Sub-Chief John Wabasis was proud of his achievements at keeping the peace in the Grand River valley and with the signing of the Treaty of 1836 he reaped a whirlwind of money from the Federal government. His services to the Indian nations made him a prominent figure among the Indians and the incoming settlers. With the passing of Wobwindigo he became chief of his own family tribe; his wife Cononoma, and three children before 1840 and Wabasis had already made several trips to Grand Rapids in late Spring to pickup his share of his annuity payments.
Many people believe he kept the different tribal shares, but he couldn't because each head of families was supposed to appear in person to pick up the family share - not the tribal share. When he returned home the Blackskins were insistant that he wasn't giving them enough money and each time Wabasis insisted 'this is all you get.' Well the Indians began to accuse him of hoarding their share and each time Wabasis insisted they didn't get so much because under the treaty agreement they had to prosper themselves instead of loafing and panhandling incoming settlers for handouts. This treaty was going to make sure that the Indians who lived according to how they were taught by the missionaries by investing in businesses and agriculture practices; farming, etc. would get the money. The Blackskins northeast of Wabasis Lake were known by many settlers as loafers and derelicts and didn't follow the treaty guidelines. These were the renegades who previously didn't want to sign the treaty.
Henry Schoolcraft, the Indian agent afloat had the discretion to award larger sums of money, but only to those the Chiefs said deserved the annuity payments. Schoolcraft reported his finding each year about those Indians they found disserving and the President could deny compensation to all Indians who didn't meet the expectations of the treaty language. Indian payments were further delayed to some because when diseases began killing the Indians individual tribes and families left with no known forwarding address. According to the Treaty of 1836, that's when the Indians signed it at Traverse City in Sept. 1836, no formal preparations were available for Indian removal, yet theoritic plans were for all those north of the Grand River to move west of the Mississippi. Many chose to go further north and settle on reservation land at Pentwater, Manistee, Traverse, or Mt. Pleasant.
However when some Indians got their first annuity payments they began investing their newly gotten gains in settler enterprises; steamboats and freighting businesses, and some purchased back their own individual pieces of land south of the Grand River. After everything was settled Congress got wind of the purchases and declared that wherever the Indians went to reservations they could only stay for five years and then had to remove themselves west of the Mississippi.
It wasn't until after 1836 that the Indians learned that Washington lawmakers spoke with "forked tongues" and the government broke their own treaty in 1837. The sounds of war drums beating at night, the glows of bonfires and angry distant voices worried settlers. The five year reservation occupation was never ratified with the Indians. The treaty was amended by Congress after the Indians signed the treaty papers. Those Indians who fought against the chiefs voiced their anger louder at the chiefs who signed the treaty. Word of broken treaty spread like wildfire among the tribes and those tribes that didn't sign the treaty refused to leave. The U.S. Army was dispatched with cannons in tow into the Michigan wilderness. It was a defensive move by President Andrew Jackson to make settlements feel safer. Ottawa leaders vehemently opposed the Senate amendment without their knowledge of the treaty change.
Thousands of Indians would remain as free roaming hunters and fishemen supporting individual groups of family members until 1860. They refused to leave and most settlers weren't going to pressure the Indians to leave or start a range war. Most of the early land sales were to speculators hoping to sell the timber rights. The lumber barons and speculators insisted the government had no right to let the Indians stay on reservation land, because that land had the richest timber on them and they wanted to harvest it. The great landsales for lands north of the Grand River began in 1839, but it wasn't until the mid 1840's that the Indians saw and influx of new settlers.
After a few years of Wabasis reportedly hoarding Blackskin and Ottawa annuity payments it was apparent that Wabasis' respect had fallen off sharply amongst certain tribes. Some declared that since he wasn't giving them their fair share of gold and silver they need to curtail his movements so they banished him to living on his 40-acre garden plot on the western shores of Wabasis Lake. To leave meant any Grand River valley Indian who didn't like him could kill him (death warrant if he strayed). Wabasis' wife and children could come and go as they pleased, but he was supposed to remain at his farm.
The Indians believe Wabasis buried his treasure trove on that 40-acre ancestral farm and he had full access to the limestone caves. These caves in the park were sealed to prevent spelunkers from exploring them. Wabasis reportedly always had money on his person and would jiggle it in his hands whenever settlers or Indians visited his homestead. He was banished to live here and was supposed to never go beyond Spring Creek, which flows into Wabasis Lake, however, what they actually said was he was "to remain on his parcel, but go no further than one mile from his homestead when hunting or fishing." They wanted to bottle him up. Over the last 150 years since his death, this legend has been shrunk so that only treasure hunters search by daylight or lantern light near Wabasis Park.
