|THE 1819 SAGINAW CESSION and TREATY
The first mention of SAGINAW in an Indian treaty
between the United States and the Indian tribes appears to have been in the "Treaty
with the OTTOWAS, etc., 1807" made at Detroit in which "the United
States...further stipulates to furnish the said Indians with two blacksmiths, one to
reside with the Chippewas at Saguina". By this treaty, the Ottawas, Potawatamies,
Wyandots and Chippewas ceded to the United States all that territory in south-east
Michigan beginning from a point at "White Rock" on Lake Huron; thence
south-westerly to the Meridian Line; thence due south on the Meridian Line to the present
State line; thence easterly to the mouth of the Maumee River. This was the first large
land cession of Michigan territory, the forerunner of which had been the Treaty of
Greenville, in 1795, wherein the Indians had made great concessions in what was then the
Before the Treaty Meeting, or Council
Land hunger found expression in Saginaw Country very soon after the War of 1812, for it
became known that it was a center of Indian population, well watered and with easy access
on account of its converging streams---a hunters and fishermans paradise.
However, an agitation soon arose for a treaty, so in 1818 the government decided what it
would lay claim to and formulated a new treaty which was to give to the whites a vast
territory covering the most desirable portion of the unceded lands of Michigan.
General Cass, then Governor of the Northwest Territories, was
commissioned to enter into the necessary negotiations. General Cass was of good old New
England stock, his father having served through the Revolutionary War with a final rank of
captain, and later was commissioned as major in the Indian wars of the west. The General
was also Superintendent of Indian Affairs with headquarters at Detroit.
It was customary for the Indian chiefs to make journeys to Detroit, to
consult with the representative of the Great Father, and visit their friends and relatives
of that vicinity, so, long before the time set for the great council at Saginaw, with
Governor Cass, the members of the Indian bands whose council fires were at
Kah-Bay-Shay-Way-Ning (Saginaw) were duly notified of the coming event. They assembled at
that point for several days prior to the coming of the General, who had employed a person
named Louis Campau to go on ahead and erect the council-house and make other needed
preparations. It was variously estimated that from 1500-4000 Indians were assembled, but
the vagueness of these numbers was characteristic, for Saginaw was then a primitive
forest, and the temporary shelters of the Indians were scattered far up and down the
At the conference, four log buildings were placed end to end, to be
used by Cass and his staff as offices and quarters. The Council-House, which was merely a
bower constructed by laying poles from tree to tree in the crotches or held by withes, and
covered with boughs, was located south of the quarters. While Louis Campau was making
ready for the coming council, the Indians were busy with their own preparations. They were
continually arriving in their canoes; it must indeed have been a stirring scene to have
witnessed, camping along the river bank, their twinkling fires at night, together with the
sound of the drum as it accompanied the dance, lent a weird charm to the wild gathering
that remained fresh in his memory to his last days.
The Indians present were principally Chippewas, but there were also
Ottawas, and quite possibly a few Potowatomies. They had come from the headwaters of the
Cass, the Flint, the Shiawassee, and "the-River-that-follows-the-Shore"
otherwise the Tittabawassee. They had come in their canoes from the Kawkawlin, the Rifle
and the Au Gres, from the islands in the bay, from the lowlands of the "Thumb."
Here they had gathered to listen to the message of the Great Father. Did they realize that
they were about to bargain away their homes, their hunting grounds, their teeming rivers
and their wide domains? It was a tragic hour, but they realized it not. It was not only
the autumn of the year---it was the autumn of their wild, free days.
While these incidents were transpiring at Saguina, Cass was making
ready for his journey. However, at the outset Cass found himself in embarrassing
circumstances. By the treaty of 1807, the United States had obligated itself to pay to the
Chippewas $1666.66, but the Government had not, as has been very frequently the case, kept
faith with the Chippewas. Thus, General Cass wrote to the Secretary of War, James Calhoun,
in September 1819, as follows: " I shall leave here on Monday next to meet the
Indians at Saginaw, and endeavor, agreeable to your instructions, to procure a cession of
that valuable territory. It would be hopeless to expect a favorable result to the proposed
treaty, unless the annuities previously due are discharged. Under these circumstances I
have felt myself embarrassed and no course has been left me but to procure the amount of
the Chippewa annuity upon my private responsibility. I trust the receipt of a draft will
soon relieve me from the situation in which I am placed, and enable me to perform my
promise to the bank." How embarrassing!
Signing the Treaty
Cass himself, with his staff, secretaries, interpreters and other attendants, came from
Detroit on horseback, following the Indian trail by way of Pontiac, Flint, and
Pe-on-i-go-wink. They arrived in the afternoon, and men were sent out to assemble the
Indians at ten oclock the next morning for the first council. A rough platform had
been built to accommodate the principal white participants, while the chiefs, headmen and
warriors were seated on logs that had been cut and rolled under the bower or council
house. Beside the company of soldiers, there were present perhaps 50 or 60 white men.
