On This Day

Life on the Leelanau Peninsula, winter, 167 years ago
Transcription and commentary by Mark Smith, Secretary, OHS


Jan 26th, 1857
Walter Lowrie, Esq

Grove Hill

Dear Sir,

I enclose to you the vouchers [bills and receipts] for the past six months. The weather has been unusually stormy and a large quantity of snow has fallen making it difficult to get around with the team to get wooden rails. We have had trouble to get our mail but hope we will have crossing on the ice in a day or two.[1] The weather has not been as cold as last winter the coldest has been 50 below zero [last year]. It has been uniformly low for two weeks past down to zero or a few degrees above all the time.

We are all enjoying our usual health and our school is going on as well as might be expected. Such winters make all the duties more laborious. The worst we hope is already past. My hand is gaining but will not probably be well till spring so that I can do much with it. [2]

I will enclose with this a statement of the produce of the farm the past year. Although crops on account of the dry weather were very light in this region, ours would more than pay all of the hire for its cultivation although much of the labor was expended in clearing & fencing which will not have to be repeated next year. It also covers some 20 acres of wheat put in last fall and the digging and stoning of the well. [3] It shows that farm is not a loss to the Board while it affords appropriate employment to the boys and makes them instrumental in aiding to provide their own food. [4]

I sent back the papers and a survey of the old mission lots some time since, also a report of expenses which I hope you have received before this. [5] Our kind regards to all.
Respectfully yours,
P. Dougherty

#1 At this time the mail came to Omena from Old Mission. Once the ice formed across the bay the mail delivery became possible.
#2 In a letter dated Dec. 5th, 1856, Rev. Dougherty relates how he injured his left hand during the gathering of crops under the snow. He apparently suffered an infection (Erysipelas) and the swelling went up his arm.
#3 The original well, located conveniently in the back courtyard of the school building, caved in within two years of its digging in 1853.
#4 Dougherty was constantly reminding Peter Lowrie, his boss and head of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, that his school was largely self-financing. Funds were always scarce. Eventually the school would close in 1870 due to lack of funding.
#5 At this time the Board was in the process of re-surveying and eventually selling off properties at Old Mission

1851 Map

Letter from Omena, January 1854

New Mission, Jan 27th, 1854

Rev. J. Leighton Wilson [Secretary for the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions located in New York]
Dear Sir

1851 Map

Wadsworth’s 1851 map of Omena Bay

Your kind letter was received a few days since. Words of kindness and sympathy strengthen us in hours of trial. Our mercies have been very many, of trials it is not important to speak unless some good may be accomplished thereby. I wrote to Mr. Lowrie [Corresponding Secretary for the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions] by the last express by which you will learn our present condition. After receiving our supplies and getting our buildings in some comfortable condition for winter we have found matter to work on easier. In a climate like this & a region where snow falls almost every day for weeks together the winters are not very comfortable as we have to be in the snow most of the time & with a large family of children much will be carried [on?] in the house – another and more serious difficulty is the leakage of the building. These light snows falling almost every day keep the roof covered to the top. The heat in the building warms the shingles and the snow melts and runs down to the eves where it keeps freezing until banks of ice prevent the water flowing off – thus the water is shut up until it finds its way above the tops of the first courses of shingles & then runs inside. We have much trouble this winter on account of the steady cold weather and the constant falls of snow, and our building is more subject to this difficulty in consequence of the water condutor [sic] being put on the top of the sheathing of the roof. Some of the walls are kept constantly wet and will be much injured The weather has just softened after a fortnight of very severe cold.

Our school is very encouraging. Our children are making improvement and they behave very well. I see no cause of regret that the school has been commenced if funds can be obtained to support it. I think a school like this promises great good to these people.

From the many applications which I have been compelled to refuse there is little doubt but there will be as many children ready to enter the institution as we can at any time accommodate. I have hoped & I encouraged those whom I refused to hope, we would be able to take an additional number in the spring. I confess I have fears, from Mr. Lowrie’s letters, they & we may be disappointed, but our past experiences should teach us patience & faith – help may come in the hour of despair. There is none the less necessity for the diligent use of all proper means however. It is proper therefore that it be understood that one of our teachers will leave in the Spring. One and probably both of the women in the kitchen will leave and there is no prospect of supplying their places here. There is very great need for some prudent and smart woman to take the constant oversight of the kitchen. Mrs. Dougherty has to divide her time between it and the oversight of all other house hold matters which is too much, which precludes the possibility of any proper attention to her own children. I do not find leisure to give any attention to my family until after eight in the evening when the boys go to bed, and can give no time to the school.

To lessen the necessary expenses of the next year a vigorous effort should be made to enlarge our clearings and increase our plantings in the spring. Here our boys can be made useful if there is anyone to plan out and occupy them with such work as they can do most profitably. We have things now in such a state of readiness that with no unforeseen draw back we can commence operations on the farm in the spring with the fair prospect of a greatly increased crop the next fall

I wish very much Mr. Lowrie could personally inspect the premises and see the condition of things. He could then tell better what was best to be done. Just as the door is opened to these people to become citizens of the state and the laws are becoming extended over them there is a strong desire to have their children, especially their boys, educated. There is an increasing necessity for them to acquire a practical knowledge of our language, and we should fail to improve the opportunity which that desire gives of imparting instruction which may make them wise for time & eternity.

I received a letter from Mr. Hall respecting the draft I wrote about which leads me to suppose in the hurry of preparing letters I must [have?] closed the one I sent to before I drew the draft and supposing I had enclosed it I did not send it. The draft if drawn must have been dated the latter part of August.
Yours Truly
P. Dougherty


This letter to Reverend Leighton was written just a few months after Reverend Dougherty opened the newly built residential school for local Anishinaabe students, Grove Hill School, in the autumn of 1853. Reverend Dougherty sent a letter to his supervisor Walter Lowrie on the 16th of January, just 11 days before sending this letter off to Reverend Leighton on the 24th. The tone of the two letters is quite different.

Dougherty’s letter to Lowrie is a “nuts and bolts” report of the conditions of the newly opened Grove Hill Academy, including the details of chores, the enrollment numbers, the work assignments and typical food eaten. This letter, the letter to Reverend Leighton written on January 27th some 11 days later, attempts at first to be more upbeat and hopeful, less complaining, but still stresses the need for a firm, long term financial commitment to the operation of the school, as well as emphasizing the need to procure more help. There is mention of Walter Lowrie’s doubts as to the long term financing of the school, which leads me to believe that Dougherty is attempting to appeal to Leighton’s higher level influence with Lowrie.

Dougherty emphasizes his plan for his mission to become self sufficient with food through increased clearings and plantings, thereby lessening expenses to the Board. Also emphasized in this letter is the need to help the Indians become fully functioning citizens, in the wake of the 1850 ruling by the State of Michigan which granted them citizenship providing they renounced tribal affiliations.

Dougherty’s main goal, stated here and elsewhere, is to educate the Indians to be fully functioning citizens who could not be taken advantage of by the increasing number of white settlers. Dougherty also mentions the structural shortcomings of the newly built school, the ice dam on the roof with water leaking down into the wall, issues which would be addressed a few years later. All in all this letter to Reverend Leighton lays out Dougherty’s long term commitment to the school and his belief in its importance to those it serves. Here (and in other letters) he relates that he has had to turn away applicants, indicating he believes there is a) a strong desire on the part of the Indians to be educated in the ways of the “dominant” culture and b) a need for the school, both practically and morally. Ever the forward thinker, Reverend Dougherty asserts that adequate funding is the proper path forward.

