The History of Genesee County, MI
Chapter I
Lewis Cass

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Clayton

 

LEWIS CASS.

Gen. Lewis Cass was a native of Exeter, New Hampshire. His father fought in the War of the Revolution. Lewis was educated in Exeter Academy and was early schooled in the principles and traditions of New England. In early life his parents moved with him to Marietta, Ohio, where he grew up and became a lawyer, and a member of the Ohio Legislature. President Jefferson appointed him United States marshal for the district of Ohio, in 1807, a position he held until he sough service in the War of 1812. In 1813 he was made a brigadier-general under Harrison, and at the close of the war the qualities he had displayed marked him out as the best choice for governor of Michigan territory.

From 1813 to 1831, when he became a member of President Jackson's cabinet, Cass devoted his great energies to promoting the settlement of Michigan. According to one historian: "The number of white inhabitants of the territory when Cass became governor of it, was scarcely six thousand. No land had been sold by the United States and the interior was a vast wilderness, the above, it was estimated, of forty thousand savages. Settlers could not obtain sure titles to their locations. No surveys had been made. No roads had been opened inland. The savages were relentless in their hostility to the whites. Under these circumstances, Cass assumed the responsibilities of governor and ex-officio superintendent of Indian affairs. For eighteen years his management of Indian affairs was governed by remarkable wisdom and prudence. He negotiated twenty-two distinct treaties, securing the cession to the United States by the various tribes of the immense regions of the Northwest, instituted surveys, constructed roads, established military works, built light-houses, organized counties and townships, and, in short, created and set in motion all the machinery of civilized government."

Professor McLaughlin writes, in his "Life of Lewis Cass": "The great factor of his successful administration was honesty. But fair, honorable dealings with the Indians was a rare virtue, and in this he never faltered. He was wont to say in after years that he never broke his word to an Indian and never expected to find that the red man had broken his. Every exertion was made to have the funds and the allowances ready on the day they had been promised. Promptness and boldness in action, a firm self-reliance, a presumption that the power of the United States was mighty and would be obeyed, appealed to the Indian sense of awe and reverence. The respect, and even affection, which the Indian had for the Great Father at Detroit, was often manifest, and once felt, was not forgotten. Twelve years after his appointment as governor, while on a trip through southern Wisconsin and Minnesota, with gentle reproof he took from the necks of Indian chieftains their British medals, and placed in their stead a miniature of their great and mighty 'Father at Washington'." In concluding, professor McLaughlin says: "The name of Lewis Cass will not be written in the future with those of the few men whose influence is everywhere discernible, and who perpetuate themselves in institutions and in national tendencies. He was not a Washington, nor a Lincoln, nor a John Quincy Adams. But he was a great American statesman, building up and Americanizing an important section of his country, struggling in places of trust for the recognition of American dignity and for the development of generous nationalism. With the great slavery contest his name is inseparably connected. He stood with Webster and Clay for union, for conciliation, for the constitution as it seemed to be established. He was one of those men who broad love of country and pride in her greatness, however exaggerated, however absurd it may seem in these days of cynical self-restraint, lifted her form colonialism to national dignity and imbued the people with a sense of their power."

No greater testimony could be given of the merits of Lewis Cass then tht, after almost a century of the test of time, the people of Michigan should erect in honor of his work, and in tribute tot he man, a memorial such as was recently placed to his memory on Mackinac island. On this beautiful column of bronze, accompanying a life-like portrait of Cass, is this inscription:

Cass Cliff
Named by the
Michigan Historical Commission
And
Mackinac Island State Park Commission
In honor of
LEWIS CASS
Teacher, lawyer, explorer,
Soldier, diplomat, statesman
Born, October 9th, 1782
Died, June 17th, 1866.
Appointed by President Thomas Jefferson

U. S. Marshal for the District of Ohio, 1807-1811.
Brigadier-General, 1813.
Governor of Michigan Territory, 1813-1831.
Secretary of War in President
Andrew Jackson's Cabinet, 1831-1836.
Minister to France, 1836-1842.
United States Senator from Michigan,. 1845-1848, 1849-1857.
Secretary of State, 1857-1860.

He explored the country from the Great
Lakes to the Mississippi River and
Negotiated with the Indian Tribes Just
Treaties. His fair and generous treatment
Accorded to the Indians of the Northwest
Secured to the Peninsular State its
Peaceful settlement and continued prosperity.

