Livingston County and Its Indian Occupants

By Franklin Ellis

Location and Natural Features of the County — The Native Occupants — Chippewas and Pottawattamies — Indian Hunting Grounds and Agriculture — The Sauks and their Expulsion by the Chippewas — Superstition of the Indians — The Later Indian Bands in Livingston — Burial-Places — The Chief Okemos — Indian Emigration

Location and Natural Features of the County

LIVINGSTON is one of the inland counties of Michigan, situated in the southeastern part of the lower peninsula of the State; its county-seat which is very nearly on the central point of its territory-lying between Detroit and Lansing, on the direct railway line, by which it is fifty-one miles distant from the first-named city, and thirty-four miles from the State capital. The counties which join this, and form its several boundaries, are Shiawassee and Genesee on the north, Oakland on the east, Washtenaw on the south, and Ingham on the west.

Within these boundaries are included sixteen townships of the United States survey, lying together in the form of a square, being four adjoining ranges of four towns each; which, on the supposition of an accurate and uniform survey (which, I however, is not strictly the case in Livingston), would give the county a superficial area of five hundred and seventy-six square miles, or three hundred and seventy-eight thousand six hundred and forty acres.

The surface of Livingston County is in general to be described as undulating, though some portions of it may be more correctly called hilly, as the term is understood in Michigan; and, indeed, some of the southern and northeastern parts of the county would be so regarded, even by people accustomed to the more rugged surface of the State of New York. The highest (though not the most abrupt) elevation of land in Livingston is found commencing on the eastern border, in the township of Hartland, and extending thence southwestwardly across the county through the township of Marion. This, although not so much raised above the surrounding country as to be very noticeable, is the watershed of the county, from which the waters flow in three different directions, and by widely separated courses, into Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Erie.

The main stream, and several branches of the Cedar River, take their rise in the western part of the county, in the townships of Marion and Iosco, and, pursuing a northerly and then a westerly course, pass out over the west boundary into Ingham County, and afterwards join the Grand River, through which their waters finally find their way into Lake Michigan.

The Shiawassee River (or more properly the south branch of the Shiawassee) rises in the lakes of Marion, flows north through Marion and Howell townships into Cohoctah, where it bends towards the east, enters Deerfield, and passes out near the northwest corner of that township into the county of Genesee, where it unites with the east branch of the Shiawassee, forming the main stream which joins the Saginaw on its way to Saginaw, Bay and Lake Huron. Several tributaries of the Shiawassee also take their rise in Livingston County, and among these are North Ore Creek and Yellow River; the latter of which flows north through Deerfield into Genesee County; where it joins the larger stream. North Ore Creek rises in the lakes of Hartland, flows north, crosses the southwest part of Tyrone, passes through Laird Lake, and joins the Shiawassee. Another tributary of the Shiawassee is a small stream which flows out of Thompson Lake, at Howell village, passes eastwardly into Oceola, thence returns to Howell township, flows north and joins. the principal stream in Cohoctah.

The Huron River, flowing in a southwesterly direction from Oakland County, enters Livingston across the east line of its southeastern township, across which, and the township of Hamburg, it continues its course to Base Lake, on the south boundary of the county, and passes thence into Washtenaw; after which it turns towards the southeast, and flows on in that general course to Lake Erie. The Portage River, a stream of considerable size, flows through the southwestern corner of Livingston County, and mingles its waters with the larger stream of the Huron. Ore Creek (or South Ore Creek as it is sometimes called in distinction from North Ore Creek, which flows into the Shiawassee) rises on the south side of the water-shed in Hartland, and flows south through the township and village of Brighton, after which its waters join those or the Huron, and find their way by its channel to Lake Erie.

Besides these waters, Livingston also abounds in pure, clear lakes, some of which form the sources of the streams which have been mentioned, and of their smaller tributaries. Of these lakes, the greater number, as well as the principal in size, are found in the southern and northeastern parts of the county, and will be more particularly noticed with the towns in which they are situated.

The Native Occupants of the County

Along the margins of the lakes and streams, and. in the forests and glades of the land which is now the county of Livingston, the natives of the soil roamed, hunted, fished, prosecuted their rude agriculture, and engaged in their wild worship of the Manitou, through many generations, and perhaps for many centuries, before the gaze of a white man ever rested on the bright waters of the Huron or Shiawassee.

