The land where we lived today was the native home of Indians for thousands of years before the first white people. Many different Indian nations lived in Michigan at one time or another.
When white settlers came to this area in the 1820s, the Chippewa Indians lived here. Like us, they had many different groups which are called tribes. There were many tribes living along or near the Saginaw and Kawkawlin rivers. To the right is a picture of Chief Shop-en-gons who lived in our area. He died in 1911 at Saginaw. [View Map of Indian Camp Sites]
Life was very different for the Indians that lived here. There were no cities, neighborhoods, roads, automobiles, planes, phones, stores and many other things that we have today. Indians lived within nature. They had to hunt or fish each day for the food they ate. They lived in small one room homes made of branches, bark and sometimes animal skins. They had to be prepared to defend themselves at any moment from dangerous animals that share the land with them. When they traveled they had to walk or ride a horse on land, or on water use a small canoe. It took a long time to get from one place to another.
Native Indians Homes.
Indian families live inside one room huts. You may be familiar with Indian homes called "tee-pees" because of books, movies and television. Not all Indians lived in tee-pees though. Indian homes were very much depended on where and how they lived. Tee-pees were primarily used by Indians living on the great prairies of our country. They were built to be easily moved as they had to move around a lot following sources of food. Our native Indians didn't need to travel a lot and they built more permanent style homes. These they called wig-wams. They built them from tree branches covered with bark and animal skins and usually near a water way. Wig-wams look quite different from tee-pees, they have a dome shaped roof with a hole in the middle of it. The hole was the chimney to remove smoke from the fire pit they built in the middle of the wig-wam for cooking and heat during cold weather.
Chippewa Indian camp. On right is a wig-wam with a round top typical of the Chippewa style home.
Wigwam 2002 Built by Bay City students for a display at local museum.
The Indians used different stone tools to make many of the things they used. Some of these tools are listed below.
- Tomahawk was used as a weapon. It was made from a branch of a tree. They split one end to insert a flat rock which was held there by a strap made from animal hide. They of course, also had bows and arrows to shot things from a distance.
- Chiesel was made from a large flat stone and was used to remove. For example, they would make a canoe (boat) from a tree trunk using the chiesel to shape it. The seating area would be burned out first to make the task less difficult.
- Cutting stones were used to size animal skins and also to shape small wood objects.
- Skinnning stones helped them clean the hide of animals to be used for clothing, straps, pouches (bags) and many other things.
- Grinding stone was primarily used for smashing food. Corn would be crushed into tiny pieces (flour) for making bread.
- Pipe used for smoking were made mainly from hard woods and some from stone.
- Arrow head for making arrows to be used with a bow for hunting.
- Image made of stone for decoration of symbols.
Indian Food and Meals.
We pretty much take food for granted because we can buy it and store it so it is available for our daily meals. But, it was much different when the Indians lived here. Food was an important daily task because their meals depended on what they could get from nature. Indians spent much of their time finding food.
They hunted for deer, bear, raccoon, rabbit, muskrat, beaver and other animals. They fished the rivers, lakes and the bay. They collected wild fruits, berries, and vegetables. They also farmed small gardens cultivating wild corn, wild potatoes and various vegetables. Wild potatoes grew abundantly where Pinconning is today which was named after the Indian word, "O-pin-nic-con-ing", which means, "potato place."
While Indians didn't have refrigerators, they learned ways to store some of their food using natural means. They learned that what foods spoiled quickly and that some foods would last a long period of time if dried. They learned that the soil was cool enough to store some food for a few days. Storing food in the cold months wasn't a problem, but hot summer weather was. Large game animals meant feasting because they would not been able to preserve meat for a long time.
Indian Words We Use Today.
Many Indian words have been used in our communtiy to identify cities, rivers, streets, parks, etc. The following are a few examples:
- Michigan - from "michigana" meaning "great or large lake." - Saginaw - from "O-Sauk-enon" meaning "land of the Sauks." - Kawkawlin - "meicigama" meaning "great water." - Wenona - meaning "first daughter." - Tittabawasse - meaning "river that follows the shoreline." - Shiawassee - from "shia-wah-see" meaning "a river that twists about or down river."
Some other examples of Chippewa Indian words are:
- mis-a-box - meaning "white-rabbit." - maw-tchi-sebe - meaning "bad-river." - maw-kwa-sebe - meaning "bear." - kish-kaw-ko - meaning "crow."
The Indians did not use an alphabet like ours, instead they used markings (drawings) of images that described things they wanted to record.
Our area was a popular spot for tribal meetings because we are near the center of Michigan. Tribes from the far north and south of us would come to our area when they had a need to talk among the various tribes. The last tribal meeting held in our area took place over 130 years ago. Your great-great-grandparents may have lived here at that time.
How many other things can you name that were passed on to us by our Indian friends? -- Have your parents take you to the Bay County Historical Society Museum where you can see many of these things.