Condition of the Michigan Indians in 1890

The Indians of Michigan are all of Algonkian stock.

The tribes known as the Chippewas, Ottawas, and Pottawatomies composed the aboriginal population of Michigan. Many of these Indians are now in Kansas and Indian Territory.

The early Jesuits found the Michigan Indians good material for laboring with, and numerous missions were established. They found the Indians hunters, trappers, fishers, and sharp traders. The Indians raised and sold provisions, and, although agriculturally inclined, after the French occupation they frequently attacked the French posts. These Indians were kept in constant, trouble by the claims of the English to the territory through the Iroquois, who early possessed the country by capture. The Hurons were the allies of the French, and constant intrigue was the result. They aided the French in the disastrous border war between France and England.

After England took possession of Michigan, the Ottawas became restless, and in 1703 Pontiac’s conspiracy was formed, and attempts were made to capture the British posts from Niagara to Chicago, Pontiac personally undertaking to capture, Detroit, in which lie failed. The attacks on the various posts were made on one day, May 7, 1763. The movement ended in the capture of 9 of the 12 posts or forts; but Detroit was saved through information given by an Indian woman to the commandant. After this a treaty was made with several tribes, but Pontiac held out until 1765. Detroit became the center of British frontier power after 1763.

Great Britain began to encourage fishing and the fur trade, and made the various tribes allies. During the Revolutionary war Michigan was a British colony, with lieutenant governors at Detroit and Mackinaw. Vast amounts of supplies and arms and ammunition were given to the Indians from. these points, and bounties were given for scalps. Governor Hamilton reported in January 1778, that the Indians had brought in 23 prisoners and 129 scalps. In September 1778, he again reported that since last May the Indians have taken 34 prisoners, 17 of which they delivered up, and 81 scalps”. It is estimated that more than 3,000 persons were scalped or made prisoners of war by war parties of Indians and soldiers from Detroit. These war parties went as far south as Kentucky.

After the Revolutionary war the Michigan Indians sullenly submitted to the rule of the United States. Governor Hall made a treaty with them in 1808, obtaining certain land cessions from them, which they afterward claimed they did not understand.

Tecumseh, the Shawnee chief, who lived at that time on the upper Wabash, affected gradually a union of tribes in the territory now in, Indiana, Michigan, and a portion of Illinois and Ohio, and began war on the whites. In 1811 General William Henry Harrison defeated him at the battle of Tippecanoe, and peace for a time followed.

In the war of 1812 the Michigan Indians again became allies of Great Britain and ravaged the northern frontier. At the battle of Frenchtown, of 900 United States soldiers only 50 escaped capture, more than 400 were killed, and many others were scalped on the way to Malden.

Lewis Cass, as governor of Michigan, after 1812 made treaties with the various Indian tribes for cessions of their lands up to 1821, and was looked upon as their friend. He was ex officio superintendent of the Indian agency at Detroit and the agencies at Chicago, Fort Wayne, Green Bay, Mackinaw, Piqua, and the sub-agencies at Blanchards fork and Upper Sandusky in the Detroit agency alone there were 8,000 Indians in 1813. In a report to the War Department in 1821 Governor Cass wrote that “my family is driven from one extremity of the house to the other by them”. At that time 400 Indians arrived daily at Detroit. The British had fed and clothed them when in possession of Detroit, and Governor Cam was now expected to do it on behalf of the United States, and during 8 years he paid out $400,000.

General Macomb wrote in 1821 that he often detailed soldiers as a guard to protect the family of Governor Cass from the importunities of the Indians. In fact, for a number of years Governor Cass kept open house and a constant feast on the table for Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio Indians.

On September 26, 1833, at Chicago, a treaty was made with the Chippewas, Ottawas, and Pottawatomies for their removal west of the Mississippi River. This treaty was proclaimed February 21, 1835, and thereafter a large portion of the Indians named were removed. The Pottawatomies removed under this treaty are now in Kansas and Oklahoma territory. The removed Ottawas are at Quapaw agency, Indian Territory, and some of the removed Chippewas are in Minnesota. Three reservations were established in Michigan hi 1854-18557 and some after. The Chippewas, Ottawas, and Pottawatomies now remaining in Michigan are citizens.

Michigan Reservations

Report of Special Agent B. J. Bonine on the Indians of Michigan.

