Chapter 8: exit the fur trader; enter the farmer.
Astor then set about eliminating all his competitors. Through political influence in Washington he was able to persuade Congress in 1822 to abolish the government "factories" or trading houses. Senator Thomas Hart Benton from Missouri was retained as an attorney by the American Fur Company; it was he who led the fight against the government trading houses. While eliminating competition from this source, Astor also ruthlessly destroyed the independent traders. Through the intervention of Michigan Governor Lewis Cass, he secured exemptions from the prohibitions against the use of foreigners in the fur trade for the many traders, clerks, and boatmen in his employ who were Canadians, while making it extremely difficult for his competitors to obtain similar exemptions. It was Astor's practice to select his best traders, send them to locations where they competed with independent traders, and authorize them to sell trade goods to the Indians at extremely low prices. By such means most of the independents were squeezed out of business and forced to become vassals of the American Fur Company. Where the independents combined into strong rival companies, Astor, instead of fighting them, would buy them out. Although some of the traders who worked for Astor traded at the risk of the American Fur Company, it was Astor's aim to put them all on a share-trading basis, which allowed them to share in any profit earned in their transactions, but also required them to share any loss. Trade goods were supplied by the company at the highest market price, while the furs were bought from the traders at rates that allowed for possible declining values. (1)
In Washington, Astor wielded enormous political influence. Not only was he able to secure the passage of legislation that would benefit his company, but he also had so much influence and power that he could have the laws administered in such a manner that they would serve his ends. If the laws got in his way he seemed to be able to evade or violate them with impunity. Lewis Cass, as governor of Michigan Territory during the heyday of the American Fur Company, time and time again served Astor's interests. After the passage of the law prohibiting foreigners from engaging in the fur trade but giving the president the power to grant exemptions, President Madison delegated this authority to Cass, as governor of Michigan Territory, and to the Indian agents of the United States at Mackinac, Green Bay, and Chicago. In a letter to the Indian agent at Mackinac, Cass instructed him in veiled language to provide Astor's agent there with all the licenses he asked for, while granting only a small number to other traders. Perhaps Cass should not be blamed too much for this favoritism, since the War Department had instructed him to afford Astor's agents "every facility in your power consistent with the laws and regulations." (2) But this was only one of many ways in which Cass served Astor's interests. The unusual favors granted to Astor's company by Cass as governor of Michigan Territory and later as secretary of war led many traders to assume that the American Fur Company was actually a quasi-official institution.
Some have claimed that Cass received a bribe of $35,000 to allow Astor's agents special privileges. This claim is based on two newspaper accounts describing items in the account books of the American Fur Company. Both tell that an entry in these account books stated that Cass took about $35,000 of Astor's money from Montreal to a place in Michigan--one says Mackinac, the other Detroit. The charge that Astor bribed Cass was picked up by Gustavus Myers and included in his History of Great American Fortunes, published in 1910. Long accepted as a classic based on careful research, Myers's work is denounced by John D. Haeger in his recent revisionist study of Astor as one based on flimsy or nonexistent evidence. As for the Cass bribery story, Haeger declares that it "was based on no evidence of wrongdoing whatsoever." Not only has a careful study of the fur company account books found no such entry as the one mentioned in the newspaper stories, but even if these stories are taken at face value, they do not prove Cass accepted a bribe but only that he took the money from Montreal to Michigan for Astor. To assume that Cass accepted a bribe from Astor does not seem consonant with the character of this great statesman, although one must acknowledge that ethical standards in such matters were different in the early nineteenth century than they are today. (3)
Astor's principal agents at Mackinac were Robert Stuart and Ramsay Crooks, both Scotsmen. Each received an annual salary of around $2,500, but they profited in other ways from the enterprise. At the lowest level of the economic scale were the boatmen, who were paid about $83.00 per year, out of which they had to buy their clothes and supply their personal wants, including tobacco. Astor squeezed the traders so hard that few of them made any money, and many incurred losses. Although the enormous Astor fortune was ultimately derived largely from real estate investments, it is estimated that during the seventeen years he was head of the American Fur Company, he cleared between one and two million dollars. (4)
The use of intoxicating liquor in the fur trade was the greatest evil connected with it, as far as the Indians were concerned. The intoxicating effect of liquor appealed to them as an easier, quicker way to have visionary experiences, which they valued highly and which they formerly sought through privation. Thus, although the common notion that Indians had no conception of moderation is mistaken, they were debauched and degraded by the traders' firewater. As early as 1802, Congress passed an act designed to prevent the use of liquor in the fur trade. A regulation imposed by the president in 1817, another congressional act in 1822, and still another in 1832 failed to eradicate this curse. In one way or another the various regulations were evaded or violated. In 1832, 8,776 gallons of liquor were delivered to Mackinac. The following year, in spite of a new and stringent law passed by Congress, 5,573 gallons were imported. Some evidence suggests that Astor would have preferred to bar liquor from the trade. He was convinced the Indians would be more productive trappers were they denied strong drink. But he was forced to meet the competition of independent traders who, driven to desperation by the policies of his company, used liquor to attract the Indians to their trading posts. Astor also claimed he was compelled to use liquor in trading to meet the competition of the Hudson's Bay Company.
Although Astor maintained a trading post at Detroit, Mackinac Island was the principal center of the Michigan fur trade in this era. In the fall, traders set out in all directions, their boats filled with goods for trade with the Indians, such as blankets, beads, hats, traps, spears, hooks, and firearms. Most traders had several assistants, often including one or more Indians. Each was assigned to a trading post where he would remain for the winter, exchanging his goods for the furs brought in by the Indians. In the spring the furs were put aboard craft called "Montreal barges," capable of carrying about eight tons in smooth water. They were propelled by oars or sails, and when they reached the Great Lakes they clung to the shore. There were high jinks aplenty on Mackinac Island when these traders arrived one by one, received their remuneration, and sought release from the rigors of a long winter in the woods. Dances and banquets were given, the merrymaking invariably continuing until daybreak. The man or group being honored would return the courtesy the following night. As many as three thousand Indians sometimes camped along the beach, their wigwams often two or three rows deep. Woodsmen, clerks, voyageurs, and adventurers from many European countries met and mingled here. Their lives were rough and adventurous, punctuated by drunkenness, brawling, and frequent murders.
