The City of Detroit, 1701 -1922, Volume 1 - Clarence Monroe Burton - ebook

The City of Detroit, 1701 -1922, Volume 1 ebook

Clarence Monroe Burton



'The City of Detroit' is a milestone work on the history of the Michigan metropolis. Burton's work covers more than two hundred years of events and facts and had to be split into four volumes due to its size. There is hardly a more detailed book dealing with Detroit's past. This is volume one, covering the early years and the political and civic history.

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The City of Detroit

1701 – 1922


Volume 1: The Early Years & Political and Civic History








The City of Detroit 1, C. M. Burton

Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck

86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9



ISBN: 9783849650391

[email protected]
































Wayne County, of which Detroit is the county seat, is situated in the southeastern part of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. It is bounded on the north by the counties of Oakland and Macomb; on the east by the Detroit River, which separates it from the Dominion of Canada; on the south by the County of Monroe, and on the west by the County of Washtenaw. According to Rand-McNally 's Atlas of the United States, the area of the county is 626 square miles. (For changes in area and boundary lines see Chapter LVII.) Observations made by the United States Geological Survey show Detroit to be located in latitude 43° 19' 50" north and in longitude 83° 2' 5" west of Greenwich.


In January, 1839, Bela Hubbard, then assistant state geologist, submitted to Governor Mason the first; official report concerning the topography of the county. This report says: "Nearly the whole of Wayne County is included in that portion of the peninsula constituting the eastern border, in which no considerable prominences occur, and the descent to the coast is gradual and uniform. In this county, consequently, if we except the township in the northwest corner, the general level is varied only by gentle undulations or isolated sand ridges, forming no continuous ranges and seldom exceeding the relative height of twenty feet. Along the whole eastern border of the county the altitude at a distance of six miles from the coast varies but little from thirty-three to thirty-six feet. At a single point only, in the vicinity of Detroit, it attains to forty-five feet above the river."

Below the River Rouge, beginning about two or three miles from the Detroit River, was in early days a chain or network of wet prairies, the ground gradually rising until at the west line of the county it was about one hundred and forty feet higher than at the river. The streams in the southwestern part of the county therefore have a swifter current and are available for water power. Mr. Hubbard reported sixty-three square miles of marsh land, distributed over the county as follows: Eleven sections in Brownstown Township; eighteen sections in Ecorse; four sections in Greenfield and Bedford, which he describes as "good cranberry land;" ten sections in Hamtramck; ten sections in Huron and ten in Romulus.

About the little lakes and ponds in these wet prairies and marshes was once a fruitful field for the trapper. Beavers were plentiful here until about the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, when they disappeared. The early settlers cut large quantities of wild hay from these wet lands to provide sustenance for their livestock during the long, cold winters.

In the northwestern part the ground is more rolling and broken into frequent ridges, which often rise sixty or eighty feet above the general surface. The dividing line between the lands of this character and the more level tracts, which constitute the remainder of the county, is marked by a low gravelly ridge, supposed to have been at some remote period in the past the shore of the lake. The course of this ridge is from northeast to southwest, passing through the northwest corner of Livonia Township, entering Plymouth about two miles from the northern boundary, and crossing the west line of the county near the southwest comer of Canton Township.


The Detroit River, which flows along the eastern border, forms the international boundary between the United States and the Dominion of Canada, though the United States exercises jurisdiction over the greater portion of the stream. By act of Congress, approved by President Monroe on December 19, 1819, the river was declared to be a public thoroughfare for the passage of vessels. It receives all the waters of Wayne County except the Huron River. The name, which is of French origin, means "The Strait."

From the point where it leaves Lake St. Clair to the point where it empties into Lake Erie, the distance is a little less than twenty-eight miles. At its narrowest point, in front of the City of Detroit, it is a little over half a mile wide. The greatest width, at the foot of Grosse Ile, is about three miles, and the average width is about one mile. The average depth is about thirty-five feet and it is navigable for the largest vessels on the lakes. There are but few rivers in the world that surpass the Detroit in the volume of water that passes through its channel. It is the outlet of the largest three of the Great Lakes — Huron, Michigan and Superior — and all the streams that empty into them. The area drained by the Detroit is as great as that drained by the Ohio, though the latter is nearly one thousand miles long. Likewise, there are but few rivers that present more attractive scenery. Along its course are numerous islands, which rise like emeralds from the clear, tranquil water, and passengers upon the great steamers never tire of watching the constantly changing panorama.


Beginning at Lake St. Clair, the principal islands in the Detroit River are as follows: La Peche, or Isle of the Fishes, which is on the Canadian side of the river and was once the summer home of Pontiac, the great chief of the Ottawa nation. Belle Isle {formerly called Rattlesnake and later Hog Island) is now the property of the City of Detroit and one of its most beautiful parks. (A history of Belle Isle appears in another chapter.) Turkey Island (also called Fighting Island) a long, narrow island on the Canadian side, takes its name from the great numbers of wild turkeys found there in early times. This island was the scene of the contest between the Indians under Pontiac and the vessel sent to relieve the fort at Detroit in 1763. The remains of an old Indian earthwork at the upper end were plainly visible in the early years of the Nineteenth Century. Near the foot of this island are Little Turkey and Mammy Judy islands. The latter, containing about thirty acres, was named for an old Indian squaw who used to come there every year during the fishing season, and who finally died on the island. Mud and Grassy islands lie between Turkey Island and the Michigan shore.

Grosse Ile is the largest in the river. An old French document of 1717 says: "It is very fine and fertile and extensive, being as it is estimated from six to seven leagues in circumference. There is an extraordinary quantity of apple trees on this island, and those who have seen the apples on the ground say they are more than half a foot deep; the apple trees are planted as if methodically and the apples are as large as small pippins. Abundance of excellent millstones are found on this island; all around it are very fine prairies. It was a long time doubtful whether Detroit should not be founded there. The cause of the hesitation was the apprehension that the timber might someday fail."

About the foot of Grosse Ile are grouped a number of smaller islands, viz.: Bois Blanc (or Whitewood), Calf, Celeron (or Tawa), Elba, Fox, Hickory, Horse, Humbug and Sugar. Several of the islands in the river were the scenes of stirring events during the early wars.