If you would like to know more about the history of Grove Hill Academy, click here.

Mark Smith, January 2023

The Story of Grove Hill School

The Story of Grove Hill School, updated March 2023

By Mark Smith, Omena Historical Society (for a pdf version of this essay click here)


Part One, Old Mission

The Early Days

This paper explores the history of Grove Hill School, the boarding school for local Odawa and Ojibwe people opened in Omena, or New Mission, in September 1853. (see note below text for naming conventions of indigenous peoples). Grove Hill School came into being when the first Protestant mission in the Grand Traverse area, founded by Reverend Peter Dougherty in the summer of 1838, moved their operations from Old Mission to the “New Mission” in Omena.  Dougherty was originally sent to the area by the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions (BFM) in 1838 and eventually settled on the Old Mission Peninsula, where he would remain to preach and teach until 1852. Funding for the education of the mission Anishinaabek by the Presbyterians was provided through government monies from the 1836 treaty settlement, in which the Indians gave up vast tracts of lands in exchange for a yearly annuity payment and provisions for implements, interpreters, blacksmiths, farmers and teachers.

It is important to note here at the outset that the Anishinabek of the Grand Traverse region were desirous to be educated, and particularly desirous to learn English, to know the law, remain in their homelands, and defend themselves in dealings with the rapacious white settlers of the area.  Reverend Dougherty’s school was seen as an asset to the community, and he was welcomed especially by Chief Aghosa, his main indigenous patron. Students attended Dougherty’s school of their own free will, encouraged by their parents.  Over time more Indians came to settle on “The Point”.

“The Protestant mission became an attraction of sorts to Anishinaabe communities, especially those near L’Arbre Croche, because the teacher taught in not only Anishinaabemowin, but also English.  The Austrian priests near Little Traverse Bay spoke little or no English, and the Indians wanted their children to speak English.” (Fletcher, 30)

Similarly, in 1852 Chief Peshawbe and his people moved from Cross Village to the Leelanau Peninsula, precisely to take advantage of being taught by the English-speaking instructors in the schools, which they deemed to be far more useful than learning from the German speaking priests in Cross Village. Education, especially in English, was seen as a positive force for self-improvement and tribal integrity at a time when the threat of removal was still a very real threat.

Also important to note here at the outset is the fact that the Anishinaabe desired to have trusted white settlers living nearby, in order to help mediate their dealings with the larger body of settlers.  During the 1836 Treaty negotiations in Washington the “chief speaker”, probably Aishquagonabe, speaking to Henry Schoolcraft, said:

“We fear that the whites who will not be our friends will come into our country and trouble us, and that we shall not be able to know where our possessions are, if we do sell our lands, it will be our wish that some of our white friends have lands among us and be associated with us. (Fletcher, 22)

Mainly these “white friends” were métis (mixed blood people), American citizens related through intermarriage who could mediate disputes with other American citizens, but benefactors like Reverend Dougherty also were seen as valued friends to be kept close at hand.

A last note pertains to agency.  From the above two paragraphs it may be assumed that the Indians saw themselves as being totally dependent on the grace and favor of members of the dominant white culture, with very limited options for self-determination and very little legal recourse.  However, the Odawa were anything but naïve or helpless.  Their alliances with certain members of the white community were strategic ways for them to adapt, persist and prosper in their own homelands.  “In 1841, Aghosa told Peter Dougherty that the Grand Traverse Anishinaabek ‘hold on to this place as a bird clings to a tree ready to fall.’” (Fletcher 38) Even though missionaries had varied luck in converting the Grand Traverse Indians to Christian farmers, the coming of the missionaries helped to make them “a group that, although still distinctly Indian, was yet able to adjust to and profit from the encroaching American economy.” (White, 10).

The historian James McClurken holds that the Anishinaabek were sophisticated in their enlistment of missionaries as allies in their attempts to avoid removal to west of the Mississippi:

“Ottawa people understood very well the process of making allies for their own benefit.  As part of their campaign to remain in Michigan, they made allies of those missionaries who opposed removal and supported Ottawa efforts to purchase land.  In the process, they learned that so long as they attended church services, the missionaries would help them build farms and supply them with food, clothing, and medicine.  Some Ottawa adults even went to the missionary schools to learn to read and write so they could conduct their own affairs in American society.” (McClurken, 29)

According to historian Susan Gray “The Ottawa … were far less interested in becoming like white men than in learning to live as Indians in the midst of white settlement.” (Gray, 83). So, despite relying on white benefactors, the Odawa were able to maintain their own traditions and prosper within the newly emerging onrush of white settlers, at least until they were swamped by white settlers after the civil war.

After carving out some acreage for building and cultivation, Dougherty’s mission (the “Old Mission”) grew and prospered.  In 1840 Reverend Dougherty ventured east to be married, returning with his new bride, Miss Maria Higgins (Sprague, and Smith). In the fall of that same year the young Andrew Blackbird was hired as apprentice blacksmith, a post he would keep for five years at a salary of $240 per year.  Many years later Blackbird would write that Dougherty “was indeed a true Christian, and good to the Indians” (Blackbird 55).

In 1842, with the help of the Indians, Dougherty began to build a manse and a mission church.  At the time the church was being built, Reverend Dougherty asked his congregation to make a financial contribution.  Their gift to Dougherty was a large quantity of copper pennies, which Dougherty sent off to a foundry, where the pennies were used to cast a bell for the church (Craker 62). (This bell travelled with the mission to Omena, to become the bell for the new church.)

By August of 1843 Dougherty would report that his school consisted of forty Indian and eleven white children, making a total of 51 students.  Basic “sounding out” and spelling were taught at first, as the building blocks of literacy.  Of the 51 students, “eight read correctly in their own and our language .. The others are learning the elements [alphabet], and spelling in words of one and two syllables.”  Dougherty admits to being disappointed that students did not attend more regularly but maintains that the capacity of the Indian students was “about on average” with that of the white children. In addition to the regular school, the Sabbath school regularly attracted 40 people, including Chief Aghosa, where the churchgoers were also taught to read “in their own language.. with a good degree of correctness.”  Also encouraging to Dougherty was the fact that drunkenness was down and industriousness was up, thanks to the effects of the church.  (Annual, 1843)

Many Roles

The work of Peter Dougherty entailed much more than preaching.  Dougherty advocated for his congregation in a variety of ways, including writing letters for them, helping them apply for land patents, traveling to Mackinaw with them to receive annuity payments, tending to medical needs, carpentry, gardening, animal husbandry and generally all the labors needed to survive and prosper in a remote wilderness.  From his congregation Dougherty earned the Anishinaabemowin nickname of Mic-koos, “little beaver”, reflecting his short stature and boundless energy (Craker 89).

In the early years the school averaged about 30 students, with great seasonal variations due to sickness, winter hunting, and maple syrup making.  Because the school was a day school, the students were more mobile (and attended less) than if they had been attending a boarding school.

