The History of Genesee County, MI
Chapter III
The Tribal Reservation

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Clayton

 

 THE TRIBAL RESERVATION.

Of the tribal reservation of five thousand seven hundred and sixty acres of land, to include the village of ne-o-me, and the place called Kish-kawbawee, there could be no dispute. No caviler could suggest that the tribe was any other then the Chippewas of Saginaw, and so the United States on the next season after the treaty was made surveyed the same and set off for the tribe the reservation, partly in the present county of Genesee and partly in Saginaw, to include the two villages named.

In Genesee county, the reservation contained all of section 4, the east half of section 5, the west half of section 8, and the northwest quarter of section 10, all in the town of Montrose. This reserve in Genesee county was a rectangular piece of land, containing one thousand nine hundred and twenty acres, with the Flint river running approximately through the center of it.

This reservation was known by the Chippewa name for the Flint river, Pewonigowink, and afterwards the town containing it, was given the name of the town of Pewonigowink, but this was later changed to Montrose. Upon this same land afterwards the Flint river Agricultural Society established its fair grounds and held its fairs, and in later times it had been known as the Taymouth fair.

A celebrated place is known as the Old Indian field, where travelers up and down the river were accustomed to camp. This was on the Pewonigowink reservation in Saginaw county. It is said that the Indians planted their own corn in this field for years; but finally, the grub worms destroyed their crop for two or three years in succession, when the abandoned the field, believing that the Manitou had cursed it. These Indians were extremely superstitious and believed in evil spirits, especially the ghosts of the Sauks, who in their traditions wee murdered by their ancestors under circumstances of great cruelty. Ephraim S. Williams, the Indian trader of Saginaw and Flint, tells of their fears as follows:

"It has been mentioned that the ancient Chippewas imagined the country which they had wrested from the conquered Sauks to be haunted by the spirits of those whom they had slain, and that it was only the lapse of years that their terrors were sufficiently allayed to permit them to occupy the 'haunted grounds.' But the superstition still remained, and in fact it was never entirely dispelled. Long after the Saginaw valley was studded with white settlements, the simple Indian still believed that mysterious Sauks were lingering in their forests and along the margins of the streams for the purposes of vengeance; that "Manesous," or bad spirits in the form of Sauk warriors, were hovering around their villages and camps and the flanks of their hunting grounds, 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 with the idea that the 'Manesous' were in their immediate vicinity, they would fly as for their lives, abandoning everything--wigwams, fish, game and all their camp equipment--and no amount of ridicule by the whites could induce them to stay and face the imaginary danger. Some of the Indians whose country joined that of the Saginaws, played upon their weakness and superstition and derived profit form it by lurking around their villages or camps, frightening them into flight and then appropriating the property which they abandoned. There was time every spring when the Indians from Saginaw and the interior could congregate in large numbers for the purpose of putting up dried sturgeon, which made a very delicate dish when properly cooked, and was much used in those days in the first families of Detroit. We used to purchase considerable of it for our use. The Indians would select the best, flay them, hang them across poles in rows, about four feet from the ground and two feet apart, then a gentle smoke was kept under them until they were perfectly dry, then packed up in bales of perhaps fifty pounds each. When their bales were put up for summer use, then the poor lazy, worthless Indians from a distance who had an eye to supplying themselves with provisions which they never labored to obtain, would commence in different ways to excite their fears that the 'Manesous' were about the amp, until at least they would take to their canoes and flee, often ,leaving almost everything they possessed. Then the 'Manesous'--thieving Indians from the bands who had cunningly brought about the stampede for the sake of plunder--would rob the amps of what they wanted and escape to their homes with, perhaps, their supplies of fish for the summer, and often of sugar and dried venison. I have met them fleeing as above; sometimes twenty or more canoes; have stopped them and tried to induce them to return, and we would go with them; but no, it was the 'Manesous,' they said, and nothing could convince them differently; away they would go, frightened nearly to death. I have visited their camps at such times and secured their effects that were left in camp from destruction from wild animals. After a while they would return and save what was left. During these times they were perfectly miserable, actually afraid of their own shadows.

"Similar scenes were enacted by their hunting parties in the forests of the Shiawassee and the Flint, and at their summer camps, the beautiful inland lakes of their southern borders. I have had them come to me from places miles distant, bringing their rifles to me and asking me to examine and re-sight them, declaring that the sights had been moved; and in some cases they had, but by themselves in their fright. I always did, when applied to, re-sight, and try them until they would shoot accurately then they would go away cheerfully. I would tell them they must keep their rifles where 'Manesous' could not find them. At other times when they had a little bad luck hunting or trapping, they became excited and would say tht the game had been over ad in their traps, and they could not catch anything. I have known them to go so far as to insist that a beaver or otter had been in their traps, and their rifles charmed by the 'Manesous,' so they would not catch or kill anything. They then got up a great feast, and the medicine man, or conjurers, through their wise and dark performances, removed the charm and all was well; traps and rifles did their duty again.

