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Chapter II: Indian Occupation of Western Michigan (Baxter 1891) [an error occurred while processing this directive]

Prepared by Dwight Goss



 "The Lord of the forest is lord no more; The pride of his manly soul is o'er. The fields, where he won his youthful fame, On the track of the foe, or in quest of game, Are his no more."

When the Europeans discovered America, they found the aborigines a bow-and-arrow race, who lived in forests and depended upon the chase for subsistence. From a fancied resemblance to the inhabitants of Southern Asia, they were called Indians. Their origin, their migrations and their history are shrouded in mystery; but undoubtedly they should be numbered among the ancient races of mankind. They were divided into several nations, which were subdivided into many tribes and families, each having a local name, distinct traditions and a separate dialect.

In that portion of the continent lying between Hudson's Bay on the north, and the thirty-seventh parallel of latitude on the south, and between the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the Mississippi River on the west, roamed the great Indian nation of the Algonquins. Nomadic in habit, and despising agriculture, they were almost perfect types of primitive savages.

When first visited by Europeans, they numbered nearly a quarter of a million; but the white man's aggressive spirit, his destructive vices, and, above all, his fiery rum, have destroyed the Algonquin nation. Whole families and entire tribes have vanished from the earth, until now only a few remain to tell of the departed glories of their people, and repeat the legends of their ancestors.

Among the many powerful tribes of the Algonquin nation, were the Chippewas, the Ottawas and the Potawatomies, who inhabited the lower peninsula of Michigan. Their early home was upon the Ottawa River in Canada, but prior to the first visits of the French to the St. Lawrence, they crossed the lakes and took possession of lower Michigan. The three tribes were kindred in blood, in tradition, in habits of life and in general appearance.

They called themselves the three brothers, of whom the Chippewa tribe was the oldest, and the Ottawa tribe the second, while the Potawatomie tribe was the youngest. Before this migration from Canada, Michigan was peopled by the Mish-ko-tink or Prairie Indians, who were a powerful tribe. There was a long and sanguinary war for the possession of the country. Tradition tells where many of the battles were fought. There were three bloody battles on the banks of Grand River. One was at Battle Point, a few miles above its mouth, another was on and about a high hill, near where Maple River unites with Grand River, while the third and fiercest conflict took place on land now embraced in the Eighth Ward of Grand Rapids.

It is said that a ferocious hand-to hand battle was fought near where now is the corner of Mt. Vernon and West Fulton streets, in which many were slain, and which resulted in the complete defeat of the Prairie Indians. The tradition must be something more than a myth, because in that neighborhood human bones and implements of Indian warfare have often been found near the surface in promiscuous profusion.

"Behind the scared squaw's birch canoe,
The steamer smokes and raves;
And city lots are staked for sale
Above old Indian graves."

OVERTHROW OF THE PRAIRIE INDIANS. The final contest between the Prairie Indians and the invading tribes, was fought near the mouth of the Marquette River. Having been defeated in every part of the country, the Prairie Indians retreated to the lake shore and awaited an opportunity of escape, when in the middle of the night they were surprised by the impetuous invaders. The battle was short, but decisive.

The Prairie Indians were completely annihilated. A few escaped from the hands of their bloodthirsty enemies, only to perish in the waters of the lake. The Indians of Marquette River have often pointed out imaginary tracks of the fleeing Mish-ko-tink in the sands of the lake shore, and with solemn faces have declared that the disturbance of the eddying waters in that neighbor hood was caused by the angry spirits of their drowned enemies. The remembrance of the bloody conflict was perpetuated by the Indian name of the river, which was Nin-o-we-pe-ep-ka-gung, or the-place-where we-smote-them-on-the-head.

One of the tribal traditions is to the effect that a terrible battle was once fought near where now is Birmingham, Oakland county, between the Chippewas and Foxes. The former were defeated, and their large village utterly destroyed, with a loss to them of more than a thousand of their braves. The date is as uncertain as the rest of the tradition - it may have been long before the Chippewas rallied in the north and came through the Michigan Lake shore region on their ravaging raid.

Having conquered the country, the Chippewas took possession of the northern portion of the peninsula, the Ottawas of the central and western portions, and the Potawatomies of the south, beyond the Kalamazoo River.

The Grand River Valley was occupied by the Ottawas. There were villages at Battle Point, at Crockery Creek, at the Rapids, at Plainfield, at Ada, at Lowell, and at various other points up the river.

Their neighbors on the south were the Indians on the Kalamazoo River, and those on the north were the Indians of the Muskegon River. The Indians always gathered about the waters of the country, for by their canoes they traveled, fished, hunted, and transported their game.

Occasionally an Indian family wandered for a time into the forests of the interior, but their villages and homes were almost invariably upon the banks of rivers. From time immemorial there was a large and prosperous village at Grand Rapids. This was because of the excellent fishing in the river, and the abundance of game in the valley. Grand River always supported a large Indian population. In the balmy days of Indian supremacy, there were undoubtedly more than a thousand Indians living within the present limits of Kent county, which was an unusual number for the territory, because in his native state an Indian required a vast amount of land to support himself and family. Frequently an area as large as a county, which was not on a navigable river, only furnished subsistence for less than a dozen families. Before the advent of the pale face, Michigan doubtless supported less than fifty thousand natives.

Contrary to popular belief, the Indians probably increased in population by their first contact with the white race. The white traders brought to the red men improved weapons and methods for fishing and hunting the rude agriculture of the Indians was made more productive by the efforts of the missionaries and traders; many of the latter were more or less skilled in medicine and surgery, which assisted in lessening the death rate of the Indians; again, the traders took into the wilderness many articles and implements which were of great use to the savages in their struggles for existence, and all these things tended to increase the native population.

Holding their lands by the slight tenure of possession, the Chippewas, Ottawas and Potawatomies suffered much from the encroachments of neighboring tribes. There were frequent inroads from the Lake Superior region, by the Indians of that section. Those who were about the head of Lake Michigan constantly made raids into the territory of Michigan.

The Hurons, of Canada, often crossed the border to hunt and fish, but never settled here in very great numbers, although along the eastern limits there were many Huron families and villages. Even the Iroquois, from beyond Lake Ontario, often hunted and trapped the beaver in Eastern Michigan, and after the French settled at Detroit the tribes from the valley of the Ohio annually visited that trading post and frequently hunted in the forests of the interior.

Such was the Indian occupancy of Michigan before it was settled by the white race. Those sentimentalists who mourn because the red men have been driven from their homes, and despoiled of their lands, should remember that the Indians themselves obtained the country by force, and retained it only as it suited their convenience and desires.

When game grew scarce the land was abandoned, and whoever afterward occupied it was, according to Indian custom, entitled to its possession. It was Indian law that "might makes right."

When first visited by the French explorers and traders, the three tribes, Chippewas, Ottawas and Pottawatomies, enjoyed the most friendly relations with one another, and so continued as long as their tribal existence lasted. By amalgamation and intermarriage they became so mixed and blended that when the whites settled in the country, it was often difficult to ascertain to what tribe many Indian villages belonged, and those of one tribe often lived in the villages of another. There were many Chippewas and Pottawatomies scattered among the Ottawa villages of the Grand River valley.

After the middle of the seventeenth century the Indians of Michigan were frequently visited by French explorers, traders and missionaries, and by them the habits of the natives were much changed. They traveled more, and wandered over a larger extent of territory. They made annual visits to the French trading posts to sell furs and secure supplies.

Undoubtedly they lived better and had more comforts than in the years before the white man visited their country. The traders, white hunters and trappers who first went among the Indians, proved a blessing to the race. Living among the red men and adopting their ways and habits, they introduced many simple elements of civilization, and helped to develop the better part of savage life. The first white men who went among the Indians of the Northwest should be numbered among the benefactors of mankind.


The first white visitors to Michigan were the Jesuit missionaries. Father Claude Allouez, who had been at the Falls of St. Mary, established a temporary mission at the mouth of the St. Joseph River about the year 1665. In 1668 a permanent mission was founded at St. Mary's Falls, and three years after a grand Indian council was held there, at which agents of the French government met all the Indian tribes of the Northwest, to bring them under the protection and dominion of the French King, and to take formal possession of the country. Among the missionaries present at that council to consecrate the ceremonies, was Father Marquette, who explored the valley of the Mississippi. On one of his expeditions to the Illinois Indians he was taken sick. In the spring of 1675 his Indian followers carried him to Lake Michigan and embarked upon its waters. As they sailed along its eastern shores, the dying missionary, realizing that his end was at hand, requested the Indians to approach the land, and in a short time his pure soul passed away.

His followers buried the body and erected above it a large cross. Years after ward his bones were removed to an Indian chapel. At this day, however, the place of his death and the spot of his interment are unknown, but any frequenter of the northern summer resorts of Michigan will remember with what minuteness of detail many different places are pointed out by enthusiastic and visionary guides as the exact spots of Father Marquette's death and burial.

