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Ionia County Sebewa Recollector Items

Sebewa Recollector
Items of Genealogical Interest

Volume 2 Number 5
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, April 1967, Volume 2, Number 5:

 

DUFFY’S DUMP IN DANBY A SERVICE FOR SEBEWA CITIZENS

     Slowly the private dumps of yesteryear that were to be found on roadsides, fence corners, pot holes and woods’ edges are disappearing into the soil.  Soon only a few potsherds and shards in the plowed soil will be the only evidence of the disposal practices of the pioneers and a generation or two of their descendants.

     For a few years back the Township has provided a public dump for its people by leasing that service from Bernard Duffy.  The dump is located just south of Musgrove Highway on Wellfare Road in Danby Township.  New legislation controlling public dumps to keep them from becoming a public nuisance requires that the deposited litter be covered with dirt daily.  Because of this regulation, dumping at Duffy’s dump is allowed only on Saturdays.  This service costs us $675.00 per year and it behooves all of us to make the best use of it. 


PEACE CORPSMAN SOON TO RETURN

     All who have been following Richard W. Thrams’ reports from India will be interested to know that he has almost completed his enlistment of two years and will be ready to return the latter part of June.  His project has been completed.  He plans to do some traveling before he heads home. 


SOME OLDTIME ITEMS FROM THE PORTLAND OBSERVER

     Some perturbed spirits have persisted during the last few days in making things a little disagreeable at our district schoolhouse (High) by entering the venerable edifice at night, purloining the teacher’s bell, setting the stove out of doors and making the blackboards and windows targets for pistol practice.  These little capers are supposed to be the work of some young gents who are somewhat dissatisfied with a teacher and the school board last winter.  3-19-1878 

BORN IN SEBEWA

     On the 7th inst. To the wife of C. P. Cook, a daughter, weight 8 ½ pounds.  April 1(9?), 1878 

A curious sight may be seen at the residence of Benj. Probasco, in Sebewa.  Mr. P’s cat had three kittens which died, and Mr. P’s children supplied their place with three young squirrels they found in the woods, which kitty adopted, and is bringing up with all the tenderness she would her own offspring.  4-9-1878 

A great many men have come to the conclusion that their dogs are worthless curs since the Supervisor commenced making assessments, and the canines are rapidly being thinned out.  Some men have killed good dogs for whom they expressed a great deal of affection before they were taxed.  If you want to see the niggardly side of human nature, you have only to touch, ever so lightly, the pockets of some small-souled men  4-330-1878 


SEBEWA 100 YEARS AGO  (with undated plat map of sections 5, 6, 7, 8 and 17, 18, 19 and 20, with owners’ names):

     100 years almost wipes the slate clean of names of property owners shown on the 1867 map of Sebewa.  Benjamin Probasco and O. W. Daniels are the only 1867 property owners’ names to survive the century span and appear on the same land descriptions in the 1867 plat book to indicate their grandson namesakes.  Both have qualified for and received the Michigan Historical Commission Centennial Farm Certificates and the Consumers Power Co. metal plaques.  The certificates are granted after a farm has been owned continuously in one family for a century.

   Others in the Township have received the awards and some are now eligible and can receive them when proper application to the Historical Commission is made.  The farms of Hugh Showerman, Melvin Buchner, Glen Olry and Adelbert Northrup had received the certificates before the farms were sold and no longer fitted the description of a centennial farm.

   From the 1867 map it appears that lands that belonged to Watson Merchant, Samuel Downing, Abel and Daniel Halladay, A. M. (?) Ralston and David Leak now should qualify as Centennial Farms.  Probably there are some others.

   The valuation on Sebewa real estate in 1867 for tax purposes was $101,201.00 contrasted with today’s valuation of more than $3 million in State Equalized Assessment.  Total taxes assessed that year were $3,754 and of this $1119 was for schools.   Schools operating on that budget were the Carpenter, Baldwin, High (frl.), Halladay (frl.), Knox (frl.), Travis, West Sebewa, Center (one mile east), and the Pierce (frl.)