As previously stated, the Detroit River receives the waters of all the streams of Wayne County, except those of the Huron River, which empties into Lake Erie at the southeast comer of the county. The Huron, the largest stream in the county, has its source in the lakes and marshes of Livingston and Washtenaw counties. At first it flows in a southerly direction, but near the City of Dexter it turns eastward and enters Wayne County about nine miles north of the southwest corner. Near the Village of Romulus it turns toward the southeast and follows that direction until it empties into Lake Erie, near the mouth of the Detroit River. During the last eight or ten miles of its course it forms the boundary line between Wayne and Monroe counties.

Next in importance is the River Rouge, which is formed by the north, south, east and west branches. The North Branch is formed near Redford Corners by the Belle River, Powers Creek and some smaller streams. Its general course is southeast until it unites with the West Branch near the center of Dearborn Township.

The South Branch rises near the western boundary of the county and flows east through Canton, Nankin and Dearborn townships, uniting with the main stream near Dearborn Village. It is sometimes called the "Lower Rouge."

The East Branch, formed by Campbell's, Holden and Knagg's creeks, falls into the main stream near the Village of Delray. Knagg's Creek and some of the others contributing to the formation of this branch are now within the city limits and have been filled in and the "made land" converted into city lots.

The West Branch rises in Washtenaw County. It enters Wayne about four miles south of the northwest comer and flows in a northeasterly direction to Northville. There it changes its course to southeast and unites with the North and South branches near Dearborn. From that point the Rouge follows an easterly course to the Detroit River.

The Belle River, one of the principal tributaries of the North Branch of the River Rouge, is only a few miles in length. It is formed in Livonia Township by Collins and Briggs creeks and a few minor streams, flows in an easterly direction and empties into the North Branch near the center of Redford Township.

The southeastern portion of the county is watered by the Ecorse River, which flows through the township of the same name; Big Brownstown and Huntington creeks, which empty into the Detroit River a short distance below Gibraltar; and Smith's and Silver creeks, which unite and empty into the Huron about a mile above its mouth.

Connor's (also called Trombly's) Creek, in the northeastern part, flows in a southeasterly course and empties into the Detroit River near the upper end of Belle Isle.

In the southwestern townships are a number of small streams, such as Willow Creek, Swan Creek, Tonquist and Woods' creeks and Willow Run, which fall into the Huron River or the West Branch of the Rouge.

Probably one of the oldest maps in existence, showing accurately the courses of the various creeks and rivers of Wayne County, is that prepared under the supervision of Dr. Douglas Houghton to accompany his report as state geologist in 1840. More modern maps show no important changes, except within the city limits of Detroit, where some small streams have been filled in or converted into sewers. Foremost among the creeks that have thus been obliterated were Knagg's Creek, already mentioned. May's, Parent's and Savoyard creeks.

May's Creek, so named for James May, one of the early judges of the Court of Quarter Sessions, was known as Campau's River about the middle of the Eighteenth Century and later as Cabacier's Creek, after Joseph Cabacier, who lived near it. Jacques Peltier built a grist mill on this creek during the old French regime, and the stream furnished water enough to run the mill about one-half of each year. The mill stood just north of Fort Street, not far from the point where that street was afterward crossed by the Michigan Central Railroad.

Parent's Creek was the most historic of all these extinct watercourses. It had its source in Private Claim No. 183, in Grosse Pointe Township, flowed in a southerly direction, passing through Elmwood Cemetery, and emptied into the Detroit River about a mile and a half above the old French fort. The creek was doubtless named for Joseph Parent, a gunsmith, whose name appears in the records of St. Anne's Church as early as May, 1707. It was on the banks of this creek that Captain Dalzell was defeated and killed by the Indians during the Pontiac war, after which the stream was known as "Bloody Run."

The Savoyard Creek had its source in a willow swamp, not far from the present intersection of Congress and Riopelle streets and flowed in a westerly course. It is said to have derived its name from the fact that one of the early settlers near it came from Savoy. Farmer says that the Detroit boys had a favorite fishing hole where the creek crossed Woodward Avenue. An old map shows that it emptied into the river near the foot of Fourth Street. The people living along the creek used it as a receptacle for all sorts of waste matter. After Fort Shelby was abandoned, lumber was taken from the fortification and used to protect the sides from falling in. As population increased and the quantity of garbage, etc., dumped into the stream grew greater, the stenches that arose from the creek rivaled those mentioned by the poet Coleridge in his description of the City of Cologne. In 1836 the city authorities declared it a nuisance and, at great expense, walled and covered it with stone, converting it into a sewer.


According to the report of the state geologist for 1876, the oldest exposed rocks in Wayne County are the limestones of the Helderberg and Water-lime groups. The former is found over an area of limited extent in the southeastern corner of the state, including Monroe County, the southeastern part of Wayne and the eastern part of Lenawee. In Monroe, the rock outcrops in nearly all the streams, but in Wayne, where the drift deposits are deeper, the exposures are less frequent. The upper division of the Helderberg group la found at Trenton, where quarries were opened at an early date. Here the upper ledges are covered only by a thin layer of loamy drift. They are limestones of a light color, segregated in beds about six feet in thickness and rich in fossils. The stone from these quarries has been used chiefly for lime, yielding a white, quick-slaking lime of superior quality. Below these beds is found a compact, gray, crystalline limestone in ledges from eight inches to two feet thick, an excellent stone for building purposes.

Gibraltar, on the Detroit River about four miles below Trenton, marks the northern exposure of the Water-line group. At this point the lower rock series come to the surface in the bed of the creek near its mouth. The stone is described as "a somewhat absorbent, crystalline dolomite, of gray color and laminated structure, in layers, from one to two feet thick." Stone of this quality has also been quarried on the lower end of Grosse Ile.

Near Flatrock the Huron River runs over ledges of the Water-lime formation. Here the stone is a hard, drab-colored dolomite, crystalline in texture, with flinty concretions and containing but few fossils. The deposits here are too far below the surface to be profitably quarried.

During the period of French rule, the inhabitants of Detroit obtained stone from the deposits about Trenton and Gibraltar for chimneys to their log houses. Farmer's "History of Detroit" (p. 367) says that by 1763 limekilns had been established and a few stone buildings had been erected inside the stockade. In 1870 some workmen, engaged in digging a trench for a water main on Jefferson Avenue, unearthed an old stone fireplace with its iron crane for holding kettles still fast in the stone work. It was found about four or five feet below the surface and was supposed to have been the fireplace in a cellar kitchen of a house within the fort.


