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Ionia County Sebewa Recollector Items

Sebewa Recollector
Items of Genealogical Interest

Volume 29 Number 6
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 Sebewa Center Association;
JUNE 1994, Volume 29, Number 6
Submitted with permission of current Editor Grayden D. Slowins:



FRANK H. SLOWINSKI, 78, husband of Barbara, father of William & Michael, brother of Frances, Florence, Donald, Marguerite, Herbert, Louise, Eugene, John, Clarence, & Wilson, son of Wilhelmina LEHMAN & Daniel SLOWINSKI, son of Mary GREGIE & Christopher SLOWINSKI, son of Anna SCHNABEL & Daniel SLOWINSKI, son of Casmer SLOWINSKI. Donald SLOWINS is the only surviving sibling. Frank worked 40 years as Superintendent of Michigan Prison Industries. He is remembered by older Sebewa residents for frequent attendance at West Sebewa dances when he was home on the farm.

ROMAN J. SLOWINSKI, 88, husband of Loretta, father of Marilyn RANSON & Roman Hugh (deceased), brother of George, Arthur, Gertrude, Krieger & Roman SLOWINSKI, son of Mary GREGIE & Christopher SLOWINSKI, son of Anna SCHNABEL & Daniel SLOWINSKI, son of Casmer SLOWINSKI. Josephine is the only surviving sibling. Roman was farm manager for over 30 years at Ionia State Hospital.

HAROLD CREIGHTON, 78, brother of Elmer CREIGHTON & Helen S. ROBINSON, son of Addie CAMPBELL & Peter CREIGHTON, son of Elmira & James H. CREIGHTON, son of Mary CREIGHTON, who was great-granddaughter of Oliver WOLCOTT, Sr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence and Governor of Connecticut. Harold was a WWII Veteran and retired in 1977 after 30 years at GR Oldsmobile in Lansing. He is buried in West Sebewa Cemetery.

WEIPPERT’S MILL – Photo by Charles Leik

WEIPPERT’S MILL REVISITED (Ionia County, Michigan)(Reprinted by author’s permission); By E. A. STONE
More than 100 years ago, farmers drove their wagons hauling grain down the narrow dirt road towards WEIPPERT’S Mill. Today, a weed infested trail blocked by an old wire gate marks the entrance to the mill. Sometimes a visitor might catch a tantalizing glimpse of the barn-red building through the trees along KEIFFER Road, but it is difficult to locate the entrance after turning west on BIPPLEY Road.

The entrance is just past the Sebewa Cemetery sign. A fitting location for a mill that appears forsaken and forgotten among the weeds. It is difficult to believe that such an isolated and neglected property was once a thriving business only a few miles south of what is now I-96 near Portland, MI.

During Sebewa’s prosperous boom days in the 1870s, 18 businesses, including two mills, served the 1,551 township residents. Talk that the CM & M Railroad was coming brought new businesses and settlers to the heart of the community located only five miles south and three miles west of Portland. By 1873, however, the railroad announced that it had sold out to another line and the latter company abandoned plans for a route through Sebewa. Most of the merchants and settlers followed to the new location.

Not everyone deserted the area. The Nov. 28, 1876, issue of the PORTLAND OBSERVER announced construction had begun on a new water powered gristmill on Sebewa Creek. Andrew WEIPPERT opened his grist mill with two run of stone and offered local farmers a chance to pass up the trip to the Newman mill at Portland, a journey which sometimes required two days. It has been reported that this mill was built on the site of a former mill built by Malvin ROGERS in 1872.

Other events recorded in back issues of the PORTLAND OBSERVER include the overhaul and repair of the mill in June 1878, including the addition of another run of stone. In December 1885, a portion of the dam went out, leaving a hole of about 15 feet. Although the dam was repaired in January 1886, it again washed out in February 1886. At that point, WEIPPERT again repaired the breach and began grinding in April 1886. WEIPPERT successfully operated the mill until 1903, grinding corn, some flour, buckwheat, and feed for local farmers. WEIPPERT died in April 1903 at the age of 69.

Conflicting reports indicate that WEIPPERT’S sons Tom and Griff ran the mill for a short time, then sold it to Harry GIBSON. But another report states that John Benedict was the miller before Harry GIBSON bought the mill. It is sufficient to note that the mill was resold and then stood empty and unused for a number of years until it was purchased by Frank O’BRIEN of Battle Creek. The mill ceased operations in the 1930s and sometime during this period the concrete dam again washed out. It was never rebuilt and the millpond quickly disappeared as vegetation reclaimed the area.