Ne-o-me continued to live at his village on the reservation after the treaty of Saginaw was made. The pictures of Indian life given above will aid in understanding the life he led. He continued to be a close friend of the trader, Jacob Smith, until Smith died in 1825. Ne-o-me died in 1827, and was succeeded by Ton-e-do-gance, the war chief, who had become second chief to Ne-o-me. As the name of the new chief in his language means a furious dog, perhaps he was better adapted to ruling these superstitious people of Pewonigowink than was the amiable Ne-o-me. In this succession of the new chief, we may see the fulfillment of the long deferred ambition of the war chief, of which the romantic tale tells when he dramatically announced to ne-o-me and Chessaning the fact of the sister's elopement with the French trader.

At the treaty of Saginaw, Cass was obliged to give up his attempt to provide for the removal of the Chippewas to some point west of Lake Michigan. The reservations for the Indians at that treaty were small and insignificant as compared tot he great extent of the ceded territory of over six million acres. But even these insignificant and relatively unimportant tracts were envied by the settlers, and Cass never gave up the intention of removing the Indians. In Pursuance of the general policy of his government, various treaties were made with the different tribes by which they were induced to move to the westward, on lands given them in lieu of their Michigan reserves.

The Chippewas of our locality had become divided into three banks, the Swan Creed band, the Black River band and the Saginaw band. These were regarded as separate and distinct form the northern Chippewas. In March, 1836, a treaty was made by the Untied States, on the one hand, and the Chippewa Nation and Ottawa nation on the other, by which cession of their lands was made. The benefits of this treaty, however, were confined to the Chippewas of the upper peninsula and the region between the Grand river and the "Cheboigan." It was not intended that the affairs of the three bands above named should be involved in this treaty. On May 9, 1836, a teary was made by the United States, through Henry R. Schoolcraft, commissioner, and the Swan Creek and Black river bands of the Chippewas, by which they gave up their reservations and in return ere to receive thirteen sections of land west of the Mississippi river, or northwest of St. Anthony falls. Among the chiefs who signed this treaty was Kay-way-ge-zhig, (unending day), the father David Fisher, who lived many years in Gaines neat the Crapo farm; he died, respected by all who knew him, on April 26, 1884, and is nor buried on the Crapo farm. Of all the Chippewas who once held title to this country, his family were probably the last residents. His Indian name was Wah-e-lenessah and he was probably the last chief with this county. A great-great-granddaughter of his is now living in the city of Flint.

On January 14, 1837, at Detroit, was consummated the treaty between the Saginaw band of the Chippewas and the Untied States. This treaty was also negotiated by Schoolcraft, as commissioner for the United States. Among the provisions of this treaty, the Saginaw band ceded to the United States all the reservation on the Flint river, or the Pewonigowink reservation. By this cession the last vestige of tribal lands within the county of Genesee was surrendered. The Indians had the right to live in certain reservations further north, for five years, and were then to remove to a western location to be selected for the purpose buy a delegation of the Indians, who were to make a personal examination of the same. The place was to be in proximity to kindred tribes who had already moved there. It was contemplated that if such location could be satisfactorily made, the Chippewas should then form a "re-union," with such kindred tribes and move thereto.

The lands ceded were to be sold by the United States government and the moneys received for them were to be used for the benefit of the Indians. Tonedogaunee, successor to Ne-o-me, signed this treaty, with twenty-six other chiefs of the Saginaw band, of the Chippewas. It is also significant that ten of the chiefs who signed it were to receive each the sum of five hundred and one dollars, and Tonedogaunee was one of these.

On December, 20, 1837, a further treaty was made between this band and the United States, with Schoolcraft acting as commissioner. The council ws held "on the Flint river," and this was he only instance of a treaty being made here; it was at the present site of our city of flint, or the Grand Traverse of the Flint, that the Indians gathered for council and made the treaty. The delegation of Indians who had, under the stipulations of the earlier treaty of January, visited the western location and selected a place for their future home, had reported, and this council was to give tribal sanction to the report of the delegation. The reservation selected as "on the headwaters of the Osage river, in the country visited by the delegation of the 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 languages." To this treaty were signed the names of Tonedogaunee and Kau-gay-ge-zhig, the latter as having been a party to the treaty of the Swan Creek Indians, whose son was David Fisher of Genesee county. John Garland, major of the United States army; Henry Connor, interpreter and sub-agent, T. B. W. Stockton; G. D. Williams, commissioner, of internal improvements, South Michigan; Jonathan Beach, Charles C. Hascall, receivers of public moneys; Albert J. Smith, Robert J. S. Page, Wait Beach, Rev. Luther D. Whitney and T. R. Cummings signed as witnesses.

Another treaty was made by the government of the Untied States and the representatives of the several band of Indians within the Saginaw district, at Saginaw, on the 23rd day of January, 1838. By its provisions, which were in the nature of additional safeguards to the Indians in securing the proper sums for the sale of the lands ceded, the United States agreed that the sales should be conducted the same as other sales of public lands; that the lands should be put up for sale by the register and receiver of the land office at five dollars per acre, and should not go at less then that price for two years; after that the price of lands unsold should be two and a half dollars per acre. The object of this agreement was to quiet the fears of the Indians that a combination might be made to get the lands for a small sum. This treaty seems to have been the last that in any way affected Genesee county.

 

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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