The next white man to visit Western Michigan was LaSalle, who in 1679 established a trading post at. Mackinaw, and built a fort at the mouth of the St. Joseph River. These were the first permanent white settlements in Western Michigan, and for more than a century there was little or no change in the Indian occupancy of the country. French voyageurs annually traversed the eastern shores of Lake Michigan from Mackinaw to St. Joseph, and gathered rich cargoes of furs, which were shipped to Quebec by way of Detroit and Frontenac. These expeditions were generally in the spring, when the Indians would meet the traders at the mouths of the rivers and sell them the furs which had been captured during the winter, and in the late summer or early autumn they would visit the trading posts at St. Joseph, Mackinaw, Saginaw and Detroit for supplies to carry with them on their winter hunts.

Such was the annual routine of Indian life in Western Michigan a hundred and fifty years ago. French hunters visited the country. renounced civilization, married Indian wives, and became more Indian than the Indians themselves.

Without doubt more than a century ago every Indian village in Western Michigan had been visited by the white man. Among the results of the old French war was the transfer of the control of the Northwest from the French to the English. About 1760, the trading posts of Michigan were surrendered to the English, who at once began to make extensive preparation for extending and increasing the trade of the country. The Indians rebelled against the change, and prepared for war. The leading spirit was Pontiac, an Ottawa chief of Eastern Michigan. He visited tribe after tribe, and village after village, to unite them in a conspiracy against the English.

In April, 1761, a grand council was held at Grand Rapids. Over three thousand Indians were present, and every band in Michigan was represented. Pontiac was present, and fired his hearers with noble specimens of Indian oratory and unstudied eloquence. He contrasted the English with the French; the pride, arrogance and rapacity of the one, with the gentility, suavity and justice of the other. He cited instances of English neglect and contempt of the red men, and argued that as the English had supplanted the French, they would in time overpower the Indians, and that the latter could maintain their rights only by war. Every Indian in the valley sympathized with Pontiac, and two years after, when he laid siege to Detroit, his camp was filled with warriors from Western Michigan. But the eloquence, bravery and sagacity of Pontiac were insufficient to expel the English, and after the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the latter were practically supreme in North America. The power of the French had passed away, and the days of the Indian occupancy were numbered. Defeat was too much for the proud spirit of Pontiac. He deserted Michigan, and went to live among the Illinois Indians, where he was soon after murdered. During the Pontiac war the English garrisons of both Mackinaw and St. Joseph were massacred. At Mackinaw the soldiers were induced to attend an Indian game of ball near the fort, and when thrown off their guard they were attacked and nearly all murdered. A few escaped, after some of the most remarkable adventures in the whole history of barbarous captivities. It is estimated that about seventy white persons were killed in the Mackinaw massacre. The place was deserted for more than a year, but was finally reoccupied by a detachment of British troops sent for the protection of the English traders in the Northwest.

The garrison at St. Joseph numbered fifteen. The Indians visited the fort apparently with pacific intentions. They were received within the walls, when, at a given signal, they attacked the garrison and killed them all but four, who, including the commander, were taken captives and conducted to Detroit, where they were finally exchanged for Indian prisoners there held by the English.

After the Pontiac war the Indian occupancy of Western Michigan was unchanged for many years. The general policy of the English toward the natives of the Northwest was the same as that of their predecessors. The same posts were maintained and, as far as possible, the same agents were employed. Rival fur companies contended for the trade of the country and catered for the good will of the Indians. During the revolution, under the instigation of British officers at Mackinaw and Detroit, Indians from the Grand River Valley engaged in depredations and warfare along the Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York borders.

Early in the present century a trading post was founded by the American Fur Company in the Grand River Valley, and, strange as it may seem, it was established by a French woman, Madame Laframboise. It was located on the banks of Grand River, about two miles west of the present village of Lowell. She lived, there and traded with the Indians until 1821, when she was superseded by Rix Robinson, who purchased her entire establishment.

At the close of the revolution the posts of the Northwest remained in the hands of the British, and were not surrendered until 1796. Many Indians of Western Michigan engaged in the battles of Ohio and Indiana fought by Harmer, St. Clair, Wayne and Harrison, during the years between the Revolution and the War of 1812. It was during those years that the second great confederation of the Indians of the Northwest was brought about by the wily Tecumseh. He probably never visited the Grand River Valley himself, but sent his agents, who secured many recruits for the warriors who fought at Tippecanoe. A forge was erected on the banks of the Kalamazoo River, where renegade white men made hatchets and scalping knives for the Indians who fought under Tecumseh at Tippecanoe and on the side of the British during the War of 1812. The surrender of General Hull at Detroit placed the Northwest posts again under the control of the British. During that war most of the Indians of Michigan espoused the cause of Great Britain, but there were a few who proved faithful friends of the Americans, and were afterward generously remembered when treaties were negotiated with their people by the United States. And Great Britain did not forget her savage allies. From the close of the war until 1834 the Indians of Southern Michigan annually visited Maiden to receive from the British Government annuities for their services during the war.

At the close of the war American garrisons were again placed in the forts at St. Joseph and Mackinaw, and American settlers commenced pouring into Michigan. The Indian supremacy was rapidly passing away.


By the ordinance of 1787 the civil authority of the United States was extended over the Northwest Territory. In 1805 Michigan was set aside as a separate Territory, and after the war of 1812 there was a great demand for land for speculative purposes. There was much intriguing and lobbying, and great pressure was brought to bear upon the General Government to secure Indian lands in Michigan.

In 1821 Governor Cass and Solomon Sibley were commissioned by the General Government to negotiate a treaty with the Ottawas, Chippewas and Potawatomies, and secure certain lands in Western Michigan. During the summer the commissioners met the Indians at Chicago, and on August 29, a treaty was completed and signed. By its terms the Indians ceded to the United States the lands south of the main stream of the Grand River, with certain small reservations for individual Indians and halfbreeds, and a few small tracts for the use of the tribes.

In consideration of the cession the United States engaged to pay to the Ottawas one thousand dollars in specie annually forever, and for a term of ten years to appropriate annually to the Ottawas the sum of fifteen hundred dollars to be expended in the support of a blacksmith, of a teacher and of a person to give instructions in agriculture and to purchase cattle and farming utensils. One mile square was to be selected on the north side of Grand River, and within the Indian lands not ceded, upon which the teachers and blacksmith should reside. The treaty was signed by Lewis Cass and Solomon Sibley on behalf of the United States, and on behalf of the Ottawa Indians by Ke-wa-goush-cum, No-kaw-ji-gaun, Kee-o-to-aw-be, Ket-che-me-chi-na-waw, Ep-pe-sau-sc, Kay-nee-wee, Mo-aput-to, and Mat-che-pee-na-che-wish.


Soon after the treaty was negotiated, Rev. Isaac McCoy, an Indian missionary acting under the auspices of the Board of Managers of the Baptist Missionary Convention of the United States, visited Governor Cass at Detroit in behalf of the Indians, and to secure the management of the teacher and blacksmith who, according to the treaty, were to be sent to the Ottawas at Grand Rapids. Subsequently he was appointed to superintend the United States officers sent to carry out the provisions of the treaty.

Governor Cass gave elaborate instructions, dated July 16, 1822, to McCoy, and directed that ardent spirits should as far as possible be kept from the Indians. John Sears, of New York city, was appointed teacher for the Ottawas, and Charles C. Trowbridge was commissioned to make definite arrangements with the Indians for a site of a missionary station on Grand River. Sears and Trowbridge visited the Grand River Valley in the fall of 1822, and selected a site, after which they returned to Fort Wayne. McCoy visited the valley the next spring, and on May 30, 1823, crossed the Grand River near the rapids. He found the Indians dissatisfied with the treaty, and was received with anything but a hospitable welcome.

The chief was not at the village, and nearly all the inhabitants were in a state of intoxication by liquor obtained from some traders. McCoy at once abandoned the expedition, and returned to a mission which had been established on the St. Joseph River, and which was called Carey. The next year McCoy visited the Ottawas on the Kalamazoo River, and induced them to let him establish a blacksmith shop on the border between the Ottawa and Potawatomie territories. This modified the temper of the Ottawas for a time, and opened the way for further operations.

In November, 1824, McCoy, with several companions, left the St. Joseph River for a second visit to the rapids of Grand River. On reaching the border of the Ottawa country they found that the blacksmith shop built the preceding year had been burned by the Indians, who still felt unfriendly to the whites because of the Chicago treaty. On November 27, 1824, they reached Gun lake, and encamped upon its banks. The next day they were visited by Noonday, the Ottawa chief of the Indian village at the Rapids, who, with some followers, was camping on the opposite side of the lake. McCoy found that Noonday was desirous of having a mission established at the Rapids, and the next day both the whites and the Indians raised camp and proceeded together toward Grand River. On December 1, the river was reached and crossed. The same day McCoy selected a site for a mission, which was located just south of where is now the corner of West Bridge and Front streets. The selection was afterward approved by Governor Cass, and confirmed by the Secretary of War.