At the height of its success, the American Fur Company employed between two and three thousand boatmen and trappers and more than four hundred clerks on the island. Four large white-frame buildings, situated on Market Street, were utilized by the company. Two of these survive intact, a third has been reconstructed, and the fourth has been torn down. Oldest of the four was the warehouse built in 1810 with hand-hewn beams. This building is now used as a community hall. The Agency House, built in 1817, was the home of Robert Stuart and Ramsay Crooks, the principal company agents, and lodged many clerks and traders as well at the height of the season. It is now a museum. The third building was called the Clerk's Quarters and was used to house clerks and warehousemen in the summer months. Later in the century, these three structures were linked together and were operated as a hotel--the John Jacob Astor House--until 1929. In 1941 the units were separated and restored to single buildings. The Clerk's Quarters fell into decay and the structure was removed. A post office built in the same style as the other structures now stands on the site.
The fourth of the Astor buildings on Market Street, somewhat separated from the others, was the retail store. After the decline of the fur trade it was completely altered, but in 1954 it was rebuilt in what was purportedly the original style. Along the same street is the old courthouse, built in 1839, and now used as a city hall, and the Biddle House, oldest house on the island, now restored with the original structure still, in part, retained. All these buildings help make Market Street one of America's most historic thoroughfares, and the exclusion of automotive vehicles from the island helps to create the illusion, as one walks or rides in horse-drawn carriages along the street, that one is making an excursion into the past.
Some of the traders at Mackinac had remarkable careers, such as Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard from Vermont. In 1818, when he was sixteen years old, Hubbard came to Mackinac Island to work as a clerk for the American Fur Company. He continued in the fur trade for a number of years, conducting a post on the Kalamazoo River for a time and later being assigned to a post on the site of the present city of Chicago, where, after leaving the employ of Astor, he became a meatpacker and merchant. At one time he was a member of the Illinois legislature. Before his death in 1886 he was interested in plans for a huge hotel on Mackinac Island, which later materialized as the Grand Hotel. (5) Another of Astor's men was Rix Robinson, who was well educated and had completed his preparation for a career in law. During the War of 1812 he came to Detroit as a sutler in the army. He met Astor, who, much impressed by him, hired him as a trader. He was first assigned to the Illinois country. Later he conducted the fur trade for Astor on the Kalamazoo River, then transferred to the Grand, with a trading post near the present town of Ada. He lived there for the remainder of his life. He married an Indian woman to whom he was deeply devoted. He read widely and was active in political affairs as state senator for four terms and as a member of the constitutional convention of 1850. He came to be one of the most prominent and highly respected citizens of the state. (6)
Among the independent traders was Louis Campau, a native of Detroit and one of many French Canadians engaged in the fur trade. He was employed soon after the close of the War of 1812 by Detroit merchants to trade with Indians in the Saginaw Valley and was described as an intelligent, shrewd, and farsighted operator. He helped negotiate the Treaty of Saginaw, he befriended the first white settlers in the area, and in 1822 he platted the "Town of Sagina." In 1826 he shifted his trading operations to the present city of Grand Rapids and is regarded as that city's first settler. A square in the city is named in his honor. In 1831 he purchased a seventy-two-acre tract in the heart of Grand Rapids.
Astor sold his American Fur Company in 1834, possibly because of advancing age and ill health. The "northern division" was acquired by Ramsay Crooks, who continued fur trading on Mackinac Island for several years under the same company name. But by 1834, the fur business was definitely shifting westward, with St. Louis, rather than Mackinac, becoming the major center of the trade. At about the same time, the substitution of silk for beaver skins in the manufacture of high hats was decreasing the demand for Michigan furs.
The fur business, however, did not completely die out in Michigan. Dealers in furs are still in Detroit, where, despite all the changes that have occurred in that city, nearly fifty fur retailers, manufacturers, and wholesalers were in business in 1977. In the state as a whole, one estimate in 1980 placed the number of trappers at 30,000 who in 1979 supplemented the income they received from other sources by the sale of 742,850 raw pelts worth over $15 million, a figure which did not include deer, squirrel, snowshoe hare, cottontail, weasel, and oppossum skins. Nor did it include the value of the minks raised in captivity, whose pelts in 1966 were valued at nearly $6 million. (7)
Around the same time that Mackinac Island was a mecca for Astor's traders, a Presbyterian mission was founded on the island and a school was opened to train Indian youths to be teachers and interpreters in the mission work in the country's interior. This school, founded in 1823, was supported by eastern missionary societies and was superintended by the Reverend William Ferry. (8) In 1825 a structure known as the "Mission House" was built for use by the school and as a boardinghouse. This house later became a hotel. A church, built in the New England style, was constructed in 1830, and is today one of the oldest surviving church structures in the Middle West. St. Ann's, the Catholic church, now occupies a sanctuary, surmounted by a tower and spire, that was built in 1874, and is the successor to several structures in which this church has been housed since the eighteenth century.
By the early part of the nineteenth century, Mackinac Island was well known for its healthful climate. By 1838 it was a well-established summer resort, with visitors being turned away for lack of accommodations. Several hotels and boardinghouses were erected within the next few decades. That part of the island not privately owned became a national park in 1875, the second such park to be created. The Grand Hotel, with its extensive front porch, reportedly the longest in the world, was opened in 1887. Francis Stockbridge of Kalamazoo, a wealthy lumberman and United States senator, was the leading figure in its construction, which was financed by railroad and steamship companies. The Grand became one of the nation's most fashionable summer hotels, with noted national and world figures numbered among its guests. (9) When the army decided to abandon any further use of the fort in 1895, the national government transferred the fort and the park property to the state, which established it as Michigan's first state park, operated by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission.
During the heyday of the island's fur-trading years, an incident occurred that was to lead to one of the most important and unusual research studies in medical history. On the morning of June 6, 1822, a young voyageur, Alexis St. Martin, was accidentally shot while in the Astor retail store. The young man received a shotgun charge in his chest and upper abdomen at point-blank range. Dr. William Beaumont, the fort surgeon, was summoned and arrived twenty minutes later. Beaumont, a native of Connecticut, had studied medicine in the manner then customary: by associating himself with a practicing physician. He was thirty-six years of age in 1822 and had been surgeon at the fort for two years. When he first saw St. Martin he described the patient's condition as "an appalling and hopeless case." Membrane and muscle had been blown off, the diaphragm and left lobe of the lung had been lacerated, and the stomach had been perforated. Beaumont thought the young man could not live, but he was wrong. With constant care and attention by Beaumont, who removed the patient to the fort hospital, St. Martin miraculously withstood the shock, and after fighting a violent fever for ten days he began to improve. By the fourth week his appetite became good and healing was well under way. Instead of falling back into the abdomen to its natural position, the protruded portion of the stomach adhered to the chest wall. By that means the orifice in the wounded stomach remained in contact with the external wound. By April 1823, St. Martin was well enough to walk about and do light work, but he was not in a condition to support himself and he became a pauper. Beaumont took St. Martin into his own family, which he had to support on his meager salary of $40 a month. Not until 1825 did the idea crystallize in his mind that he had a unique opportunity to observe the processes of digestion. For, strange as it seems, the way the wound had healed permitted free access to the interior of the stomach without impairing its functions.
