Bud Sellars, the Hermit of Cedar Island
The stereotypes of a hermit - reclusive and sullen or mystical and vague - certainly didn't fit Albert F. Sellars, better known as Bud. In fact, the moniker of "hermit" was probably chosen for its value as a picturesque image. Bud was a genial and hospitable host for around fifty years to the hundreds of people who came to visit him on Cedar Island. He was a legend in his own time and, as with most legends, the stories about him aren't always verifiable - including those he told about himself. In fact, certain aspects of Bud's personal history resemble one of those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books available to young people.
Bud was born in 1855. That is a fact. As to where he was born, that answer is up for grabs. In a 1920 article in the Jackson Citizen Patriot, Bud maintains that his father went to California in 1849 to make his fortune in the gold fields. Bud says he was born in Santa Cruz, returning to Hillsdale from Stockton, CA at age ten with his father.
Another version puts Bud's birth in Hillsdale, with a move to California with his family, then returning to Hillsdale when he was ten years old with an older brother who was ill (probably with tuberculosis). They camped on Cedar Island for three years, until Bud's brother died. Bud left the island, but then returned some time in 1872 or 1873, there to remain until his death in 1931.
For those to whom no story is complete without a tragic love component, there's this tale in an article published in an unidentified newspaper the day of Bud's death. While in California Bud had been friends with a girl named Ruth. After the death of his brother, Bud returned to California to reunite with Ruth. Alas! Ruth's family had moved to Chicago. Bud followed her to Chicago and "worked diligently for three years." only to quarrel with her and return to Cedar Island, "where he hoped to forget Ruth." Months passed. Bud regretted the words that had passed between him and Ruth, and he really wanted to write to her. Again, alas! Bud didn't know how to read or write. He studied for two years at a grade school and then wrote to her... only to find she was married to someone else. ANTI-alas this time!!! Ruth's husband conveniently died! Bud and Ruth became engaged, but when Bud went to Chicago he was greeted by Ruth's parents, who said Ruth had disappeared. Her body was found some months later floating in Lake Michigan. (This story is clearly delusional. But isn't it fun to see how Bud Sellars had become such a well-known character that the 1931 counterpart of the National Enquirer reporter felt free to embellish his story?)
Now, back to reality. The 1880 Census lists Albert F. Sellars (24) and Frank Sellars (21) as Boarders with Henry Keefer (51) and his family. Henry Keefer, who ran a saloon and bar on Broad Street, was their uncle. (This was five years before Henry Keefer began to build the hotel on the corner of Howell and North Streets that would bear his name.) While Bud was listed as "at home," Frank was listed as "Grocery Clerk." Either Bud was taking a break from Cedar Island or he decided to be counted in the Census from his uncle's saloon.
Vivian Lyon Moore's account of "The Hermit of Cedar Island" was repeated in several publications, with pretty much the same phrasing. It appeared in the Hillsdale Area Centennial, 150 Years in the Hills and Dales, and an unidentified newspaper that might have been The Hillsdale Daily News. Repetition doesn't make a story true, but this is probably the closest we can come:
Bud came to Cedar Island as a tubercular young man seeking a cure to what had been diagnosed as an incurable illness. The owner of the island allowed him to live there rent-free for about sixty years.The fresh air wiped away any vestige of the disease, and Bud became a fixture on the lake and a legend worthy of hyperbolic tales.
Bud built a small cottage and took great pride in his neat housekeeping. Vivian Lyon Moore, noted for her non-journalistic writing style that occasionally soared into the poetic, described Bud's pride in his tidiness and "the astonishing pleated pattern into which he folded his snowy bedspread." Bud made his living from peddling fish through town, trapping during the winter and his "justly famous fish dinners," according to Moore.
In his later years, Moore maintains, Bud was "gnarled and weather-beaten as an oak, and physically as tough." He still walked into and back from town, a distance of seven to eight miles, crossing the ice in the winter. And so ends Vivian Lyon Moore's story.
On December 9, 1870, Christopher Dickerson purchased Cedar Island and other land at the edge of Baw Beese Lake, 220 acres in total. General Dickerson had been in the Civil War, had been wounded, had endured time in a Confederate prison and had returned home (as the result of a prisoner exchange) in failing health. At his death in 1872, his son Walter P. inherited the island. It was Walter who gave Bud Sellars permission to stay on the island rent-free. Bud spent the first year in a tent before building a three-room cottage. He had his own ice house on the island. Needing only a rowboat for his own use, he built a long wharf eventually so that the steamboat Edna D. could dock and discharge its passengers, presumably for conversation and possibly a "justly famous fish dinner."
