Sebewa Recollector
Items of Genealogical Interest

Volume 7 Number 1
Transcribed by LaVonne I. Bennett

     LaVonne has received permission from Grayden Slowins to edit and submit Sebewa Recollector items of genealogical interest, from the beginning year of 1965 through current editions.

THE SEBEWA RECOLLECTOR, Bulletin of the The Sebewa Center Association, Bulletin of The Sebewa Center Association, August 1971, Volume 7, Number 1


Volume 7, Number 1 begins the seventh year of the SEBEWA RECOLLECTOR and The Sebewa Center Association.  If you have the complete collection of the RECOLLECTOR you have 2 ½ pounds of paper (no estimate of the number of words) relating tales and events of Sebewa and its neighbors.  The sum of the published material, we hope, leads to a better understanding of who we are and the forces that have helped mold the community in this corner of Ionia County. 

THE SEBEWA CENTER ASSOCIATION annual meeting was held June 12, 1971.  Miss Mabel Ralston was elected secretary-treasurer and Richard Droste was elected trustee, both for three year terms.  For the coming three years Mabel Ralston, R 3, Lake Odessa, Michigan  48849 will be receiving dues.  Mrs. Faith Shilton served as secretary-treasurer for the pas three years and is to be commended for her good work for our group. 


     “The many sided house across the street, sheathed in steel plates, was built for Ephraim Shay, inventor of the Shay locomotive.  Patented in 1881, the locomotive operated by a gear drive mechanism.  Its great traction power and ability to operate on tight curves made it a favorite with logging and mining firms.  Built in Lima, Ohio, thousands of Shays were operated by railroads throughout the world.  Several were used on Shay’s Hemlock Central Railroad, which began here and ran about 15 miles to the north.  Shay, born in Ohio in 1839 was an inveterate mechanic.  He built the Harbor Springs waterworks and later donated it to the city.  His firm experimented with boats and automobiles and one winter he built sleds for all the children of the town.  In 1888, Shay moved to Harbor Springs where he died in 1916”.

     Our account of Ephraim Shay may be found in the October 1967 RECOLLECTOR.  A book published this year, “The Shay Locomotive—Titan of the Timer” by Michael Koch, World Press, Inc. gives more details of Shay’s life and the locomotives built under his patents.  The book costs under $20.  Ben Probasco has had some correspondence with author Koch and has the promise of a visit when Mr. Koch next comes to Michigan. 

THE GRIM REAPER (as they used to say) TAKES HIS TOLL

     Since our June issue there have been several deaths of Sebewa Center Association members or of members of their families.  This list is offered in respect to the memory of those persons, each of whom filled a niche in the community:  Mrs. Roxie Kenyon, Mrs. Nellie Lich, Clifton J. Cook and Mrs. Mildred Pumfrey. 


     The readymade roll-it-in-place mobile home begins to outnumber the conventional newly built houses in this area.  Styles in building do change as your memory will attest as you go back to upright-and-ell, stucco finish, the bungalow, white asbestos shingle siding, wide board siding, aluminum siding and ranch style.  All are still around.  What the next style will be is not easy to predict except that it will be different. 

THE SAMUEL DURANT HISTORY OF INGHAM AND EATON COUNTIES (1880) offers some things about Chief Okemos that have not been included in our other stories about the Chief.  Note the reference to the removal of the Indians.  Daniel Strange, who wrote the book from which the Peter Kent story was taken, has this reference to Indian removal:  “Edward O. Smith came to Sunfield in May, 1838.  His wife was timid and very greatly frightened when one day she saw 260 Pottawattomie Indians pass by on their way to reservations beyond the Mississippi.  Their dress was different from that of the Ottawas with which she was now familiar.  The latter wore white or gray blankets but this passing army wore red blankets and leggings furnished by the British”. 

THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF MICHIGAN by James E. Fitting.  The Natural History Press. $18.95

     From the point of view of the rockhound the Archaeology of Michigan might seem to be what our predecessors in our favorite land did with their rocks.  It is to a large extent their handiwork in shaping rocks to their purposes that has left a record of their life styles.

