Conrad Ten Eyck built a tavern along the old Chicago Road in 1826. In that time, it was about a day’s journey from Detroit. (When General Palmer was writing, the trolley had shortened the trip to a speedy 40 minutes.)
The tavern was a wild success. We meet our jovial bar-keep at sunset, as a train of roughed-up wagons bang over the corduroy road and come piling into the bar.
Emerging at nightfall as the sun cast its setting rays upon the broad facade of the substantial old tavern, and greeted by the genial beams of its famous proprietor, “Old Coon” Ten Eyck, as he was affectionately called, the weary pilgrims began to feel something of the glow of that fellow feeling which makes us wondrous kind.
“Sally, have some more wolf-steak put on,” Old Coon would call out in a cheery voice as each new load of hungry pilgrims would drive up.
Conrad Ten Eyck, Palmer goes on to explain, had a little inside joke with his wife about wolf-steaks that, while esoteric, seems to be one way people used to explain the mystery of the Michigan “wolverine”:
Once a particularly pretty and jolly girl emigrant, coming out of the tavern dining room with the taste of the juicy Ten Eyck lamb chops still in her mouth, asked, “And have I really eaten wolf steak?”
“Surely, my pretty miss,” replied Old Coon.
“Then I suppose I am a wolverine,” exclaimed the fair traveler.
“That you are,” said Mr. Ten Eyck, “And will be from this on !”
And then, Palmer relates, all the men in the tavern were like, “Hey, we’re wolverines too!” Because they wanted to impress the girl. Isn’t that how history ALWAYS WORKS?
Palmer admits that the story may not be true — even if Old Coon Ten Eyck did have a little joke about wolf steaks, who knows if his prank was responsible for the not-so flattering nickname?
“I do not know for a certainty,” wrote General Palmer, “but Clarence Burton does.”
For the full article, see Amy Elliott Bragg, “One reason we might be called “Wolverines”, Night Train, March 12, 2012.
Also see The Ten Eyck Tavern Historical Marker. Conrad Ten Eyck (1782-1847) built a famous tavern in 1826 about 300 feet west of this marker–the first resting place of travelers, one day’s trip west of Detroit. It stood on the River Rouge at a point where the Chicago Road forked. The northerly branch, called the Ann Arbor Trail, led toward Lansing, the westerly branch to Ypsilanti. The inn burned down in 1869, its stables in 1906. Ten Eyck’s humor may have given Michigan the nickname “Wolverine.”