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The year of the white man's first appearance here is not known. There are vague traditions and legends, coming through Indian sources, that pale-faced explorers or adventurers visited these Rapids nearly a century and a half ago - about 1750. But if they did they left no footprints.

Captain Jasper Parish, for some time engaged in vessel building here and in navigation of the river, in 1847 had a conversation with an aged Indian at Grand Haven, from whom he gathered a tradition to this effect:  In August, 1748, there came to the Rapids of Grand River one William Fitzgerald, and, standing on Prospect Hill, he prophesied to the red men who gathered around him that before a century should elapse the white men would occupy this place, with their homes and all the arts and appliances of civilization. Captain Parish did not attempt to rehearse the story in full, much of which he did not quite understand; but this was its purport, and the Indian added that Fitzgerald died and was buried near White Lake; also that a son of one of his attendants was then living, which would indicate that there were others with that supposed early explorer of these regions.

Doubtless this story may be taken with considerable allowance; inasmuch as no corroborative evidence has appeared. It is undoubtedly true that white men visited this Grand River Valley before Indian trading posts were established in 1821: and probably there were visitors to those posts and to the mission stations before 1833; but they were few and far between, and very few of their names are preserved. Even of those directly connected with the posts and the missions the number was not large; scarcely more than a score of persons in all. Two or three instances of early exploration are well authenticated.

Chief Noonday once told Richard Godfroy that as early as 1800 a white man, a French trader, erected a cabin at Grand Rapids, but the name he did not know.

In 1827 one Samuel Holloway, a boy of seventeen years, came to Grand Rapids with a party to distribute supplies to the Indians, and assisted Louis Campau in building his log house, the first habitation for white men here. Holloway went away about 1832, just before the Yankee settlers began to come in, and when there were but nine log cabins and shops and no frame buildings here. He never visited this place again till 1872, though at this latter date he had for three years been living within twelve miles of the city. The nine log huts referred to were doubtless three at the trading post, three at the Baptist Mission Station, and three down by the Indian village.

In May, 1819, Gordon S. Hubbard, of Chicago, visited the mouth of Grand River with a friend, and witnessed an Indian "feast for the dead." But he did not stop there long; he was then on a trip along shore from Chicago to Mackinac, and in an account of it said that he saw no white man, except a trader near the mouth of the St. Joseph River.

Francis Bailey, a half-white, came here about 1828, from Eastern Canada.

He had an Indian wife and settled at the Indian village opposite the foot of the Rapids. He was a "medicine man" among them, and built a small house in which he resided till after the treaty of 1835. He then sought to get, as an Indian, the forty-acre piece of land on which he lived, to separate from the tribe and make it his permanent home. His application was rejected, he said, because he "was not full-blood Indian." He next sought to retain his home by entry under the preemption law, but was again repulsed, on the ground that he "was not a white man."

He said to the writer of this: "I found it bad to be not white man nor Indian, and I did not know what I was. A white man got my place and my house, and so I went with the Indians. It will make no difference when I die." Mr. Bailey died at or near Pentwater in 1887, aged eighty years.

In 1830, when Caleb Eldred came into Michigan, he was for some time prostrated with fever at Jackson. He sent out as a "land looker" one Ruell Starr, who explored this valley, and also that of the Kalamazoo River - went back and reported most glowingly in favor of the latter, which was selected as the place of their future operations.

