One reason we might be called “Wolverines”

I had the great pleasure of speaking in Dearborn this week as part of a public lecture series hosted by the Dearbon Historical Society. We met at the McFadden-Ross House, which is beautiful — and used to be the powder magazine for the old Dearborn Arsenal. It dates to 1839, which by local standards is OLD.

In Dearborn, even more than in Detroit, the story of the city is tied up with one man and his era: Henry Ford, and the motors with which he moved the city. But Dearborn, like Detroit, is of course a lot older than that. Farmers started settling in what is now Dearborn in the 1780s, and since the old Chicago Road (now Michigan Avenue) ran right through the area, it became a stopping-point for settlers headed west, especially during the post-Erie Canal, pre-railroad-era of Yankee migration through the territory.

I checked in with — who else? — General Friend Palmer and Early Days in Detroit to see if I could find a charming story about early days in Dearborn.

I was not disappointed.

The Ten Eyck Tavern

(Via the Historical Marker Database)

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.”

#clarence burton#conrad ten eyck#dearborn#dearborn history#early days in detroit#general friend palmer#michigan wolverine#ten eyck tavern