Thus began a series of experiments and observations which were to extend over a period of years. St. Martin became known as "the man with a window in his stomach." He was fed different types of foods by the doctor, who then observed exactly how digestion took place. The first report on his observations was published in 1826 in a magazine called the Medical Recorder. In 1833 Beaumont's Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and the Physiology of Digestion was published. This work is one of the classics of medical research, and with the passage of time it has assumed progressively greater importance. To honor Beaumont, the Michigan Medical Society in 1954 restored the Astor retail store where St. Martin was wounded, and made it a depository for artifacts related to Beaumont's discoveries.
Beaumont was transferred from Mackinac Island in 1825, but managed to take St. Martin along so that the experiments could continue. At his own expense Beaumont maintained St. Martin until 1834. On several occasions, St. Martin unceremoniously departed for Canada, where he had found a wife, and Beaumont had to foot the bill for his return. Beaumont petitioned Congress for a grant of $1,323.75 to compensate him for the time he had spent and the expense he had incurred in treating St. Martin, since he had made the experiments "for the benefit of the public and the advancement of science," but Congress turned him down. He resigned as army surgeon in 1839 and became a medical practitioner in St. Louis, Missouri, where he died in 1853. St. Martin did not die until 1880 and was buried in Quebec. At the time of his death the way of life that he symbolized had been for a half century superseded in Michigan by that of the farmer. (10)
Farming on an extensive scale developed slowly in Michigan. Until 1818 it was not possible to obtain legal title to any land in Michigan except for small areas in the immediate vicinity of the two principal settlements at Detroit and Mackinac. There were "squatters," of course--pioneers who helped themselves to land in the expectation that when the government placed it on the market their rights to ownership would be accepted. Pioneers repeatedly called for "preemption" rights that would allow settlers to buy the land on which they had settled at the minimum price when offered for sale by the government. Congress occasionally passed such special acts, but not until 1841 was a general preemption law enacted. At best the pioneers took a risk when they invested their time and labor in the improvement of land that was not their property.
Before settlers could legally obtain any land, the government first had to persuade the Indian tribes to relinquish their claims to the land. To the American pioneer, the Indian had no positive effect on the economy. As the fur trade declined and agriculture took its place as the mainstay of Michigan's economy, the Indian became a barrier to the exploitation of the area's land resources. Because there was no war with the Indians after the pioneers began coming to Michigan in large numbers, as there had been, for example, in Kentucky, the settlers had no great antipathy toward the Indians as individuals. Those Indians who engaged in petty thievery or who became bothersome when drunk were a nuisance, but no more. What the Michigan pioneers wanted was the Indians' land; what became of the Indians was of no concern to them.
The status of the Indian tribes under American law was that of nations within a nation. Each of the treaties with Indian tribes was subject to the approval of the United States Senate, just as were treaties with foreign countries. What is now Michigan was included within the territories ceded to the United States by Great Britain in 1783. But the land of Michigan was the property of the Indian tribes and was so recognized by law. It remained the property of those tribes until it was ceded to the United States by treaty. The first Michigan lands had been obtained from the Indians by the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, and a much larger tract had been secured by the Treaty of Detroit in 1807. The next cession in 1817 was of a small area along the Ohio border just west of the lands described in the treaty of 1807. Under the Treaty of Saginaw, signed in 1819, another immense tract in the northeastern sector of the Lower Peninsula was ceded. By the terms of the Treaty of Chicago in 1821 most of the land in the southwestern part of the Lower Peninsula south of the Grand River was acquired, while the northwestern section of the peninsula and the lands in the Upper Peninsula to the east of the present city of Marquette were ceded in the Treaty of Washington in 1836. By the time Michigan was admitted to the Union in 1837, only the western part of the Upper Peninsula and a few tracts that had been "reserved" for the Indians had not been obtained. The final major cession, involving the western Upper Peninsula, came with the Treaty of La Pointe in 1842.
The story of the Treaty of Saginaw illustrates the manner in which these Indian land cessions were generally secured. The incentive for the treaty came from individuals who had visited the Saginaw Valley, believed the area had a great future, and hence were ambitious to secure lands for settlement or speculation. They made their desires known in Washington, and the government instructed Governor Cass to negotiate the desired treaty, providing him with $10,000 to defray the costs. Pursuant to these instructions, Cass sent word for the Ottawa and Chippewa to meet with him near the junction of the rivers flowing into the Saginaw. The date set was the full moon in September, a time when the Indians had gathered their harvests but before they had set out on winter hunting. Two ships were loaded in Detroit with provisions and liquor for distribution at the proper time, and a company of soldiers was put aboard to protect the negotiators. Louis Campau was instructed to build a council house, which consisted of a roof of boughs supported by trees, the sides and ends left open, and in the middle a long platform with rustic benches for Cass and the other officials. Cass arrived on September 10, 1819, with a staff of assistants and interpreters. Preliminaries lasted for about two weeks, during which time anywhere from 1,500 to 4,000 Indians assembled. Cass started with a lengthy speech, with necessary pauses for translation by interpreters. In his remarks he made known the extent of the lands that he desired to purchase. Indian orators replied at length, and meanwhile the Indians pondered the question of whether they would cede their lands.