Names of Indian tribes or parts of tribes, reservations, and unallotted areas are: (a)
Isabella reservation: Chippewas of Saginaw, Swan creek, and Black river, area 7,317 acres, or 11,5 Square
14, 1855; treaties of August 2, 1855 (11 U, S. Stats., p, 633), and of October 18, 1864 (14 U.S. Stats,, p L’Anse reservation: L’Anse and Vieux do Bert bands of Chippewas of Lake Superior, area 19,324 acres, or 30 square miles; treaty of September 30, 1854 (10 U. S. Stats., p.1109); the residue, 33,360 acres, allotted.
Ontonagon reservation: Ontonagon band of Chippewas of Lake Superior, area 678 acres, or 1 square mile; sixth clause, second article, treaty of September 30, 1851 (10 U. S. Stats., p. 1109); executive order, September 25, 1855; residue, 1,873 acres, allotted.
Total, 27,319 acres, or 42.5 square miles.

Indian Population June, 1890: 5,624, miles; executive order, May .657); the residue allotted.

Isabella Reservation

Good John (Naw-gaw-ne-ko-nug) Chippewa Indian
Good John (Naw-gaw-ne-ko-nug) Chippewa Indian

There are now living on this reservation, as nearly as could be ascertained, 460 Indians, most of whom are Chippewas. A few Ottawas and Pottawatomies reside here, but they are considered members of the tribe and call themselves Chippewas. The Indians are scattered in little groups throughout the different townships, and the Chippewa dialect is universally spoken. With the exception of a very few old men and women they are of mixed blood. All wear citizens’ dress. The civilized Indians are not polygamists, nor are the pagans avowedly so, though they profess to believe in the doctrine. Sixty families own houses, 8 of which are frame and 52 log, which are for the most part well built. With these there is generally a patch of ground upon which vegetables and corn are raised. Very little, if any, produce is marketed. There are no Indian schools, but a majority of the children attend district schools and are said to be as bright as ordinary white children. Twenty-six pupils from this reservation are now at the Indian school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, It is estimated that 50 adults and 100 under 20 years of age can read. While many of the male Indians can speak English sufficiently for ordinary use, they are very suspicious and reticent, and when questioned about their condition, habits, and religion they either remain silent or profess not to understand. They have 4 churches, worth perhaps $300, 3 of which are log cabins and the other an old frame building. The membership is 300,288 of whom are of the Methodist Episcopal and 12 of the Roman Catholic denomination. The latter have no church. There are 4 half-breed preachers, who are appointed by the Methodist Episcopal annual conference, and the services are conducted in the Chippewa language.

The tribe is decreasing. The principal disease is consumption, always attributed to exposure, want, and disease contracted by mixing with white men. On being interrogated as to whether they were not more exposed when in a savage state, they replied: “Yes but we were hardier and had never been taught to wear white men’s clothes. Now we have got used to them, and are often without enough to cover ourselves, and thus suffer more than the white man. Besides, we had many furs”.

There have been 10 deaths during the year, 1 adult and 9 children, all in the pagan settlement.
In the opinion of the nominal chief, Joseph Bradley, there are 0 white families now living here unlawfully, cutting timber and farming in a small way, who claim to occupy under homestead law. Others have been here, cut the timber, and moved away. According to figures given by one of the chief men there are yet 5,480 acres of land belonging. to the tribe, distributed as follows:

Nottawa township, 1,200
Denver township, 920
Isabella township, 1,500
Wise township 520

In a remote part of Nottawa township is a band of pagan Indians consisting of 8 families, in all 32 persons. All are discontented and miserable. They do a little work when they can obtain employment at manual labor, and manage to exist in a forlorn, hopeless way. They are sickly, and have no stock except a pair of ponies belonging to the chief, A-ken-bel, who is quite intelligent, and who says his people are willing to work if they could be sure of’ their lands, which he claims the white men obtained under false pretenses. This is also the general complaint of the civilized Indians.

The pagans have festivals and war dances, during the performance of which they are dressed in native costumes, which are carefully preserved for these occasions. There is a marked difference between the appearance of the pagan and civilized Indians, the advantage being greatly with the latter.

While the Indians of the reservation have improved mentally, they have degenerated physically. A large majority are entirely improvident, saving nothing. A few own farms, employ a number of men, and have horses, cattle, and other stock. Some are very intelligent and well educated and own good houses in town and in the country. The question of morals seems to be a disputed one, they claiming to possess a fair share of morality, while their white neighbors generally do not agree with them hi this particular. That there is an almost universal taste for intoxicating liquors appears to be conceded on all sides. They are peaceable and honest.

