The start of an overnight, self-contained tour always brings excited anticipation: What did I forget this time? Last year it was tent stakes. Once it was tent poles. Another time it was the right set of tent poles.
This time it was a map for the north part of Calhoun County. Oh, well. I figured I could find my way to Athens if I didn’t get too adventuresome about it, and from there I had a map.
But I did try a different route anyway. Or at least I thought it was different until I came to this sign 20-some miles from home, when I realized it wasn’t so different after all. I’ve ridden past this sign a few times, and a couple of times I’ve even gone into the Huron Potawatomi Indian Reservation.
This reservation has a different origin than most. Unlike most cases, the word “reservation” doesn’t really apply here in a literal sense. Unlike most cases, this wasn’t land that was reserved for the Indians when a larger tract was ceded. Here the Indians bought their own place and called it a reservation.
Most of the southwest Michigan was ceded to the United States in 1821, with the exception of a handful of reservations. Most of the smaller reservations were consolidated into one in 1827-28, and then (with the help of the usual heavy-handed pressure and other inducements) even that was ceded in 1833. In 1840 the army rounded up the Potawatomi to evict them from Michigan, in Michigan’s own version of a Trail of Tears.
But some of the Potawatomi people avoided the roundup. And one of the influential leaders, John Moguago, escaped from his captors somewhere around Skunk Grove, Illinois. (A ride to that location is still on my to-do list.) After the excitement had gone down, he bought this land and put it “in trust” with the governor of the state, to avoid any possibility of it being sold. Just what that “trust” arrangement meant in legal terms is something that was still being determined in the 1990s when the tribe was seeking federal recognition.
The reservation is downstream from this location on Pine Creek. Moguago is buried in a cemetery not far from the stream, on the right bank.
I am not familiar with the documentation that was provided by the tribe when it was seeking federal recognition, but I just now found what I assume was a piece of it. It doesn’t tell the complete story of the reservation, but it shows how the trust arrangement did its job at one point, sort of. It’s in the Journal of the House of Representatives of the Michigan Legislature, published in 1863. On pages 1481-1482 the following is recorded:
By the committee on the judiciary:
The committee on the judiciary, to whom was referred Senate bill, being
A bill to authorize the Governor of the State to convey certain lands,
Respectfully report that they have considered the same, and the facts in relation thereto, within their reach. It seems that the land in question was purchased about the year 1846, for the benefit of a certain band of Indians, then residing in Calhoun county, of whom one Moguago, was Chief, and the legal title was vested in the then Governor of the State and his successors in office, in trust for these Indians; but what were the particular terms and conditions of this trust, your committee are not informed, not having been able, upon inquiry at the Executive Office and at the office of the Secretary of State, to find the deed of trust to the Governor. A deed has been produced to your committee, purporting to be from a certain band of Indians, located in the township of Athens, Calhoun county, Michigan, to Harvey Jones, of Wakeshma, in the county of Kalamazoo, for the consideration of four hundred and fifty dollars, and purporting to convey the land in question to said Jones. No particular persons, except as above stated, are named as grantees in the deed, but the deed purports to be signed and sealed by eleven Indian men and five Indian women, among whom appear the names of John Moguago and George Moguago. One notary’s certificate of acknowledgment states, that the within named Indians appeared before him, and acknowledged the same to be their free act and deed; and another certificate states, that before him appeared “the within named wimmin, wives of the within named Indians,” &c., and neither certificate mentioning any individual names.
Your committee therefore submit, that there is not before them any satisfactory or competent evidence, that the persons who appear to have received the consideration for this land—if this deed is evidence for any purpose—are the true beneficiaries of this trust, or that they had any legal or equitable right of sale, or that it was even intended, that if sold, the proceeds should be paid to the Indians at all, or what were the terms of the trust. The committee therefore report the said bill back to the House, and recommend that it do not pass, and ask to be discharged.
T. W. LOCKWOOD, Acting Chairman.
Report accepted and committee discharged.
On motion of Mr. Buckley,
The bill was laid on the table.
I haven’t found much information about the Harvey Jones who could have ended up as owner of the land in the reservation, but the 1873 atlas of Kalamazoo County, Washtema Township suggests where he may have lived. I’ve ridden through that township many times on my way to St. Joseph County, where Pine Creek empties into the St. Joseph River. But now I have a reason to ride to Wakeshma Township and stop there.
Not that it will tell me what happened between Jones and the Potawatomi people. But I’d like to take a look anyway. Like I say, almost any excuse will do for a bike ride.