In 1876 the owner of the record for the mill property was the Cadillac Ferndale Corp. of Warren, MI. The mill property again changed hands without any improvements and the most recent owner listed is David M. SCHROEDER of Dearborn, MI.
Attempts to contact Schroeder regarding his plans for the mill have been unsuccessful. It is interesting to note, however, that WEIPPERT’S Mill was designated a state historical site in 1979. In the application, the mill is described as “the only building remaining of two grist mills and two sawmills which once were located on Sebewa Creek. Constructed in 1876-77, the two-story wooden frame, combination board and batten/clapboard building is an interesting example of 19th Century mill design. Although deteriorated and overgrown with vegetation, the present owner is interested in restoring the mill for use as a home.”
According to additional records, WEIPPERT’S Mill was indeed one of two mills built along the creek. It is remarkable that the smaller and less active mill remains a monument to the past, while the other mill (LOWE) has been destroyed and only traces of the dam still remain on Sebewa Creek. The LOWE Mill site is marked by the stone channeling of the creek at Howard KNAPP’S residence on Musgrove Highway.

A tout of the WEIPPERT Mill property revealed that some of the equipment is still in place, although the building is deteriorating. Turbines can be seen under the mill. The dam, which combined concrete and rocks, was washed out. Before any type of restoration project could begin, a thorough environmental impact study would probably be required by Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources. Thus, rebuilding the dam and restoring the mill might be a challenging task. According to a local historian, however, the stones were still there and he believed they were French-buhr stones.

The only activity seen at the mill in recent years has been its use as a backdrop for a Shakesperian play in a movie production by Michigan State University students. For their play, the roof was thatched and the building was made to look like old English architecture. It was around this time that WEIPPERT’S Mill appeared on SPOOM’S Michigan mill list, accounting for the mention of a thatched roof on the mill. The thatch and other dramatic props have since been removed.

The future of WEIPPERT’S Mill is uncertain. Restoration does not appear to be completely out of the question, but the longer it remains in its current state, the less likely a restoration project will become.

NOTE: Hall J. INGALLS, who grew up near the Indians in SHIMNECON, long lived on the farm surrounding WEIPPERT’S Mill in cover story.

Something entirely new has entered into the milling and baking business. Historically, flour was milled at a mill, and then transported to another location where it was made into bread. Now, in the lat 20th century, all this is beginning to change. A modern chain of franchise outlets not only bake the bread, the flour is stone-ground right on the premises, within sight of the customer.

Thanks to the foresight and expertise of a group of people in Dillon, MT, a selection of fine bread products and cookies are now being produced in Great Harvest stores throughout the United States. Most of these bakeries are in typical store-front locations in malls and shopping centers in heavily populated areas.

CHIEF OKEMOS – From LANSING AND ITS YESTERDAYS, THE LANSING STATE JOURNAL, 75th Anniversary Edition. Reprinted by permission.

The man in charge of the baggage car stood on a box, stretched up, and lighted the old lantern which swayed from its hook in a beam overhead. The sun had set only shortly before, leaving the chuffing Detroit and Milwaukee train to rumble on, through early Michigan dusk, in the fall of 1858. As the cheery, pale light of the lantern warmed the scene inside the jolting car partly filled with heavy boxes, dunnage and packages, the conductor of the train stepped into the small circle of privileged passengers who were riding there, bade them all a “Good evening, gentlemen”, and proceeding to collect their passes. Only those who had acquired standing in a community were able to secure passes, and they were allowed to ride wherever they pleased.

“Nice trip, Mister HOSMER?” said the man with the brass buttons to the first one who proferred his pass. Rufus HOSMER, editor of The State Republican, best known Republican newspaper in central Michigan, smiled, as did Albert E. COWLES, later the author of a famous history of Ingham County. Both had passes. The center man in the group seated under the light was a weazened, bent and shriveled little Indian. He was easily a centenarian. Wrapped in a blanket, he was noticeable for his stern, severe, high-cheek-boned face, almost black, as he sat silently offering his pass, which the conductor took decently enough. “Are you an editor too?” inquired the conductor, smilingly.

The old Indian didn’t understand the question. He looked up quizzically, surveyed the bystanders. They smiled and nudged each other. Up stood the Indian, his blanket wrapped about him with a fierce gesture. He was almost ridiculously small, standing not more than a shade over five feet. But his eyes glowed with resentment as he faced the somewhat embarrassed conductor. The beleaguered Indian knew only that he was being made the butt of a joke, and no man living could ever be allowed to poke fun at Chief John OKEMOS, the greatest fighter of any color who ever lived in the territory of Michigan. “Me big chief—fight plenty once!” the old man said in bitterly spoken words, deeply and sternly intoned.