     Artifactual indications of man in Michigan go back to around 11,000 B.C.  This was before the great lakes had established their boundaries and levels from the glacial retreat and it is believed that much of the evidence of early man along the lake shores is now flooded by current lake levels.  Lake shores and the lower ends of the state’s major rivers have yielded the most traces of early human occupation.  The familiar Bay City to Muskegon line has been an important boundary of climatic and soils type conditions that affected the modes of the occupying peoples.

     Radiocarbon dating sets the time of early copper mining at around 2500 B.C.  The radiocarbon system of dating has been important in showing the cultural sequence of prehistoric remains.  Some of the many occupational sites have yielded thousands of artifacts to systematic archaeological sifting.  No stone chip, bone fragment or charcoal bit is too small for cataloging as part of the complete picture.  Bone fragments can identify the animals that were used for food and charcoals show the tree species that provided fuels, fruits and nuts.

     Styles of weapon points changed with the age as much as we see styles change now.  Pottery and ceramics began to appear two or three thousand years B. C.  Once the use of pottery spread, its style of shape and patterning became useful in cultural identification.  Corn did not become an important diet item before 1000 A.D.  The early peoples of Michigan probably never depended much on agriculture although they were gatherers of natural vegetation (cultigens) for food.  Some agricultural products were obtained from peoples to the south by trade.

     In historic Indian culture a similar trade pattern of furs for corn existed between Michigan and its southern neighbors.  The fur trade gradually shifted to French and British European interests with the advent of the white man.

     From the references in the book it would seem that much more archaeological work has been done in Michigan in the past ten years than in all of Michigan’s history.  Groups from the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Wayne State University and several local archaeological society chapters have been active in the last decade.

     James E. Fitting, the book’s author, is the grandson of Mrs. Florence Klotz Nunneley of Portland.  The author’s gift copy to his grandmother has graciously been presented to the Portland District Library. 


     He surrendered his chieftainship a few years previous to his death to his son, John, but never forgot that he was Okemos, once chief of the powerful tribe of Chippewas and the nephew of Pontiac.

     His permanent village was where the village of Okemos now stands on the Cedar River and the township of Meridian in Ingham County.  Shimnecon, another Chippewa or Ottawa village is situated on Grand River in the township of Danby above Portland.  Mr. Freeman Bray, who settled where the village of Okemos now stands about 1839 and who knew the Chief and his people well, furnishes some additional facts:

     In the main he agrees with Messrs. Williams and Jenison though he differs from them in some respects.  He said Okemos was either part Tawas (Ottawa) or closely allied to them by marriage.  He hardly thinks he ever lived on the Shiawassee River, certainly not after 1840.  When Mr. Bray settled where the village of Okemos now is, the Chief had his principal village there and was the head of a mixed band of Tawas, Potawatomis and Chippewas.  All the Indians who took part with the British in the War of 1812 Mr. Bray calls Canada Indians.  The bands had a burial ground now owned by Mr. Cook and used to cache their corn on the knoll where the school building now stands.  Mr. Bray says the Indians planted corn for two or three years after he settled at Okemos on land which he plowed for them and allowed them to use.  The band remained in the vicinity until about 1845-46 when they became scattered.  Many of those belonging to the Ottawas and Potawatomis were picked up by the United States authorities and transported beyond the Missouri River.  On one occasion a band of some 500 were encamped near Mr. Bray’s place and had among them a number of sick including several squaws.  Mrs. Bray assisted in taking care of one of these, a young woman apparently in the last stages of consumption.  And afterwards her mother visited the old grounds and made Mrs. Bray a present as a recompense for what she did for the sick one.

     While this large band was encamped near, Mr. Bray says that a couple of Indians without arms of any kind made their appearance suddenly from the south.  On the same day they borrowed a few pounds of nails of Mr. Shay and the next day they had all disappeared.  It appeared they had borrowed the nails to make litters on which to transport their sick and aged.  The two men were fugitives from a detachment of United States troops and came to warn the band that the soldiers were after them.  They were exceedingly reluctant to leave the country.

     Okemos or his people had another village at Shimnecon in Ionia County but the principal one was where the village of Okemos now stands.  After about the year of 1845 the band became so reduced by death and scattering of its members that the Chief had a very small following and became eventually a wondering mendicant, traveling around the country and living on the charity of whites.