The site selected two years before by Sears and Trowbridge is supposed to have been several miles up the river, but the exact spot chosen is now unknown. The next day McCoy started on his return to the St. Joseph River, and was accompanied a portion of the way by Noonday. The next spring Mr. Polke (teacher), a blacksmith, and two or three others were sent to the Rapids by McCoy to open the mission, but they found a great majority of the Indians still hostile to the project, and were obliged to depart without accomplishing their object. Soon afterward Polke returned to the Rapids, and found a great change in the sentiment of the Indians. They expressed regret for their former action, and wished to have the mission at once established. In September, 1825, farming utensils, mechanical tools and provisions were sent by boat down the St. Joseph River, along the lake shore and up the Grand River to the Rapids, while McCoy, with several assistants, traveled overland to the same place.

Permanent log buildings were at once erected on the site chosen the year before, and the mission was fully established.


When the mission was founded there were two Indian villages at the Rapids. One was situated along the west side of the river from West Bridge street north; the other was in the neighborhood of where is now West Fulton street, with its center near the corner of Watson and West Broadway streets.

The south village was the larger, and numbered three hundred inhabitants or more. It was presided over by a chief named Me-gis-o-riee-nee ( Mex-ci-ne-ne), or the Wampum-man. He was an eloquent speaker and a man of influence among his people. The Indian commissioners always found him wary in negotiations and slow to accept their overtures. He was of an aristocratic, haughty disposition, and was something of a dandy in the matter of dress. While at Washington to negotiate the treaty of 1836 he was presented by President Jackson with a suit of new clothes, of which he was very proud, and with it insisted upon having a high hat with a mourning badge. He was among the foremost of his people to adopt the white man's ways. His habits were good, and he lived and died in the Catholic faith. In the year 1843 his existence was terminated by a sudden illness, and his funeral was attended by nearly every citizen of Grand Rapids, white as well as red.

Another Indian chief living at the lower village was Muck-i-ta-o-ska, or Black skin, who in his early years was an active foe of the Americans. He fought with the British in the War of 1812, and is said to have been the leader of the band who set fire to the village of Buffalo during that war. He lived to a great age and died in 1868.

The chief of the upper village at the Rapids was Qua-ke-zik (Noonday), a friendly, industrious Indian, who always worked for the good of his people, and was among the first to obtain the favor of the whites. He was happy in his domestic relations, and a man of excellent habits. Old settlers often speak of his fine physique. Fully six feet tall, well proportioned, and a noble looking man, he was well advanced in years when the Grand River Valley was first visited by American settlers. He died at Gull Prairie in 1840, and a plain stone slab marks his grave. He also fought with the British during the War of 1812. Henry Little, of Kalamazoo, once wrote this amusing description of Chief Noonday and his squaw: "His Serene Highness, Mr. Noonday, was a tall, straight, well proportioned, well constructed specimen of the Nish-a-nob-bee race. He was reserved, solemn, demure and dignified in his deportment. Her lady ship, Mrs. Noonday, was a short, dumpy, unassuming lady of the old school. Nature had not seen fit to make her very . attractive by the bewitching, fascinating charms of personal beauty; and what little there might have been of feminine comeliness in her features had been sadly marred by an ugly scar upon the left side of her face."

It was a general belief in the days of the settlement of Grand Rapids that Noonday was at the burning of Buffalo. A settler of 1835 asserts that the chief told him that he assisted in kindling the fire. On the other hand, it is stated that just before his death Noonday denied that story.

The chief of the Flat River Indians was Cob-mu-sa, or the Walker. He was the husband of three wives and treated each with the respect and consideration due the consort of a mighty chief. Aside from the number of his wives his morals were good. In personal appearance he was not the equal of his neighbors. He was a little below medium height and inclined to corpulency. It is said that there was Negro blood in his veins. In his last days he became a vagrant and a drunkard. His village was about two miles from the junction of Flat and Grand Rivers, and was one of the largest in the valley. It numbered three hundred inhabitants or upward.

At the Thornapple River, or Ada, there was a small band of Indians, of whom Ma-ob-bin na-kiz-hick, or Hazy Cloud, was the chief Although of small stature, he was a man of commanding influence with his tribe. He was on the most friendly terms with the whites, visited Washington, and was one of the leading spirits in the treaty of 1836.

His sister was the wife of Rix Robinson. Between the Thornapple River and the Rapids there were a few families who were under the authority of  Canote, a chief who stood high in the estimation of the early settlers.

Below the Rapids, at the mouth of Crockery Creek, was a small Indian village of which Sag-e-nish, or the Englishman, was chief. As his name implied, he was a great friend of the white men. At Battle Point, a few miles above Grand Haven, was another Indian village, whose chief was O-na-mon-ta-pe, or Old Rock. At Black Lake, near Holland, there was a village numbering less than three hundred, which was ruled over by a chief named Wa-ka-zoo. In 1848 he, with his band, removed to Grand Traverse, where he soon after died. In his last years he became a drunken vagabond.

In Ionia county there were two Indian villages of importance on the Grand River. One was at Lyons, where the prairie was used for a cornfield for ages, and the other was near the mouth of the Lookingglass River. The latter was called Mis-she-min o-kon, or the Apple Field. It was abandoned by the Indians at an early day. Among the Indians of the valley there were other chiefs than those already mentioned. There was Pa-mos-ka, a leading chief whose home was many times changed, but who generally lived in the villages down the river, at Crockery Creek and Battle Point.

There were Ke-way-coosh-cum, or Long Nose, and Wa-ba-sis, both of whom fell victims to Indian vengeance for the part they took in the treaties with the whites. The former was killed in a drunken brawl by an Indian named Was-o-ge-naw. Each had come to Grand Rapids to receive his annual stipend on payment day, and having been paid became intoxicated. They were sitting on the bank of the river, near the mouth of Coldbrook Creek, when a dispute arose relative to the treaty, and Was-o-ge-naw seized a club and felled his victim to the earth with a blow that killed him on the spot. The matter was not investigated by the officers of the law because it was considered that he was executed in accordance with the Indian custom and idea of justice. Because of the prominent part he took in the treaties Wa-ba-sis was exiled from his tribe. For many years he lived alone on the bank of a small lake in the northern part of Kent county. In an unguarded moment he was induced by his enemies to partake in a corn feast at Plainfield, where he was made drunk and then murdered. He was buried near where is now the Plainfield bridge. The head of the body was left above the ground, and food and tobacco for many weeks were daily placed on the grave for the nourishment and comfort of his spirit on its journey to the happy hunting grounds.

Another noted chief was Okemos, who lived near Lansing for many years. He died in 1858, upward of one hundred years old. He was in his early days a warrior of undoubted bravery. Upon his breast was a huge cicatrix made by a sabre in the hand of one of Mad Anthony's troopers. He fought at Fort Meigs, and received wounds in his head which, it seemed, would have killed any human being but an Indian. There were scars in his skull in which three fingers could be placed. He was buried at Mis-she-min-o-kon, the old Indian village near Portland.


That the Indians were a poetical people to some degree, is shown by their names of the rivers of Western Michigan. The St. Joseph River was O'-sang-e-wong-se-he, or the Sauk Indian River. It was so named because, according to tradition, the spirit of a Sauk Indian wandered along its banks.

New Buffalo River was Kosh-kish-ko-mong, or the-diving-kitten. The Paw Paw River was Nim-me-keg-sink, which means the Paw Paw River. Kalamazoo is an English corruption of the Indian name of the river, which was Kik-ken-a-ma-zoo, or the Boiling Kettle, so named from its eddying waters.

South Haven was called Muck-i-ta-wog go-me, or the Black Water. Macatawa is an English corruption of the same name. Grand River was called O-wash-ta-nong, or the-far-away-water, so named because it was the longest river in the territory. Thornapple River was called Me-nos-so-gos-o she-kink, or the Forks.

Flat River was called Coh-boh-gwosh-she, meaning the Shallow River. The Indian name of Maple River was Shick-a-me-o-she-kink, which means the Maple River.

Muskegon is one of the Indian names of the country which has not been changed by the whites. It means the Tamarack River, and was so called because of the number of tamarack trees along the banks. White River was called Wan-be-gun-gwesh-cup-a-go, or the river-with-white-clay-in-its-bank. Manistee means the-river-with-white-bushes-on-the bank, which referred to the white poplar trees on its borders.


In March, 1836, a treaty was negotiated at Washington, by which the Indians ceded to the United States the lands north of Grand River. There were seventy thousand acres reserved north of the Pere Marquette River, fifty thousand acres on Little Traverse Bay, twenty thousand acres on the north shore of Grand Traverse Bay, and various other small reservations in different parts of the country. In consideration of the cession, the United States Government agreed to pay the Indians of Western Michigan the sum of $18,000 annually for twenty years. A sum of S5,000 annually for twenty years was to he appropriated for teachers, books in the Indian language and school houses; $10,000 for agricultural implements, cattle, mechanical tools and other articles; $2,OOO annually for provisions, and $300 annually for medicines. The Indians were to receive $150,000 worth of goods and provisions, which were to be delivered on the ratification of the treaty; $300, 000 was appropriated to pay off the just debts of the Indians, and $150,000 for the half-breeds of the tribes.

Various sums of money were to be paid to individual Indians. The Grand River Valley chiefs received $500 each, and to Rix Robinson was granted $23,000. This generous treaty was signed by Henry Schoolcraft for the United States, and by twenty chiefs for the Indians. Of these chiefs three - Wab i-wid-i-go, Mix-i-ci-ninny and Na-bun-a-gu zhig (names as they appear on the treaties) - represented Grand River tribes; the rest were from other parts of the State.

