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THE INDIANS AND THE TRADING POSTS IN THE NORTHWEST
OF BARRY COUNTY, MICHIGAN1
BY CHARLES A. WEISSERT?
For many years it has been believed that Middleville stands upon the site of an Indian village. Research among the few sources of history of the aboriginees who inhabited the land now included in the northwestern portion of Barry county, adds nothing to support this theory; on the contrary, it proves that the modern village was built not upon the site of an Indian settlement, but upon a spot on the banks of the Thornapple where the red men held councils and powwows. Under the great trees they gathered to deliberate, to perform mystic religious rites, to hold festivities, to try offenders against tribal laws and to consider peace or war, after which they went their various ways by trail or by canoe to meet again at the next call. To this spot, abloom in spring with the thornapple, the red-bud, the wild plum, the wild crab and scores of varieties of flowers; in summer made beautiful by the rich, heavy foliage of gigantic oaks, maples and beeches; and in autumn gorgeous with multitudinous colors, they must have come from times immemorial.
It is not difficult, however, to account for the source of this popular error. West of Middleville lay an extensive oak-opening, which was called a prairie and afterwards named Scales' Prairie. Over this stretch of land on which burr-oaks occasionally grew not unlike trees in an orchard, passed the deep-worn trail connecting Pockatink, the Indian village on the site of Grand Rapids and Match-eben-ashe-wish
Read at the Barry County Pioneer meeting, June 9, 1911. Published by courtesy of The Hastings Banner.
*For original information I am indebted to the following pioneers: Joseph Cisler, of Yankee Springs, Charles Williams, John Wickham, William Bennett, John Williams, the late John Fuller, the late Waitstill Hastings Cressey, all of Hastings; the late William Brown, of Prairieville; Cornelius Mason, of Richland; William Burroughs, of Banfield. Historical aids-Michigan Historical Collections; D. B. Cook's Hunting and Fishing in the Wilderness West of Gun Lake in 1839; History of Barry and Allegan Counties; Bartlett's Tales of Kankakee Land; Indian Affairs, Laws and Treaties, Vol. II; Lossing's Pictorial Field Book of the War of 1812; Parton's Life of Andrew Jackson; Washington Irving's Life of Washington; Kelton's Annals of Fort Mackinac; J. Fenimore Cooper's Oak Openings, Parkman's Montcalm and Wolf.
3An incorporated village in the northwest township of Thornapple with a population of 831 in 1904. Its first name was Thornapple. When the postoffice was established with Mr. Dibble as postmaster it was proposed to call it Dibbleville. From its distance to Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids it attained its present name of Middleville.
"Named from Robert Scales a pioneer settler. See supra. “For illustration see Vol. XXXV, p. 145, this series.
on the site of Kalamazoo. Here, grouped in the vicinity of a blockhouse erected by French traders, were a few wigwams, which might have been known as the "Middle Village," for this settlement was located about midway between Pockatink and the town with the ponderous name on the Kalamazoo. When eastern speculators platted a forty-acre townsite on Scales' Prairie, they appropriated the white settlers' cognomen of the little group of wigwams huddled about the trading post, and called it “Middleville.” These lots were sold in the east. No attempt was ever made to build upon them, and years afterward those who had invested in them, came west to view their property only to find that they had been victimized, like many today who buy in the west land which they have never seen. The investors neglected to pay taxes on these lots, and therefore lost them. Like the townsite of "Trenton," platted three miles south, “Middleville" was forgotten by all except the speculators' victims. When Calvin Hille and others cleared away the council grove two miles west of the trading-post, the name was revived and given to their settlement, which has developed into one of the principal towns in Barry county.
Of the lives and habits of the Indians who resided in Barry county we know little. The hardy men who first came among them were too busy bewing down the mighty forest to give much attention to the red men, but seldom did they associate with them sufficiently to learn their true values as men and women. Indians were “Injuns.” That they hunted, fished, trapped, wandered, were unwholesome in their habits, and stubbornly refused to adopt the white man's manner of living, is common knowledge. Few were deeply interested in their lives, and with several exceptions, of course, there was no attempt to understand them, or to judge them by any standard except the white man's. And because they were not like white men and refused to live like them, in other words, to change their habits at once—something psychologically impossible—they were considered an inferior race, regardless of any virtues they might possess.