     He had a large family as did many of the Indians but they seemed to die of disease very rapidly.  There are two of the sons of Okemos still living, John, who succeeded his father as chief of the band and Jim.  The latter is now a farmer located some 25 miles from Stanton in Montcalm or Gratiot County.  John always drank considerably and was never anything but an Indian.  Mr. Bray relates that on one occasion he came to his place and stayed overnight with him.  In the morning they had griddle cakes and Mrs. Bray had made a large quantity of nice sirup from white sugar.  This so pleased the Indian that he kept the women busy for a long time making cakes for him.  He still visits his old home about once in two years.  His last visit was in 1879.  John has a son who is a successful farmer.  His father says he is no Indian for he will not hunt. 


     From PIONEER HISTORY OF EATON COUNTY by Daniel Strange, published under the auspices of the Eaton County Pioneer Society, 1923.

     I chance to know of two pioneers of Eaton County who made spectacular entrance into Michigan a few years before settling here.  The first is that of Linus Potter, the father of the late Senator George N. Potter and his brothers.  He reached Detroit when it was but a village in the wilderness; thence he walked thirty miles through the forest to establish a future home.  His wife walked beside him while he carried their two little children, one upon his back and one in arms.  They walked as far as seemed prudent into the wood where he left them sitting upon a log while he returned to take up the large bundle containing all their earthly goods.  This he carried as far as the family or beyond, then he returned for them.  Thus he walked the whole thirty miles three times over bearing his alternate burdens.  He later came to Eaton County, cutting his road through miles of unbroken forest and settling where Potterville now is.  His story belongs in the history of Benton where it is more fully told.

     The other man of unusual experience was Peter M. Kent, one of the earliest pioneers of Oneida and later a most prominent citizen of Portland and then of Grand Ledge.  His story belongs to Oneida, but that chapter is already prolix while this is brief; furthermore, his oldest son later became a pioneer of Sunfield and here the grandsons were reared.  This furnishes excuse, if not good reason, for giving his story here.  Late in life he wrote an extended autobiography, remarkable alike in his unusual adventures and his marvelous memory in recalling them.  From this “sketch”, as he termed it, I am permitted to call the following facts.

     He was born in Pennsylvania in 1810, of Dutch parentage but very poor.  At fifteen years of age he went for himself, working for a farmer at $7.00 a month for six months, losing but two days and saving his earnings.  Later he worked for $10.00 a month and incidentally picked up the carpenter’s trade.  Then he worked three years at nominal wage and learned the millwright’s trade.  When twenty-one years old he had bought twenty-four acres of land and upon it had established his parents and their small children of whom he was thenceforth the main support.

     He next started with a companion of like aspirations to traverse, on foot, the whole of western New York seeking desirable location for future life.  The details are too prolix for these pages although very interesting.  He finally bought eighty acres of land at $3.00 an acre.  Here he settled his parents who made some improvements when he sold the land for $1,280, or $16.00 an acre.  This was a princely sum to start pioneer life in Michigan.  He met, in New York State, James and Almeron Newman who told him they had purchased a mill site at the mouth of the Looking Glass River, and they engaged him to construct their mills.  They took his trunk and tool chest to ship with their goods by water up the lakes and then the Grand River, while Kent followed on foot.  He took boat from Cleveland to Toledo and thence on foot again.

     His description of Michigan cities as he found them in 1836 is most interesting.  He passed “through where Hudson now is” and reached Adrian “which then consisted of a tavern and one store”.  He then walked to Jonesville, “a little huddle”, and thence to Coldwater “which was but a few houses about a mile from where the beautiful city of that name now is.  Here he was offered two hundred forty acres, as choice looking land as he ever saw, for $1,000.  He offered $950 but failed to get it.  It is now within the city corporation.  From there he walked to Marshall, “one store and a tavern”.  Here he had a supper so wretched that the landlord took no pay (after controversy) and offered a drink if he would say nothing.