Disappointed and disgruntled the Blackskins protested loudly to Wabasis who kept insisting, "That's all there is, there isn't anymore!" Those who didn't like Wabasis after that exiled him and put a death warrant on his head and any Indian could kill him if he left his farm. Kewaycooshcum had just been murdered in 1839 north of Grand Rapids at the mouth of Coldbrook Creek (south of Leonard St. in GR). This stream receives its water from the overflow drainage of Fisk and Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapids (it flows northwest). His body placed inside a crib in a sitting position, his head above ground looking south over the river valley he sold in 1821.
Chief Neogamah of Prairie Village and Chief Mucatasha (Mucatay) of the Blackskins in Montcalm County passed judgement on Chief Wabasis, which prohibited Wabasis from leaving his Wabasis Lake farm. No longer could he visit with friends, that's white or red men who highly respected him. For a man who reportedly hoarded the wealth of others he lived a simple life. He never flaunted any wealth and his wife and children had only their share of the funds. The Blackskins reportedly watched Wabasis trying to discover his hiding place, but they were seemingly lousy observationists since Wabasis escaped many times (12 times) till about 1850 to pick up his share of annuity payments and those of his family and return unharmed by accident, illness or design.
Wabasis exposed himself many times to the diseases ravaging Native Indians near Whitneyville in 1845. Chief Shonago was moving his Potawotomie tribe of 300-400 souls southward towards to Missouri, but instead the tribe was suffering from Black Tongue Disease. It was another disease encountered from white settlers and it reduced the tribe to 200 in a matter of weeks and within a month only 50 were left and they were sent to the Indian reservation at Mt. Pleasant.
Black Tongue disease is caused by insufficient oral hygiene (not brushing teeth). Its caused by overuse of tobacco products and drinking too much witch hazel herbal tea. The tongue grows hair (causes excessive gagging) and back then the tongue got raw and bled and since the Indians didn't have immunity to settler diseases this illness just ransacked their blood and immune systems causing death. Black tongue disease is spread by insufficient brushing of teeth, even today. It is treated with the use of antibiotics in people who chew tobacco. Witch hazel herbal tea is good for the body, but only in lesser amounts. The Indians used the herbal tea to combat Black Tongue disease, but in higher concentrations it makes people sick, too.
Half-breeds received their special payments for ten years, but Wabasis received family shares, inheritances and investments his entire life. He once owned all the islands in the Flat River who he acquired as inheritances from Wobwindigo and Cobmoosa. When he did return from journeys it was without any large sums of money. Where did it go? He came back with little money and supplies.
Over 150 years the legend and size of Wabasis' lost treasure has increased his 'POT of GOLD', but the government switched from gold to silver before 1847, because there was a government shortage of gold coinage. Still in over 150 years 'no pot or kettle of treasure' has ever been found - tangible proof of its existence and yet the treasure hunters still search for Wabasis' lost pot or kettle of treasure. Wabasis' travels were inside the 'triangle of treasure' that ran from Grand Rapids to Sheridan, to Ionia and back to Grand Rapids. The bulk of the treasure doesn't reside at Wabasis Lake, but somewhere between Prairie Village (Blythefield Country Club) and Wabasis Lake along the Plainfield-Sheridan Indian Trail. Where? As I said, repeating Wabasis' tale for 150 years is far removed from accuracy. Storytelling repeatedly embellishes (polishes) the legend. The brightness blinds treasure hunters.
The legend (150 year rumor) has Wabasis burying a huge kettle along the banks of Wabasis Creek or around the shore of Wabasis Lake, when in fact Wabasis real banishment area was that he couldn't go beyond one mile from its shore. Within this area are many limestone caves and eight lakes that have many limestone crevices. One should never concentrate on Wabasis treasure as being strictly golden. Don't forget to add 'silver' to that pot of treasure.
Wabasis escaped his death sentence for 24 years and the remaining Blackskins decided that after these lost years it was apparent that they'd never receive their share of the money so they conspired to kill him after they tricked him into going to a Green Corn Dance at Prairie Village, but few Indians showed up. Only Wabasis' family still resided on Stephen Towers property at Wabasis Lake. Wabasis wasn't murdered along the Coldwater River, but Rum Creek in Kent County. Chief Neogamah and Mucktasha... oops, got to go...so ask yourself until next time if the treasure isn't buried near Wabasis Lake where might it be hidden? The legend is askew bigtime. You don't want to miss blog #130.