The Mound Builders ( Hopewell
) were the pre-historic inhabitants of southwestern Michigan. They were
all of one race living in community groups and maintaining trails for travel.
These same trails were later used by the Indians and still later by the
pioneers. The trail from Detroit now is to the Mississippi probably crossed
Kalamazoo. This pre-historic race built many mounds, hence the name 'Mound
Builders' - the one one in the Bronson Park, so familiar to us all, being much
smaller than most of those found further south. In addition to the
mounds, early American Indians left other earthworks in southwestern Michigan
and north central Indiana, what settlers called "Indian Gardens", although
there is no proof the earthworks had anything to do with agriculture.
Large garden beds were found in the Indian
Fields, now the Kalamazoo airport as noted in a historical marker:
This locality, known as Indian
Fields, was the site of a large Potawatomi village. The tract included
about four square miles. The early white settlers
found here fine examples of the famed garden beds. A short distance
southwest of this terminal a tribal burial
ground was located. Here during the War of 1812 the families of warriors
fighting with the British against the
Americans were concentrated, and American soldiers are said to have been
held as prisoners.
A bronze marker on the southwest corner of Prairie
Home Cemetery in Climax:
||WHEN THE FIRST
SETTLERS ARRIVED IN CLIMAX THERE STOOD ON THIS SPOT AN ELLIPTICAL
PREHISTORIC EARTHWORK. THE LENGTH WAS THREE HUNDRED AND THIRTY FEET AND
THE BREADTH TWO HUNDRED AND TEN FEET. IT WAS SURROUNDED BY A DITCH OF
THREE DEEP AND TWELVE FEET WIDE AND WAS KNOWN TO THE PIONEERS AS THE
FORT. ERECTED BY THE CLIMAX WOMENS STUDY CLUB 1924
More Information about the Mound and Garden Bed
Diagrams of ancient garden beds found in Kalamazoo
during archeological excavation of mounds. -
Michigan's mysterious Indian mounds by Vivian M. Baulch, Detroit
Garden-Beds in History of Kalamazoo
County, Michigan, with illustrations and biographical sketches
of its prominent men and pioneers. By Samuel W. Durant.
Philadelphia, Everets, 1880
"These curious evidences of prehistoric occupation do not appear
to have been plentifully found outside Michigan.
They are mentioned in notices of antiquities of Wisconsin
and we believe, have been found sparingly in Indiana.
They abounded in the valleys of the Grand, St. Joseph, and
Kalamazoo Rivers, and covered sometimes hundreds of acres. They have been quite appropriately named "garden beds," from
a real or fancied resemblance to the garden beds of the present
day. They are of
various forms, - rectangular, triangular, circular, elliptical,
and complex, - and evince, in many instances, a remarkable degree
of mechanical skill, as well as cultivated as cultivated taste.
A large number of those observed in Kalamazoo County are laid out
in regular parallelograms, precisely as a gardener of modern days
arranges his beds for onions and beets.
The questions naturally arise, Were they actually garden
beds for the cultivation of vegetables?
Could they have been extensive plats where flowers were
raised for the supply of some great city on Lake Michigan or in
the Ohio Valley? Were
they botanical gardens" The accompanying diagrams illustrate some
of the varieties which were found in various parts of Kalamazoo
County. They have all, or nearly all, disappeared under the white
Henry R. Schoolcraft was probably the first writer to give
accounts and descriptions of these peculiar relics of an earlier
race in Michigan. They were mentioned in a French work as early as 1748.
Schoolcraft gave drawings and careful descriptions of them in 1827
and speaks of them as "forming by far the most striking
characteristic antiquarian monuments of this district of the
In 1839, John T. Blois, a citizen of this State, published in the
"Gazetteer of Michigan" detailed descriptions, with descriptions,
of one variety of the beds.
Bela Hubbard, Esq., of Detroit, divides the beds into eight, which
he describes as follows:
"1. Wide convex beds, in parallel rows, without paths, composing
independent plats. Width of beds, twelve feet; paths, none;
length, seventy-four to one hundred and fifteen feet.
2. Wide convex beds, in parallel rows, separated by paths of same
width, in independent plats.
Width of bed, twelve to sixteen feet; paths, the same; length
seventy-four to one hundred and thirty-two feet.
Wide parallel beds, separated by narrow paths, arranged in
a series of plats longitudinal to each other.
