The Story of Grove Hill School

The Story of Grove Hill School
By Mark Smith, Omena Historical Society
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 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.

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.) 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)

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.

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 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 a 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 voting rights and land purchase rights (Karamanski 130). Unfortunately, the lands at Old Mission were not offered for immediate sale.  But land on the Leelanau peninsula was reserved for Indian purchase and was available.  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.

The Grove School, converted to the Hotel Leelanau

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 flock, children and parents.

This is Peter Dougherty’s working plan of Grove Hill School

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).

 

Native Language

One reason for the popularity of Reverend Dougherty’s school 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 his flock but 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..)

Here it is important to note an essential distinction: when the first government-run boarding schools later opened in 1860, 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 would be another feature of the Dougherty philosophy.

 

Parental Inclusion

Unlike the government-run boarding schools which started up in 1860, 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.  Dougherty tried to keep them close together but almost as soon as Reverend Dougherty’s flock began to settle in the 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).

Reverend Peter Dougherty

Reverend Peter Dougherty

Dougherty’s last letters to his friend Walter Lowrie, Corresponding Secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, have an air of resignation and sadness.  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 and a civilizing influence on his flock 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 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 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.

•••••••••

(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 Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

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

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.

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.

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 [Sic] Counties, Michigan. B.F. Bowen, 1903.

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

Reverend Peter Dougherty

News From Omena, July 1857

Letter to Walter Lowrie from Peter Dougherty, Grove Hill, 17 July, 1857
Transcription and commentary by Mark Smith, secretary, OHS

• In which we learn that Reverend Dougherty is ready to sever ties with the Presbyterian Board unless something can be done about Mr. Porter. •

In a previous post, News from Omena, January 1855, we learned of the hardships and challenges Reverend Peter Dougherty faced in organizing and running Grove Hill School, Dougherty’s residential school for Native Americans.  This 1857 letter from Peter Dougherty to Walter Lowrie, corresponding secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, comes a little over two years later and chronicles the infighting between Reverend Dougherty and John Porter over the running of the school.

In Reverend Dougherty’s introductory paragraph he praises Miss W. A. Isbell, Teacher of Female Department, and bemoans her imminent loss due to her heavy work load and low pay. This would be a recurring theme in Dougherty’s letters to Lowrie: the difficulty in recruiting and retaining good staff.

In the second paragraph Dougherty begins to come to the point: he wishes for the Board to change the terms of his employment or to discontinue employing him.  As the letter goes on the source of this ultimatum becomes clear.  At first Dougherty asks for more family time, which means a manse for his family to call their own, a place away from the daily running of the institution (where they currently lived). He also wants to be freed from the running of the school so that he may concentrate more fully on his pastoral duties as a minister to a wider flock.  But really, these wishes are merely the preamble for his main complaint.

Paragraph three bluntly introduces the main source of Dougherty’s dissatisfaction: “I supposed from your letters to me that I was considered in charge here and was responsible for the proper management of the institution.”  This is a delicate matter which Dougherty confronts head on.  Who is in charge of this school, me or Mr. Porter?  It is really quite bluntly put. To complicate matters further, it must be mentioned that John Porter, Teacher of Male Department, was a nephew to Andrew Porter, who was with Dougherty on Old Mission before being sent to Bear Creek (Petoskey) in 1852 to start a mission there. Andrew was Walter Lowrie’s nephew and John was Andrew’s nephew. John Porter arrived on the scene at New Mission in 1854.

Porter claims to have the “right of the entire control of the boys” and does not acknowledge Dougherty as his superior.  Dougherty makes his contempt of Mr. Porter clear, indicating that Porter is not really interested in the hard work of the school (“he got some what tired of the school and found the confinement oppressive”), and that Porter has vowed never to go back inside the school again, instead now to be in charge of outdoor work, for which, according to Dougherty, Porter acknowledges no superintendence (“you are not the boss of me,” in other words).  Dougherty then relinquishes any responsibility for the outdoor work.