Thus has been lost to us material for comprehensive studies of their family and tribal lives, and too little is known of their human attributes to assign them to any absolutely definite position among men. Acquaintance with them was not easy, and their intimate lives were known only to those white men who associated with them. Those who came to know
"Calvin G. Hill, familiarly known as Squire Hill was a native of New York state, who came to Michigan in 1834 and purchased 400 acres of land which included the present village of Middleville. He filled at some time nearly all the township offices. His descriptions of surveys are very primitive, like "line running N. to certain plowage and E. to woodpile." His son, Alpheus M., made a plow drawn by six or more yoke of oxen which he used to break up land for the settlers. His son, Albert C., died in the Civil War. Mr. Hill died in 1867. Hist. Barry Co., p. 487.
them best were undoubtedly the sons of pioneers who chose Indian children for their playmates and grew up with them, learning their methods of hunting, fishing, trapping and their home life. These friendships lasted until the red men were moved by the government. With remarkably preserved memories two men, Joseph Cisler, of Yankee Springs, and Charles Williams,s of Hastings, still give interesting accounts of the Indians of the northwestern part of Barry county. Mr. Cisler, who is in his eighty-seventh year, is the last connecting link of the early days in this county with the present. At the age of ten years he came to Bull's Prairie, in Irving, with his parents, and has ever since resided in Barry county. Mr. Williams, a younger man than Mr. Cisler, was born in this county. He played with the Indians and became as expert as they were in hunting and fishing.
Tribes of Chippewas, Potawatomies and Ottawas of the Algonquin branch of the Indian race occupied this part of the state. The Ottawas were refugees from Canada. The Potawatomies occupied the St. Joseph valley, the Ottawas and Chippewas the northern and eastern portions of the state. In 1707 LaMotte Cadillac, the French governor, urged the concentration of the tribes. For a century and a half afterward the Ottawas and Potawatomies occupied Barry county. During the summer the Ottawas went north, the Potawatomies back to the St. Joseph valley. Occasionally some of them went to Detroit to spend the warm months near the French settlement. These tribes were at war with the eastern tribe of Iroquois, who were under the influence of the English, the rivals of the French for the supremacy of North America. The Indians of Western Michigan assisted the French in defeating General Braddock at Fort Duquesne in Pennsylvania, and in raiding the English settlements as far as the Appalachians. Some of them fought under Montcalm, and later they swarmed to aid Pontiac in his conspiracy. So soon as the French sustained several defeats, they lost the. confidence of the red men, who afterward passed under the dominion of the British. Several hundred Michigan Indians fought in Burgoyne's army, and also participated in raids upon the settlements in Kentucky and in Virginia. Many of them were slain in the battle of Fallen Timbers, and the survivors fed before the victorious Americans under “Mad Anthony” Wayne. In 1780, Indians and traders, commanded by British officers, marched to the Mississippi, and captured from the Spanish the important city of St. Louis. A year later these same raiders were astonished when the Spanish, led by Don Francesco Crusat, suddenly appeared in Michigan and destroyed in the heart of the Potawatomie country Fort St. Joseph, which had been in existence since the
'Joseph, son of Huston Cisler and Rachel Scott. See Hist. Barry Co., p. 488. *Charles Williams, a pioneer of Hastings.
advent of the first Frenchmen. Leaving their colors flying the Spaniards, satisfied with their retaliation, went southward. In 1789 all of the tribes of Indians met General St. Clair, governor of the Northwest territory, and signed a treaty of peace, but they hated the Americans with a feeling which never abated.