   Notable on the 1867 map is the evidence of the land speculators in the persons of Osmond Tower, R. E. Bird, S. S. DeCamp, Isaac Miller, James Brown, O. V. Showerman, S. A. Yeomans and Joseph Mitchell.  Some among these men paid as much as $100 in taxes.  An average 80 acre farm paid about $12 in taxes. 

PAGE #3:  Sebewa Township 1867; Town 5 North, Range West—from the tax assessment roll, Isaac Ere(t?)z, Supervisor 

   Some land, mostly in the swampy, undrained areas of the township, had not yet been “taken up” from the government.  Roads generally followed the section lines but with variations to avoid the swampy areas.  Present roads on the half mile lines owe their location to former swampy land.

   Some of the high ground trails did not survive as roads.  Mrs. Mabel Williams tells of such a trail that skirted the low land to the west of her grandfather’s (P. G. Cook) farm in section 19.  As a youngster she played around the remains of a farm dwelling and well toward the back of that farm in the woods.  The brick house of John Betts in section 32 was built well back from Tupper Lake Road and faced south instead of north because the road curved south around the house to avoid the swamp land to the north.

   Later many of these roads were put back on the section lines by building “crossways” in the muck stretches.  To build a crossway, a ditch was dug on either side and the dirt thrown on brush and logs to form a passable corduroy road.  The muck soil proved to be a good preservative of wood, for pieces of logs can still be seen in these old corduroy sections.

   100 years ago was just after the close of the Civil War, the veterans had returned and many log houses were yet to be built.  The boom-time of the saw mills was just ahead.  Most of the frame houses were of beam construction, vertical wide-board sided, with slats covering the cracks.  Perhaps Supervisor Bretz did not seriously undervalue the township in his assessment roll. 


TRI-ANNUAL ATLAS & PLAT BOOK, IONIA COUNTY MICHIGAN 1967, Shown:  LOWER ONE THIRD OF THE 1867 SEBEWA MAP, sections 29, 30, 31, and 32 are shown, with land owners’ names.

This is the title of the current plat book of Ionia County.  It is sponsored by the Ionia County 4-H Leaders Council.  Copies are available for $3.00.  If you do not find a copy from your local 4-H leader, you may write the County Agricultural Agent at Ionia for a copy.  The book details with reasonable accuracy all the rural land descriptions of the county with much other information.

   A careful look at the plat book map of Sebewa and a study of the current tax roll reveal some interesting information.  Twenty-seven farms of 200 or more acres averaging 220 acres make up one quarter of the area of the township’s 23,040 acres.  About three quarters of the 27 are directly operated by the owners and some of the rest are operated by a member of the family of the retire-farmer owner.

     At the other end of the scale are lots and small acreages used primarily as dwelling sites.  There are 60 such owned and occupied lots.  The 60 do not include the rented tenant houses.  Nine house trailers are used as dwellings.

     There are many unoccupied houses in the township, probably more than any other time.  Most of these could be classified as old farm houses that have not been modernized to today’s generally accepted standards.  Some in this category have been burned to clear the area in the past year or two, providing training exercise for the Fire Department crew.

     Sebewa has no State-owned public lands as we find in the Portland State Game Area of Danby, the Ionia Recreation Area in Berlin, Conservation Department land in Keene, and the Flat River State Game Area in both Otisco and Orleans.

     Sebewa has 15 miles of blacktopped roads with concrete M66 running along the west side of the township.  At the north end of the east side on Keifer Highway, two miles of blacktop are shared with Danby Township.  Six miles of the county primary system in Sebewa are still gravel awaiting the blacktop program. 


MERCURY VAPOR LIGHT COUNT—ADD TWO

     Francis Warner and Allyn Goodemoot are the two new users bringing the number to 33. 


A ROAD OF YOUR OWN

     Not many people can claim the distinction of living on a highway with a name the same as their own.  Perhaps because Sebewa’s roads were named only shortly before 1950, some of them still have residents of families after which they were named.  Verney Cassel lives on Cassel Road; Iril and Royal Shilton on Shilton Road; Carl Petri on Petrie Road and John Rodney York is a new resident on York Road where his great grandfather, Stephen York once lived. 


SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW

     A new law from the last session of the State Legislature prescribed minimum standards for ambulance service.  It precipitated many crisis statements from funeral homes about Michigan to the effect they could not meet the standards with current business and normal rates.  Many threatened to discontinue the ambulance service they formerly provided.  The services on all sides of the Sebewa area were no exception.  The threat of isolation from ambulance service aroused action by citizens of the area.

   The result is that the Fire District, organized in 1940 for the purpose of providing fire protection for the area, will now assume some responsibility for ambulance service.  The district is composed of the townships of Sunfield, Sebewa and part of Danby.  The ambulance service will be leased by the district and six of the volunteer firemen will qualify as aides to meet the state requirements.  The Mapes-Fisher Funeral Home will continue to operate the service.  Fire District funds, raised by the general property tax, will finance the lease.

     Perhaps there was a precedent for this sort of subsidy when the townships raised money by taxation to help finance railroad building in the last quarter of the 19th century.  We know of none since. 


HOLD ON THERE!

     Elmer Shaffer blinks us right between the lines with a new mercury vapor light #34. 


OUR ONLY NEWS ITEM OF 1867

     From the Portland Observer of November 7, 1867—On Tuesday night of last week, Mr. Andrew Weippert of Sebewa had two bee hives, with their contents of about 200 pounds of honey, stolen from his yard, near his house.  The next morning the thieves were traced by particles of comb, bees and honey dropped on the ground, and leading to the house of a neighbor.  Complaint was made before A. F. Morehouse, Esquire, and a warrant of arrest promptly issued.  On visiting the house of the neighbor referred to, all attempt to awaken the inmate, (who by the way is a single man and boarded himself) were for a time unavailing.  When however, it became apparent that the door would be forcibly entered if not voluntarily opened from the inside, the occupant appeared as if just awakened.  We understand that the search of the ground floor and chamber revealed nothing to fasten conviction on the occupant, who strenuously denied the existence of any honey about the premises.  Before leaving, officers inquired if there was not a cellar under the house, to which a negative was given.  Thinking his memory might be defective, the floor was examined and two boards having the appearance of being recently nailed down, they were pried up, and at once revealed to those present a very large trough filled with both honey and comb.  Of course, both the occupant and the honey were taken care of, not however, without remonstrance on the part of some of the bees, who resented the interference, and the security named therein, and the prisoner was released from custody. 


SRINAGAR, KASHMIR, INDIA, June 1966—By Richard W. Thrams:

     “Kashmir is the Switzerland of Asia”.  Snow capped peaks, lakes, waterfalls and many beautiful valleys mark the similarity between India’s summer playground and Switzerland.

     I took a train to Pathankot, the northernmost railway station in India and then rode a bus on the road through the river bottoms and over the mountains to Sringer in Kashmir.  The valley sections of the road are similar to any road you have traveled; but when you start to climb up the mountains, hold your breath a bit and prepare for thrills.  There are several places you can look down a thousand feet or more.  While most of the road is wide enough for two way traffic, there are some hair-pin turns just wide enough to let our bus pass.  There are many places you can see only a few yards ahead and you hope there is no oncoming traffic.  There is some evidence over the cliffs along the way to indicated that a car or truck has gone over the side.  I saw an oil truck bottoms-up several hundred feet down from the drop-off.

     The view from the head of the valley is great.  The valleys are all green with pine trees.  The lower slopes are terraced and planted to rice to take advantage of abundant water.  These one-acre terraces are much larger than the ones I saw in Nepal.  Here the work is done by water buffaloes with very little hand labor necessary.

     Our road goes up and down, crossing two ranges of mountains.  On the second, we pass through a tunnel nearly two miles long at 7,000 feet.  When we descend from the second range we come to the “Vale of Kashmir” and the city of Srinager.  Along the road to Srinager are the 400-600 year old Mog(????) Gardens on the mountainside.  Most of them have six or more levels, many waterfalls, beautiful flowers and large trees.

      Once in Srinager, there are many places to stay.  Most appealing to the tourists are the house-boats on Dal lake.  You can rent a house-boat of any type and size.  Some are very plush and some are almost bare.  We took one with food for Rs15 ($2) a day.  Our boat and those near us had two bedrooms, dining room, living room and a sun porch on top.  The boats have many Western names like California, Canada, King and Queen and other city names.

