Chief John Wabasis was an educated young brave whose biggest mentors were Chief Wobwindigo of the Flat River tribes, Sub-chief Cobmoosa of the Thornapple River (Potawatomies) under the leadership of the Kalamazoo and Grand River "rapids tribes" Chief Noonday known as Nawequa Geezhig. Cobmoosa had villages at Lyons and Muir and also a village in Ionia where the Ionia Free Fair is located. In his earlier years Wabasis found favor in the eyes of Chief Kewaycooshcum's tribe at his village where the Maple River meets the Grand River. Wabasis was a young boy of 14 years of age when the Treaty of Chicago 1821 was signed at the "Skunk Water" place then named Chicago. Windy city sounds better than visiting the 'skunk water city' on the southwest shore of Lake Michigan.
Wabasis traveled many times down the Grand River by canoe and was well respected in the "rapid' villages of Mexinini (MegissIninee) even before the Catholic mission and Baptist missionary named Isaac McCoy arrived about 1817. To many Mexinini appeared to be of Negro decent because of his dark skin and settlers believed he was originally kidnapped during Indian Wars from his childhood home in Virginia. He was known as the "Black One" in the Flat River tribes and some of his kin settled northeast of Wabasis Lake. He was another who found favor in the eyes of white settlers and fur traders in the 1820's for his fair dealings even though it seemed like a hostile world, but not all in his tribe shared his ideals. Some were hot heads with fiery words against new settlers.
In Isaac McCoy's dealings with the Indians living in the lower Great Lakes region he posted letters to Washington stating that wherever he went he found the Indians barbarous, wild, ignorant, cruel and deceitful, but some appeared to be educated more than others. To live among the Indians meant he had to endure hunger, wetness and cold with no creature comforts; no physicians or the consoling commentary of friends. Although he worked many years trying soften the hearts of the Indians to stave off Indian Wars with incoming settlers he once said that he'd rather like to be known as a missionary to the Indians than fill a President's chair or sit upon the throne of Alexander, the emperour of Russia. Yet, to live among the Indians as a missionary meant he had to have the tenacity of Peter, the meekness of Moses coupled with the wisdom of Solomon. He had gotten to the point in his life where he no longer wanted to address thousands assembled in Sanson meeting houses in Philadeplphia, but instead felt it his duty to preach Jesus to the poor Indians who were about to be displaced by the treaties in Washington or Chicago.
McCoy had many financial troubles when setting up his missionary stations even in Grand Rapids. The Baptist mission board didn't send money very often. When debts piled up he borrowed money from friends; in fact he was borrowing money to pay back money to settle his debts after he paid his debtors. He was in constant despair and he began to wonder if when he died all that he had done to help the Indians was worth his pain and suffering. It pained him that he would probably die without seeing the fruits of his labor. He worried that with all his work he might not get the financial educational help for the poor illiterate Indian children, but yet he felt it worthwhile to stop any bloodshed between settlers and Indians. Offering them a smithy with schools was a way to soften hearts, but getting them to sign the treaties were often met with the indignations of renegade half-breeds like Saubo among the Holland tribes. With each treaty came the prospects of getting the Indians blacksmiths and schools, etc. in addition to payment for their lands over the course of 20 years.
What many Indians did not know was that when they signed the treaties often times the legislature in Washington would add stipulations for Indian removals to reservations after the treaty was signed. Often times McCoy spoke about the educated half-breeds who were fair minded and well respected within the tribes and fur traders. McCoy noted that some ignorant Indians when given treaty monies would spend it unwisely so preparations were needed at treaty signings to make sure those Indians who were looked upon favorably would be a amply rewarded better than the chiefs. It was President Andrew Jackson who dealt out 1836 treaties money at his disgression to those not regarded as friends of the people. They got less.
Chief Kewaycooshcum signed the Treaty of 1821 deeding all lands south of the Grand River to the Federal government. Many of the Potawatomies went southwest to settle on the reservations in Missouri and those that remained retired to north of the Grand River, but they knew it'd be only a matter of a few short years before fur traders and settlers would be pouring into the Grand River valley now that a few Catholic missions and a Baptist missionary station was erected about 1817-1826. In 1826 about 3000 Indians inhabited the Grand River valley and in the summer time about 1000 Indians lived at Prairie Village, which would later become Plainfield Township. The village was atop the high hill overlooking the Grand River valley about where Blythefield Country Clubhouse is today. Farther up the river the villages at Ada had about 200 Indians and Wobwindigos village about 400.
About the first settler to appear was Luther Lincoln who built a log cabin at Grandville in 1831. He had domestic animals and he said it was 'wild' at night. To keep them safe meant bringing them inside his cabin because the wolves were so vicious. He didn't know how the Indians could tolerate them. He stayed awake at night listening to the growlings of the wolves as they circled and tried to naw their way into his cabin. He stood guard many nights his gun resting in his lap, cocked and ready to fire should any gain entrance. Wolves were hungry that the winter of 1831-32 and roamed at will due to the lack of snow. No snow, not even temperatures below freezing all winter, the ground soft for plowing. What an extreme! Not even the Indians had ever seen such a strange winter, but one thing he noted was that there was no shortage of Indians. He remained in Grandville, but patiently waited for he knew it wouldn't be long before lands north of the Grand River would be opening for settlement because he was beginning to feel crowded. The tougher the living the better he liked it and within years he'd go up the Grand and Flat Rivers and settle in the vicinity of, and its named in honor of him, Lincoln Lake, in northeastern Kent County.
In 1831-32 another big party came floating down the Grand River. It was the Dexter party floating on large rafts and with them came Daniel Marsac, an 18 year old French fur trader who gained favor among Wobwindigo's Flat River tribe at Lowell and built the first fur trading station on the south bank of the Grand River opposite the mouth of the Flat River and married a beautiful Indian woman named Janute living in Wobwindigo's village.
The Indians exchanged furs, berries and sugar maple for cloth, beads, ammunition for guns and assortments of whiskey. Wobwindingo married Daniel Marsac described as a tall, straight athletic type friend to beautiful Indian woman named Janute. He gave them a full Ottawa marriage ceremony. Within a year Janute bore him a daughter named Marie, but over the next five years and when the Treaty of 1836 was signed he sent her to a private French school near Detroit for a better education, but she died of white settler diseases. This nearly broke Janutes' heart. Marie wasn't there long. Marsac was ashamed of Janute and Marsac left for Detroit and when he returned to Lowell she (Janute) met Marsac's new French wife and the shock of his infidelity killed her. Janute cried herself to death. When she died Marsac lost the respect and trade of Wobwindigo and Cobmoosa's tribal standing. No Indians, not even John Wabasis, nor his wife would trade with Marsac and Wabasis learned the value of respect. Marsac was forced to sell his trading post and he used the proceeds to buy an 80-acre parcel on the north side of the river east of the Flat River calling it Dansville.
Wobwindigo and Cobmoosa were Wabasis' mentors. Respect, all give respect is what they taught Wabasis. Do what's right and you'll never stray. Wabasis got a steady dose or what it means to be well liked, but unlike Wobwindigo he traveled by canoe Cobmoosa traveled by foot and scorned river trips. He walked to villages near Portland and Lansing. He was known as the "Grand Walker," and when he did leave the Grand River valley many years later he walked to Grand Haven, but did not float down the river, but did take a steamboat trip up Lake Michigan to the Pentwater and walked to the reservation.
Well time to quit. Next time I'll talk briefly about the Treaty of 1836 and what it meant to Wobwindigo, Cobmoosa and Wabasis.