The territory now covered by Livingston County was partly the domain of the Pottawatamies, and partly that of the Saginaw Chippewas. The country of the latter embraced all the lands contiguous to streams flowing into Lake Huron, even to their southernmost sources; while the Pottawattamies inhabited the valleys of those flowing in the other direction. To the southeast of the Chippewas, and also adjoining the territory of the Pottawattamies, lay the hunting-grounds of the southern Ottawas (a northern tribe of that nation inhabiting the east shore of Lake Michigan, in the north part of the Southern Peninsula). The frontiers of the Pottawattamies and Saginaws, therefore, joined each other in Livingston County, but it does not appear that their proximity produced feuds or hostility, between the two tribes, at least in the later years of their occupancy. They had here few, if any permanent villages, but made this part of their territory a sort of summer camping-ground, to which they came in the warm season to fish in the streams and clear lakes, and to plant their maize in the soft and fertile soil of the openings; and then, when the squaws had gathered their meagre crop, and the frosts and storms of November heralded the approach of winter, they returned to their comparatively comfortable villages within the shelter of the denser forests,– those of the Chippewas being located on the lower Shiawassee, the Flint, the Tittabawassee, and the Saginaw Rivers. From these the young men of the tribe went out to the winter hunting and trapping-grounds, and, at the approach of spring, all men, women, and children–went to the sugar-woods, pitched their camps, and spent a few weeks in sugar-making; after which they prepared for removal to the summer camping-grounds to hunt and fish, and plant maize, beans, pumpkins, and other Indian crops, as before. In nearly every part of Livingston County there were found old “Indian fields,” in which they had planted their seeds and gathered their scant crops probably for many successive years. On some of these–notably in one instance in the township of Cohoctah–there were apple-trees which had evidently been planted and reared by the natives.

When the first white explorers first came to this wilderness region, they found it peopled by roving bands of both the Chippewas and Pottawattamies; but they were mere remnants of those once powerful and warlike tribes,–scattered, dispirited, and cowed by the disastrous results of their alliance with the English in the war of 1812-15, and already foreseeing their approaching extinction. Among these scattered and miserable bands there were very few of the Pottawattamies; so few, indeed that the settlers in Livingston could scarcely be said to have seen or known any of that people. Nearly all were of the Saginaw Chippewa nation. which had doubtless been in the earlier years, as it was then, the principal occupant of this region and of the great wilderness to the northward.

According to their own traditions, however, imparted by them to the white adventurers at Saginaw as early as 1820,–the proprietorship of the Chippewas was of comparatively recent date. They said (and the tradition is to some extent supported by authentic history) that, within the memory of some of their old men, all these streams and woods and hunting-grounds, this Indian paradise, of fish and deer and beaver, was the home and possession of the Sauks and Onottoways (a kindred people), who lived near together in neighborly amity, and, both being strong and valiant tribes, and confederated for mutual defense, they felt perfectly secure in their fancied ability to hold their country against all invading enemies. The Sauks were the more numerous, and occupied the valleys of the Tittabawassee, the Flint, and the Shiawassee, their domain extending as far south as the head-waters of the latter stream. The Onottoways lived in the valley of the Onottoway-Sebewing, or Cass River, and had their principal village a few miles above the mouth of that stream, nearly where is now the village of Bridgeport Centre. The chief village of the Sauks was on the west side of the Saginaw River, opposite where Portsmouth now stands; but they had other small villages or encampments at different points on the rivers, and as far up as the lakes of Oakland and Livingston Counties.

Both these tribes appear to have possessed war-like traits, and were not only disposed to hold and defend their own country, but sometimes engaged in aggressive expeditions against the tribes whose country adjoined theirs on the north and south, which tribes, as a consequence, both feared and bated them. Particularly was this the case with the Ojibways (Chippewas), who then-inhabited a region far away to the north, bordering on the lakes, — Michigan, Huron, and Superior. This nation had for years coveted the teeming hunting-grounds of the Sauks, and it had long been a cherished project with them to conquer and exterminate the prosperous tribes who held the valleys of the Saginaw and its tributaries. But they dreaded the power and prowess of their enemies, and this consideration held them in check until their ambitious desires could be controlled no longer, and, at last, they determined to attempt the execution of the plan of invasion and conquest which they had so long secretly entertained. To this end they held council with the Ottawas of the north (whose country was contiguous to, their own), and sent messengers to the southern Ottawas (whose domain lay along the northeastern border of that of the Pottawattamies), asking them to join in an expedition for the humiliation of the Sauks and Onottoways and the occupation of their hunting-grounds. The proposition was favorably received, the league was formed, and the confederated bands set out on the war-path with great secrecy, hoping to take their enemies by surprise, — a hope that was fully realized.