Native Language

One reason for the popularity of Reverend Dougherty’s schools is that instruction took place in English, and parents recognized the advantages of learning the language of the dominant culture. In addition to teaching in English, Dougherty also encouraged the Indians to learn to speak and write in their own language.

Sometime during his other labors he managed to make significant contributions to the study of the local Indian language.  In the first years, the Upper Canadian Bible Society donated to his mission Ojibwa translations of the book of Genesis and the Gospel of John, but Dougherty soon produced books of his own.  In 1844 he published A Chippewa Primer, which Schoolcraft called “of much value to the philologist, as well as being adapted to promote the advance of the pupil. (Vogel 6)

With the help of interpreters Daniel Rodd and Peter Greensky, Reverend Dougherty published other books for his Anishinaabe students, including Short Reading Lessons in the Ojibwa Language (1847), a parallel text primer, and Easy Lessons in Scripture History in the Ojibwa Language (1847).

For Dougherty the primary goal of education was the “moral” aspect; by “moral” Reverend Dougherty referred primarily to the teaching of scripture, so it is not surprising that he valued the primer he wrote for his students, Easy Lessons in Scripture History in the Ojibwa Language. Truthfully, Dougherty, like most everyone of his time, took little interest in the world views of the Odawa.  He found no sense of irony in stating that “The Indian is very superstitious: he believes the Great Spirit has made him distinct from all others.” He criticized what he called the “heathen party” of unbelievers who resisted white culture:

His [the heathen Indian’s] country, his language, his customs, his religion, his medicine, his appetites and passions, are all the special bestowments of him who made him, and therefore they are best for the Indian. (Annual 1850)

Despite the somewhat condescending views in Dougherty’s assessment of indigenous culture, it is important to point out that Dougherty did not seek to actively eradicate the culture of the Anishinaabe, but he did seek to promote Christianity through bi-lingual teaching.  He was certain that, when presented with alternatives to their “heathen” lifestyle, the Indians would choose Christianity. When a new translation of the Ojibwa testament came out in 1859 Dougherty requested that the BFM purchase copies because “There is quite a demand for the Ojibwa testament.  It is studied more and understood better than before.” (Dougherty to Walter Lowrie, 16 Feb. 1859).  Far from seeking to eradicate the native language, Dougherty understood how to use that language to promote scripture and teach “proper” behavior. Incidentally, during America’s Civil War copies of this Ojibwa bible were found among captured Anishinaabe soldiers from the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters of Company K, evidence of the importance of scripture to those soldiers and evidence of Reverend Dougherty’s influence. (Cassidy, “Both..)

The Grove School, converted to the Hotel Leelanau

Here it is important to note an essential distinction: when the first government-run boarding schools later opened in the late 1860’s, the policy was almost always the suppression and prohibition of native languages in the schools with the goal of eradicating all ties to parents and indigenous culture.  This brute force approach was seen as the best way to rapidly “civilize” the native people. Contrary to this philosophy of language suppression, Dougherty believed in the benefits of bilingualism.

In addition to their English studies, both schools [male and female] should be taught to read their own language.  It is found here, as at other missions, that this does not interfere with their regular lessons in English, and it is an acquisition both pleasing and useful to their parents. (Annual 1850)

Note the inclusion of parents which continued to be a feature of the Dougherty philosophy at Grove Hill School in Omena.

Over time most of the families had taken up residence in the immediate vicinity of the old mission and worked tirelessly to produce a surplus of food.  By 1847 Dougherty would write:

Six years ago the site occupied by the village was a dense thicket.  The village now extends nearly a mile in length, containing some twenty log houses and some good log stables belonging to the Indians. During that period they have cleared and cultivated some two hundred acres of new gardens, besides what additions were made to the old ones.  They raise for sale several hundred bushels of corn and potatoes. (Garritt 6)

Despite tremendous difficulties, and despite many setbacks and challenges, it is fair to say that Dougherty’s mission was a success.  The influence of drink provided by the growing population of white settlers remained a serious issue, but all in all the mission prospered and grew.  However, the land at Old Mission, having been set aside as a reservation, did not belong to the Anishinaabek of the mission.  All the improvements made to the mission would be lost if the land could not be purchased and secured for those who had made the improvements. With white settlers flocking to the area to buy land, their future was uncertain.

During this time the Anishinaabek of Michigan were constantly under threat of removal to territory west of the Mississippi, a fate they desperately hoped to avoid. The goal was to find a way to stay put. The second constitution of Michigan in 1850 provided an enhanced chance for the Anishinaabek to remain.  Under the provisions of the 1850 Michigan Constitution, Indians who had renounced tribal affiliations could become citizens of the state, with full voting rights (Karamanski 130). If the Indians could secure a title to some land, and if they were deemed citizens of Michigan, they would feel less threatened by removal. Unfortunately, the lands at Old Mission were not offered for immediate sale.  But land on the Leelanau peninsula had recently been made available for general purchase.  Gradually the Anishinaabek of Old Mission began buying up parcels and relocating to the Leelanau Peninsula, in the environs of present day Omena, where Reverend Dougherty would relocate his New Mission in 1852.

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Part Two, Omena

Finding Workers

The establishment of a manual training boarding school for Anishinaabek

in Omena did not take place without extensive planning.  Even before the move from a day school in Old Mission to a boarding school at the New Mission, Reverend Dougherty expressed his approval of the idea in principle but warned that in order to succeed, the mission would need to rely on “the labors of pious laymen and their wives; … suitable teachers, male and female; farmers; and families to take the charge of the boarding department” primarily because “Much precious time of the missionaries is taken up with labors that could be better performed by others” (Annual 1849).  This would be a recurring theme with Dougherty over the following years as he saw his efforts increasingly devoted to working long, arduous hours of manual labor to maintain the mission, at the expense of his primary job of ministering to his flock. Dougherty rightly foresaw that running a boarding school would be a much bigger task than running a day school.

Dougherty’s warnings here can be seen as a report “from the trenches” to his superiors, who perhaps could not begin to imagine the hardships of the task. Compared to his brethren ministers out east, who were preaching on Sunday and ministering during the week, Dougherty found himself chief cook and bottle washer in a remote outpost, working long, hard hours.  He described the hardships of

The separation from beloved relatives and friends, the unavoidable absence of many comforts which abound in civilized communities, the limited circle of their Christian community, the apathy, in many cases, of the benighted natives, the many, many days of teaching, and instruction, that must be endured, by our beloved brethren and sisters, in these labors of love and mercy. (Annual 1853)

However, despite Dougherty’s complaints about being constantly short staffed, he persevered.

The School Begins

Reverend Dougherty was opposed to bringing his log schoolhouse from Old Mission over to Omena (as suggested by the BFM) because he felt that the log structures did not indicate permanence to his congregation, and moreover they were not easy to heat and maintain (Dougherty, Letter to Lowrie, Sept 13th, 1851). He insisted on the construction of a new building at Grove Hill, had to advocate strongly for it, and was heavily involved in the planning and construction of it.  The building at Grove Hill was meant as an assurance of commitment to permanent and long-lasting support for the whole community, children and parents.

Grove Hill School went into operation in September of 1853 with twenty boys and nine girls, and the number increased over the next year to 20 girls and 28 boys. The school was designed to accommodate 50 to 60 people, including students, workers, teachers and families.  The school proved to be so popular with parents that it was soon at peak enrollment, with a waiting list for new applicants.

