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Fort Saginaw, Oakland County, Michigan
Built in 1822 by U.S. Government.

Preface - Preceeding the Fort being erected at the settlement of Saginaw, the Indians has turned over the lands in the Saginaw Valley, and elsewhere, to the U.S. Goverment, providing the opportunity for this frontier area to be opened to white settlers. At this time Michigan was still a territory and the Saginaw Valley was part of Oakland County, the geographical of which extended as far north as Alpena.

Pioneer sketch based on early settler's description.

History of Saginaw County, Michigan - Mills, 1918.

Military Occupation.

In the years 1821 and 1822 the Chippewa Indians on the Saginaw became restless and ill-tempered to such a degree that the war department, in the early past of 1822, ordered a detachment of the Third United States Infantry, then stationed at Fort Howard, Green Bay, to proceed to the Sagiaw River, under the command of Major Daniel Baker. Shortly after, Doctor Zina Pitcher, having been appointed assistant surgeon in the army, was ordered to report to Major Bake, who, with two companies of infantry, would arrive at Saginaw about the twentieth of July. He therefore left Detroit with Captain Knaggs as guide, followed the Indian trail through the unbroken forest to the clearing of Oliver Williams, (which is now the pleasant little town of Waterford, in Oakland County), and thence by way of the Flint River to the wigwam of the old chief Kish-Kau-kou, which stood on the east side of the Saginaw River. They arrived just in time to see the troops disembarking on the opposite side of the river near the spot now occupied by the Michigan Central station.

The vessels by which the troops were transported from Green Bay did not come up the river beyond the present location of Bay City, where the men and stores were transferred to canoes and flat-boats and conveyed to the landing at their destination. They at once pitched their tents along the slope of the hill and prepared for permanent residence. On the site of the present Hotel Fordney they erected a block house, surrounded it with a strong stockade, thus raising a fortress in the heart of the wilderness. Within the stockage were the company's headquarters, the officer's quarters being on the north side of the quadrangle, while on three sides were the barracks for the soldiers and their families. There were about one hundred and twenty enlisted men, besides women and children – all told perhaps one hundred and fifty persons, including the surgeon, the sutler and his clerks. The companies were commanded by Captain John Garland, company K, Lietenants Allen and Bainbridge; and Captain Stephen H. Webb, of company I. Lieutenants Brooks and Walker; and Adjutant Nelson H. Baker, a brother of the major commanding. Thomas C. Sheldon, Chauncey Bush, and Elliot Gray, all had business connections with the command. Louis Campau and family, Antoine Campau, Archibald Lyons, Indian interpreter, Mr. Provensal, Indian blacksmith, Mr. Corben, and Patrice Reaume, comprised the civil community. The trail from Smith's trading post on the Flint River to Saginaw was blazed in the winter of 1822-23, by a detail of soldiers commanded by Lieutenants Brooks and Bainbridge.

Hardships of Frontier Life.

The winter of 1822-23 was very cold and much snow fell. When spring came the rapid solution of ice and snow caused a great flood in the Tittabawasee and other tributaries of the Saginaw, so that most of the prairie between the post and Green Point was under water. The succeeding summer was very warm, with the natural result that proved very sickly to the inhabitants. As early as July a very aggravated form of intermittent fever became the universal malady, and not one of the officers escaped an attack or more or less severity. Among the officers by the disease was the surgeon, Dr. Pitcher, who for several days was carried from his quarters to the bedside of his patients, and for whom he was the only person to prescribe. During the state of things Lieutenant Allen, Mrs. Baker, wife of the commanding officer, his daughter and young son about fifteen years of age, and Lieutenant Nelson Baker, died, and one enlisted man only. Major Baker himself being on the sick bed, Captain Garland, next in command, made a requisition on Quartermaster Samuel Stanton for a surgeon to relieve Dr. Pitcher.

On the twenty-ninth of August, Dr. J. L. Whiting, at a great personal sacrifice, mounted his horse in Detroit, and under the guidance of a soldier set his face towards the pestilent swamps of the Saginaw. On the morning of the second day after, he sat down to a bountiful breakfast at the quarters of Captain Garland, with whom he stayed for about three weeks. He was then taken sick with the same disease and removed to the officers' mess-house, where he spent, as he afterward declared, three of the most harassing weeks of his whole life, but through a kind Providence recovered sufficiently to leave the valley with the other members of the command.

