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Just what did William Briggs write about the Underground Railroad?

William A. Briggs long ago wrote an unpublished (one version was 274 pages long) history of Porter County, Indiana. He covered a lot of topics, including a couple bits on the Underground Railroad. The Duneland Historical Society put out part of Briggs' history as their publication #7 of volume I, The Underground Railroad: Crisman Station. It is three-and-a-half pages long. The portion relevant to Lake Michigan follows:


But if it was thought that these procedures [Briggs' claims about an Underground Railroad station being at what is now U.S. 20 & S.R. 249 and about the Michigan Central Railroad and the New York Central Railroad picking up fugitives here, too] were attracting too much attention, other routes must be found; Lake Michigan was near at hand and water transportation was convenient and safe. Certain boats sailing the lake were also known to be "carriers" and it is said that they made occasional stops near The Devil's Punch Bowl; that is, near the mouth of the present Burns Ditch. This peculiar natural formation afforded a splendid waiting place for fugitives, when the weather was pleasant; but often the opposite was the condition, so a cabin was built near the beach on a spot which is now east of the ditch.

But this plan was too easily detected by the crowd of slave-hunters which was stationed permanently in Chicago; and finally the rendezvous was spotted. When the boat stopped one night to take on some "cargo" it was boarded by the gang who overpowered the crew and burned the vessel to the water-line. Until recent years, when the water was calm and the sun was bright, the old hulk could be seen lying on the bottom of the lake a short distance from shore and a few rods [around a hundred feet] west of the mouth of the ditch.

The cabin was also burned and we are told that traces of mortar and broken dishes may still be found if the spot can be located by the searcher. Old coins have been taken from the ashes.


So there it is. William Briggs wrote about a shipwreck just west of the mouth of the North Arm of Burns Ditch, in Portage, Indiana. Old Ogden Duners and Portageans remember a shipwreck being visible years ago just west of the mouth of the North Arm of Burns Ditch. That location is now within the new breakwater west of the North Arm of Burns Ditch's mouth. If the shipwreck still remains, it is buried, currently hidden from view.

But what about the shipwreck which has been partially uncovered on Ogden Dunes' shore? Well, what about it? It is half a mile west of the shipwreck that Briggs wrote about.

And what about The Devil's Punch Bowl? William Briggs wrote that it was near the mouth of (the North Arm of) Burns Ditch. He wrote that an accompanying beach cabin was built east of where the North Arm of Burns Ditch was later cut through. He wrote that The Devil's Punch Bowl was a peculiar natural formation, which does not make it sound to me like a simple blowout, as there were thousands (and still are hundreds) of blowouts in the Indiana Dunes.

What are punchbowls shaped like? If they were one-sided, wouldn't all the punch pour out of them? Briggs' description sounds to me like he's referring to a peculiar natural formation which I see occasional, but uncommon, examples of, while walking through the dunes. The Devil's Punch Bowl sounds to me like a little wind-scoured "bowl" on or near the top of a dune. When I was a kid, my friends and I liked to hide in them and peak out over the edge, being able to see people across the way while they couldn't see us. If you were a fugitive slave, wouldn't it make sense to hide where you could watch the old trail along the beach and ships out on Lake Michigan, while remaining hidden from them? Or would you sit on the side of a dune within clear view of anyone traveling by?

From what William Briggs wrote, it sounds like The Devil's Punch Bowl was either where the North Arm of Burns Ditch was dug or east of it, on land which was sandmined and Midwest Steel's mill was built. But why has it been claimed that a blowout a quarter mile west of there is The Devil's Punch Bowl? That is simply the farthest-east dune which still exists.
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This page is at http://www.ogdendunes.tripod.com/devilspu/briggs.html.
my thanks to the person who prodded me to finally put together this page and post it to the Web
Published 18th November, 2007. Updated 26th May, 2012

to watch video, click on image below
Alpha shipwreck vs. Briggs shipwreck
Ogden Dunes' shipwreck is mile west of former
Briggs' shipwreck site & former Devil's Punchbowl site