    (top line of next page missing)

Line 2 begins:  no name.)  Some advised that he go to the White Pigeon thence via Yankee Springs to Grand Rapids and up the river.  Others said “no, go to Bellevue and take the Clinton Trail to Grand Rapids”, Kent could believe neither of them.  He knew the Newmans had gone through with two yoke of oxen and he did not think they had gone such a roundabout way.  Another told him to return to Jackson and take the old Indian trail fifty miles through the forest to Scotts Tavern on the Looking Glass.  This he did and found Jackson, “a small tavern, a store and two groceries” but he had much difficulty in learning of any trail through the north woods.  One man knew of it—had been over it and said it ended just behind the tavern.  He was told to follow it to Tanner’s who would tell him all about it”.  Here he met a young man who thought he wanted to go through with him to Newman’s, to get a steady job of work, to earn forty acres of land.  It was now forty miles without a house or guide post, save the well-worn Indian trail, deepened by centuries of travel.  They followed but a few miles when the young man, disheartened, turned back.  Kent was in no sense a woodsman and was too timid to venture alone.  He went back to Davis and then hired a large powerful man named Turner to go through with him for “twenty shillings”.  Mrs. Davis sold them bread and a chunk of butter for their dinner as by sharp travel they could make it in a day.  But Turner proved very heavy of foot.  They slept in the woods when little more than half through, i.e., Turner slept, but mosquitoes kept them awake until dawn at 3::00 when they started on.

     Their instructions were to follow the great trail to its end at the Cedar River near where Okemos now is and where there was then a deserted Indian village.  Then follow the river down to a crossing and up the further bank to the Indian burying ground; then with their compass, steer directly north until they intercepted another trail leading to the Looking Glass.  At the Cedar River, Turner balked and nearly fought to return but finally reluctantly followed on very slowly.  It was a hot day and the only water they found was a pond in which they brushed the wigglers away and dipping their bread therein, ate it to quench thirst.  Toward night, as a rain storm approached, they came to the Looking Glass and an Indian ferried them across.

“He pointed us the way to Scotts which was not very far down the river.  Here we stayed overnight with thirty others, land lookers, in his little block tavern.  Here we found two men freighting down the river to Lyons.  Five of us engaged passage with them to the mouth of the Looking Glass at fifty cents each.  We constructed a rude raft to help support the frail boat.  In this crazy contraption with much bailing we succeeded in reaching very near the mouth at Portland, but here the raft parted, the boat upset.  The passengers, badly scared, shouted murder, but finally, clinging to willows by the shore, all lives were saved but the freight was lost.”  Their lusty calls brought the Newmans to their rescue.  They were housed and dried and this perilous journey ended.  Thu8s Peter Kent had walked the entire distance from Philadelphia to Grand Rapids except the space between Buffalo and Detroit.  Much of this he walked over several times.

     Quoting Kent:  “Here my Michigan labor should begin but my tool chest, whipped by water, had not arrived.  No work could be done without tools.  We waited, then heard Newman’s good had been seen on the dock in Chicago.  We asked a man going there to see that they were reshipped to Grand Rapids at once.  Work must be begun soon or not at all that season.  We went to Grand Rapids to search for the goods and there found my tool chest, which we reshipped to Lyons.  We then returned on foot to Lyons, opened the chest and taking broad-axe, square and chalkline, walked to Portland and began work on the mill July 20, 1836, and it was raised on September 1st”.

     Almeron Newman and Kent then went to Detroit to select fixtures for a grist mill, of small run of stone, to add to the sawmill.  Mr. Kent went on to York State on business but returned early in October to Detroit and at Farmington he met John and George and began an acquaintance which continued while they lived.  They walked together from Farmington to Scott’s and beyond to S. B. Groger’s in Eagle.  They waded sloughs, twenty rods across and waist deep in water covered with a thin crust of ice.  They became lost in the woods and sat upon the roots of trees all night.

      Groger was a professional land looker.  He told them the best land in Michigan was just south across the river in Eaton County.  And the next day he piloted a party of half a dozen over there, crossing at the “old ford” a mile below the ledges.  Much land had been taken by speculators but he knew of a few choice tracts still open.  He led them a zigzag course, following blazed trees of the government survey.  He showed them sections 7 and 18, then went east to the center line and said if any would return that night it was time to start.  They divided and some returned but my father, my uncle, George Strange, and Kent said they would look further.  At the quarter post on the west side of section 34, night overtook them.  Without blankets they could scarcely lie down in the light snow.  They sat upon the roots of trees, told stories or walked about to keep warm.  Speculators had been before them but of those who became settlers it is believed these were the first who ever set foot in Oneida.  There was not a habitation nor roadway within ten miles of the land they selected.