     Living on the house-boat is fun if you like to look at souvenirs that are offered for sale from the little boats that come along to peddle their wares.  The souvenirs are much the same as we saw in Napal but with leather goods and papier mache items extra.  From the floating shops that pass by, you can purchase almost anything you need for living including stamps from the floating postman.  Most things cost more than they would ashore.

     Springer boasts the world’s highest golf course at more than 9,000 feet about ten miles outside the city.  Poplar trees line the roads near Srinagar for a scenic view.

     A quite unique system of agriculture is practiced in Dal lake.  From small boats, the farmers probe the bottom of the shallow lake, twisting the sea-weed in bunches on bamboo poles to bring it aboard.  Heaps of sea-weed are piled in shallow parts of the lake, soil is spread on top and the farmer has his small field.  The plots are usually five yards by twenty yards.  Some 40 acres of the lake is used this way or about a quarter of the lake.  This makes an excellent place to raise a rich variety of vegetables.

   On the way back to my station in Uttar Pradesh, I stopped at the home of one of our Peace Corps Volunteers at Ludhania, Punjab.  He was one who had made the trip over here with me.  We spent part of every evening with a British family serving with the United Nations.  We would eat dinner at 6 PM at the Volunteer home, then wash up a bit and go over to the British home and eat again at 8:30.  After dinner we would go outside to start the nightly activity of satellite watching.  The second night out, I got the first satellite in view and became a full member of the local club.  We watched until midnight when it was time for tea again with crackers or cookies for nibbling.  We had some brownies that night—a real treat after being used to all Indian food. 

CHRISTMAS IN INDIA

     Raipur to the southwest of Calcutta in India, is 20 hours by train, or south from Allahabad 30 hours and 40 hours southeast from Delhi.  The trains do not miss stopping at any of the local stations and occasionally stop between towns.  Raipur is one of those places you go to only if you have a reason.  I went to see Ira and to spend the 1966 Christmas and New Year holidays.

     Ira was the topic of conversation of all the Americans in the Raipur area.  He and several of his kin came to the Agricultural College about five miles east of Raipur in July of 1966 and early September Ira and Steve became separated from the rest.  It happened that Ira and Steve were also the names of the Peace Corps Regional Director and the Associate Director.

     Mike was a Peace Corps Volunteer stationed at the College near Raipur.  Whenever any other volunteers came there or when Mike saw members of the two American families living there, he was always asked ‘How is Ira?”.

      I got to Raipur about noon on the 23rd day of December, had lunch with three Peace Corps girls and then went out to pay my respects to Ira—for this day was to be his last.  We got him on a rickshaw (bicycle carriage), took him to where the girls lived and Mike and I spent the night with him.  In the morning, we hitched a ride on an egg truck and went to the house of a friend, who was to host the American Christmas party.  Ira’s health was inquired after.

     During the afternoon we made a fire pit ready by burning wood to get a bed of coals about a foot deep in the bottom of the 3-foot hole.  By 8 PM we covered the pit with a piece of tin so that the coals would smoulder through the night.  We worried a bit that some unsuspecting person or cow would walk into our preparations.  Early next morning we did have to chase a couple of dogs away.

     While the others went to the morning church service, I stayed where I could keep an eye on the pit.  At 10 AM we took the lid off the pit and there was our roasted Christmas dinner.  It was so well done that you could just pull the bone through the meat.  A nearby bakery supplied the buns for our tasty sandwiches we had to go with the other Christmas delicacies of the usual Christmas table USA style.  We served 15 people and later there were 20 more and we had much food left over.

     But who was Ira?  He was a 150-pound pig.  Here in India, most of the pork available is not safe to eat unless it comes from the better hotels in the big cities.  Muslins will not touch pork and most Hindus will eat no meat.  So, not to cause undue excitement, we used “Ira” as a code word.   And Steve?  He was the test run at Thanksgiving time. 


