Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Legend of Chief Wabasis' Lost Treasure - 127

Sub-chief John Wabasis waited patiently for Chief Wobwindego's return from Washington. As a previous treaty signer surely Kewaycooshcum, another educated Indian could maintain civility among the chiefs while in the presence of President Andrew Jackson. Kewaycooschcum was impressed with Gen. Lewis Cass and both men treated each other and Congress with mutual respect. Wabasis' future looked promising. He had gained stature within the Ottawa tribes at council meetings in 1834-1835 as the peacemaker. Very seldom did he lash out when things looked darkest, but instead looked for the good of many and not just himself. It was important to serve others and maintaining his own identity within the various tribes. He gained favor among the chiefs and for that he would be amply rewarded as the richest treasure chief.

Standing on the knoll overlooking the Grand River valley in the fall of 1835 he couldn't help wondering how many years were left for visiting the graves of their ancestors. That fall nearly 3000 Native Americans comprised of Chippewas, Ottawas and remaining Potawatomies gathered at Plainfield's Prairie Village to celebrate the Feast of the Corn Dance. Each day more and more Indians arrived from all directions; by canoe river travel or land trails, such as the Plainfield-Sheridan Indian Trail or Newaygo Trail. After the council meetings they'd go their separate ways to celebrate the "Feast of the Dead", which was an event similar to "Christian All Soul's Day."

Before the Indians left they would hunt and fish so they would have enough food to feed their people and the departed spirits for Gee-bwa-gezhick meaning "Feast of the Dead" celebrated the second of November each year. On this day each tribe went to their respective Indian cemeteries to place wooden crosses over the dead. 'Crows' are said to roost in the vicinity of Indian graves. Each Indian family would go and take care of their own graves. Kewaycooshcum and Cobmoosa visited Potawotomie grave yards south of the Grand River. They maintained Indian graves until about 1860. Cobmoosa left in 1860-61 for the Pentwater Reservation.

Wabasis couldn't help but wonder how long it'd be before area Indians would be forced to reservations, too, but what mattered more to him was that his Indian friends, relatives and settlers wouldn't die needlessly and he also knew the government was going to pay them for their lands with annual payments, but he was unsure how much. Still he had gained the respect of two settlers named Michael Smith and Andrew House who built log houses just outside of Prairie Village. He visited both frequently on his journeys to council meetings.

Wabasis had much respect for Smith and House. Andrew's son James grew up with Native American Indians all around them. His children regarded the Indian children as friends and vice versa. They were almost inseparable (blood pals) and the House's built there cabin about a mile away from Prairie Village and they could see it. Blythefield Country Club of today was once Prairie Village. Standing outside of the House's front door Wabasis and House watched as the sky glowed a brilliant orange as the bonfires in the cemeteries grew larger. Smoke from burnt meat offerings tossed into the fire filled the cool nighttime air. Feeding the "Spirits of the Dead" was the yearly ritual they celebrated, but which Rev. Isaac McCoy frowned upon. Both men listened to the drum beating, the chanting and the silhouettes of Indians dancing around the graves while others in distant cemeteries poured whiskey and beer over the ground in the graveyards to give the "spirits a drink".

Wabasis told the story about how some Indian friends living as white settlers in a log cabin fed the children first, the adults eating last, then praying, singing songs they learned and dancing into the wee hours of the night. Before retiring for the evening the woman within would reset the table and leave food out all night for the departed spirits to eat. Many years later James House said the Indian children would tell him different versions of how they celebrated "Ghost Suppers", but they too, were ceremonies to "honor their dead."

Throughout the entire region the Indians would gather together to hold hands, offer prayers and continue with ceremonial singing accompanied by a fantastic feast to feed the spirits of the dead. The Indians would sit around the bonfires and smoke the sacred pipes as the "shamans" or the greatest of medicine men within the tribes would resort to trickery to create ghosts or sightings of ghosts of long departed spirits that rose in the smoke of the dwindling fires.

