June 25, 1931

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When the monument was dedicated here Friday to Indian Mills probably not more than a half dozen people were among the dedication assembly who ever saw the now passed village in its heydey. Only a few of the county’s pioneers recall when Indian Mills was the trading and milling center of this territory.

Mrs. Cass Mosher, of Rosebush, now in her eighties, once taught in one of the early Indian schools and despite her advanced years today vividly recalls much of the history of Indian Mills, which was established in 1857 by the government and flourished for some 15 years.

In the following article Mrs. Mosher reviews much of interest concerning the Indian Mills and the people who lived there.

The period covered by this article lies between the years 1850 and 1880, mostly in the 60's and early 70's. The Indians most concerned were Chippewas, belonging to the Saginaw Swan Creek and Black River part of the tribe - these were settled on a reservation in Isabella County.

On January 17, 1865, President Lincoln sent the treaty of Oct. 1864 to congress for ratification, which, he said was made at the Isabella reservation, and spoke of them as Chippewas of Saginaw, Swan Creek and Black River. He also referred to one sent to congress by President Pierce, August 5, 1835. President Pierce also spoke of them as Saginaw, Swan Creek and Black River.

January 20, 1860, President Buchanan sent to congress for ratification “Articles of Agreement and Convention” with the Chippewas of Swan Creek and Black River and the “Christian Indians” made and concluded on July 16, 1850.

I do not know at what time the reservation of land was made and the Indians placed upon it, but he county of Isabella was laid out and named in 1832, though not organized for business until 1859.

The progress the Indians had made in the ways of the white men would lead one to think that it was some time before the county was organized for business and possibly before Michigan was admitted as a State in 1837. However, that may be, it was evident in the early ‘60's that for various reasons the government was getting ready to let them shift for themselves. The treaty of 1864 was but one of the preliminaries.

The conditions of the first treaty must have been similar to one made with Indians at other times. At first the government supplied the heads of families with yoke of oxen, a plow and seeds, built a grist and saw mill, a blacksmith shop and council house. They also built five school houses with living rooms at the back for the teacher and furnished a cook stove. A superintendent of mills, a blacksmith and five teachers were paid by the government, also an interpreter, a half-breed. In addition there was made an annual payment to the head of every family of so much per head in his family. The reasons given for this was that an attempt was to be made to civilize them, give them a chance to live as white men did and to become Christians. At the time of the treaty making, 1864, all of these provisions were being carried out except there were no oxen, plows or seed furnished.

The object of this treaty of 1864 was to make arrangements with the Indians, or as many of them as were considered competent to given them grants or patents to their lands. They were given then, or had been given, the right to vote, had been made citizens. The annual payments were to cease.

The business was begun at the council house on the Isabella reservation between D. C. Leach, Indian agent, and H. J. Alvord, commissioner from Washington and the chiefs or head men of the Indians, and completed and sent to Washington in October. The Indians at this time were living in comfortable log or block houses, a few lived in board shanties. Those who left home in the hunting seasons built tepees of bark.

Each family had a small clearing where they raised corn, principally, some of the best of them had cleared their land and raised the usual crops of the white farmers and lived in frame houses.

The squaws picked berries in season, made very durable door mats from dried and braided corn husks, prepared and colored splints and wove baskets of various sizes and shapes. In the spring they made much maple sugar in large cakes and some in small birch bark pans called “Mo-kuks.” All of these things were sold from house to house among the whites or to the traders. A great many hundreds of dollars worth of fur changed hands in its season, mostly mink and muskrat. Those, with fishing and hunting, were their industries.

The religion of the Indians was in charge of whatever church sent missionaries to the different posts.

At the Isabella reservation the M. E. Church and the German Lutheran were stationed. Most of them were under the care of Mr. George Bradley, M. E. Missionary living near Mt. Pleasant, then a new place in 1861 made the county seat.

The Indians, under Mr. Bradley, had built a very good church at Nippising, five miles north of the trading post, Isabella City or Indian Mills. They also held services in the school house on section 8, Union township, on an Indian trail that is now a state road called —14, afterwards US 27. They held religious services in a log house north of Nippising first, and later in the schoolhouse on section 36, Isabella township. For a number of years they were in charge of M. Meissler, a German Lutheran missionary from Saginaw. He also taught one of the schools. Afterwards, an Indian O-co-com-a-gaw preached to them. He was said to be very eloquent.

Whatever may have been the ancient beliefs of the Indians, the white man’s religion made a strong impression on him. The doctrinal part was of little interest, but the Heavenly Father who could be thanked when the hunting and fishing were good, or supplicated when things went wrong, was a very personal friend. It was said that there were two weeks in the year when the Indian was sure of Heaven. That was the yearly camp meetings, which all throughly enjoyed, even if for some it had no lasting effect of benefit. They were, most of them, good singers, and the singing of hymns with their fervent prayers and exhortations carried them right up to the pearly gates, for they could soar to the heights or descend to the depths of whatever temptation presented itself, much like their white brothers.