As to the manner in which the attack was made, the traditional accounts differed to some extent; but that which seems the most complete and reasonable was nearly as follows: The invaders entered the country of the doomed tribes in two columns, one, composed of the southern Ottawas, coming through the woods from the direction of Detroit, and the other, made up of the Chippewas and northern Ottawas, setting out in canoes from Mackinaw proceeding down along the western shores of Lake Huron and the bay of Saginaw, paddling by night, and lying concealed in the woods by day. When the canoe fleet reached a point a few miles above the mouth of Saginaw River, half the force was landed; and the remainder, boldly striking across the bay in the nighttime, disembarked at a place about the same distance below the mouth of the Saginaw. Then, in darkness and stealth, the two detachments glided up through the woods on both sides of the river, and fell upon the unsuspecting Sauks like panthers upon their prey. The principal village–situated on the west side of the river–was first attacked; many of its people were put to the tomahawk, and the remainder were driven across the river to another of their villages, which stood on the east – bank. Here they encountered the body of warriors who had moved up on that side of the river, and a desperate fight ensued, in which the Sauks were again routed, with great loss. The survivors then fled to a small island in the Saginaw, where they believed themselves safe, at least for the time, for their enemies had no canoes in the river. But here again they had deluded them for in the following night ice was formed of sufficient strength to enable the victorious Chippewas to cross to the island. This opportunity they were not slow to avail themselves of, and then followed another massacre, in which, as one account says, the males were killed, to the last man, and only twelve women were spared out of all who had fled there for safety. So thickly was, the place strewn with bones and skulls of the massacred Sauks, that it afterwards became known as Skull-Island. [1]Mr. Ephraim S. Williams, formerly a fur trader at Saginaw City, and a brother of Mr. B. 0. Williams, of Owosso, verifies this statement. He has often visited the island in earlier years, and has seen … Continue reading

Meanwhile, the co-operating force of Ottawas coming in from the south, struck the Flint River near its southernmost bend, and a desperate battle, was fought between them and the Sauks, resulting in the defeat of the latter, and the massacre of all who were found in the valley of that stream.

After completing their bloody work on the Saginaw, the invading army was divided into detachments, which severally proceeded to carry destruction to the villages on the Tittabawassee, Cass, and Shiawassee Rivers. Murderous work was done by the band that scoured these valleys, and every where the result was the same, — the utter rout and overthrow of the Sauks, only a miserable remnant of whom made their escape, and, finally, by some means, succeeded in eluding their relentless foes and gained the shelter of the dense wilderness west of Lake Michigan. [2]One of the Indian accounts of this sanguinary campaign was to the effect that no Sauk or Onottoway warrior escaped; that of all the people not one was spared except the twelve women before mentioned, … Continue reading

After the Sauks had been thus utterly crushed and their villages destroyed, the victorious allies did not immediately settle in the conquered territory, but held it as a common ground for the range of their hunting-parties. After a time they found that some of the young men who went out with those parties did not return and could never be heard of, and then it became their firm belief that the dim recesses of these forests were haunted by the spirits of the murdered Sauks, who had come back to their former hunting-grounds to take vengeance on their merciless destroyers. And the result of the belief (so said the tradition) was that they abandoned this inviting region, and for years their hunters and fishermen avoided its haunted woods and streams, although the thickets swarmed with game and the waters were alive with fish.

No one can say how long their, superstitious terrors prevailed, but it is certain that they were partially overcome at last, so that the Chippewa and Ottawa tribes built their lodges in the land which their bloody hands had wrenched from its rightful possessors. Those who came to the valley of the Saginaw and its tributaries, however, were principally Chippewas, and from that time the Indian inhabitants of this region were known as the Saginaw tribe of the Chippewa nation: They possessed all the characteristics of the parent stock, and, until overawed and cowed by the power of the whites, they showed a disposition as fierce and turbulent as that of their kindred, the Ojibways of Lake Superior, who massacred the garrison of Fort Michilimackinac, in 1763.