The scene was passed off shortly, the conductor smoothed the ruffled feathers of the “big chief” whose fighting days were over before the conductor had been born. And the sun, which was setting then, was symbolical of the fast nearing end of Chief OKEMOS, leader of the Ottawas, once the terror of every American who heard his name on the warpath or battlefield. The last 20 or so years of his incredibly long life were spent in Lansing and the surrounding territory; a peaceful era which had started before the first white men had arrived here. The earliest of Lansing pioneers knew his measure as a man.

Quick in his resentment, insistent on being accorded respect, fiercely determined to enforce his strong personality and influence on anyone who attempted familiarity, something he would not brook, Chief OKEMOS was pugnacious to the end of his life. The challenge which the weakened old red man flung in the teeth of the affable conductor, which ended the amused glance in his direction, makes the best possible epitaph for this man, celebrated in the history of central Michigan: “Me big chief – fight plenty once!” No editor could possibly tell the life story of Okemos in so few words.

John OKEMOS proved his tremendous courage, and his terribly great stamina, and won his recognition as a chief, in a fight in which he survived three wounds, any one of which would kill an ordinary man. A rifle shot in the side, at close range, a terrific saber cut in the head, and another stroke with a broad-bladed sword which laid his back open, from his hips to his shoulder, cutting one shoulder blade cleanly in two pieces, failed to kill OKEMOS, who, left for dead, recovered to fight again, nine months later.

OKEMOS, tiger-like fighter, and some lesser leaders, with a band of Indian braves, had attacked a British (?) cavalry detachment in the battle of Sandusky, early in 1813, when the leader sustained his wounds. He, his brother and one warrior, were the only Indians to survive. Though the British horsemen apparently completed their job by passing a saber through the chest of every wounded Indian, these three were not so stabbed, for they were believed dead. There certainly could seem to be no doubt concerning OKEMOS, who received deadly blows from two men on horseback, attacking from the rear.

The story of how these three Indians came back to Grand River, near the site of the village of OKEMOS, is one of the great pathos, telling as it does, that the extermination of the red man was seemingly a foreordained fact of history, regardless of their fighting qualities. The fight was only one of many in the life of the chief.

John OKEMOS was born in the camp of his father, which was located at or near a point which was later marked by a railway station, KNAGG’S Crossing, now long disappeared. The Grand Trunk Railway line which runs between Lansing and Flint crosses the Shiawassee River at this point. As to when OKEMOS was born, the estimates run all the way from 1739 to 1775, a gap of 36 years, making for disparity in the computations of his age at death.

OKEMOS, chief of the Ottawas, powerful ally of the famed TECUMSEH, and a cousin of the battle-scarred PONTIAC, was by comparison with these Indians, almost a sub-chief. Perhaps he is remembered largely because he was a familiar figure in the very earliest days of Lansing; perhaps because of his being a leader and chief of the Indians of this section of the country. But his position in the history of Central Michigan, because of his fighting ability and almost insane insensibility to the emotion of fear, and because of his judgment and wisdom in battle, would undoubtedly be greater today, if more of his exploits were definitely known.
The battles in which Chief John OKEMOS took part cover a period of 22 years. This is the compressed military history of the old Indian chief, showing the battles in which he and his Ottawa warriors engaged:

1791, Nov. 4 – OKEMOS lead his braves to defeat Gen. Arthur St. CLAIR on the Miami River, northern Ohio, near the shores of Lake Erie. President George WASHINGTON was greatly troubled by the news of these reverses.

1794, Aug. 20 – OKEMOS and his tribesmen were defeated and routed by Maj. Gen. “Mad” Anthony WAYNE, commander of the American Armies in the Northwest, sat the Battle of Fallen Timbers, or Battle of Maumee River, northern Ohio.

Later, about 1800 – OKEMOS and his Ottawas, in fusion with Potawatomies, defeated the Shawnee Indians, near the site of Three Rivers, Michigan.

Slightly later – OKEMOS and his tribe aided in the repulse of Chippewas who sought to invade Michigan from Wisconsin and the northwest.

1811, Nov. 7 – Battle of Tippecanoe, Tippecanoe Country, IN. OKEMOS was not the Indian leader; a brother of the famed TECUMSEH, called “The Prophet”, led the red men to a defeat at the hands of Maj. Gen. William Henry HARRISON, on the Wabash River, north of the site of Lafayette, IN. OKEMOS and his band escaped. He joined the British forces, to fight in the War of 1812, with a colonel’s commission.