There were some thirty chiefs in all in this valley at the time. The witnesses were John Hulbert, Lucius Lyon, R. P. Parrot, U. S. A.; W. P. Zantzinger, U. S. N.; Josiah F. Polk, John Holiday, John A. Drew, Rix Robinson, Leonard Slater, Louis Moran, Augustus Hamelin, Jr., Henry A. Levake, William Lasley, Geo. W. Woodward and C. 0. Ermatinger.

As soon as the Washington treaty of 1836 was completed a land office was opened at Ionia, and the lands north of Grand River were rapidly taken by settlers. By the conditions of the treaty the Indians could hunt on the public lands of the United States, and for many years they remained in the country and availed themselves of the privilege. The annual payments which they were to receive under the treaty were made at Grand Rapids, and continued for more than twenty years.

At the early payments near four thousand Indians received their pay here, but they decreased as the years went by. The Potawatomies were early sent to their reservation in Indiana, while the Chippewas were transferred to reservations in Northern Michigan. Separate bands of Ottawas were at different times transported beyond the Mississippi, and many individual Indians fled beyond the Mississippi, as they were ostracised by their own people or threatened with legal prosecutions by the whites.


On the 31st of July, 1855, at Detroit, another treaty, in place of the treaty of 1836, was made with the Ottawas and Chippewas of Michigan, by the United States Indian Agent, Henry C. Gilbert, by which they were to receive annually a cash annuity of $22,000 for ten years, and at the end of that time the Government was to pay them $200,000, in four annual payments of $50,000 each, or, if the Indians so elected, they were to receive the interest on that sum held in trust by the United States. There was also to be distributed among them $15,000 worth of agricultural implements, and a grant was made of $8,000 for educational purposes. Four blacksmith shops were to be maintained for their use, and five interpreters were to be furnished. In addition to their share of the above the Grand River Indians were to receive an annuity of $3,500.

They were also to have eight townships of public lands which were to be preserved for them ten years, at the end of which time they could sell the same at pleasure. By this Detroit treaty any Indian of Michigan was granted the privilege of renouncing his tribal relations and becoming a citizen of the United States; and through the influence of Mr. Gilbert many of them purchased and settled upon Government land.

In 1855 about one thousand Indians received their annuities at Grand Rapids. The last payment at this place was made October 29, 1857, when $10,000 was paid in gold and silver to about one thousand five hundred Indians, squaws and pappooses. After that date the payments were made at Pentwater.


Indian payments were events in the early history of Grand Rapids. The Government agents would send word that a certain date would be pay day, and the Indians would begin to congregate ten days or two weeks before. They camped upon the islands, and along the river banks, and in the bushes on the higher grounds. Payments were generally made in the fall, before the Indians started for their winter hunts. The agents usually paid at one of the warehouses which stood near the old steamboat landing between Waterloo street and the river. In a large room would be a long table, or counter, upon which were the receipts and little piles of coin for each Indian, and about which were seated the agents, clerks and interpreters. The Indians would enter the front door one by one, sign their receipts or make their marks thereon, receive their money and walk out at the back door, where stood a crowd of hungry traders, who quickly transferred most of the money from the hands of the Indians to their own pockets, for the payment of old debts. The traders commonly claimed all they could see, and the Indians, as a rule, gave it up without protest. They were generally in debt, but were always ready to pay when they had any money. The traders never hesitated to give credit to an Indian. One who traded with them for years at Grand Rapids, states that annually he sold thousands of dollars worth of goods to the Indians on credit, and during all that time he lost less than a hundred dollars on poor accounts. The next day after payment the Indians always departed, none remaining but the drunkards and vagabonds, who staid behind for a debauch. The Enquirer, of November 2, 1841, refers to the fact that in the week previous was the Indian payment, and facetiously adds that there were about fifteen hundred Indians, two traders to each Indian, and two gallons of diluted whisky to each trader. The editor inquires, seriously: "Is there no remedy for this barbarous and wicked system of robbery?"

There appears, however, to have been some improvement the next year (1842), when the Paymaster stated that there was much less dissipation among the Indians at Grand Rapids than at any other place where he had made payment, and the newspaper testified that "No barrels were rolled out as heretofore, and the heads knocked in that the savage might be allowed to gorge his fill of the destroyer."


In the early days of the settlements, the Indian trade of the Grand River Valley was of no small importance. The Indians traded furs, berries and maple sugar for dry and fancy goods, ammunition and whisky. Beads and whisky were legal tender to an Indian. The furs were sent to Detroit, while the berries were packed in barrels and shipped to Buffalo.

Maple sugar, if sent away, was generally consigned to commission merchants in Boston and New York. During the busy season Indians would camp about the huckleberry swamps and cranberry marshes, pick the berries and then deliver them at Grand Rapids. They were carried by squaws, or transported by ponies.

Much maple sugar was brought to the Rapids by water. During the spring Grand River was alive with canoes bringing sugar which had been made by the squaws in all portions of the valley. It was stirred sugar, packed in "mokirks," which were small baskets or boxes, and the packages ranged in weight from one to sixty pounds.

The smaller mokirks were often elaborately decorated by the squaws with fancy work.

There was such sharp competition in the fur trade that the local traders would not wait for the Indians to bring their furs to market, but would often send messengers with goods directly to the Indian camps. Late in the fall the Indians would separate, and each family would go into camp for hunting and trapping during the winter, when the traders in the Rapids would dispatch men for the furs. Each went by himself, and his equipment generally consisted of an Indian guide and a pony. The Indian carried a pack of about fifty pounds weight, while the pony carried all that could be piled on him.

The loads consisted of provisions for the traders and fancy goods for trade. No whisky was carried on such expeditions. When an installment of furs was secured the Indian was sent back to the Rapids with a pack of furs, while the white man continued his journey, and was after ward joined by his dusky companion, who brought a fresh supply of goods. When the snow was too deep for the pony he would be abandoned, and the men would continue the search for Indians and furs, on snow shoes. By such methods did each trader endeavor to get the start of his rivals. Each kept several men in the forests all winter. Grand Haven, Allegan, Saugatuck, Gun Lake, Gull Prairie, Thornapple River, Lyons, Lookingglass River, Maple River, were all visited and canvassed over and over again for furs.

Furs were always a staple article and commanded about the following prices in trade: Beaver, $1.25 a pound, weighed by hand, which means that the trader guessed at the weight and paid the Indian accordingly. It is needless to add that the furs never fell short of weight when weighed at the warehouse. Mink commanded from fifty cents to $1.. Smoke skin (buckskin), $1 each. Martin, $1 to $1.25; lynx, $1 to $1.25; muskrat, five cents each.

Wolf and bear skins were not of much value. Fashions did not change, and the above prices continued for years. The squaws always smoked and prepared the skins for market. Other staple articles of commerce were moccasins, which were made by the squaws. They were always elaborately ornamented with beads, and often days were spent on a pair of moccasins which sold for fifty cents or a dollar.


The Indians of the valley were very social in certain ways. When Grand Rapids was only a trading post the French traders, among whom were the Campaus and Godfroys, called upon their lady friends upon New Year's Day and saluted them with a kiss upon each cheek. The Indians quickly adopted the fashion of the Frenchmen, with this change - the squaws called upon the white men, and the unlucky pale face who was kissed by a squaw on New Year's Day was obliged to give her a drink of whisky. No white man escaped, for, if one squaw alone could not secure the coveted forfeit, she called to her aid enough of her dusky sisters to throw the victim down and then each kissed him in turn.

The result was that the squaws frequently became gloriously drunk, and woe to the white man who was kissed by them while they were in that condition, since they did not hesitate to use violence to obtain the desired reward.

While the squaws and white men were having rough and tumble scuffles at the stores and taverns, the Indians often visited the kitchens of the white women, where they were treated to doughnuts, cookies and other eatables. An Indian always made a call by first peeping in at the window and then entering at the door without knocking. The Indians were persistent beggars, but were generally refused food by the white women, except on New Year's Day. They were not at all modest in their demands. It is related that the wife of one early settler, who had recently arrived from the East and was unacquainted with Indian ways, placed her full supply of provisions upon the table when the first dusky callers appeared, expecting, of course, that they would take a few pieces and go away; but nothing abashed they suddenly produced some bags, gathered in all the eatables, and departed, without leaving the family enough for a dinner.

That woman's confidence in the character of the noble red man was very much shaken by the incident, and ever after she was careful that no Indian should know the extent of the stores in her pantry.


The Indians of Grand River Valley did not differ materially from other American Indians in their general habits and customs. In caring for their dead they observed peculiar rites and ceremonies. A few days after the burial the relatives of the deceased gave a feast to the friends of the departed, who repaired to the grave where the food was distributed. If the feast was prepared by a man, none but men attended; if by a woman, none but women attended. Each one, before partaking, placed a small portion of food on the head of the grave for the use of the departed on his long journey to the happy hunting grounds. When the party consisted of warriors, elaborate addresses were made, and the virtues of the dead were chanted.

