Legend of Bronco Bill Brousseau

It quickly became evident that telling the tale of Bronco Bill Brousseau was beyond the ability of any one man, a team approach would be required. Here’s why:

The Detroit Free Press printed a full page spread on Bronco, picture and all, in its Sunday, Nov. 10, 1957, edition. The Article, furnished me by Bronco’s grandson Ken Brousseau, was written by veteran reporter Jim Pooler. But even Pooler knew he was in over his head:

“William (Bronco Bill) Brousseau is the most fascinating woodsman, guide, and — well — prevaricator we ever met. He’s Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett hidden behind tall tales that Bronco loves to tell. He’s old America still alive with the scars of real adventure on him — while spinning lies and combining fact and fancy so that even this old reporter has to put marks on trees to keep from getting lost between the myth and the man.”

See what I mean?

The Detroit News scooped the Free Press. The News carried a write up on Bronco back in August 1938. Bronco also made the pages of The Catholic Weekly. He was interviewed by Bishop Povish.

This interview went along pretty well until Bronco started telling the bishop about the time he was picking blueberries at Grand Lake and got chased by a bear. Bronco said he had to run out on the frozen lake to save himself and his berries. But the bishop didn’t buy it. He was aware that God’s plan for blueberries hadn’t included their being picked while ice was on the lake.

Team member Joe Marceau, former Alpena County commissioner, firefighter, and shirttail relative of Bronco, told me he didn’t know how Bill earned his living. But men who used to hold forth at the old Owl cafe reported “He was the damndest best shot and fisherman, the damndest best guide and cook but Bronco did less work than any six men we know.”

Bronco reportedly carved duck decoys so lifelike they commonly flew away. It was said he kept his shotgun close while carving so if any did fly off he would have a shot at them.

Folks from Detroit knew Bronco well. He guided their bankers, doctors, industrialists. He cooked for them, told them lies, and often made that second shot behind them — the one that dropped the deer they shot.

Max Lund, another team member, tells the story of Bronco winning the old Hillman to Alpena canoe race:

Bronco would make a strong start in his old waterlogged duck hunting canoe until he rounded the first bend. There, out of the judges’ view, be would pull out. When the other racers neared the final stretch in downtown Alpena, Bronco, who had been waiting there for hours, would reintroduce his old conveyance to the downstream current then coast to victory and the accolades of admiring fans.

Why is non-relative Max Lund part of the Bronco team? Because a part of Max is a part of this. I’m confident, if he could do it all again, Max would follow in Bronco Bill’s infamous footsteps — he wouldn’t be alone.

Bronco’s cousins Joan and Mary Ann Brousseau tell of him stopping by their father’s farm in Bolton during Prohibition. He would buy a few bushels of potatoes before continuing deeper into Maple Ridge Township to the distillery hidden there. Bronco would hide his illegal hooch among those legally acquired, legally possessed potatoes.

The tales go on.

Like “The Poet Ranger” I wrote of earlier, Bronco Bill Brousseau was forged from molds of unique characters once fundamental to our small town’s existence. Now those molds sit mostly idle.

But production of unusual characters is still occurring at the national level. There, defective molds are being routinely used to create uniform duplications of inferior product.

An Admission:

I need to make an admission: my last column, “A Full Disclosure” — was tongue-in-cheek. In truth, I sent no columns to editors named,“Merit Lacking.” I received no rejection letters. My intent was to express my appreciation to you, the reader, in a humorous self-effacing way but judging from the sympathetic comments received, I may have out humored myself.

Doug Pugh’s Vignettes runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. He can be reached via email at pughda@gmail.com.