The tract Cass proposed to buy from the Indians consisted of some six million acres, nearly one-sixth of Michigan's total land area. The Indians would receive a lump sum of $3,000 in cash, and an annual payment of $1,000 plus "whatever additional sum the Government of the United States might think they ought to receive, in such manner as would be most useful to them." This flexible provision was rather unusual and was apparently inserted by Cass. He justified it in a letter to Secretary of War John C. Calhoun as a measure of justice to the Indians, intimating that he was uncertain just how much should be paid for the lands. (11) The government also agreed to furnish the Indians with the services of a blacksmith and to supply them with farming implements as well as teachers to instruct them in agriculture. Calhoun had suggested to Cass that he endeavor to persuade the Indians to migrate further west, but the governor quickly perceived that they were in no mood to entertain such a proposal, so he dropped it. Reservations for the various bands were provided in the treaty, so the Indians could still live in the area. Cass sensed that even with these inducements the natives were not disposed to agree to the treaty. It was discovered by his assistants that a trapper named Jacob Smith, who had lived among the Indians for many years and had won their friendship and trust, was using his influence against the proposed treaty. They suspected that he might have his price, and this proved to be the case. Eleven sections of land (640 acres each) were set aside for Smith and his friends, after which the chiefs appeared much more favorable. The $3,000 in silver coin was stacked on the table of the council room. Louis Campau, however, claimed that the Indians owed him for goods advanced and proposed to take half the silver to fulfill that debt. This was vastly disappointing to Smith and two other traders who were present with goods to sell to the Indians when they were paid. They urged the chiefs to take all the money without deducting what they owed Campau, and this is what the chiefs demanded. Campau was furious, attacked one of the other traders, and the two had to be pulled apart. The treaty was then signed. To celebrate the occasion, Cass authorized five barrels of whiskey to be opened and the contents distributed among the natives. Campau now had his revenge. He opened ten barrels of his own whiskey and began passing it out. The Indians became roaring drunk, and their violence alarmed Cass. "Louis! Louis!" he cried, "Stop the liquor." Campau replied, "General, you commenced it; you let Smith plunder me and rob me." But after another plea, Campau restrained the Indians, saying, "I lost my money; I lost my fight; I lost my liquor; but I got good satisfaction." (12)
It is not entirely correct to assume that the United States paid the Indians little or nothing for their land. Up to 1880 the total cost to the United States government of the public domain acquired from the Indians amounted to $275 million, and the surveys of the land cost another $46 million. Total receipts from the sale of these lands to that date were $120 million less than these expenditures. (13) The Indians received for their lands cash, goods, and promises. Often the government agreed to pay annuities to a tribe over a period of years. In the Chicago Treaty of 1821, negotiated by Governor Cass and Solomon Sibley, the government, in return for the cession of most of the southwest corner of Michigan, agreed to pay the Ottawa Indians an annuity of $1,000 in cash and $1,500 annually in support of a blacksmith, a teacher, and an agricultural instructor, as well as for cattle and utensils. The government also paid the Potawatomi a $5,000 annuity for twenty years, and $1,000 for fifteen years for a blacksmith and a teacher. Treaties such as this were in later years to lead to numerous suits against the government by Indian tribes claiming damages on the grounds that the government did not fulfill its treaty obligations, and in some cases that the Indian tribes had not been paid the fair value of their land at the time.
Until 1946 the ability of the Indians to pursue such legal action was restricted by the requirement that they first obtain congressional permission before bringing their case to the U.S. Court of Claims. In 1946, however, Congress created a separate Indian Claims Commission specifically to deal with these suits. This led to what amounted to a general renegotiation of the Indian land treaties, including those involving Michigan lands. By 1975, the commission, while having dismissed 187 claims, ruled in favor of 251 other Indian claims, awarding a total of $561,113,637.36 in additional compensation to the tribes, with 175 other claims still pending at that time. Among the awards that were made, one of the largest was $10,109,003.55 to the Ottawa and Chippewa of Michigan in 1972, although a sizable amount was deducted, as in other awards, for attorneys' fees and payments to expert witnesses who testified in support of the Indians' claim. Once the award was made, it was then up to the Indian organizations involved to decide who was qualified to receive this compensation, and this sometimes led to bitter disputes among the Indians that delayed actual payments. (14)
In addition to actions regarding the land cession provisions of the Indian treaties, prolonged legal actions in the 1970s, resulting in part from the emergence of a more militant attitude on the part of some Indians, revolved around other treaty provisions. In 1979 Federal District Judge Noel Fox ruled in favor of the claim of Indian commercial fishermen that the terms of the Indian land Treaty of Washington in 1836 exempted them from state regulations that restricted commercial fishing in parts of Lake Superior, Lake Huron, and Lake Michigan. State officials and sports' organizations argued that unrestricted commercial fishing of these waters by the methods the Indians employed would ruin fishing in the area for non-Indians. To avoid the threat of bitter confrontations, tribal leaders, government officials, and representatives of groups speaking for fishing interests negotiated the Tribal Fishing Agreement, signed on March 28, 1985, establishing areas reserved for Indian commercial fishing and those reserved for non-Indian commercial fishing and sport fishing. Tribal and governmental representatives jointly administered the agreement and sought, not always successfully, to resolve the inevitable disputes that arose between the rival groups. (15)
Although the early land cession treaties had included provisions that permitted the Indians to remain in the area on lands reserved for their use, by the 1830s the government had adopted a policy of moving all the Indians, including those in Michigan, to areas west of the Mississippi. This Indian removal policy was proposed by President Monroe early in 1825 and had been suggested by others, including Thomas Jefferson, in earlier years. Lewis Cass, who had become recognized as a leading authority on the Indians, at first opposed the removal because of the hardships it would impose on the Indians uprooted from their ancestral homes and forced to move to strange, new lands. In addition, the Indians already living in those lands probably would be hostile to the eastern tribes. By 1830, however, Cass supported the policy, in part because President Jackson was wholeheartedly in favor of it, and in part because Cass, like other backers of the policy, saw it as the only way of saving these Indians from the corrupting effects of contacts with the white men. Moving the tribes west would enable these tribes to preserve their culture. (16)
In a report that accompanied Monroe's proposal in 1825, Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, whose department had responsibility for Indian affairs, suggested areas in the West where the Indians in the East could move. These areas included large parts of northern Wisconsin and the western part of the Upper Peninsula. Beginning in 1825, the Indian removal policy began to be implemented.
Of the principal Indian tribes that were in or near Michigan when the French first arrived, the Miami had moved outside the present boundaries of the state shortly after the beginning of the eighteenth century and only a handful who still remain in northern Indiana escaped the nineteenth-century removal to the West. By an act of Congress in 1809, the Huron, or Wyandot, were given possession of a tract of land in southeastern Michigan. Nine years later Governor Cass negotiated a treaty under which they agreed to give up this reservation and receive instead a tract of 4,996 acres along the Huron River in Wayne County, to be held by them and their descendants as long as they should continue to occupy it. Sometime later the Wyandot left Michigan, moving down into Ohio, and by a treaty signed in 1842 they relinquished all their claims to land in Michigan to the United States. This tribe, once the largest in the upper Great Lakes area, was moved far to the West, where its tribal organization and identity were eventually lost, a victim of the unrelenting pressures the tribe had been under since the arrival of Europeans in their original homeland in eastern Canada in the seventeenth century.
The Potawatomi lived in the southwestern part of the Lower Peninsula when the United States began the process of securing the Indian lands. The tribe ceded its last reservations in Michigan to the United States by the Treaty of Chicago in 1833, agreeing to move to the lands west of the Mississippi that had been assigned to it. The removal was delayed for several years, but between 1838 and 1840, government agents rounded up the tribesmen and their families and started them on the long trek westward. They were first located in Missouri opposite Fort Leavenworth, then after two years were moved to Iowa, near Council Bluffs. They stayed there for only a short time, after which they were moved to Kansas. Here many of the descendants of these Michigan Potawatomi continue to live to the present day, although an additional relocation of some of this group was made later in the nineteenth century to what is now Oklahoma.