Dr. Douglas Houghton, in his first report as state geologist, submitted to Governor Mason in 1838, says: "At a distance of six or seven miles northwest of Detroit, and in the County of Wayne, bog (iron) ore occurs at intervals over an extent of several hundred acres, but I have not been able to examine it with sufficient care to determine its extent; I think, however, there can be little doubt but it exists in sufficient quantities to he turned to practical account,"

Subsequent surveys located the richest of these deposits in Greenfield Township and near the southern border of Livonia Township. By analysis the ore was found to contain nearly seventy-four per cent of peroxide of iron, but it does not appear that any attempt was ever made to give the deposits a commercial value.


Clay suitable for brickmaking has been found at several points in the county. The first brickyards in the county were established in what is now Springwells Township. They were operating on an extensive scale at the time Michigan was admitted into the Union in 1837, and are mentioned in the early reports of the state geologist as obtaining their supply of raw material "from the blue clay beds in the drift."

Doctor Houghton, in his early reports as state geologist, also speaks of two brickyards in operation on the South Branch of the River Rouge near Schwarzburg, where clay of a fine quality was found along the river bank in a stratum ranging from two to four feet in thickness.

Just west of Northville, in Plymouth Township, is a deposit of clay of fine texture that has been utilized for the manufacture of bricks and earthenware. In Section 27 of the same township there is a bed of fine clay covering an area of eighty acres or more.

At Flat Rock, on the Huron River, there is an extensive deposit of blue clay, but it contains so much lime that all attempts to use it for brickmaking have been unsuccessful. Farther up the river both the blue and yellow clays are of a better character. Fifty years ago or more a brickyard was in successful operation near the mouth of "Woods' Creek, in the southeast corner of Van Buren Township,.

Peat was discovered at a comparatively early date in the marsh lands of what are now Brownstown, Ecorse, Greenfield, Hamtramck and Huron townships, but little or no use has been made of the deposits. The only bed of shell marl mentioned in the Michigan Geological Reports is near the center of Plymouth Township (Section 22). Overlying the marl is a bed of peat, which, like those above mentioned, has never been used. Gravel and sand, suitable for concrete work and building purposes, are found at various places in the county.


Far back in the geologic past, about the close of the Tertiary period, came the Pleistocene or "Ice Age," during which all the central part of North America was covered with a vast sheet of ice, which extended westward to the Rocky Mountains. This glacier was formed in the northern part of the continent by successive falls of snow. The weight added by each snowfall aided in compressing the mass below into a solid body of ice. As the temperature rose the entire glacier began to move slowly southward, carrying with it great boulders, clays, soils, etc., to be deposited in regions far distant from the places where they were taken.

As the huge mass of ice moved slowly along, the boulders and other hard substances at the bottom of the glacier left scratches or striae upon the bed rocks, and from these scorings the geologist has been able to determine the course of the glacier. At various places in the territory once covered by the great central glacier the strife have been noted upon the rocks, indicating the general direction traveled by the glacier to have been toward the southeast, into a latitude where the rays of the sun began to melt the ice. With the disappearance of the ice, the solid materials carried by the glacier were deposited upon the bed rocks or preglacial soil in the form of drift.

Where the drift was deposited in a ridge at the edge of the glacier, the slight elevation is called a "lateral moraine." The ridge formed where two glaciers, or two sections of a great glacier moving in slightly different directions, came together is known as a "medial moraine," The ridge which marks the point where the last of the ice was dissolved is called a "terminal moraine." There is no doubt that some of the ridges in Wayne County were formed by glacial action. These ridges are either lateral or medial moraines, the terminal moraines of the great central glacier being found farther southward, in the states of Indiana and Ohio.

How long the glacial epoch lasted, or how long since it occurred, is largely a matter of conjecture. Some geologists estimate the duration of the "lee Age" as half a million years, and that the last of the ice disappeared more than a thousand centuries ago. At the close of the glacial period the surface of the earth, over which the glacier had passed, was void of either vegetable or animal life. Gradually the frost and rains leveled the surface, the heat of the sun warmed 'the chilled earth, the winds carried the seeds of plants and deposited them upon the soil and life in its primitive forms made its appearance.


Wayne County, in common with all the Lower Peninsula, is covered with glacial drift. Soil formed of drift material, being composed of a great variety of mineral constituents, usually has all the chemical requirements of a fertile soil. Exceptions to this rule are seen in places where the assorting of drift, by floods or atmospheric action, is sometimes carried to such a degree as to destroy fertility, A bed of clay, sand or gravel is not a soil, but a mixture of all three constitutes a soil that will produce vegetation.

Originally, about two thirds of the county were heavily timbered with beech, basswood, black walnut, elm, hickory, oak and a few other varieties of trees, with some chestnut on the sandy ridges in Dearborn and Van Buren townships. The remaining third consisted of small plains called "oak openings," a fine description of which is found in J, Fennimore Cooper's novel of that name.

In the timbered portions the soil is composed chiefly of clay, sand and loams, silex forming an important ingredient, and the clay usually contains a large percentage of lime, which adds to the fertility. Soil of this character, throughout the southern portion of the Lower Peninsula, is well adapted to horticulture and many fine orchards and vineyards have been planted in this section of the state. The soil in the oak openings is generally sandy and less productive, but by careful cultivation it can be made to produce fair crops. In recent years, by a liberal application of commercial fertilizers, the farmers of Wayne County have been able to produce an abundance of vegetables of all sorts and of excellent quality.


Like that of most of the cities in the Great Lake region, the climate of Detroit is modified by the adjacent bodies of water. Records of the United States Weather Bureau show that the average mean temperature for twenty-five years, for the period from May to September, inclusive, never exceeded 72° Fahrenheit, while the mean winter temperature was 26°, the coldest weather occurring in February. The mean annual temperature therefore varies but little from that of other cities in the same latitude.

Observations have shown that, when the entire year is taken into consideration, the proportion of clear days to cloudy ones is about two to one, though in the summer and autumn months the proportion of clear days to cloudy is approximately five to one. The average yearly rainfall at Detroit is about forty inches. Usually June is the month of greatest precipitation (average nearly four inches) and the least rainfall occurs in the months of December and February.