Much of their superstition still remained, though they had summoned sufficient courage to occupy the “haunted hunting-grounds.” Long after the Saginaw and Shiawassee valleys were studded with white settlements, the simple Indians still believed that mysterious Sauks were lingering in their forests and along the margins of their streams for purposes of vengeance; that Munesous or bad spirits, in the form of Sauk warriors, were hovering around their villages and camps, and on the flanks of their hunting-parties, preventing them from being successful in the chase, and bringing ill-fortune and discomfiture in a hundred ways. So great was their dread, that when (as was frequently the case) they became possessed of the idea that the Munesous were in their immediate vicinity they would fly, as if for their lives, abandoning everything, wigwams, fish, game, and peltry; and no amount of ridicule from the whites could convince them of their folly, or induce them to stay and face the imaginary danger. Some of the Indian bands whose country joined that of the Saginaws played upon their weak superstition and derived profit from it, by lurking around their villages or camps, frightening them into flight, and then appropriating the property which they had abandoned. A few shreds of wool from their blankets left sticking on thorns or dead brushwood, hideous figures drawn upon the trunks of trees with coal, or marked on the ground in the vicinity of their lodges, was sure to produce this result, by indicating the presence of the dreaded Munesous.

Mr. Williams, whose authority has already been cited in the foregoing pages, writes of this matter as follows: “I have had them come from places miles distant, bringing their rifles to me, asking me to examine and re-sight them, declaring that the sights had been removed (and in most cases they had, but it was by themselves in their fright). I have often, and in fact always did when applied to, re-sighted and tried them until they would shoot correctly, and then they would go away cheerfully. I would tell them they must keep their rifles where the Munesous could not find them. . . . At other times, having a little bad luck in trapping or hunting, they became excited, and would say that game had been over and in their traps, and that they could not catch anything; have known them to go so far as to insist that a beaver or an otter had been in their traps and gotten out; that their traps were bewitched or spellbound, and their rifles charmed by the Munesous, so that they could not catch or kill anything. Then they must give a great feast, and have the medicine-man, or conjuror, and through his wise and dark performances the charm is removed and all is well, and traps and rifles do their duty again. These things have been handed down for generations.” And so, through all the domain of the Saginaws, their lives were made miserable by these superstitious fears; and thus they expiated the crime committed by their ancestors against the unfortunate Sauks.

The country of the Saginaw Chippewas was an almost inaccessible fastness, and from this their warriors continually forayed against the unprotected settlements on the Detroit, St. Clair, and Huron Rivers; and many were the scalps and captives which they brought back from these hostile expeditions. They joined the Indian league which was formed in 1786 in the interest of the British, for the purpose of destroying the American settlements and driving them beyond the Ohio River, and they took part with the other tribes in the hostilities which continued until checked by the victorious campaign of General Anthony Wayne. Again, when the Shawanese chieftain, Tecumseh, and his brother, the “Prophet” Elkswatawa, instigated by the British, sent forth their emissaries to ask the co-operation of the northern and western tribes in a project to exterminate the white settlements within the Northwest Territory, the Saginaw Chippewas were found ready and willing to join the league; and they continued among the most active of all the Indian allies of the English during the war of 1812-15.

The Pottawattamies were also prominent members of the Indian confederation instigated by Tecumseh; which aimed at the destruction of American power. A large detachment of warriors of this tribe fought against Harrison at Tippecanoe, and a still greater number acted with the British in the operations which resulted in the disgraceful surrender of Detroit by General Hull, in August, 1812. Again, on the 22d of January, 1813, they fought at the river Raisin (where the city of Monroe now stands), and were prominent and bloody actors in the massacre which followed the battle. Four hundred Pottawattamies took part in the assault on Croghan’s command at Lower Sandusky in August, 1813; and the tribe was represented among the foes of America in every hostile movement down to and including the battle of the Thames, in October, 1813. Here Tecumseh fell, and the hopes of his Indian adherents were crushed forever. The Pottawattamies, like other tribes, sued for peace, and receiving the mercy which they did not deserve, gave hostages for their future good conduct, retired to their villages, sullen at first, but thoroughly subjugated, and never took up the hatchet again.

