Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, died in 1844.
Most Latter Day Saints considered Brigham Young the rightful successor of Smith, but others followed James J. Strang (Strangites). Strang claimed to be the sole legitimate successor of the religious movement founded by Joseph Smith.
In 1848, seeking a refuge from persecution, Strang moved his followers to Beaver Island, the largest island in Lake Michigan. The Strangites flourished and eventually became somewhat of a political power in the region. They cleared land, built cabins, created farms and established themselves as a permanent presence on the island.
They also founded the town of St. James and constructed a road, which was named "King's Highway" into the island's interior.
Strang was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 1853 and again two years later. In 1849, Strang declared he was now a polygamist, reversing his previous stance against the practice. He had five wives and fathered a total of 14 children.
In 1850, Strang proclaimed himself king, not of the island itself, but rather over his church (there were others on the island who were not Strangites). He was crowned in July of that year inside a large log "tabernacle" built by his followers. It was an elaborate ceremony complete with a crown composed of a shiny metal ring with a cluster of glass stars in the front, a red royal robe, a shield, and wooden scepter.
Even though Strang was king only of his followers, he often clashed with others living on the island. The non-Strangites accused him of trying to seize their property and of resorting to physical violence. There was considerable tension between the two groups. In one instance, Strangites were beaten by hooligans at the post office. In another, Strang reportedly fired a cannon at a group of drunken fishermen who had threatened to drive the Strangites from the island.
As “king,” Strang was also prone to issuing edicts as he saw fit. One such edict dictated the type of clothing Strangite women must wear. Two women refused and Strang had their husbands flogged. The punishment was made somewhat easier because one of the men had been caught in an adulterous act with the wife of his business partner.
The flogged men vowed to get even with Strang. Somehow, the two arranged for a Navy ship to visit their island. While Strang was boarding the naval gunboat USS Michigan on June 16, 1856, the two men shot him from behind and then fled onto the ship. After the ship left, the two men disembarked on nearby Mackinac Island. Neither was ever convicted of the crime.
Three weeks later, at age 43, Strang died of his wounds.
At that point, the anti-Strangite floodgates flew wide open. Mobs came from Mackinac Island, drove over two thousand Strangites from Beaver Island and confiscated their property. With the Strangites gone, local government in Manitou County (including Beaver Island) pretty much ground to a halt. Elections were rarely held, and when they were, many county offices went unfilled; the area quickly acquired a lawless reputation.
To combat this, in 1877, Michigan governor John Bagley called for the county's abolition. However, it wouldn’t be until 1895 that the county was abolished and Beaver Island became part of Charlevoix County.