1813, January – Battle of Sandusky, fought on Seneca Plains, in northeast Ohio. This was the high point in the life of OKEMOS, leader of Indian forces slaughtered by a cavalry detachment. The chief, one of three survivors, received terrible wounds which had not left him when he died, 45 years later.

1813, Later – Siege of Fort Meigs, northern Ohio. All biographers do not mention this engagement; two do, including Albert E. COWLES & Rufus HOSMER, who had placed “three of our fingers” in a hole in the chief’s skull, sustained at Fort Meigs.

1813, Oct. 5 – Battle of the Thames; Maj. Gen. W. H. HARRISON, American, defeated General Proctor and his Indian allies, on the Thames River, 30 miles north of Chatham, Ont., Canada; TECUMSEH, great Indian chief, was killed, OKEMOS wounded. This was his last battle.

The decline of the Indian, in numbers and importance, was being heralded after the War of 1812; OKEMOS wounded for the third time at the Thames, retired as a war chief, made peace with the Americans he had fought so bitterly, and the way was paved for his actual retirement and eventual decline from even titular chieftainship, to bask in the light of reflected glory once his, for the almost half century of his life which descended to the plain of harmless old age.

In the spring of 1814, OKEMOS presented himself at Fort Wayne, Detroit, sought out Colonel GODFREY, and said simply, “Now I make peace and fight no more. CHEMOKEMON too much for Indians. Me fight plenty enough”. Through OKEMOS, and Gen. Lewis CASS, governor of the Michigan Territory, a peace pact, never broken, was effected between the Ottawas and the United States. The life of OKEMOS lapsed into its peaceful era for the next 44 years.

OKEMOS died on Sunday, December 5, 1858, at an advanced age. Estimates of his age at death vary, with biographers, from 83 to 119 years. So also do the account of his death; Albert E. COWLES in his PAST AND PRESENT INGHAM COUNTY, gives the death & burial as follows: “On a bleak sixth day of December, 1858, a small train of Indians entered DeWitt, a small village of Clinton County, Michigan, having with them, drawn on a hand sled, the remains of an old chief of the tribe of Ottawas. The corpse was that of OKEMOS, and they who accompanied it were his only kindred. They had brought the body from a favorite hunting ground of the deceased, upon the Looking Glass River, five miles northeast from DeWitt, where the chief had died on the previous day. They brought tobacco, and filled the pouch, powder for the horn, and bullets for the bag. They bought also, contrary to the usual custom of their race, a coffin in which they placed the remains; and then, under the winter sky, took up their silent march toward the Indian village of Shmnecon, on the Grand River, 24 miles below Lansing, there to commit him to his final resting place, until he should be called to roam in the happy hunting grounds.”

COWLES says “OKEMOS usually traveled with a gang of papooses, whom he called his children”. Whether all were or not is questionable, but he did have at least two sons, John & Jim, and a daughter, Mary. Mary died in the summer of 1852, while some Indians were camped on the south bank of the Red Cedar River, about 80 rods east of where the college buildings now stand. A long, narrow, rough board box was prepared as a coffin. The body was placed in it and then put in a canoe made of elm bark, and in company with two other canoes, proceded down the river to SHIMNECON, an Indian burial ground near Portland.” When the old chief died, December 5, 1858, he was buried by the side of his daughter.

Sometime before his death, OKEMOS passed on the chieftainship to his son John, who was dubbed “Chief JOHNNY” by his few and reduced followers. John had a son who became a farmer. Jim, son of OKEMOS, became a respected farmer in Montcalm County. He was last seen in Lansing when the Capitol was dedicated, January 1, 1879. John was seen in Mason that year or the next. The grandson visited the village of OKEMOS in 1880, and was royally received by the pioneers.

Whether OKEMOS died at SHIMNECON or was taken there after death, whether he was 83 or 110 or 119 when he died, whether he had three children or 13, whether he stood 5 feet or 5 feet 7 inches – none of these things is important. OKEMOS will be remembered as the man whose body could withstand terrific wounds, whose proud spirit recoiled at the slightest hint of condescension from those whose ancestry was no more exalted than his own.


John FRONSWAY, The Ottawa Indian, who was in Danby last week investigating the present occupation of lands once included in the old Indian settlement, known all over this part of the State as SHIMNECON, is back on the farm of his son near Mt. Pleasant. If his intentions as expressed to the OBSERVER last week are carried out, he will return in a few weeks and build his tepee on the parcel of land his father once owned and it will then be up to the present occupants to prove their right of possession. At least this is the old Indian’s view of the case, whether it holds good in law or not. (Editor’s note: Some things never change.)