Between the time of the subjugation of the Michigan tribes, following the death of Tecumseh, and the time when white settlements began to be seen in the forests and openings of Livingston County, there had elapsed a period of about twenty years, during which the Natives had moved rapidly on the road towards that state of decay which is invariably the result of the Indian’s contact with the white race, and his access to the white man’s whisky. Trading-posts had been established as, early as 1820 on the lower Shiawassee River, and on the Flint, as well as at Saginaw; and at these posts the Indians had always managed to obtain from the unscrupulous traders the poison fire-water, which to their race, in even greater degree than to the white, as proved the fruitful source of degradation and misery. And so, in the demoralized and scattered bands which the early settlers found here, roving and homeless, they saw few, if any, of the characteristics which had marked the native tribes in the former days of their war-like pride and strength.

They were quite numerous here, particularly in the summer season, and nearly all were of the tribe known to the settlers as the Shiawassees, which term had reference to that subdivision of the Saginaw Chippewas which occupied the valley of the Shiawassee River to its head-waters. The only Indians in Livingston known to be of Pottawattamie lineage was a small band which lived in or frequented the southwest part of the county; of which band the leader was an old Indian named “Toag,” of whom Mr. Shields speaks as “a social old fellow, who was on good terms with the settlers, though be would steal their potatoes.” And he mentions also that, many years after this band had disappeared from the county, Mr. Westfall, while traveling in Ohio, was saluted by an Indian who seemed exceedingly glad to see him, and who proved to be none other than the “chief” Toag himself.

Several other bands were located in different parts of the county, though these locations were by no means permanent. In the eastern part, among the lakes of Hartland, lived “old Shakaw,” a Chippewa, who at one time was the leader of a small band. This band was afterwards scattered, and old Shakaw lived alone without a following. Later, he moved north to Isabella County, or that vicinity, and died there in recent years.

On Indian Lake, in Deerfield, lived old Portabeek, a chief or head man of some grade among the Shiawassees. He also had had a small following, but, like Shakaw, was afterwards chief of only his own wigwam. Another Indian (who is not known to have been a leader, but who was quite well known in Livingston County as a frequent claimant for bounty on wolf-scalps) was Neome, a, Chippewa, and perhaps a lineal descendant of the earlier Neome, who was one of the principal chiefs of the Saginaws.

Four or five miles northwest of the centre of the county, on the farm of Ira Brayton, in the township of Howell, there were found by the early settlers–and opened in 1843–some sepulchral mounds; of which Mr. Elisha H. Smith, one of the discoverers, writes as follows: “On the northwest quarter of section twenty-two Howell, there are several places of burial, judging from the appearance of the mounds where they were interred. They commenced burying their dead at the top of the ground, covering the corpse with earth. They then placed other bodies above this one, until the mound was several feet high. Several of these mounds, have been opened for phrenological observation. Their traits of character were found similar to those who lived here at the time of the settlement by the whites. They were buried with their heads in a southeasterly direction. The Indians who lived here at the time the mounds were opened had no knowledge of them. On the exposure of the bones to the atmosphere they soon decomposed.” Some, who examined the place, believed that the presence of the mounds indicated the existence of an Indian village there at some remote period. Others thought differently; and the vagabond Indians who were living in this vicinity at the time knew nothing whatever about the matter.

Another place where Indian graves were found was near the shore of Cedar Lake, in the township of Marion. In the vicinity of these some aboriginal implements have been found. An elevated ground near the shore of this lake was a favorite camping-place of the Indians, at and after the time of the first settlements. On the shores of several other lakes of the county were also camping grounds much frequented by the Indians.