Erected 1915 by
The Citizens of Michigan
In grateful appreciation of
His distinguished and patriotic services
To his Country and State.

It would be hard to exaggerate the greatness of the task which confronted Cass at the beginning of his long career as governor of Michigan territory. For at least two years after the close of the War of 1812, Michigan was prostrate from its effects. The French on the River Raisin were destitute. Near Detroit the settlers were almost as badly off. Cass worked with untiring vigilance to relieve their distress, calling in the national aid. Added to his other troubles, the Indians pillaged and murdered where force was not present to restrain them.

One of his greatest problems was to convert the French settlements, destitute, defenseless, foreign and slow, into prosperous and progressive American communities. Their material distress was first attended to. In 1815 Cass secured on thousand five hundred dollars from the government to distribute among them, which he spent mainly in flour for the River Raisin settlers. But he saw clearly the need of American enterprise and skill to mix with these colonists, from which they might learn something of that providence and energy needed to push back the frontier which hemmed the French in to the river banks. To attract Eastern settlers, lands must be surveyed and offered for sale on easy terms; and here he was hampered by no small difficulty.

In 1812 Congress had provided that two million acres of government lands should be surveyed in Michigan, to be set apart as bounty lands for the soldiers of the war. On an alleged examination, the surveyors reported that there were scarcely any lands in Michigan fit for cultivation. According to the official report of Edward Tiffin, surveyor-general for the Northwest:

"The country on the Indiana boundary line from the mouth of the Great Auglaize river, and running thence north for about fifty miles, is (with some few exceptions) low, wet lands, with a very thick growth of underbrush, intermixed with very bad marshes, but generally very heavily timbered with beech, cottonwood, oak, etc.: thence continuing north, and extending from the Indian boundary eastward, the number and extent of the swamps increase, with the addition of numbers of lakes, from twenty chains to two and three miles across.

"many of the lakes have extensive margins, sometimes thickly covered with a species of pine called 'Tamarack,' and in other places covered with a coarse, high grass, and uniformly covered from six inches to three feet (and more at times) with water. The margins of these lakes are not the only places where swamps are found, for they are interspersed throughout the whole country, and filled with water, as above stated, and varying in extent.

"The intermediate space between these swamps and lakes--which is probably neat one-half of the country--is, with very few exceptions, a poor, barren, sandy land, on which scarcely any vegetation grows, except very small scrubby oaks.

"In many places that part which may be called dry land is composed of little, short hand-sills, forming a kind of deep basin, the bottoms of many of which are composed of marsh similar tot he above described. The streams are generally narrow and very deep compared with their width, the shores and bottoms of which are (with very few exceptions) swampy beyond description; and it is with the utmost difficulty tht a place can be found over which horses can be conveyed in safety.

"A circumstance peculiar to that country is exhibited in many of the marshes, by their being thinly covered with a sward of grass, by walking on which evinces the existence of water, or a very thin mud, immediately under their covering, which sink from six to eighteen inches under the pressure of the foot at every step, and at the same time rises before and behind the person passing over it. The margins of many of the lakes and stream are in a similar condition and in many places are literally afloat. On approaching the eastern part of the military lands, towards the private claims on the straits and lake, the country does not contain so many swamps and lakes, but the extreme sterility and barrenness of the soil continue the same.

"Taking the country altogether, so far as has been explored, and to all appearances, together with information received concerning the balance, if is so bad there would not be more than one acre out of a hundred, if there would be one out of a thousand, that would in any case admit of cultivation."

Of course, congress had no reason to believe that the conditions were other than as reported. In 1816 a new law was passed, which provided for locating the two million acres of bounty lands partly in Illinois and partly in Missouri. This, apparently, was an official condemnation of Michigan lands by the national government, an action which became widely known in the East, through the newspapers. The common belief grew up that the interior of Michigan was a vast swamp that might well be abandoned to fur-bearing animals and the trappers and hunters. School geographies based on Tiffin's report contained maps of Michigan with "Interminable Swamps" printed across the interior of Michigan territory. The effect was to deter many from seeking homes in Michigan who under a more favorable report would have filled up the country rapidly. Instead of Michigan, the rival state of Illinois and the lands south of Michigan received the first great immigrations from the Eastern states.