In 1854, Noah Humphrey Osborne, of Cortland county, N. Y., informed a friend that in 1829 he was at the Rapids of Grand River, and for some days was sick at the wigwam of Chief Noonday, who cared for him as tenderly as if he were his own child. From a letter written by Mr. Osborne to the editor of this book, dated McGrawville, N. Y., January 10, 1888, the following is extracted: "When Michigan was a Territory, several young men were contemplating the formation of a colony to remove west. I was selected to explore, and decide and report a suitable place for the settlement. I came to Detroit, purchased an outfit, with a good horse, and took the territorial road about as far as the present city of Jackson thence followed the general course of the river three or four days on Indian trails, not seeing a white settlement and but few white hunters. Saw many Indians. Lost my compass in a dark day, and lost my trail, and when night came on I was lost. I tied my horse to a tree, took saddle for a pillow, wrapped my blanket around me, laid down, hungry, sick, lost and discouraged; tried to sleep, but the unmusical voices of wolves kept me wakeful. While thinking I had made a fool of myself in leaving old Connecticut for this useless tramp through the wilds of Michigan, I was startled by the sound of a footstep, and a minute later an Indian was at my side. I arose and followed him to a cluster of wigwams, or camp. He conducted me to the chief. I cannot recall the name of the chief or the tribe - it may have been Noonday. I was kindly received, given something to eat, and furnished a bed of skins, with my feet to the fire, where I slept. I was given a concoction of herbs which relieved me from my sickness. The camp or town was near the river where there were falls or rapids. After remaining two or three days and recovering from my fatigue and sickness, having seen none but Indians, I was furnished by the chief with a young Indian for a guide, who with his pony conducted me to a white settlement, having gone in a southerly direction for several hours, and which I have believed was that of the present Kalamazoo. Returning to my New England home I made my report, which was that there was as fine land as the sun ever shone upon; that there were more Indians than white men, and more fever and ague than Indians and whites put together. The colony failed to organize, deeming my report unfavorable. Six or eight years later, or thereabout, I was again in Michigan, and found everything changed vastly for the better. * * And now at eighty-six years of age I am trying to recall facts   occurring more than sixty years ago from a treacherous memory."

 [Mr. Osborne explained that his diary, notes and papers were burned many  years ago].

The late W. L. Coffinberry used to narrate the story of an early transaction in the whisky traffic, as given him upward of forty years ago by one McBride, of Ohio, who stated that he visited Louis Campau's trading post at the Rapids about 1828. It was to the effect that McBride and partners in business shipped a cargo of whisky to Detroit, and, not there finding a market for half of it, proceeded to Mackinaw, from there to Milwaukee, and thence to Chicago, supplying the trade at each place, and having ten barrels left, which they brought over to Grand Haven, and up to the Rapids in a scow or pole boat. Here he said he sold the last of his cargo, to Campau, and proceeded to relate a ludicrous story of how quickly the Indians scented or heard of the supply, and came to purchase of the fur trader; also of the laughable conduct of the Indians under the effect of their potations, as they carried the liquor away in their canoes.

It is but fair to add that Mr. Campau declared that he had no remembrance of any such transaction, nor of purchasing any such quantity of spirits at his station.

The late Richard Godfroy once said that in 1834 he was informed by the older Indian chiefs here that a Frenchman named La framboise established a trading post by their village at these Rapids, and built a cabin there, on the west side of the river, as early as about 1806. The chiefs described the hut as built of logs and bark, chinked with clay, and about thirty feet in length, and said they assisted him in making it. In 1876, under Mr. Godfroy's instructions, a facsimile of that cabin was made and exhibited at the Public Square on the Fourth of July. Probably the exact date of the coming of that trader is beyond verification; but it appears certain that Madame La framboise soon after had a trading hut on the north side of Grand River, some two miles below the mouth of Flat River.

The post was stocked by the American Fur Company. She doubtless came in from Michilimackinac, where was recorded, July 11, 1804, the marriage of Joseph Laframboise and Magdelaine Marcot. One Joseph La framboise, by the provisions of the Chicago treaty of 1821. was given a section of land on the St. Joseph River. If this trader at Lowell be the same lady named in the marriage record, she died at or near Mackinac in April, 1846, at the age of sixty-six years. Some part of the foundation of her house or hut in Lowell is still preserved, its owner being Thomas W. Porter, of this city.

In the first decade of this century a French trader had a post where now is the City of Muskegon, and a son was born to him there in 1810. The latter - Etienne Lamarandier - is now living, hale and well preserved, near the village of Newaygo.

It has been related by W. Ferry that as early as 1810 Pierre Constant, an agent of the American Fur Company, established a trading post on Grand River a little distance from its mouth. Not many years later than that a French trader named Rudell was in or near the Indian village on the west side of the river near these Rapids. He died there, leaving a family in which were two or three daughters. A resident of the Muskegon Valley then and since - La marandier - remembers them, but nothing concerning their subsequent history.

Rix Robinson was the successor of Madame La framboise. He came to the mouth of the Thornapple River in 1821, as the agent of the same company, purchased her stock and outfit, and besides the post at Ada had several other trading stations, at Grand Haven and down the lake shore northward.

