INDIAN TRIBES OF ST. JOSEPH VALLEY
"My soul seems caught in time's under-tow
And I'm floating again down the River St. Joe."
There is a quaint old Indian legend of the Sau-wau-see-bee which tells of the fate of two young Indian women, twin sisters of a chief. They were swimming in the clear waters of a river and the river-spirit, jealous of their beauty, took the maidens as tribute. So the Indians called the river the Sau-wau-see-bee--the "Fate-of-the-Sisters." The Pottawatomies called the same river the Sauwk Wauwk Sil Buck, and the Ottawas referred to it as the Sau-gan-see-pe.
When the French explorers came, the cruel Sau-wau-see-bee was blest by the devout priests and renamed "St. Joseph," in honor of the patron saint of New France--the saint who guards and guides the travellers. The fertile valley of uncertain extent which bordered the river became "The St. Joseph township of the Old Northwest" and later St. Joseph county and was given the name of the river which carries a blessing.
In "La Salle in the Valley of St. Joseph" by Bartlett and Lyon, we read: "In the picturesque highlands of southern Michigan, not far from the city of Hillsdale, two rivers have the same source. One flowing southward, reaches the Maumee at Fort Wayne-the little St. Joseph. The other, an outlet of Baw Beese, flows northwesterly, then winding southwesterly dips into Elkhart county, Indiana, then flowing northward again runs rapidly to the Great Lake. This is the big St. Joseph. St. Joseph of the Lakes-the explorers' river of the Miamis." To read of LaSalle and his picturesque followers on the St. Joseph river, seeking the portage to the Mississippi, is to recall the names of many Frenchmen "whose zeal was the transcendant glory of France in America," whose picturesque fearlessness as explorers, voyageurs and fur-traders are a joy to the fireside traveller of today.
"With the invincible LaSalle, the leader of the exploring expedition, was Henri Tonty, the second in command, the latter a son of a noted financier of France. LaSalle was a devout Catholic and so it is not surprising that
his party included three Recollect friars--Fr. Gabriel Ribourde, Lenobe Membre, missionary among the Illinois and Louis Hennepin. Then there were Boisrondet and L. Esperience, Jean Russel, a fur-trader on the St. Lawrence, Hillaret, master shipbuilder, le Mire and la Blanc, carpenters, Milleur, the nail maker and White Beaver the Mohican scout and hunter "who stood head and shoulders above the motley crew, above most of them morally as well as physically." Next to Tonty, he was the most reliable scout
ST. JOSEPH IN HOMESPUN
obtainable in all the highways and byways of New France and seems to have been a living prototype of Cooper's "Last of the Mohicans."
In 1781 the fort St. Joseph, which had been established by the French and which dominated the river valley, was captured by the Spanish. It was the second raid on the fort. Indians and Spaniards carried off the traders and their goods. When the commandant demanded an explanation, the Indians excused their failure to protect the fort in the following letter:
"Father, I am hired by the Pottawatomi near St. Joseph's to acquaint you with the reasons of having suffered the Spaniards to carry off the traders. They came to St. Josephs at a time that all Indians were yet at their hunt, excepting a few young Indians who could not oppose one hundred white people and eighty Indians led by Seguinack and Nakewine who deceived them on the sentiment of the Indians in general. Had we assembled in time we should have given them a stroke such as we gave on the St. Joseph a few moons before."
DePeyster indignantly answered: "They threaten to destroy you. They never can until you are simple enough to shake their hands."
DePeyster does not mention the Spanish and there is no proof that the flag of Spain floated more than twenty-four hours over the fort. But Spanish records claim a decided victory and much goods and a settled conquest of St. Joseph valley.
The Three Brothers Federation
Of the three tribes which in later times inhabited the St. Joseph river valley, the Ottawas were brave and war-like. They fought and vanquished all who opposed their westward progress; with those who were friendly, however, they smoked the pipe of peace.
Friendly communications with the Ottawas, Chippewas and Pottawatomies resulted in the formation of a loose confederacy. They styled themselves "Brothers of Three Fires." Tradition mentions another tribe, "Mus-quah-tas," who established themselves in St. Joseph river valley but were almost extermininated when they sought to give battle with bows and arrows to the challenging Ottawas who were newly armed with white man's axes.