     The next morning (early in October, 1836) they went around section 34 and then determined their choice.  Uncle George took the northwest quarter of section 7 and with my father they bought the south one-half of section 18 and the whole of section 34.  Most of this section is still owned by the third generations of Stranges being of the very few tracts still in the family of the first purchaser.

     Mr. Kent chose the one-half of section 27 and one-half of 28 thus giving him a square mile.  They then returned to the “old ford” reaching there about 11 AM, after wading a slough waist deep and thinly encrusted with ice.  Here they found Mr. Groger’s son who met them with fresh biscuits, and a canoe ferried them over.  They started at once for the U. S. land office at Ionia to secure their land.  They learned at Portland that the office was closed for a time.  They all went to work for Newman until the office opened and soon after returned.  Mr. Kent worked most of the winter on Newman’s mill and at the same time hired a man to chop fifty acres on the northeast corner of his land in Oneida.  The next summer he went east and brought his father’s family to Portland but in March, 1838, he placed them in a log house built upon this land.  This he called home but he continued to spend much  time building mills, one at Stony Creek, ten miles below Portland, another at Lloyd’s, another in Eagle and one at Wacousta.  He geared a mill for Erastus Ingersoll in Delta and then helped Newman to build a modern large grist mill and Kent bought a half interest in it and ran it twelve years when again he removed to his farm in Oneida.  In 1852, after being on the farm two years he, with his brother Francis, and Abram Hixon bought out the Grand Ledge milling properties but Peter remained upon his farm until 1861 when, having built a large house in Grand Ledge, he removed his family there, and spent the remainder of a serene old age, a foremost citizen, respected and esteemed by all.



     So, how do you think Kent Street in Portland got its name?  It is not easy to confirm but the temptation to speculate is great.

     The descendants of Peter M. Kent were instrumental in starting and operating the Grand Ledge Clay Product Co. tile making industry. 


     The most noted Indian who lived in this region after its settlement by whites was Okemos, a celebrated chief of the Saginaw Chippewas.  The chief was called both a Chippewa and Ottawa and may have been of mixed blood.  The Indians were much mixed up in this region.

     The following interesting sketch we find in the columns of the LANSING REPUBLICAN of February 11, 1879:  As we have already alluded, the valuable donations by O. A. Jenison of the State Pioneer Society, which held its annual meeting in the city last week, is presenting the ambrotype of the old Indian chief, Okemos, Mr. Jenison gave the following facts in regard to the picture and the old Indian whom many of Lansing’s first citizens will remember.  Okemos sat for this picture to my certain knowledge in 1857 and it has never been out of my possession from that day to this.

     The date of the birth of Okemos is shrouded in mystery but research discloses the fact that he was born near Knagg’s Station on the Shiawassee River where the Chicago and Northeaster, now the Chicago and Grand Trunk, railroad crosses the stream.  At the time of his death he was said to be a centararian but that is a period of age few person are permitted to reach.  In a sketch of his life in the LANSING REPUBLICAN in 1871 it is said that he probably took to the warpath in 1796.  This is the earliest I find of him in any written history.  Judge Littlejohn in his LEGENDS OF THE NORTHWEST introduces him to the reader in 1803.  The Battle of Sandusky in which Okemos took an active part was a great event of his life and this is what gave him his chieftainship and caused him to be revered by his tribe.

     For a detailed description of that memorable and bloody fight I am indebted to B. O.Williams of Owosso, who for many years an Indian trader, spoke the Indian language and received the story direct from the lips of the old Chief.  In relating the story, Okemos said “Myself and cousin, Manetocorbway, with sixteen other braves enlisted under the British flag, formed a scouting or war party and leaving the upper basin, made our rendevoux at Sandusky.  One morning while lying in ambush near a road lately cut through for the passage of the American Army and supply wagons we saw twenty cavalrymen approaching us.  Our ambush was located on a slight ridge with the brush directly in our front.  We immediately decided to attack the Americans although they outnumbered us.  Our plan was to first fire and cripple them and then make a dash with the tomahawks.  We waited until they approached so near that we could count the buttons on their coats, then the firing commenced.  The cavalrymen with sabers drawn, immediately charged upon the Indians.  Okemos and his cousin fought side by side, loading and firing while dodging from one cover to another.  In less than ten minutes after the firing began the sound of a bugle was heard and, casting their eyes in the direction of the sound, they saw the road and woods filled with cavalry.