M. de Bougainville, who visited Detroit in 1757, wrote: "The atmosphere is of great beauty and serenity. It is a magnificent climate, having almost no cold weather and only a little snow. The cattle stay in the fields all winter and find their living there."

No doubt the principal reason why Bougainville and other early travelers noticed so little snow is that the open surface of the Great Lakes has a tendency to increase the temperature and the snow often melts as fast as it falls. The snowfall was probably much heavier than these early visitors realized. The winter of 1779-80 was one of the most severe on record. Snow covered the ground practically all winter, the cold was intense and in the spring the bodies of horses and cattle were found by scores in the woods, where they had perished from exposure and starvation. The winter of 1785-86 was also one of extreme cold and deep snow. As late as March 1, 1786, the snow was four feet in places where it had not been disturbed. In Lake St. Clair the ice was three feet thick a mile from the shore and did not disappear until May. About the middle of April, 1821, eight inches of snow fell, and on May 1, 1824, the snow was a foot deep.

As the great lumbering interests cut off the pine forests, the destruction of the timber wielded an influence upon the climate, which has become more variable than formerly, though heavy snows still occur occasionally. About the middle of January, 1877, a snow storm caused the suspension of railway traffic for several days. At noon on April 6, 1886, a snow storm commenced and by midnight the snow was two feet deep on the level. The high wind blew the snow into drifts and all street ears stopped running until late the next day.

As a rule, the autumns in Detroit are the most delightful and enjoyable seasons of the year. There is but little rainfall and the "Indian Summer" frequently extends into the latter part of November,.


No fewer than six names have been bestowed upon the site of Detroit and the white settlement there established. Early Indian tribes called the place Yondo-ti-ga, meaning a "Great Village." Other tribes gave it the name of "Wa-we-a-tun-ong, which meant "Crooked Way," or "Circuitous Approach," on account of the great bend in the river between Lake St. Clair and Fighting Island, Another Indian name was Tsych-sa-ron-dia, which also refers to the bend in the river. In the Colonial Archives of New York State, this name is found spelled in various ways, the most frequent of which is Teuchsa Grondie. The Huron Indians called the place Ka-ron-ta-en, "The Coast of the Straits."

Such were the names conferred by the natives. "When Cadillac founded his settlement here in 1701, it was at first called Fort Pontchartrain, in honor of Count Pontchartrain, then the French minister of marine. Early French explorers and travelers designated all the waters connecting Lake Huron and Lake Erie — the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River — as Detroit, that is "the strait." So the settlement at Fort Pontchartrain was christened Detroit, from which is derived its popular sobriquet of the "City of the Straits."



Before the white man the Indian; before the Indian, who? The question is more easily asked than answered. Owing to various theories advanced, the origin of the aboriginal inhabitants of Central North America is veiled in obscurity. A number of writers — men who made a special study of the subject — among whom were Prescott and Schoolcraft, have asserted their belief that the first occupants of the continent were descendants of the lost tribes of Israel. They support their theory with interesting and ingenious arguments to show that it was not impossible for them to have come from Asia, either by being drifted across the Pacific Ocean or by way of Behring's Strait and thence southward into what are now the United States and Mexico. Cadillac, the founder of Detroit, was an advocate of this theory. An old document found in the French Archives, written by him, sets forth the reasons for his belief that the Indians were of Hebrew origin.


The first white settlements along the Atlantic coast were made in the early part of the Seventeenth Century. Almost a century and a half elapsed after these settlements were founded, before evidences were discovered to show that the interior had once been peopled by a peculiar race. Says one of the reports of the United States Bureau of Ethnology:

"During a period beginning sometime after the close of the Ice Age and ending with the coming of the white man — or only a few generations before — the central part of North America was inhabited by a people who had emerged to some extent from the darkness of savagery, had acquired certain domestic arts, and practiced some well-defined lines of industry. The location and boundaries inhabited by them are fairly well marked by the mounds and earthworks they erected."

The center of this ancient civilization— if such it may be called — appears to have been in the present State of Ohio. From the relics left by these early people archaeologists have given them the name of "Mound Builders." Most of the mounds so far discovered are conical in shape and when explored have generally been found to contain skeletons. For this reason they have been designated as burial mounds. Others are in the form of truncated pyramids — that is, square or rectangular at the base and flattened on the top. The mounds of this class are usually much higher than the burial mounds and are supposed to have been lookouts or signal stations. Here and there are to be seen well-defined lines of earthworks, indicating that they had been used for defensive purposes against invading enemies. In a few instances, the discovery of a large mound, surrounded by an embankment, outside of which are a number of smaller mounds, has given rise to the theory that such places were centers of religious worship or sacrifice.

Cyrus Thomas, of the United States Bureau of Ethnology, has divided the region once inhabited by the Mound Builders into eight districts, in each of which there are certain characteristics not common to the others. The location of these districts can be fairly well determined by their names, to wit: 1. The Dacotah; 2. The Huron-Iroquois; 3. The Illinois; 4. The Ohio; 5. The Appalachian; 6. The Tennessee; 7. The Arkansas; 8. The Gulf District.

The second of these districts — the Huron-Iroquois — embraces the country once inhabited by the Huron and Iroquois Indians. It includes the greater part of the State of New York, a strip across the northern part of Ohio, the Lower Peninsula of Michigan and extends northward into Canada. Throughout this district burial mounds are numerous, a few fortifications have been noted and "hut rings," or foundations of ancient dwellings, are plentiful.


A few miles down the Detroit River from the City of Detroit, in Springwells Township, was once a group of mounds, circular or oval in form, with two parallel embankments about four feet high leading eastward, toward the Detroit River, Henry Gillman, at one time a curator of the Detroit Scientific Society and later librarian of the Detroit Public Library, wrote a description of these mounds, which was published in the report of the Smithsonian Institution for 1873. He says:

" One of the most interesting works of this region, and which, till a few years ago, formed a member of a numerous series of mounds in the immediate vicinity, is the tumulus which I have named 'The Great Mound of the River Rouge.' This, in many respects, remarkable work is situated on the eastern bank of the River Rouge, a tributary of the Detroit, and near the point of junction of the former with the latter river, or about four and a half miles from the City Hall of Detroit.