If it were a gathering of females, and if one of the company were considered profligate, she was not allowed to make an offering to the dead, but another received her portion of the feast and offered it for her.

After the offerings were made, the remainder of the feast was eaten by the company. The feasts were annually repeated. Among the Ottawas it was customary to place at the head of the grave a post, which by its size indicated the age of the deceased. About the post were hieroglyphics which illustrated the heroic deeds of the dead. Near the post was generally placed a small stick about two feet long, which a visitor used to strike the post and announce his arrival to the dead.

McCoy, on one of his early visits to Grand Rapids, refers to the fact that his party met a company of squaws carrying kettles of food to the grave of a child who had died a short time previously. Gordon S. Hubbard, of Chicago, in a paper read before the Michigan Pioneer Society, describes an Indian funeral feast as follows:

 On our way to Mackinaw in the spring of 1819 hearing that the Indians on the eastern coast of Lake Michigan would hold a feast for the dead at the mouth of Grand River, in the full of the May moon, we determined to be present at the ceremonies. The feast consisted first in clearing away the ground around the graves, putting them in perfect order, and erecting slender poles at the head of each grave, at the tops of which were attached strips of white cloth for streamers. At the head of each grave a small place was staked off in which food was placed for the souls of the dead. All except the young children blackened their faces, and fasted two days, eating nothing nor engaging in any amusement, spending their time in silence or lamentations for the loss of their friends. At the expiration of two days of mourning, their faces were washed and painted, and dressing in their best attire and decorations they commenced feasting, entertaining and visiting; wishing their relatives to share with them the good things they had prepared, they placed in the inclosure at the heads of the graves dishes of food. This feast is followed by their celebrated game of ball, which is intensely exciting - even the dogs become exhilarated, and add to the commotion by barking and racing.


It is a source of wonder to those who have never given the subject careful attention that the Indians, by contact with a superior civilization and the continued efforts of teachers and missionaries, did not renounce their savage ways and habits and learn to live like their white neighbors; but experience has shown that the Indians, as a race, are incapable of civilization. Even the most favorable circumstances cannot eradicate from an Indian's heart his love of a savage life. In the spring of 1838, during the days of an Indian payment at which, it is said, more than one thousand two hundred, of several different tribes, were present, a few young people were practicing for choir service, singing with flute accompaniment, in the counting-room of the store of A. H. Smith, on Waterloo street. A crowd of the natives gathered to enjoy the music and admire the instruments. One who was present related the incident several years ago in the columns of the New York Christian Union, and from his story the following is extracted:

Great was our surprise when from the assembled crowd of savages a young brave of about twenty-five years, as dirty and as unkempt as any of his associates, picked up the Boston Handel and Hadyn note book, from which we had been playing, and turned over the leaves as any of his rude companions would have done, apparently wrapped in a sort of dazed admiration, as we supposed, of the fabric and the printing, always so mysterious to the superstitious savage. But suddenly, with kindling eye and flushing cheek, he beckoned from the crowd one of his companions - a young man about his own age, and, like himself, a thorough-bred savage in appearance - and turning pleasantly to us and pointing to the tune indicated, in unexceptionable English said: "Will you play `St. Martin's,' if you please?" which I wonderingly did, carrying the air with the flute, when he taking the tenor and his companion the bass, they sang from the book the words of the hymn as sweetly and as correctly as the best of us of the Court House choir could have done; and not only that, but through tune after tune, and hymn after hymn, anthems and all, for an hour or more the young savage led the way with a fluency and correctness as to both music and words which demonstrated no superficial ear-work, but knowledge born of much study and intelligent practice; and his companion was not one whit behind him. Here now was a new thing, and of a most surprising nature. A full-blooded Potawatomie with moccasins and leggins, calico shirt, gay cotton head-dress, ringed ears, blankets, and above all that indescribable Indian odor of blended wood-smoke, fish and muskrat, and yet with the manners of a gentleman, and the accent of a scholar, singing readily by note our most elaborate hymn tunes and set pieces; and here too was an apparently equally accomplished companion, but equally dirty and unkempt, and of equally pure Indian blood, accompanying him.

Of course there must be a history behind it, and as there were yet to be two or three days remaining before the camps would be broken up, we set ourselves to the work of winning the confidence of these wondrous savages and learning their history. This is in substance what they told us: Their names (as known among the whites) were Adoniram Judson and George Dana Boardman. They were two of the Indian boys (Potawatomies) selected by the Rev. Isaac McCoy from among the pupils of the Carey Mission School, then located south of the St. Joseph River, in Michigan.

It was part of Mr. McCoy's plan, as appears from his history of the Mission, to fit for enlarged usefulness among their countrymen some of his most hopeful Christian pupils. His own language is simply expressive. He says: "We were allowed the peculiar felicity of church fellowship with a considerable number of our Indian pupils; and from among them we proposed to make a selection of some who appeared to possess the most promising talents, whom we should endeavor to qualify for superior usefulness."

This was in 1826, and Judson and Boardman were two of the seven youths who that year entered the Literary and Theological Institute (now Madison University) at Hamilton, New York, to fit themselves for "superior usefulness among their own country men." These youths, as appears from their record while in college, were of unexceptionable character and deportment. As I afterward learned, they became to a degree the pets and proteges of the good citizens in and around Hamilton. All houses were open to their visits. They had full companionship with those of their own age, in all companies, and with both sexes. They became largely imbued with a devoted missionary spirit, and having completed their prescribed course of study, after several years' absence they returned to their destined field of labor, "fitted for superior usefulness among their own countrymen."

And now we will let Judson, who was the chief speaker, give his own experience, and the substance of his explanation of his present condition. He said: "I went home among my own people full of purpose and sanguine expectation. They should have schools. They should have churches. They should learn mechanics and farming, and have crops and stock and books, and all the blessings of civilization. Our work was before us. We were young and strong and patient. What should hinder? So we thought. But everything did hinder. Our people did not want such things. They turned from us with contempt and derision. Our civilized clothing was an unceasing object of their ridicule. Our names, which they made ridiculous by their pronunciation, were a sign that we had renounced our parents and our people.

We were neither Indians nor white men. We were not wanted by either. Having no Indian virtues or accomplishments, we were useless in the woods; and the whites did not need us, for they were our superiors. Even the young girls, when we approached them, openly showed their contempt. At last we could no longer stand the scorn and ridicule which overwhelmed us. We gave it up in despair. Our own people fairly drove us away from them as useless and disagreeable members of their society. We left them, completely cowed and disheartened, and returned to the settlements. Hearing that a teacher was wanted for an academy at Gull Prairie. I presented my credentials of character and scholarship to the trustees, and was appointed Principal. Life now opened very brightly before me. I had a good school, loved teaching, loved my pupils, was active in religious meetings, taught the choir and singing school, and every house was open to my visits. The whole community seemed to love me, and I was happy. Especially was I fond of a bright and beautiful young lady, one of my best pupils. We went together everywhere: to church, to singing school, evening parties and social visits.

Everywhere she went with me, and seemed proud of my devotion. After a few months I proposed to marry her, and was referred to my warm friends, her parents. And this is what they said to me: What! you, an Indian, presume to address our daughter! Our daughter marry an Indian! You are crazy. She might as well marry a Negro. You will never be anything but an Indian for all your education. Remember this, and never presume again with your attentions. We are your friends, and if you will consider it, you will see that it must be as we state it.' All that night I did consider it. Crushed to the earth in my humiliation, bruised and half stunned by the cruel scorn which accompanied my rejection, I saw clearly that it could never be different.

I was an Indian, and could never be anything but an Indian, God help me! So the next day I resigned my position, dismissed my pupils, gave away my broadcloth suit, boots, and beaver, put on moccasins, leggins and blanket, and took to the bush, where I shall thus live and die among my own people. This was three years ago, and for the future I can only be an Indian, as God has made me."

A year or two later, these men, moccasined and blanketed, went west of the Mississippi with their people, carrying with them their gentle culture, fair scholarship and humbled aspirations.


From Susqehanna' utmost springs, Where savage tribes pursue their game, His blanket tied with yellow strings, The Shepherd of the Forest came.

Not long before a wandering priest Expressed his wish, with visage sad - "Ah, why," he cried, `in Satan's waste Ah, why detain so fine a lad?"

"in yonder land there stands a town, Where learning may be purchased low', Exchange his blanket for a gown. And let the lad to college go."

From long debate the council rose, And, viewing Shalom's tricks with joy, To Harvard hall, o'er waste of snows, They sent the copper-colored boy.

One generous chief a bow supplied: This gave a shaft and that a skin: The feathers, with vermillion dyed, Himself did from the turkey win.

Thus dressed so gay, he took his way O'er barren hills, alone, alone: His guide a star, he wandered far, His pillow every night a Stone.

At last he came, with leg so lame, Where learned men talk heathen Greek; And Hebrew lore is gabbled o'er, To please the Muses, twice a week.

Awhile he wrote: awhile he read; Awhile he learned the grammar rules; An Indian savage so well bred Great credit promised to their schools.

Some thought in law he would excel Some said in physic he would shine; And some, who knew him passing well, Beheld in him a sound divine.