CHIEF OKEMOS

     (From Lansing and Its Yesterdays, a collection from the 75th anniversary edition of The State Journal of Lansing, Michigan.  Copyright material 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 partially filled with heavy boxes, dunnage and packages, the conductor of the train stepped into a small circle of privileged passengers who were riding there, bad them all a “Good evening, gentlemen”, and proceeded 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 proffered his pass.   Rufus Hosmer, editor of The State Republican, best known Republican newspaper in central Michigah, smiled, as did Albert E. Cowles, later to be author of a famous history of Ingham county.  Both had passes.

     The central 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 cheekboned 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”, 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 man had arrived here.  The  earliest of Lansing pioneers knew his measure of a man. 

A MAN’S 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 had 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 great paths, 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 the 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 Techumseh, 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 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. 

FIGHTING DAYS

     The battles in which Chief Okemos took part cover a period of 22 years.  This is 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, at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, or Battle of Maumee River, northern Ohio.

     Later, about 1800—Okemos and his Ottawas, in fusion with Pottawatomies, defeated the Shawnee Indians, near the site of Three Rivers, Michigan.

     Slightly later—Okemos and tribe aided in the repulse of Chippewas who sought to invade Michigan from Wisconsin and the northwest.

     1811, Nov. 7—Battle of Tippecanoe, Tippecanoe county, Ind.  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.  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 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, 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 plane 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 affected between the Ottawas and the United States. 

LATER DAYS AND BURIAL OF OKEMOS

     The full moon of an October evening rose through seams of cloud strands, veiled across its face by the brisk wind which whipped yellow and red leaves scuttling across the earth below.  A bright oil lamp shone from the windows of the one-story frame house built near the point where the Grand river turns from its north course, and streams to the west.

     The light, and the security it represented, was symbolical of the pioneers who lived in it; of the manner in which they had challenged and defied the rigors of a winter in the wilds of Michigan.  But the challenge was nearly gone from the scene when this particular autumn had arrived;  for a village had grown from the impetus of first settlers; the frame house, oldest in Lansing, was by now but one of hundreds.  For Lansing was by then the state capital; history had reached the middle 1850’s.

     Standing dourly, with a turban of ragged cloth perched on his head, was an old man, a shriveled little fellow.  Chief John Okemos, nearly the last of the Indians of central Michigan, and certainly the greatest of them all, stood outside the frame house of James M. Turner, Sr., building of the first frame house in Lansing.  The house stood facing Turner street, just north of Clinton street in North Lansing.

     Okemos was cold; night was almost upon him.  He had called on Mr. Turner before, in such emergencies, when he was far from his wigwam.  A begger, perhaps, but a chief in fact, with no loss of dignity because the oncoming whites had destroyed his hunting grounds and reduced his tribes.

     The door swung open and the familiar figure of the old chief stood in bold relief before the eyes of Mrs. Turner.  The old man, a pack on his back, held by an improvised rope of gunny sack, was bent and aged.  His gnarled hands grasped a slim stick, a sort of cane.

     “Big Chief Jim not home” said Mrs. Turner, anticipating the old man’s question.  Okemos stood his ground and asked for a night’s lodging.  The conventions meant nothing to him.  He would have been glad to sleep near a stove.  Mrs. Turner disappeared, soon returning with several blankets.  Possibly she wasn’t as sympathetic and understanding with Okemos as was her husband.

    “Big Chief Jim not home”, she repeated, in explanation, extending the blankets toward the incredulous Indian, remarking “You can sleep in the barn, Chief, it’s nice and warm there with these covers in the hay”.

     A shrug of the shoulders, and a tug of a blanket brought it tighter about his short spare frame.  Okemos waved his dark right hand in distain, turned in his tracks, hesitated and came back to the bright spot on the hard ground, to strike an attitude of defiance.

     “Okemos once owned all land here” he growled, making a sweep with his arm.  “No have to sleep in barn with white man’s ponies and cows.  Sleep by his own camp fire”.  And he was gone.  A friendship of years between Mr. Turner, one of the very earliest of Lansing pioneers, and Okemos, once lusty chief of the Ottawas, was sundered in an instant by Mrs.   Turner, who failed to appreciate the terrible pride in the heart of Okemos, once lord of every acre and man for many miles in any direction from the spot lighted by the oil lamp. 