By 1853 Grove Hill had 20 acres under cultivation. A teacher provided agricultural training for the boys and the garden produced food to supply the mission through the winter.  In order to inculcate “habits of industry” the school kept to a rigorous schedule all year round. In his first annual report from Grove Hill to Indian Agent Henry Gilbert, Dougherty described the daily regime:

The regulations of the Institution are as follows.  Rise in summer at half past four and in winter at 5 o’clock am. Prayers half past five & six, breakfast at six and half past six, in summer & winter respectively.  Work from breakfast to half past eight, school at nine, dinner at twelve, school at half past one, work from half past four to six, supper at six, prayers at eight pm.  then the children go to bed. (Annual 1854)

Academic subjects taught at the school included reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, grammar, and philosophy.  Boys also worked outdoors in the garden and girls also were instructed in “domestic labor and economy” (Annual 1854). Although by modern standards the regime of the school seems unnecessarily strict and regimented, it is important to remember that, as L. P. Hartley said “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”  By modern day standards some may judge that the school was unnecessarily harsh, but in fact the strict regime was typical of other boarding schools of its time.  The school was strict, but not cruel.  A more salient criticism may be that of ethnocentrism, but again, it must be remembered that this was a Presbyterian school and typical of its time. We may bemoan the lack of interest in honoring native culture at the school, but we cannot expect Reverend Dougherty to behave like a man existing out of time.

Parental Inclusion

Unlike the government-run boarding schools which started up after the civil war, Dougherty’s Grove Hill School encouraged parents to visit and to be involved.  The hope was that by educating the children the parents also would be lifted up. Dougherty was well aware that some Native parents were against having their children educated:

Education arms the vicious with increased power to do evil; and the minds of the Indians have often been prejudiced against the education of their children, by seeing those who had enjoyed its advantages becoming wiser only to do evil. (Annual 1850)

He rightly saw that if the Odawa were to stand a chance against the steady stream of white settlers who were rapidly flooding into the area, the native families must be helped through education:

Again: these schools are a most important and powerful agency for good, not only to the youth and children but to their parents. Instruction in these communities, to meet their wants, must be on a comprehensive scale.  The white population is closing round them on every side, and everything should be done to enable them to stand side by side with their white neighbors. (Annual 1850)

Dougherty believed that the school needed to be enmeshed in the settlement because parents needed to be able to see for themselves how the school was run.  Grove Hill School was open to all visitors.

To keep his flock together and protected from the sharp dealings of the white settlers, Dougherty knew it was necessary to train his students and their families in the ways of the dominant white culture.  Dougherty knew that if his students were to attend a white school (where they would probably be singled out and ridiculed) they would not fare as well as if they were taught in their own setting.  They lived mainly north of the school, in nearby Aghosatown. Reverend Dougherty tried to keep them close together but almost as soon as his congregation began to settle in the Omena area they started to disburse, “some choosing one place, and some another, and thus their position for the future is quite uncertain” (Annual 1851). A well-known disadvantage of the day school at Old Mission was that students were taken out whenever their parents removed to sugar camps or winter hunting grounds.  The boarding school at New Mission would help address this problem, as well as the general disbursement problem of families living too far away to attend a day school.  Parents were central to Dougherty’s philosophy.

Our efforts ought to regard these people as a whole and the influences which are brought to bear on them ought to reach the adults as well as the children and effect family as well as individual improvement.  We are therefore very fully of the view that the mission must be in the neighborhood of the Indian Settlement.”  (Dougherty, Letter to Walter Lowrie, July 30th, 1851)

The Later Years

Grove Hill School grew and prospered.  For many years it was the center of learning and a place for numerous visitors and meetings, but by the time of the Civil War it was running at a loss.  The gradual dispersal and scattering of Reverend Dougherty’s flock led eventually to the demise of the school.  As early as 1858 Dougherty sensed that the mission would be difficult to maintain, financially, and in 1866 the BFM instructed Dougherty to sell the school, leaving only the church and associated mission. The church was kept open for another 5 years, but attendance continued to dwindle; by 1870 the writing was on the wall and in 1871 the BFM closed both the Omena and the Bear River outstation. “The organization’s precarious financial status did not allow it to continue supporting Indian missions without Indians” (Devens 107).

Dougherty’s last letters to the Corresponding Secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions have an air of resignation and sadness.  His friend Walter Lowrie, the previous Corresponding Secretary, died in December 1868, but Dougherty continued writing to his son, John C. Lowrie. In an undated letter from this time Reverend Dougherty looks back over 20 years and opines:

“But little change, in the aspect of things, has taken place, during the past year, except the shadows in the horizon of hope have a darker hue, and the mind as it contemplates them is less buoyant and confident, and looks to the future with a feeling of sadness.” (Dougherty 1870)

Dougherty had hoped that his mission would be a shining example of the benefits of the gospel, a civilizing influence on his flock, and a bulwark against White encroachment, but found in the end that “Intemperance is our greatest trouble and their great besetting sin” and that “As white men settle in around them the facilities and temptations to indulgence increase, and they are yielding more and more every year to these influences” (Dougherty 1870).

In 1871 Reverend Dougherty writes his last sad letter from Omena, indicating that the members of his church “feel uncomfortable about our proposed removal” and that they “offered to contribute of their means to aid in our support.”   Dougherty explained that

“it was not want of support that led us to think of removing and leaving them, but the circumstances of our family growing up isolated so that they have no fair opportunity for occupation or settlement in life.  They appreciate the motive.  While duty to our family seems to direct us away it is painful to leave home for those for whom our lives have chiefly been spent to be scattered after we have labored so long to gather them.” (Dougherty to J. C. Lowrie, Feb. 10, 1871)

When the church in Old Mission was first built, the Indians gathered up all the pennies they had been saving and gave them to Reverend Dougherty to make a bell for their church.  That bell was brought over to Omena in 1853. As Dougherty signs off for the last time, he mentions the bell in closing: “In the church is the bell and two stoves which belong to the board but I suppose they remain for the use of the Indians as long as they need them.” (Dougherty to J. C. Lowrie, Feb. 10, 1871)

After the mission was closed, the church was only sporadically opened to preaching.  Occasionally Reverend George Nelson Smith from Northport would come to preach, and Alonzo Barnard also preached until 1880.  By 1885 a Congregational Church was organized in Omena and the local Presbyterians joined the Congregationalists in the church (Craker).  Today the church still stands proudly on the hill leading out of town.  Grove Hill School was sold in 1868 and by 1885 was opened as the Hotel Leelanau, an upscale resort destination for summer residents.  It was shut down in 1917 and torn down in 1929 (Holmes).  Apart from a few bricks and blocks hidden in the deep weeds, nothing remains to indicate the existence of Grove Hill School.

(for a pdf version of the Power Point presentation which accompanies this essay, click here)

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(Note: the term “Anishinaabek” or Anishinaabeg refers to several groups of indigenous peoples, including the Odawa and Ojibwe who feature in this paper.  “Anishinaabe” is adjectival. “Anishinaabemowin” designates the language spoken. The term “Indian”, although distasteful to some, was the designation used at the time of this story and indeed the term still used by many Anishinaabek themselves.  The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, for example, is still the standard nomenclature.)