By the time James House was seven years old he fluently spoke Chippewa and Ottawa languages, but that's what happens when all your friends are Indians and the Indian children were educated in English. Anyone who learned the Algonquian language could travel freely for a thousand miles and didn't need to fear the Indians. James and Wabasis would tell you that although their was never any bloodshed between Indians and settlers there was bloodshed during a decisive Indian battle between remaining area Chippewas and a band of Snakeheads (Shawnee war party from central Illinois) in which the Snakes were severely beaten. The Shawnees were at War with most of the tribes that signed any peace treaties with Washington.

The Honey Creek/Ramsdell Road in Ada, Cannon and Oakfield Township was a Sioux/Sauk War Trail to Saginaw Bay and Skull's Island, but this was prior to the 1800's. James House witnessed the 1837 massacre about a half-mile north of Prairie Village (where the Plainfield Christian Reformed Church is today and an even bigger battle was in the vicinity of the Rockford High School complex before 1800). Indians fought Indians when the tribes didn't agree with treaties signed with Washington. Those white settlers whose children grew up with Indian children learned to never fear them. They learned to respect the views of others and to live peacefully whether black, red or white skinned. Each year James House watched as the Indians returned to the Plainfield area to celebrate "Feast of the Dead". Those that witnessed these ceremonies grew up accustomed to the cultures and ways of life and those that learned to respect the Indians found them useful in their later years as the settlers rushed westward.

Wabasis probably had tears in his eyes, too, just like Kewaycooshcum and Cobmoosa did when they realized it wouldn't be too long before the fall bonfires would be extinguished for good in the Plainfield Prairie Village area. The orangish-red glow in the dark night sky illuminating the graves of their dead would cease within ten years. Wabasis would live to see darker night skies each fall. In the spring of 1859 several thousand Ottawas - tribes in the Grand River valley left by canoe down the river. A U.S. government ship transpoted them to Pentwater from Grand Haven. Upon landing at Pentwater the Indians could choose their own 40-80 acre parcels for permanent occupancy. Single men got 40 acres, the heads of families 80 acres per the Treaty of 1855. They must be gone from the Grand River at the close of 1860. This is why the mass exodus.

Those that remained after the Treaty of 1836 was signed and didn't leave were forced to remove themselves after they signed the Treaty of 1855, which stipulated they must leave for reservations at Pentwater within five years. These were free-roaming trapping and hunting Indians. No longer did the orangish-red bonfires glow in the night sky in Kent and Montcalm areas in 1860. The "Ghost Suppers" northwest of Rockford ceased as did the "Feasts of the Dead" in Algoma Township's Hoskins Lake and Indian Lakes area, Half-Moon and Wabasis Lake areas. John Wabasis and a small band of other Ottawas remained, but so too, did a small band of 10-12 war-like Blackskins, the same Indians who threatend Wabasis with death. They lived a few mile northeast of Wabasis. One of them conspired to trick Wabasis into leaving his garden plot to kill him in 1863.

Wobwindigo and all the other Grand River valley chiefs returned in the late Spring of 1836. Wabasis spent many nights pondering if his peaceful negotations paid off and they did. It was a bitter-sweet return for the chiefs told of their Washington exploits, but many half-breeds were angry that the chiefs signed the Treaty of 1836 in March and formally in (September) and the uneducated were angered more when they learned they had to leave for the reservations west of the Mississippi.

No appropriations were made for Ottawas to remain in the land of their fathers and they couldn't understand why they must be enumerated. To receive annual payments they all had to be registered on a census - every man, woman and child before they'd receive payments in gold and silver starting in May 1837. This made the Indians fearful. They assumed they would be given equal shares as in the previous treaties, but the way in which Indians were paid changed in 1834.

Next time I'll we'll start in May 1836 with the return of Wobwindigo, Mexicini, Noonday, etc.

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