But some, of more discerning eye, E'en then could other prospects show, They saw him lay his Virgil by, And wander with his dearer bow,

The tedious hours of study spent, The heavy-moulded lecture done: He to the woods a-hunting went, But sighed to see the setting sun,

No mystic wonders fired his mind; He sought to gain no learned degree But only sense enough to find The squirrel in the hollow tree.

The shady bank, the purling stream, The woody wild his heart possessed: The dewy lawn his morning dream, In fancy's gayest colors dressed.

"And why," he cried, "did I forsake My native wood for gloomy walls: The silver stream, the limpid lake, For musty books and college halls?

`A little could my wants supply; Can wealth and honor give me more? Or will the sylvan God of Day Give me the treat he gave before?

"Let seraphs reach the bright abode, And heaven's sublimest mansions see I only bow to Nature's God The land of shades will do for me.

"These direful secrets of the sky Alarm my soul with chilling fear. Do planets in their orbits fly? And is the earth indeed a sphere?

"Let planets still their aims pursue, And comets round creation run In Him, my faithful friend I view - The image of my God - the Sun.

"Where Nature's ancient forests grow, And mingled laurel never fades, My heart is fixed - and I must go, To die among my native shades."

He spoke, and to the western springs, His gown discharged, his money spent, His blanket tied with yellow strings, The Shepherd of the Forest went.

Returning to the rural reign, The Indians welcomed him with joy; The Council took him home again, And blessed the copper-colored boy.


In their primitive state the Indians had quite definite ideas of justice, and an elaborate system of punishments for crime. As they had few or no possessions, there were scarcely any crimes against property. The honesty of the Indians is well illustrated by a story related by Louis Campau. The old pioneer said:

 "I remember long ago, when my pony died here, I hung my trading pack on the limb of a tree near the trail, and went to Detroit for another pony and new supplies. On coming back I found the pack contained nothing but chips. The Indians had found it and had distributed all it contained among themselves. Do you think they stole my goods? No. For every article appropriated I found a chip marked with the totem of the buyer. Before I could realize what had happened, a chief stood before me, shook me warmly by the hand, and asked me to enter the village to claim material in lieu of the totem-bearing chips. I accompanied the noble savage, and received exactly what the chips called for. That was the way the Indians used to steal. A few white men came, and there was a little trouble. A few more white men arrived, and there was more trouble. Then a lot came, and the Indians became bad, and times grew worse. Finally the Indians were relieved of their possessions."

The greed of possession brings many evils upon a material civilization. For infidelity an Indian wife lost her nose, and her paramour suffered death. It is a sad reflection upon the morals of the white men that Indian women with mutilated faces multiplied as the settlers increased. It was in cases of murder that Indian law made its power chiefly felt. The rule was a life for a life. An Indian guilty of murder forfeited his own life to the relatives of his victim. The forfeit was not always immediately claimed. Sometimes it was months and even years before the criminal was called upon to expiate his crime, and during that time he enjoyed the utmost liberty, but the instance is not recorded where an Indian attempted to escape from the just punishment demanded by his own people. It was Indian law that the relatives of the person killed could accept goods and property from the criminal for an atonement.

In such cases it was usual for the relatives of the dead to appropriate everything belonging to the criminal, even to stripping the last blanket from his shoulders.


An old Chicago pioneer (the late Gurdori S. Hubbard) relates that he once witnessed an Indian execution on the Manistee River. A Canadian Indian had married a woman of the Manistee band, and lived with them. In a drunken quarrel he killed a son of the chief. He could save his life by abandoning his family and fleeing to his own tribe, but, if he did so, one of his wife's brothers would doubtless be killed in his stead.

He was poor and could make no payment of goods for expiation. Telling his wife's brothers where he could be found, he gathered together his traps and ammunition, and with his family departed, hoping to secure enough furs to make a proper payment. The chief demanded vengeance, and threatened to kill one of the brothers. In mid-winter the youngest brother went to the fugitive and told him the demand of the chief. The murderer promised to return in the spring.

Let the story of what followed be told in the words of the pioneer:

 "One evening it was announced in our camp that on the morrow an Indian would deliver himself up. Early in the morning the chief made preparations. The place selected was in a valley surrounded by sand hills on which we traders and the Indians assembled. The chief and his family were in the valley where all who were on the hills had a full view of them and the surroundings. It was a beautiful May morning. Soon after sunrise we heard the monotonous beating of the Indian drum, and the voice of the Indian singing his death song. Emerging from the lake beach he came in sight, while his wife and children followed in single file. He came near the chief, still singing, and laid down his drum. His wife and children seated them selves. Then, in a clear voice, he said: "I in a drunken moment stabbed your son, provoked to it by his calling me an old woman and a coward. I escaped to the marshes at the head of the Muskegon, hoping the Great Spirit would care for me and give me a good hunt that I might pay you for your lost son. I was not successful. Here is the knife that killed your son. I desire to be killed by it. It is all I have to offer except my wife and children. I am done." The chief took the knife and handed it to his oldest son, saying, "kill him." The son took the knife, approached the culprit, put his hand upon his shoulder, made one or two motions to stab, and then drove the knife to the handle into his breast. Not a word was heard from the assembled Indians or the whites, not a sound but the songs of the birds; every eye was upon the noble Indian who stood without emotion looking upon his executioner. He received the blow calmly, nor did he shrink when it was given. For a few seconds he stood erect, the blood at every breath spurting from the wound, then his knees began to quiver, his eyes and face to lose expression. He fell upon the sand. All this time his wife and children sat motionless, gazing upon the husband and father, without a murmur or a sigh till life was extinct. Then, throwing themselves upon his dead body, they gave way to such grief and lamentations as brought tears to the eyes of all. For fifteen or twenty minutes the chief and his family sat motionless, evidently feeling regret; then he rose, and approaching the body said in a trembling voice: "Woman, stop weeping! Your husband was a brave man; and like a brave man he was not afraid to die in satisfaction for the life of my son, as the rules of our nation demand. We adopt you and your children to be in the place of my son. Our lodges are open to you. Live with us, and we will treat you like our sons and daughters. You shall have our protection and love." I subsequently saw this mother and her children in their lodges."

It is stated that in the early days of the white settlements in the Grand River Valley, an American mother intrusted her infant child to the keeping of an Indian girl, who, in a careless moment, allowed the little one to fall, which caused its instant death. The poor girl was at once bound as a prisoner and placed in the black wigwam. The savages chanted the death song, and inexorable Indian law claimed a victim. A few old settlers, among whom was Louis Campau, hearing of the matter went in haste to the Indian village, obtained an interview with the poor girl, and then sought a pardon from her savage but impartial judges. Reluctantly it was granted, but the Indians reserved the right to inflict capital punishment at any time the white mother should call "a life for a life."

It is proper to add that the humane mother never demanded the sacrifice. In the fall of 1835, George Sizer was hunting one evening along a deer lick by Plaster Creek, south of Grand Rapids, when he was shot through the heart by an Indian who mistook him for a deer, through the thick bushes.

Discovering his mistake, the slayer fled in haste to the Indian village at the Rapids, told his story and gave himself up to his fellows, who at once began to make preparations for his execution; for by Indian law his life was forfeited. The settlers heard of the matter, and hastened to intercede with the Indians for the life of the man who had accidentally killed a fellow being. It required much argument and persuasion to convince the Indians that no crime had been committed. It seemed impossible for them to conceive that intent should be a necessary ingredient of crime. At last the efforts of the settlers secured the release of the poor Indian.


Stern savage law required that those who shed the blood of their kin should suffer death by torture. Such punishment was inflicted upon one at Maple River in 1853 by a band then encamped on the banks of that stream. An Ottawa, maddened by liquor, killed his squaw, threw her body upon the fire and then fled. He was pursued and captured, tried by a solemn council of his race and doomed to die a cruel death by slow, lingering torture. He was first compelled to assist in preparing his own coffin, from a hollow log. Then he was tied fast to a tree, and in the night time, during several nights in succession, was roasted by fires built so near him as to blister and burn, in addition to which arrows were shot into the tender parts of his body, his ears and nose were cut off, and his face and flesh scarified in all the cruel ways that savage ingenuity could suggest to intensify his torture. His tormentors would cease in the morning and leave him to endure his pain through the day, while they feasted and slept, only to renew their horrid work when night came, and this they continued until the proud spirit of the savage left its earthly tenement.

The story in all its details is too sickening for cold print. It is not recorded that the culprit victim gave way to any demonstrations of agony. They wrapped his body in a blanket and put with it in the log coffin, which he had helped to make, a bottle of whisky, a hunting knife, a pipe and some tobacco. Over the rude grave they piled logs and brush. The murdered squaw was thus avenged and the Indian sense of justice appeased. The camp was hastily broken up, and soon silence reigned supreme, as if Nature were awed by the terrible act of retribution there consummated.

During late years many Indians have abandoned the savage life and become citizens. In 1867 the Superintendent of Indian agencies reported that there were 8,008 Indians in Michigan, mixed bloods included; 3,823 males, and 4,185 females. They were divided into about seventy distinct bands, each with a chief, and had 179 frame and 821 log houses. Many had settled upon lands, and were accumulating property. The value of their personal property at that time was estimated at $376,595, and they cultivated 10,772 acres of land.