Works Cited

Annual Report of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America. United States, n.p, 1929.

Blackbird, Andrew J. History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan: A Grammar of Their Language, and Personal and Family History of the Author. Petoskey, Mich: Little Traverse Regional Historical Society, 1970.

Cassidy. Michelle. “The More Noise They Make: Odawa and Ojibwe Encounters with American Missionaries in Northern Michigan, 1837-1871.”  Michigan Historical Review, vol. 38, no. 2, Central Michigan University, 2012, pp. 1–34.

Cassidy, Michelle K. “Both the Honor and the Profit”: Anishinaabe Warriors, Soldiers, and Veterans from Pontiac’s War through the Civil War.” https://hdl.handle.net/2027.42/133496

Craker, Ruth. First Protestant Mission in the Grand Traverse Region. Rivercrest House, 1979.

Dougherty, Peter, “Dougherty Papers,” 1838-1872, Presbyterian Historical Society, online.

Devens, Carol. Countering Colonization, Native American Women and Great Lakes Missions, 1630-1900.

Fletcher, Matthew. The Eagle Returns. Michigan State University Press, 2012.

Garritt, Joshua Bolles. Historical sketch of the missions among the North American Indians : under the care of the Board of foreign missions of the Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia: Women’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Presbyterian Church, 1881.

Gray, Susan E. “Limits and Possibilities: White-Indian Relations in Western Michigan in the Era of Removal.” Michigan Historical Review 20 (1994): 71-91.

Holmes, Amanda. Omena a Place in Time a Sesquicentennial History 1852–2002. 1st., The Omena Historical Society, 2003.

Karamanski, Theodore J. Blackbird’s Song. Michigan State University Press, 2012.

McClurken, James M. “The Ottawa.” In People of the Three Fires: The Ottawa,
Potawatomi, and Ojibway of Michigan.
Grand Rapids: Intertribal Council of
Michigan, 1986.

Singer, Eliot, “Mission Period, Grand Traverse, Epistolary,” Ethno and Superior
History, picaresquescholar.wordpress.com, accessed February 2023.

Smith Family papers (H02-1465.50), The Joint Archives of Holland, Hope College, Holland, MI.

Sprague, Elvin Lyons, and Seddie Powers Smith. Sprague’s History Of Grand Traverse And Leelanaw Counties, Michigan. B.F. Bowen, 1903.

Vogel, Virgil V.  “The Missionary as Acculturation Agent.” Michigan History, vol. 51, no. 3, 1967.

White, Richard. “Ethnohistorical Report on the Grand Traverse Ottawas.” Unpublished manuscript, 1991.


News from Omena, January 1855

Letter to Walter Lowrie from Peter Dougherty, Grove Hill, January 1, 1855
Transcription and commentary by Mark Smith, secretary, OHS

I’m always thrilled to discover a cache of old diaries or letters. Both fascinating and informative, they are also some of the best primary sources for historians. Letters and diaries are a slice of life lived now, with no clear sense of how the story will end, as it is in life itself. History is settled, it seems, but letters show the true ephemeral nature of history unfolding, before the stories solidify, and sometimes what we find causes us to reassess everything we have been told by the history books.

Written one hundred and sixty-seven years ago, this letter from Reverend Peter Dougherty of Omena to Walter Lowrie, corresponding secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, shows the immediate difficulties and challenges in running the mission and the associated school, Grove Hill Academy. We discover several things. First, we have a list of who was employed at the school, including one George Craker, who would later marry the widow Mrs. Mary McConnell and be the mainstay of the mission church for decades after Dougherty’s departure in 1870. George’s descendants, with Aghosa’s descendants, kept the church in service to its congregation as documented by Ruth Craker, George’s granddaughter, in the book The First Protestant Mission in the Grand Traverse Region, 1932. Also mentioned is Mr. Greensky, Odawa interpreter Peter Greensky, who would eventually become a Methodist minister in his own right, founding Greensky Hill Church, which still stands today, between Petoskey and Charlevoix.

We also discover that some of the boys have been getting in to visit with some of the girls after hours in the boarding school, which results in some strict punishment and a few expulsions from the school. The school, Grove Hill Academy, was residential and focused mainly on manual arts training and basic education for the young Indian residents.

Dougherty’s third paragraph opens with mention of land claims amongst the settlers over at the Old Mission he has left behind, and would seem to indicate that he would like Lowrie to put his weight behind their initiative.

I think paragraphs four and five come to the very heart of the matter for the survival of the mission: the fate of the Indians being swindled out of their land and falling under the influence of intoxicating liquors. 1855 was a time of great turmoil for the Odawa, with a treaty to follow in the summer which would have far reaching implications, but would do little to stop the advances of civilization and its attendant vices.

As if to reinforce the point, Dougherty relates the sad but true tale of Chief Peter Wakazoo’s selling off of the village of Wakazoo (part of present day Northport) to whites while under the influence of strong drink provided to him by those whites. In effect this would be the end of Reverend George N. Smith’s mission, as the Indians dispersed more widely, selling their village lots (which should not have been for immediate sale under the terms of the patents, but due to slack enforcement and incompetence, the details never were enforced.) This reference by Dougherty is priceless as it helps us to triangulate from Reverend Smith’s account of the event in his own diary.

Lastly Peter Dougherty closes with a recap of winter weather so far and notes that they get mail very scarcely and may not see any until winter is over, which means a few more months at least. Such were the vagaries of travel and the sheer isolation of Omena, whose main visitors came by boat, but not in the winter, and proper roads were but a notion at the best of times. Letter writing under these circumstances was almost an act of faith. It is fortunate that these letters have survived their difficult journeys and have been preserved for us to see.  If you would like to see the originals of this letter, and many others from Rev. Peter Dougherty of Omena and Old Mission, click on this link.
Thanks to Marsha Buehler, Archives and Committee Chair, for help with background biographical info and help with transcription.

Walter Lowrie, Esq
Grove Hill, January 1st, 1855

Dear Sir

After long delay I have filled out my report from the 1st of May to Nov. 1st. There is now employed in this institution under pay besides ourselves Miss Isbell, Porter, wife, Mr. Glen and Mrs. McConnell, Sarah Rogers cook, Mrs Milne & Miss Jane Milne and Mr. Greensky Interpreter. Mr. Porter I presume has informed you why Mrs. Milne & her daughter were retained. The circumstances in the judgement of all made it indispensable that they should stay. Mr. Greensky lives in the institute this winter but expects to build himself a house on some land I bought for him, in the spring. He is to receive at the rate of 100 dollars a year. Mr. Glen (and we fully agreed with him) thought he could not do all the choring and attend school. And as he had the right of school three months we had to retain George Craker. He was intending to leave to attend school some place and we offered him his board with the privilege of attending school if he would help do the work morning and evening which he agreed to do. There is due to him for wages from May 1853 to middle Dec 1854 two hundred thirty seven dollars. We borrowed a hand mill to grind corn for hominy. It answers very well.