In a 1920 Jackson Citizen Patriot article, written from an interview with Bud, the genial hermit himself talked about the many people who came to his island. He said that often he was busier in the winter than the summer because of all the men who came to the island to ice fish and hunt. Several men stored their fishing shanties on the shore of Cedar Island, near where Bud's ice house stood. Bud said in the article that he had recently counted his visitors and in just a few days had entertained 175. He confided that there was a period of three days when he didn't leave his cottage because he was so busy cooking for his guests. Many of his guests were members of the Hillsdale Kiwanis Club. When Bud died, these friends had a stone carved to be placed on his grave in Oak Grove Cemetery. It declared him to be " Albert F. Sellars, 'Bud' Lone Fisherman."
Cedar Island following the death of Bud Sellars in 1931
The Dickerson family had been respectful of Bud's habitation of Cedar Island. Undoubtedly they visited him, but it's clear that they treated the island as Bud's. Walter P. Dickerson, son of the original owner, died in 1926, and the island was inherited by Gera Dickerson Emrick, his daughter. Gera honored the promise of her father that Bud be allowed the use of the island without rent. At his death in 1931, she decided to make some improvements. She hired Bud's good friend Pete Gaiffe and Pete's good friend Rene Girard to build additions to Bud's cottage. A kitchen and screened porch almost doubled its size. This was christened the "Big Cottage" by the Girard children.
Rene Girard had seven daughters. Bob Lanzinger, the oldest daughter's husband, was hired by the Dickersons in the 1940's to be the caretaker of the island. With the Girards as the guardians of Cedar Island, the pattern that had been established during Bud Sellars's time continued. The Dickerson owners seldom visited the island, while the caretakers made it their own in their hearts. Pete Gaiffe and Rene Girard eventually added a second, rather small house on the island, an annex of sorts to accommodate the large Girard family. It was playfully named "Camp Dickerson" and boasted a gas refrigerator and gas stove. Each cottage had an outhouse, complete with a crescent cutout on the door. The outhouse at the Big House was named "Lady Eleanor" after the wife of FDR, whether in affection or with derision isn't known.
Carolyn Girard Johnson, the fifth Girard daughter, was born in 1931. She wrote a long letter to Missy Moore, the current owner of Cedar Island along with her husband Dan. Carolyn shared reminiscences of her vacations there. Pete Gaiffe was still very much in the picture. He always vacationed with the Girards since he was separated from his wife and had no children. Carolyn said that they never paid rent, the Dickersons continuing the tradition of sharing their island with those who loved and cared for it.
With the Girard daughters grown, they began to divide up the summer so that each of them could enjoy the island with their families. Carolyn wrote that in the 1950's Gera Dickerson Emrick (the current Dickerson owner) began to ask for a $25/week rental and sometimes she would come to stay at Camp Dickerson while the Girard crew stayed in Bud's old cottage. Carolyn and Vonnie, her youngest sister, would spend two to three "heavenly" weeks on the island with their combined eight children. (No wonder Mrs. Emrick wanted to stay at her own place!) This continued until the April 11, 1965 Palm Sunday tornado seriously damaged Bud Sellars's original cottage as it roared across Hillsdale County. After that disaster Mrs. Emrick, who lived in Tennessee, rarely came to Cedar Island and there was nothing left for the Girard sisters to return to. Camp Dickerson was abandoned and fell victim to the elements and vandals.
It wasn't until 1992 that once again the island found itself under the guardianship of caring owners. Walter P. Dickerson's great-granddaughter, Louise Emrick Morgan sold it to Dan and Missy Moore, whose long-time home on the shore of Baw Beese Lake was just across from Cedar Island.
The Moores found an overgrown six acres, three of which were solid ground while the other half was swamp. The gas stove and refrigerator - as well as the kitchen sink - were found where Camp Dickerson had once stood. The steps and long cement walk that were probably laid by Rene Girard and Pete Gaiffe still ran to the water's edge from the cement slab where Bud's cottage had stood.
With patience and care, Dan and MIssy Moore began to clear the island. They wanted a simple cottage and also a lake view. To gain a view, they built the single story of their cottage on a sturdy support that acted as the first floor. They ordered a "Haiku" home kit from California, endured many months of waiting for it to arrive and built their own "barge" to get materials across to the island. Enlisting the help of Dan's canoe building club, they were able to assemble the structure with only minimal professional help. Over a five year period the island and new cottage grew into a peaceful retreat for the Moores, their family and friends (except, of course, during the weekends when the Moores long for the good old days when the steamboat sounds of the Edna D. created the only noise on the lake).
The single room of the Moore cottage stands close to where Bud Sellar's tiny cottage once sat. Cedar Island, originally used by the members of Chief Baw Beese's Potawotami band, devotedly cared for by Bud Sellars and cherished by the Girard family.The Moores took on the responsibility of trusted caretakers, respecting the land and valuing its history until February 2015, when Dan Moore died. Missy then sold the island and their home, and now a new generation is enjoying Cedar Island.
JoAnne P. Miller