     Okemos, in his description says:  “The plumes on their hats looked like a flock of a thousand pigeons just hovering for a flight.  The small party of Indians was immediately surrounded and every man cut down.  All were left for dead on the field.  Okemos and his cousin each had his skull cloven and their bodies were gashed in a fearful manner.  The cavalrymen, before leaving the field, in order to be sure life was extinct, would lean forward from their horses and pierce the chests of the Indians even into their lungs.  The last Okemos remembers was that after emptying one saddle and springing toward another soldier with clubbed rifle raised to strike, his head felt as if being pierced with a red hot iron as he went down from a heavy saber cut.

     All knowledge ceased from this time until many moons afterward when he found himself being nursed by the squaws of his friends, who had found him on the battlefield two or three days afterwards.  The squaws though all were dead but upon being moved, signs of life were discovered in Okemos and his cousin, who were at once taken on litters to a place of safety and by careful nursing were finally restored to partial health.  The cousin always remained a cripple.  The iron constitution of Okemos with which he was endowed by nature enabled him to regain comparative health but he never took an active part in another battle, this one having satisfied him that the white man was a heap powerful.  Shortly after his recovery he solicited Colonel Godfrey to intercede with General Cass and he and other chiefs made a treaty with the Americans which was faithfully kept.

     Okemos did not achieve his chieftainship by hereditary descent but the honor was conferred upon him after having passed through the battle just described.  For his bravery and endurance, his tribe considered him a favorite with the Great Spirit who had preserved his life through such a terrific ordeal.

     The next we hear of Okemos he had settled with his tribe on the banks of the Shiawasee near the place of his birth where for many years up to 1837-38 he was engaged in peaceful avocations of hunting, fishing and trading with the white man.  About this time the smallpox broke out among his tribe, which together with the influx of white settlers, who destroyed their hunting grounds, scattered their bands.  The plaintive soft notes of the hunter’s flute, made of the red alder and the sound of the tom tom at the council  fire were heard no more along the banks of the inland streams where years before the tomahawk had been effectually buried and upon the final breaking up of the bands, Okemos became a mendicant and many a hearty meal has the old Indian received from the earlier settlers of Lansing.

     In his palmy days I should think his greatest height never exceeded five feet, four inches.  He was lithe, wiry, active, intelligent and possessed an undaunted bravery.  He was not, however, an eloquent speaker either in council or in private conversation always mumbling his words and speaking with some hesitation.

     Previous to the breaking up of his band in 1837-39 his usual dress consisted of a blanket coat with belt, a steel pipe hatchet, tomahawk and a heavy long English hunting knife stuck in his belt in front with a large bone handle prominent outside the sheath.  He had his face painted with vermillion on his cheeks and forehead and over his eyes.  A shawl wound around his head turban fashion together with leggings usually worn by Indians which during his lifetime he never discarded.

     None of his biographers have ever attempted to fix the date of his birth, contenting themselves with a general conviction that he was 100 years old.  I differ with them for these reasons viz:  specifically endowed with a strong constitution, naturally brave and impetuous and inured to Indian life, we are led to believe he took to the warpath early in life and his first introduction to our notice was in 1796.  I reason from this that he was born about 1775 and in this case he lived about 83 years.  Again, the old settlers of Lansing will remember that up to the latest period of his having been seen on our streets, his step was quick and elastic to a degree that is seldom enjoyed by men of that age.  He died at his wigwam a few miles from this city near DeWitt in Clinton County and was buried December 5, 1858 at Shimnecon, an Indian settlement in Ionia County.  His coffin was rude in the extreme.  In it were placed a pipe, tobacco, a hunting knife, bird’s wings, provisions, etc. 

     Old Okemos, in his wanderings about the country, was generally accompanied by a troop of papooses, whom he called his children.  He was everywhere well treated by the whites.  Mr. Bray says he would never say anything about his former life except he had been drinking.  He says he was scarcely ever drunk but took enough to loosen his tongue when he would become very communicative.