"The size, shape and well-defined outlines of the monument could hardly fail to attract the attention of even the superficial observer and impress him as to its being the work of man. With a height of 20 feet, it must originally have measured 300 feet in length by 200 in width, but large quantities of sand have been removed from time to time, greatly reducing its proportions and scattering or destroying relics. The smaller mounds, extending from the Great Mound to the eastward, have long since been removed, so has the greater number of smaller mounds which one stood immediately below the southern city limits. Those which remain are rapidly disappearing, being used for building sand.

"The relics exhumed from the Great Mound (which has not even yet been thoroughly explored) consist of stone implements, such as axes, scrapers, chisels, arrow heads and knives; fragments of pottery of a great variety of patterns, including the favorite cord pattern; and the bones of man, generally much decayed and exhibiting other indications of antiquity.

"About three-fourths of a mile north and eastward of the Great Rouge Mound, and a few hundred feet westward of Fort Wayne, being over one-third of a mile from the Detroit River, occurs the monument which I have named 'The Great Circular Mound.' Eleven skeletons were here exhumed, with a large number of burial vases; stone implements in great variety and superior workmanship, consisting of axes, spears, arrow heads, chisels, drillers and sinkers; pipes, ornaments of shell and stone; also a peculiar implement of unknown use formed from an antler, and two articles made of copper, one the remains of a necklace, consisting of a number of beads, and the other a needle several inches in length."


Who were the Mound Builders? Various authors have written upon the subject and nearly everyone has a theory' as to their origin. Some maintain that they first established their civilization in the Ohio Valley, whence they worked their way gradually southward into Mexico and Central America, where the white man found their descendants in the Aztec Indians. Others, with arguments equally logical and plausible, contend that the Mound Builders originated in the South and migrated northward to the country about the Great Lakes, where their further progress was cheeked by hostile tribes. Practically all the early writers were agreed upon one thing, however, and that was that the Mound Builders were a very ancient race. The principal reasons for this view were that the Indians had no traditions concerning many of the relics, and upon many of the mounds and earthworks, when first discovered, were trees several feet in diameter, indicating that the relics were of great antiquity. Regarding the antiquity of the mounds in Wayne County, Mr. Gillraan, in the article already referred to, says:

"Indian tradition says that the mounds were built in ancient times by a people of whom they (the Indians) know nothing, and for whom they have no name; that the mounds were occupied by the Turtle Indians and subsequently by the Wyandottes, but were constructed long before their time. • • • That these people are identical with the race whose monuments of various descriptions are found in such remarkable abundance to the westward and southward, through Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, even to the Gulf of Mexico, admits now of no question; a race whose craniological development and evidently advanced civilization apparently separate it from the North American Indian and ally it to the ancient Brazilian type."

Among the earliest writers on the subject of the Mound Builders were Squier and Davis, who about the middle of the Nineteenth Century published a work entitled, "Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley." Between the years 1845 and 1848 these two investigators opened over two hundred mounds. Following the lead of Squier and Davis, other investigators supported their theory that the Mound Builders, who once inhabited the Ohio and Mississippi valleys, were of a different race from the Indians found here by the white man.

In more recent years archaeologists, who have made extensive research among the mounds, are practically a unit in the conclusion that the Mound Builder was nothing more than the ancestor, more or less remote, of the Indian.


When Christopher Columbus made his first voyage to the Western Hemisphere in 1492, he believed that he had reached the goal of his long-cherished ambitions and that the country where he landed was the eastern shore of Asia. Early European explorers in America, entertaining a similar belief, thought the country was India and gave to the race of copper colored people they found here the name of "Indians." Later explorations disclosed the fact that Columbus had really discovered a continent hitherto unknown to the civilized nations of the world. The error in geography was corrected, but the name given by the first adventurers to the natives still remains.

Probably more pages have been written relating to the Indian tribes of North America than on any other one subject connected with American history. To the student of history there is a peculiar fascination in the story of these savage tribes — their legends, traditions, wars and customs — that makes the topic always one of surpassing interest, and no history of Detroit and its environs would be complete without some account of the tribes that inhabited the country before the advent of the white man.


The North American Indians are divided into several groups or families, each of which is distinguished by certain physical and linguistic characteristics. Each of these groups is subdivided into tribes and each tribe is ruled over by a chief. At the beginning of the Sixteenth Century, when the first Europeans began their explorations in America, they found the various leading Indian families distributed over the continent as follows:

In the far north were the Eskimo, a people that have never played any conspicuous part in history. These Indians still inhabit the country about the Arctic Circle, where some of them have been occasionally employed as guides to polar expeditions, which has been about their only association with the white race.

The Algonquian family, the most powerful and numerous of all the Indian groups, occupied a great triangle, roughly bounded by the Atlantic coast from Labrador to Cape Hatteras and by lines drawn from those two points to the western end of Lake Superior. Within this triangle lived the Delaware, Shawnee, Miami, Pottawatomi, Chippewa, Ottawa, Sac, Fox, Huron, Winnebago and other powerful tribes, which yielded slowly to the advance of the superior race.

Almost in the very heart of the Algonquian triangle — along the upper reaches of the St. Lawrence River and the shores of Lake Ontario — lived the Iroquoian group, the principal tribes of which were the Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, and Seneca.

South of the Algonquian country and extending from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic coast was the domain of the Muskhogean family. The leading tribes of this group were the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Creek. The Indians of this group were among the most intelligent, as well as the most aggressive and warlike, of all the North American tribes.

Of the groups inhabiting the western part of the present United States, the strongest was the Siouan, whose domain was about the headwaters of the Mississippi and extending westward to the Missouri River. It was composed of a number of tribes closely resembling each other in physical appearance and dialect, all noted for their warlike tendencies and military prowess.

South and west of the Siouan country lived the "Plains Indians," composed of tribes of mixed stock, including the Arapaho, Cheyenne and Pawnee (or Pani) in the north, and the Apache, Comanche and Kiowa in the south. All these tribes were of bold and vindictive disposition, expert horsemen and skillful hunters. West of the Plains Indians dwelt the Shoshonean family, one of the smallest on the continent, the principal tribes of which were the Bannock and Shoshone, and farther southward, in what are now the states of Arkansas and Louisiana, was the Caddoan family, or "hut builders."

