In 1858 it was quite the scene to witness the departure of 800 Indians in 300 canoes packed with possessions down the Grand River to just about Grand Rapids. They landed just south of Leonard and a little beyond the confluence of Coldbrook Creek and prepared to disembark and portage everything they owned about a half-mile around the Six Street Dam. Why so far?
Grand Rapids had displaced many remnants of Noondays village where Cobmoosa was born in 1768. In the encampment in 1822 he stood at the "rapids" village and welcomed both Catholic and Baptist missionaries. No longer could canoes pass over and down the spillway - they'd submerge in the violent water. Indians had to portage around the new lock construction that were never completed for upriver steamboat traffic (from dam to Michigan Street) once the railroad arrived. The quarry hole was where my cousin Mitch Idema drowned in the 1980's. It was that deep stretch from the dam along the east wall where today the U.S. Post Office resides. I honor his memory, too.
Noonday's village was wall to wall buildings that now shield Monroe from the noise of the rapids. In his day, it was not quiet. From Leonard to Fulton the original riverbed dropped 21 feet making it a violent and turbulent river. Not the best spot to arrive on shore in the middle of a raging river. Cobmoosa's phobia of water may have originated from the rapids - did he almost drown here or did he witness the drowning of family or friends.
What the Indians found was no wilderness and now wooden buildings and commerce. Directly across the river the Iron Horse spewing lots of dark smoke and sparks chugged up the tracks for further construction of the Grand Rapids and Indiana Rail Road from Ft. Wayne, Indiana northward towards Cadillac (White Pine Trail). The RR was bringing up steel railroad tracks and ties for construction just north of Comstock Park. Nothing looked the same to the Indians. What they remembered was "gone-gone-gone."
We would be no different if we were absent from our childhood home after 40 years? We've all seen the degradation, economic advancements and environmental changes to the landscapes of our youth after 15-20 years.
Our cultures and traditions leave and return under good and bad moments in life. It might be disheartening to witness the changes in childhood or adult life. All the Indian villages north of the Grand River were vacant. This was the last time any settlers would be threatened by the presence of bad Indians, but such would not be in the case of Chief John Wabasis at his Wabasis Lake encampment. The renegades wouldn't permit him to leave.
Cobmoosa was finally left alone for the last time when 87-90 years old. What could be possibly have left undone from 1858-late 1860? It's not what he couldn't do, but rather what he did do for his people left behind buried in cemeteries and Indian graves along the Grand River. He simply thought it was his responsibility to honor his ancestors and friends in graves and making sure that when new settlers arrived that they didn't desecrate their graves along the Grand and Flat Rivers.
The mass migration of Indian ceased in late summer. The region was void of Indians - not all, the renegades near Greenville stayed behind to harass Wabasis and his family, but they never intentionally tried to harm Wabasis family. Gone were the glowing orange skies on dark nights. No more beating drums - only replaced with sounds of crickets, coyotes and wolves howling in distant forests.
October's colorful leaves were beginning to fall. Morning frost left a nip in the air until a couple hours after glorious sunrises. Cobmoosa rose from his sleep to find another a morning sky azure blue with wisps of feathery white clouds barely moving. A warm autumn breeze caressed his face as he wandered along the riverbank hedging towards the ancient burial grounds.
Showers of falling leaves to the forest floor made for difficult walking for a 90 year old man. The fragrances of fall tickled his nose, but the sun felt good on his face and the warmth in afternoon sun felt good on his aching body. He could hear the Manistee winds sighing thru pine needles, the whispers of winter announcing that snow would soon appear.
Being old with age he probably sat down atop high hill to rest overlooking the river and smelled the fragrances of the river and ate an apple while resting. Water wherever found has a particular fragrance. The stronger breezes sent blizzards of red, orange and yellow leaves to the ground. The sounds of swirling leaves clicked together as the hardened Aspen leaves struck each other with the sounds similar to raindrops striking water. He had lived a long life a life that death had neglected. His time along the Grand River valley was short, but he promised President Pierce he would leave before 1860 closed. He would after he visited the graves of his ancestors and friends and celebrated for the last time the "Feast of The Dead.
Feast of The Dead was a time of remembrance for all those Indians who passed away. Some reached for the happy hunting ground while those who were Christians at time of death were dead in Christ. Cobmoosa was at the graves of his ancestors. Many died during several small pox epidemics, but he would remain vigilant to protect the burial sites. That was his duty to the "People of Three Fires - Ottawa, Pottawatomie and Ojibway (Chippewa). (continued)