     His account of the fight where he was so severely handled by the American Cavalry near Sandusky differs in many particulars from that given by B. O. Williams of Owosso.  Mr. Bray said he told it to him a great many times and always told it the same.  Mr. Bray’s recollection of it is that there were about 300 Indians together.  They heard that a strong force of cavalry or mounted men was coming and a council of war was held to determine whether they should attack it.  Okemos was not in favor of it but told the assembled chiefs and warriors that if they said “fight” he would fight.  It was decided to fight.  Okemos, Corbish and other chiefs led their men into a marsh where there was high grass in which they concealed themselves and awaited the approach of the Americans.  The Chief said there was a heap of them and he distinctly remembers how the leader looked with his big epaulets.

     When the Indians fired, Okemos said they seemed to have shot too high and he thought they did not kill a man.  He said the commander instantly drew his saber and, with no time to reload, the saber speedily did its bloody work.  The Chief received a tremendous cut across his back which, Mr. Bray says, remained an open sore all his life.  When he came to himself he looked around and could see no living being.  He made a noise like an owl but no one answered.  He then imitated a loon.  When someone replied to it he found the chief Corbish and one other man alive among the 300.  They got into a boat and floated down the Sandusky River and finally escaped though they had to pass within sight of an American fort, perhaps the one at lower Sandusky.

     It was the only fight Okemos ever engaged in though Mr. Bray says he would boast often when in liquor of how many Americans he had killed and scalped.  He was accustomed to waylay the express riders and bearers of dispatches between Detroit and Toledo.  His custom was to listen and when he heard one coming to step behind a convenient tree and as he passed, suddenly spring upon him from behind and tomahawk him.  Mr. Bray thinks the Chief lived to be over 100 years of age and says when in his prime he was about five feet six or seven inches high and straight as an arrow.  He was never what might be called a drunkard but had a spree occasionally.  He agrees with Mr. Jenison that he died in 1858 near DeWitt in Clinton County and was buried at Shimnecon in Ionia County.

     In 1852 Mr. Bray made the overland trip to California from St. Joseph on the Missouri River, taking the boat to that place from St. Louis.  When about 70 miles below St. Joseph, he met at a landing on the river a number of the Indians whom he had formerly known in Michigan.  They recognized him at once and urged him to come with them to their reservation and stay with them a week, saying they had plenty of corn and provisions and he would be welcome and also offered to furnish him and his companion with guides to set them on the trail when they departed.  He said he would have accepted their offer if he could have gotten his wagon, goods and team out of the boat but they were mostly in the hold and could not be got at and he went on to St. Joseph.

      Mr. Bray confirms the universal statement that the squaws performed all the menial labor.  Large numbers of the Indians were accustomed to visit Okemos each returning year for the purpose of feeding their dead at their village burial ground and the last thing before they removed from the county was to come and bid them goodbye.

     There are a great many statements concerning Chief Okemos and each varies more or less from all the others in respect to his extraction, his account of the various battles and skirmishes in which he was engaged and his physique, his habits, his place or places of residence and his death and burial.  Rufus Hosmer, Esquire, prominent writer and former resident of Lansing gives in a communication to the LANSING REPUBLICAN in 1871 interesting reminiscenses of the old Chief from which we have taken a number of items.

     Samuel H. Kilbourne thinks the Chief in his better days was a prominent and influential orator and cites an instance at a treaty held at Mackinac to prove it, but he became greatly degenerated in later years and indulged freely in strong drink.

     Another gentleman, Mr. E. R. Merrifield considered Okemos a great orator as equal to Pontiac, Tecumseh and Red Jacket and cites instances of his influence over the Indians as proof of the assertion.  He calls him an Ottawa and says he held the rank of Captain in the British Army and never drank to excess.  He also claims the Chief was a Mason.  There seem to be about as many opinions concerning the noted Indian as there were people who knew him with any degree of intimacy.  We are not able to reconcile these slight differenced which are, no doubt, honest ones and have therefore given a variety of statements regarding him from several parties who were more or less intimate with him.  Mr. B. O. Williams has been familiar with the Indians of Michigan since 1818.  O. A. Jenison also knew him well and has had excellent facilities for gaining knowledge of him, while both Mr. Hosmer and Mr. Merrifield were also quite familiar with him in the latter part of his life.  

Bulletin of The Sebewa Center Association
Robert W. Gierman, Editor
R 1
Portland, Michigan 48875  U. S. A.


Last update May 27, 2013