A considerable number of Potawatomi, however, remained in Michigan. Some eluded the government agents. Others escaped during the trip westward and returned to Michigan. In some of the treaties, grants of land were made to individual Indians, and although the recipients in many instances sold their land to white settlers, there probably was a considerable number who retained their land. In some cases the treaty grant prohibited the Indians from selling the land for a particular period of time. Leopold Pokagon, a devout Roman Catholic, was able to get an exemption in the Treaty of 1833 that allowed him and his band to remain on the lands he had obtained in Silver Creek Township, Cass County. It is estimated that there were about 250 Potawatomi in Pokagon's group. Pokagon later obtained lands in Van Buren County, around Hartford, where a group of Potawatomi made their homes. His son, Simon Pokagon, was born there in 1830. After the death of Leopold in 1841, Simon Pokagon became the leader of the Pokagon group. In later life he was sometimes described as the best-educated full-blooded Indian in the country. Considerable evidence, however, indicates that he would have required a great deal of literary assistance to have written the several books that appeared under his name, the best known of which, Queen of the Woods, contains much information on the Potawatomi language. Descendants of Pokagon's band still live in southwestern Michigan and northern Indiana and maintain a tribal organization. (17) Another group of Potawatomi, living near Athens in Calhoun County, refused to follow their fellow tribesmen west. In 1850 a committee of villagers in Athens managed to secure $3,000 from the government for these Potawatomi, and with the money purchased a small tract of land where descendants of these Indians still live in a settlement called "Indiantown." In addition, some Potawatomi who had lived in Wisconsin in the 1830s moved up into the Upper Peninsula, where their descendants live on the Hannahville Reservation in Menominee County.
The Chippewa of the Saginaw area were also slated for removal to lands in Kansas, but as in the case of the Potawatomi, this policy was only partially implemented. A smallpox epidemic in 1837, however, decimated the ranks of these Indians, causing many who survived to flee from the Saginaw area to Canada or elsewhere. Similarly, many of the Ottawa who lived in the Lower Peninsula escaped the fate of those in their tribe who were removed to the West and fled to Canada, where they were welcomed by the Canadian authorities and provided with annual presents. The bulk of Michigan's Chippewa and Ottawa escaped deportation when the Treaty of Washington in 1836 reserved five tracts of land, totaling 142,000 acres, in northern Michigan for these tribes, plus several more tracts in the Upper Peninsula exclusively for the Chippewa. In 1854 and 1855 most of these reservations were given up, but by that time the removal policy had been abandoned and the federal government agreed to withhold from sale some lands that would be available to heads of Indian families or to single males over the age of twenty-one. The tribes also received more than a million dollars in payments for the lands previously reserved for them under the 1836 treaty. (18)
The total number of Michigan Indians that was removed to the West was probably considerably less than the number that remained in the state. Henry R. Schoolcraft estimated that 7,737 Indians were in Michigan in 1837 before many had been removed, although this figure is probably too low. The federal census of 1860 enumerated 6,172 Indians in the state. The 1874 state census placed the figure at 10,250, although in 1880 the regular federal census counted only 7,249 Indians. These figures at least would indicate that the number of Indians removed to the West had not been large. Disease, however, took a heavy toll; as late as 1921 the Indian death rate was more than double the rate for the population as a whole. By 1920, the total Indian population was down to 5,614, although it is difficult to determine how many people of Indian ancestry had passed over into the white classification.
Since 1920, Michigan's Indian population has increased, slowly, at first, and then at a spectacular rate. By 1940 it stood at 6,282, an increase of only 668 in twenty years. By 1970 the state's Indian population had increased to 16,012, and in 1990 it was up to 55,638, putting Michigan ahead of all other states in the Midwest, including Minnesota and Wisconsin, which had ranked ahead of Michigan in this category. The surprisingly large increase in Indian population figures in recent years is a national phenomenon, with the total for the country as a whole rising from 1,364,033 in 1980 to 1,878,285 in 1990. The most logical explanation for what is clearly growth well beyond the normal rate is that changes in attitudes have caused a good many people to be counted as Indians who were earlier classified differently. The Michigan Commission on Indian Affairs, established in 1964, believes that there are several thousand more persons of Indian descent than the number shown in the 1990 census, but the established tribal groups tend to oppose changes that would include such persons because this would dilute the per-capita share of funds available to the tribes. (19)
The federal government's policy of encouraging the breakup of tribes and the allotment of land to individuals was reversed in 1934 with the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act. An effort was made under this law to help the Indians regain sufficient land holdings for a self-sustaining economy and a self-satisfying social organization. Tribal reorganization was encouraged. In 1990 Michigan had eight federal reservations, plus the small state reservation in Calhoun County, comprising a total of 14,411 acres of land. These lands were held in trust by the United States government for the benefit of the Indians. Each reservation had a tribal organization, with a written constitution. In addition, Indian individuals and organizations owned 9,276 acres, which were likewise held in trust by the government.
Regardless of federal policy, or perhaps because of it, few of Michigan's Indians continued to live on the lands held in trust for them, with only 2,996, less than 5 percent of the state's Indians, residing there in 1990.20 Economic necessity caused the great majority to seek jobs in the urban areas. In 1990 nearly a third of the state's Indians, 16,885, were found in the Detroit metropolitan area, while thousands more were found in other southern Michigan locations, such as Kent County, which had 2,756 Indians. The jobs these Indians held spanned the full range of occupations in the manufacturing, service, retail, and professional categories. In 1980, however, only 327 Indian adults were in farming or agriculturally related occupations. So much for the well-meaning attempts of the whites, dating back to the Jesuit missionaries at Huronia in the 1630s, to make farmers of the Great Lakes Indians. (21)
To provide greater economic opportunities on the Indian trust lands, the Michigan tribes in the early 1980s, like many other tribes elsewhere, began to attract business by opening gambling operations. At first there were bingo games, offering much higher cash prizes than the traditional church-sponsored bingo games. These were soon followed by a full range of Las Vegas-style games as the tribes invested millions in casinos and related businesses. By the early 1990s two such casinos were in the Lower Peninsula and six in the Upper Peninsula, employing nearly 2,000 people with an annual payroll in 1991 of more than $13 million. As a result, the unemployment rate among tribal members had been cut in half, and there were proposals to tap the big southeastern Michigan market by opening one or more casinos on land that would be given to a tribe and held in trust for it by the federal government. Because of this trust status, activities on such lands are not subject to state regulations. But the Indian Gaming Act, passed by Congress in 1988, required the tribes to negotiate compacts with the states that would establish rules governing any new gaming operations developed after 1988. An agreement was reached between the state and the tribes in 1993 that would allow new casinos in return for an 8 percent share of the profits going to the state and 2 percent to the community where the casino was located. Further issues remained to be resolved, however, before any casinos could be opened. (22)
As the Indian land titles were extinguished, the next step toward the settlement of Michigan's interior was the survey of these lands. None of the government lands acquired by Governor Hull in 1807 was surveyed until after the War of 1812. The government surveyors began their work in 1815. Their first task was to establish accurately the location of the base line and the prime meridian, from which they would proceed to lay off the townships. The base line was established east and west along what became the northern boundaries of the second tier of counties (Wayne, Washtenaw, Jackson, Calhoun, Kalamazoo, and Van Buren), where the road along these boundaries is still, in some places, called Base Line Road. The prime or principal meridian was established south from Sault Ste. Marie on longitude 84 degrees, 22 minutes, and 24 seconds west. Meridian Road and Meridian Township, east of East Lansing, are so named because they are on or near this surveyors' line. The two lines intersect on the Ingham County--Jackson County boundary, some distance east of U.S. 127, the freeway linking Lansing and Jackson. All land surveyed in Michigan starts from these points of reference, with the townships numbered east or west and north or south of these lines. Thus "T2N, R3W" means the second township north of the base line and the third west of the meridian. The sections within each township are numbered from one to thirty-six, beginning with number one in the northeast corner, continuing westward to number six in the northwest corner. Directly south of section six is section seven. The numbering proceeds back and forth across the township to section thirty-six in the southeast corner.