Grove Hill Academy eventually became Hotel Leelanau

In my last letter I made allusion to a difficulty which led to the dismissal of one of the girls and the punishment of several other scholars. We discovered one night two of the boys in the girls’ sleeping room and found that some of the girls had secretly got a key which opened into the boys’ apartment and had encouraged the boys after we were gone to bed to get up and visit the girls’ rooms. The girl who appeared to be the chief guilty one we dismissed and punished by whipping the girls and boys who had been concerned in the matter. One boy to escape the punishment ran away. One was quite determined not to be whipped and wished me to consent to his going away without punishment which I refused and after some array of rope [?] he pulled off his coat and received the punishment. I then gave him the privilege of leaving if he chose but advised him to stay and behave himself which he decided to do and has behaved very well since. The matter was a painful one at the time but the effect of the punishment good. One of our boys has been very sick with inflammation of the bowels, is now some better after four weeks confinement in our room.

I would mention that the settlers at the old mission who are making claims there, had a meeting some month ago, and agreed to draw up a petition to congress and address letters to all the representatives from the state to have an act passed by which each one whose claim was described, and whose name was on the petition might have his claim secured at the government price. It was said at the meeting the mission would probably represent their own interests and aid the effort by their influence – as there is little communication between that and this this time of year. I have not heard whether the petition has been forwarded. You may be able to further the object and secure the rights of the Board there if you approve of this movement.

The present prospect is that the country will rapidly settle and I am fearful of what the effect will be on the Indians. More or less men will keep liquor. There has been a good deal of drinking during the past season on the Peninsula North of us, at Mr. Smith’s mission, there is danger they will be broken up. Some men have come in and purchased and by furnishing liquor got the chief of that band [Peter Wakazoo] drinking and he has sold the lands of the Indians. The Indians are dispirited and are selling their lots to white men. What they will do time will determine.

Our people are quiet; and not occupying any point that will immediately excite the cupidity of the white men as a point for business and speculation, and their lands being surrounded by state land which is not yet for sale, may not be disturbed. But the only hope for them here or elsewhere is to be men, be sober, industrious, and resist the destructive effects of intoxicating drink.

There has been much stormy weather and cold during the fore part of December but it is now very pleasant and the snow fast wasting. Our mail arrangement is all out of order. We have had no mail yet this winter and do not know if we will get any. I send this to the Post Office it find [sic] its way out.
P. Dougherty

The Founding of Wakazooville, Michigan

Wakazooville, Michigan, by Larry M. Wyckoff, 2021

Wakazooville was a village platted in 1850 in Leelanau County, Michigan by the Ottawa Chief Peter Wakazoo and George N. Smith, a Protestant missionary. Peter Wakazoo or Pendunwan and his brother Joseph Wakazoo or Ogemawinini, were sons of Old Chief Joseph Wakazoo. They were Ottawa Indians and Ogemawinini was the chief of the L’Arbre Croche band at Little Traverse at the time of the 1836 Ottawa and Chippewa treaty.

The events that led to the creation of the village of Wakazooville began with the treaty held at Washington on March 28, 1836. The Ottawa and Chippewa Indians ceded their remaining lands in the Lower Peninsula and the eastern part of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Although many were opposed to this cession, they agreed after they were granted what they thought were permanent reservations in the ceded territory for their exclusive use. However, this was during the period where the United States government was removing the Indians living east of the Mississippi River to lands west of that river. Any treaty negotiated during this period, which did not include a removal provision, would unlikely be ratified by the Senate. This treaty did provide language for the removal of the Ottawas and Chippewas from Michigan but it was not mandatory. Article Eight of the treaty provided: “It is agreed, that as soon as the said Indians desire it, a deputation shall be sent to the west of the Mississippi, and to the country between Lake Superior and the Mississippi, and a suitable location shall be provided for them, among the Chippewas, if they desire it, and it can be purchased upon reasonable terms, and if not, then in some portion of the country west of the Mississippi, which is at the disposal of the United States.”1

At about this same time Joseph Wakazoo and a number of members of his band became dissatisfied with the instructions they were receiving from the Catholics at L’Arbre Croche. They renounced their Catholic faith, left L’Arbre Croche and settled in Allegan County. The Wakazoo family’s winter hunting territory was located in the Kalamazoo River basin so they were very familiar with the Allegan County area.2

Read more here

Payson Wolfe, Civil War Veteran

Attached to Colonel DeLand’s First Michigan Sharpshooters was a company of civilized Indians who won fame at Spottsylvania. On that bloody 9th of May, 1864, the Federal line, advancing with a cheer, met the charging enemy in a dense thicket of pines, and in the hand-to-hand struggle that followed, the Union forces were slowly forced back. The First Michigan Sharpshooters was doing its best to hold the ground. Every now and then the Confederates would fight their way up to the battery and lay hold of the cannon to turn them upon the Union forces. But to touch one of those guns meant instant death at the hands of the sharpshooters. In this desperate encounter, the little band of Indians was commanded by Lieutenant Graveraet…. Under a perfect storm of lead their number seemed to melt away, but there was no sign of faltering. Sheltering behind trees, they poured volley after volley at the zealous foe, and above the din of battle their war-whoop rang out with every volley. At dusk the ammunition gave out, but with the others the Indians ran forward at the shout of “Give them steel boys!” from the twice wounded but still plucky Colonel Deland.

The above narrative is a first hand account of a part of the fierce battle of Spotslyvania, during May of 1864.  The “little band of civilized Indians” who fought so bravely and fearlessly was Company K,  made up mainly of Odawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi Native Americans who enlisted in 1863.  It is perhaps a little known fact that over 26,000 Native Americans  fought in the American Civil War, on both sides.  Those who fought with the Confederates may have seen their participation as a chance to seek revenge on a Federal government which had not honored their treaties.  Those who fought for the Union had other reasons for joining.

Payson Wolfe of Northport was one of the Native American soldiers of Company K.  On August 1, 1863, Charles Allen and Payson Wolf left on the Tanawanda to join the First Michigan Sharpshooters. Prior to 1863 Native Americans were not allowed to enlist, but as the war wore on and more and more white men died, the Union began encouraging Blacks and Native Americans to take part. Recruiting drives were held here in the county and bonuses of $50 were offered by the State of Michigan for those who enlisted. Once enlisted, soldiers received $25 more and, once mustered, $75.00 from the federal government.  Wages were $13 per month, so there were certainly solid economic reasons to enlist.

However, it is fair to say that the motivations of the Indian recruits were not necessarily the same as the motivations of the the whites.  Fighting in a land that was once theirs, alongside men who once were their enemies was a way to gain respect and perhaps strengthen the Indians’ claims to preserving their remaining land and culture.  The appeals of a good wage, a square meal, and money left over to send home were important. But the opportunity to continue in the tradition of a warrior in far off places must also have been a strong reason for joining the cause, especially if the result was more respect and a furtherance of their land claims.

Another likely motivation for the Native Americans Charles Allen and Payson Wolfe to join the fray would be strong anti-slavery sentiments. It is clear from letters sent home by Charles Allen that he was a practicing Christian (as was Wolfe). It is also clear that both Allen and Wolfe had heard the abolitionist sentiment woven into the fabric of many of the sermons of Wolfe’s father-in-law, Reverend George N. Smith.  In fact, Smith made sure to provide bibles for the soldiers going off to war, and one of these was found after the 1864 Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia, as reported by Colonel R.T. Bennett:

“We fought a regiment of Indians. As we drove them back one Indian took refuge behind a tree. We saw him and supposed he would surrender,” recalled Thomas J. Watkins of the Fourteenth North Carolina Infantry. “As we moved on he shot our color bearer. Many turned and fired, riddling him with bullets. The Indians fought bravely in the wood. When driven into the open they did not again fire on us, but ran like deer. We captured not one of them.” The Confederates failed to capture any of the retreating Indian Union soldiers after the 1864 Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia, but Colonel R.T. Bennett recounted: “Among the captures [objects] were copies of the Bible in the Ojibwa language.”