Cass opened the council by stating the desire of the government, in the
usual language of such occasions, speaking of the desire of the Great Father for their
welfare, and of the beauties of a life of agriculture, which it was hoped that they would
follow, how game was growing scarce, how much better off they would be by confining
themselves to reservations, how civilization was advancing to overwhelm them, winding up
with the promise of beads, blankets, run and silver provided they would agree to the terms
set forth. His speech was not, of course, original, for it was the stereotyped address of
all white negotiators running back to the Pilgrims. The worst of it all is that not a
single important treaty of the government, from the Delaware Treaty of 1778, to the last
treaty previous to 1890 has been faithfully kept by its white signatories. One might as
well expect the earth to stand still on its axis, as to expect the Indians to subsist by
"agriculture" where no agriculture existed. Recall that it took the white man
himself was thousands of years to attain the agricultural state.
Three Chiefs of high repute acted as speakers for the Indians. Their
names were often-times pronounced by our early traders and pioneers differently, and are
found in documents with different orthography, but as they appear at the foot of the
treaty they are Mish-e-ne-na-non-e-quet, O-ge-maw-ke-ke-to, and Kish-kaw-ko. At the
subsequent councils the latter was not present. He had put himself out of condition at the
close of the first day by drinking, and remained in a state quite unpresentable as a
speaker for the rest of the time. He was an Indian of violent temper, and in the
excitement of liquor was reckless in the commission of outrage. Subsequent to the treaty,
after many acts of violence, he was arrested and died in prison at Detroit. Cass knew that
he was less dangerous in his wigwam quietly drunk than in the council room tolerably
The chief speaker, O-ge-maw-ke-ke-to, opposed the proposition made by
Cass with indignation. His speech as remembered by persons by still surviving, who were
interested listeners, was a model of Indian eloquence. He was then quite young, not over
25, above the average height, and in his bearing, graceful and handsome. Although in the
later years of his life he was often seen intoxicated, he never fully lost a look of
conscious dignity which belonged to his nature as one of the original lords of the soil.
In true eloquence he was probably hardly surpassed by the Seneca Chief, Sa-go-ye-wat-ha
(Red Jacket). His band lived at the Forks of the Tittabawassee, and like the famous Seneca
Chief he wore upon his breast a superb Government medal. He addressed the Commissioner:
"You do not know our wishes. Our people wonder what has brought you so far from your
homes. Your young men have invited us to come and light the Council fire. We are here to
smoke the pipe of peace, but not to sell our lands. Our American Father wants them. Our
English Father treats us better. He has never asked for them. Your people trespass upon
our hunting grounds. You flock to our shores. Our waters grow warm. Our land melts like a
cake of ice. Our posessions grow smaller and smaller. The warm wave of the white man rolls
in upon us and melts us away. Our women reproach us. Our children want homes. Shall we
sell from under them the spot where they spread their blankets?"
To this oratory Cass replied with earnestness, reproving the speaker
for arrogant assumption; that their Great Father at Washington had just closed a war in
which he had whipped their English Father, and the Indians too; that their lands were
forfeited in fact by the rules of war, but that he did not propose to take them without
rendering back an equivalent, not-withstanding their late acts of hostility; that their
women and children should have secured to them ample tribal reserves on which they could
live, unmolested by their white neighbors, where they could spread their blankets and be
aided and instructed in agriculture.
The Chiefs and head-men of the natives then retired to their wigwams in
sullen dignity, unapproachable and unappeased. Certainly this had been a very unpropitious
opening of the great and important undertaking!
The Final "Negotiations"
The Flint River was, by the treaty of 1807, left in full Indian possession. It was called
by the natives Pe-won-nuk-ening, meaning literally the river of the Flint, and by the
early French traders, La Pierre, as was the principal fording or crossing place of that
river, called by them Grand Traverse. By the Chippewas the site of that city was called
Mus-cu-ta-wa-ingh, meaning the open plain burnt over. Well beaten trails existed upon the
Flint and its tributaries, reaching to their head waters and upon all the affluents of the
Saginaw, all converging to the main river as the centre, forming a network of
communication which might not inaptly be compared to an open fan, with the handle resting
upon the treaty ground. These trails gave the Chippewas, upon the banks of those streams,
unobstructed access by land, as well as by canoes upon the rivers, to the Council. The
advancing wave of white settlements had already approached and in some instance had
without authority, encroached upon the southerly border of their network of trails upon
Geographically, Ne-ome and his powerful band stood at the door, the
very threshold of the large body of land which our Government wanted. To any one standing
at Detroit and looking northerly to the beautiful belt of the land lying westerly of the
St. Clair River, it was plain that Chief Ne-ome stood a lion in the path. Ne-ome was
honest and simple-minded, evincing but little of the craft and cunning of his race,
sincere in his nature, by no means astute, firm in his friendships, easy to be persuaded
by any benefactor who should appeal to his Indian sense of gratitude; harmless and kind.