Scattered over other parts of the country were numerous minor tribes, which in all probability had separated from some of the great families, but who, at the time they first came in contact with the white man, claimed kinship with none. These tribes were generally inferior in numbers, often nomadic in their habits, and consequently are of little importance historically.

In a history such as this it is not the design to attempt any extended account of the Indian race as a whole, but to notice only those tribes whose history is more or less intimately connected with the region about Detroit, to wit: The Chippewa, Huron, Iroquois, Maseonten, Miami, Pottawatomi, Sac and Pox, Winnebago and some minor tribes that were really only subdivisions or offshoots of the larger ones.



This was one of the largest tribes of the Algonquian family. The Indian name was "Ojibwa," meaning "to roast till puckered up," a name conferred by other tribes on account of the Chippewa method of making moccasins with a puckered seam around the edge. Morgan divides the Chippewa into twenty-four clans or gentes, the principal ones of which were the wolf, bear, beaver, bald eagle and sturgeon.

A Chippewa tradition says that at an early date the tribe was closely allied with the other Algonquian subdivisions, especially the Ottawa and Pottawatomi. During this period they inhabited both shores of the northern part of Lake Michigan and the country about the foot of Lake Superior. The French gave them the name of Sauteaux, from the Sault Ste. Marie. At Mackinaw the Chippewa withdrew from the alliance and moved westward into what is now the State of Minnesota, ultimately extending their domain to the Turtle River in North Dakota.

Although a large tribe numerically, it was not as prominent in history as some of the smaller ones. Some of the Chippewa lived near the site of Detroit before the coming of Cadillac and became the friends of the French. When the post was surrendered to the English in 1760 they transferred their allegiance to the new power. After the United States came into control, the tribe continued to receive presents from the British until 1820, when a treaty of peace was concluded with them by Gov. Lewis Cass.


The Huron nation was composed of four well organized tribes of Iroquoian stock, commonly called the Bear, Cord, Deer and Rock people, and was known as the Wendat (Vendat) Confederacy. The name Huron is derived from the French "hure," signifying "bristly," and was given to these Indians on account of their coarse, bristly hair.

In 1615 Champlain found the four confederated tribes living about the Georgian Bay and along the eastern coast of Lake Huron. He estimated their number at 30,000 and says they had eighteen populous villages, eight of which were fortified with palisades. About forty years after Champlain 's visit, they became involved in a war with the Five Nations and were driven to take refuge with the Erie Indians, whom they persuaded to join them in the war. In 1656 they were again defeated and many of their warriors killed. The survivors fled to Christian Island, in the Georgian Bay, but finding that locality unsafe they retired to Michilimackinac, whither they were pursued by their old enemy. The Iroquois advance was then checked by the Chippewa, the Hurons retiring to the vicinity of Green Bay, where they formed an alliance with some of the Ottawa and Pottawatomi.

According to the Jesuit Relations, a Huron settlement was founded in 1670 on Mantoulin Island, where the next year Father Marquette established the mission of St. Ignace. When Cadillac founded the post at Detroit, he adopted the policy of having as many friendly Indians as possible locate near the fort. On June 28, 1703, thirty Huron families from the St. Ignace mission arrived at Detroit and set up their wigwams. They were soon joined by others of the tribe and an old French memoir of 1707 says:

"The Hurons are also near, perhaps the eighth of a league from the French fort. This is the most industrious nation that can be seen. They scarcely ever dance and are always at work; raise a very large amount of Indian corn, peas and beans; grow some wheat. They construct their huts entirely of bark, very strong and solid; very lofty and very long and arched like arbors. Their fort is strongly encircled with pickets and bastions, well redoubted and has strong gates. They are the most faithful nation to the French, and the most expert hunters that we have."

After some years at Detroit, a portion of the tribe went to Sandusky, Ohio. In 1745 the French commandant at Detroit provoked the enmity of the chief Orontony (or Nicholas), who, with his following, left Detroit and joined those at Sandusky. There he began the formation of a conspiracy for the destruction of the French posts at and above Detroit, but a Huron woman revealed the plot to a Jesuit priest, who in turn notified Longueuil, the commandant at Detroit. Orontony then destroyed his village near Sandusky and with his warriors and their families established a new one on the White River in Indiana, where he died in the fall of 1748.

Upon the death of their chief the Indians returned to Detroit and Sandusky, where they took the name of Wyandot instead of Huron. As the Wyandot nation they laid claim to the greater part of what is now the State of Ohio. During the War of 1812 they supported the English cause and by the peace of 1815 the tribe was granted a large tract of land in Ohio and Michigan. Most of this tract was ceded to the United States in 1819, the Indians accepting two reservations, one near Upper Sandusky and the other on the Huron River, not far from Detroit. These reservations were sold in 1842 and the occupants removed to what is now Wyandotte County, Kansas, where they lived for twenty-five years, when they were removed to the Indian Territory. The remnant of the once great Huron nation now lives on a reservation in the northeast corner of Oklahoma.


Strictly speaking there were no Iroquois Indians, that name being applied in a general way to all the tribes of the same linguistic stock, ethnologically known as the Iroquoian family. In 1534 Jacques Cartier found these Indians on the shore of the Gaspe Basin and on both banks of the St, Lawrence River between Quebec and Montreal, which was their first acquaintance with the white race.

The word Iroquois means "We are of the extended lodge," and was given to the confederacy formed about 1570 by the Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga and Seneca tribes, after wars with other tribes led them to unite for their common defense. This confederacy was known to the early settlers of New York as the "Five Nations." At that time the allied tribes claimed nearly all the St. Lawrence Valley, the basins of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, the eastern shore of Lake Huron, especially the country about the Georgian Bay, and all the present State of New York except the lower Hudson Valley.

In this confederacy, each tribe was an independent political unit, which sent delegates to a general council. The Five Nations were second to none north of Mexico in political organization, statecraft and military prowess. Their chiefs were diplomats of ability and nearly always proved a match for the white men, when the two races met in council for the negotiation of treaties, etc. In 1722 the Tuscarora tribe was added to the confederacy, which then took the name of the "Six Nations."