Into the wigwams in the solitudes of Michigan penetrated news of the westward spread of the English colonial settlements. Gradually the country of the red nations was being submerged by the advancing tide of Anglo-Saxons. Afar, and still secure in their ancient haunts, the Michigan Indians had for several generations watched the subjection of their race. The defeat and fate of King Philip, the shattering of the Iroquois confederation, the humiliation of the strong tribes of the south with all of whom they had been at war for centuries, bred among the savages still in possession of their lands, a spirit of impending doom that broke out in fervent oratory at their councils. The French had come among them as missionaries and fur traders. Between the Gallic and Indian temperaments there was a peculiar bond of sympathy which was strengthened when French adventurers married squaws and were frequently adopted into tribes. They acted as mediums of commercial intercourse between the great mercantile establishments of Paris and the suppliers of furs, which were everywhere in demand in the courts of Europe. Half-breed children were reared in customs and traditions of the wigwams. Through the infusion of their blood whatever antipathy the savages felt for the English was strengthened by the enmity which centuries of misunderstanding and strife had bred between the two greatest Latin and Anglo-Saxon nations.
It was not from the Canadian provinces that the red men feared the source of future extermination. On the Plains of Abraham, at Quebec, the Indians had fled with the French when the British and Colonial forces from the Atlantic coast forever ended French dominion in America. Here and in other conflicts they felt the force of a new native power, which was later expressed in the independence of the colonies.
New countries are first inhabited successively by traders, missionaries and soldiers, and often they are havens of refuge for groups of people advocating freak social or religious beliefs which are ridiculed and not tolerated in their native countries. Rather than give up their ideals they go abroad where they may live or worship as they please. The French colonists were traders enslaved in the traditions and religion of their mother country. Broadly viewed, the English who settled on the Atlantic seaboard, came in order to secure independence of thought. With an impetus which gained strength as the settlements grew, this new dynamic social force developed unity of interests and ideals and a spirit of self-reliance, which combined with aggressive unrest of the Teutonic race, led to alienation and final freedom from the mother country.
The reviving effect upon the savages when several important British posts were destroyed as a result of Pontiac's conspiracy, was merely transitory. The supremacy of Great Britain soon became permanently established. The savages watched the ominous westward advance from the seacoast settlements. They had witnessed the conquest of the French by the English, but now they saw with consternation the forces of the most powerful monarchy on earth overcome by those sturdy men from the settlements which had been pushing them steadily westward. They hated the new government, not because it was American, but because it represented an increasingly centralized system of government that was ultimately to rob them of their subsistence and the lands which the Great Spirit, the Master of Life, had given them so long as the grass grew and the sun shone.
Throughout the new republic, as far west as the Mississippi, the tribes were ready for hostile protest. Alone they could not successfully cope with the strong arm of the young nation. They needed an organizer like Pontiac.
In 1810 and 1811, the Shawnee chief, Tecumseh, began a movement to unite all of the tribes in a confederation with the object of stopping the American advance. When the celebrated chief heard that the United States and Great Britain were likely to engage in war he hastened to offer his services to the Great Father in London. This was accepted, and with arms and supplies furnished by the British, who also offered liberal bounties for American scalps, they took part in the battles of Brownstown, Fort Dearborn, the River Raisin and on the Maumee. At Tippecanoe General Harrison so severely chastized the Indians that they fled back into the Michigan fastnesses. At the Battle of the Thames, in which many of the Barry county Indians participated, Tecumseh was slain, and the power of the savages was forever broken. They signed a treaty with General Harrison a year before the war with England was ended, and the dispersed, dispirited remnants returned to renew their life in this part of the state. They remained sullen, but peaceful, supplying the French and English fur traders until Black Hawk, in 1832, sent runners inviting them to join in his rebellion against the Americans. They painted themselves, held several pow wows and dances, but finally decided that the Wisconsin chieftain must fight his battles without them.
Between the close of the war with Great Britain in 1815 and the beginning of settlement of Barry county in 1830, numerous fur trading posts were established in this part of the state. Some were built and conducted by individual traders and others by the agents of the Ameri