The land of the reservation is generally of good quality, and if cleared and properly farmed would be quite productive, but they have not the capacity for prolonged labor of ally description. The greater portion say that they were happier and more prosperous while under the care of time government than at present. They are discontented.

L’anse Reservation

J. H. Cushway and daughter, half-blood Potawatomie Indians
J. H. Cushway and daughter, half-blood Potawatomie Indians

There are 450 Chippewas on this reservation, and time Chippewa language is spoken, nearly one-half are of mixed blood, all wear citizens’ chess wholly, and none are polygamists.

There are 2 missions on the reservation, the Roman Catholic, situated on the west shore of the bay, 8 miles from L’Anse village, and the Methodist Episcopal mission, 3 miles northeast of the town. With few exceptions the Indians over 20 years of age can read their own language, and a great majority (over seven-eighths) can read English. All speak English sufficiently for ordinary use.

There are 3 schoolhouses, 1 boarding school for girls, 1 for boys, and a government schoolhouse., the latter valued at $800. There are 52 Indian scholars. The building for girls is of stone, 4 stories high, 40 by 90 feet in dimensions, with sleeping accommodations for 65; that for boys is 3 stories high, with an addition, and will accommodate 75. The dormitories are in excellent order and well ventilated. There are here also 57 white children, orphans or half orphans, who are supported by relatives or by contributions of the Roman Catholic churches. Indian and white children associate together daily.

The children are bright, cleanly, orderly, and apparently happy. They have a fine piano, upon which some of the Indian girls perform in a very creditable manner. All are taught vocal music. As a general rule they are too young to be apprenticed, but when old enough are sent away to learn trades and other kinds of business. The girls are thoroughly instructed in housework and needlework. The scholars are all members of the church. The church ‘edifice is of stone and cost $6,000, which was donated by members of the diocese. All are of the Roman Catholic denomination. The priest reports that the tribe is increasing at this place and that Indians here are not taxed, not having complete titles to their land. The mission is beautifully located, and the children appear to be more than ordinarily intelligent.

At the Methodist mission is 1 government schoolhouse, which is valued at $500, and will accommodate 40 scholars. There are 65 Indian children of school age within the mission precincts. The average attendance is 18; the highest number present for 1 month during the year, 34. Many will attend school for a short time, then absent themselves for a longer or shorter period, and again return. There is 1 church not belonging to the government, with 75 Indian members of the Methodist, denomination.

The Indians at this mission, of whom there are 270, own 2 frame and 53 log houses, and have during the past year made 1,000 pounds of butter and raised 1,200 bushels of potatoes and 50 tons of hay. They own 15 horses, 1 mule, 60 cattle, and are very intelligent. The land in general is not considered very good for farming purposes, but vegetables, wheat, and grass are of good quality, if not abundant.

Owing to pledges given by the Indians at both missions, there is not much drunkenness among them, although they have strong appetites for intoxicating liquors.

The government physician states that 200 Indians have received treatment at his hands during the year, mostly for chronic troubles. He also reports 12 deaths in the same period, 2 of old age, 5 of consumption, 4 small children of various complaints, and I man frozen. There have been 18 births. No one has been killed and no one punished for crime during the year.

The males of the tribe work at farming, lumbering, and quarrying. They also fish, hunt, and trap. In season both young and old, male and female, engage in berry-picking and root-gathering.

According to statements of the most reliable men, Indian and white, the tribe is decreasing; causes, death and desertion.

As a whole, they are intelligent, peaceable, honest, and fairly industrious, though restless and changeable. They have greatly improved mentally and have not degenerated physically. They are generally self-supporting” but improvident.

Ontonagon Reservation

Indians in this section are a rarity. There are not more than 5 families in the section, and these are to all intents and purposes white people. Their children attend school and the older ones are married to whites. All are intelligent and well to do, and would resent being classified as Indians. The land allotted to the Indians is perfectly useless and has never been occupied by them. The Ontonagons as a band are extinct. Those who are not dead are scattered far and wide.

Besides those with indirect relations to the old reservations, there are groups of Indians in a number of counties no longer connected with any reservation or any special administration of Indian interests.

Mason County

Chippewa Indian girls
Maggie Veebeiassing (full blood) Maggie Ginebigokive (half-blood) Maggie Veebeiassing (full blood) Chippewa Indian girls

The census enumerators found 335 Indians, under the name of the “Ottawa and Chippewa tribe”, residing in Mason County, and the Ottawa dialect is used. The people wear citizens’ dress wholly, and with the exception of 20 very old Indians, are of mixed blood. Perhaps 40 over 20 years old and 80 under that age can read.