Thoroughly disheartened and discouraged with their innumerable hardships and suffering, Major Baker reported to the Department that the climate was so unhealthy that “nothing but Indians, muskrats and bull-frogs, could possibly subsist here.” and requested removal of his ill-conditioned troops to another post. In the midst of a howling wilderness, surrounded by untamed savages, whose nightly whooping and infernal pow-wow orgies were far more appalling than even the cries of wild beasts, and exposed to the rigidity of a northern climate, together with its vicissitudes, they hailed with delight the order for the abandonment of the fort on the Saginaw, and their removal to Detroit. About the twenty-fifty of October the weakened command embarked on the schooner Red Jack, Captain Walker, and another vessel commanded by Captain Keith, and sailed for Detroit where they arrived safely on the thirtieth of the same month.

The Deviltry of Kish-kau-kou.

While the troops were stationed at the fort on the Saginaw, besides suffering many privations and inconveniences, they were subject to petty annoyances and insults from some of the Indians, who looked upon them as trespassers. The savages did not dare, however, to make any advances towards the hostility, for they knew full well that the troops were prepared to meet anything of that nature with prompt retaliation. Still the “red-skins” lost no opportunity of reminding them that they were not at home upon ground claimed by themselves. Old Chief Kish-kau-kou in particular, whose wigwam was close under cover of the fort, was exceedingly annoying, at least to the soldiers, but more so to the sentry. Every night as he, on his accustomed round, would give the hour, with the usual “all's well,” this radically chief would mockingly reiterate the watchword, together with a taunting shout and whoop, making the very welkin ring again, and starting the inmates of the fort, who not unfrequently imagined upon being so unceremoniously awakened, that an attack was at hand.

The old chief had repeated this trick a number of times, when the soldiers determined to punish him a little, and at the same time enjoy some sport at his expense. Accordingly they loaded an old swivel to the muzzle, with grape and canister, and mounted it upon the pickets, pointing it in the direction of the savage's wigwam, but in such a position that the shot would merely rattle over his head, with no other effect than that of frightening him into silence, if nothing else. Night came and all was still, the heavy tramp of the sentinel, and the distant howl of hungry wolves alone being heard. The men were lying quietly behind the gun, while a match was ready to apply at the signal, which the old chief himself was unwittingly to give. At length twelve o'clock came, the hour usual selected by the Indian for his echo, “Twelve o'clock – all's well,” sang out the sentry. “All well,” echoed the savage, “ke-whoop-ke-kee-who-whoop,” making at the same time a grand fourish after the war style of his forefathers -- “ye-ye-ye-yeep-ki-who.”

At this instant a bright gleam of fire shot from the walls of the fort accompanied by a report so loud, so deafening, that the buildings shook with the concussion while the grape and canister rattled fearfully over the wigwam and tore through the branches of the trees overhanging it. The old chief thought his end had indeed come, and called lustily upon all the gods in his unlettered vocabulary, and medicine men of his nation, to save him. After this salutary rebuke no papoose in the tribe was more humble or deferential to the troops than this same Indian. He probably thought it advisable to keep on good terms with the men who repaid insult with thunder, lightning and iron hail.

1881 history. (Added Nov., 2008)

History of Saginaw County, Michigan, Chas. C. Champman & Co., 1881


In the treaty paper the names of soldiers and citizens participating in that important transaction are given. Here it will be necessary to notice only the next important military movement in connection with this county. Early in 1822 it appeared to the Territorial Governor, that their new acquisitions on the Saginaw would be utterly worthless unless the articles of the treaty could be carried out in full. Owing to the great number of Indians then inhabiting the district a civil government would prove as mischievous as impolitic, particularly as the warriors of the tribe were characteristically wild if not savage, and beyond the range or power of merely civil government. Aware of this, the Legislative Council asked for special powers from the United States, which, being conferred, a detachment of United States troops was ordered to proceed from the military outpost of Green Bay en route for the treaty ground of the Saginaws. During the first days of July, 1822, two companies of the 3d U. S. Infantry embarked at Fort Howard for the mouth of the Saginaw river, under command of Major Daniel Baker. The command arrived below the present location of Bay city, where the men and stores were transferred from the transport to canoes and flat-boats for the ascent of the river, and the entire command pushed forward to its destination. The troops arrived at a point on the river near the location of the Jackson, Lansing & Saginaw R. R. depot, July 25, 1822. Disembarking, they marched to the plateau, and pitched their tents upon the ground where the Taylor House block now stands. Subsequently the men raise a block house, surrounded it with a strong stockade, and literally built a fortress in the heart of the wilderness.