In paragraph four we learn that Mr. Porter has been working as Deputy Surveyor for the county.  This job takes him far afield and leaves the rest of the staff short-handed.  The job of surveyor paid $3 per day, which was more than could be earned at the mission. Mr. Joseph Glenn, farmer, and George Craker, assistant, are both of the opinion that Porter’s frequent absences are “unfair”, and in fact George would have left by now (writes Dougherty), had it not been for assurances on Mr. Porter’s part that he would give up surveying.  But Mr. Porter did not give up surveying.  In fact, Porter seems to have been in direct communication with Walter Lowrie and it seems as if Walter Lowrie has told Porter that he does not need to account for his time, and that his pay at the mission would not be docked when Porter was out surveying: “He [Porter] said when he left the institution he intended to report the time thus lost, but that you had written to him he need not make any account of time thus lost.”  In finishing Dougherty softens his criticism somewhat (“I may have wrong views on the matter”) but still manages to imply that Mr. Porter does not really care about his job at the Mission.

The last part of Dougherty’s letter thanks the Board for all its many kindnesses, before circling back to Dougherty’s initial request to be relieved of the duties of running the institution (the school), in favor of just being a minister, which is already enough.  Dougherty seems to be laying down a marker for the Board.  He wants a house for his family and he wants nothing more to do with the school.

It would not be until 1862 that George Craker was appointed Mission Farmer, replacing John Porter.  Mr. Porter and family settled in Leland township and remained, and Porter continued surveying at least as late as 1884.   Mr. Dougherty remained as superintendent and eventually built a house for himself and his family at his own expense, remaining in Omena until the mission is discontinued in 1871.

To sum up, in this 1857 letter from Reverend Dougherty we witness the cauldron of petty rivalries and slights which made the running of Grove Hill School even more difficult than it might have already been.  And here is another thing to consider .. John Porter’s wife, Annis McElvain, was Mary McConnell’s sister.  Mary (McElvain) McConnell, cook and laundress at the school, was later married to George Craker, who was nine years younger than her.  In other words, in addition to John Porter’s relationship to Walter Lowrie, other relationships also determined the fault lines of daily relations at the school.  It wasn’t just the weather, the isolation, and the physical challenges of survival that made the job hard.  It was also infighting.  In fact, the infighting almost led to the closing of the school in 1857, when Reverend Peter Dougherty officially expressed his wish to be relieved of the burden of running it.

But he stayed on.  He worked it out. He persevered for the good of his flock.

And this is why primary sources are so fascinating and so important.  In the letters of Reverend Dougherty we see a man frustrated with the complications and hardships of his life NOW, not merely the summation of a life well-lived.  There was nothing pre-ordained in his success. Fortunately Reverend Dougherty found a way through the crisis and continued his mission to the Native Americans, otherwise we would have no story to tell at all.  By the end of 1858, with the assistance of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, Reverend Dougherty would supervise the building of both a new manse and a new church in Omena.

Thanks to Marsha Buehler, Archives and Exhibit Committee Chair, for help with background biographical info and advice
Here is the letter, and below is the transcription.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Walter Lowrie, Esq.
Grove Hill, July 17th, 1857

Dear Sir

I have our vouchers ready which I will forward with this, with a report of expenses. Miss Isbell would prefer if you would forward her salary to her friends in New Haven. The amt. of her bill her a [?] $19.13. She still complains of her hard service and says she can’t continue to do it another winter. After you wrote to me I saw her and the matter was talked over among the females and Mrs. McConnell assisted her for a time, why she did not continue or whether she will resume I have not learned. Miss Isbell is most industrious, takes good care of the girls, their clothing too, and deserves great praise for the time and labor she gives to them but others may feel that her plans impose more labor than is necessary. All are quite well – the school is going on regularly, not as full as last winter. Our supplies came the 15th. The season has been cold and backward but is now warm growing weather. Our wheat is fair and will if saved nearly furnish our bread for the next year.