A majority of the civilized male Indians can use English sufficiently for ordinary intercourse, although a stranger can obtain but little information from them. They will answer their minister and teacher readily, and it is mainly through these that facts are obtained. Some, however, are intelligent and educated, and had no hesitancy in answering. Indian women, as a rule, do not speak English.

There are 80 Indian voters on the reservation. They have no Indian school and no Indian church, but many children attend district schools, and nearly all, young and old, are church members, the younger portion being baptized at a very early age. Three hundred and fifty are said to be communicants, by far the. greater number being of the Roman Catholic faith. The services are conducted in English, an interpreter being present, who translates for the benefit of the Indians. Ninety families own houses, 10 frame and 80 log, for the most part neat and comfortable, with a patch of ground upon which vegetables are cultivated. The greater number of Indians follow a variety of callings, sometimes logging and laboring, then fishing, hunting, trapping, picking berries, or gathering roots, according to the season. Three-fourths of the tribe are at this time (last of September) in the woods gathering ginseng root, which commands a good price. They raise no produce for the market.

The tribe is decreasing rapidly. There are 4 mulattoes, but no Negroes, quadroons, or octoroons here. There is 1 blind and 1 deaf and dumb person, but none are crippled, insane, idiotic, or deformed. Seven deaths have occurred during the year, 5 of consumption and 2- of unknown diseases. No Indians have been killed in the year ended September 1, 1890, but 1 was murdered in June, 1889, and a white man is now in prison for the crime. No whites have been killed and none are unlawfully on the reservation.

There were originally 4 full townships in this reservation, but how much now belongs to the Indians it is difficult to ascertain. Much of the property is mortgaged, and in such cases is seldom redeemed. Three-fourths of the land would be tillable if cleared. It is thickly timbered and well fitted for farming purposes. The remainder is now pine stump land and is not so valuable. The price is from $10 to $30 per acre, according to quality and location.

Consumption is the prevailing disease. All are addicted to liquor drinking, though many do not indulge to excess. The Indians are growing weaker physically but better mentally. They are usually honest, and their morals are generally good among themselves, but become bad when mingling with the whites.

Generally they do not seem to know the first rudiments of economy. There are of course some notable exceptions to this rule, forming, however, a very small minority.

In the deep woods of Sherman Township is a band of pagan Indians. They number 75 members and have 10 log cabins. A few live in wigwams. The band is generally unhealthy, and the children do not attend any school. The chief claims that they are as happy now as during the agency system, while a full-blooded Ottawa, aged 80, thinks the tribe has not been happier since Mingling with the whites nor better off than under the agency. They believe in witchcraft and worship imaginary gods, each having his own deity, though all recognize the existence of a Great Spirit. There are no farmers among them and no stock whatever. They use their own medicines and employ no physicians, and prefer to live by themselves; as far from civilization as possible, but they receive some help from the whites. They as well as some of the civilized Indians think the government owes the Ottawas and Chippewas a considerable sum of money.

Oceana County

There were found in Oceana, County, adjoining Mason County on the south, 271 Indians whose general conditions are kindred to those given for Indians in Mason County.

Huron County

It was learned that there were but 8 Indians in the county, 5 males and 3 females, and all of these, except 1 old man, were absent from their homes much of the time. Years ago each Indian took up 40 acres of land, but during the war a, large number, afraid of being drafted, sold their lands and went to Canada. But few returned, and these, with the exceptions above named, have disposed of their property and left for parts unknown.

Genesee County

There are 5 families of Chippewas in Gaines Township. They are of mixed blood and own 100 acres of land and some horses, dress in citizens clothes and use the English language, but are not prosperous. They consider themselves civilized, but do not belong to any church. These are all the Indians to be found in Genesee County.

Saginaw County

There are nearly 100 Chippewas distributed throughout the south and east corner of Saginaw County, all of mixed blood, who dress in citizens’ clothes. The males speak sufficient English for ordinary intercourse. A few own farms and stock and are prosperous, but the are poorly off and quite a number receive assistance from the whites.

The list of Indians by counties at the beginning of this report on Michigan will indicate the number in other counties. Their condition is like that in the counties here mentioned.

There is a government day school at Baraga, Baraga County, with an enrollment of 36; a contract school at Baraga with 49 enrolled; a government day school at L’ Anse with 30 enrolled; a contract school, Harbor Springs Boarding, at Harbor Springs, Emmet County, with an enrollment of 107.

