The scenic village of Onekama, Michigan got its start with a war between farmers and lumbermen in 1871. The dramatic results of this conflict became an iconic and life-altering event for this two-lake town which sits on Portage Lake and Lake Michigan.

The fascinating story of what became known as “The Cut” began when farmers found access to Lake Michigan limited by the lumber mill that controlled the only creek feeding from Portage Lake to the Great Lake. And when the mill’s dam regularly flooded the farmers’ crops, the farmers took action.

After finding little satisfaction with the legal system, the farmers took matters literally into their own hands. Using oxen, homemade shovels and tools, the farmers dug for two weeks to create a small trench from Portage Lake into Lake Michigan to create their own access, The first crew of seven diggers were quickly arrested, but another crew took their place, until they too were arrested. As soon as a crew was released, they got back to work.

Just after midnight on May 14, 1871, the “The Cut” was completed and an amazing spectacle occurred. The water rushed out into Lake Michigan, taking with it an entire forest, and creating a channel over 400 feet wide and 12 feet deep. The farmers were shocked as it seemed as if all the water of Portage Lake would rush out; they had not considered that Portage Lake was 12 feet higher than Lake Michigan.

This channel brought great opportunity for the farmers and even the mill, by creating one of the best harbors on Lake Michigan, inadvertently created the Onekama of today.

Onekama is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the “The Cut” with activities focused on the area’s history and waterways. Running from June through October, the area will offer sailing regattas and kayak parades, a formal dedication of the Portage Lake Channel, historical tours and programs, a lumberjack show, a historical novel, and a gala.

For more information, visit or the 1,-Onekama, Michigan Facebook page.