They had over two thousand homesteads. It is not hard to prognosticate the future of the Indians of Western Michigan. Nearly all who remain have adopted the white man's ways. They have taken their lands in severalty, and generally live in communities by themselves; but as the years go by they will inevitably become amalgamated with the whites, and as a race will disappear. It is easy to imagine that a century or two hence some lone Indian, the last of his race, may visit the Valley City, and standing on some eminence over looking the valley, like the last of the Scotch Minstrels, contrast the joys and freedom of the Indian occupancy with the greed and selfishness of a material civilization.

And who shall say that the contrast will not rebound to the credit of the Indian race? Everett, in a little poem entitled "Cobmoosa's Lament," has a pathetic touch of sentiment for the Indians:

My bow, my nerves, my heart are unstrung; My death song alone remains to be sung. The braves of my clan have sunk to their rest; Their children are gone to the North and the West; The forests have fallen, the land is sold. Our birthright is gone for the Christian's gold, And manhood has passed from the Indian's brow, Since he gave the soil to the white man's plow.

As a son of the forest I lived in my pride; As sons of the forest my forefathers died. Till I go to the land where the bright waters shine, I'll live by their graves, and their grave shall be mine; I linger not long, my nerves are unstrung; My death song is ready, it soon will be sung.

A statement printed in 1879, gave 10,250 as the number of Indians then in Michigan, classed as follows: Ottawas and Chippewas, 5,500; Chippewas of Lake Superior, including those of the Sault Ste. Marie, 2,000; Chippewas of Saginaw and thereabout, 2,000; Chippewas of Grand River, 500; Potawatomies, 250. This was only an approximate estimate, but was thought to be under rather than over the real number. From five to six hundred of their children were reported as attending schools. And everywhere in the State they were regarded as generally peaceful and law-abiding people. The United States census of 1870 gave 4,926 as the number of Indians civilized or taxed in Michigan, and that of 1880 gave 7,249, which shows a very large increase in that class of residents. The State census, so far as the Indian population is concerned, is comparatively worthless. The State, in the matter of enumeration, appears to have forgotten its original people altogether.

Sentimentalize as we may, or gloss it over as we will, the story of the American Indian is a sad one. It is true that large amounts have been paid in annuities, ostensibly for the heritage that has been taken from him by force or dissimulation. But only in the recent past has he been accorded the rights of a citizen on any terms. He has been treated as an outcast, and hunted like a wild beast. Our civilizing agencies have been scarcely better than fire and warfare undisguised. There is of late some reform and improvement, but the Indian problem is yet unsolved.


The following interesting story was related and written long ago by Capt. Thomas W. White, an early settler at Grand Haven, and in his later years a resident of Grand Rapids; known by all who were acquainted with him as a man of tenacious memory and strict truthfulness:

Many years ago (about 1845) I listened to a some what lengthy conversation between a gentleman of learning from the State of New York and an aged Indian Chief of the Ottawa tribe. I was so firmly impressed with the knowledge I gained of the Indian character, and their history as then unfolded, to me entirely new, that to this day that interview and what then took place, is perhaps almost as fresh in my mind as pending the conference.

The Judge (for a Judge he was) stated that he had spent much time and money in endeavoring to ascertain the precise part played by and with the Six Nations (so-called) during the war with Great Britain, together with the then present state of feeling among the Indians. The meeting was not one of accident, but by request. The conversation was through one fully competent, in both the English and Indian languages. The answers to questions were given readily and with candor, leaving evidence upon my mind that he (the chief) was learned in the history of his race as handed down by tradition.

Whether any new facts were elicited, former research confirmed or contradicted, I did not learn. After questioning the old chief upon his favorite theme, he requested a history of the Ottawa tribe, as traditions had instructed him, from their first knowledge of the white man. He gave it without hesitation, and in a manner convincing those present that he was stating what he firmly believed, and it was in this wise:

"A long time since, when their home and hunting ground was on the Ottawa River, Canada, the principal chief of the tribe was seated in his wigwam; around him was playing his only child; over the fire hung his kettle of clay suspended by a rope of bark, while in the kettle was boiling his frugal meal. Either from decay or from the action of the fire, the rope became separated, throwing the contents of the kettle upon his idolized child, scalding it so that death soon resulted. Frantic with grief, the chief, day and night, in savage wailing paced in and around his lodge, until, worn out by weeping and sighing, he fell asleep. While sleeping, he dreamed, or had a vision."

In his vision a man appeared who, after endeavoring to comfort him, directed him to proceed down the river until he should discover a beautiful bird then shown him. He was told not to be discouraged by a day's march, but to persevere, and he would surely meet that which would be to him of lasting benefit; and not only to him, but to his tribe and their posterity. Resolving this, to him, supernatural appearance in his mind, he concluded that it was the Good Spirit that visited him, and if he obeyed his child would be restored.

He therefore unhesitatingly proceeded on the journey, taking the course marked out in the vision. On a dark, foggy morning, he was startled by the crowing of a cock, the beautiful bird of his dream, and quickly beheld through the mist a man without color. Alarmed, he was about to flee, when the white man "poke kindly and beckoned him to his wigwam. Remembering the object for which he started, and the promise upon which he rested, he reluctantly followed this colorless being, so like himself in form. He was given numerous articles of use and ornament for himself and members of his tribe, with the request that they would exchange furs and skins for such as would contribute to their comfort, or assist in securing game.

Among the presents was a kettle of iron or brass, with an iron rod or chain with which to hang it over the fire. His child was not restored, but he was the means of opening an advantageous trade, which had ever since been carried on between the white man and the Indian.

The old chief then traced the wanderings of the tribe through different points in Canada, and to their final resting place in Michigan. They appeared to understand that a war was before them, and that they must conquer if they made a home for themselves and their posterity upon the hunting grounds of the Prairie tribe. They crossed near Mackinaw, and marched south, keeping a strong force in advance of the main body, to scour the country and prevent surprise.

They were unmolested until nearing Pere Marquette River, when their scouts announced the enemy in their path. The two armies met on the bank of Pere Marquette Lake, where the principal battle took place. From the account of the engagement, as related by the chief, I was led to think that Indian tradition records few if any greater slaughters. Extermination appeared to have been the intention. The Ottawas were successful. The heads of the defeated, left upon the field and overtaken in the chase, were severed from their bodies and placed a little distance apart, their faces lakeward, at the water's edge around Pere Marquette Lake. Calling for a map, the aged Indian pointed out the extent thus occupied with the heads of their enemies.

(I have been told that the French name of this river is not in use among the Indians, but that the name they give it is one signifying the slaughter, or the place of heads, or skulls).

Following the carnage was the usual feast - mirth as well as feasting. At such feasts someone was entitled to have served for him the choicest dish (in their estimation a mark of the greatest respect), the bear's tail. On this occasion the recipient was a chief of the Potawatomie tribe, who, with his followers, assisted them in the fight and, I think, was the guide on their journey. This so much offended three of the Ottawa chiefs that they withdrew with their clans, and never more identified themselves with the tribe. Pontiac, one of them, settled near Detroit, another on the river St. Joseph, and the third in the southeast part of the State.

The last battle with the Prairies was upon Grand River, exterminating the tribe, and leaving their conquerors in undisputed ownership or possession of the country.

After obtaining the foregoing history from the chief, the Judge inquired what was the feeling generally of the Indians in the Western States toward the people of the United States, and in the event of a war between this country and England, with whom they would cast their fortunes. Without hesitation he replied: "A very large majority with England." When asked concerning his own small band, some what initiated into the habits of civilization, his reply was that some of them would favor the British standard, and flee thereto for protection, although they had never received aught but kindness since they had been in daily intercourse with the citizens of the States as neighbors and friends.

The cause of this preference was asked. The reply was that the gaudy trappings of the British agents, indicating great wealth, in the estimation of the Indians, together with the reported bountiful presents of the British Government, were mainly the cause, connected with the story of the wrongs suffered by their fathers, as handed down to them. Many, no doubt, would act or pretend to act in accordance with solemn treaties made and adhered to. `How were these treaties ratified," was asked, "and how recorded, that your people feel thus solemnly bound to adhere to?' Pointing to the stove, he said: "That stove is made of material that will decay it will crumble and turn to dust, and cannot be found. Books and paper will decay also, and no trace of them be left. But silver will not corrode, and the wampum was placed between two plates of silver and bound with cords." When asked: `Have these pledges ever been renewed?" he answered: "Yes, often. The great chiefs of the two nations meet and together draw still tighter the cords around the silver plates, renewing them if any signs of decay are visible."

The last question to the chief was relative to his personal opinions and feelings. His manner, language and expression of countenance, when answering this interrogatory, are as distinct in my mind to-day as they were then to my ear and vision. They were touchingly eloquent. He straightened himself up in his seat, with his face turned full toward his interrogator, and an eye that seemed to reach out for a sympathetic response to his own feelings. He said: "Notwithstanding the great wrongs practiced by your fathers upon mine - driven by your strength, as we have been, from river and plain, that you might send out your race to be enriched upon our soil - I buried all my revengeful feelings, and when the hand of friendship was extended to me, I did not take hold of it with the tips of my fingers, that a little jostle might cast off, but made a firm grasp with my whole hand" - suiting the action to the expression, showing the firmness of the hold - which shall never be withdrawn by me!"

