Lowell had its own Hermit. He was known as ‘Flat River Jim’ and ‘The Hermit of Devil’s Peak’.
James Burnett, ’Flat River Jim’, lived in a shack along the Flat River. Though called a hermit, he was not what you would envision. It was true enough that he lived in solitude. Jim lived in a tiny shack that he had built near Devil’s Peak. He had a narrow bed on one end, and the walls were his head and foot boards. He also had a chair, small table, and little iron stove. His front ‘yard’ was the slope down to the river. He decorated his home with a set of bird charts that had been sent to him by an oil company.
It was said that he knew the Flat River like Thoreau knew Walden Pond. Fishermen joked that he could call every bass by its maiden name. Jim received a government pension check and occasionally worked on a neighborhood farm to supplement his funds. He also sold fish and grew his own veggies that he planted randomly around the cabin. But ironically, the ‘Hermit of the Hills’ or ‘Hermit of Devil’s Peak’ was most remembered for his social interactions. The children of town remembered how Jim gave a wave when walking past their house as he walked to and from town. Boys remembered that as they fished Jim would clean their catch one by one as they were getting the next one. He was known for being kind. The children said animals weren’t afraid of him, coming right up to him. He also predicted the weather for the Showboat festival. In twelve years, he only missed one night!
Jim spent 40 years as Lowell’s hermit. There was speculation that perhaps a love affair gone wrong was to blame. While this may be true, these family events also need to be considered.
Jim was born in 1871. His mother died in 1888.
In 1890 his father Albert entered the Michigan Soldier’s Home.
In the December 9, 1891, edition of the Lowell Journal, an article announced that Jim was living with his brother Charles, and “took poison last night with suicidal intent. He came home about six o’clock and remarked that he would be dead before morning and in a short time began to cramp and suffer intense pain. Antidotes were given him and the prompt measures together with the small amount of poison taken saved his life. It was a deliberate attempt at self-destruction, for when he was suffering most he begged for a knife or razor to finish the job.”
In 1900, Charles is shown living in Lowell during the census. By 1910 however, he had moved to Muskegon, where he remained until his own death. During this time Jim had built and began living in his shack in the woods and earning the title, ‘Flat River Jim the Hermit of Devil’s Peak’.
Jim Burnett died of natural causes in 1946. Though he was gone, he left an impact on Lowell. In 1991, years after his passing, the grateful children who had been the recipients of his kindness, now older adults, replaced his gravestone in Oakwood Cemetery. The new marker used the name everyone knew him as, Flat River Jim Burnett 1871 - 1946, the Hermit of Devil’s Peak.
The Burnett brothers
Path to Devil's Peak