In his work as surveyor, Mt. Mosher’s father told of coming upon an Indian kneeling in earnest prayer and supplication to his Father in Heaven. It is needless to say the surveyor’s work was halted until the prayer was finished.

The schools were very well attended except in the hunting season, which answered to our sugar beet and potato harvest.

When we consider the handicap of language, they were quick to learn and very imitative. They were reasonably well behaved and not hard to learn - would compare favorably with the happy-go-lucky white child.

I can not remember of knowing an Indian to punish a child or ever an instance when a child was disobedient.

We read much of the stoicism of the Indian. Those here showed little of it - they were as quick to laugh, as quick to cry, as ready to respond to whatever appeal was made of them and as soon forgotten as any white person.

A young Indian, when caught unawares, showed as much ardor in wooing his mate as one of another race.

A bit of folklore, which was cherished by the older Indians, was this. Any Indian, properly disciplined and worthy, could start at sunrise on the shore of Lake Huron and run across the state, arriving at the shore of Lake Michigan at sunset. This, of course, was the origin of Hiawatha and his seven league boots.

As I have said, according to the treaty of 1864, the Indians were divided into two classes, the “competent” and “not so competent.” The competent were given their patents to land - the reason of this could be readily seen by anyone living here at the time.

The reservation included some of the best agricultural lands in this section of the state, good hardwood timber, maple, beech, birch, oak and hickory, with white pine along the streams.

The white settler was crowding in on every side. The better the Indian had his land cleared and cropped, the more envious the white settler became. The grist mill, saw mill and blacksmith shop were built for the Indians, but added fuel to the flames of discontent among the whites. That they might and did build mills and shops of their own was of no importance - the Indian had some material wealth that he should not have.

The finer the stand of timber on the Indian’s land, the more impatient the timber dealer became to possess it in other ways than stealing.

So the work had been going on to make the Indian dissatisfied, wanting something different from what he had, to crowd the government into throwing the Indian upon his own resources, with the usual result. In a very few years the so-called “competent Indian” had sold his timber, sold his land and often times land and timber both under the impression that it was the timber only he was selling - so unscrupulous were both traders and settlers.

In a very few years many of the better Indians had died or drifted away, with but few exceptions, most of these that are left are descendants of or married to descendants of the “not so competents” holding their lands because they could not sell them.

There was one thing that was very marked. The best Indians were the thoroughbred, the better, cleaner men physically and morally. The Indian and white mixed was more apt to be diseased, unstable and unmoral, though sometimes clever, more often incompetent and more readily succumbed to any untoward circumstance or disease. The white man’s fire water was, as always, the bane of his existence.

The trading post was two miles north of the southern boundary of the reservation and two and one half miles north of the county seat, Mt. Pleasant. It consisted of council house, mills, blacksmith shop, hotel or tavern, store and a few houses of those employed by the government or interested in trade with the natives.

There were a few well defined trails, one from the trading post, south through Mt. Pleasant, or where Mt. Pleasant grew to be, to Salt River, now Shepherd, which was the first white settlement in the county, and from there on to St. Louis in Gratiot county; one from Mt. Pleasant west and north through the reservation on into Clare county; from the trading post following the river to Midland and Saginaw. This latter was the most important, the way the first white man entered the county. His goods were poled up the river in the Indian’s canoes.

There are a few Chippewas and Ottawas near Grand Rapids and many farther north at Petoskey and Upper Peninsula. Many of the Indians that were here are living near Pinconning, Saginaw, Tawas and along Saginaw Bay and Lake Huren.


Indian Mills
Isabella City

Originally an Indian village and trading post called Indian Mills.

Isabella City was the first county seat until 1860. Located 2 miles north of Mt. Pleasant, on the Chippewa River. G.F. Grinnell, was the postmaster. A bronze plaque mounted on a large rock on Old U.S. 27 marks the spot. Placed there by the Isabella County D.A.R.

Longwood was established on February 30, 1871 by Major James W. Long and John P. Hawkins. It was located on the northwest quarter of the northwest quarter of section 11 of Union township, and just across the Chippewa river from Isabella City. Not much was done by the Major to establish a city. He did, however, build a small factory for the making of "Monarch Bitters" and at one time offered to do something toward the building of a court house for the county, provided the county seat would be moved to his burg. The people did not seem to take kindly to the proposition and the scheme failed for want of cheerful support. And soon after the Major moved all of his buildings and belongings to Mt. Pleasant and became a part of the city, erecting a very large hotel on the spot now occupied by the commercial block (1911 – Fancher).


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