Width of beds, fourteen feet; paths two feet; length, one
Long, narrow beds, separated by narrower paths, and
arranged in a series of longitudinal plats, each plat divided from
the next by semicircular heads.
Width of beds, five feet;
paths, one foot and a half;
length one hundred feet; height eighteen inches.
5. Parallel beds, arranged in plats similar to
Class 4, but divided by circular heads.
Width of beds, six feet; paths, four feet; length, twelve to forty
feet; height, eighteen inches.
6. Parallel bed, of varying widths and lengths, separated by
narrow paths, and arranged in plats of two or more, at right
angles ( north, south, east, and west ); to the plats adjacent.
Width of beds,
five to fourteen feet; paths, one to two feet; length, twelve to
thirty feet; height, eight inches.
7. Parallel beds, of uniform width and length, with narrow paths,
arranged in plats or blocks, and single beds, at varying angles. Width of beds,
six feet; paths two feet; length, about thirty feet;
height ten to twelve inches.
Wheel shaped plats, consisting of a circular bed, with beds
of uniform shape and
size, radiating therefrom, all separated by narrow paths. Width of
beds, six to twenty feet: paths, one foot; length, fourteen to
The area covered by these cultivated plats varied, in different
localities, from five to as many as three hundred acres. *
These remarkable gardens
were found by the first settlers about Schoolcraft, on
Prairie Ronde, on Tolands Prairie, near Galesburg; on the burr oak
plains of Kalamazoo village, and elsewhere.
Henry Little, Esq., states that they covered as many as ten acres
lying to the south of the Kalamazoo mound.
Among these last were specimens of wheel form.
They were overgrown with burr oak trees, of the same size as those scattered over the surrounding
On the farm of J. T. Cobb, section 7, town of Schoolcraft, the
beds were quite numerous as late as 1860.
There must have been fifteen acres of them on his land.
The sets would
average five or six beds each.
Neighbors put the number of acres covered with them in
1830, within the space of a mile, at one hundred. +
Hon. E. Lakin Brown corroborates these statememts.
The circular one in the diagram is from information furnished by
Henry Little and A. T. Prouty of Kalamazoo.
The triangular pointed one is from a drawing by H. M.
Shafter, of Galesburg.
Roswell Ransom, James R. Cumings, and A, D. P. Van Buren have also
contributed interesting information upon this subject.
The diagrams are copied from the American Antiquarian for
April, 1878, in an article contributed by Bela Hubbard, Esq.
Mr. Van Buren furnishes some account of
the beds first
found on section 13, Comstock township,
on lands purchased by C. C. White for William Toland, the
first settler in the township.
The beds in this locality covered some five acres, and were
of the same general description as those before spoken of, and
included parallelograms, circles, and triangles. Mr. Van Buren says J. R. Cumings remembers plowing some of
these gardens, and says that the beds were so high above the
intervening paths that the plow in crossing the latter ran out of
the ground. He
estimates the height from bottom of paths to top of bed, or ridge,
at eighteen inches.
The antiquity of these garden beds is a question about which there
are different opinions.
They were found in several instances covering the ancient
mounds, an from this circumstance some writers have arrived at the
conclusion that they were the work of a people who occupied the
country long after the
Mound Builders had
hypothesis may be the correct one, but is not necessarily so.
There are people living today who have seen the burial
places of white men, if not cultivated at least abandoned and
turned into pasture lands for sheep and cattle.
The burial ground of the Strang Mormons at
Voree. ++ Walworth Co., Wis., was occupied, in 1873, as a barnyard.
Even if the mounds were the sacred burial places of those
who erected them, its quite possible that within a few generations
they may have have been occupied for purposes of agriculture, in
common with the surrounding fields.
But it is quite within the bounds of probability that the
people who cultivated the garden beds
may have known as little of the builders of the mounds as
the red Indians who succeeded them.
Statement of Schoolcraft and Blois
+ Hubbard. The first
diagram represent this class.
It was furnished by Messrs. Prouty and Cobb.
++ A Mormon colony planted by James J. Strang after the death of
Joseph Smith at Nauvoo. Illinois, about 1845.
Both classes of antiquities date far beyond the knowledge of the
savages, and were evidently the works of a civilized race.
In examine human skulls taken from mounds near Spring Lake, Ottawa
County, Michigan, Professor
W. D. Gunning advanced the opinion, from the forms of the skulls,
the accompanying relics ( copper hatchets, needles, broken
pottery, etc. ). And from other evidence, that these remains date
back two thousand years or more.