Rix Robinson married an Indian girl who was his companion through life. He died in 1875, aged eighty-five years. He was an educated man, the first permanent white settler in Kent county, and after abandoning the fur trade, which he did and turned his attention to farming and domestic matters, he served honorably in several public positions. He was a man of commanding presence; tall, dignified and independent in bearing, and it was said of him that no white man in Michigan had more positive influence with the native Indians; that they not only loved and respected but stood in awe of him. He left a memory to be cherished and venerated by both races. Doubtless his trading boats, between 1821 and 1833, passed every year up and down this river. A monument to his memory was erected at Ada in June, 1887.

Louis Campau came to Grand Rapids in 1826, and engaged in the Indian trade, under a government license. He was born in Detroit in 1791, and was one of the soldiers surrendered by Gen. Hull to the British in 1812.

After that he was engaged with Detroit merchants in selling goods to the Indians at Saginaw. Following are the original instructions given him with his license from the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, as a trader, a license upon the acceptance of which it was necessary to give bonds, and which was liable to be revoked on well-grounded complaint:

Instructions to Louis Campau, this day licensed to trade with the Indian nation at _____________ 1.  Your trade will be confined to the place to which you are licensed. 2.  Your transactions with the Indians will be confined to fair and friendly trade. 3.  You will attend no Councils held by the Indians, nor send them any talk or speech, accompanied by wampum. 4. You are forbidden to take any spirituous liquors of any kind into the Indian country; or to give, sell or dispose of any to the Indians. 5. Should any person attempt to trade in the Indian county without   a license; or should any licensed traders carry any      spirituous liquors into the Indian country; or give, sell      or dispose of any to the Indians, the Indians are      authorized to seize and take to their own use the goods    of such traders; and the owner shall have no claim on the  Indians or the United States for the same. 6. Should you learn that there is any person in the Indian country,      trading without a license, you will immediately report the   name of such person, and the place where he is trading,   to some Indian agent. 7. The substance of the 5th regulation you will communicate to the Indians. 8. You will take all proper occasions to inculcate upon the Indians the necessity of peace; and to state to them that it is the wish of their Great Father, the President, to live in   harmony with them; and that they must shut their ears to   any wild stories there may be in circulation. Given under my hand, at the city of Detroit, this 15th day of November, 1822. WILLIAM WOODBRIDGE, Secretary, and at present vested with the powers of Superintendent of Indian Affairs therein.

 For such trade Louis Campau came to this valley, arriving in November, 1826, being engaged also by Mr. Brewster, of New York, to buy furs. With two assistants, he spent his first winter here at the Indian village. In the following year he built two log cabins, one for a dwelling and the other for trading uses, also a small shop, for blacksmithing and other mechanical work. These were of partially hewn timbers, and of the kind in those days denominated block houses. They were by the river bank at or near what is now Huron street, at the foot of the east side canal, and were the first buildings erected here on that side of the river, and the only ones on the left bank until six years later.

Subsequently, Mr. Campau made this place his permanent home, and became prominent among its pioneers. Always on friendly terms with the red men, he enjoyed with them a profitable trade, not only here but throughout the northern half of this peninsula of Michigan. His brother, Toussaint, came here in the latter part of 1827, and a few years later two other brothers, Antoine and George. These Campau families were all prominent in the early growth and development of Grand Rapids. Louis Campau was twice married. His first wife died at Saginaw. His second wife died here in 1869, aged sixty-two. He died in 1871 at nearly eighty years of age. Toussaint died in 1872. Antoine died in 1874, aged seventy-seven. George died in 1879, aged seventy-seven. Daniel Marsac came here in 1828; afterward went to Lowell, and in 1831 established a trading post there, opposite the mouth of Flat River.

The French and afterward the English missionaries and traders along these upper lakes, with headquarters mainly at Michilimackinac, for nearly two hundred years before the settlement of this valley, undoubtedly had stations at Grand River, as they did at other points between the Straits and Chicago, and probably their couriers passed up and down the stream nearly every year, and also traversed the wilderness between it and Saginaw Bay. But there is very little of authentic history which gives names and dates on that subject; therefore it rests in comparative obscurity.