The Jesuit Relations and later, the works of Parkman are filled with incident and interesting legend of these nations but for the Indians of St. Joseph county, Littlejohn's "Legends of Michigan and the Old Northwest" are more than legend, though less than fact as they mirror the restless Indian life in the early eighteen hundreds. The "Legends" were written by a man educated as a lawyer who had served as a state represen-
INDIAN TRIBES OF ST. JOSEPH
tative and later, as a judge who presided over a territory which now comprises twenty Michigan counties.
To properly value the "Legends," it is necessary to know something of Flavius Josephus Littlejohn, the "Old Trailer", who is pictured by the pioneers of his day as a man of great personal integrity, one who understood and sympathized with the Indians. To regain his health, he became a surveyor and geologist in southwestern Michigan, avocations which necessitated his living among the Indians. For forty years, he had opportunity to study the race of whom he later wrote. He died in 1880 and perhaps the best impression of the integrity of this early author, may be obtained from the story of his burial at Allegan with the special trains brings hundreds who sought to pay tribute to a Mason of high standing, an eminent jurist and a politician whose integrity was unchallenged--though the opposition did most soundly berate his party.
A critic of his day says of the "Legends": "For data for delineation of character, for topography, the reader may well trust Littlejohn." With this in mind, the old "Legends" may be read with greater appreciation of their delineation of Indian character, may be read to gain pictures of faithful Indian friendships, for descriptions of the flower covered Edens, now more prosaically know as St. Joseph, Kalamazoo and other counties--the region at one time known as St. Joseph township, "the land lying north of South Bend, Indiana, including that which is south of the Grand river in Kent County, Michigan."
To Littlejohn's great command of the English language he added the fluent style of the Indian orators. He who has braved Littlejohn's long, rolling sentences has been thrilled at the exploits of Chief Pokagon, the mighty warrior of the St. Joseph river valley, a past-master of Indian strategy in the battle of Three Rivers, as he captures the charming Shawnee princess and, to insure an ally's participation in the war, places the princess in the safe keeping of an otherwise indifferent neighboring tribe.
Then there is Wakazoo, of the Kalamazoo valley, sagacious in his home policy, using keen diplomacy in his contact with neighbors who outnumbered him-Pottawatomies on the south and Chippewas on the north.
Okemos, the famous chief of the Grand river valley, a powerful Chippewa, nephew of Pokagon, who was made chief not through an inherited title, but because of his personal bravery and endurance on the war path. As the third chief of the federation he claims undivided attention, when with a thousand warriors, he leads towards Battle Creek to outwit and outflank the invaders.
ST. JOSEPH IN HOMESPUN
The invasion was prompted by the covetous Grand Sachem, Elkhart, who desired the fertile valley of St. Joseph. He was ruler over all the federated bands of Shawnees on the Wabash. He was accompanied on the invasion by his daughter, the lovely princess Mishawaha, who when her father fell wounded in battle took command of the invading forces and led the skirmish line. She was assisted by Grey Wing, the intrepid but unsuccessful lover. Then there are the four characters who are of interest to good scouts everywhere: Wakeshma, the Three Rivers scout, Seebewa, from the Grand river valley; Dead Shot, the white hunter, lover and scout; Lynx Eye, the formidable dwarf from the Kekalamazoo.
The old legends cover the period between 1779 and 1812. They begin with the story of an Ottawa Indian hunter, who, belated, made camp on Prairie Ronde, and was almost killed by wolves. He was rescued by the white scout, Dead Shot, who came from the great Horse Shoe Bend of the St. Joseph, now Allegan, and thereby began the friendship which runs through all the stories. Minutely the action is laid before the reader: fighting forces, strategy used, attacks, retreats, losses. They are the stories heard from the lips of the Indian orators or from aged story tellers around the lodge-fires, welded together by the imagination of Littlejohn and retold in fluent phrases "that could wellbedeck the speech of half a dozen lawyers and orators of today. "A white man's attempt at an Indian's style of oratory and story telling.
For authentic history covering this period of Territorial Michigan, the best source of material is that of letters from commandants and agents. The most accessible copies of which are filed with the State Historical Association, and published in the Michigan Pioneer and Historical collections.
Letters of 1807 refer to a great council to be held at St. Joseph, where the Governor of Upper Canada and the Indian agents were to meet a large assembly of Indians, including the Indians of St. Joseph valley. From the letters, we infer that even among the young Indians of this period--long, long before words "socialist" and "Soviet" had assumed their direful meaning's, that the young Indians of St. Joseph county met the displeasure of their elders: "Were engaged the whole winter in parties and dances; and in open council listened to talk commandants and agents; the most accessible copies of which to assemble. There is mischief at bottom. Under pretense of restoring their independence and savage ancient character, it is in reality a general effort to strike somewhere a desperate blow".
