In Primeval Days

Long before Columbus set sail from Palos the site of Grand Rapids had been chosen for a dwelling place of man. Nature made Grand Rapids a good place to live. Red Man and white man took what Nature provided.

The spirit of hospitality appears always to have hovered over this city of the rapids. Here, ages ago, the Red Man conferred with those of his race upon questions of mighty import in peace and war, and here the chief and his braves dispensed good fare to all their guests. When the white man came he was given a hearty reception by the Indians, and with few exceptions good will prevailed between the two races. Here the first white settlers a century ago were most hospitable to newcomers. Year after year Grand Rapids exercised the rites of hospitality, good will, charity and peace, until today this city is famous throughout the nation for the friendliness and good cheer of its inhabitants.

Nature was generous to Grand Rapids. In primeval times the river, especially below the rapids which gave the city its name, abounded in fish life. Here the Indian could spear the sturgeon, which long since has vanished before the white man's innovations. In those times there were dense forests all about the city, and in the woods there was game in abundance. There were deer to be taken as they came to the river to drink. There were wild geese, ducks, turkeys, partridges, quail and hosts of other birds accounted great delicacies on the modern table. There were numerous springs, yielding pure water. The land was rich, and west of the river it was level. Upon this land the Indian raised his crop of corn and such vegetables as he required for his simple and wholesome fare. The river itself provided transportation, and in his canoe the Indian visited the villages up and down stream, from Jackson and Lansing to Grand Haven.

The Indian settled only where food was abundant, where the hunting was good, and where life was easiest and most enjoyable. Whenever he tilled the soil he chose only lands that were rich and yielded abundantly. At the site of the rapids on Grand river---which the Indian called O-wash-ta-nong, "the far-away-water," because it was the longest stream the tribes hereabouts visited---he found all the conditions necessary for his ease, comfort and happiness, and so he settled here.

But, even before the Indian made Grand Rapids his permanent abiding place, there had been settlers on this happy site. The men we know as Mound Builders had been resident in this vicinity for no one knows how many centuries. They, too, had recognized in the river and the woods the sources of food so necessary to subsistence, and for generations had made this their home. The Mound Builders have left us a record of their stay in the numerous tumuli or mounds, in which they buried their dead. Who they were and why they disappeared we do not know. But we do know they were here and that they were well advanced in some of the arts of civilization, the superior of the Indian in all, perhaps, save the knowledge of how to make war.

The white man is a great civilizer and explorer, but he also interferes with and alters nature's work. Looking over the site of Grand Rapids in 1926 one can hardly picture to himself what this same site was only a century ago, so changed is it. Hills have been leveled, valleys and swamps filled, creeks and brooks diverted or caused to flow under the street level, trees felled, ancient springs covered, the banks of the river altered, four islands made part of the mainland, the very rapids themselves obliterated. Surely Chief Qua-Ke-Zik or Noonday, who held sway in this region when the first white settlers came, would not recognize his old home should he be privileged to return today from the Happy Hunting Ground.


Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
 Created: 10 December 1999