General Remarks

Few Indians own cows, even on the larger farms their absence is noticeable. These people are not very industrious and are fond of liquor. They have no idea of economy and will never succeed until they have learned to accumulate and manage property.

The Michigan Indians off reservations are scattered singly and in groups along the shores of the Great Lakes, on the banks of rivers, and in the woods, and it would be the work of months for any person to visit even a majority of them. They are poor but self-sustaining. The greater number of the Indians on the Isabella reservation are disheartened and dissatisfied, and in my opinion it would be better for them if the government could appoint a just and impartial man (detail of au army officer would probably be best) to act as agent among them, as they have no knowledge of business matters nor the least comprehension of their rights.

Compulsory education would be an excellent thing for all Indians in the state. They will not now force their children to attend school regularly, and when those who go to school return to their homes they soon relapse into old habits and forget the lessons that have been taught. Education and constant good associates are the ways by which an Indian can best overcome his natural instinct and become a respectable citizen.

The Indian children in boarding schools, where they remain until their education is completed, of course appear better than those not having such advantages. Their tastes are elevated, their ambition is aroused, and dislike for their old ways is created, which is seldom eradicated. If the state or national government would institute and maintain an industrial school for the younger Indians in the state, it would be a great benefit to them.

Observation among Indians in all parts of the west has led to the belief that it would be much better for them if the government, in granting them lands, would give alternate sections and let white men have the intervening ones, the sections so allotted to Indians to be held in trust for a number of years.

The Indian of old is doomed, and it will be best for him and the country if his extinction is accomplished with moral and mental elevation rather than with partial starvation and neglect, as is now largely the case in Michigan.

Total Indian Population As Of June 1, 1890

Total 5, 625
Indian prisoner, not otherwise enumerated 1
Indians off reservations, self-supporting and taxed (counted in the general census) 5, 624

The civilized (self-supporting) Indians of Michigan, counted in the general census, number 5,621 (2,925 males and 2,699 females), and are distributed as follows:

Alcorn County, 26; Alger County, 78; Allegan County, 71; Antrim County, 184; Arenac County, 120; Baraga County, 287; Bay County, 92; Berrien County, 32; Calhoun County, 71; Cass County, 35; Charlevoix County, 222; Cheboygan County, 132; Chippewa County, 441; Delta County, 217; Emmet County, 914; Grand Traverse County, 35; lose° County, 50; Isabella County, 355; Kalamazoo County, 21; Lapeer County, 22; Leelanaw County, 295; Mackinac County, 227; Manistee County, 22; Manitou County, 56; Marquette County, 56; Mason County, 335; Mecosta County, 44; Menominee County, 129; Muskegon County, 32; Newaygo County, 18; Oceania County, 271; Ontonagon County, 59; Osceola County, 24; Ottawa County, 51; Saginaw County, 232; Schoolcraft County, 42; Tuscola County, 61; Van Buren County, 59; other counties (17 or less in each), 206.

Many of the Indians work as fishermen and lumbermen. Large quantities of maple sugar are made by Indians in favorable years, which is used for food and for trade with the whites. In some localities Indians gather great quantities of wild berries for canning or for shipment to the cities. Many of them are scattered, singly and in groups, along the shores of the Great Lakes, on the banks of rivers, and in the woods.

There are 3 Indian reservations in Michigan, as noted in the records of the Indian Office: the Isabella, containing but 7,317 acres, or 114 square miles; the L’Anse reservation, containing 19,324 acres, or 30.2 square miles, and the Ontonagon reservation, containing 678 acres, or 1.1 square miles. These reservations are the remnants of large tracts, which have been surveyed and allotted to the Indians.

The agency at Mackinac was abolished by the act of Congress making appropriations for the Indian service July 1, 1890.

Indians now in Michigan are classed as taxed. They were enumerated by the regular enumerators and counted in the general population of the state.

The agent, in his report, for 1880 to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, says:

The Indians of Michigan are all citizens, are voters, and eligible to hold office. They are not known or recognized by tribal relations, either by state laws or treaties, and in every respect, so far as the rights of citizenship are concerned, they stand on an equality with the whites. While no tribal relations exist, yet the Indians annually elect certain of their number, whom they call chiefs or headmen, whose duty it is to transact all business with the government or the Indian agent, sign all papers and stipulations, which they consider as binding upon the band.

Department of the Interior. Report on Indians Taxed and Indians not Taxed in the United States, Except Alaska at the Eleventh Census: 1890. Washington DC: Government Printing Office. 1894.

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