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Gros Cap or Western Cemetery

Moran Township,  Mackinac County Michigan

Copyright 1961 by Mrs. Emerson (Margaret) Smith of St. Ignace, Michigan

Old Indian cemeteries are fairly common in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. They mark periods of local history - 100-300 years old, when Christian influence changed burial practice by establishing special plots of hallowed ground for the remains of the faithful. One such early cemetery was set up at the ancient Ottawa Village on West U.S. 2, on the Lake Michigan shore, about five miles from St. Ignace. It is now known as the Gros Cap Cemetery.

Unlike the usual mysterious Indian burial plots, however, this cemetery was not abandoned. Over the course of time its limits were confined and altered slightly and taken over by succeeding generations of natives until today it has become the resting place of practically every known race. It has a long history which is interwoven with Michilimackinac, early fishing settlements and homesteading days. The graves of the obscure are unmarked, unclaimed and usually only discovered accidently. Fifty years ago some of these old graves and wooden crosses as markers with no identifying inscriptions, but these have disappeared along with the relatives who might have information. The graver digger regularly finds old skeletons, many times with beads and Indian relics. he reburies the bones, if not all of the possessions, to make room for those who have established legal rights.

The exact date of this cemetery's origin is unknown, but from numerous discoveries and all evidence obtainable it is safe to say that it was first used by residents of the Ottawa settlement which existed on this shore in the 17th centery.* It was undoubtedly one of the largest Indian congregations of the Old Northwest and prospered during the early fur trapping time. In recognition of the significant history of the vicinity a marker was erected which can be seen from the highway. The text of this marker was prepared after a long study by the Michilimackinac Historical Society, and reads:

"OTTAWA INDIAN VILLAGE. here on West Moran Bay, a large 17th century Ottawa village was directly connected by trail and water with Michilimackinac center on Moran Bay, Lake Huron. Both bays were named for Trader Morin whose post was at this settlement. ERECTED BY THE TOWNSHIP OF MORAN, 1960, at the ancient campfire site. (Approve by the Michilimackinac Historical Society.)

Apparently Schoolcraft had this old burial ground in mind when he passed the area in 1824, and wrote: "We camped in a wide sandy bay in the Straits of Mackinac. We found in the sand, stumps of cedar pickets forming an antique enclosure which had been founded at the time of the Mission of St. Ignace, over 150 years ago."

For many years this burial place was known as the Western Cemetery.

It came under township jurisdiction in 1889 when the Moran Township Board organized it and placed it under their control. At the time the plot was narrowed on the west side and known graves were reburied within the new confines, leaving some unknown to remain in irregular plots outside the borders. Since then it has been necessary to expand the cemetery area, especially on the north and east.

The following are the burials revealed by the present grave markers which obviously cover the modern era only, and were copied in the summer of 1961.

*Gros Cap Cemetery is reputed to be the oldest cemetery in continuous use in the United States.

The census of 1847 lists 92 Indians in the Anse Band located at Pte. Aux Chene which is about three of four miles from Gros Cap Cemetery.

This ends the list of legible inscriptions copied in the summer of 1961 in this ancient burial ground in which the remains of many races and creeds have been laid to rest for three centuries. The other are known only to God.

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