In stature he was short and heavily moulded. With his own people he was a chief of
partriarechal goodness, and his name is never mentioned by any of the members of his band,
even at this remote day, except with a certain traditionary sorrow.
After General Cass had made known the purpose of the Government in
calling the Council, he found the Chippewas, as before, with minds by no means disposed to
treat or cede. But there was power behind the throne greater than the throne itself. That
power rested in the hands of an Indian trader who was known to the Chippewas as
Wah-be-sins, ( the young swan), and to the border settlers as Jacob Smith. He had been for
a long time a trader among the Indians at different points on the Flint and Saginaw, both
before and after the war of 1812. It is safe to say, that of the 114 Chippewa chiefs,
whose totems were affixed to the treaty, there was not one with whom he had not dealt and
to whom he had not extended some act of friendship; either in dispensing the rites of
hospitality at his trading post, or in substantial advance to them of bread or of
blankets, as their necessities may have required. Jacob Smith had entrenched himself in
their friendship, and, at the time of the treaty, so nearly had he identified himself with
the good old chief, Ne-ome, that they even hailed each other as brother. Even to this day,
Sa-gos-e-wa-qua, a daughter of Ne-ome, and others of his descendents now living, when
speaking of Smith and the old chief, invariably bring their hands together, pressing the
tow index fingers closely to each other, as the Indians symbol of brotherhood and
Upon the treaty ground the two friends (Jacob Smith and Ne-ome) acted
in perfect unison. No progress was made until Mr. Knaggs and the other Government agents,
who assumed to speak for the government outside of the council room, had promised the
faithful Ne-ome that in addition to various and ample reservations for the different
bands, of several thousand acres each, there should be reserved as requested by
Wah-be-sins, (Smith,) eleven sections of land of 640 acres each, to be located at or near
the Grand Traverse of the Flint. The Indians had "upped" the demand, and the
A council was again called several days after the first one and fully
attended by all the chiefs and warriors. The storm which at first threatened to overwhelm
the best efforts of the Commissioner and the active agents had passed over, and in its
place a calm and open discussion ensued. Eventually, the terms and basis of a just and
honorable treaty were concluded. There was but one more general council held, which was
mainly formal, for the purpose of having affixed to the treaty, the signatures of General
Cass and the witnesses, and the totem of the chiefs and head men of the Chippewa and
Removal of the Chippewas to lands west of the Mississippi, at least
west of Lake Michigan, was one of the purposes of the treaty, in addition to the cession
of the valuable body of land lying upon the Saginaw and its tributaries. It was, however,
discovered by Cass, soon after his arrival at the council, that it was impossible to carry
that out without hazarding the consummation of a treaty upon any terms. This country had
been so long occupied by their people, and was so well adapted to their hunter state, in
the remarkable abundance of fish in its rivers, lakes and bays, and in the game yet left
to them, that the Indians were simply not inclined to listen to any proposition of
The execution of the treaty was consummated about the middle of the
afternoon of the last day. The silver, which was to be paid to the Indians upon its
completion, was counted out upon the table in front of the Commissioner.
The negotiations had continued for about 10 days or more, during which time three formal
councils had been held, the first being preparatory, the second at which the principal
discussions were held, and at which there was much anger on the part of the Indians; they
had threatened General Cass and the other white negotiators. The government had proposed
in substance that the Indians entirely abandon Michigan, and retire west of the
Mississippi, and it was only by receding from these demands that Cass was able to secure
any treaty at all. The amount of land ceded amounted to about six million acres.
A careful reading of the Treaty (below), shows much carelessness in its
spelling of Indian names. In fact, it is hard to recognize some of them, and it is more
than probable that many of the presumed signers never assented to the document, and it is
still more likely that no a single Indian who signed, realized what he was bartering away.
Four of the principal Indian reservations were in Saginaw County, while all but three of
the large reservations were on the Saginaw River or its tributaries. Saginaw County was
the largest center of aboriginal population in the State. Viewed from all standpoints,
this was the most important land cession of Michigan, for it was in the very heart of the
Indian Country, and covered nearly a third of the Lower Peninsula.
