as Lansing, Saginaw, Saint Johns and the surrounding counties for sale. The profits from these sales were used to purchase much needed supplies for the newly forming community, which helped Salt River/Shepherd through the early harsh winters.

Almost 150 years later the community is still collecting sap and making Maple Syrup and candy, but today the profits are funding community projects.

The Following article was taken from: “Past and Present of Isabella County Michigan” By Hon. Isaac A. Fancher Printed by B.F. Bowen & Company, Indianapolis, Indiana 1911


From the date of the very first settlement this industry was an important one. The county was full of the finest of maple trees and the seasons were generally favorable to the industry. Almost every farmer had his sugar bush, and each spring as the time for tapping the trees came they were active in getting their spites, troughs or pails ready and the boiling place repaired, unless this work was done at the house. As soon as it would do to tap, the family were out gathering the sap and getting it to the place of boiling, wherever that might be. Some tapped a few trees and some tapped hundreds. Those tapping many generally had a boiling place in the woods with a shanty to keep their tools and supplies in, and sometimes a bed for comfort. The sap was gathered in pails by the party and carried to the place of boiling, or he rigged up a sleigh with a barrel or large can in which he could pour the sap, and sometimes when the snow got deep. Which it often did in those days, he would be obliged to gather the fluid by wearing snowshoes to prevent his sinking in the snow.

In these ways hundreds of pounds of maple sugar and thousands of gallons of maple syrup were made by the farmer. In fact, it almost took the place of all sweets for the family, and many of the earliest ones that had settled upon the homestead lands were obliged to depend exclusively upon this for all the sweet they had. Many a family in those early days of the county lived for days and weeks upon the maple sugar that they made, and the leeks that they were able to gather as the snows went off in the spring. The good old days of maple sugar and the fun in making it have now vanished only to a very few that have been able to save a few maple trees and have the ambition to wade through the snows and carry or haul the sap to the house.

They have now turned their attention to the raising of sugar beets and hauling them to the factory and are content on living upon the sugar made from beets and forego that delightful flavor the genuine maple sugar possesses. The cause of the disappearance of the maple timber is twofold. One was the forest fires of the seventies** and the other the demand that came and the price paid for maple logs which induced the farmer to cut and sell his maple timber to mill men. Who very soon exhausted the supply of that kind of timber. ***

** The 1870’s

*** In 1875 the citizens of Shepherd planted Maple trees along city streets to honor the US Centennial; they received a tax credit on their village taxes for doing so. Many of these trees are still exist and produce sap to this day. In the early 60’s some villages again planted more Maple trees.

Another article was taken from: “Portrait and Biographical Album of Isabella County Michigan” By Chapman Brothers printed in 1184 page 560

Heart-Breaking Loss

Having neither stock nor grain to sell, the early comers were sorely puzzled to obtain provisions for their families. Everything was turned to account. Shingles were virtually legal tender for all debts except taxes, but the settlers had no means of getting them to market. Considerable quantities of maple sugar were manufactured in the springtime, which was afterward taken to Saginaw by boat and exchanged for groceries and dry goods.

John Fraser, Mason Foutch, George Akin and George Howorth started for Saginaw one morning in May with the proceeds of their spring work, consisting of 800 pounds of choice maple sugar. The canoe was a small one, and, being heavily loaded sank deeply into the water. They had not proceeded far before the boat ran over a snag and capsized throwing the contents in the water. Not one cake of sugar was recovered, and the loss was a severe one. An entire failure in crops to day would be half so hard to withstand as was the loss of that canoe load of sugar at the time. Atkins wept like a child at the prospect of want now in store for the family, they being almost destitute of clothes and having no means of procuring any.

All the men except Fraser returned home, he being the only one of the party having any money. He drifted down to Saginaw, made his purchases and helped his less fortunate neighbors out of sorry their plight.

Each spring the drip, drip, drip of the sap from the Maple trees bring smiles of delight to many of the youth of the community, as well as the adults who enjoy watching. Young and old alike make Shepherd “The Sweetest Little Town Around”

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