Indian Schools and Churches

Education was another factor in the Indian treaty of 1855. Within the six townships set aside for Indian settlement, schools were scheduled to be built, equipped, and staffed by the U.S. Government. All this was to take place for the same ten-year period as the stipends and facilities at Indian Mills.

Work commenced on this portion of the project when I.E. Arnold was awarded the contract to build schools in 1857. Charles Taylor, pioneer resident, tells of his part in the project during the spring and summer of 1858. Soon after the sawmill was completed, he was hired as a teamster. He drove horses pulling logs to the mill and then lumber to the various school sites. Taylor remarked that he was "happy to get work to keep flour in the flour barrel and buy other necessities."

Each school was a one room affair with three room quarters for the teacher attached. A cookstove was part of the equipment in each building.

The location of the schools is significant for it tells us in general where the Indians took up lands. They never began to settle on all the lands in the six townships set aside in the treaty.

United States Government schools were located at present day Bamber Road at Mission Creek in Union township. In what is now Isabella Township, schools were at Jordan and Isabella, Weidman and Isabella and Jordan and Lincoln roads. One school was located in what is now Nottawa Township. Its location in the eastern portion of the township is not known, because it burned in 1864. Taking all this together it would appear the population center for the Indian settlers would be in southern Isabella Township.

In the winter of 1863, about 100 children attended the various schools according to the Detroit Advertiser and Tribune. Their reporter visited one of these schools and observed the Indian children. "They learn to read, write and spell in English and are a little familiar with arithmetic and geography." The reporter noted that they were able to pronounce English words with little difficulty, however speaking the language proved more difficult. This is not surprising as English was not used at home and speaking the language requires practice. "Vocal music however is their great attraction. They love it dearly and therefore make great proficiency in the art." Mrs. Cass Mosher would recall the same thing 67 years later as she reflected on teaching in the Indian Schools as a young woman.

A teacher lived at each school in the rooms provided. Each teacher received a salary of $400.00 per year which was considered good but as the reporter reflected: "Not any too much when we consider the personal sacrifices they were forced to make."

Apparently not all the schools were operated through the entire period but from the readings, the writer has examined two schools that stand out. One was at Bamber Road, adjacent to Mission Creek, and the other at Ne-bi-sing, corner of Weidman and Isabella Roads, southeast of Rosebush. Both had missionary facilities in addition to educational activities focused on the sites.

Isabella Reservation meeting house
Isabella Reservation Meeting House, circa 1860.

I.E. Arnold was contracted by the Methodist Episcopal Missionary Society to build two churches on the Isabella Reservation in 1860. The Church had disposed of their holdings in Lapeer County as the Indians had now moved to Isabella County. Moneys from the sale were used to erect these new facilities without additional cost to the Society.

Mr. Arnold constructed one of these churches on the northeast corner of present day River and Lincoln Roads. Unfortunately, services were held there but five months when fire consumed the structure. Church services were then conducted in the government school about one-half mile southeast on what is now called Bamber Road. Later in the Treaty of 1864 the government gave the Methodist Missionary Society this school and money to operate a "school farm" later called the Bradley Mission after the death of Reverend Bradley. In about ten years funds ceased and the property was sold. This was perhaps the first vocational program in the county. Nearby Mission Creek derives its name from the Methodist Missionary Society work among the Indians at this local.

In 1893 The United States Indian Industrial School was established and encompasses the same general land area but was not related to the Mission or its activities. The U.S. Indian School lasted for forty years until 1933 when the facilities were taken over by the State of Michigan for Mental Health purposes. The story of this school is another topic entirely separate from the treaty of 1855.

Returning to I.E. Arnold, he constructed his second church for the Society southeast of present day Rosebush. The Detroit Advertiser and Tribune reporter visited this site in February 1863. In a column next to one reporting on the Army of the Potomac in the Civil War the activities of the missionaries with the Indians in Isabella county were reported.

"The Methodist Episcopal Church has occupied the ground from the beginning. Religious services are held in the school houses except at Ne-bi-sing where a large edifice has been erected for their use."

This church was located on the southwest corner of what are now Isabella and Weidman roads. The reporter continued the account:

"We had the pleasure of attending two of their meetings. They sing with will and the truths are communicated to them through an interpreter, although many can speak English quite well. This process is a tedious one, and very slow one too."

The minister was E.D. Young who served from the 1840's and had been in the ministry in the Lapeer area. He, along with George Bradley who was the first presiding elder, was the local leader of the Church. Young could converse in Chippewa but did not attempt to preach to the congregation in their native tongue. He told the writer for the Tribune that there were 200 who profess religion on the reservation.

