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Pioneer's Recollection of Saginaw Valley Indians.
Recollections of Indians during early settlement period.
  • Transcribed (April 2006).
  • Bay City Journal - Thursday, March 16, 1865.

    Tradition in the Saginaw Valley

    Editor of the Bay City Journal:

    Dear sir: – In nearly every man’s life something will transpire which may be interesting to his fellow men, and as a pioneer of the Saginaw Valley, brought up on the frontier, without any advantage, and no society except the hardy pioneer and the Indians, you must not, therefore expect to find my theme as interesting as if penned by a more skillful hand.

    My father emigrated to the Saginaw Valley when I was but ten years old, and although my locks are turning gray, it seems as if it was but yesterday. But what a change has come over our beautiful valley! Then it was one vast wilderness, and nothing disturbed the waters of this beautiful river save the Indian and his canoe.

    I was accustomed for many years to travel up the different tributaries of the Saginaw and on nearly all I found indications that the Saginaw Valley was inhabited by a different race of people prior to the present Indian. On most of the tributaries can be found mounds fill with human bones, which I have often opened for my own satisfaction, and found them lying in all positions showing that they were thrown together without any regularity, and satisfying me that they were killed in battle. This awakened in me an interest to find out who they were, how they came there and what became of them. I often questioned the Indians in regard to it, but they would invariably say, that there were two or three very old Indians lying on the Bay shore, who could tell me about it and gave me their names.

    Accordingly, on one of my journies to the Bay, I sought out and found one of these Indians in question. His name was Pu-tea-quas-a-min. I had often heard of him before as a traditionalist or historian — one that had the history of his nation. He was a very old man — the most so I ever saw. I asked him his age. He said

    “My son I am very old; I am a great deal over one hundred.”

    I told him that it was said he could give me the history of his race. He said he could as it was handed down to him by his grandfather who was older than he was now when it was told to him.

    For fear I should make any mistake, I called to my aid an educated man, who was part Indian, and who had spent the most of his life among the Indians, and who could talk the language more correctly than myself.

    The old man, drawing himself up as if he was about doing a great deed, related substantially as follows:

    He said the Socks occupied the Saginaw River and all its tributaries, extending from Thunder Bay on the north to the headwaters of the Shiawassee on the south, and from Lake Michigan on the west to Detroit on the east. The balance of southern Michigan was occupied by the Pottawatomies. The Lake Superior country was inhabited by the Chipeways; the Monominees were at Green Bay; and the Sioux occupied Minnesota.

    The main village of the Socks was situated on the west bank of the Saginaw River, below where Mr. Frank Fitzhugh now resides and opposite the mill of Mr. N. B. Bradley.

    The Socks were always at war with the neighboring tribes. At last a council was held, consisting of the Chipeways, Pottawatomies, Otowas, and the Six Nations of Canada and New York, at which it was determined to exterminate the Socks.

    At a given time, they all met at the Island of Mackinaw. There they fitted out a large army, and started in bark canoes, and proceeded south until they reach what is now call Otowas Bay. They then divided the largest part of the army proceeding up the west side of the Bay and landed in the night at Petobegung. The other part of the army cruised to the Charity Islands, and from there to the east shore of the Bay, at a point near the mouth of the River. It was arranged that both armies should land at the same time. That on the west side of the Bay left their canoes, and proceeded at night on foot, and attacked the main village, and massacred nearly all the inhabitants. Those who escaped retreated in canoes , some to Skull Island, and others across the River to another village, which stood near where the Centre House now stands in Portsmouth. Here they were met by that part of the army that came up on the east side of the Bay, and a desperate battle took place in the vicinity of the present residence of W.R. McCormick, that being the highest land, where they fortified themselves, and where at the present time can be found the remains of those said to have been killed in that battle. Here they were again defeated. They then retreated to Skull Island, where the others had already gone. Skull Island is a little island next above what is now known as Stone Island. Here they considered themselves safe, as their enemies had no canoes, and they could fortify themselves. – But next night after their retreat to the Island, the ice froze thick enough for the allies to cross, which they did, when an indiscriminate slaughter ensued. They were all exterminated, with the exception of twelve families.

    The allies then divided, some going up the Cass, some up the Flint, others up the Shiawassee, Titabawassee, and so on, where there different bands located. But the largest battles on any of the tributaries were fought on the Flint. One occurred about half a mile below the present village of Flint on the bluff, where there are over seventy mounds at the present time. There was another fought about a mile above what is now the village of Flushing, on the farm formerly owned by a Mr. Bailey. Here there are also a large number of the mounds, which show that a disparate battle was fought. The last battle on the Flint, was fought about fourteen miles below Flushing, on farm formerly occupied by the late James McCormick. There was also a heavy battle fought at what is now called the Bend of the Cass, or Bridgeport Center. This place was regularly fortified, and it is not more than twenty-five years since these fortifications could be distinctly traced. They occupied about five acres. The next battle of any consequence was on the Titabawassee on what has since been a farm occupied at one time by James Fraser. The difference between this and the other battle grounds is that the slain were all buried in one mound.

    After the Socks were all exterminated, with the exception of the twelve families before mentioned, a council was held to determine what to do with them. It was finally agreed to sent them west of the Mississippi, and an arrangement was made with the Sioux that no tribe should be allowed to molest them, and the Sioux should be responsible for their protection, which agreement was faithfully kept.

    The conquered country, the present Saginaw Valley, was then divided between the different tribes, and was afterwards converted into what would be termed, in civilized nations, a penal colony. Every Indian who committed a crime would flee to this country to escape punishment, Indian laws being more strict in those days than they are now.

    The Chipeways being the most numerous that language eventually predominated, but at the present time, the Indians in the Saginaw Valley do not speak in all respects the same as the Chipeways on Lake Superior from whom they originally sprang. The mixing of the different nations in the Saginaw Valley is the cause of it.

    Related Pages/Notes
    Excavated Indain Relics
    People Referenced
    Bailey, Mr.
    Bradley, N.B.
    Fitzhugh, Frank
    Fraser, James
    McCormick, James
    McCormick, W.R.
    Subjects Referenced
    Cass river
    Centre House (Tromble)
    Charity Islands
    Chippewas (Chipeways)
    Flint river
    Flint (village)
    Flushing (village)
    Green Bay, WI
    Lake Superior
    Mackinaw Island
    Mounds (burial)
    New York
    Otowas Bay
    Saginaw River
    Saginaw Valley
    Shiawassee river
    Sioux (Socks)
    Skull Island
    Stone Island
    Titabawassee river
    WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.