By 1825, most of the southern third of the Lower Peninsula had been surveyed. Surveys to the north proceeded slowly from 1825 to 1835 as the government concentrated on road building. Between 1835 and 1840 the survey of the southern peninsula was virtually completed and a start was made on the eastern side of the Upper Peninsula. By 1851, the survey of the entire state was completed, except for some necessary resurveys of some of the inland lakes, rivers, and islands.
The surveys were conducted by individuals under contract with the United States surveyor general. The surveyor's task was to run a line exactly straight in a given direction and to measure that line in units of one mile. He required two chainmen to measure the line and an axeman to clear the line of brush and to mark corners. A hardwood stake was driven into the ground at each section corner, with about a foot length left showing above the ground. The surveyor worked with a compass set on a tripod. William A. Burt, one of the most active of the surveyors in Michigan, invented a solar compass in 1835, but it did not come into general use until the 1840s. Surveyors had to mark all trees along the line and to maintain careful records of the crossing of streams, ravines, and hills, the character of the soil and timber, as well as a description of each township. For this work, they were paid from $2.00 to $6.50 per mile surveyed. Working eight months a year, the surveyor could earn as much as $3,000, out of which he had to pay his assistants. (23)
Finally, with the Indian claims settled and the land surveys completed, the sale of public land could begin. A land office had been established in Detroit in 1804, but for some years the officials had been concerned only with settling the land claims of the present residents of the area. On July 6, 1818, the sale of lands began, with an auction held in Detroit. The minimum price that could be bid was $2.00 an acre, but the average price bid at this auction was $4.00, with some of the better lands, located near Detroit, going for as much as $40.00 an acre. Land sales for the entire year totaled $71,108.88, a modest beginning to the settlement of the previously untapped lands of Michigan's interior. The minimum price was reduced by Congress in 1820 to $1.25 per acre payable in cash. At the same time the minimum amount of land that could be bought was reduced from 160 to 80 acres. Thus for a hundred dollars a settler could buy enough land for an eighty-acre farm.
A second land office opened at Monroe in July 1823, and a third at White Pigeon, in western Michigan, in 1831. The latter, however, was moved to Kalamazoo (or Bronson, as that town was then called) in 1834. Two additional offices opened in 1836, one at Ionia and the other at Flint. Each office was assigned a given segment of public lands. At these offices, the prospective buyer could obtain maps which showed the lands that were still available, with the letter "S" marking those sections or parts of sections that had been sold. It also was possible to obtain the surveyor's notes as a guide to the quality of the land. Usually the buyer, or the buyer's representative, would proceed on foot or on horseback to examine the available lands, after which, if the buyer liked the land, the buyer returned to the land office and "entered" the lands he or she wished to buy. The buyer paid in silver, gold, bank notes, or by draft, and was given a receipt. After the sale was recorded in Washington, the buyer eventually received a "patent," which gave the buyer title to the land purchased. These patents were actually signed by the president of the United States until 1833, when the sheer volume of business forced Congress to permit the president to appoint a secretary to sign his name to the patents, which were now numbering in the tens of thousands each year. (Thus Michigan landowners who proudly display their original land titles do not, as many of them think, have an authentic Andrew Jackson autograph if the patent is from the period after 1833.) (24)
Even though public lands were available for purchase in Michigan from 1818 on, the amount sold at first was small. It was necessary to clear other obstacles before the great land boom in Michigan could begin. Some evidence would support the thesis, quite popular with an earlier generation of Michigan historians, that adverse reports concerning the quality of Michigan land and doubts about health conditions had a discouraging impact on the settlement of the future state. In 1814 General Duncan McArthur, who was stationed at Detroit, declared:
I have no hesitation to say that it would be to the advantage of Government to remove every inhabitant of the Territory, pay for the improvements, and reduce them to ashes, leaving nothing but the Garrison posts. From my observation, the Territory appears to be not worth defending, and merely a den for Indians and traitors. The banks of the Detroit River are handsome, but nine-tenths of the land in the Territory is unfit for cultivation. (25)
McArthur's remarks were made in a private letter, but if many American soldiers who served in Michigan during the war shared his view of the area they could have been the source of some damaging word-of-mouth publicity for the territory when they returned to their homes.
Another disparaging report on Michigan came from Edward Tiffin, surveyor general of the United States. Congress had provided the veterans of the War of 1812 with two million acres of land as a reward for their service, and Tiffin sent surveyors north from Defiance, Ohio, into the southeastern part of Michigan in the fall of 1815 to see whether the land there was suitable for this purpose. The surveyors examined land in the Jackson County area where drainage has always been a problem, particularly in the wet fall season. Their report to Tiffin, therefore, was an unfavorable one, and Tiffin, in turn, reported to President Madison early in 1816 that Michigan apparently consisted of swamps, lakes, and poor, sandy soil not worth the cost of surveying. He declared that in his opinion not more than one acre in a hundred, or perhaps in a thousand, could be cultivated. As a result, Congress designated lands in Illinois and Missouri for the veterans.