Sharpshooters like Payson Wolfe were highly trained and effective warriors who could turn the tide of battle.  They had high morale, but they still suffered from discrimination. “Fellow soldiers often  made uncomplimentary remarks, generally sticking to well-worn stereotypes of “desperate” or drunken men. Yet the Indian sharpshooters proved themselves time and time again in the grueling Virginia Battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Petersburg.”  Starting from “less than zero” in the eyes of the whites, the Indian recruits proved themselves to be fearless allies, crack shots, and devastating warriors.

Here in Northport the Anishinaabeg also sought to distinguish themselves from the Dakota, who in 1862 were involved in a fierce war with the US government in nearby Minnesota.  This pressure manifested itself in Northport, as evidenced by the diary of Reverend George N. Smith:

14 Sept Sabbath Went to Onumunese Ville.  Ahgosa was there all day.  At the close of the meeting I talked to the men about the fright [Dakota Uprising which began on August 17, 1862,]  Ahgosa said the Indians all felt bad about, would have a council at N.P. Tuesday PM to assure the whites of their friendship.
16 Sept PM had a large council at our school house in which the Indians gave the Whites every possible assurance of their friendship.  It was a very large council considerable many white also were in, also some women.

It seems the local tribes were at pains to show that they were “loyal” Indians and took much effort to reassure the townspeople of Northport of that fact.  And when they got the chance to enlist for the cause in 1863, they did not hesitate.

As for Payson Wolfe himself, it seems clear that his enlistment was also a chance for a new beginning in his life.  Eleven years earlier Payson had married Mary Jane Smith, on July 31st, 1851.  Payson was 19, Mary Jane was not quite 16.  At the time of his enlistment in 1863 Payson was 30 and the father of several children with Mary Jane. At no time during their 11 year marriage was there enough income in the household to sustain a comfortable existence.

The marriage of Payson and Mary Jane was remarkable for the fact that Mary Jane was white and Payson was Indian.  Marriages of white men to Indian women were common, but the reverse was very rare.  Mary Jane was the daughter of Reverend George Nelson Smith, missionary to the Indians. Neither of the mothers approved of the wedding and the ceremony was small and somewhat sad.  In marrying Mary Jane, Payson was caught between two worlds.   Part of him was still drawn to the highjinks and occasional drinking exploits of the lifelong companions of his youth, not to mention the traditional seasonal activities of hunting, fishing and trapping.  The “respectable” part, the settled husband, father, and householder, was harder to achieve.  Payson went to war to prove himself and make a new start.

In a touching letter home to his wife Mary Jane dated January 16, 1864, Payson makes clear that he intends to make good and apologizes for any past failings on his part.

I like to hear you say or write you are doing the best you can, I wish you happiness all the while. My dear wife if I had wished otherwise I would not have left you, for the good of you and our children. I have undertaken such a work as this now, and not that I should be permitted to good reputation before men. When I know you to be lonely or getting sick of me, I also get uneasy for you. You know not dear wife how much I love you. I say the truth, I love you. Should I see anything I could Possibly do for you in this world, I would do it. And now although I would have been very glad to stay with you at home, to see me every day, and know that my mother loves me very much, for I am her only son living, my brothers all died long ago…

And although I knew that I should have to put a piece of a wood under my head for a pillow and have to sleep on a bare floor or ground. All this did not stop me, I determined to go for the good of you. My dear wife, if you think over this , you will see. And you well know, that no person led me to enlist, it was my own will that brought me here, … These are my constant thoughts. if I should meet you again, I shall not be as I have been before…

I give you my best respects & love to Father and Mother, and Annie. Also [scratched out word] my own mother for me and children, kiss them for me. I am one who loves you and your devoted husband and a soldier.
Payson Wolfe

“I shall not be as I have been before,” writes Payson.  Clearly Payson intends to please his wife and has remorse for whatever past failings he may have been guilty of, and in this letter he pledges to do better.

As the war wore on, Payson was eventually captured and sent to Andersonville prison, a veritable hell on earth.  Eventually Payson is released and when he arrives home in December, 1864, he reports of his ordeal:

From the diary of his father-in-law, Rev. George N. Smith, Sr.:

December 20 1864 : Payson arrived about 2 PM, a paroled prisoner. was paroled at Savannah & 1100 prisoners took the Steam Ship Constitution & were landed at Annapolis. they were furnished a suit of clothes on going on board the ship & another suit when they landed at Annapolis. he says they suffered terribly while prisoners — going sometimes 2 & 3 days & a number of times 4 days with out eating at all —  — men robbed of their blankets & overcoats & lived & slept in the open weather, their bed the ground, their covering the rain — water sometimes 4 inches deep where they had to lie. All the family took supper and with us eve.
December 30 1864 : Payson, Mary and the children spent the eve here, had supper with us. He tells shocking stories of their suffering while prisoners — he says when men got so weak they could not keep their rations on their stomachs — would vomit up beans as soon as swallowed & others would rush to eat the vomit with greediness & often the boiled rice would be alive with full grown maggots — he has eat it so — was obliged to or starve.

Payson Wolfe’s health had declined during the summer months and autumn of 1864. His captain, James S. DeLand, remembered, “He was attacked with diarrhea first and then with scurvy, his gums swelled, a part of his teeth fell out, his legs & arms swelled to a monstrous size, his muscles contracted badly so that it was difficult to move at all.” One of his fingers was infected with gangrene, and the use of his left arm never fully recovered.

Payson returned home, permanently crippled in his left arm and emotionally scarred.  He was a shadow of his former self, malnourished and half broken.  Still, he returned again to war, this time recruiting 3 fellow Native Americans to join him, John Jacko, Aaron Sahgahnahquato, and John Kinewahwanipi.  All three of these new recruits had relatives who had been killed or captured in the war, suggesting family or community motives for enlisting, rather than merely the inducement of bounty payments.

Payson eventually returns from the war for good, having done his duty with honor and distinction. Eventually, after much red tape and delay, Payson receives a pension for his disabilities. But not every fairy tale has a happy ending.  When Payson finally returns home to stay he is still beset by problems.  Coming home and making a life with his family is not easy. Eventually Payson and Mary Jane divorce, and Payson finishes out his days living with his mother in Cross Village.

Payson Wolfe finishing out his days in Cross Village, with unidentified boy.

Payson Wolfe, Civil War veteran and former husband of Mary Jane Smith died on December 7th, 1900 in Cross Village, and is buried there.

Compiled and written by Mark Smith.

