John Wabasis as a child grew up in a turbulent era of religious persecution in which Rev. McCoy pitted himself against Catholics living in Wobwindego's village. He witnessed the religious persecution among his own people. It was early 1821 when the first American Baptist Missionaries began to earnestly try to convert the Ottawa Indians along the lower Grand River to Protestant Christianity. Word spread about his possible arrival up the river.
The government was sponsoring a Baptist missionary and preacher, the Rev. Isaac McCoy to establish a mission at the 'rapids'. It believed many lost souls in the Ottawa, Ojibway (Chippewa) and Potawatomie tribes lived along the Grand River and might be trouble for settlement. But, many were already French Catholics. Catholic Indians thought Baptists would cause problems. No wonder when many Indian women were married off to educated French Canadian Fur Traders who traded whisky and tobacco for furs.
Wabasis' biological father was a French Canadian who married his Potawatomie mother, so too, was Daniel Marsac who married beautiful Janute in Wobwindego's village about 1832, a marriage ceremony Wabasis similar to his own marriage in Wobwindego's village a year earlier.
Under President James Monroe (1817-25), the US government hired McCoy to establish a permanent mission among the Ottawas near Grand Haven. He remained in that employ until 1833 under President James Quincy Adams (1825-29) and President Andrew Jackson (1829-37).
From this small mission, which was to include a school, blacksmith shop and model farm, it was the governments hope that Rev. McCoy could embark on an interior journey and establish another mission among the Ottawas at the rapids before 1821. Just as McCoy was to start his trip he received a personal invitation from an old acquaintance named Chief Nawequageezhik (Noon Day).
Nawequageezhik had been using the Kekemazoo (Kalamazoo) trail from Gun Lake to the rapids to visit and talk to his Baptist missionary friend on the west bank of the Grand River at the head of the rapids. The great Indian Chief Noon Day on behalf of the Gun Lake tribe of Ottawas and Potawatomies welcomed Rev. McCoy with open arms. Their day of jubilee at the 'rapids' was short lived.
The Blackskin tribe objected to McCoy's plan to build a mission north of the Grand River. They threatened 'war'. They believed it was only a matter of time before the US government forced themselves on tribes north of the Grand River. The Grand River was the 'demilitarized zone' between settlers and Indian nations and the Blackskins speaking on behalf of other tribes wanted nothing to do with the US government.
McCoy not satisfied with Blackskin objections sought out the celebrated warrior name Chief Kewaycooshcum, who was originally from the Grand Traverse Bay region and was chief of the Flat River tribes at Lowell. Rev. McCoy and his French interpreter asked Kewaycooshcum if he could build a Baptist mission on one-square miles of land at the 'rapids' north of the Grand in 1822, but the chief vehemently denied them permission, because it would have been built on Indian lands. Widespread religious friction began once the Indians signed the Treaty of 1821. Kewaycooshcum signed that treaty, but moved some of his tribe north of the Grand River and then refused McCoy from settling on Indian land. Kewaycooshcum was smart and was well respected among other Ottawa tribes.
Speaking on behalf of Catholics as he was a devout Catholic he didn't see the need for a Protestant mission and the French fur traders in the area were opposed to Baptist intrusions, because they would be scorned for selling whisky and tobacco to the Indians. Baptists had a habit of scorning whisky and expounding a 'one upmanship' of Bible or God's teachings, which do not say Christians may not partake of spirits and wine. Nothing in the Bible says Christians may not drink beer or other intoxicating liquors. Nothing in the Bible says that dancing is prohibited and the Baptist missionaries scorned the Indians for dancing at festivals and celebrations.
Although there were many Catholic Indians (Native Americans), the Baptist missionaries knew there were lots of other lost souls still to be saved within the Ottawa, Ojibway and Potawatomie tribes inhabiting the Grand River watershed. The government thought that Rev. Isaac McCoy might just be the Protestant missionary to turn the rest of the lost or savage tribes into civilized communities when the 160-acre mission was finally built in 1827 about where Fountain Street Church is today in Grand Rapids. McCoy had struggled to get his mission built for seven years.
In fact Chief Noonday was once a murderous Indian who was enticed by the British to wage war against the United States in the War of 1812, but who was converted and became a Protestant believer with Chief Gosam which helped them gain the trust of other tribes not yet Christianized and civilized. This made pre-settlement easier - no wars or bloodshed.
Noon Day was a man of vision. He thought it would be a good way to increase his own prestige, because he knew that Missionaries not only brought religion, but it was a way to get oxen and plows to clear the land for farming. Government treaties supplied them with provisions and material goods. Life would be easier. This would elevate his stature as the most powerful of Ottawa chief's in the Grand River valley. He could redistribute the goods to his people, but Mucktasha's tribe vehemently opposed any intrusions by Rev. McCoy becuase they knew McCoy disliked Catholics and there were many French Catholics scattered amongst the Blackskins and Ottawas.
McCoy regarded Catholics, Methodists and any other denominational Indians as enemies of his faith and he verbally scorned them as souls lost on a highway to eternal damnation. All the chiefs up the river heard about McCoys fiery attitude towards Catholics and many within their villages, their fathers and ancestors had been Catholics since the 1600's. It was the predominant religion in the northern tribal territory since the tribes in the Mackinaw Straits region were first introduced to Jesuit missionaries. We know this to be fact, not fiction, since an Indian gorget stone was found in Grattan Township in 1889 near Ten Mile Road and Lessiter Ave, which would be just south of Chief Wabasis' ancestral village. The gorget contained the engraved Christian date 1584 a.d. and found by a farmer tilling a cleared field.
The Ada and Lowell tribes were predominantly Roman Catholics and this remained until the Treaty of 1856 was signed, which forced all Indians out of the Grand River valley. All Indians that had not retired to Indian reservations were being evicted at the end of five years. (1861), but was interupted by the start of the Civil War. Many had become squatters seeking handouts from settlers who purchased the land upon which they lived, but refused to leave the region.
Had it not been for the financial crash of the economy in the mid 1820's, the Grand River valley would have seen an influx of white settlers, but this gave lots of time for all the tribes of Noon Day and Kewaycooshcum to head for Missouri reservations. Kewaycooschcum sent his tribes on the Trail of Tears to Missouri, but he stayed behind with some of his tribe who didn't want to leave, but intermingled with the Flat River tribes. Wobwindego had just made his son Showogeno sub-chief and standing next to him was Kewaycooschum, Wabasis and in the same camp that day there was born Moses Cougan in 1827. Moses would grow up in the shadow of Wabasis, the adopted son of Wobwindego, and Cobmoosa, the 'grand walker' who was Wabasis foster father. All red men of great courage and vision.
Time to stop now. Two more segments on the religious mindsets of the Ottawas and how Wabasis got his training for becoming such a respected chief. I'll let you stew on where the iron kettle of Wabasis' treasure is really hidden. I always like that printing on the passenger side mirror of an automobile "Objects may be closer than they appear!" If it isn't at Wabasis Lake, where is it buried?