How much damage Tiffin's report did to the reputation of Michigan is not clear. Most historians have assumed that it was largely because of Tiffin's report that there was little interest in settling in Michigan's interior until the late 1820s. A reading of the report would unquestionably have discouraged anyone from coming to Michigan, but the historian Madison Kuhn, after extensive research, has shown that Tiffin's report was not widely publicized at the time. It was not published in a form that would have made it available to the general public until the 1830s, by which time people were flocking to Michigan by the thousands. Furthermore, Kuhn declares, those reports about Michigan that were published and widely circulated in the postwar years presented a very favorable picture of Michigan. The Detroit Gazette, a newspaper that began publication on July 25, 1817, carried many favorable articles concerning the character of the territory, rebutting any derogatory opinions that might be circulating. These articles were widely copied in eastern papers. Three visitors to Detroit in 1818, one an authority on agriculture, gave glowing accounts of Michigan lands in books and articles printed in the East. Geography books of the time also generally lauded Michigan's potential for agriculture. (26)
In whatever way prospective pioneers may have appraised the available information on the quality of Michigan lands, they may have been discouraged by rumors that the climate in the Detroit area was unhealthy. Hundreds of soldiers had died of disease at Detroit during the fall and winter of 1813. The most common ailment was malaria, which the people of the time attributed to the prevalence of swamps and bogs. In 1823 "intermittent fever" and typhoid fever forced the abandonment of Fort Saginaw. In the East the warning about unhealthful conditions in Michigan was put into rhyme:
Don't go to Michigan, that land of ills; The word means ague, fever, and chills. (27)
In several ways Governor Cass helped undo Michigan's bad publicity. When he read Tiffin's report, which was circulated among government officials even though it was not released to the general public, Cass insisted that Tiffin send his surveyors back into Michigan to take a second look at the land. Later, in 1820, Cass obtained permission from Secretary of War John C. Calhoun to conduct an exploring expedition around the perimeter of the territory for the purpose of appraising the available natural resources, investigating the mood of the Indians, and promoting an interest in the area among prospective settlers. Illinois had become a state in 1818, and Congress had then added to Michigan Territory all the rest of the old Northwest Territory, including what is now Wisconsin and the northeastern segment of Minnesota. Hence, Cass's itinerary took him beyond Michigan's present boundaries. His party consisted of ten soldiers and an officer, two interpreters, nine Indians, twelve voyageurs, a physician, a geographer and two assistants, a geologist, a reporter, and a private secretary. Captain David B. Douglass was the geographer and Henry R. Schoolcraft was the geologist. The party left Detroit in three large canoes on May 25, 1820, and after a brief stop at Mackinac Island, where twenty-three soldiers were added to the expedition, Cass reached Sault Ste. Marie. Here he discovered a large band of Chippewa Indians, with their chiefs in a hostile mood. Still under British influence, the principal chief appeared wearing a British officer's red coat, denounced the Americans, and kicked aside the presents Cass had brought. A little later a British flag was raised over the Indian camp. This was more than Cass could tolerate. He walked into the camp, accompanied only by an interpreter, pulled down the British flag, and told the chief that no foreign flag could be flown over American territory. John Johnston, Indian agent at the Soo, was away at the time, but his wife, the daughter of a chief, intervened to warn the Indian leaders that if they harmed Cass's party it would mean a war of extermination against them. Her words were apparently effective, for the chiefs met Cass, recognized American sovereignty, and acknowledged the American right to a tract along the St. Mary's River. The experience led to the establishment of Fort Brady there two years later.
Skirting the southern shore of Lake Superior, the party gazed on the famed Pictured Rocks near present-day Munising and reached the Ontonagon River. Schoolcraft ascended the Ontonagon to see the copper boulder that had been reported by earlier travelers. Cass then proceeded westward by streams and portages to the Mississippi River, which he ascended, seeking its source. He was unable to find the source, however, and turned downstream again as the summer waned. (28) The party returned east by way of the familiar Wisconsin-Fox portage route.
Sending a contingent to follow the coast of Green Bay and the northern shore of Lake Michigan, Cass proceeded with the rest of the party by canoe down the lake to Fort Dearborn. Schoolcraft and Douglass continued along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan and returned to Detroit by way of Lake Huron, while Cass and the others traveled on horseback across lower Michigan from Fort Dearborn to Detroit by way of the Old Sauk Trail (now U.S. 12). The report of the expedition, which was published soon after the parties returned, helped give Michigan a better reputation. Making light of the hardships and dangers involved, Cass stressed that the Indians were peaceful and the land promising. Schoolcraft reported numerous traces of iron and copper in northern Michigan. An important by-product of the expedition was the interest Schoolcraft developed in the Indians. Through Cass's influence he was appointed Indian agent at the Soo in 1822. The next year he married Jane Johnston, daughter of John Johnston and his Indian wife. For many years thereafter he studied every aspect of Indian life and became the best-known authority of his day on the American Indian, although he has been widely criticized for views that helped to support stereotyped images of the Indians. His work Algic Researches, published in 1839, contained the material used by Longfellow in his famous poem, Hiawatha. (29)
Regardless of the prevailing views of Michigan's land and climate, a more important factor in delaying any large-scale movement into Michigan in the immediate postwar years was the difficulty in reaching the territory. Transportation to Michigan by water was "dangerous, unreliable, and fraught with discomfort." (30) Navigation on Lake Erie was regarded as more dangerous than on the Atlantic. Accommodations for passengers were poor. To reach Detroit from the south by land it was necessary to cross the Black Swamp in northwestern Ohio. During the war a military road had been constructed over it, but by 1815 this had all but disappeared. In rainy periods the swamp was virtually impassable. The horrors of the Black Swamp were widely publicized. At a time when plenty of good land was still available in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, there was little incentive for the pioneer to brave the hazards involved in getting to Michigan.
Although the first steamboat in America dates back to 1809, it was not until 1818 that steam navigation came to the upper Great Lakes. In that year a 330-ton steamship, rigged with sails to supplement steam power, was launched at what is now Buffalo and was named the Walk-in-the-Water. Its appearance did much to improve transportation between Detroit and Buffalo. Where the progress of sailing vessels had depended on the vagaries of wind conditions, the steamship could provide the traveler with more dependable and less time-consuming service. Trips beyond Detroit to Mackinac Island were added in 1819. Cabin passage to Detroit cost $18.00; steerage fare was $7.00. The Walk-in-the-Water was wrecked in 1821, but the engine was salvaged and placed in a new ship, the Superior. Two additional steamships were launched in 1825, and soon afterward there were more. There was also, however, a marked increase in the number of sailing vessels in the 1820s and later in the century; although passenger service came to be dominated by the steamship, the cheaper rates of the sailing vessels continued to attract much of the freight business on the lakes.