The church like Indian Mills and the rest of the reservation era would end quickly. A dozen years later, settler Thomas Carrol would convert the Church at Ne-bi-sing to a barn. Still later, the school across the street would disappear as well. Today, standing on this corner, one has no inkling of past history as fields and undulating hills are the scene one views.

In mentioning the religious activity at the time of the 1855 treaty we would be remiss if we didn't remark of the work of Rev. G.U. Meissler of the Lutheran faith. His mission was located on the site of the present day Embers Restaurant in Mt. Pleasant and is the reason for Mission Street getting its name. How the Lutheran Mission came to the area is interesting in itself. The Mission started north of St. Louis Michigan in Bethany Township. In the 1850's, Rev. Meissler had achieved a measure of success in promoting the Christian religion among the Indians along the Pine River. With the treaty of 1855 completed, the Indians in his area as well as in other locations were encouraged to come to Isabella County and take up lands.

Rev.

Meissler, seeing and feeling the effects of these happenings, deemed it necessary in 1861 to move near the reservation to continue his missionary activities. The south boundary of the reservation lands was present day High Street in Mt. Pleasant. Indian Mills was two miles directly north along the section line from present day Mission and High Streets. Rev. Meissler selected the nearest parcel of non-Indian land from this center of activity for his mission. The hundred and sixty acres or quarter section for the Mission is between the present High and Preston Streets and east of Mission extending to Crapo Street.

The corner of Mission and High was very swampy in those days so the Mission House was located on the south end of the property at Preston and Mission where the Embers is now situated.

Meiss

ler, in addition to his missionary work, was a teacher in the U.S. Government Indian School at Isabella and Jordan road for several years. As time went along he suffered from increasingly poor health. Moreover declining attendance in the mission with completion of treaty obligations resulted in a re-evaluation of the program. In 1869 the Lutheran Synod was obliged to close the doors of the mission. The original meeting house was modified into a home and the quarter section was rented for awhile before being sold. On April 6, 1918, the original building burned and even at that time its initial purpose was remembered by "Just the oldest residents" according to an article in the Isabella Enterprise.

Examples on the landscape that remain from the early reservation days are four cemeteries. The four were started as a direct result of the formation of the Isabella Reservation.

Indian cemetery at Bamber Road
Indian Cemetery at Bamber Road and Mission Creek. Photograph by Hudson Keenan.

Located on Bamber Road at Mission Creek is a cemetery site marked with an official State Historical Marker entitled simply "Indian Cemetery". The monument details some of the provisions of the Treaty of 1855 in addition calling attention to the burial site of Shawshawawnabeece who was one of the signers of the treaty. West of the cemetery stood one of the five government schools, the Bradley School which was previously mentioned.

Yet another Indian Cemetery is just north of Base Line Road at the US 27 overpass on the west side near the present day Isabella County Fairgrounds. A third cemetery, known as the Bissing Cemetery, is on the east side of Isabella Road just north of Rosebush Road also in Isabella Township. It occupies a sandy ridge, a beach feature of ancient Glacial Lake Saginaw where waves, winds and sands formed the ridge some 13,000 years ago during the last ice age.

Redman cemetery is the western most cemetery and is located in Nottawa Township along Denver Road west of Vandecar Road. The small plot, about an acre in size, is just a half mile west of the former home of Chief Nottawa for whom the township was named. An interesting reference to this location was provided in the remembrances of Levi Van Decar (Vandecar Road namesake) written in 1884. He tells of a burial in Redman Cemetery in which he was asked to furnish the boards for the coffin from his sawmill.

Grave marker in Redman Cemetery
Grave marker in Redman Cemetery.
Photograph by Hudson Keenan.

A young Indian family had met tragedy as the wife after a lingering illness was taken by "consumption." The father built the coffin for his spouse from the boards provided by Mr. Van Decar. Van Decar recalled watching as the husband loaded the coffin in a wagon pulled by oxen. One of the children rode on one of the oxen while the other road on the coffin as they moved slowly away to the cemetery some two miles distant. Undoubtedly a scene of this type occurred many times in those early days of settlement in the 1860's.

In each of these cemeteries a few graves are marked with headstones but a far greater number of interments exist without any marking. Long after reservation days, burials were made in these locations. Depressions in the ground suggest grave sites in some instances. The scattering of violets and lily of the valley remind one of the generations laid to rest in these cemeteries so many years ago. In the last few years, the importance of these cemeteries to Indian heritage and culture has been recognized and efforts made to preserve the grounds and document the interments.

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