1882 : Battle of Manton

April 5, 2018 all-day

April 4-6, 1882.

Cadillac’s decade-long struggle for the county seat came to a head on April 4, 1882, when ballots were cast throughout the county to determine whether the coveted prize should be moved from Manton to Cadillac. Twelve months earlier, residents of Cadillac and Manton had united to remove the county seat from Sherman to Manton. Now Cadillac was determined to secure the prize for itself.

Feeling duped by Cadillac, Manton residents were furious. A couple of townships destroyed their ballots, refusing to make a return. But when the “official” count of the April 4 vote was totaled, the results were overwhelming: 1,363 “yes” voters favored moving the county seat to Cadillac, while 309 voted “no.”

In the early dawn following the election, a train left Cadillac with the sheriff and twenty “specially deputized” men and headed to Manton to collect the county property. Legend has it that the train backed quietly into a sleeping Manton, coming to a halt in front of the courthouse. Within a half hour, most of the county records and much of the furniture was aboard the train. As the Cadillac faction attempted to remove the first of three safes from the courthouse, however, Manton residents awoke.

Battle of Manton, Part I

There are two different versions of what happened next. Cadillac’s version tells of a mob of over two hundred Manton men who drove off the small band of deputies.

Manton’s version claims the city was deserted and only a handful of men were in town. Although outnumbered, these “brave few” quickly gathered at the courthouse and confronted the heavily armed “Cadillackers.” The safe was overturned, Cadillac men produced firearms and a drunken county clerk urged the murder of the Mantonites. Nonetheless, the Mantonites managed to force the attackers “back to Cadillac in fear.”

Battle of Manton, Part II

The Cadillac faction returned home where they were greeted by an ever-increasing jovial crowd. When the crowd learned that three county safes of records remained in Manton, a second invasion of Manton was planned. Cadillac beefed up its force to include not only the sheriff and his deputies, but also city officials, many of Cadillac’s finer citizens and several hundred mill hands. Provisions consisted of a barrel of whiskey and fifty repeating rifles donated from a local hardware store. Some Cadillac citizens bought clubs, poles, brooms and crowbars.

Again, there are two versions of the second assault on Manton. Cadillac’s version is that they numbered three hundred men and were cautioned by the sheriff to avoid violence or damage to property. When they arrived in Manton, they found a waiting angry mob made up of every able-bodied citizen of Manton and most of the farmers from miles around. Cadillac claims Manton attempted to hang the county clerk and that Manton women rallied to grease the rails with lard and butter to make the tracks too slippery for the train to move.

Manton’s story claims “an unopposed invasion by a drunken mob of five hundred to six hundred men, led by a drunken sheriff and clerk.” The sheriff ordered that the courthouse be demolished and turned his men loose onto Manton streets “like a pack of crazed hounds.”

A New County Seat

While we may never know the full extent of what took place during the “Battle of Manton” on April 5, 1882, we do know it was a highly charged confrontation. Weapons were carried and injuries did occur. There were no deaths. Fortunately, the only gunshots fired that day were those in celebration on the victorious return trip to Cadillac with the county safes – and Wexford’s new county seat.

Source: Brenda Irish, Battle for Wexford County, Seeking Michigan, November 27, 2012. This article originally appeared in the September/October 2006 issue of Michigan History Magazine.

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