Mr. Bela Hubbard advances the opinion, in reference to the garden
beds, that they may have been cultivated until within three or
four centuries of the present time, as that period would have
sufficed for the
growth of the largest
forest trees found upon them.
It is altogether probable that the mounds were first
constructed, and their age is not overestimated by Professor
Nothing resembling the garden beds has ever been found, or
certainly ever described, in the region where the mound
building architecture reached its culmination,
though the same system may have been in vogue at a much
earlier day. The
Michigan people may have belonged to a later period,
or they may have been a colony from the central region of
the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers."
to the topics heading list
AMERICAN INDIANS IN KALAMAZOO
Following the Hopewell, reports of the earliest European
explorers and missionaries tell of intermittent Sioux presensce in southwest
Michigan followed by the
and lastly by the
The name Mascouten apparently comes from a Fox word meaning
"little prairie people." In its various forms: Mascoutin, Mathkoutench,
Musketoon, Meadow Indians (George Rogers Clark's journal), and possibly
Rasaouakoueton (Nicollet). Aside from Nicollet, the earliest mention of the
Mascouten was by the French which used their Huron name, Assistaeronon
(Assitaehronon, Assitagueronon, Attistae) which translates as Fire Nation
(Nation of Fire).
Linguistic affiliation and early French accounts indicate
that, prior to contact, the Mascouten occupied the southwestern part of Lower
Michigan. Attacked by the Ottawa and Neutral tribes in the 1640s and the
Iroquois during the decade following, the Mascouten by 1660 had abandoned
their Michigan homeland and joined other refugee Algonquin tribes in
Map showing tribal distribution in 1750
At the time of the first European
contact, the Pottawatomie, a branch of the greater Algonquin people, were the
predominant Indian nation in Kalamazoo and western Michigan.
According to the online Indian
were engaged in agriculture:
originally provided for themselves as hunter/gatherers because they were
too far north for reliable agriculture. Like the closely-related Ojibwa
and Ottawa, their diet came from wild game, fish, wild rice, red oak
acorns, and maple syrup, but the Pottawatomie were adaptive. After being
forced by the Beaver Wars (1630-1700) to relocate to Wisconsin, they
learned farming from the Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo, and Winnebago. When the
French arrived at Green Bay, Pottawatomie women were tending large
fields of corn, beans, and squash. They even took their agriculture a
step further and in time were known for their medicinal herb gardens.
Agriculture was an extension of the women's role as gathers, but other
than clearing the fields, the men remained hunters and warriors.
1660 the Pottawatomie were agricultural, and their movement south (to
the Kalamazoo and SW Michigan area) after 1680 was most likely motivated
by a desire for better soil and a longer growing season. Other things
changed as European contact continued. Besides the switch to metal tools
and firearms, the Pottawatomie by the 1760s were abandoning birch bark
canoes for horses.."
Indians of Kalamazoo - Early Letters
page for a
description of how the Indians interacted with the settlers and how the Indians
Michigan Indian Tribes
to the topics heading list
LA SALLE AND THE FIRST EUROPEANS
According to Willis Dunbar in
Kalamazoo and How It Grew, "There is a strong possibility that the first
white man to look upon the land and waters within Kalamazoo County was the noted
French explorer, Robert Cavalier, Seiur de La Salle. The date was was late
March or early April in the year 1680." La Salle had been exploring lands
around Lake Michigan and decided to return to Canada by crossing the lower
peninsula rather than canoeing around it. A 1999 Michigan History magazine
article indicates La Salle started from Fort Miami (St. Joseph), proceeded up
the Paw Paw River and entered western Kalamazoo County at Prairie Ronde. His
small party traveled northeast making use of the pin oak forests that were
relatively clear of
undergrowth, the "oak openings." Crossing the
Kalamazoo River with care
to avoid a raiding party of Indians from western New York who had come to attack
tribes, La Salle reached the Gull Prairie and progressed into Calhoun County and
his final destination at Niagara Falls.
the topics heading list
FUR TRADERS AND TRAPPERS
Trappers Return, George Caleb Bingham, Detroit Institute of Arts
The earliest European residents of the county were fur traders who had trading
posts along the Kalamazoo River sometime before the War of 1812. "Though
long a gathering place for Indians and a place for Indians and a casual place
for whites in earlier years, Kalamazoo's place in history dates from 1823 when
Neumaiville erected his
on the present site of Riverside Cemetery." - See
the topics heading list
RIX ROBINSON, FUR TRADER
By the 1820's, traders such as Rix Robinson were firmly established in
Kalamazoo. Volume 11 of the Michigan Pioneer Society Collections contains
recollections of Rix Robinson (in edited form below):
"At the time that Rix
Robinson settled upon the Grand River of the territory of Michigan,
sixty four years ago, there was not a neighbor towards the west (except,
possibly, one Indian trader) nearer than the Mississippi river; nor to
the north within two hundred miles; nor to the eastward within one
hundred and twenty miles; nor to the south (except at his own Kalamazoo
station) within one hundred miles. If there was no other reason for it
than this, it would be very proper that some attention should be given
to the preservation of his memory, but when we add that it was largely
through his influence and efforts that the Indians of western Michigan
entered into the treaty by which they sold their lands north of Grand
River, in this state, to the government, for a fair compensation; and
that they and the white settlers lived together so peaceably that our
early history presents none of the bloody scenes that disfigure the
early history of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana; and the further facts of
his participation in the early administration of affairs in the
government of this state, and his prominence in the ranks of the then
dominant party, placing within his reach the highest office in the gift
of the people of this state, had he desired it, urgently call for a
sketch of him, while yet the material for it is within our reach, for
within a short time it will be lost forever. So I have deemed it proper
to lay before you to-day what I have learned of it mostly from his
associates, friends and relatives who survive him, and from a personal
acquaintance with him of nearly twenty years.
Rix Robinson was the second son of Edward Robinson, born in Preston,
Conn., and Eunice Robinson, born at the same place. His birthplace was
at Richmond, Berkshire county, Mass., where his father, for many years,
carried on his trade of blacksmithing, and the cultivating of a very few
acres of land. Rix was born on the 28th day of August, 1789, but at
about the beginning of this century his father removed, with his family,
to the fertile Genesee country...
He had, and fully availed himself of, the advantages of an excellent
common school and academical training at a somewhat locally famous
academy in Cayuga county. At the age of about nineteen years he
commenced the study of law ...and then was admitted to practice law in
Samuel Phelps, a neighbor living half a mile away, had received the
appointment of a sutler to some of the troops then massed on the
Canadian frontier, and not having enough capital, and needing a bright,
energetic, and active assistant, proposed to Robinson to go into
partnership with him and furnish a 1000 dollars, a very large sum of
money in those days.
He and his partner
continued this sutler business after the close of the war. Without
receiving its pay their regiment was ordered to Detroit. Nearly all of
its members were largely indebted to them and they followed so as to be
present at paying off time, and receive their dues.
The regiment was
ordered to Mackinac. They followed on the brig Hunter, arriving there in
November, 1815. They received the appointment of post sutlers, and
remained until the troops were ordered to Green Bay, where they remained
during the winter of 1816 and 1817, after which the troops were
dispersed in detachments without receiving their back pay. A part of
them were ordered to Dubuque and a part to Mackinac; the partners
separated, keeping with the largest detachments. Their time expired and
without being paid and formally mustered out they, as it were, disbanded
and returned to their homes, leaving the sutlers minus their goods and
their pay, and with only their promises, which were in but few instances
kept. Messrs. Phelps and Robinson found that all their profits for
several years of labor, and a considerable portion of their capital were
Mr. Robinson was much
chagrined over this condition of things, and was aware that process was
out against him at home for the penalty of non-appearance to do military
duty, a judgment on which would absorb the balance of his means, and
leave him indebted besides; with that firmness and determination that
was a marked trait with him, he concluded to go into the Indian trading
business, if possible, and so suggested to Mr. Phelps, who readily
acceded to the idea. Both of them had fully investigated it at Mackinac
and Green Bay through curiosity, and become well acquainted with the
good and bad qualities of furs and their values and the best modes and
places of marketing them.
They selected each a place to trade at with the Indians, in, I think,
Wisconsin, invested their cash and their goods in goods fitted for the
Indian market and incurred some considerable indebtedness.
In the spring they
rendezvoused together at Mackinac, disposed of their furs, etc., and
paid their debts, and found that Mr. Robinson had made quite handsomely,
considering the difficulties that surrounded him, and that Mr. Phelps
had lost about an equal amount. This unlooked for result surprised them,
and resulted in a dissolution, Mr. Phelps returning eastward.
John Jacob Astor had become acquainted with Mr. Robinson before this at
Mackinac, and had observed him and his personal appearance, and his
ways, and had been favorably impressed. At this time Mr. Astor was
really the American Fur Company...
It occurred to Mr. Astor that Robinson, who was then a large, powerful
young man of about 30 years of age, over six feet tall, of splendid
physical presence, apparently a courageous person, somewhat acquainted
with the Indian language and habits, and a little acquainted with Indian
trading and much so with men, a well informed young man, might succeed
in holding the post... Acting on this he made an offer to Mr.
Robinson to go and stay through the season of 1818 and 1819, for a given
sum, and as his own capital was insufficient, Mr. Robinson gladly
He was fitted out and the stock and himself transported to the given
point, by the employees of the company, and then he was left to remain
there without any companion until the employees should come, in the
following June, to take him and the results of his winter's trading to
the grand rendezvous of the American fur company, at Mackinac.
The business of the post resulted so well that when his furs, skins and
peltries were carried in to Mackinac, they were received with great
surprise. Mr. Astor was not there. Mr. Stuart sought to keep him in
their employ, but Mr. Robinson had resolved to be his own master.
Mr. Robinson drew all of his funds out, went to St. Louis and bought a
quantity of tobacco and some supplies and went into business again as an
independent Indian trader, and pursued it among them during the season
... in 1821 his position changed; he was no longer a mere Indian trader,
but became a limited partner in the American Fur Company, ... Mr. Astor
was at Mackinac, and from there sent to Mr. Robinson a request to meet
him at Mackinac, and then offered him the chance to go to the Grand,
Kalamazoo, and Muskegon rivers, making his headquarters on the Grand.
Mr. Robinson accepted the offer and at once closed up his post near the
mouth of the Illinois river, and came over to the mouth of the Grand
river,... He selected a lovely site on the bank of the river at a
point from which he could readily penetrate into the remote interior
parts of the lower peninsula by means of the Grand river and its
numerous long tributaries, navigable for the canoe and the Mackinac
boats, as his permanent home. For he had now become so completely weaned
from civilized life as to have no desire to return to it. He also
selected and married according to the Indian customs,
Pee-miss-a-quot-o-quay (flying cloud woman), the daughter of the
principal chief of the Pere Marquette Indians, in September, 1821. By
her he had one child, now the Rev. John Robinson, an exemplary Methodist
missionary among the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of the state.
He established other posts at Flat river, at Muskegon and up the
Kalamazoo a few miles from its mouth.
When Michigan became a state in 1836, Mr. Robinson and all other Indian
traders foresaw that the business of Indian trading must soon close, and
he resolved to turn his attention to farming and his mercantile and land
matters at Grand Haven, and go out of the business except what little
might come to Ada station.
Robinson settled up the affairs of the different posts in his charge and his
accounts with the company, closing out the Kalamazoo post in 1837...
back to the topics heading
Mr. Robinson had as early as 1835 entered with all of his energy into
the matter of turning emigration to western Michigan, ...inciting a large
emigration from that portion of western New York...
Mr. Robinson was largely instrumental in securing the making of the
treaty of Washington with the Indians in 1836 accompanying them to Washington
for that purpose. By that treaty more than half of the area of the lower
peninsula was ceded by the Indians to the general government, for a full, fair
In connection with his going to Washington with the Indian chiefs, who
declined to go without Mr. Robinson, who went at the solicitation of the
government, on its expense,...
At the formation of the state he was appointed one of the first board of
commissioners of internal improvements, who were to expend the five million
loan, which the state had made for the formation of a grand railroad system, a
grand canal system, and a grand system of river improvements, and, for several
years gave almost his entire personal attention and services to the performance
of its duties.
His intellect was strong and clear; it was only the physical body that
was worn out and ceased to be the wrap of the soul January 13, 1875. No
monument marks the place where this remarkable man's remains repose, on the
crest of a hill at Ada, overlooking the river he so loved, and the home of more
than fifty years of his life."
OLD TRADING POSTS
In Kalamazoo and How It Grew, Willis Dunbar quotes an early
history of Kalamazoo that describes one of the old trading posts:
"The grounds upon which it stood, and
from whence a beautiful view of the river is obtained, are now within the
enclosure of Riverside Cemetery. From the hill above it the first glimpse
of this lovely valley and its fair surroundings met the eyes of the earliest
pioneers... It was the home and burial place of the most famous of Indian
chiefs. It was here the trails all met for the river crossing, and for
some time it was the fording place for the pioneers..."
Reminiscences of Kalamazoo, 1832 -1833 by Jesse Turner
for more about trading post and trade on the Kalamazoo River.
FIRST SETTLER, BAZEL HARRISON
The first white settlement was made on Prairie Ronde, in the southwestern
corner of the county, in 1828.
According to American
Biographical History of Eminent and Self-Made Men with Portrait Illustrations
by Steel, Volumes I-II quotes a tribute paid to
Bazel Harrison, the first settler, upon his death:
" ...late of Schoolcraft, the first
white settler of Kalamazoo County, and, at the time of his death,--which
occurred August 30, 1874,--its oldest inhabitant, was born March 15,
1771, in Frederick County, Maryland, thirty miles from Baltimore. He
reached, therefore, the advanced age of one hundred and three years,
five months, and fifteen days. His ancestors were a remarkably hardy and
prolific race. His paternal grandfather, William Harrison, was a native
of Scotland; and his grandmother, of Wales. They came to this country
early in the eighteenth century, and settled in Berkeley County,
Virginia. There, in 1730, William Harrison, Jun., the father of the
subject of this sketch, was born. He was twice married, and had
twenty-three children, of whom Bazel was the twentieth,--the third by
his second wife, Worlenda Davis. Benjamin Harrison, a brother of William
Harrison, Jun., was one of the signers of the Declaration of
Independence; he was the father of William H. Harrison, who was,
therefore, first cousin to Bazel. When Bazel Harrison was nine years
old, his parents removed to a farm near Winchester, Virginia, where they
remained five years, and then settled in Pennsylvania, near Greencastle,
Franklin County. Here, at the age of fourteen, he went to work in a
distillery, where he remained until he left the State. He was steady,
industrious, and thorough; but had scarcely any opportunities for study,
having attended school but three months in his life. He learned to read
and write, however; and was not in any way at a disadvantage as compared
with those about him. At the age of nineteen, he became engaged to a
neighbor's daughter, Martha Still-well; but, as their marriage was
opposed by her mother, the courtship terminated, March 17, 1790, in an
elopement, in which the lady's father was an able assistant. They
remained in Franklin County for three or four years, during which time
Mr. Harrison cast his first vote,--for Washington, for his second term.
From there he removed across the Alleghany (sic) Mountains to Washington
County, where he remained until 1810. In that year he went with his
family, now numbering eight children, to Kentucky, opposite Cincinnati,
Ohio, where he was engaged two years in the distillery business, During
this time General Harrison gained his victory over Tecumseh, at
Tippecanoe; and, at the breaking out of the second war with England,
being appointed to the command of the north-western frontier, he engaged
his cousin Bazel to work his farm, at Millbrook, a few miles below
Cincinnati, on the Ohio. Here Mr. Harrison remained until the close of
the war, when he bought a farm of three hundred acres, near Springfield,
Ohio, on which he lived for ten or twelve years. During that time there
was much confusion of land titles, growing out of what were known as
"military claims;" and, after Mr. Harrison had bought three such claims,
in order to perfect his title, and a fourth was presented, for which
seven hundred dollars was asked, he lost patience, and determined to
emigrate. Stimulated by stories of the wonderful richness of the
Territory of Michigan, and being fond of adventure and well-fitted for
pioneer life, he decided to remove to Michigan,--the most remote, and
then least known, of the lands of the great North-west. He accordingly
gathered a party, consisting chiefly of his own family, and, September
20, 1828, began the journey. After leaving Fort Wayne, then the limits
of civilization, they traveled laboriously through the unbroken forests
of Northern Indiana, until they reached the boundary of the Territory
they sought. Then, after prospecting by scouting parties for a few days,
they found the beautiful Oak Openings, called by the Indians
"Waweoscotang,"--Round Fire Plain. Here they camped, November 5, six
weeks after leaving Springfield, Ohio. They soon met Saginaw, Chief of
the Pottawatomies, with whom they became very friendly. Mr. Harrison was
always a favorite with the Indians, as well on account of his commanding
presence, as for his unswerving integrity and kindness of heart. The
little settlement grew steadily, the necessary hardships being easily
endured by the ready helpfulness which comes of common need. Mr.
Harrison was the patriarch of the little world. Before the organization
of the Territorial courts and lesser tribunals, he was the arbiter of
all disputes among the settlers; and his decisions were always felt to
be just. He was chosen Justice of the Peace; and was afterwards Judge of
the County Court, which position he held until 1834. He was naturally a
peacemaker; and it is said that he would go half a day's journey to
prevent a quarrel. Many anecdotes, illustrating this trait of
character, are related of him, among which is the following: "A settler
had loaned a neighbor a wagon, which, not being in very good condition,
gave way in some part while being used by the borrower. The question
arose, who should repair the damage,--out of which grew hard feelings
and the prospect of a lawsuit. The parties were induced, however, to
submit the case to the unofficial arbitration of Judge Harrison. After
hearing the statement of each, without a word, he arose, went into his
barn, and, returning, replaced the broken part with a piece of wood
selected from a supply which he had brought with him from Ohio. Of
course, each party was willing to pay him for the piece replaced, but he
refused." In 1830 he was one of those who formed the first Board of
Commissioners of Highways, which, in a new country, embraces important
and laborious duties; upon them devolved the task of laying nearly all
the roads and building the bridges in the entire southern half of the
county. In politics, Mr. Harrison was always active. He voted for
Washington for his second term, and at every Presidential election after
that, except in the years 1828 and 1872: the first of these being the
year of his removal to Michigan; and the second, one in which he was
prevented by illness. From the time of the Presidency of Andrew Jackson
until 1860, he was a Democrat,--having even voted against his cousin,
General Harrison, for President. In 1860, however, he voted for Lincoln.
His name appears as a delegate to almost every convention during his
active life. During the civil war he followed, with eager interest, the
fortunes of the Union army; and no one rejoiced in the final victory
more than he. Mr. and Mrs. Harrison had seventeen children; namely,
William, Sarah, Nathan, Shadrach, Ephraim, Joseph, Cynthia, Elias S.,
Worlenda, Bazel, Martha, Rachel, Amanda, John S., Almira, Diana, and an
infant who died unnamed. Of these, seven are still living; namely,
William, Nathan, Worlenda, Bazel, Martha, John S., and Almira. The
eldest, William,--now eighty-seven years old, and still strong and
well,--illustrates finely the hardihood of the Harrison family. During
the last few years of his life, Mr. Harrison remained closely at home.
His last appearance in public was at a meeting of the pioneers at
Schoolcraft, in September, 1873, when he remarked to the friends
gathered around him: "I am one hundred and two years old, and I have not
an enemy in the world." He was a man whose integrity was never
questioned; his word was relied upon to the fullest extent. He was,
moreover, of a strongly devotional nature, and lived an active and
religious life; for more than half a century a member of the Methodist
Church, his life gave evidence of the genuineness of his professions. In
the government of his family, he was strict in exacting obedience, but
never harsh; his words, which were few, were always heeded. At his
funeral, which occurred September 2, 1874, from the residence of his
son, John S. Harrison,--almost exactly on the spot where he had settled
forty-six years before,--about one hundred of his children and
grandchildren were present. There are now living of his descendants
about one hundred and fifty persons.
Also see the Kalamazoo Valley Museum magazine,
for an article about
A historical marker in Prairie Ronde
Township honors Kalamazoo County's first white settler, Bazel Harrison. It
also refers to his portrayal as the "Bee Hunter" in James Fenimore Cooper's
novel Oak Openings
( see the
James Fenimore Cooper Society website ) :
FIRST PERMANENT SETTLER ARRIVED IN KALAMAZOO COUNTY, NOVEMBER 5TH 1827 OR
1828 . GUIDED TO THIS SITE BY POTTOWATTOMIE CHIEF, SAGINAW AND BRAVES.
HE TRAVELED THROUGH TRACKLESS WILDERNESS WITH LOADED WAGONS DRAWN BY
HORSES AND ONE YOKE OF OXEN. WAS COMMISSIONED BY GOVERNOR CASS "ASSOCIATE
JUDGE OF THE COUNTY" IMMORTALIZED BY COOPER AS "BEE HUNTER" IN OAK
OPENINGS. DIED IN 1874 A CENTENARIAN.
"Oak Opening" or Oak Savannah
savannah is an open stand of widely spaced trees which, in the Midwest,
are usually oaks with an undergrowth of prairie wildflowers and grasses.