FRONSWAY is remembered by some of the older residents of Danby. He lived in the Indian village and his uncle was chief, his father being one of the councilors. In 1854 the Indians moved to a new reservation, which the government had provided for them in Isabella County. It was the relinquishment of their claims to SHIMNECON that John FRONSWAY, now grown old and nearly blind, sees a scheme to get possession of the valuable tract along Grand River by illegal means and he says he has been advised that the titles that passed then were irregular. He and eight other Ottawa, now living near Mt. Pleasant, have pooled their interests and want to get at the bottom of thing.

The Indian pitched his tent in Charles INGALL’S yard, for the two were fast friends in the days when the Indians were more numerous in Danby than the whites. When he called on Mr. INGALLS, he readily got his consent to camp there. His wife was with him and it was said she doctors the sick Indians around Mt. Pleasant, employing nature’s remedies, the roots and herbs gathered in forests and streams. She took back with her considerable of this sort of medicine, gathered along the banks of the Grand. Meanwhile, those who own the flats where the Indian village stood are not losing sleep over threatened litigation. They are positive that the men who bought the land of the Indians, back in the 50s, did so in a regular way and they are of the opinion that John FRONSWAY, old and blind as he is, is the victim of a delusion, possibly inspired by someone younger than he and with a purpose in view.

FRONSWAY talked entertainingly of the days when he hunted and fished along the picturesque Grand, occasionally following the trail to Portland, which led along the bank of the river and came into this village on the west side, past what is now known as the PICK place. He remembered when E. PERRIN’S hut stood on the bank near the PRINGLE place and spoke of Martin COMPTON, W. W. BOGUE, Wm. CHURCHILL, and others that he knew in the early days.

He is 77 now and the Happy Hunting Grounds are within a short journey for him; but he wants to pass the balance of his life where he roamed the woods as a young man. He has no property of his own, except that existing in his mind, that little strip in SHIMNECON. SHIMNECON lies west of Centerline Bridge and south of the Section School in Danby and 178 acres are involved in the Indians’ claim. It is still a sort of fisherman’s Paradise and people go there from miles around. END

Some readers questioned our quotation from John S. SCHENCK in the April issue, which said the Indians were camping on the south side of the river in Sec. 22 Danby when the whites arrived.

This story has been re-printed several times, so we went back and read the author’s original text. The wording is open to interpretation as to whether the Indians were on the south side of the river, which is where the first whites settled. But the statement is made three times that the Indians were in Sec. 22, referring to a village, an apple orchard, a graveyard, and cultivated river-bottom land. So this can hardly be a misprint and is probably what was meant. If they were on the north side of the river, this would put them on the flats near the intersection of Sandborn & VanBuren Roads.

The SHIMNECON Preservation Association continues to meet on a monthly basis. The group seeks to secure and preserve SHIMNECON as a wilderness area accessible to Danby Township residents and the general public. Members value not only the property’s wooded terrain and spectacular river view, but also its irreplaceable Indian heritage. On Portland State Game Area land adjacent stands the stone marker for Chief Okemos’ grave, placed by Stevens Thomson Mason Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution in 1921. Also, on the very northwest corner of the State land, just over the fence from the Scout land, on what appears to be the foundation of the Indian Mission school & church, stands a second stone, engraved as follows: “1845 MESHIMENCONING 1918, Ladies Literary Society of Danby”.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Unit, Real Estate Division, has initiated the process to complete a fully documented appraisal of the 19.2 acre tract. An independent state certified appraiser will be contracted to do the appraisal of the land and the timber on it, in relation to location and market value. Then “Fair Market Value” will be offered to the present owners. Hope is that this will come to a compromise with the Chief OKEMOS Scouts and all of Shimnecon will be united in the State Game Area.

This brings another concern. The State land receives very little attention by the DNR. So the Association is pressing for stewardship of about 40-50 acres of the most historic Shimnecon area under the care of Danby Township. Possibilities include reconstruction of the Mission school, church, & village, or at least restoring the foundations and providing walking tour maps of the grounds, farms, & orchards, such as is done at other national monuments.

A museum could be set up in Danby Township Hall, where artifacts and historical writings would be protected. Committees of the SHIMNECON Preservation Association have been established to gather written and oral history of the site. Financial contributions toward development of the area and museum, and gathering, sent to Dan Spitzley, Danby Township Treasurer, 10899 Frost Road, Portland, MI 498875. The next meeting of the Association will be June 7, 1994, at Danby Town Hall, Charlotte Hwy.

NOTE: Hall J. INGALLS, who grew up near the Indians in SHIMNECON, long lived on the farm surrounding WEIPPERT’S Mill in cover story.



Last update November 15, 2013