Champlain, in one of his early expeditions, joined a party of Canadian Indians at war with the Five Nations, who thereby became bitter and lasting enemies of the French. Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries tried in vain to win them to the Catholic faith and in the French and Indian war they fought on the side of the British.

About 1650 French travelers estimated the Iroquois population at 20,000. They were nearly always at war with the neighboring tribes, from New England to Lake Michigan, where their westward advance was checked by the Chippewa. These wars depleted their ranks and at the close of the French and Indian war they numbered about 10,000, with fifty villages. They sometimes were represented in the councils held at the Huron or "Wyandot village" near the mouth of the Detroit River, but as a rule they were the enemies of all the Indians about Detroit, particularly those on friendly terms with the French. They were cruel in war and it is stated on apparently good authority that they often ate the flesh of their enemies killed in battle.


Some ethnologists classify this tribe as part of the Sac and Pox confederacy and others as the "Prairie Band" of the Pottawatomi. This is probably due to the confused accounts concerning their early history. In 1616 Champlain met with a tribe that he designated as the Asistaguerouon, which inhabited the country south and west of Lake Huron. Twenty years later, Sagard stated that the Mascouten country was nine or ten days' journey west of the south end of the Georgian Bay. In 1634 Nicolas Perrot found them living on the Fox River in Wisconsin, and the Jesuit Relation for 1646 says that up to the time of Perrot's visit no white man had seen them and no missionaries had been among them. They called themselves the "little prairie people."

Marest, writing of this tribe, says that in 1712 he found a number of them living on the Ohio River, near the mouth of the Wabash, where they had located only a short time before. It was part of this band who, with some of the Kickapoo, joined in the Fox attack on Detroit in May, 1712, which may have had something to do with the theory that the Mascouten were a branch of the Pox tribe.


Among the great tribes of the Algonquian family, the Miami (called Twightwees by the early English settlers) occupied a large territory in Southern Michigan, Western Ohio and Central Indiana. Some idea of the extent of the tribal claims may be gained from the following extract from the speech of their great chief. Little Turtle, at the council of Greenville, Ohio, in August, 1795: "My fathers kindled the first fire at Detroit; thence they extended their lines to the headwaters of the Scioto; thence to its mouth; thence down the Ohio to the mouth of the Wabash; thence to Chicago and over Lake Michigan."

The Miami was one of the first tribes to establish friendly relations with the French under Cadillac. As early as 1703 there was a considerable Miami colony at Detroit, but their principal settlement at that time was on the shore of Lake Michigan, near the present City of St. Joseph. Later the tribal headquarters were established at the head of the Maumee River, where the City of Fort Wayne, Indiana, now stands.

Agriculture was practiced in a primitive way, the women, as in other tribes doing the work of the field and wigwam, while the men engaged in hunting or "went on the war path." They were less treacherous than many of the tribes and appear to have had a higher sense of honor. When the peace treaty of Greenville was concluded on August 3, 1795, some of the Miami chiefs were opposed to certain provisions, but finally yielded to the majority. As Little Turtle "touched the goose quill" he said: "I am the last to sign it and I will be the last to break it." He kept his word and remained on terms of peace with the white people until his death at Port Wayne, Indiana, on July 14, 1812.


The name Ottawa was a term common to a number of Algonquian tribes, notably the Cree, Chippewa, Nipissing and Ottawa proper. The first mention of these Indians in history was in 1615, when Champlain met about 300 of them and gave them the name of "les cheueux releuez" In his description of them he says:

"Their arms consisted only of a bow and arrows, a buckler of boiled leather and the club. They wore no breech clouts, their bodies were tattooed in many fashions and designs, their faces painted and their noses pierced."

From their pierced noses an ornament consisting of a small pebble or shell was suspended, which doubtless led some of the early writers to conclude that the term Ottawa signified "the nation with a hole in the nose." This theory is not sustained by the United States Bureau of Ethnology, the "Handbook" of which says the name was applied to the Ottawa "because in early traditional times and also during the historic period they were noted among their neighbors as intertribal traders and barterers, dealing chiefly in com meal, sunflower oil, furs and skins, rugs and mats, tobacco, and medicinal roots and The Jesuit Relation for 1667 says that they claimed the country along the Ottawa River and that no other nation was permitted to navigate that stream without their consent. About the same time Claude Allouez, the Jesuit missionary, wrote: "They are little disposed toward the faith, for they are too much given to idolatry, superstitions, fables, polygamy, looseness of the marriage tie and to all manner of license, which causes them to drop all native decency. "

Until about 1670 the Ottawa and Huron lived together. Then the latter removed to the west side of Lake Huron, part of the tribe locating near the present City of Detroit and others going to Michilimackinac to escape from their old enemy, the Iroquois, A little later it seems that a portion of the Ottawa also gained a foothold on the west side of Lake Huron, in the vicinity of Saginaw Bay, where the Pottawatomi were probably in close union with them. In 1703 Cadillac invited them to settle near Detroit and they established a village on the opposite side of the river, where Sandwich now stands. There they built a picket fort, similar to that of the Huron stockade.

For more than half a century the Ottawa were the steadfast friends of the French and on numerous occasions assisted them in repelling the attacks of hostile tribes. After Detroit was surrendered to the British in 1760, the tribe became dissatisfied with the new power. The celebrated chief, Pontiac, was a member of this tribe, and Pontiac's war of 1763, an account of which is given in another chapter, was a prominent event in Ottawa history.

The Ottawa were good farmers and experts in handling their canoes. At the close of the Revolutionary war a small portion of the tribe refused to submit to the authority of the United States and removed to Canada. Subsequently they, with some of the Chippewa and Pottawatomi Indians, were settled on Walpole Island in Lake St. Clair. All the lands in Michigan claimed by the Ottawa were ceded to the United States by various treaties, ending with the Chicago treaty of September 26, 1833, when they accepted a reservation near Port Leavenworth, Kansas.



When first met by the white men, this tribe was one of the greatest of the Algonquin group. The name Pottawatomi signifies "the people of the place of fire," or "nation of fire." The first authentic account of these Indians is that given by Jean Nicollet, who found them in 1634 living with the Winnebago and some other tribes about the Green Bay. Thirty years later the main body of the tribe inhabited the islands about the mouth of the Green Bay, The Jesuit Relation for 1671 says: Four nations make their abode here, namely: "Those who bear the name of Puans (Winnebago), who have always lived here as in their own country, and who have been reduced to almost nothing from being a very flourishing and populous people, having been exterminated by their enemies, the Ulini; the Pottawatomi, the Sauk and the Nation of the Fork also live here, but as strangers or foreigners, driven by the fear of the Iroquois from their own lands which are between the lake of the Hurons and the country of the mini."

