The designation of governmental centers (called county seats) in most of Michigan’s 83 counties has gone smoothly and without controversy. Not so in Wexford County.
A decade-long struggle for the county seat peaked on April 4, 1882, when voters chose whether to leave the county seat in Manton or move it Cadillac. Twelve months earlier, the residents of those two communities worked together to remove the governmental center from Sherman and place it in Manton. Now, the much-larger town of Cadillac wanted to be the county seat. No surprise, voters overwhelmingly chose Cadillac.
The day after the election, a train left Cadillac with the sheriff and twenty deputies headed for Manton. Within a half hour, most of the county records and much of the courthouse furniture was aboard the train. Manton residents, however, prevented the sheriff and his men from taking several courthouse safes. The men from Cadillac, according to Manton residents, “fled back to Cadillac in fear.”
When Cadillac residents learned that the sheriff’s mission had not been a complete success, a second “invasion” of Manton was planned. This time, the Cadillac force numbered several hundred men, and they were armed-some with repeating rifles, others with clubs, poles, brooms and crowbars.
There are two versions to the “battle of Manton.” Cadillac claims their men sought to avoid violence, but were confronted by “every able-bodied citizen of Manton.” Even the town’s women allegedly were involved, greasing the rails with lard and butter in an effort to halt the Cadillac train. Manton’s version claims “a drunken mob of 500 to 600 men, led by a drunken sheriff and clerk” ordered the courthouse demolished and then turned his men onto Manton streets “like a pack of crazed hounds.”
Whatever the truth, Cadillac won the battle, which left some men injured, but none fatally. To this day, Cadillac continues to serve Wexford County as the county seat.
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