American pioneers have always had a reputation of being industrious, hardy, and adventurous, but Michiganders took this to a new height. Beginning in 1825, Michigan would escape its reputation as uninhabitable and barren land, with the opening of the Erie Canal. The canal would allow for the first mass migration to Michigan from New England and New York, and thus open Michigan up to the rest of America as a popularized new settlement destination. In the words of one personal entry, “as many other young men do, to make a strike for himself; and with that desire uppermost in his mind, he made up his mind to go to Michigan territory, get a hold and grow with the country.” (Coffinberry, 57.) Looking for a chance to make a life for themselves many “ambitious, but poor..” (Coffinberry, 57.) traveled to Michigan in search of a new life.
Almost immediately, even upon travel to Michigan, many pioneers faced hardship. Those who traveled by boat to Michigan often faced the faults of the newly invented steamboats which often spewed molten tar and hot ash which caused fires and burns, terrifying many of the passengers, as “women were screaming, children crying, some praying,bot more cursing and swearing.” (Whitehead, 61.) Once the pioneers arrived, they came to a land that was dense with either woods or swamps, and without many necessities essential we view necessary for ample living, such as the access to roads, or other establishments of society. Without these necessities the settlers relied on themselves almost solely for their survival as Michigan was first settled. The settlers were responsible for constructing their own house, planting crops, and supporting their family through harsh and unforgiving Michigan winters. As explained by one settler “Hard times. Hard times is the complaint of most everyone we see. Money is scarce and produce is very low. There is but little money in circulation.” (Dibble, 60.)
Aside from the settlers own hardships they experienced in their own sphere of life, the settlers were not the only inhabitants of Michigan. The Native American presence, while diminished by the multiple treaties in Michigan’s history; still had a role in settlers lives. Settlers were exposed to the Natives history, such as the discovery of an Indian burial grave. (Dawson, 60.) Other than relics of Indian, the settlers would sometimes have run-ins with the Natives. While perhaps not inherently rude, the customs and norms of the Natives in comparison with the customs of the settlers, offended and frightened the settlers. An excerpt of an “Indian visit” is told, which highlights the cultural differences between the groups. The Indians borrowed from the family, leaving a rifle in exchanged, which frightened the family at first. What most alarmed the family was the Indian’s unannounced intrusion, and their asking of bread, milk and whiskey, and after the Indians migrated weeks later “We were very pleased, as well as the other neighbors, when they were gone. (Nowlin, 66.) While rude to us, the Natives probably did not intend threat. Many who encountered the Native’s grew accustomed to their silent intrusions. “They were very curious about the things they saw in the house. Everything was new to them, of course, but they never did us any harm, and we never felt that they helped themselves to anything.” (Dewey, 63.)
Throughout all of these hardships, from the very moments settlers traveled to Michigan, and from the hardships they faced settling a harsh terrain, and surrounded by an alien culture in the Native Americans, the settlers found a way to take care of themselves, their neighbors, and expand the power and potential of Michigan to create the 26th state on January 26, 1837.
Thick, Matthew R. The Great Water: a Documentary History of Michigan. Michigan State University Press, 2018.