In documents on file in Canadian archives there are mentions of "Indian licenses" granted at Quebec for Michilimackinac and places beyond, in 1778; also of canoes put in general store at Michilimackinac, with names and residences of the traders.

In these appears the name of Louis Chabollier, licensed for Grand River, with two canoes, carrying fuzees "20;" gunpowder, "60," and shot and ball, "1,200." Whether kegs or pounds of powder and ammunition are meant by the figures used is not stated. Also in 1780 Pierre Chabolierre was licensed for Grand River, with one canoe.


French Jesuit missionaries established headquarters at Mackinaw (Michilimackinac) at a very early date; the exact time is in doubt, but it appears by their church records kept at that place that the rite of baptism was there administered by them in 1616. Books used by them contained earlier dates. From time to time, as their number was increased by arrivals from Canada, missionaries were sent from Mackinaw to all the Indian villages, who generally succeeded in gaining the esteem and confidence of the natives. Every missionary on his return made report of his doings, which, in brief form, was placed upon the record.

It is supposed that by this plan of missionary operation all the Indian tribes and communities, including the villages at Grand Rapids, were visited, several times, more than two centuries ago. But nothing very definite has been learned from those early Mackinaw records as to any particular locality; and the mission history here at the Rapids, as late as 1812, is about as obscure and uncertain as that of two hundred years earlier.

By the Chicago treaty of 1821 the United States Government engaged to expend $1,000 annually for fifteen years in support of a teacher and blacksmith among the Potawatomie Indians; also to furnish the Ottawas with a teacher, blacksmith, some cattle and farming utensils, to be located upon a square mile of land for mission purposes, the land to be held as Government property, and to expend for these latter $1,500 annually for ten years. These two tribes claimed brotherhood and lived, in harmony with each other. Isaac McCoy, who had been designated by the Board of Managers of the Baptist Missionary Convention of the United States to labor as a missionary, was appointed superintendent of the persons employed to carry into effect these provisions of the treaty.

Upon the representation of McCoy the Potawatomie mission was located on the St. Joseph River, where Niles now stands, and that for the Ottawas on the north side of Grand River, opposite the foot of the Rapids, where was an Indian village of some threescore huts, of which New-kish-kum was the head chief. Noonday, well known by some whites who are yet living, was then the chief of the Ottawa tribe. Only well-worn trails led to this aboriginal center -- that was before the days of improved roads. The territory of the Ottawas extended southward to the Kalamazoo River. The station at St. Joseph River was named Carey; that at the Rapids was called Thomas.

Previous to the selection of these sites, elaborate instructions had been given McCoy by Gen. Lewis Cass, then the Territorial Governor, the purpose of them briefly stated, being: 1. Give the Indians, young and old, such instructions as are deemed best   suited to their habits and condition; exercising discretion as to the   proportion of moral and religious instructions. 2. Inculcate proper sentiments toward the Government and citizens of the   United States, and strive to wean the Indians of their affections   toward any foreign power. 3. Labor assiduously against the use of ardent spirits, and to prevent   the free introduction of whisky among the natives. 4. Watch the conduct of the traders, and report infractions of the laws   to the nearest agent. 5. Strive to induce the Indians to engage in agriculture and the rearing   of domestic animals. 6. Instruct them as to the best mode of expending their annuities, and   against unlawful traffic. 7. Seek to promote the general good of the Indians, and to persuade them   to stay at home.

Gen. Cass also advised the employment, if practicable, of young natives as laborers.

McCoy, with his family, pupils and assistants, reached Carey Station December 18, 1822. The company numbered thirty-two persons. They stayed there through the winter, which was one of intense cold, subjecting them to much suffering.

May 26, 1823, McCoy started for Thomas Station on Grand River, to begin operations among the Ottawas, taking with him a Frenchman named Paget, for a pilot, one of his Indian pupils, and a laborer employed by the Government. They came by a route which had never before been traversed by white men. In one respect it was like going through an immense park, for on most of the way the trees were not thick, and there was very little underbrush, that being kept down by the fires annually kindled by the savages to burn out the dead grass.

At an Indian camp by Kalamazoo river they obtained venison. They forded or swam that river. They were four days on the journey, and crossed Grand River on the 30th of May.

