My last post was from a ride in Allegan County on July 31, 2006. I was near Hopkins, on my way to Martin for a photo stop before riding the remaining 30 miles to home. This library is in downtown Martin.
Mumford Eldred, brother of Caleb Eldred of Climax Prairie (two posts back) was the original buyer of the land pictured here. He bought the northwest quarter of the northwest quarter of section 29 in Martin Township. And at the extreme northwest corner of that 40 acre parcel is the intersection and former grocery store pictured below. The library is next to it the once-grocery store. A few weeks after buying this parcel Mumford bought the 40 acres immediately to the south. So he owned all of what is now the east side of Main Street south of the stoplight.
This was oak savanna when he came here in 1836 — almost as good as prairie for farming, and the best land in this township.
Native people were still living here when Mumford moved in. It may have been a mixed group of Potawatomi and Ottawa. The Potawatomi had signed a treaty three years earlier by which they agreed to give up their remaining small amounts of land in Michigan and to leave at some then-indefinite time. The Ottawa had signed a treaty earlier in 1836 by which they would give up the land north of the Grand River. They were all living here on borrowed time — allowed to use the land only until white buyers came and took over. They had homes here and had already planted crops here when Eldred came, and were unable to negotiate any kind of arrangement with him. The situation became unpleasant. In 1880 a local history writer told about what happened:
Yet had Mumford Eldred been less austere and more gracious in his bearing towards them, this would not have been one of the exceptional cases in the history of the settlement of Southern Michigan in which the white settler and his Indian neighbors were at enmity. But Mr. Eldred chose a different course; he considered the land his own, the Indians as interlopers, and ordered them away. They demurred, and moved not. He plowed their little patches of loose soil and planted his crops. Upon their appearance above the surface the corn and potatoes were pulled up and the stalks scattered. –History of Allegan and Barry Counties (1880), pages 270-271
The conflict escalated from there. It was not to the point of a violence, unless you count Eldred’s attempt to fell a tree to land on their houses. But even after the Native people moved away from this piece of ground, Eldred’s crops and stock were not safe for several years to come.
Usually the county history writers were not harshly critical of settlers in their communities who were still living in the area at the time of writing, but Eldred was dead by 1880. His wife was still living, though. It would be interesting to know how much of this story came from her, but unfortunately, the county history writers of that time did not often cite their sources very clearly.
Susan E. Gray used this incident as the introduction and centerpiece of an article that was published in 1994 in the Michigan Historical Review. It’s titled “Limits and possibilities: White-Indian relations in western Michigan in the era of removal.” I just now pulled it out of my files and re-read it. I am finding it even more useful than I had remembered. She cites some references I need to check out, including some that may give me more information about the Ottawa leader Noonday and the Slater mission that I blogged about here in an article titled “Theology of the Grave“.