      Chief Okemos never again visited “Big Chief Jim”.  The old chief went away, cold and hungry, carrying his squat figure as nearly erect as his age and old wounds would permit.  The toss of his chin and the bearing of his shoulders proclaimed for anyone to see who would, that he was still Okemos, a man of proud lineage.

     Okemos died on Sunday, Decmeber 5, 1858, at an advanced age.  Estimates of his age at death vary, with biographers, from 83 to 119 years. 

PRIMITAVE RITUAL

     Albert E. Cowles, whose “Past and Present, Ingham County” stands out as one of the best sources of pioneer information extant, describes the burial of Okemos, with a sweep of intimate knowledge, an easy familiarity, and a flow of diction which commands itself, for its excellance, as a remarkably fine piece of writing.  Here is an excerpt:

     “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 Okemos.  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 bought 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 Shimnecon, on the Grand river, 24 miles below Lansing, the seat of government—which had been in later years the principal residence of the chief—there to commit him to his final resting place, until he should be called to roam in the happy hunting grounds.”

     The life of Okemos in this section lapsed into its peaceful era, shortly after 1814, when he and his tribe through Gen. Lewis Cass, governor of Michigan Territory, made official peace with the government of the United States. 

HIS “HEIRS”

     History tells that the United States government gave to Okemos and his family a tract of 140 acres, on a small Indian reservation in Shiawassee county, the place of his birth.  The reference to the family of Okemos recalls the fact that his wife is not mentioned in any surviving biography.  Cowles says on the subject of children:  “Old Okemos in his wanderings was generally accompanied by a troop of papooses whom he called his children”.  Rufus Hosmer, editor of The State Republican in an obituary of Okemos, published immediately after the old chief’s death, said “Okemos usually traveled with a gang of Nitchies at his heels, from 5 years old and upwards.  He called them his own, and probably believed they were, though they looked suspiciously unlike in features.”

     But Okemos did have two sons, John and Jim.  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, a general drunkard and a “no-good Indian” failed to hold the respect of even the red men, much less the white man.  John had a son who seems to have become a farmer, much to the contempt of his father, who claimed that because a boy didn’t hunt, he was “no Indian”.  Jim, son of Okemos, however, left a much better account of himself, by growing to be a respected farmer in Montcalm county.  Jim was last seen in Lansing when the capitol was dedicated, January 1, 1879.  John was seen at Mason in that year or the next.  The grandson, the son of John, visited the village of Okemos in 1880, where he was received royally by the pioneers.

     A daughter Mary is mentioned in the reference to Okemos made by G. K. Stimson, the present editorial writer of The State Journal, in one of his many contributions to Fuller’s “Historic Michigan”.  Mr. Stimson conjectured on the Christian names of the children of Okemos, but from another source in the same volume comes the opinion:  “Chief Okemos was never converted, but lived and died a pagan”.

     Okemos and his family lived on the government ceded tract until about 1837 or 1838 when the inroads of the whites and reduction of his band by smallpox, dictated to Okemos that he should move to unsettled country again.  This brought him to the still virgin territory which later became Ingham county.

     Whether Okemos was 83 or 119 when he died; whether he had three children, or 13; whether parts of his life are lost to history; whether he was 5 feet or 5 feet 7 inches tall---none of these things is important as compared with the fact that in his peaceful life with Americans he overcame, by sheer force of manly and virile personality and strength of character, a dislike which might have arisen because of his bloody depredations against whites, and overcame that most tremendous handicap to pride, the necessity of begging.  He begged, yes, but let anyone so much as indicate that Okemos was a beggar, and he would depart, more wounded than he ever could have been at the Battle of Sandusky.

    Okemos will be remembered as the man whose body could withstand terrific wounds, whose proud spirit recoiled at the slightest touch of intimacy, familiarity or condescension, as the man who could never brook patronage from those whose ancestry was no more exalted than his own.


 

   THE SEBEWA RECOLLECTOR

   Robert W. Gierman, Editor

   R 1

   Portland, Michigan   48875 U. S. A.



Last update February 27, 2013