Besides this gross ignorance of Michigan lands in the East, die to misrepresentation, Cass had to contend with the natural distrust and dread of the Indians, who had to lately been allies of the British, and stories of whose horrible atrocities, with no lack of fanciful coloring, had reached Eastern ears. Not only was the presence of the Indians a deterrent to immigration and disquieting tot he settles, but they still held title to most of the Michigan lands. To deal with this problem, Cass was made superintendent of Indian affairs for the Northwest, and gave early attention to extinguishing the Indian titles, as a first step to the removal of the Indians from the Great Lakes region. A grand council of the Chippewas and Ottawas was held in 1819 at the site of Saginaw, where a treaty was signed, by which one hundred and fourteen chiefs and principal sachems ceded to the Untied States a tract of country estimated to include about six million acres. According to the words of the treaty, the boundaries were as follows:

"Beginning at a point in the present Indian boundary line (identical with the principal meridian of Michigan), which runs due north from the mouth of the Great Auglaize river, six miles south of the place where the base line, so-called, intersects the same; thence west sixty miles; thence in a direct line tot he head of the thunder Bay river; thence down the same, following the course thereof, tot he mouth, thence northeast tot he boundary line between the United States and the British province of Upper Canada; thence with the same to the line established by the treaty of Detroit, in the year 1807; and thence with the said line to the place of beginnings."

This treaty is known as the Treaty of Saginaw. In 1821 Governor Cass and Hon. Solomon Sibley, who was associated with him as United States Indian Commissioner, concluded a treaty with the Ojibways, Ottawas, and Pottawatomies on the site of Chicago, which ash since been known as the Treaty of Chicago. The boundaries of the lands ceded by this treaty included between seven and eight thousand square miles in southwestern Michigan.

The year before a cession of land was secured at Sault Ste. Marie. Cass was on his way to explore the northern and western portions of the territory, and with him was a considerable party, including Henry R. Schoolcraft, as geologist. He had determined to into the condition of the Indians; to explain to them that their visits to the British in Canada for presents must be discontinued, and, among other things, to investigate the copper region and make himself familiar with the facts concerning the fur trade. An incident occurred in the council at the Sault that was thoroughly characteristic of the personal coolness and courage of Governor Cass in his dealing with the Indians. In a disagreement that arose, the Indians became threatening. At the close of an animated discussion, one of the chiefs a brigadier in the British service, drew his war lance and struck it furiously in the ground. He kicked away the American presents and in that spirit the council was dispersed. In a few moments the British flag was flying over the Indian camp. Cass at once ordered his men under arms. Proceeding to the lodge of the chief who had raised the flag, he took it down, telling him that no such insult could be permitted on American soil He said he was the Indians' friend, but that the flag was a symbol of national power, and that only the American flag could float above the soil of his and their country. If they attempted to raise any other "the United States would set a strong foot upon their necks and crush them to the earth." The boldness of the governor had the intended effect; soon after this, a treaty of cession was peaceably concluded. The expedition continued along the south shore of Lake Superior, whence they crossed southward to the Mississippi river and thence up the Wisconsin to Green bay. The return to Detroit was made by way of Chicago and the Indian trail through southern Michigan, thus giving to men close to the national government a first-hand knowledge of the country misrepresented by the early surveyors.

Cass now pushed forward the new surveys, which he had already induced the government to undertake as early as 1816. By 1818 they had progressed so far that a land office was established at Detroit and sales were begun. In 1820 the best of Michigan's lands then on sale could be bought for one dollar and twenty-five cents per acre, and the way was open for any prudent and industrious man to make a moderate home for his family. Immigration gradually scattered settlers through the Michigan forests. The plow began the task of achieving the victories of peace. the settlers found instead of "innumerable swamps," a fertile, dry and undulating soil, clothed with richest verdure, crossed by clear and rapid streams and studded with lake abounding with fish. In the clearings of the forest, the cosy log hut of the pioneer soon curled its smoke to the heavens from the banks of lake and stream, where children played and men and women toiled, and rested after toil; and among the stumps and felled trunks of the trees, little patches of new wheat basked in the sun like little green islands amid the vast and magnificent ocean of wilderness.

 

History of Genesee County, Michigan, Her People, Industries and Institutions
by Edwin O. Wood, LL.D, President Michigan Historical Commission, 1916

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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