It is mentioned by the Hon. Ralph Fowler that there were three winter camps of Indians in the woods near his house, in Handy, in the winter of 1836-37. The occupants of these camps were numerous, and they had about thirty ponies browsing in the woods in their vicinity. The old Chief Okemos, with from fifty to one hundred of his band, was encamped there at the same time, being on his way back from Detroit to his home on the Looking-Glass River, in Ingham County. This old chief, although living outside the county of Livingston, is properly mentioned here, for his village was not many miles from the western border, and he frequently passed through here with his band, and was well known to many of the settlers. He was one of the chiefs of the Shiawassee branch of the Saginaw Chippewas, was born about the year 1788, and was consequently some forty-eight or fifty years of age at the time mentioned by Mr. Fowler. He had been a noted warrior in his youth. He was present, under Tecumseh, at the attack on Fort Sandusky in the war of 1812, and fought against the Americans on that occasion with great desperation. When the Indians learned that the commandant of the fort had been peremptorily summoned to surrender, they were inspired with unusual boldness, and they at once made a furious charge upon the work, but were driven back with slaughter. They returned to the assault, but were again repulsed, and this time Okemos, fell, pierced through the body by a musket-ball. The retreat of the Indians was followed up by a sally and counter-charge by the defenders of the fort, and as they passed the spot where Okemos lay wounded a soldier gave him (as was supposed) a finishing blow. The chief lay still without a groan, showing no signs of life until the party had returned to the fort, and then managed to crawl to a swampy piece of woods near by, where he secreted himself until night came on, when, having the good fortune to see a pony grazing near by, he succeeded in securing and mounting him, though weak and almost fainting from loss of blood. The pony bore him to the Indian camp on the Maumee, where he remained until he had recovered from the effects of his wounds. He afterwards took part in many of the Indian depredations, but was finally induced by Colonel Godfrey, the Indian agent, to forsake the British and attach himself to the Americans, to whom he continued faithful during the remainder of his life. After the war he made a permanent settlement with his band on the Looking-Glass River, in Ingham County, near the village and railroad station which still bear his name. He died at his village on the Looking-Glass in 1863. Like most of the Indians of whatever degree, he was greatly addicted to drunkenness, and in his latter years was little more than a beggar, but he was very proud of his early deeds, and often related them. He stood well in the estimation of General Cass, with whom he sat in treaty council several times.

The Indians who were found inhabiting this region were entirely peaceable except when under the influence of whisky, and even then they were easily cowed and reduced to docility by the display of firmness and resolution on the part of the whites. During all their stay here there is no account, of their doing any murder or other serious violence. They were great boasters, the older ones telling wonderful tales of their own and their ancestors’ prowess in earlier years, before the palefaces came to their hunting-grounds. They were universally unclean–even filthy–in their appearance, and their chief desire was for whisky. In these two vices the women surpassed the men, as they did also in lying and dishonesty. The Indian men were not generally dishonest. They almost invariably returned articles loaned to them by settlers, even firearms, the possession of which they prized so highly.

In various, places, and in several different directions, the county was traversed by Indian trails, which, by being traveled for years by them and their ponies, had become beaten paths, worn into the soft soil in some places to the depth of more than a foot. The principal of these was the great Grand River trail, crossing diagonally from the southeast to the northwest part of the county through its centre. This trail forked near the present village of Howell, the north fork being known as the Shiawassee trail, leading to Shiawassee-town; but this again forked near the northern boundary of Livingston County, and the westernmost branch led to DeWitt, Ionia, and Grand Rapids. A trail from Shiawassee-town also struck this county), at Hillman’s Tavern, in the northwest part of the township of Tyrone, and continued thence to Walled Lake, in Oakland County. From Hillman’s, southward, the Washtenaw trail passed through the eastern townships to and across the Huron River. The Strawberry Point trail passed from the main Grand River trail south through the present township of Hamburg, and into Washtenaw County. In the west part of the county a trail followed Cedar River for a long distance, and forking, passed to Cedar Lake in Marion, and also through Unadilla. Besides these, a number of smaller trails passed through different parts of the county.

Over the great through-trails, for many years after the first settlers came to Livingston County, hundreds of Indians from the Shiawassee and Grand River regions passed and repassed annually; the throng being always particularly large at the time when they went down to receive their annuities. These yearly payments were made in the early times by both the United States and the British governments, the latter usually paying at Malden. The amount paid there was fifty cents a head to Indians of all ages, from the patriarch of eighty years to the papoose at its mother’s back. On these occasions, therefore, every member of the several tribes took the trail, to be present at the muster for pay. The British did not long continue their Indian payments, and after a time the United States adopted the plan of paying at inland points (principally at Saginaw), to avoid the demoralization which ensued from vast collections of Indians at Detroit.