This would indicate that the original habitat of the Pottawatomi was somewhere about the foot of Lake Huron. When the Relation of 1671 was written, the tribe was moving toward the south and east. Soon after Cadillac founded Detroit a Pottawatomi village was established near the mouth of the little stream afterward known as Knagg's Creek and within a short distance of the fort. An old French colonial memoir of 1707 says;.

"The village of the Pottowatamies adjoins the fort. The women do all the work. The men belonging to that nation are well clothed, lite our domiciliated Indians at Montreal; their entire occupation is hunting and dress; they make use of a great deal of vermilion, and in winter wear buffalo robes richly painted and in summer either blue or red cloth. They play a good deal at la crosse in summer, twenty or more on each side. Their bat is a sort of little racket and the ball with which they play is made of very heavy wood, somewhat larger than the balls used at tennis; when playing they are entirely naked, except a breech cloth and moccasins on their feet. Their bodies are completely painted with all sorts of colors. Some, with white clay, trace white lace on their bodies, as if on all the seams of a coat, and at a distance it would be apt to be taken for silver lace. They play very deep and often. The bets sometimes amount to more than eight hundred livres. They set up two poles and commence the game from the center; one party propels the ball from one side and the other from the opposite, and whichever reaches the goal wins. This is fine recreation and worth seeing. * * * The women cultivate Indian corn, beans, peas, squashes and melons, which come up very fine."

The Pottawatomi were the loyal friends of the French, but after the French and Indian war they joined Pontiac in his conspiracy for the destruction of the English posts. Their burial place at Detroit was on the tract later known as the Brevoort farm. In 1771 they granted part of their lands near Detroit to Isadore Chene and Robert Navarre, on condition that the two white men would keep in order the resting places of their dead.

In the Revolutionary war they fought on the side of the British, with whom they had made friends, and at the council of Greenville in 1795 they notified the Miami that they intended to move down upon the Wabash River, which they did soon afterward, in spite of the protests of the Miami, who claimed practically the whole "Wabash Valley, At the beginning of the Nineteenth Century the Pottawatomi were in possession of the country around the head of Lake Michigan from the Milwaukee River to the Grand River in Michigan, extending eastward across the Lower Peninsula, southwest over a large part of Northern Illinois, and southward to the Wabash River, Within this territory they had about fifty populous villages.

In the War of 1812 they again took the side of the British, which was their undoing. Between the years 1836 and 1841 they ceded their lands in Indiana, Illinois and Michigan to the United States and in 1846 removed to a reservation in what is now the State of Kansas.

Morgan divides the Pottawatomi into fifteen elans or gentes, the most important of which were the wolf, bear, beaver, fox and thunder. Early writers describe them as "docile and affectionate" in their relations with the white people. Polygamy was common among them when the first missionaries visited the tribe. In their mythology they had two spirits — Kitchemonedo, the Great Spirit, and Matchemonedo, the Evil Spirit— and they were sun worshipers to some extent. Their principal annual festival was the "Feast of Dreams," at which dog meat was served as the leading dish.


Although these two tribes are nearly always spoken of as one, they were originally separate and distinct organizations, both belonging to the Algonquian family. After many migrations and vicissitudes they united and became one of the powerful Indian nations of the Mississippi Valley.

The Sac (Indian name Sauk or Osa-ki-wug) signifies "people of the outlet." Their earliest known habitat was on the western shore of Lake Huron, where they were found by missionaries in 1616 associated with other tribes. They are first mentioned as an independent tribe in the Jesuit Relation of 1640. In 1667 Father Claude Allouez found them a populous tribe with no fixed dwelling place and describes them as "more savage than all the other tribes I have met. * * * If they find a person in an isolated place they will kill him, especially if he be a Frenchman, for they cannot endure the sight of the whiskers of the European."

The tribe was divided into thirteen gentes, viz: Bass, hear, eagle, elk, fox, great lynx, grouse, sea, sturgeon, swan, thunder, trout and wolf. From the country about Saginaw Bay they retreated toward the northwest, by way of Mackinaw, and thence southwest to Green Bay, and in 1721 their principal village was near the month of the Pox River in Wisconsin.

Concerning the Fox nation. Dr. 'William Jones of the United States Bureau of Ethnology, says that a hunting party of these Indians was met by some French, who asked to what tribe they belonged and was told the Mesh-kwa-ki-hug. The name being difficult of pronunciation, the French gave them the name of Renard, or Fox. The Indian name, Mesh-kwa-ki-hug, means "people of the red earth." It was often shortened into Musquakie. The Chippewa called them Utagamig, which the white people corrupted into Outagamie. The Chippewa name means "people of the other shore," and from this fact Warren, in his "History of the Ojibwa Indians," draws the conclusion that the earliest known habitat of the Fox was on the southern shore of Lake Superior until driven out by the Chippewa.

There is a striking similarity in the social organization of the Sac and Pox nations, in that each had thirteen gentes, the names of which were almost identical. The Pox clans were the bass, bear, big lynx, buffalo, eagle, elk, fox, pheasant, sea, sturgeon, swan, thunder and potato. The celebrated chief Black Hawk was a member of the thunder clan of the Sac tribe, but was recognized as chief by the Fox after the two had formed their confederacy.

Incited by the English, the Pox Indians became the enemies of the French and made several attacks upon the French posts. In 1733, after one of their forays, Sieur de Villiers was sent against them with an armed force from Canada. They sought refuge in the Sac village on the Fox River. De Villiers demanded the surrender of the fugitives, but it was refused and in the fight that ensued the Indians lost twenty-nine and the French fifteen, De Villiers being one of the killed. The Ottawa and Chippewa, allies of the French, lost respectively nine and six of their warriors. Marquis de Beauharnois, then governor of Canada, sent more troops into the Indian country. It was at this time that the Sac and Fox confederacy was formed, the allied tribes retreating southward to the Rock River Valley in Illinois.