Current Population: Around Ten
Located in: Benzie County
What's Left: Historical Plaque
Town History (From Cache Description): Aral was named for the inland sea in Russia.
The plaque at the coordinates gives some of the details of the history of the town but strangely, leaves out what I believe to be the two most interesting. On the afternoon of August 10th 1899, two Benzie County deputies, Neil A. Marshall and Dr. Frank Thurber were sent here to place a lien for unpaid taxes on the logs stacked at the mill. Hearing of their intent, the manager of the mill, Charles Wright promised that if anyone interfered with his operation, he "would drop them". Armed with a rifle and pistol, he met the men on the road that runs south across the creek just east of the plaque. Here a struggle ensued and both deputies were murdered. The mill continued to operate and Wright and his men continued as if nothing had happened. The bodies were left where they fell although at some point in the afternoon, some one placed an umbrella over them to shade them from the sun.Word of the killings spread through the community and anti-Wright feelings were building. Wright then shut the mill down, paid the workmen their wages and disappeared into the woods. A telegram was sent to Benzonia informing the sheriff of the killings. He organized a posse of about 20 men who traveled by buggy from Benzonia to Frankfort and then by steamer to Aral, arriving the next day. By that time an angry mob had gathered seeking revenge for the killings of two well-liked men.What happened next involves the fallen pine tree just beyond the plaque. This has long been know by local residents as "The Hanging Tree".
The mill employed a number of the local Ottawa Indians, many of whom had limited English language skills. Wright had often utilized Peter Lahala as an interpreter. One can assume that the European workers might have been jealous of Lahala’s elevated status and frequent contact with the boss. For whatever reason, the mob claimed that he had knowledge of Wright’s whereabouts. Lahala denied any knowledge of Wright's whereabouts. Under the direction of the sheriff, a rope was placed around his neck and the other end thrown over a limb of the tree. The Indian was hoisted into the air. After a short time, he was lowered and again asked where Wright could be found. When no answer was given, he was hoisted up again and the sheriff is reported to have said, "Just kick your legs when you're ready to talk". Before this grim game could be played out to it's somber conclusion, Wright was dragged out of the woods by some men who had captured him and Peter Lahala was released. Wright was convicted and sentenced to life at hard labor in Jackson Prison. Upon his conviction, his wife divorced him and remarried.
In 1900 Governor Pingree apparently decided that local politics had played a role in the incident and commuted his sentence. He was released and, or so the story goes, stopped in Aral on his way to Wisconsin. He visited his ex and her new husband and sang "Their Song" for her one last time. She was so over come that she rushed weeping into his arms, abandoned her new spouse on the spot and sailed off into the sunset with murderer Charles Wright.
The second notable event in the history of Aral occurred from about 1908 to 1911 and also involves the hanging tree. The mill and town became an outpost of the notorious "King" Ben Purcell's beard wearing, baseball playing, House of David cult from Benton Harbor. They used the tree as a light house, placing lights and lookouts in the tree to guide boats to their dock. They lumbered the cedar out the nearby swamps, using the logs as raw material for a shingle mill. Then as suddenly as they came, they abandoned the area. The last resident moved out in 1922 and the town's life was over.
Pictures of the Past:
Pictures of the Present: