CHIEF OKEMOS - By Dr. F. N. Turner - Lansing

This writing is for the purpose of marking the last resting place of one who in the past was a chief of the Chippewas or Ojibway tribe of Indians.

This powerful tribe is nearly gone.

There are only a few members left.

Poverty and disease had scattered Okemos' family before his death.

A neighbor,—a white man, buried him on this spot on the banks of Grand River and placed some boulders on the grave to mark the place.

We look from this grave and we find no dwellings, no schoolhouse or church to tell us the occupancy of the Okemos family; saddest of all, we have no members of his tribe or family to join with us in paying this tribute to the dead.

A brief history of Chief Okemos would be interesting to those present and especially those who have spent the time and who have been to some expense in locating and marking this grave.

The writer of this biography has been handicapped by a very scant historical record.

The red race has nearly vanished and the only means we, their successors, have of finding anything about them are the old legends handed down from generation to generation by white traders and missionaries.

All the people of the red race have left are a few burial mounds.

Even these have been desecrated by the white race for relics and bones to display in our public museums.

The only way our children can remember this aboriginal race is by the Indian names they have given our rivers and other natural objects and the modified Indian names of our villages and pioneer cities.

Chief Okemos was born in Shiawassee County, this state, about 1775.

His father's camp at that time was on the banks of the Shiawassee river, at a point where today the Grand Trunk railroad crosses the river in Vernon Township.

Years ago there was a small railroad station at this crossing, named Knaggs' Station.

Okemos was a nephew to Pontiac, the powerful Chippewa chief, head of the "Five Indian Nations."

Some of my talks with the old pioneers gave me the impression that he was a Pottawatomie and his father belonged to that tribe.

In searching the pioneer history of our state I find he was a Chippewa.

His father was a simple hunter and trapper and so Okemos had no hereditary claim to the title of Chief.

He was ambitious to become famous so he entered the warrior ranks in early life.

Nature had endowed him with an iron constitution, sturdy frame and, for an Indian, an extra amount of courage.

He proved himself an able warrior on many a bloody battlefield.

When opportunity offered to become Chief, as it did when his kinsman Tecumseh formed his great conspiracy, by service in the British army, he renounced his allegiance to the United States and joined his relative.

Okemos has been blamed for this act but his ambition and obligations were stronger than loyalty to our government.

Some of the white soldiers under General Wayne did the same thing when they were placed in a similar position.

Okemos was sent with his cousin and 16 warriors to stop by ambuscade a detachment of United States cavalry at the battle of Sandusky.

He attacked twice his number, but the United States forces were reinforced and he and his band were hacked to pieces and every one left as dead on the battlefield.

The squaws in caring of the dead for burial found Okemos and his cousin severely wounded, but by careful nursing saved their lives.

His cousin was an invalid and cripple all his life, but the iron constitution of Okemos was so great, that in after years he could only make people believe he had been in this great battle by showing the saber scars on his head and body.

This service and courage gave him his title.

He was revered by the Chippewas as a great warrior and chief.

Okemos, in his old age, always wanted to be addressed as chief.

After he recovered from his wounds he was held in custody by United States authorities as a prisoner of war until General Cass pardoned him and sent him to an Indian reservation in Shiawassee County.

He and his relatives were afterwards placed on the reservation in Danby Township, Ionia County, Michigan.

This reservation is on the banks of the Grand River and contained 140 acres of land.

Okemos named it Me-shim-me-ne-con-ing.

He died in December, 1858, at the age of 83 years.

Okemos, before he became incapacitated by old age, was a great hunter and travelled all over Shiawassee, Clinton, Ingham, Jackson and Washtenaw counties.

His favorite route was along the banks of the Grand and its branches, the Red Cedar and Huron rivers in Michigan, and the Maumee River in Ohio.

The banks of these rivers were his hunting and trapping grounds while the rivers and lakes near them were their fishing preserves.

He had favorite places where he camped and planted corn.

One of these was on the bank of Red Cedar River, seven miles east of Lansing.

The village located on this camping ground was named after him.

Four miles east on the bank of the same river was another camping and planting ground.

The late J. H. Mullett who owned this farm where this planting ground was located, was acquainted with Okemos and his younger brothers played with the Okemos children.

Pioneers of Jackson, Ann Arbor, Dexter, Ypsilanti, all knew Okemos and his canoes on the Huron.

He and his band would come up Grand River to Lansing, then up the Red Cedar to Okemos, then up the west branch of the same to Cedar Lake, portage or carry canoes across to the head waters of the Huron to Lake Erie, then down the lake to Sandusky.

That old battleground near Sandusky had a fascination for this band as it does to every warrior, red or white.

When he was old, poverty and hunger compelled him to make a journey to Sarnia, Canada, to beg an annuity from the British government for service he rendered under Pontiac.

On one of these journeys his aged wife died and was buried among strangers.

Okemos was a pagan and lived and died in the Redman's belief of the Great Spirit and Happy Hunting Grounds.

His totem was the bear.

He was buried as a pagan chief in the pagan part of the Indian burying ground.