Notwithstanding all the promises made by the Indians, not a few of them looked with jealousy upon the new-comers, and their labors. A council was held and the designs of the American soldiers fully discussed; but the peace party prevailed, and the troops were permitted to pursue their operations unmolested, until a build defensive and offensive in all its belongings rose above the river. The officers of this garrison were: Major, Daniel Baker; Captains, John Garland, S. H. Webb; Lieutenants, Otis Wheeler, Edward Brooks, Henry Bainbridge, Charles Baker, Wm. Allen, and Surgeon, Zina Pitcher. The last named officer joined the command in October, while the Surgeon, accompanied by Whitmore Knaggs, arrived overland from Detroit on the evening of July 25, 1822. The families of Maj. Baker, Capt. Garland, and Lieut. Brooks accompanied the command, as also John Dean, sutler; Chauncey Bush, Elliot Gray and T. C. Sheldon, army contractors. Harvey Williams, John Hamilton, E. S. Williams and Schuyler Hodges arrived at the Fort in December, 1822.

It is related by Surgeon Pitcher that the winter of 1822-'3 was very cold, and much snow fell. “When spring came on the rapid solution of it caused a great flood in the Tittabawassee and other tributaries of the Saginaw, so that most of the prairie between the post and Green Point was under water. The succeeding summer was very warm, and the troops, unused to the climate, <>became sickly as early as July, when, late they following fall, they abandoned the fort, and moved to Detroit by water, in two schooners, one commanded by Capt. Keith and the other by Capt. Walker.

Before the departure of the troops, in September, 1823, Lieut. Charles Baker, a brother of the officer in command, and Lieut. Wm. Allen, succumbed to disease. A few private soldiers died within the year of occupation, and were buried near the fort. These deaths, and the wane of the esprit du corps so necessary for troops, had such a detrimental effect that nothing less than removal from the district was called for. Maj. Baker, sympathizing with the men of his command, reported that “nothing but Indians, muskrats and bull-frogs could possibly exist here.” The War Department being made aware of this state of affairs ordered the evacuation of the post. Of the officers and men who live to reach another station, there are only a few survivors. All have served with the U. S. regiment in the Mexican campaign.

Related Pages & Notes

Michigan & Great Lakes 1835
(Click to enlarge.)
Maps at this time were very rough estimates based on information accumulated from travelers of an area.
Related Pages:
{Saginaw Treaty 1819}
Pioneer on Indians, 1865
People Referenced
Allen, William Lt.
Bainbridge, Henry Lt.
Baker, Charles Lt.
Baker, Daniel Maj.
Baker, Mrs.
Baker, Nelson H.
Brooks, Edward Lt.
Bush, Chauncey
Campus, Antoine
Campau, Louis
Dean, John
Garland, John Capt.
Gray, Elliot
Hamilton, John
Hodges, Schuyler
Lyons, Archibald
Keith, Capt.
Kish-Kau-Kou, chief
Knaggs, Whitmore
Pitcher, Zina Surgeon
Provensal, Mr.
Sheldon, Thomas C.
Smith, Mr.
Stanton, Samuel
Walker, Lt.
Webb, Stephen H. Capt.
Wheeler, Otis Lt.
Whiting, J.L. Dr.
Williams E.S.
Williams, Harvey
Williams, Oliver
Subjects Referenced
3d U.S. Infantry
Chippewa Indians
Detroit, MI
Flint River, MI
Green Bay, WI
Green Point, MI
Hotel Fordney
Jackson,Lansing&Sag. Rwy
Mexican campaign
Michigan Central Station
Oakland Co., MI
Saginaw, MI
Smith's trading post
Saginaw River
Taylor House block
Tittabawassee river
U.S. government
U.S. troops
War department
Waterford, MI
Internet Resources
[3d U.S. Infantry]
- History on Wikipedia
WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.