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