From the time when the attention of white immigrants first began to be drawn towards the lands lying west and northwest of Detroit, the United States government bad entertained plans for the gradual emigration of the Indians from Michigan, and their settlement together upon new lands west of the Mississippi, or at least beyond Lake Michigan. This project was pressed upon them by General Cass at the treaty of Saginaw, in September, 1819, but they positively and indignantly refused to consider it. This repulse, however, did not cause the government to abandon its cherished idea, and finally, after many long years of persuasion, the minds of the Natives seemed to have become fully prepared to entertain the proposition for ultimate, removal to the new countries of the far West.

At the commencement of 1837, Mr. Henry R. Schoolcraft, as Indian commissioner, met the chiefs and delegates of the Saginaw tribe of Chippewas at Detroit, where, on the 14th of January, a treaty was concluded by the terms of which the tribe agreed to remove from the State of Michigan as soon as a proper location could be obtained, and for this purpose it was stipulated that a deputation should be sent to view the country occupied by their kindred tribes west of the most westerly point of Lake Superior; “and if an arrangement for their future and permanent residence can be made there, which shall be satisfactory to them and to the government, they shall be permitted to form a reunion with such tribes and remove thereto. If such arrangement cannot be effected, the government of the United States will use its influence to obtain such location west of the Mississippi River as the legislation of Congress may indicate.”

The above was amended by a new treaty concluded on the 20th of December, 1837, at Flint River, between Henry R. Schoolcraft, commissioner, and the Saginaw chiefs and delegates, by the terms of which the United States agreed to reserve a location for the tribe “on the head-waters of the Osage River, in the country visited by a delegation of the said tribe during the present year; to be of proper extent agreeably to their numbers, embracing a due proportion of wood and water, and lying contiguous to tribes of kindred language; the meaning and intent of this being to nullify and abrogate that article of the treaty of January 14, 1837, which entitled them to a location in the country lying west of Lake Superior. It was provided by the treaty that the sum of fifty cents for each acre of Indian land sold by the United States should be reserved “as an indemnification for the location to be furnished for their future permanent residence and to constitute a fund for emigrating thereto.”

The plan of Indian emigration from Michigan, formed and fostered by the government and assented to by the chiefs in the treaties of Detroit and Flint River, was partially carried into effect, though against the protestations and entreaties of the Indians, who had bitterly repented of the promises made by, their chiefs at the treaties named. In the month of September, 1839, a sad procession of some hundreds of Indians, in charge of United States troops, passed westward through Livingston, bound for the new lands which had been, assigned them beyond the Mississippi. There are yet many citizens of the county who recollect the passage of that dejected Company. Mr. Joseph B. Skilbeck and others, in Howell, remember their own feelings of indignation at seeing the helpless exiles driven by soldiers, like cattle through the main street of the village, and herded temporarily for rest upon the old public square. But the indignation and sympathy of the white spectators availed nothing, and the unwilling emigrants passed on their weary way to the place of their banishment.

Of the Shiawassees, and other tribes or bands of the Saginaw Chippewa nation; but few were removed from the State. The government did not insist on the performance of their agreement, and no general Western emigration took place; but eventually the bands became in a great measure broken up, and the individual members gradually scattered away farther towards the north and west, some of them afterwards becoming the owners of small tracts by purchase (a course which was encouraged by the government), many removed to reservations in Isabella County, where they or their children are still living; and some crossed the river and lake into Canada.


Ellis, Franklin, and Everts & Abbott. History of Livingston County, Michigan. With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers. Everts & Abbott, 1880.


1Mr. Ephraim S. Williams, formerly a fur trader at Saginaw City, and a brother of Mr. B. 0. Williams, of Owosso, verifies this statement. He has often visited the island in earlier years, and has seen numbers of skulls exhumed from its soil.
2One of the Indian accounts of this sanguinary campaign was to the effect that no Sauk or Onottoway warrior escaped; that of all the people not one was spared except the twelve women before mentioned, and that these were sent westward and placed among the tribes beyond the Mississippi. This, however, was unquestionably an exaggeration made by the boastful Chippewas, and it is certain that a part of the Sauks escaped beyond the lake.

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