Monday, December 27, 2010

The Legend of Chief Wabasis' Lost Treasure - 128

Watching from the high bluffs at Prairie Village John Wabasis watched a flotilla of rafts and long Indian canoes coming down the Grand River. Soon the Grand River valley chiefs would come ashore and he waited with anticipation to learn if indeed the chiefs agreed with Washington to sign the Treaty of 1836. He had fought valiantly to keep the Indians from starting any wars with incoming settlers. It became a bitter sweet reunion when several half-breeds objected to the chiefs agreement with President Andrew Jackson. They fumed with anger and told the chiefs loudly of their disapproval, but Chief Wobwindigo told them they got the best deal with Washington. Tempers flared around the bonefires at tribal councils, but cooler heads of Wabasis and Boshaw kept the hotheads from causing problems.

The Chiefs told them a census was to be taken of every man, woman and child, and the relationships to tribal leaders for they would get more money depending on the heirachy within the families. The chiefs would get more than the rest and educated half-breeds it turned out would receive more money than chiefs for services rendered for keeping peace with incoming settlers, but how much they received was at the discretion of the Chiefs and President.

It was a hot summer. Plenty of disagreements and the weather was meaner than normal. Violent storms racked the state. More than 200 tornadoes ravaged western Michigan in 1836. Everywhere the Indians went they witnessed the natural destruction and those Indians who were superstitious thought the Great Spirit was angered, because the Chiefs signed the treaty signing away the lands of their ancestors. The destruction seen caused many tribes to become nomads - strangers in unfamiliar lands. It wouldn't be long before they would have to remove themselves from the Grand River valley. Washington would only give them five years to removed themselves to far away reservations and so the Treaty of 1836 was signed September 28, 1836 by 25 tribal leaders out of the estimated 100 tribes north of the Grand River in Michigan and Wisconsin. It was thought the Grand River valley Indians, the southern most tribes, were the strongest tribes. Winning them over would "guarantee" the hearts of the minor majority. Incoming settler wouldn't have reason to fear the Ottawas and Chippewas.

The Indians thought they had got the best deal, but Wabasis soon learned that wasn't the case. The Indians thought the government was going to pay lumps sums to just the Chiefs who would dispense individual payments to their people, but while they argued at tribal council meeting Congress in 1834 changed the way Indian were paid. Yes, the chiefs got lump sum payments (rich amounts) but so too, were head of the families to dispense money within their own unit. Each family head was expected to travel to the annual Indian Annuity Payment location each Spring. The Indians didn't know this until May 1837 when Wabasis arrived to pick up his money.

Because Wabasis was so well respected in 1836 shortly after signing of the treaty many of the Grand River chiefs elected Wabasis to pick up their shares, but the government refused to turn over other tribal money to him. They reasoned why should they all travel when the government handed out money to chiefs, but over the winter 1836-1837 the government hit a snag. Although the chiefs returned to their people they also brought in an abundance of white man diseases and again "death lurked in the shadows" and many would succumb to cholera, small pox, measles, chicken poxes and tuberculosis and the abundance of firewater and tobacco made things worse.

Thousands of Indians perished after the Dexter Party arrived in Grand Rapids in 1833. It seems that sickness was everywhere and before the first 1836 Indian annuity payment was paid out in May 1837 nearly one-third of the remaining Indian population had died. Squaws wailed in darkness as each family member passed away. The night skies were illuminated with the bonfires at Indian cemeteries. Chief Wobwindigo's was not immune to the sickness. He died before he could collect his first payment, but his share would be passed down to his sons; Shonago, Acango and Anish and adopted son Wabasis. Many in Wobwindigo's village departed, too, anyplace where the whitemans sickness hadn't reached.

Now all the chiefs who went to Washington returned and seeded the tribes with whiteman germs. Fear ran rampant among the tribes and tribes that weren't affected quickly dissapated; they simply left for unknown regions or they showed up at a reservation west of the Mississippi or farther north in Michigan. In June 1837), the the Ottawa Indians at Grand Rapids saw the first launching of a Steamboat called the "Governor Mason", but it was Chief Macitawsa (Macatawa) and Mexinini who loaned James Short approximately $2000 from their Indian payment the previous month to give Richard Godfry, the vessel owner money to purchase a boiler and engine.

Upon arrival and departure from Grand Rapids the Mason's bugler blasted his horn, which could be heard up and down the river. It was so loud the sound echoed up the valleys and into the woods and it caused much fear in Indians and settlers until they knew what the sound meant. It meant that soon Grand Rapids would be busting at the seams with commerce and a staggering influx of incoming settlers. The Governor Mason would be strictly a riverboat ferrying supplies up and down the river until May 1840 when it ran aground on a sand bar near the mouth of the river and was smashed to oblivion by giant waves during a sudden thunderstorm.

In 1838, the second steamer arrived known to the Indians as "Owashtenong" and "Poorhouse" to settlers. Two more steamers were plying the Grand River, the Patronage and the John Almy. The Indians camped still at Wobwindigo's village watched as the John Almy upon her maiden voyage struck an underwater object at the mouth of the Flat River and sank. That same summer, the State Legislature appropriated $30,000 to clear underwater obstructions (logs and channel boulders from Grand Haven to Lyons. After that Chief Shonago realized that his tribe must leave so they went further south and they knew it wouldn't be long before they'd have to remove themselves to west Mississippi reservations. Still there was no big hurry to leave.

Next time I'll start at 1838. Good morning! I've given you an "inkling' of what the powerful chiefs got for Indian annuity payments. So how much could have Wabasis amassed over twenty years if he was paid higher than Chiefs?

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