Incidents of Early Settlement -- Arrival of Louis Campau -- Honesty of the Indians -- The Colony -- The First Postmaster -- Incidents of Letter Writing
Mr. Slater’s Christian labors having let a ray of light into the wilderness, commerce, her necessary handmaid, was not long in following. Louis Campau was the first white person who came to Grand Rapids to build himself a home. He was born in Detroit in the year 1791. His ancestors were French, and came to Detroit before the war of the Revolution. Her had not the advantages of early education, but being endowed with a clear intellect and great force of character, he became a useful and valued citizen.
He came to Grand Rapids at the solicitation, and under the patronage of Mr. William Brewster, of Detroit, who was extensively engaged in the fur business, in rivalry with the American Fur Company, and who furnished him with all that was required to successfully prosecute the business. Mr. Campau afterward opened trading posts and established his agents at Muskegon, Manistee, Kalamazoo, Lowell, Hastings and Eaton Rapids. All the Indians with whom he came in contact were both friendly and peaceful. They were also honest, and could be trusted with goods, never even in a single instance failing to pay as soon as they had the ability. Fur was the principal currency of that day, and the Indians found a lucrative business in exchanging it for the products of civilization.
For more than seven years Mr. Campau’s only white companions were traders like himself, with an occasional traveler. He made but a faint attempt at improving the place, having cleared away only about three acres of timber during the first five years of his residence in this place. But in 1833 the pioneers of civilization began to arrive. A land office was opened at White Pigeon and Mr. Campau and Mr. Luther Lincoln were the first purchasers Mr. Lincoln’s purchase included the site of the present village of Grandville, and that of Mr. Campau comprised a tract in which a portion of the city of Grand Rapids is now located.
In the spring of 1833, Mr. Samuel Dexter came to Ionia with a colony of sixty-three persons from New York, cutting a road through the woods from Pontiac, which was afterwards known as the Dexter Trail. Mr. Dexter afterwards laid out what is known as the Dexter Fraction of Grand Rapids. Most of the colonists accompanying this gentleman became residents of this city and succeeded in establishing themselves in the best business interests of the city.
This was the beginning of settlement, and it was continued with increasing numbers. Following Mr. Dexter, came Mr. Joel Guild, who purchased the lot from Mr. Campau, on which the City National Bank now stands, paying the small sum of twenty-five dollars therefore. On the following summer he erected a small house on his lot which was the second building put up on the west side of the river. Mr. Guild brought with him his family consisting of a wife and seven children. He soon became honorably identified with the early enterprise of Grand Rapids, and lived to see his sons and daughters comfortably settled. Soon after his arrival he was appointed Postmaster and held the position for several years, or until succeeded by Darius Windsor.
While Mr. Guild was Postmaster of Grand Rapids the mail was brought to the city once a month on the backs of Indian ponies. The postage on a single letter was two shillings, and during the first two or three years times were so hard among the settlers that the poorer class found it a difficult matter to raise funds for a regular correspondence. Many a true hearted pioneer carried his carefully folded letter, sealed with red wax, in his “waist-coat” pocket, waiting and longing for something to turn up by which he might raise the coveted shilling for the necessary postage, while, perhaps, his “sweet heart” anxiously waiting the arrival of the same missive in some eastern home, her troubled heart filled with unpleasant forebodings of inconstancy. But these early settlers were not easily discouraged. Many of them worked a whole week for one shilling rather than to give their intended partners cause for doubt, and cheerfully gave the six days hard earnings, no doubt in the belief that when the letter reached its owner its true value would be fully appreciated. I have been told of one instance in which the pioneer’s heart became so wrought up from being unable to pay the postage on a love-letter which he had carried in his pocket for months, that he gave a new pair of boots for the required shilling. That letter, which I was permitted to read, only a few days ago at the house of one of the oldest residents in Grand Rapids, contains the following paragraph: “Dear Jane: I reckon you have gone off and married another man, and if you havn’t already I’m afraid you will before this reaches you , for, at the present time, I have no money to pay the postage with, and can see no way to get it. We are having hard times here this winter. The flour is all gone and we have no money, but I am still true to my last promise, and trust you will wait until I can make it good.”
This fearful heart was afterwards cheered by the arrival of “Jane”, who became his wife at Grand Rapids in 1839.
This case has many parallels in the early history of the city, but those times have thoroughly passed away, and now almost any quantity of love may be sent abroad for three cents.
In 1833 there were only a few acres of cleared land on either side of the rapids. The Indians had several acres cleared on the west side just below where the railroad bridge now crosses the river. Here was located the village of the Ottawas, containing about sixty huts, and perhaps, three hundred inhabitants. It was among these Indians that the Rev. Mr. Slater established the mission spoken of in the previous chapter. The chief of the village was called Kewaykushquom, who, besides ruling these savages held a limited sway over the village of the Ottawas and Chippewas, located about half a mile further up the river, on the same side. The subordinate chief of the latter village was called Noonday.
It was at this village that the Catholic-Mission was established.
Many of the old settlers of Grand Rapids are
unable to give any account of this village and some of them dispute the fact of
its existence there at this period. This
may be accounted for, as it was a transient settlement, and at an early day
became united with the Ottawas under Kewaykushquom, a few scattering families of
the Chippewas only remaining to perpetuate their government.
These soon became unwelcome intruders in the eyes of the Ottawas, and
were either driven away or forced to join them.
Besides this permanent Indian settlement there was always a large number
of the Ottawas and Chippewas, who, returning from the chase, would gather upon
the western bank of the rapids every spring and fall.
These semi-annual encampments became larger and of greater importance
after the government adopted its system of distributing clothing and other
necessaries to the Indians in this vicinity.
We shall now pass on with the incidents of early settlement, and again
return to a more detailed description of these villages.