Sources: Raymond J. Herek, “These Men have Seen Hard Service: The First Michigan Sharpshooters in the Civil War”; Walter Clark, ed., “Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions From North Carolina in the Great War 1861-’65, Vol. III”; Chris Czopek, “Who Was Who in Company K: Reliable Facts About the Native American Soldiers in Company K, 1st Michigan Sharpshooters, During the Civil War 1861-1865”; “American Indians in Confederate Territory”, by Walter S. Coddington [https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/23/american-indians-in-confederate-territory/]; “Both the Honor and the Profit”: Anishinaabe Warriors, Soldiers, and Veterans from Pontiac’s War through the Civil War, by Michelle K. Cassidy [https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/133496/mckrysia_1.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=n]; Native Americans in the Civil War, by Dr. Clarissa W. Confer [https://www.cowboysindians.com/2017/11/native-americans-in-the-civil-war/]

Aaron Page reports about voter suppression incident in 1866

Voter Suppression in Bingham Township in 1866

Aaron Page reports about voter suppression incident in 1866


It is an election year and don’t we all know it! Mark Smith of Leland, Michigan, one of our newest members, wrote an interesting article about an early case of voter suppression experienced by Native Americans here in Leelanau in 1866.  It was published in the Leelanau Enterprise on October 8, 2020 and will soon be published in the Northern Express. Thanks to Mark for contributing this article to the archives at the Omena Historical Society. It reminds us that voting rights are still something to fight for! Mark is a retired English teacher and his main area of research is the early days of Northport and Omena. He has this to say about the article he wrote:

“A remarkable document came my way recently by way of a fellow researcher, Larry Wycoff. Larry knows my area of interest and he sent me a scan of a letter, untranscribed, from Aaron Page of Omena to the Indian Agent, Richard Smith, dated 1866. The letter concerns voter intimidation and suppression of local Indian votes through strong arm trickery. It is indicative of much larger concerns of the time.

The Native Americans were unhappy with the way their land was being assessed and allocated by Supervisor Robert Lee. Their deeds to their land were often not registered (or registered wrongly), and so their land claims were falling between bureaucratic cracks. They decided to be agents of change and to vote against Supervisor Robert Lee. You will see for yourself how that went. I would say it was an act of bravery and self-determination, and I would also say that Aaron Page, the author of the letter, was one of the good guys, at least attempting to stick up for the Indians.

And here is the Full Article:
Voter Suppression in Bingham Township, 1866

Here is a story for our times. In the late summer of 1866, “forty or fifty Indians” turned up to vote in a local election in Bingham Township. Ever since 1850, when Indians were granted state citizenship (provided they renounced any tribal affiliations), they were able to cast ballots for local and state offices. However the process of voting in 1866 was different than today. Voting then was not a private choice made in the confines of a voting booth. It was not until the turn of the century that “secret” ballots became the norm, following the Australian model. In 1896, for example, Americans in thirty-nine out of forty-five states cast secret, government-printed ballots. But in Bingham Township in 1866 voting was a public matter so everyone knew how you voted.

How did voting work then? Party activists distributed lists of names (“tickets”) of candidates to voters, hoping they would support those candidates. The tickets would be exclusively from one party, Democrat or Republican. Incumbents had a distinct advantage, using their position to make promises and threats to recalcitrant voters, knowing all the time that the actual vote would be a matter of public record. In the case of the Indians it was usually the Indian Agent, also a partisan, who provided the tickets, which were then brought to the voting booth and handed over to the voting officials. According to historian Jill Lepore “Shrewd partisans began bringing prewritten ballots to the polls, and handing them out with a coin or two. Doling out cash—the money came to be called “soap”—wasn’t illegal; it was getting out the vote.”

Why was getting out the vote so important? In 1866 when a new party came to power there was always a wholesale firing of old party officials and a reassignment of jobs to new, loyal party members. This practice, called the spoils system (or patronage system), would remain the status quo until the Pendelton Act of 1883 was enacted as part of a civil service reform movement. Today we still operate under the Pendleton Act, with civil servants mostly staying on in their posts despite election consequences, thereby ensuring a level of expertise and continuity, rather than the disruptive firings and hirings of the spoils system. So, to be clear, in 1866 there was added pressure and added incentive for party officials “get out the vote” by any means necessary in order to save their jobs.

The letter which follows was written by Aaron Page, who moved to Northport in 1854 and married Joseph Dame’s daughter, Almira. Page would later go on to become Omena’s first long-term postmaster. Here, then, is the letter from Aaron Page to Indian Agent Richard M. Smith, dated August 1st, 1866. Read closely and you will see the rather nefarious operations of the Inspectors as they attempt (and succeed) in depriving the Indians of the right to vote their choice.

Indian Suffrage, Bingham

Aaron B. Page
Letter Aug 1 1866
on Indian Suffrage

Bingham, Mich
Aug 1st, 1866
R.M. Smith, Indian Agent

I herewith enclose a brief statement of the proceedings of the Inspectors of Election, viz Robert Lee, Supervisor, H.G. Sutton, Town Clerk and A.D. Belloy, oldest justice of the town of Bingham at the last Township Meeting at which time they refused the Indians the right to vote.

As long as the Indians allowed themselves to be dictated by them and vote as they wished there was not one word said against their voting.But the Indians had become dissatisfied with the Assessment made by the Supervisor, Robert Lee, and as he had held the office several terms they determined if possible to elect a new man.

As soon as the Town Board were appraised of their intention it was hinted about that the Indians would not be permitted to vote, but on what grounds they were to be excluded was not mentioned. The Indians therefore resolved to fulfill on their part every requirement of the law that there should be no lawful reason to deter them from voting, consequently all that were not certain their names were entered on the Book of Registration went to the Town Clerk previous to the day of the Election and had them registered.

On the day of Election all Indians, numbering between forty and fifty, went to Polls together, taking an Interpreter with them. On their arrival I stated to the Town Board that as the Indians had learned they were to be excluded from the Polls they had provided themselves with an Interpreter that all might plainly understand on what grounds the Hon. Board pretended to sustain such a decision. To which they replied they were very glad that we had brought an Interpreter as they were very desirous of explaining to the Indians the reasons that had induced them to make the decision they had. They went on to say that if the Indians were permitted to vote they would lose their Annunities. The Indians replied “ we will run the risk – we have voted ten years, receiving our annuities in the meantime as usual and we are confident we shall not forfeit by exercising our rights as citizens by voting.”

The Board then said “they could not receive their votes as they were not citizens. They were receiving pay from the government and were consequently minors, besides they were not subject to the draft.” Neither did the same laws of the state prohibit their killing deer and other wild game.

It being noon the Board adjourned for dinner. The Polls were again opened at three o’clock and Peter Ance offered his vote, which was challenged by L. D. Quackenbush, and told by A. D. Belloy that his name was not on the Register. The Indian enquired how it could be that his name was not on the Register for he had voted here several times before and no one had made the least objection. The Board offered no explanation but asked him if he did not receive pay from the government. To which he replied in the affirmative, and to the question “do you belong to a Tribe” he answered No! He then offered to swear in his vote but the Board would not administer the oath nor receive his ticket. I referred them to the law on this subject where it plainly states that “if the Indian shall take the oath prescribed the Board shall receive his vote. But the Board were immovable and after two more had made ineffectual attempts to vote the Indians retired peaceably and returned home.

John B. Ance, Peter Ance, and Joseph Chippewa were the only ones who presented their tickets to the Moderator as they were repeatedly informed by the Board that they would not be received.

Yours Respectfully,
A.B. Page