Big Fish

A few years ago, to my surprise, I verified the apocryphal information that a town in Michigan was named for one of my relatives -- the brother of my great-great grandfather.

[Update]The critical thing I forgot to mention when first posting this was that before I found this article (by writing to the Bay County Historical Society) I had been at a dead end with my family history: I didn't know the name of George Nelson Bentley's father! And here I had not only his father's name but his brothers' as well. So at that point (thanks also to the LDS Family Search) the whole of my ancestry opened up, all the way back to Shakespeare's time. And that's when the genealogy bug really bit me hard.

History of Bay County, MI, by Augustus H. Gansser, 1905

Oscar F. Bentley, who was the second pioneer settler of Gibson township, Bay County, Michigan, resides in the town of Bentley, which was named in his honor. He was born in Monroe County, New York, in 1833, a son of Thomas and Sarah (James) Bentley.

Oscar Bentley. Looks to me like he's wearing his Union Army dress coat.

His father, Thomas Bentley, was born in New York State and lived there many years. In 1847, accompanied by his wife and children, he moved to Michigan and located near Flint, where he purchased a tract of 80 acres, now known [1905] as the Roat farm, the second best farm in Genesee County. Additions were made to this property from time to time and the members of the family became large property holders. Twelve children were born to Thomas Bentley and his wife, Sarah James, and of these our subject is the 11th in order of birth and the sole survivor at the present time. The mother died on the old homestead at the age of 68 years. Thomas Bentley formed a second marital union and with his wife spent his declining years on the [Livonia, MI] farm of his son, [George] Nelson. He died in his 71st year.

Oscar F. Bentley's educational training began in the public schools of New York State, and was completed in the schools situated in vicinity of Flint, Michigan. He remained on the home farm in Flint township, where his father and four brothers had cleared farms of dense forest and placed them in a tillable state, until his marriage in 1854. He then became a pioneer settler in Saginaw County, where he farmed until 1859. In that year he took up government land in Blue Earth County, Minnesota, and there maintained his homestead for 12 years, at the end of which time he moved to Northern Kansas and lived two years.

While a resident Minnesota at the time of the Civil War, he enlisted in the Union Army, but the outbreak of the Sioux Indians kept his regiment in the West. He served three years as a member of the Second Regiment, Minnesota Volunteer Cavalry. At the time of the New Ulm massacre, he with his neighbors moved to a place of safety to live until the depredations ceased.

Refugees flee New Ulm toward Mankato after sustained attacks by Dakota Sioux Indians

Upon leaving Kansas, he returned to Genesee County, Michigan, and in April, 1887, made his last pioneer stand at Bentley, Gibson township, Bay County, where he has since resided. When Mr. Bentley first came here, he erected a large sawmill, which burned four years later. He rebuilt it at once and two years later the second mill burned. He again rebuilt this mill, which is now owned and operated by his son Frank. He has three farms, consisting of 320 acres, and is one of the substantial men of his section.

Michigan Sawmill "shantyboys"

On February 8, 1854, Mr. Bentley was married to Matilda Anderson, and they have spent 51 years in happy companionship, together braving the struggles of pioneering in different sections of the United States. [After her death he married again.]

Oscar F. Bentley has always been an unswerving supporter of Republican principles, and takes an earnest interest in his party's success. He is a man of pleasing personality, and stands high in regard to his fellow-citizens, among whom he has lived so many years.

Thanks to:


Michigan Historical Museum


  1. What a fascinating post. Have you visited Bentley yourself yet? Your post really makes me want to read more about U.S. history and the Civil War.

  2. Such an interesting history and how exciting to have a town named after a relative.

  3. A fascinating post, with striking similarities to the life of my great great great grandfather who fought against indian attacks on the Pennsylvania frontier, and after the Revolutionary war, built a lumber mill that burned down and had to be rebuilt. His father who died in the Revolutionary War had a town and township named Ransom after him. Both were also pillars of the community, military men and family men of great principle.
    Great piece of history.

  4. My kind of post Sean, full of interest and history. Could sit and read this kind of thing all day.

  5. Great post. As my daughter lives in Michigan I find the history of the places a fascinating topic. When it incorporates your family that makes it doubly so.

  6. Really interesting post. History becomes even more vivid when your family has such a vivid role.

  7. Very interesting post, thanks! Very near there is Bay City, I lived there for a short time, and lived in Saginaw, Mi (closer to Flint) for about 5 years...my oldest son was born there....I was born in Michigan too, near Lansing, and I am a big fan of learning and reading about Michiganders! Thanks!

  8. good for you if you found new links to go deeper in your own family history, and the places they came from.

  9. Don't you love it when those county histories come through with details about an ancestor (or two or three...)! I always wonder who wrote the articles, whether it was the individual himself, or if a reporter was sent out to interview the person, or if someone did research.

    Isn't it interesting to learn that a town was named after your ancestor. Is it still there and have you visited - or will you visit?

  10. @Nancy, yes I wonder that as well, especially when it was over a hundred years ago in the first place!

    One of these days I'll probably check out Bentley but according to Google Maps there isn't much there anymore except for a couple of churches and a cemetery!