Indian History

By dhowell - Posted on 20 April 2007

The nomadic Indian tribes had settlements throughout the area. Where to begin with Manchester's history is difficult to decide, but there should be some mention made that these people once had this as their happy hunting ground.

They cannot be ignored especially when, as late as October 3, 1965, the skeleton of an Indian woman in her late 20s or 30s was discovered by Jan Huber, 12, son of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Huber.

"It's an Indian," said Dr. Donald Huelke of the University of Michigan when he looked at the skeleton which was found in a pit near the Schaffer Airport in the southwest part of the village.

The skeleton was well preserved, Huelke said, probably because of the sandy soil in which the woman was buried. It was found about two and a half feet below the ground level--the level where most Indian skeletons are found. "The Indians didn't have tools to dig much deeper," Huelke said.

So few had a chance to see the bones before they were whisked off to the University to find out how old the skeleton was that it was decided that she should return. The Manchester area had been her home a thousand years ago--add or subtract a couple of hundred years.

She was brought to the historical room at the Manchester Township Library and dubbed Umma. It was a toss-up whether to call her Minnie Ha Ha--which wasn't quite fitting--or Umma. The last was what was printed on the end of the box the skeleton arrived in. Of course, Umma stands for University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology, too.

The big reason for bringing Umma back was to give some 1,000 children a chance to see her. They might never get to the museum. This was first hand history and children from the four townships flocked to the village, which is tucked off in the southwest corner of Washtenaw County--and even that is an Indian name. With her in her glass case, lined with sand from the Schaffer pit is the typed article, "A Burial from Manchester, Mich." Since leaving Manchester Umma toured other villages in the county before she settled down--UMMA.

Much has been written about the Indians. Central Michigan was the home of the Pottawattomies. Their territory extended from northern Indiana and southern Michigan as far as the Shiawasee River. The Hurons occupied the eastern part of the state, the Chippewas the Saginaw Valley and north, and the Ottawas the western part. The Pottawattomies were pushed by other tribes until they made a final stand on the bank of the "Washtenong Sepe," (Grand River), and drove the invaders back.

An Indian trail left the Great sauk Trail from Detroit to Chicago (now US 12) and crossed the township on a diagonal on the old John Fisk farm. It is said that the trail was so worn and packed that for years it was impossible to grow grass on it.

According to The History of Manchester by Annetta English, the trail crossed Iron Creek west of the present highway and then east to avoid a steep hill on the late John Martin farm, and then across the southwest corner of Section 21 to Section 16 where Miss English writes that she saw the worn pathway still on the land (side hill) too steep for the plow.

The Indian roamed the area hunting and fishing everywhere and Indian arrows and some of their stone tools are in many of the old homes in 1967.

One of their planting grounds was on Section 29 at the head of what is now the Iron Creek mill-pond. The ground is rich and there is a spring, which in the driest season has a "flow as large as a man's arm."

Back in 1805, when the Territory of Michigan was established, the Indian danger west of the Ohio River was not entirely past. But, by the 1830's the Indians had nearly all moved from the Washtenaw County area.

The early settlers had contact with the Indians but they were friendly. These occurred mostly when the bands of Indians would travel over the territory to receive supplies or government payments for land. It was at these times that the curious Red Man would peek his face up to the window of the pioneer home or maybe ask for food.

No one could blame the Indian if he was a little homesick for this area as he made visits to the four townships, Manchester, Sharon, Bridgewater and Freedom as late as the end of the 1840s. Maybe his heart was a little heavy for the happy hunting grounds--gone forever. Theirs was an annual trek to Fort Malden in Canada for the treaty meeting. They liked to swap trinkets with the settlers and they were good at the business. The besetting sin of the Indian was, and is, his intense love for "scootawaubu" or "fire water." Nothing quenches his craving for whiskey.

A story is told about a farmer who had a bottle of whiskey. At the end of a hard, busy day he and a friend went after the bottle which had been carefully hidden. He lifted the bottle and took a drink, then looked at his friend, "I've heard the story of Christ changing the water into wine but it takes the Indian to change whiskey to water." Apparently the Indians had been watching, drank the whiskey and filled the bottle with water and put it back.

By the end of the 1840's, the Indian had been transferred to new reservations outside the state.