On his arrival, McCoy was unable to identify the site which had been selected by the Government Commissioners for the Ottawa station. It had been so minutely described to him that he thought he should recognize it at sight, but he could find no place answering to the description given him. He also found it difficult to obtain audience with the chiefs. Some of the Indians thought him a medicine man with a marvelous gift of healing, and an old squaw brought him her son to be cured of fits. At the village they had in some way procured whisky, and were carousing and turbulent. It seems that the Ottawas distrusted the missionary, and were dissatisfied with the disposal of their lands by the Chicago treaty.

They thought it illegal. Stopping only three days. the party, much discouraged, went back to the Carey Mission, and did not return here till late in the fall.

A teacher named Polke was sent here that year, with a blacksmith and an apprentice and two or three laborers. In November, 1824. Mr. McCoy again came up, accompanied by Mr. Sawyer (blacksmith), Mettiz (laborer), and Gosa, an Indian. They reached here the first day of December, and selected the site where afterward were placed the Baptist Mission buildings, when McCoy immediately returned to Carey. At this visit Noonday showed him a salt spring and some gypsum rock, probably that at Plaster Creek. The guide said it was supposed that "the spirits fed there."

In the spring of 1825 another expedition was started for Thomas, and the Indians at the mission were found friendly. Improvements, in cheap dwellings, fences, and cultivation, were noticeable. In September of that year a boat laden with iron, steel, plows, yokes, chains, and other articles needed, came by way of the lake and Grand River from St. Joseph to the Thomas Mission, and several cattle were driven here. Hands were then set at work to erect permanent log buildings. These were built a little south of where now is West Bridge street, and just west of the location of Front street.

Says McCoy in his journal: "The place we had selected for the establishment of the mission we could easily perceive would one day become a place of great importance - much more so than that which had originally been selected for it by the United States Commissioner."

He supposed the original selection to have been some distance up the river - perhaps at the mouth of the Thornapple. The work at Thomas Station went forward, more cattle were sent in, journeys forth and back from Carey Station (Niles) were made, and progress kept pace with the effort.

After McCoy, or perhaps under his superintendence, came the Rev. Leonard Slater. Mr. Slater was born at Worcester, Mass., November 16, 1802. He was appointed missionary to western Indians at the Baptist Triennial Convention of 1826. and in May of that year married Mary F. Ide, of Vermont.

Together the young couple came to the Carey Mission near Niles in the succeeding fall, having traveled through the woods from Detroit on horse back. In the spring of 1827 Slater was placed in charge of the Thomas Mission at this place. He remained here until 1836, preaching and teaching an Indian school, during which time he so fully mastered the Ottawa language as to use it nearly as readily as the English. Governor Cass visited both the Niles and Grand Rapids missions, and expressed his pleasure at their work, especially commending the zeal and faithfulness of the missionaries in charge.

Among Mr. Slater's first converts here was Chief Noonday. In its best estate about 150 families of Indians were attached to this mission, though there were probably two or three times as many whose homes, such as they had, were not far away. There were at the mission with Mr. Slater the blacksmith, H. Rush, and his wife and child. Two other blacksmiths - Secord and P. F. Chubh - are mentioned.

Agent R. D. Potts and wife were teachers at the school, and several other men were employed in various ways about the grounds or in direct connection with the work. There came also a Mr. Meeker and wife, and a Miss Thompson, and later Miss Day and Miss Bond. Subsequently the latter married Francis Prescott, afterward a Baptist preacher. To Mr. Slater and wife, while at this station, were born four children: Sarah Emily (Mrs. St. John. of Kalamazoo), August 12. 1827; George L., February 9, 1829; Francis I.. December 29, 1832, and Brainard, September 21. 1835.

In December, 1832, Slater was appointed postmaster and held that office till September 1, 1836.

The ground occupied by these Indian missions, or what was called the mission reserve," afterward sold for their benefit, comprised about 160 acres on the left hank of the river, extending from West Bridge street down to eighty rods south of West Fulton street - lots Nos. 1, 2 and 3, as marked on the U. S. survey charts or tract books. Missionary Isaac McCoy, in February, 1845, testified under oath that about fifteen acres of the ground were fenced under his direction, and half an acre plowed and planted.

