Chief John Wabasis lived the life of a condemned Indian for nearly twenty-five years. He escaped certain death by disgruntled others who swore out their own version of imminent death if he left his farm along the most western shores of Wabasis Lake. For twenty-four years he lived in his log house atop the high hill that overlooks lake and farm of present day Kent County Park and Campground. Frequently old John Wabasis could be seen near the limestone caves and it has been the contention by many treasure hunters that Wabasis' lost treasure lies within the inner regions. Many have searched in vain on land, but the size of the wetland areas has changed since 1863. Could the kettle be buried in the cattail marshes?
If gold and silver were kettlelized inside the caves it is lost forever, but as you've learned each family of Indians had its own kettle for cooking and I doubt Mrs. Wabasis would let her husband take it and bury his riches in it for safe keeping. Kettles were for cooking and the old pots were not taken back and forth from summer to winter quarters, however, when they left the summer grounds most Ottawas and Chippewas would put their most prized possessions in them and bury them until they returned from winter grounds.
The majority of Wabasis' lost treasure was buried many miles beyond Wabasis Lake. Sure when Chief Wabasis left his farm he had a few coins, but the whole purpose of banishing him to his property was so that Mucktasha's tribal members could spy on him to find his stash. It's amazing how Chief Wabasis kept the treasure hidden for twenty-four years without tipping off those like Mucktasha who convinced Chief Neogamah it was time to kill Chief Wabasis. The Blackskins had lost hope of ever finding the treasure.
Still Chief Wabasis left his banished property and faced the prospect of death many times. Fact is the legend concerning the "kettle" burial happened not during the year he was killed, but about May 1848, when he had a premonition that danger lurked along the Plainfield-Sheridan Indian Trail. He had just picked up his last Indian payment as a half-breed and those of his family unit along with the payments going out to about 1,200 other Indians.
The Indian superintendent would call out the names of chiefs and heads of families to get a certain amount. Spread out in piles of $10 and $20 in half-silver dollars on the council table each man was called up by the Indian superintendent and the interpreter told the clerk who one by one checked them off the list. As the 'crier' called off the names the Indians would present themselves and once paid off family members would gather around them and receive their share and beyond them stood the traders to collect Indian debts, which sometimes left the Indians with little to show for a years wage.
The treaty language of 1836, which changed the way Indians were paid in 1834, which stipulated now that each family head must appear and account for himself and members of his family. No proxy (Wabasis) could receive payments for others. Payment in gold lasted about five years until the government was running short of gold coins. Sometimes the chiefs depending on who signed the treaty got $2000 a year, but that figure was subdivided amongst his family members. It was only the single or widowed chiefs who received lump sum payments.
Remember, too, the half-breeds were paid at higher rates than Chiefs, but the payment was at the descretion of the various tribal chiefs. Still those Indians like Mucktasha's blackskin tribe near Greenville objected to how much Wabasis was paid. Wabasis invested it in white man ventures and actually did purchased treaty lands for his own use. Wabasis could have been paid slightly less or more than $50,000 for helping the government acquire land north of the Grand River, but he inherited lots of money from Wobwindigo, Cobmoosa and his family unit, too.
As I've said frequently Wabasis' lost treasure, the largest share isn't buried and Wabasis Lake but elsewhere. In May 1848 he on his way back home with a large cache of treaty money and had just crossed the Grand River near the head of Grand Island and stopped at his white man friend's house. Michael Smith entertained Wabasis who clutched a heavy bag inside his light buckskin jacket. The coins jiggled and clanked when Wabasis walked for several hours and then 'out of the blue' Wabasis asked Smith if he had and old iron kettle and a horse he could borrow for a little while. Smith was puzzled. 'Did his friend have a premonition of impending doom?' Wabasis never told him why he needed a kettle. Smith thought he might collect some wild strawberries and return, since it was a warmer than normal spring. No snow or little in 1847-48. Michigan was a tinderbox. Bonfire and campfires were prohibited.
Chief Wabasis looked nervous as he climbed onto the horse's back and Smith gave him the kettle. Chief John Wabasis rode up the trail northward and James House (age 17) who lived with his parents about a mile north or Prairie Village saw Wabasis pass, the old horse plodding with gruff man on his back. House watched him fade off over the hill and that's the last he saw of Wabasis that day, but he missed his return with the horse minus the kettle.
Smith said, "Wabasis was only gone for three or four hours, but he returned minus the kettle and bag of money - no clanking of coins." Wabasis returned the horse and paid him for the kettle, thanked Smith and walked towards home on foot. The kettle of money was buried somewhere along the Plainfield-Sheridan Trail.
If this is true (this is the real kettle of treasures) how far can a hefty Indian riding an old plow horse travel in 3-5 hours before returning to the Smith residence? That's between the mouth of the Rogue River and Prairie Village (Blythefield Country Club). The House residence was just below the Kuttshill Hill just short of present day Blythefield Baptist Church. The House family farm looked down upon Prairie Village.
On foot Wabasis could probably have walked about a mile per twenty-minutes or less, but how far on horseback along the trail and what physical land features could have existed in 1848 along this trail? It is highly possible that the kettle of treasure is buried somewhere in the Barkley Creek glacial canyon and Grass Lake (Bella Vista) that meanders northwest thru Leach Swamp.
Leach Swamp was known to Constables as the place where those they sought, like Vincent Tucker, an emboldened thief who seemingly disappeared during a summer manhunt without a trace in 1878. Rockford Marshal and Cannon Township Constables chased him into the swamp and personally noted it was someplace nobody should visit. I have reason to believe the kettle of real treasure is between Myers Lake Ave (east), Ten Mile Road (north), Belding Road (south) Jericho/Gibralter Rd. (west). This is the vicinity in which Wabasis traveled. Remember this $50,000 treasure in 1848 might be worth just under $1 million today. The legend of Wabasis' lost treasure has been morphed and twisted so badly over the past 150 years that the original "kettle of treasure" and its original burial spot do not exist. Everyone keeps looking in the wrong place at Wabasis Lake. Whatever lies in an undisclosed location at Wabasis Lake is a 'minor' treasure, but it is still worth looking for since the "Curse of Wabasis' Lost Treasure" exists in the hearts of many treasure hunters who say something haunts the park on dark nights. You'll want to read the next installment #132 for his death and the paranormal activity surrounding his death and treasure still that lies within the park.
The only reason the Kent County Parks Commission sealed the limestone caves is because they were dangerous. In fact, Carl Tower said, "the caves crumbled when he was inside once" as a young boy. Bumping any rock outcroppings caused rock slides and the caves went straight back in about 40-50 feet, but he never found anything of Indian culture inside. To disturb the rocks caused cave-ins and that scared him when playing inside them. Yes, it is possible the minor treasures of Wabasis might be buried here, but surely someone would have found it between 1863-1943.
Sixty-seven years ago government officials decided nobody else should investigate the caves for fear the crumbly limestone might crush them and they had no expert "spelunkers" who wanted to risk life and limb to rescue treasure hunters. To go inside small caves in Michigan without telling someone or carrying GPS or cellphone is foolish and downright stupid like the three Utah treasure hunters in 2010 who tried to find the Lost Dutchman's Mine in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona.
Don't miss "Wabasis death and The Curse of Chief Wabasis' Treasure." Bet you didn't know the later topic?