The completion in 1825 of the Erie Canal, connecting Lake Erie with the Hudson River, was an event of major importance in Michigan history because it greatly facilitated the transportation of passengers and freight between the eastern seaboard and Michigan ports. The canal, built by the state of New York at a cost of $7 million, was such a success that within three years toll charges had paid the cost of construction plus interest charges. For the first time, New England families, anxious to leave rocky and infertile fields for richer lands in the West, had a route for reaching the "promised land." To the children and grandchildren of an earlier generation of Yankees who had settled in western New York after the American Revolution, the Erie Canal provided a way westward from a land that already was becoming too crowded. Furthermore, the waterway provided not only an easier way to move to Michigan but also for the first time an inexpensive method of moving Michigan products to markets in the East. Freight rates between Buffalo and New York were reduced from $100 a ton to $25 a ton with the opening of an all-water route between the two cities, and the rates soon fell even lower.
Important as it was, the Erie Canal did not cause the great migration to Michigan; it only facilitated that movement. This is shown by the fact that public land sales at Detroit reached a high point in 1825, the year the Erie Canal opened, and then declined in the years immediately following. Whereas 92,232 acres had been sold in 1825, sales were down to 70,441 by 1830. Sales at the Monroe land office also declined. (31 There can be little doubt that this decline was due to rising prices in the East, a depression in 1828-29, and the tight money policy of the United States Bank, which made it difficult for prospective settlers to obtain the cash to buy land, to finance the journey westward, and to obtain the capital needed for successful pioneering. Not until the improvement of economic conditions in the East and the availability of easier credit could pioneers take advantage of the Erie Canal in moving to Michigan.
For the improvement of land transportation within the territory, Michigan relied heavily on the federal government. In 1816 troops of the Detroit garrison began building a road to the rapids of the Maumee River, near the present city of Toledo. By 1819 it was "cut through" and bridges over runs and marshes had been built, but the road was still poorly located and almost impassable for wagons. Congress appropriated $20,000 for the building of a new road between these points, and it was completed after a supplementary appropriation of $12,000 in 1827. A road across the Black Swamp from the settled part of Ohio to the Maumee Rapids was completed the same year. Thus, by 1827 land transportation to Detroit from the south had been greatly improved.
Roads from Detroit into the interior were required, however, before any large-scale settlement was possible. In addition to the road southward, two roads from Detroit to the north and three to the west were projected during the territorial period. In 1816 the territorial government launched a project to build a road northward from Detroit, but the road was inadequate and by 1822 had reached only as far as Pontiac. A post road from Pontiac through Flint to Saginaw was laid out in 1823, and an appropriation was made by Congress in 1829 to construct it. Intervening swamps made progress difficult, and by 1835 it had been extended only five miles beyond Flint. This is now U.S. Route 10. Another congressional appropriation in 1829 provided funds to begin work on a military road between Detroit and Fort Gratiot (Port Huron). Although it was inadequate, it was of some use to settlers.
The first road westward also was a military road, designed to connect Detroit with Fort Dearborn. An act of Congress, passed in 1825 at the behest of Father Gabriel Richard (then Michigan's delegate in Congress), provided for the laying out of such a road. Funds were provided in 1827 to extend the road to the Indiana line. It followed the path of the Old Sauk Trail and is the approximate route of the present U.S. 12. It ran westward from Detroit to Ypsilanti, then veered to the southwest, and continued through the southernmost tier of Michigan counties. The eastern portions of this road were in use by the latter 1820s, and by 1835 two stagecoaches a week operated between Detroit and Fort Dearborn. This highway, known then, as parts of it still are today, as the Chicago Road, became "practically an extension of the Erie Canal and ... a great axis of settlement in southern Michigan." (32) In 1829 the territorial council provided for another road, the Territorial Road, branching off the Chicago Road at Ypsilanti and running through the second tier of counties to its terminus at St. Joseph, approximately the route of today's I-94 freeway. It was laid out in 1830, and by 1834 a stage line, running over it from Detroit to St. Joseph and connecting there with steamers for Chicago, enabled the traveler to complete the entire journey in five days. Although heavily traveled, it was not kept in as good condition as the parallel route to the south. The third of the roads westward was known as the Grand River Road. Some federal aid was apparently secured for work on this road, but although it had been surveyed to Grand Rapids in 1832, it had been completed only as far as Howell by the time Michigan was admitted into the Union as a state. It generally followed the route of the present I-96 freeway.
These roads were a far cry from their modern counterparts. It can hardly be said that they were "built" at all, as we think of highway building today. Surveyors selected the route, often following Indian trails, axemen cut away the brush and felled trees low enough along the path so wagons could pass over the stumps, and workman constructed crude bridges over streams which could not easily be forded. Logs were laid across the road over bogs and swamps to prevent wagons and animals from miring. This was known as a "corduroy road." Other than this, little was done to provide a surface for the roads. They were notoriously bad. The noted British author Harriet Martineau, who made a journey over them when she visited the "Wild West" in 1836, wrote of the experience: "Juggernaut's car would have been 'broke to bits' on such a road ... such hopping and jumping; such slipping and sliding; such looks of despair from the middle of a pond; such shifting of logs, and carrying of planks, and handing along the fallen trunks of trees. "33 One story that went the rounds was that a person saw a beaver hat on the Detroit-Pontiac road, and when, at the risk of his life, he waded out to it, he found a man under it and yelled for help. But the man under the hat protested: "Just leave me alone, stranger, I have a good horse under me, and have just found bottom." (34) Settlers along the roads took a proprietary interest in the mudholes, and the right to pull wagons out of one of them for a price was recognized as belonging to the man who lived nearest to it. It was said that these mudholes were fostered carefully in dry weather; one tavern keeper found a buyer for his property partly, it was said, because he had nearby an especially profitable mudhole. (35) Since the roads were laid out to follow the routes having the fewest obstacles, they were seldom straight. A description of the Chicago Road stated that it "stretches itself by devious and irregular windings east and west like a huge serpent lazily pursuing its onward course utterly unconcerned as to its destination." (36)
Bad as they were, these roads were of utmost importance in the early settlement of Michigan. Trails branched off along the routes followed by the major roads, which served to guide the traveler to a destination beyond the main roads. Along the chief roads taverns were built and towns sprang up.
Finally, by the end of the 1820s, with the relinquishment of Indian claims to the lands in southern Michigan, the rapid progress of the surveys, the opening of land offices, and the improvement of transportation facilities, the way had been prepared for what shortly developed into one of the great land booms in all of American history as settlers poured into and across the lower third of Michigan's southern peninsula.
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|Publication:||Michigan: A History of the Wolverine State|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1995|
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