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Pay Day for the Indians
Uncle Sam, in the treaty of March, 1836, agreed to pay the Indians of western Michigan $18,000 annually for twenty years, at Grand Rapids. These pay days were great events in early times. As soon as the Indians had been notified that the federal agents would be here with the money on a specific day, they began to congregate at the rapids. Some of the, with their wives and children, came two weeks before pay day. They would camp on the four islands or along the banks of the river, and in the bushes on the higher ground.
The federal agents usually paid the Indians at one of the warehouses near the old steamboat landing between Market avenue and the river. There would be a long table in the center of the warehouse, upon which would be the receipts and piles of coins for each Red Man named as the government's beneficiary. The Indians would enter the front door one by one, make themselves known through interpreters by the side of the agents, sign the receipts, receive their money and walk out the rear exit.
All around the back door there would be crowds of traders, ready to take most of the money the Indians had just received. Generally the primitive Red Men could not refuse the tempting bargains offered them by the white traders. Often they were deeply in debt for goods purchased on credit months before and it took all they had just been given to pay off their indebtedness. The traders never hesitated to give the Indians credit at any time of the year.
Although the laws were strict against selling whisky to the Indians, to the shame of some of the early traders, it must be recorded that they did not obey this law. Nearly always, on the day after payments had been made, a score or more of Indians, who had imbibed too freely of the pale face's firewater, could be seen around the settlement.
The last payment was made October 29, 1857, when only $10,000 was disbursed in gold and silver to about 1,500 braves. After that payments were made at Pentwater.
The Indians living in and about the rapids of Grand river were, in general, peaceful and contented. They were friendly towards the white men, providing the first comers with fish and game and with fruits and berries in season. Deer were plentiful, and they would save choice bits of venison for friends in the village. The Indians also ate raccoon and muskrat flesh, and some of the early settlers, including Uncle Louis Campau, learned to like these kinds of meat. As the white settlers increased in numbers the Indians were more inclined to "swap" game, fish, fruits, berries, furs, dressed deerskins and moccasins for flour, salt, tobacco, ammunition, sugar and blankets, as well as for other articles they desired---not forgetting the firewater.
The Pottawottamies were transferred from this section to their reservation in Indiana, and later the Chippewas went to northern Michigan. Separate bands of Ottawas were transported, at different times, beyond the Mississippi.
The spring of 1859 was the first in the memory of white men when there were no Indian fishermen about the rapids or the islands of Grand river. Not a tent or wigwam was seen here in that spring, and the Indian sturgeon trade at the rapids was ended.
Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
Created: 14 December 1999