Archived Story

Jamerson back in area for program tonight

Published 10:08pm Wednesday, July 21, 2010

By JOHN EBY

Dowagiac Daily News

Bill Jamerson
Bill Jamerson

Escanaba-based singer/songwriter Bill Jamerson, who appeared in Dowagiac in May 2009, presents the musical program “It’s Daylight in the Swamps” at The History Center at Courthouse Square in Berrien Springs today, July 22, at 6:30 p.m.

His program will be at the History Center (1839 Courthouse Museum), 313 N. Cass St., Berrien Springs.

The program on Michigan’s logging era is fourth in the History Center’s annual “Thursdays at Courthouse Square” series of six free programs.

“It’s Daylight in the Swamps” is a musical tribute to Michigan loggers of the white pine era.

The program features true stories of sawyers, skidders and loaders; traditional songs such as Shanty Boy in the Pines; and tale tales of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

Jamerson moved to the Upper Peninsula in 1999 and immersed himself in the study of the region’s history by visiting important landmarks, meeting with scholars and collecting oral histories.

He soon began writing songs about Upper Peninsula history.

He now appears in schools, libraries and festivals, telling stories and performing his original songs about iron miners, lumberjacks and Civilian Conservation Corps boys.

At Justus Gage Elementary School last spring, Jamerson, who has also performed in Niles, said, “Immigrants came to Michigan for our trees and other natural resources,” noting they could save dollar-a-day wages all winter and buy “stumpland” for 40 acres for $40 and turn it into farmland.

To a lumberjack, a “lousy” day meant lice.

They slept on boughs or hay mattresses, hence the saying “hitting the hay.”

Jamerson believes history is not just about the past, but something that helps us understand who we are now and how we got there.

In 1993, Jamerson’s second film, “Camp Forgotten — the CCCs in Michigan,” aired on more than 60 PBS stations.

He doesn’t travel by wanigon, but 80-year-old videos show loggers who did.

Wanigons looked like rafts with tents pitched on them.

The cook might be inside making meals for the camp as they sailed toward the sawmill.

Hard work coupled with roughing it in the woods all winter created sizable appetites.

Lumberjacks all seemed to eat like Bunyan tall tales, devouring an endless stream of hash browns, eggs (“cackleberries”), pork chops, beans simmered with pork fat and doughnuts (“sinkers”), plus pie three times a day.

Immigrants who logged Michigan when trees were so thick a squirrel could travel the length of the state without ever touching ground, came from all over, including Italy, Scotland and France.

“You had some second-generation American lumberjacks,” he said, “but they were primarily immigrants. Most of the camps were gone by the 1940s. When trucks and cars came and they could live at home, that’s when their era ended.”

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