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Issue 721 July 5, 2009
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What Was Happening in Michigan in 1776 When the Nation Was Born?

A Tale of Native American Independence You May Not Have Heard

July 5, 2009       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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The movie 1776 was on the night of July 4, and it remains a great flick.

Hard to believe the movie was made in 1957, a couple years after I graduated from high school.

While John Adams, Ben Franklin and the other founding fathers were cavorting in Philadelphia, nobody was doing anything here in Bay City, or in the area that would become Bay City some 50-60 years later.

But think about this: what do we know about what was happening where we live, in Michigan, at the time of the nation's founding?

Detroit had been founded in 1701, so there was some activity here -- at least within 100 miles of Bay City.

What do you think was going on here in 1776, I asked my wife, Dolores.

Nothing, she said candidly.

Trees obviously covered the land.

Indians were everywhere.

Probably no settlers had arrived, but the British were ensconced at Mackinac Island and had sent to the Indians here for corn earlier in that century.

So something was going on: the Indians were growing corn here.

The Sauks were long gone, massacred as the story goes, in the early 1640s. The Chippewa, Ottawa and Pottowatomi who succeeded them were still fearful of Sauks and the entire Saginaw Valley was considered haunted.

Col. A. H. Gansser, an early historian, gives some insight into the earliest days here: "This was one of the most thickly populated hunting grounds of the aborigines.

"What is known today of the great tribe of the Sauks. who have given the title to the Saginaw bay, river and valley, is derived entirely from the traditions handed down by the Indians of this part of the state from generation to generation."

The Sauks main village lay on the ridge extending along the west bank of the river for about five miles from the bay, according to Put-ta-gua-sa-mine, a century-old Chippewa chief living in a shack on the bay shore.

Other tribes combined to exterminate the Sauks and make this area a common hunting ground, the old chief told local pioneers.

"On a ridge south of Lafayette, the Sauks made a desperate stand, and a number of mounds have been uncovered where skulls and skeletons , thrown together indiscriminately, attest that hundreds fought and died here and were buried in common graves.

"So passed the Sauks from the valley and the territory they loved so well," concluded Col. Gansser.

All this was about 135 years before Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and the other founders gathered in Philadelphia to set the common concord.

If they had won the Revolutionary War, the British were intent on making Michigan into a huge Indian Reservation.

Of course that would be begging the question since it already was Indian land. So the designation of "Indian Territory" went to Oklahoma under the sponsorship of President Andrew Jackson in the 1830s.

About that time Gen. Lewis Cass came to Saginaw and negotiated a treaty that gave 6 million acres to the government for $3,000 in silver down and $1,000 a year "forever."

Forever lasted 18 years and a new deal put the Chippewa on six townships of apparently worthless cutover land in Isabella County. They turned nothing into something when about 25 years ago they opened a casino.

The remnants of the unfortunate Sauks who once lived here in primitive glory are in Oklahoma, along with all the other tribes sent there in the Trail of Tears.

The Chippewa and other tribes living here, who were supposed to have been exiled to Oklahoma, are still here, still free and still prospering. Perhaps more than anyone could have every imagined.

And that is our Independence Day story of the Bay City and Saginaw Valley area.

My advice to you is: grow corn -- who knows what might happen?###

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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at

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