Michigan's Great Lakes Bay Region is replete with the artifacts and lore of Native Americans - not to mention a history of Native American occupation stretching back over 11,000 years. In fact, the name "Michigan" itself is the Algonquian Indian word for "Big Lake," and when you Go Great Lakes Bay, you'll see exactly why there's no better place to uncover the rich, extensive history of our early Native American inhabitants.
A Quick Glance At Our Native American History
The earliest recorded inhabitants of the Great Lakes Bay Region were the Chippewa (or Ojibwa) and Sauk tribes. By the year 1500, the Chippewa occupied the eastern portion of the lower peninsula and most of the upper peninsula. Our region's Saginaw Valley - despite being in the very midst of the Chippewa terrain - was the stronghold of the Sauk, a warlike tribe that dominated the entire area. In fact, the name Saginaw itself is derived from Anishinaabe, the original language of the Chippewa Indians, and means "Land of the Sauk".
Circa 1520 the Chippewa invaded the territory in great force, and in a series of battles, the Sauk were virtually annihilated. The bloodiest of these battles was fought on what has since been known as Skull Island in the Saginaw River and on a bluff on the Flint River about a mile from the present city of Flushing.
While there are countless ways to discover and honor Native American heritage when you Go Great Lakes Bay, here are a few of our favorites:
The Treaty of Saginaw was the first treaty between the United States and the Chippewa Indians. In that treaty, signed on September 14, 1819, the Chippewa ceded to the United States government thousands of acres of land, including all of the land encompassed by the boundaries of the County of Saginaw. The site on which the Council was held is what is now the corner of Throop and North Hamilton streets in the City of Saginaw. The site was marked by a boulder and plaque erected in 1916 that has since been moved to the corner of Hamilton and Court Streets in Old Town Saginaw (N43°25.016' W083°57.803'). The Castle Museum of Saginaw County History also has a permanent exhibit of Native American artifacts (N43°25.876' W083°56.099').
The confluence of the Tittabawasee and Chippewa rivers has been referred to as "The Forks" for over 200 years. The waters flowing to this spot have carried the birchbark canoes of the Native Americans, steamboats from Saginaw, and billions of board-feet of white pine logs from the extensive area lumbering trade. Midland's three-legged pedestrian bridge, "The Tridge", built in 1981, now marks this historical spot, rooted in Native American culture.
In 1845 Wilhelm Loehe, Lutheran pastor of the country church in Neuendettelsau, Mittelfranken, Kingdom of Bavaria dispatched pastor August Craemer to North America to bring Christianity to the Chippewa Indians. At that time, the Saginaw Chippewa were comprised of 1632 people across 13 bands. Craemer and his party established Frankenmuth in a forested section of land in the County of Saginaw. The site was chosen for its farming possibilities and proximity to a band of Chippewa near Wajamega, 25 miles upstream. The Chippewa children were instructed in religion and other subjects in English, even though many of the settlers spoke only German.
Just across the street from the current St. Lorenz Lutheran church, you'll find the an old cemetery where many of the original settlers and their Chippewa counterparts are buried. Just up the hill from the cemetery is a replica of the mission parsonage and the original church bells used to call the students to classes and the settlers to worship. In the Rose Garden in Frankenmuth's Memorial Park you will find the Chippewa Monument to the early inhabitants of the Frankenmuth area, and the Frankenmuth Historical Museum has a permanent display of Native American artifacts.
St. Lorenz Church
1 mile west of Main Street on West Tuscola Street
Memorial Park Rose Garden
1/2 mile east of Main Street on East Tuscola Street
Frankenmuth Historical Museum
The settlement of Chesaning followed a second treaty with the Chippewa Indians by which the land in this part of the county was offered for sale by the government at five dollars per acre. The previous 1819 Treaty of Saginaw granted the Chippewa (among other reservations) "one tract of ten thousand acres on the Shiawassee River, at a place called the ‘Big Rock.'" This is the first historical mention of the large boulder in the eastern part of the Village of Chesaning, and from which the name Chesaning is derived. The Indian name, Ches-an-ong, means "lone rock" or "big stone". The Big Rock is located on the grounds of the appropriately named Big Rock Elementary School, where you can still view it today.
Big Rock Elementary School
920 E. Broad Street, Chesaning
A Chippewa tribesman born under the name Little Elk was not a chief by lineage, but a well-respected warrior and a highly regarded orator. Because President Madison was demanding to have more council with the Ojibwa clans, Little Elk was elected to be chief speaker at the age of 21 by tribal council. In doing so, he became Ogemaw Kegato, which means "chief speaker"
A memorial to Chief O-ge-ma Ke-ga-to was placed over his remains in Roosevelt Park, Bay City. The inscription reads: "To the memory of O-ge-ma Ke-ga-to, Chief speaker of the Chippewas, Born about 1794, Elected chief 1815, Spoke at treaty 1819, Spoke before congress 1837, Died 1840. First buried on property now known as twenty second and water streets in colonel's uniform of the American revolution - a gift from President Jefferson, who was impressed with his great eloquence and intelligence. Reburied in 1877 on property of William R. McCormick, his remains now rest beneath this stone in the locality where he held his councils".
Broadway and 34th Streets in Bay City
At St. Charles' Hartley Outdoor Nature Center, you will find an Indian Village replica, recreating a traditional Ojibwa camp, including a longhouse used in the winter. On these Ojibwa camps, wigwams and temporary shelters were used for hunting and summer living. The Education Center is operated by the Saginaw Intermediate School District, so please call ahead for public availability of the exhibits: 989-865-6295.
Hartley Outdoor Nature Center
Established in 1847, the Oguakawning Indian Mission, the first church in present day Bay County, served Chippewa Indians at the nearby Kawkawlin settlement. First ministered by Methodist missionaries, it soon came under Indian trusteeship and remains so. This site has been the social and religious center of the community since the 1840's. Several Indian pastors officiated at the Kawkawlin Mission, the last in 1947.
Ogaukawning Indian Mission Church
Bangor Township along M-247, north of the Kawkawlin River in Bay County