It was a time of great uneasiness and it was with the true American ideal of "adequate national defense" that the comdant wrote: "We are in constant readiness to receive them,
INDIAN TRIBES OF ST. JOSEPH VALLEY
either with the Olive Branch or the Bayonet, as circumstances may require".
The genesis of the St. Joseph river valley is with the mound builders and their life in prehistoric times; with the Indian nations of the Lakes whose traditions have come down to us; with those epochs when St. Joseph, as a part of the Old Northwest, was under the flags of Spain, or France, or England; and that later period under the flag of our own United States when the husky pioneer followed fur trader and missionary along the well worn Indian trails to St. Joseph valley, in the Old Northwest.
"They were an agricultural people, having made considerable advancement in the arts of civilization. They manufactured pottery of clay and various implemants, weapons and ornaments of copper and stone.
"They constructed extensive earthworks for religious uses. They worshiped the sun and offered sacrifices of their most valuable goods on altars made of burnt clay and then covered the altar and ashes and burned fragments of the offerings with mounds of earth.
"They laid their revered dead in shallow graves and heaped huge mounds of earth above them. The mysterious rites of burial were celebrated by the aid of fire and sometimes, we are told, a human victim was sacrificed above the grave. Many excavations in the mounds of St. Joseph county have furnished proof to the deductions of the antiquarians." Perhaps the largest unexplored mound remaining is at Fairfax. Something of its age is indicated by the large trees growing upon it. Many evidences of the mound builders' presence have been found in gravel pits in and near Three Rivers.
"The mound builders government was evidently strong enough to control large bodies of men in service to their government. They built extensive fortications in positions well chosen for defense and in the primitive warfare, must have been almost impregnable. There is evidence that the mound builders worked the copper mines of the Lake Superior region. Antiquarians suggest that they only lived in the region of the mines in summer to obtain the copper and then came back to their homes in the more temperate climates, of the fertile river valleys. Northern Michigan has little evidence of their existence.
The garden beds of the mound builders of St. Joseph county, traces of which but few remain, were described by Bela Hubbard before the State Pioneer Society in 1877. He says of them: "They occupied the most fertile prairie land and oak openings. The garden beds consisted of raised patches of
ST. JOSEPH IN HOMESPUN
ground, separated by sunken pathes and were arranged in blocks of parallel beds, five to sixteen feet in width and in length from twelve to more than one hundred feet, and in height six to eighteen inches. For years the tough sod of the prairie preserved very sharply these beds which were fashioned with skill, order and symmetry. The types found near Three Rivers were an oval plane surrounded by burr oak and contained 300 acres. The garden itself about a half mile in length by one third in width, contained about 100 acres, regularly laid out in beds running north and south, in the form of parallelograms five feet in width and 100 in length and eighteen inches deep. The Three Rivers gardens differed in some ways from all others that have been found in the valleys of the Grand, the Kalamazoo and St. Joseph Rivers."
It is sometimes claimed that the Indians never used fertilizers in their agricultural work, though the Colonists found that for centuries fish had been so used on the lands of New England. It is not difficult to believe that the garden beds of the St. Joseph valley, lying in the immediate vicinity of lakes and rivers, may have been likewise enriched by the use of fish. Settlers in the vicinity tell us that for many years the crops raised by white men on the old garden beds of the mound builders were much more abundant than in other parts of the farmland in the same locality.
Mr. Hubbard's article discusses further the antiquity of the gardens and their use. Under the latter head he considers the possible crops: "Maize was grown and cultivated in hills, not rows, and was disposed of in an irregular way." He does not believe it was planted in the garden beds. He suggests that, like the gardens of more southern Indians, the St. Joseph gardens may have been for many vegetables and roots used by the Indians that are unknown to us.
In St. Joseph county, Mr. Hubbard discovered further, that in widely seperated places, labor and skill were apparent in little gardens, laid out in different styles, with an eye to the picturesque, "as if each family had not only its separate garden patch, but used it for the display of its own particular task". Evidently we, of a later race and day, are but reverting to the type of the aborigines in our love and display of the little garden.
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