After much reflection I feel it a duty to myself and family to signify my wish to have my relation with the board changed, either to have my relation discontinued or so changed that I can live out of the building. It is necessary to have early hours for family work and meals, which imposes on females and small children very early rising or to grow up without even the form of devotion. So with breakfast small children have to be furnished with meals out of time which interferes with the regular work of the dining room & kitchen. Again – with my time occupied as it is every day I find scarcely any time to instruct or take care of my children. Besides these things and the feeling that the members of the church and families here are neglected there are certain things here which I am not satisfied with and which brings me in collision with others and makes me feel I would rather withdraw and let others take the management of the institution.

I supposed from your letters to me that I was considered in charge here and was responsible for the proper management of the institution. After Mr. Porter came we consulted together and agreed on some rules by which the children should be governed. These rules were disregarded and he claimed to have the right of the entire control of the boys, that he had no instruction that there was to be any Superintendence and he did not acknowledge any. As to his management of the boys I say nothing further than I disapproved of it. After he got some what tired of the school and found the confinement oppressive and I became disabled and proposed to take the school he said he would not go in the school again but would take the outdoor work as I wrote to you. After entering in these duties he claimed the same independence he had in the school and told me as to the office of Superintendent he did not know how I had it unless you saw me exercising it & gave me the title because I had assumed the office as there was no Superintendent in other missions. I then relinquished all those matters to him and do not wished [sic] to be considered as responsible any further for out door matters.

The chief source of dissatisfaction with him has been his claiming and exercising the right of leaving the business of the mission to do frequent jobs of surveying. He has accepted the office Deputy Surveyor of the county. He has frequent calls to survey roads, village plots and lots of land from six to twenty miles distant. His doing so produces dissatisfaction. Mr. Glenn spoke of it as unfair and George this spring would have left on this account when the took charge of the farm if I had not persuaded him to remain and Mr. Porter told him he would give up surveying. I do not think it fair that one should have the right to drop the business of the mission and hiring out at $3 per day while others have to devote all their time to the institution, even if a substitute should be hired but when I suggested that it would be but right to allow the time, thus taken, to that and as much extra help had to be hired. He said when he left the institution he intended to report the time thus lost but that that you had written to him he need not make any account of time thus lost. I may have wrong views of this matter but with my views I do not feel well to have matters go so and others dissatisfied and complaining, causing them to feel if those who are regarded as heads here can neglect the interests of the mission for private gain they do not much care how matters go.

These are in a sense little matters but they cause irritation and lead me to the decision to separate myself from the institution and when freed from the responsibility I will not feel constrained to interfere, and those little heart burnings will be avoided.

With regard to the board, we are entirely satisfied and feel grateful for all the kindness we have experienced. My conviction is that duty calls for more time to be devoted to the members of the church and families about here. I do not see a clear indication to leave these people unless the Board do not feel able to sustain a missionary separate from the school. I do not think it would cause as much additional expense as you named if you can get a suitable man with a small family. I make this statement now that you may have time to consider the matter & secure some one – and if I go out of the institution and remain, I may make some arrangements for a place for my family to live.

Mr & Mrs. Beatty were at North Port last Saturday but the boat left before we got there so we did not see them.

Respectfully yours
P. Dougherty

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/]

Remembering Larry Bensley

larry-bensleyLarry Bensley, one of the most faithful and stalwart members of the Omena Historical Society since its inception passed away on Monday, November 22, 2016. It is impossible to begin to catalogue all of Larry’s contributions to our organization but most particularly he has been instrumental in providing management and oversight to the many issues relating to the Putnam-Cloud Tower Museum, the historical displays, the building repairs and maintenance, the various idiosyncrasies of the property and its role in our community.

Only last month, he and I were rummaging around the basement of the Museum where he pointed out some the building and site peculiarities to me. He was always more than willing to attend a meeting, bring tools and equipment to complete repairs and always ready to offer tours of the facility and its many facets. His wise counsel and enthusiasm were infectious and one of the key reasons why the Society has such a central role in our lives and the life of our community.

His absence will be incalculable and he will be forever missed. Our friend – rest in peace.

Keith Disselkoen
President, Omena Historical Society

Read Larry’s Bensley’s obituary in the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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