Also that the "hewed log buildings" were: "A dwelling about eighteen or twenty feet wide and twenty-four feet long: school house about the same; a kitchen less: another dwelling of hewed logs was begun which was afterward made a two-story building with a stone chimney, and a small stable."

McCoy was last there in 1829, when "probably the nearest settlements were at Pontiac and Ann Arbor." The mill erected by government aid for this mission was about one and a quarter miles due north from this land or Bridge street, on the small creek near where now is the track of the Detroit, Grand Haven and Milwaukee Railway. The rapid influx of white settlers which began in the spring of 1833, with the contaminating and demoralizing influences thereto pertaining, soon indicated to the authorities the advisability if not absolute necessity of a removal of this mission.

There had been lack of harmony between McCoy and Slater, and after the former retired the latter had whisky and adverse plottings of various sorts to contend with. In 1836 land was purchased at Prairieville, Barry county, to which locality the Rev. Slater removed, with his band. About fifty families of Indians removed. These included the brave, noble and dignified Chief Noonday.

Slater continued his work there till 1852, when he removed to Kalamazoo; though for several years thereafter he preached at the station, riding thirteen miles therefor. He died at Kalamazoo, April 27, 1866. His first wife, who shared his work here, died in 1850. The Ottawa chief Noonday lived to be more than 100 years old. He died and was buried at the Slater (Prairieville) Station. No stone or other device marks his resting place, while the plow of the ruthless white man from year to year turns the fallow earth, or the sighing winds sing his sad requiem through the rustling leaves of the me-daw-min (corn) that grows luxuriant over his remains.

About the time of the beginning of permanent white occupation at Grand Rapids, Vicar-General Frederic Baraga located a Roman Catholic Mission here, at the lower Indian village. He erected there the frame of a building for a church. This structure, at the solicitation of Louis Campau, was moved across the river early in the spring and was afterward used for other purposes. The Baraga Mission service was short, only lasting about two years; though the Rev. Andreas Viszoczky continued to look after the Catholic Indians there as a part of his pastoral charge as long as any remained. Father Baraga was consecrated Vicar Apostolic of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in 1853, and died January 19, 1868, at Marquette.

These missions, Baptist and Catholic, ended their work here, practically, shortly after the cession of the lands north of Grand River to the Government. The assignment of the Indians to reservations in other parts of the country soon followed, and subsequently their general removal.

The mission lands here were sold, and the proceeds divided between the two missions, by amicable agreement; the Baptists receiving $I2,000 and the Catholics $8,000. The final settlement of the title to those lands was a somewhat troublesome matter, on account of conflicting claims, and with that ended what may be termed the mission period, under Government most prominent city but one in Michigan.

As late as 1847 Mary L. Kingsbury, and after her Charles Ellet, raised corn and garden vegetables on the Baptist mission-house grounds.

Tradition has it that the Rev. Gabriel Richard, a French Catholic priest and missionary, came among the Indians on this river about the beginning of the 1800s. There is very little of authentic record concerning his mission; but enough to give probability to the story. He shortly afterward became known for his travels in the earlier settled portions of the territory, from Detroit to Michilimackinac, and as connected with a newspaper printed at Detroit in 1809. Rev. Richard was sent to Congress as a delegate in 1823. He died in 1832. About the year 1799 Father Richard was at Mackinaw, and visited the Ottawas at Little Traverse Bay, and in 1821 he again visited that region, and thence by boat passed along the shore of Lake Michigan to St. Joseph and Chicago.

But no mention of Grand River appears in the account of these journeys. An Ottawa county chronicler speaks of Father Richard as arriving in 1799, "as a priest to the Grand River Indians," which is probably a mistake, as he was then a priest in St. Anne's Church, Detroit. He is said to have been finely educated, eloquent, and earnest in his profession. While in Congress he succeeded in securing appropriations for the Grand River and Pontiac territorial roads leading from Detroit.

Document Source: Baxter, Albert, History of the City of Grand Rapids, New York and Grand Rapids: Munsell & Company, Publishers, 1891. (Name Index)
Location of Original: Various.
Transcriber: Tom McCormick
URL: http://kent.migenweb.net/baxter1891/3whiteman.html
Created: 2 May 2000[an error occurred while processing this directive]