Michigan was regarded at the East as being as much Indian territory
as any portions of the country in the more remote West have since
become. Detroit was the extreme limit of regular steamboat navigation
westward upon the lakes; indeed, but few sailing vessels found
inducement to proceed further. If there are few who are interested in
the recital of the past, similar to those here named, there are fewer
still whose personal knowledge dates back so far, and who are both able
and willing to furnish the same for publication.
On Monday, the last day of August, 1828, the writer set out
from his home in central New York in company with some friends who had
decided to make their future home in Detroit, this new and beautiful
city of the West. We left by stage at an early hour in the morning and,
after a long and tiresome day's ride, reached what was then called "Salt
Point," afterwards Syracuse. We here embarked the next morning on the
canal for Buffalo, a method of travel but recently introduced but
exceedingly popular on account of its freedom from fatigue and because
of the greater social advantages, as well as being cheaper than by
stage, the only other method of public conveyance in the direction we
After journeying in this manner for three days and nights we
reached Buffalo, then only a good sized village, in time to take
passage Friday morning on the good steamer Niagara, whereof Pease was
master, and bound for Detroit. We counted ourselves fortunate in having
secured passage on this vessel, though the smallest on the line, yet
first on account of her reliability as to time and ability to complete
the round trip, Buffalo to Detroit, and return within a week. Of the six
vessels comprising the line four are remembered (and the same number of
Captains) ...The Henry Clay, Cuyahoga, William Penn, and Niagara. The
captains were Norton, Blake, Milas, and Pease, the latter in the
The second steamboat on Lake Erie was the Superior, built in
1822. This vessel, at the time of my journey, the fall of 1828, was
lying partly sunk in Buffalo Creek, her engine removed, and otherwise
thoroughly dismantled. I do not think she was ever in commission
afterward, at least as a steamer.. . .
We reached Detroit on Sunday at noon. A gun was fired from
on board the steamer, as was customary on all the boats of the line,
when about a mile from the city. This usually brought to the landing a
large portion of the population, composed at that time very largely of
French with a free scattering of Indians.
I think all the other boats of the line made their landing
at the up-town docks, mostly Newberry's, but the Niagara came to a new
wharf which had recently been built about a mile further down the river,
where extensive improvements were being made, among them a hotel more
spacious and elegant than any previously existing in the city, known as
the Mansion House, kept by a New York landlord by the name of Alman. A
short distance below, fronting the river, was the pretty, home-like and
unpretentious residence of Gov. Cass.
Later in the autumn Gov. Cass chartered the steamer Henry
Clay for a month, going in her with his suite and Territorial officers
to Green Bay, where he had arranged to meet the tribe of the Winnebago
Indians, who were the owners and occupants of a large portion of the
adjacent territory. The desire of the Governor was to treat with them
for their possessions in exchange for lands farther west, and for other
valuable considerations. After a session of two weeks he was successful
in negotiating one of the most important and valuable treaties ever made
between our government and the Indian tribes.
The steamer and party on their return ran down Lake Michigan
to Fort Dearborn, an ancient stockade fort, which was all that existed
in the way of improvement where the city of Chicago is now.
Some weeks after the return to Detroit of the Governor and
party, on the afternoon of a beautiful, balmy Indian summer's day, there
appeared on the broad river above the city, stretching away as far as
the eye could reach toward Lake St. Clair, a vast flotilla of canoes,
bringing as voyagers in this manner, all the way from Green Bay, many
hundreds of the Governor's friends, the Winnebagoes. This trip was taken
according to a promise that they would repay the visit he had made to
them. Before evening all had arrived and landed upon the river's bank
above the city, where they were welcomed by the Governor - and in fact
by nearly the entire population of the city. There were about as many of
one sex as of the other, and of all ages, dressed in their best apparel
- doubtless to a large extent consisting of all blankets and other
articles given or paid to them at the time the treaty was made.
The visit lasted two or three weeks, during which time they
were the guests of the Governor, and were well provided for. The
military and police force of the city were made particularly subservient
to their protection and care.
This was to most of them their first introduction to
civilized life, and it must be said that to their manners and deportment
there was not at first any exceptions to be noted; but it must, also,
with equal truth, be said that toward the last it became evident that
they were not improving as a result of their intercourse with the
Hundreds of them frequently assembled on the green in front
of the Governor's residence, where they engaged for an hour or more at
evening in the violent contortions they called dances, peculiar to the
race, all of them sufficiently exciting, but the war dance most of all.
They finally embarked in the same manner in which they came,
for a passage through the solitary lakes, several hundred miles to
From: TRAVELING ON THE GREAT LAKES WHEN DETROIT WAS YOUNG by H. Massey. Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections. 7 (1886): 131-133.
Moore, Anna S. Some Notes on the Argo: Detroit's First Steamboat. Inland Seas 1993 49 (4): 242-245.