The story thus related by the old chief is strongly like other traditions of the tribes who were here. Andrew J. Blackbird (Mack e-te-be-nessy, son of the Ottawa chief, Mack-a-de-pe-nessy), in his history of the Ottawas and Chippewas, relates traditions of his own ancestors very similar in some points; as, for instance, he tells of their belief in supernatural visitations; of the loss of a child from among those who came first from the east up to the great lakes, which they believed was taken to a deep cavern; and of the finding by one of their noted chiefs, over two hundred and fifty years ago, of a large copper kettle, which they preserved as a sacred relic, and used for great feasts. He says the traditions give no reason for the movement of the Ottawas at an early period toward the Northwest, but the supposition that it was to get away from their deadly enemies, the Iroquois of New York. Blackbird tells of the destruction, with terrible slaughter, of an Ottawa community at Arbor Croche, a continuous village some fifteen miles long, the home of forty thousand Indians or more. (This estimate of size and population of that village is undoubtedly very greatly overdrawn).

His account in several respects agrees with other legends as to the course of those people southward along the western side of this peninsula, and the driving out by them of the earlier occupants, the Prairie tribes. The village of which he speaks was along or near the lake shore north of Little Traverse Bay. The paucity of material is an effectual bar to any satisfactory outcome from the study of early Indian history. Nearly all that has been discovered lies wrapped in mythological tradition.


The houses of the Indians in their wild estate were neither hovels nor palaces. They knew no distinction of wealth or of poverty. They builded themselves nests of the most primitive pattern and the simplest uniformity. Many people of the present age have seen their huts of the original style of construction and material; but the great majority have not. The isolated family house was a wigwam, sometimes circular and sometimes angular in form on the ground, and sloping to an apex or a central ridge, where was a small opening which served for a chimney and skylight. Usually it was made of small saplings set in rows in the ground to form the sides, bent and tied together at the top, and these again covered or thatched with brush, or with bark, or with flags and rushes, as a protection against wind and rain.

Few, except in their villages, were larger than sufficient to hold one or two dozen persons closely crowded, with a small space in the center for the fire over which their game was roasted or their corn was cooked. Heated stones, instead of ovens or pans or kettles, were their cooking utensils. Sometimes, in moving about, the poles for the frame work of the wigwam were moved also, for, before they had iron implements, with only stone hatchets and rude copper knives the work of cutting or breaking the bushes for use was no trifling labor. Inside the hut and under its sloping sides were rude benches constructed of poles and brush, a little raised from the ground, on which with skins of wild beasts, and with matting of reeds and grass and bark and small twigs dextrously woven by the squaws, they made beds.

Literally it was but a trifling matter when they wished to move to take up their beds and walk. A small colony might plant themselves in the spring by a stream where fish and muskrats abounded, and four months afterward be many miles away, in the same huts, transported and made anew; the males in their hunting grounds and many of the females by their little cornfields, or where berries and nuts could be gathered. Some tribes, in villages, built very large or rather very long wigwams, or houses, which would shelter dozens of persons, or perhaps as many families. The wigwam of an old Ottawa chief at Arbor Croche, in the beginning of the 19th century, was sixty or seventy feet long; and some early explorers tell of seeing such habitations three or four times that length in the Indian villages of the Iroquois, Algonquins, and other tribes. These were often in shape like an arbor overarching a garden walk. The frame work of the sides was formed of saplings set in rows, with tops bent inward and lashed together.

On these were poles for ribs fastened horizontally by means of withes or strips of bark. The outer covering was of sheets of bark, from any sort of timber that they could peel, overlapping each other like shingles on a roof; and to hold this in place other small poles were lashed outside, with strips of bark from the basswood or elm. In this form of wigwam the chimney was nearly a continuous opening, a foot or two wide, along the entire length of the ridge, under which the fires were in a line on the ground through the center. Usually each fire sufficed for two families, who, in winter, slept closely packed about them. Poles were put up along the inside toward the top, on which were suspended weapons, moccasins, clothing, skins, ornaments, and dried meats. There, too, in harvest time, the squaws hung the ears of corn to dry. Their way of garnering their corn was to dry the ears by fire, then beat off the grain arid put it in sacks of matting, which were in turn put into large cylinders - made of bark and set deep in dry ground, where frequently they would leave it to remain through the winter, for use the next summer, or when their supply of other food should run short.

The Indians of this peninsula, before they were crowded away by the white men, understood well the comfort of the regions about Grand and Little Traverse Bays as summer resorts. Those of the big village at Arbor Croche only staid there during the warm season. In the fall they were wont to start for the south, hunting along shore or inland in winter, wherever muskrats, beavers and other favorite game and furs could be found, camping with their little wigwams in the Muskegon, Grand, Kalamazoo and other river valleys, going even as far as Chicago and beyond; in the spring returning to the north, to raise corn and enjoy the lake breezes.

At home, and while not at war with other tribes or the encroaching white people, the Indians seem to have enjoyed the felicity of domestic peace. Quarrels, murders, thefts and other crimes were rare among them. Indeed, so far as may be judged from any reliable history, there was proportionately much less of crime and immorality in domestic life among them than there is in civilized society at the present day. They had their religions, their superstitions, their gods of earth and air and water, and their many and singular, but by no means uniform, beliefs in spirits and faiths in dreams. By nature, in peace, they were neighborly and honorable. The savage would scalp his enemy, but his childlike reliance upon the "Great Spirit" to supply his physical wants left little room in his heart for a propensity to wanton robbery or theft.

Probably the integrity and honor of the Indians has been overrated; they were not universally honest, but they were more often persistent beggars than thieves. And among their leaders and chiefs pride in fidelity to their pledges or promises was a marked characteristic.

It is related that an Indian who became indebted to a white man desired to give his note. A note was written, to which he affixed his mark, and then he pocketed it, insisting that inasmuch as it was his note he was the rightful holder. He carried it home, but when it became due appeared promptly with the note and the money and paid his debt. The creditor was Peter D. McNaughton, then of Caledonia, Kent county, a pioneer of 1838.

The Indians who lived here when the white men first entered are represented to have been peacefully and amicably inclined, often aiding and succoring the pioneers in time of need, providing game or fish, and exchanging courtesies with them of various kinds in a neighborly and friendly spirit. If the white man lost his horse, the Indian, keener of search or observation, was generally sure to bring tidings of the missing animal. Deer were plenty, and in most seasons the Indians not only supplied their own families with meat, but often when a deer was slain presented their white neighbors with choice pieces of venison. They also used muskrat and raccoon flesh for food. They gathered wild berries and fruits in their season, and these, as well as game, furs, dressed deerskins, and moccasins, they were wont to "swap" for flour, salt, tobacco, ammunition, sugar, blankets, and such other articles as they desired, not forgetting "fire water" if that was obtainable, and seldom was it lacking. The French who came among them easily adopted the use of some kinds of meats for which the Yankee settlers did not so readily acquire a taste, the former being trained adepts in culinary skill. When the pioneer Yankee family came down the river from Ionia, they stopped and took dinner at the mouth of Flat River, with the family of Dan Marsac. For a simple, frugal meal, so deep in the woods, it was bounteous, but several girls of the voyaging party remembered for more than twenty years, with merry jests and hearty laughter whenever the subject was mentioned, their sportive discussion of the principal dish - muskrat soup. The Indians are usually regarded as a vigorous, hardy and athletic race, in those respects surpassing the civilized people who have supplanted them. But it is probably true that the rule of "the survival of the fittest," rather than the universality of natural vigor, has been mainly the foundation for such an opinion; the naturally feeble among them having been cut down early in life by the vicissitudes to which they were exposed, and only the stronger and more powerful left to reach maturity in years.


The following persons have served as Indian agents in Michigan:

1836 - 43, H. R. Schoolcraft

1843 - 45, Robert Stuart

1845 - 51, W. A. Richmond

1851 - C. P. Babcock

1852 - 53, William Sprague

1853 - 58, H. C. Gilbert

1858 - 62, A. M. Fitch

1862 - 65, D. C. Leach

1865 - 69, R. M. Smith

1869 - 71, James W. Long

1871 - R. M. Smith

1871 - 76, George I. Betts

1876 - 81, G. W. Lee

1881 - 85, E. P. Allen

1885 - 89, Mark W. Stevens.


In regard to the present Indian population of Michigan the census statistics are far from satisfactory. It seems that until the census of 1880, the nearest approaches to numbering them were by loose estimates or guesses.

In 1870 the statistics give but 4,926; whereas in 1880 the Indians were reported as numbering 7,296, and in 1884 the number had decreased to 6,900. The diminution occurs probably through their removal to western reservations, rather than from natural causes.

Document Source: Baxter, Albert, History of the City of Grand Rapids, New York and Grand Rapids: Munsell & Company, Publishers, 1891. (Name Index)
Location of Original: Various.
Transcriber: Tom McCormick
Created: 2 May 2000[an error occurred while processing this directive]