The Restless Viking: Fayette Citizens Fight for Justice

This article was written by Martha Hayden and originally appeared on The Restless Viking website on October 10, 2023.

Many of you are familiar with the settlement of Fayette, in Michigan’s upper peninsula. My husband, Chuck, and I uncovered a True Tales story which painted the picture of moral mishaps in the Fayette community. The residents had countered these ill behaviors with surprising human strength. Join us as we explore the ghost town of Fayette and learn how the citizen’s rose up against the corruption.

In 1864 the railroad had been built all the way down The Garden Peninsula to Fayette. Processing pig iron along Lake Michigan, instead of Lake Superior, made it much easier to transport goods to Chicago and Detroit.

Fayette’s Brief History

In 1867 the first furnace had been built. The settlement quickly grew to 500 citizens. A school had been constructed, too!

Even with all the prospects of success, this boomtown only survived for 24 years from 1867-1891. Improved methods for processing pig iron had made their system obsolete. Also, the wooded resources in the area had become significantly depleted. Once the blast furnaces had shut down in 1891 the town had swiftly been abandoned.

State Park

The Company Store (above) held all the goods needed for the residents of Fayette.

In 1959 this land became a state park which continues to be a popular destination. With a nearby campground, visitors can explore Fayette’s buildings and displays over the course of their vacation. There’s so much to see!

A Story of Strength

Now, back to the story of ill morals and the citizen’s strength. . .

Throughout history, humans have stirred up extreme behaviors for the good and for the bad. During Fayette’s short span of existence, people had created an amazingly self-sufficient settlement, but there were dark characters threaded through the village and nearby.

Adele Elliot, a Fayette resident, had been recorded as saying that Fayette had been full of good citizens. “Saloons and stockades” had been kept outside of town.

The nineteen room hotel in Fayette had been permitted to serve alcohol at its bar, otherwise alcohol hadn’t been available for purchase in the town.

Many men had flocked to “Pig Iron Fred’s Bar” within walking distance a mile away. Others would often take the train six miles to The Sac Bay Stockade where they could indulge in drinking and pay for intimacies with women. Jim Sommers, the owner of The Stockade, had forced these young females to work at his establishment.

A Woman Escapes

In August of 1880 a young girl escaped from Jim Sommers’ stockade in nearby Sac Bay. This brave soul crept through the woods for two days. When she finally arrived in Fayette, seeking refuge from her forced servanthood, the young gal had sought out the sheriff’s office. I imagined her finally feeling safe with a long exhale after entering the law enforcement building.

Law Enforcement Betrayal

Feeling a sense of relief the youthful girl willingly followed the sheriff back outside. There she had been shocked to realize that this leader of the law, was escorting her right back to Jim Sommers’ who had been waiting in his wagon.

Citizens Fight For Justice

Hearing how the sheriff had turned the woman back over to Jim Sommers, the citizens were appalled!

Fayette citizens gathered in front of the hotel.

The upstanding residents of Fayette had rapidly assembled for a meeting to find a solution to this despicable behavior conducted by their own lawman and Jim Sommers.

The Meeting House had an upper-level room used for performances, dances and gatherings.

The Raid

Armed with household implements, the Fayette citizens descended upon “Pig Iron Fred’s Bar” one mile to the east. With the element of surprise, they located some of Jim Sommers’ clan. I imagine that the sheriff had been there slurping whiskey when the raid busted through the doors. The citizens, using violence fueled by their anger, had “coerced” the gang to stop their oppression.

Next the citizens headed to the actual stockade which was located at Sac Bay, six miles away. The mob hauled Jim Sommers out of bed and beat him on the sandy shore. The women were freed and the structures were set ablaze.

Sac Bay Beach Photo Credit: Michigan Water Trails

Jim Sommers had been left on the beach. When his pals returned the next day to bury him, his body was gone. The mystery of his disappearance remains today.

Citizens Had Reset Their Community’s Morals

The citizens of Fayette had come together and stood firmly against Jim Sommers’ oppression and the ill behavior of his gang. I imagine that the sheriff had been held accountable as well. The next eleven years at Fayette appeared to have gone much more smoothly as the citizens had set the moral tone for their settlement.

As the sun shimmered on the dancing waves innocent youngsters skipped rocks along the Fayette shore.

Long ago and today I marvel at people and their choices: good and bad.

Chuck and Martha Hayden, aka The Viking and Poppins, enjoy going on adventures off the beaten path. They also like to share their explorations with others. The Viking is a retired expedition leader while Poppins is a retired teacher. The two offer independent views of their journeys showcasing places, people, and cultures as they explore the world. Visit and follow them on their website and social media accounts. Website | Facebook | Instagram |YouTube

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.