Oak savannahs were integral parts of the North American prairie before
European settlement. Black oaks and white oaks were present in many such
savannahs. Their sturdy tap roots also extend much deeper into the
ground than many of the plants around them.
savannahs were often cut for timber by wood-starved pioneers. But the
greatest threat to their survival has been the absence of fire, that
caused many of them to evolve into denser oak forests. Note: the use of
fire to thin the dense underbrush may account for the French traders
naming the Pottawatomie, "People of Fire".
The following is a brief excerpt from a
plot description of Oak Openings
by Warren S. Walker that appeared on the
James Fenimore Cooper Society website:
the action of this Indian story turns on physical combat and the
flight-and-pursuit motif, its theme is religious. The novel opens in July
of 1812 on the partly wooded prairies of western Michigan known as "oak
openings." Four men, all strangers to each other, meet in apparent amity
and talk together. Two of these men are Indians: Elksfoot, an elderly
Pottawattamie, and Pigeonswing, a young Chippewa. The other two are white
men: Benjamin Boden, a bee-hunter and honey merchant from Pennsylvania,
and Gershom Waring, an alcoholic trader from New England. In the story's
first episode Boden shows his three new acquaintances the scientific
method he practices for locating hives of wild bees. He uses simple
triangulation, releasing two honey-laden bees at points 1,600 feet apart
and then observing closely the direction of their respective flights;
where their lines of flight intersect, there will be their hive.
After chopping down the dead oak tree
containing several hundred pounds of honey, the men go to Ben Boden's
log cabin for dinner. As they are smoking their pipes and talking about
the possibility of another war between the Americans and the British,
Pigeonswing startles his three companions with the announcement that the
war has already started and that Fort Mackinaw has fallen to Canadian
The next morning before breakfast, Pigeonswing
draws Boden aside and warns him against Elksfoot, who, he claims, is in
the pay of the Canadian British. Then to prove his own pro-American
position, the Chippewa takes from his tobacco pouch a letter which he is
bearing from Detroit-based General Hull (Governor of the Michigan
Territory) to Captain Heald, the officer who commands the small garrison
at Chicago. After breakfast the two Indians depart, and Boden and Waring
proceed by canoe to a point along the river near the felled bee tree in
order to collect the honey. After driving off eight bears which are also
interested in the honey, they accomplish their mission and start back
down the Kalamazoo River to their cabins. Boden has decided to
move back to the settlements until the British-American conflict has
ended lest he be caught in the Indian hostilities that will inevitably
erupt during such a war. He hires Waring to help him take out of the
wilderness the large store of honey he has been accumulating for several
months. As they are about to proceed to Whiskey Centre, the Waring
shanty, they discover the shot and scalped body of Elksfoot propped in a
sitting position against a tree, and it seems likely that the
Pottawattamie died at the hands of the Chippewa just after the two
Indians had left Boden's cabin that morning. As their heavily laden
canoe floats down the river, Gershom Waring reveals how his drinking has
brought him down in life from a fairly prosperous New England merchant
to a frontier trader whose whole wealth now is two barrels of whiskey.
He had heard that in the West soldiers and Indians were paying high
prices for whiskey, so he had put all of his remaining funds in that
commodity and come to western Michigan accompanied by two virtuous and
loyal women, his wife, Dorothy (Dolly), and his sister, Margery
The final chapter is not an integral part of
the plot but rather a postlude to the action. The narrative method
changes from that of omniscient observer to that of autobiographical
commentator, and the coda is told from the author's point of view. It is
thirty-six years later when the author visits Michigan (now a place of
fertile farms and pastoral villages) to meet those characters of the
novel who are still alive. He comes as a result of receiving from Ben
Boden, now nearing seventy, a set of notes that constitute the memoirs
of his life in the oak openings. The author meets the elderly Ben and
Margery Boden, their daughter (an only child), and their two
granddaughters. He is also introduced to Pigeonswing during the
Chippewa's annual visit to the Boden homestead. Most impressive of all
those he meets is Peter, completely Christianized and dressed in
conventional clothes of the settlers."
Other historical markers in Schoolcraft
and Comstock honor James Fennimore Cooper's visit to Kalamazoo County. The
Kalamazoo Ladies Library contains a
stained glass window
based on Cooper's
Last of the Mohicans that reflects Cooper's belief
that the Indians held settler technology in great awe; it depicts Indians
with their simple canoe and tools, viewing a mill wheel and remarking "The
pale-faces are masters of the earth."