The Text of the Treaty of 1819
ARTICLE 1. The Chippewa nation of Indians, in consideration of the stipulations
herein made on the part of the United States, do hereby forever cede to the United States
the land comprehended within the following lines and boundaries: Beginning at a point in
the present Indian boundary line, which runs due north from the mouth of the great
Anglaize river, six miles south of the place where the base line, so-called, intersects
the same; thence, west, sixty miles; thence, in a direct line, to the head of Thunder Bay
river; thence, down the same, following the course therefor, to the mouth; thence,
northeast , to the boundary line between the United and the British Province of Upper
Canada; thence, with the same, to the line established by the treaty of Detroit, in the
year one thousand eight hundred and seven; thence with the said line to the place of
ARTICLE 2. From the cession aforesaid the following tracts of land shall be reserved,
for the use of the Chippewa nation of Indians:
One tract, of eight thousand acres, on the east side of the River Au Sable near where the
Indians now live.
One tract, of two thousand acres, on the river Mesagwisk.
One tract, of six thousand aces, on the north side of the river Kawkawling, at the Indian
One tract, of five thousand seven hundred and sixty acres, upon the Flint river, to
include Reaums village, and a place called Kishkawbawee.
One tract, of eight thousand acres, on the head of the River Huron, which empties into the
Saginaw river, at the village of Otusson.
One island in the Saginaw Bay.
One tract, of two thousand acres, where Nabobask formerly lived.
One, tract of one thousand acres, near the island in the Saginaw river.
One tract, of two thousand acres, at the mouth of Point Au Gres river.
One tract, of one thousand acres, on the river Huron, at Menoequets village.
One tract, of ten thousand acres, on the Shiawassee river, at a place called the Big Rock.
One tract, of three thousand acres, on the Shiawassee river, at Ketchewaundaugenick.
One tract, of six thousand acres, at the Little Forks, on the Tetabawasink river.
One tract, of six thousand acres, at the Black Birds town, on the Tetabawasink
One tract, of forty thousand acres, on the Saginaw river, to be hereafter located.
ARTICLE 3. There shall be reserved for the use of each of the person hereinafter mentioned
and their heirs, which persons are all Indians by descent, the following tracts of land:
For the use of John Riley, the son of Menawcumegoqua, a Chippewa woman, six hundred and
forty acres of land, beginning at the head of the first march above the mouth of the
Saginaw river, on the east side thereof.
For the use of Peter Riley, the son of Menawcumegoqua, a Chippewa woman, six hundred and
forty acres of land, beginning above and adjoining the apple-trees on the west side of the
Saginaw river, and running up the same for quantity.
For the use of James Riley, the son of Menawcumegoqua, a Chippewa woman, six hundred and
forty acres, beginning on the east side of the Saginaw river, nearly opposite to
Campaus trading house, and running up the river for quantity.
For the use of Kawkawiskou, or the Crow, a Chippewa chief, six hundred and forty acres of
land, on the east side of the Saginaw river, at a place called Menitegow, and to include,
in the said six hundred and forty acres, the island opposite to the said place.
For the use of Nowokeshik, Metawanene, Mokitchenoqua, Nondeshemau, Petabonaqua,
Messawwakut, Checbalk, Kitchegeequa, Sagosoqua, Annoketoqua, and Tawcumegoqua, each, six
hundred and forty acres of land to be located at and near the grand traverse of the Flint
river, in such manner as the President of the United States may direct.
For the use of the children of Bokowtonden, six hundred and forty acres, on the Kawkawling
ARTICLE 4. In consideration of the cession aforesaid, the United States agree to pay to
the Chippewa nation of Indians, annually, for ever, the sum of one thousand dollars in
silver; and do hereby agree that all annuities due by any former treaty to the said tribe,
shall be hereafter paid in silver.
ARTICLE 5. The stipulation contained in the treaty of Greenville, relative to the right
of the Indians to hunt upon the land ceded, while it continues the property of the United
States, shall apply to this treaty; and the Indians shall, for the same term, enjoy the
privilege of making sugar upon the same land, committing no unnecessary waste upon the
ARTICLE 6. The United States agrees to pay to the Indians the value of any improvements
which they may be obliged to abandon in consequence of the lines established by this
treaty, and which improvements add real value to the land.
ARTICLE 7. The United States reserve to the proper authority the right to make roads
through any part of the land reserved by this treaty.
ARTICLE 8. The United States engage to provide and support a blacksmith for the
Indians, at Saginaw, so long as the President of the United States may think proper, and
to furnish the Chippewa Indians with such farming utensils, and cattle, and to employ such
persons to aid them in their agriculture, as the President may deem expedient.
ARTICLE 9. This treaty shall take effect, and be obligatory on the contracting parties,
so soon as the same shall be ratified by the President of United States, by and with the
advice and consent of the Senate thereof.
In testimony whereof, the said Lewis Cass, commissioner as aforehereunto set their
hands, at Saginaw, in the Territory of Michigan, this twenty-fourth day of September, in
the year of our Lord on thousand eight hundred and nineteen.
After the contracting parties agreed, the following names were affixed to the document:
Okemares, or Okemes,
Modified from a 1919 book by Fred Dustin: "The
Saginaw Treaty of 1819".
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